Hebrews 12:1–13. The Race.

Key Notes: Who is watching us? What do we think we are doing? Jesus as Mentor. Floppy knees.

12:1 "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...." Is this cloud a figurative assembly of OT and NT saints or a real one? Where are the dead who die in the Lord? Are they merely dead, or asleep in Jesus, or conscious? What is the nature of the Intermediate State, between death and resurrection? He is the God of the living.

"'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob'. He is not God of the dead but of the living." (Matt 22:32)
"...away from the body, and at home with the Lord." (II Cor.5:8)
"...my desire is to depart and be with Christ...." (Phil.1:21–23)
"Today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Lk.23:43)
"How long before you judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?" (Rev.6:10)
"...preached to the spirits in prison." (I Pet.3:19). {You can't preach to those who are asleep.}
Moses and Elijah spoke of His coming Exodus in Jerusalem at the transfiguration. They appear to be knowledgeable about a plan made ages before. (Lk.9:30–31)

On the other hand, there are texts that speak of the dead as asleep.
"concerning those who are asleep" (I Thes.4:13), i.e. "the dead in Christ" (I Thes.4:16).
"Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awake him out of sleep." (Jn.11:11)  "Lazarus is dead…." (Jn.11:14)

Conclusion: the definite verses speak for a conscious state between death and resurrection. The "sleep" verses are to be understood as the language of appearance. It is quite possible that the OT and NT saints are cheering us on. [Not everyone agrees with this statement.] Our living Christian mentors, parents, pastors, and teachers are urging us on as well.

12:1 "...let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us."  Paul frequently compares the Christian life to a race. The picture is of a stadium full of spectators with us as racers straining for the prize. {The Greek word for the athletic games was "agones", from which we have the word agony.) Most of us would rather not make so much work of it, thinking of ourselves as plants quietly growing, rather than as athletes, racing, sweating and panting.

"So run that you may obtain {the prize}." (I Cor.9:24)
"Lest somehow I should be running or had run in vain." (Gal.2:2)
"...so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain." (Phil.2:16).
"An athlete is not crowned  unless he competes according to the rules." (II Tim.2:5)
"I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness...." (II Tim. 4:7–8)

12:1 "Let us also lay aside every weight", anything that taxes the energies or burdens the breathing,
"and sin which clings so closely", clothing that hobbles the legs and hinders free movement.
In the Greek world runners ran naked or nearly so and tried to keep their weight down to a minimum. Wrestlers in our days starve themselves to get down to the lowest weight class possible.

Jesus said, “the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful.” (Matt.13:22).  We have endless delightful distractions with electronic media—television, computers, cell-phones and movies, not to mention parties and water parks, hobbies and sports. ESPN Sports 24 hours a day? We have no time. The Bible stays on the shelf. And we are weighted down, preoccupied, hobbled, walking backward.

Hebrews has two word-sets that are opposite, one describing forward and the other a backward motion.

Draw near. 4:16; 7:25; 10:22           Drift away. (2:1); neglect 2:3
Consider Him. 3:1; 12:3                  Go astray. (3:10); fall away 3:12
Look to Jesus. 12:2                         Shrink back.10:38
Go out to Him. 13:13                       Throw away confidence.10:35

Is faithlessness The Sin? Sin has many disguises:  a traditional view is that the tap root of sin is pride and selfishness— preference of myself instead of God. That sounds like Eve but she first did not trust God’s goodness, and that led to doubt, faithlessness. Then she preferred herself and broke the only rule that restricted her. How better to tangle the legs and feet than with doubt?

John Piper says “All true virtue comes from faith in future grace; and all sin comes from lack of faith in future grace…. …failing to have faith in future grace, that is, failing to be satisfied with all that God is {has} for us in Jesus, is the root of all sin.“ (Future Grace. J. Piper; Multnomah,’95; p.323)

•12:2–3 "...looking to Jesus, the pioneer (front-runner) and perfecter of our faith...."  Jesus ran alone, His eye on the prize, ignoring the shame and pain, and has won the prize. He is now in a position to coach us. The runner sees the coach at the finish-line of the race, stop-watch in hand. The coach knows all about racing, the pain, the loneliness of practice, the risk of injury, the critical sports writers, the denial of normal activities. None of us have suffered as He did. None of us have shed our blood. He has been through it all. He is cheering us on.

•12:5 In a different picture, we may think of our troubles as discipline. Pity the child who is ignored by the parents, in particular, the father. Any child who is valued will be challenged, prodded, coaxed, applauded and chastised. And it will not be done perfectly. God does it perfectly. Pity the Christian who knows nothing of suffering.

•12:12 Back to the racing theme: when we are tired, and feeling beaten, with drooping hands, weak knees and crooked feet, our coach knows about that problem too. But being floppy will lead to further injury and cannot win the race. "Lift up", "strengthen", "make straight paths" implies that we have control over our spiritual floppiness. In the following text, the author will talk about some causes of weakness: bitterness (12:15), immorality (12:16), fear (12:21), and greed. 13:5

•The arguments of this section on faith are as follows:
a. Have faith and keep your soul; shrink back and be destroyed. 10:39
b. Follow the example of the heroes of faith. 11:1–40
c. Run the race with minimal burdens and sins, with the heroes who have completed the course cheering you on. 12:1
d. Look to Jesus as coach at the finish line. 12:2
e. Look to Jesus as the model in suffering. 12:2
f. Think of suffering as discipline, an expression of God's love. 12:5
g. Do not refuse Him who is speaking. 12:25