On the first day in the new year of our Lord, 2017, we get to focus on what matters and prepare for the year. The epistle to the Hebrews was written (or preached) to a young church of Jewish Christians facing temptations to leave or compromise their faith. The author doesn’t tell them to hunker down and weather the storm, but to run the race set before them.
Run like the Crowd
Hebrews 11 is the great “hall of faith”, a list of saints from Abel to Isaiah (v37) who overcame the world. He would have included more people but ran out of time (v32). These triumphant believers were pilgrims and strangers on the earth, but not the “just a passin’ through” kind. They sought a heavenly kingdom, and therefore “by faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (11:33-34). We are running a race surrounded by these people; they might not see us, but we can see them. The author knows these saints are sinners (cf. ch. 4), but he shows us what to imitate—their faith. Samson shouldn’t have been in Gaza, but once there, he did good (Jdg. 16:1-3). They all followed God with far less to go on than we do, so we can be encouraged. The church triumphant reminds the militant church on earth to live together so we might to stir one another up to love and good works, to worship together, and to exhort one another (10:24). The race is run by individuals, but not alone. Runners need motivation, models, and encouragement, so God gives us His Word and His people. This year pursue them both.
Good intentions are necessary, but not enough, which is why we need resolution(s). You can’t be surrounded by great people and therefore take it easy. He says, “let us lay aside” (v1). Each person must deal with his own weights and sins if he wants to run. Elsewhere Paul says to put off the old man and put on the new man in Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:22-24). He mentions two things to put aside: “every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us”. Weights include distractions and hindrances from following Jesus. This could be something you are focused on: a hobby, a project, an unhelpful friendship, a Netflix account. If devotion to Christ always falls off your plate, what pushes it? Sin is anything we do that breaks God’s law either by commission or omission. Interestingly, he says sin easily ensnares us, but also expects us to lay it aside. There is no sin that humble and honest confession and repentance can’t deal with. Another way to put it is that there’s no one so spiritually broken and crippled that God can’t make them whole and fast. But this means being focused and forgiven. It’s relatively easy to break out into a sprint and collapse after 20 yards. Running unhindered means we have endurance to keep running.
Run with Eyes on the Prize
The place we are going is actually a person: “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (v2). If our picture of joy or progress or heaven is somehow separated from the person and presence of God, we are chasing an idol, and ultimately will come to a crawl (Ps. 115:8). With our eyes on Jesus, it’s impossible to go wrong. He is the one who ran the race not to win the favor of the Father, but because the Father was already pleased with Him. It was “for the joy that was set before Him [that He] endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (v2). Jesus kept His eyes on the Father, and that’s where He went—to His right hand, to the joy set there before Him (Ps. 110:1; 16:11). If our eyes are on Jesus, we’re ready for trials, but also to not get distracted or puffed up by success (cf. Heb. 12:3-11). If you set a new year’s resolution, accomplish it in January, and give credit and glory to yourself, you are far worse off than having never resolved to do anything. But looking to Christ, you thrive through anything, especially what you’re called to do: “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure”, said Eric Liddell. God has been exceedingly good and kind to us as a church this past year. May we run like it in 2017.