Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)
Faith responds in the face of difficulty by remembering what God has promised and believing it because of God’s character. The writer imagines a great cloud of witnesses, a massive number, all taking the stand to give evidence, and testifying that the best way to live life is to live by faith. Above all these witnesses is Jesus, the preeminent example of faith, who trusted so completely in the promises of his Father that He was willing to submit Himself even to the cross. Aside from the unimaginable pain, there was no more shameful death than crucifixion, a death intended to utterly degrade those who opposed Rome. But Jesus shamed the shame – He treated it as insignificant compared to the promises of God, and He endured it to come through to the place of exultation. So He became the perfect example of one who, by faith, endured suffering to obtain the promise.
As we run the race – a good metaphor for living life as Christians – we keep our eyes on Jesus, who has already run the race before us, and then we’ll be sure to stay on course. He is the one who can make us perfectly fitted for what God intends for us in this life, and He is able to present us faultless before God’s throne when finally we have left behind the struggles of this world. How do we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus? By reading the apostolic testimony contained in the scriptures – ‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ (John 20:30-31 ESV).
As we read the scriptures and look to Jesus, we’ll have the resolve not to give in to peer pressure. As we read and remember what He suffered to withstand sin, we’ll gain the strength to resist in those moments when we face powerful temptations. As we read and reflect on the sinless life of our Saviour, we’ll find the will to contend against those weaknesses that keep us from a holy life. And we do all of this not in our own strength, for indwelling sin is the lot of the children of Adam. The privilege of the children of God is to have the indwelling Spirit to fight and subdue our old sinful nature, and so we look to Jesus as our example and we trust in His Spirit to help us in our weakness.
There is no promise that it will be easy, and so the writer talks about discipline, how God disciplines those whom He loves as His own children. This is a training form of discipline, not a punishment for sin. It is the kind of training that helps us to become better, stronger, wiser, to do the right things, to live the right way. Even though the hardships we face bring us sorrow in the moment, we are encouraged to trust God for the joy we’ll experience when these difficulties bear fruit in our lives, when turmoil gives way to peace and a blessed assurance of our right standing with God.