Hebrews 12:1 – 3
With the so many examples cited by this brilliant writer, the unbelieving Jews at this time would have no excuse to give as they prepared to respond positively to the message of the Gospel. A negative response by anyone of them would have implied that they doubted the story of the existence of Adam, Eve, Enoch, Noah and even Abraham. Not responding positively would have indirectly implied that the Nation of Israel was more like a faux, meaning that no Nation should be called Israel. They would have thought about this and finally made a positive response.
Coupled with the unbelieving Jews, there were many believing ones who were also subjected to all sorts of persecution and suffering. They were afflicted by their fellow Jews because they had made a break from Judaism. The sufferings and pain came in the form of social and financial pressure; some of them had been imprisoned and deprived of the basic things of life. With these challenges, many of the converted ones were almost tempted to return to Judaism as there was no indication that the social and economic pressures were going to subside or evaporate. The writer focuses his attention on the many that have been tempted to going back to the Old Testament.
He began from where he stopped with the many examples of men and women who became endorsed by God when they responded positively to His instructions. He did not forget to describe the many pains and afflictions they went through. Moses for example left the palace not knowing what would befall him and decided to pitch his tent with the suffering Israelites. Rahab also responded to the God she had never met even in the face of the King who could have wiped out her family and all she represented. Time will not permit me to mention more of these great people and what they went through as they decided to standout for God and what they believed in.
The writer described them as WITNESSES as he starts the chapter. The word WITNESS is martus in the Greek which when translated to English is MARTYR – one who bears witness by his/her death. To bring this home and describe in today’s language, it means a pioneer who blazed the way or veterans who stood, suffered excruciating pain and eventually died for making positive responses to the God they had never seen. These were people whose lives and actions testified to the worth and effect of FAITH, and who’s FAITH received ENDORSEMENTS from the almighty God.
The writer described them as examples; and in his own words, they were clouds of witnesses. In plain terms, the writer encouraged his listeners not to give up as some of them were in pains and divers kinds of afflictions, sufferings and setbacks. If the veterans could suffer that much and didn’t receive the promise, how much more WE who have finally received the promise of His Son. “Get on with it”, the writer told them in the face of the social and economic setback and gravitated to describing their pain with another metaphor of RUNNING IN A RACE.
Not everyone would be qualified to run in a race. So to qualify in this particular race, the writer made it clear they had to respond positively to the message of the Gospel. To the BELIEVING JEWS, those who had abandoned Judaism, the qualified ones were compared to the ones who are ready to RUN in the RACE. To the UNBELIEVING JEWS, the ones that were yet to make up their minds, the writer advised them to get into the race. The Martyrs were WITNESSES because they responded in obedience to God and the instructions they were given. You have to participate in a RACE before the hope of winning.
The word RACE in the Greek language is written as AGON, to which the word AGONY was coined from. A RACE isn’t a thing of superfluity or living a life of luxury, it is a demanding, stressful and challenging exercise; it is grueling and agonizing. It requires our utmost in self-discipline, fortitude and more so our diligence. Therefore, in order to run in this race, we are demanded to cast off every encumbrance (what weighs us down as in a weight) or hindrance like the WITNESSES did. There will be obstacles and there will be weariness but we are advised by this brilliant writer to endure if we are to WIN in this RACE. We cannot win in this race if we decide to run carrying excess weight, which eventually drains us of our energy. The main encumbrance was Judaism, which more or less was pleasing to the flesh.
To the unqualified, they were to lay aside THE SIN, which is UNBELIEF if they were to feature in the race at all.
To the qualified, we are called not to please the cloud of witnesses but to see them as examples we can copy as they tirelessly and without fear walked with God in spite of the obstacles. The cloud of witnesses were not witnesses to us but to God; they are examples and not on-lookers; they are not looking at us, we are supposed to look at them if we are to win in THIS RACE.
The one who competes in a RACE only has his/her focus on the finishing line; not on their feet or on other competitors of the same race. Having the wrong focus will act as a distraction if we are to compete and complete the race. We are called upon to look at Jesus, not the witnesses as we run in this race because when we have our focus on Him, we would see things differently.
When the challenges that comes with running a race sets in and we become weary, we are to consider the Jesus who also ran and finished His own race. We are called to study on how Jesus finished His race as He continued with determination having His focus on the joy that was set before Him. He did not mind the temporary pain; He was able to put up with anything and everything that He was faced with – the cross, the shame and the scourging He endured from His people. He got there in the end – the right hand of His Majesty.
To the ones suffering or going through the challenges and pains in this life (socio-economic) pressures, the writer’s idea about endurance was for them, to go over the story of Jesus again and again, line upon line, item by item, that long litany of hostility Jesus plowed through so that all they discover from His story will shoot more adrenalin into their souls.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon drove the point home when he said, “They who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls. Some of you people of God, when you get bitter waters, want to throw them away. Do not throw a drop of it away, for that is the water you have yet to drink. Accept your afflictions. They are a part of your education. All afflictions are not chastisements for sin; there are some afflictions that have quite another end and object”.
Keep it right here and be refreshed!