Hebrews 12 begins with a call to action. The writer says, “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.” In order to truly understand the context and message of this verse, we have to look back at chapter 11 to find out who this great cloud of witnesses is. Chapter 11 of Hebrews, which is often called the “Hall of Faith”, tells the stories of Old Testament heroes like Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Moses, whose lives exemplified faith in action. This chapter serves as a foundation for Hebrews 12, creating a strong narrative bridge between the lived experiences of these spiritual ancestors and the journey of faith for the reader.
The phrase “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” uses the imagery of an ancient amphitheater or coliseum. Similar to that of a stadium filled with heroes of the faith from the past, who are now witnesses to our own faith race. Except for these heroes of the faith aren’t just spectators, but active participants that are encouraging and inspiring us with their life stories.
Then the author tells us to, “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”. The language used here would be in reference to a runner who is preparing for a race by shedding any unnecessary clothing or weight. In our spiritual race, this could be a variety of things: sin struggles, harmful habits, distracting pursuits, or even just relationships or desires that lead us away from God. The writer’s point is to identify and rid ourselves of these hindrances, so we can run our race to the best of our ability.
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” the verse continues. The use of the word ‘perseverance’ tells us that this race isn’t just a sprint. It’s a marathon that requires patience, resilience, and long-term commitment. The first-century believers would have understood this better than anyone. They were experiencing intense personal persecution, and with the impending destruction of the Jewish temple would lead some to consider abandoning their Christian faith and reverting to Judaism.
But the writer of Hebrews encouraged them to run the race with perseverance, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” in verse 2. Fixing our eyes on Jesus is more than just a temporary glance once or twice a week when we go to church. The original Greek word meant to turn the eyes away from other things and to fix them on something else. Or in our case, someone being Jesus. This means an intentional focus on Jesus, placing Him at the center of our thoughts, actions, and decisions.
To keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we have to stay connected to Him. Through regular prayer and Bible study, we maintain our connection. This allows us to understand Jesus’s teachings, experience His presence and seek His guidance. It’s like tuning into a radio frequency; the more we tune into God’s ‘frequency’ through prayer and scripture, the clearer His voice becomes in our lives.
So consider your life. What are the weights and sins holding you back today? Maybe it’s a habit, a relationship, a grudge, or a pursuit that’s not inherently sinful but it’s distracting you from God’s purpose. Commit to ‘throwing off’, or shedding, these hindrances. This may take prayer, fasting, counseling, or accountability – but remember, you’re not running alone. You’re part of a community, being cheered on by a great cloud of witnesses and your church family. Lastly, you must determine to run your race with perseverance and your eyes fixed on Jesus. The Christian life is not a sprint – there’s no first-place medal for the ‘first and fastest’. The Christian life is a marathon with the goal of finishing in order to hear, “well done, my good and faithful servant”. There will be obstacles, fatigue, and times you’ll want to quit. But the call of Hebrews 12:1-2 is to keep running, knowing God has set a unique course for each of us.