I think that I have heard more sermons based on Hebrews 12 than on any other passage of Scripture. Actually, to be even more precise, I believe that I have heard more sermons based on Hebrews 12:1–2 than any other passage from the Bible. As such, these two verses are among my “favorites” when I am asked to list the Scriptures that have been particularly meaningful to me.
One reason I think that I enjoy these verses so much is that I tend to be an easily distracted person. No matter where I am or what I am doing, I often find myself trying to pay close attention to everything that is going on around me. If I am at a restaurant with a group of people, I hate sitting in the middle of the table because the danger is that I will be so busy trying to talk to and listen to everybody that I really end up having good conversations with no one. As I sit here writing this article, my mind keeps wandering off and thinking about some of the current situations around me. Not that such things are unique to me. So many of my friends and relatives also testify to the fact that there are so many things in our lives that can distract us from whatever task may currently be at hand.
Though I tend to be distracted fairly easily, I have to say that generally these distractions do not usually cause me much trouble in day-to-day life. I am able to complete tasks on time and, generally speaking, accomplish the goals that are under my control. I can focus and do so when necessary.
Spiritually speaking, however, this has not always been the case. Too often in my life, I have found myself distracted from the pursuit of Christ in all areas of my life. Sometimes these distractions have been “good” things like close relationships or ministry. Unfortunately, I have all too often let these good things give me “reasons” for neglecting the true and authentic pursuit of Jesus. I have thought that my ultimate reward for persevering would be Jesus plus that perfect relationship/friendship or Jesus plus the perfect job or even Jesus plus that prestigious ministry position.
The reason why I have enjoyed this passage from Hebrews so much is that so often in my life it has helped to refocus my attention on Christ. As I was about to graduate from college and was unsure regarding the next step in my life, a campus minister read these verses to me in order to remind me that if I kept my eyes on Jesus, everything would fall into place. A few years ago, as I struggled with some hurtful events from the past, a sermon on this passage helped me to realize again the need to focus on Christ in the midst of my pain.
Taking our eyes off Jesus is the most dangerous thing we could ever do. Paradoxically, it is also the easiest. We can let past hurts, troubles, or even good things like ministry distract us from the ultimate prize, which is Christ alone.
Keeping our eyes upon Jesus is rarely an easy thing. Our old, fleshly natures conspire against any attempt to remain faithful to the Savior. We can forget that our reward is Christ Himself and wander off into the vain pursuit of other things. We can allow the cares of this world to push us away from the Lord instead of looking to Him in the midst of our pain and difficulties.
This was the danger faced by the original audience of Hebrews. Pain and trouble were in danger of being seized upon as reasons why they should abandon the race. The toil of discipline and false nostalgia for the old covenant produced a longing for something other than Christ.
Unlike the original audience of Hebrews, we may not be particularly tempted to return to the old covenant. Nevertheless, we might find ourselves tempted to leave the Savior. If we depend on our own strength and faithfulness then we will fall. That is why the author of Hebrews reminds us to look to Jesus. He tells us in 12:1–2 that “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, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” As we remember our Savior and His endurance for the sake of the prize, we will be enabled to press on and finish the race.
Some people have thought that looking to Jesus means that we do nothing ourselves. On one level there is some truth in that for any true pursuit of the Savior comes only when the Holy Spirit moves our hearts to look only to Jesus. Still, this is not the same thing as inactivity. When our hearts are moved, there are things that we do from faith that strengthen ourselves for the race ahead.
The remainder of the book of Hebrews focuses on those things that can be done to prepare us for the race ahead. As we follow the commands given by the author, the Holy Spirit will work through us and cause us to cling to Jesus. God will move His children to faithfulness and in our faithfulness, we will hold to Christ.
This month, our studies will begin looking at those things that can be done to prepare ourselves for the race ahead. Let us receive these commands happily so that we will ever live in gratitude for coming into the kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:28–29).