by | May 6, 2024

In Hebrews 12:1-2a it says:

“Therefore, 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…” (ESV)

These two verses are hugely significant in helping us to understand what it means to be and live as followers of Jesus. In fact, if you want to understand what it looks like to treasure Christ in this world, then this is a good place to pause and ponder. 

Firstly, notice what the writer to the Hebrews says part-way through verse 1; “let us run the race”. This is a figure of speech, such as “falling in love” or “racking your brains” and is used to help imprint on the minds of the readers that the Christian life is not a static or a sedentary thing, but rather a journey, contest, and challenge – “let’s run the race”. 

The type of race that the author is talking about here is not a quick 100 metre dash, where you spend more time psyching yourself up at the start line than you do actually racing. No, the author is talking about those cross-country runs that you did when you were at school. When I was at high school we lived in Sheffield and the cross-country route that our P.E. teachers subjected us to had what felt like the hill of death half way round. Interestingly the Greek word for ‘race’ is also the word from which we get our word agony. The author is talking about the Christian life as something demanding, something gruelling and even sometimes agonising – “let’s run the race!”

Notice also that prior to describing the Christian life as a race the author writes, “Let us also lay aside every weight” or “every encumbrance” or “every burden”

In the early 1980s Allen Wells, the then-100 metre Olympic gold medal holder, was invited to a special track meet in the United States. He was the fastest man on Planet Earth. However when he ran in the preliminary heat, he didn’t even qualify! In an interview afterwards he said that the reason was simple. He was overweight. He had trained too little and eaten too much. He had not gained a great amount of weight, but it was enough to keep him from winning – even from qualifying! 

These ‘weights’ or ‘burdens’ that the author is talking about are simply the bulk or mass in our lives. They don’t necessarily have to be bad things. Often they can be perfectly harmless, and even good, but if it weighs us down, diverts our attention, saps our energy, and dampens our enthusiasm for God and his purposes then they start acting like post-Christmas-podge on an elite athlete

He goes on to say that we need to not only “lay aside every weight” but also “every sin…”. Isn’t this the real deal for most of us? Isn’t this where the author’s figure of speech suddenly stops being a figure of speech and makes us go “ouch”? We can so easily read passages like this and when we’re with our Christian friends we smile and nod but, if we’re honest with ourselves, in the deep recesses of our heart there is lurking despair, panic and guilt as we feel trapped by sins or tired from trying to resist and fight them with ever harshening rules. 

Let me show you the author’s answer to all of this. 

Notice how in these verses the author, after painting the picture of the Christian life being like a demanding race, turns our attention away from the heat and agonising, towards Jesus. It says that to run the race we must, “fix our eyes on Jesus” !

This may seem an overly simplistic point, even Sunday-school-like However I know from my own life that it is so easy to get preoccupied with my life, my struggles, my challenges, and even my attempts to improve my running ability or endurance levels! “Fix your eyes on Jesus”. As we’re running up our own ‘death hill’ – fix our eyes upon Jesus! 

However, it is really important that we notice that part of the reason that the author wants us to fix our eyes on Jesus is that he wants us to see and learn something about the way Jesus endured. He wants us to see and learn something about the way Jesus pressed through the agonising that he faced at the cross. It says “for the joy set before him he endured the cross…”. 

  • How did Jesus endure the pain and brutality of Roman crucifixion? For the joy set before him! 
  • How did Jesus face the mocking and wagging fingers of people whom he created? For the joy set before him! 
  • How did Jesus, the fountain of life, taste the bitter and mocking wine that was forced to his mouth in a sponge? For the joy set before him! 
  • How did Jesus, who clothed Adam & Eve in garments as part of his grace towards them even after they had sinned, watch men play dice for the garments that had been roughly taken from his own body? For the joy set before him! 
  • How did the leader of the armies of heaven choose to resist the temptation to call down legions of angelic hosts to rescue him? For the joy that was set before him! 
  • How did he endure seeing his mother dying on the inside as her son, the boy who she had nursed, was being brutally executed before her very eyes? For the joy set before him! 
  • How did the perfect and sinless Son of God face the holy wrath of God being poured out upon sin as he took the place of punishment for me and for you? For the joy set before him! 

My point is this … Jesus did not set us the example of holding on through agony by his fingernails! No we’re told that great oceans of joy, pleasure and delight were the means by which Jesus endured his harrowing race of redemption. 

So what does it look like to treasure Christ in this world? When we look to Jesus’ example we see a heart consumed with joy. We see a gaze that looks beyond the now to the greater joy, the other side of the cross! Joy and not duty. Joy and delight, not guilt or trying a little harder! Hearts captured by such a potent delight that the temporary burdens and sins lose their power because we’ve been captured by a greater delight!

To treasure Christ in this world is to see and then savour him as the ultimate delight and then, in that joy, endure whatever comes our way, because we know compared to the eternal and ultimate delight of Christ it is only momentary.

Treasure Christ, by living from the place of Christ-induced joy!

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