"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne." New Living Translation
Reading the second verse of Hebrews 12 reminds me of a song we sang when I was a kid. The chorus said,
"Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace."
The writer of Hebrews says the same in encouragement to us as we run the race of life as a believer in Jesus. We are to live with our eyes ever on our champion who is the initiator and perfecter our faith.
As Carol and I (rapidly it seems at times) draw closer to the end of our race, Hebrews 12 is a fitting reminder. After listing the faithful in chapter 11, chapter twelve seems to be a "Remember, Don't Forget" exclamation mark. This race is one of endurance that requires our efforts to disentangle ourselves of all those things of this life that hinder us in finishing the race well.
Of first importance is remembering the love of Jesus who endured the cross with all its shame and hostility so that all who receive him, who believe in His name, might become children of God, born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13) Of equal importance is the reminder that God disciplines His children - those whom He loves. As Jesus endured the cross, as the perfect portrayal of the Father's love for us, we are to endure His discipline as evidence of His love for us as His children. Even though this discipline is painful, His ultimate purpose is for us to share in His character of holiness. Ephesians 1:4 describes our relationship in this way, "...he (the Father) chose us in him (Jesus) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ." The result of His discipline is a peaceful life lived correctly before Him and others.
Because of these truths, we are commanded to actively do three things as Believers: 1) strengthen ourselves in the Lord; 2) walk in paths of righteousness; 3) strive equally for peace with everyone and holiness. Isaiah 35:3-4 explains the first command this way, "Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to the those who have an anxious heart, 'Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God.'" Proverbs 4:26-27 (NLT) provides a great description of the second command; "Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil." The third command reminds me of Ephesians 4:15, "speaking the truth in love." I struggle to give equal weight to speaking the truth and doing so in love. I tend to be more emphatic with one or the other. I find the same tension in being at peace with everyone while also pursuing holiness.
Our God and Father, thank You for loving us not only through the gift of Your Son but for Your discipline. Forgive us for resisting Your efforts to conform us to the likeness of the author and perfecter of our faith. Holy Spirit, please have your way with us. Stir within us an increasing desire to strengthen ourselves in the Lord as we pursue peace with our neighbor and the holiness that allows us to see You.