In confirmation classes I always make my kids memorize John 3:16. I am not big on memorization, but it is so simple it should be known. The problem with John 3:16 is that it is one version. In fact, for many people of faith that is where they both start and stop with their faith. The unfortunate part of that is there is so much more then the fact that Jesus come to this world out of Love. While John 3:16 gives us a good starting point, I really like to take the next step with Hebrews 12:1-2.
This week in preparation for Sunday, I am going to break down this verse line by line. However there is an underlying metaphor that is driving the text. One of the things that began in the Greco-Roman world is athletics. Though sport was not quite what it is today, the athleticism and nuances of sport were well known. In this passage Jesus is portrayed as a star athlete, actually as a marathon runner.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,
Think of the race here; as an athlete you have done everything possible to prepare yourself for the race that is before you, but with nerves and everything else you still have doubt of your ability. When you look to the stands and see the crowd that is there to support you, your confidence increases and all of a sudden you’re able to follow through with the full potential of what you have.
In real terms, the cloud of witnesses are the faith community that recognizes, supports and uplifts you. And like the runner who uses the “cloud” to let go of their fear and doubt, we will use our community to overcome our sinful nature.
and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
When running a marathon, you know that there are times when you feel like you want to give up; it is hard to see the end and your body is spent; this is where your sheer determination and goal has to kick in. This perseverance will ultimately be what brings you to completion.
In faith matters, the goal that we strive for is something that is achieved when our time has come to an end. This means that there are many points that we receive grace, but there are also many times when the race overwhelms us. It is in those times that we have to have the perseverance within ourselves to continue. That perseverance is faith.
looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Here the writer highlights Christ as the champion athlete, with the correct form, style, and determination. Not only does Christ show us the way to finish, he is invoking a new way to run. In biblical terms, this is referring to the “new” way of Grace as opposed to the “old” law.
Think of it this way: when the race comes to an end, the runner is working on pure adrenaline. With energy-spent nerves shot, the race is finished but often you find the athletes collapse. But this is not the case for Christ, for he walks off and in fullness wins walking tall into glory.
The unique aspect to this is that while we are called to run this race we know that we are unable to beat Christ; more importantly, the goal of the race that we run is not to win, but to persevere and finish, since winning ultimately is not important, finishing is.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen