Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Over this coming academic year we will meditate on this theme verse from Hebrews 12:1-2:
"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
In recent weeks we examined the phrases "cloud of witnesses" and “lay aside every weight.” This week we'll look at what it means to "run with endurance the race that is set before us."
The race "set before us" was a common expression for athletic events, where the organizers of the contest would mark the course to be run. In this context, the race already marked out for us Christians is the course that Jesus went upon.
Literally, this would mean to retrace Jesus' footsteps, leading to a crucifixion at the same place Jesus died. But the meaning here is figurative. How did Jesus live and die? Let us imitate that with the same kind of endurance, the same kind of dedication to the Father's will and calling.
Remembering previously the "cloud of witnesses" (the saints who have gone before us), and the instruction to take off garments that would slow us down in an athletic contest, we now are placed at the starting line in a race. The stadium is filled with a crowd (the cloud of witnesses) and we have put on our running clothes.
John Kleinig observes there are three aspects to the admonition toward endurance:
Surrounded by such a large crowd of admirers and stripped to maximize efficiency, they are urged to “run … the race,” a team race that has already begun for them. In typical fashion the teacher withholds vital information about the nature of the race and its location. That comes later when they are told that it is the way of wisdom and of holiness into heavenly Zion (12:22). Instead, they are urged to run “with perseverance” (12:1). This noun has three nuances: perseverance in running the race to its end despite all hardships (cf. 12:7); endurance of discomfort, hardship, and pain; and patient expectation of God’s promised intervention (cf. 10:36). [Concordia Commentary, pp598f]
What can we learn from this verse? The Christian life will not be easy. It requires training, devotion, discipline. As I write this, the college football season is beginning. It's not a sport I follow, but I know that across the country, athletes are going onto the gridiron today after years of preparation: weight-lifting, cardio, drills, practices, and study of playbooks.
What training do you need? What exercise? Make a list of three things you want to do this "season" for your training. Some examples might be: Reading a Psalm every evening; each morning thanking God for specific blessings in your life; planning a trip/pilgrimage to a notable Christian site; memorizing a hymn; reading or re-reading a classic Christian book, etc.
Life itself is our arena, and we will be tested - hit, blocked, tackled. But the cloud of witnesses is cheering us on, and the course is marked for us. We will not give up, no matter the pain. We know what waits at the end of the race. Run!
Your unworthy undershepherd,