After describing many men and women who were heroes in the faith in the Old Testament, the writer of Hebrews admonishes his readers to endure in the faith.
Run The Race
After describing many heroes of the faith, the writer transitions into admonishment with the word “therefore”. (1) He is saying, since the heroes of the Old Testament endured by faith, you do the same. So, the great cloud of witnesses was the collection of Old Testament saints who believed in God’s redemption and endured hardship in faith. It is if you were running a marathon and every person who ever finished it was standing at the starting line. They would be witnesses that it could be done and had been done.
It is not that they are watching us, but that we look to them as an example of enduring faith. They witness to the life of faith.
Next, he continues the running metaphor and tells us to focus in order to finish well. First, we lay aside every weight and sin that clings to us. What weights did these Jewish believers carry? Some carried doubt. They doubted that Christ rather than the law was the way to God. Some cared more about their tradition than the gospel. Some cared more about what people thought of them. Sin were no doubt crippled by sin, weighted down by greed, lust, envy or other sins.
If you have ever seen a Strong Man competition, there is always an event where the men have to carry some large, heavy object and run with it. They are amazing in their ability to do it. But they do not run like runners who are unencumbered and sprint to the finish. They struggle and run slowly because of the weight they carry.
Once we drop the sin which could encumber us, we run the race with endurance. The race is a metaphor for the Christian life. More specifically, it is the life of sanctification. We pursue holiness, becoming more like Christ every day. That process is slowed when we give in to sin. When we cast sin aside and pursue Christ, we speed ahead.
To do this, we focus on Jesus. He is the author of our faith and the perfecter of it. He started our faith and he completes it. You can focus on sin or on Christ. When you focus on Christ, you seek to live like he did and in a way that pleases him. You pursue holiness. You humbly serve. You worship. You pray. You grow. You look forward to finishing well.
Here is an example from a real race. In 1986, Ricky Cox was a local hero as a runner. He entered the Cowtown Marathon and the locals wanted him to win. His strongest opponent was Max Cordero, who won the race several times. I went down to the North side of town, a few miles from the finish, to watch the runners go by. To my dismay, Cordero came around the corner first. I kept waiting for Cox, but he didn’t come. Finally, a few minutes behind the leader, he came around the corner. But an amazing thing happened. He started shedding weight. I took off his gloves. He removed his hat. He took off his shirt. He looked ahead and started running to catch Cordero. It was exciting and it made me think of this verse. He caught Cordero close to the finish and won the race. But, to do so, he shed every encumbrance he could and focused on the end.
It is a good example for us.