The Heavenly Race
by G.J. Stewart
The Heavenly Race (Hebrews 12)
The blessed Person of JESUS—A name so frequently used alone of our Lord in this epistle, a fact to be greatly noted—is the great theme of the epistle. It is Jesus we see crowned with glory and beauty (2:9). Jesus, who is Apostle and High Priest of our confession (3:1). Jesus, made High Priest for ever after Melchisedec’s order (6:20; 7:21). The blood of Jesus opens the Holy places for us (10:19). Here we look away from all else to Jesus who has finished the race (12:2). Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant (12:24). Jesus who suffered without the gate (13:12). Eight times this Name is used alone, without any other title. This is His Name as Man, and shows the necessity of the Manhood of our Lord to the subject matter of the epistle.
The endurance of faith is prominent in the first passage of this chapter, occurring no less than four times in the first seven verses, showing again that it is in this way we shall find faith called into exercise today.
Let us also therefore—
RUN WITH ENDURANCE THE RACE THAT LIES BEFORE US.
The path of faith is looked at as a race here, the word (Agona, used only here in the epistle) is translated fight, conflict, elsewhere; the goal is glory, the Object Jesus. Let us run not as uncertainly, so fight not as one that beateth the air. Prizes are for all in this race, there is no blank; we have both object and incentive here. The Prospect in this race looks right through death to Jesus; and while “It were a well spent journey, though seven deaths lay between,” we may be ushered at any moment into the presence of His glory without passing through death at all. But if it should come upon us it can come but once and then only as shorn of all its horrors, and deprived of its sting by the death of Jesus, so that we die only to death. Still it must be remembered that we look not for death, but for the coming One, who in yet a very little while shall come and will not tarry.
The great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, refers to those in the previous chapter who witnessed to the power of faith. The only sense of the word witness (martyr) in the original being that of those who bore witness to anything, even at the cost of their lives. There is by the grace of God a great cloud of these witnesses to the truth, whose steps we are to follow so that our names may be added to the completed list of this glorious scroll of faith in the coming day. If the word for “cloud surrounding us,” suggests the thought of spectators in the theatre of old, which cannot be the true sense here, though it may be behind it in contrast, then the spectators (theatres) are such as have fought the fight and run the race themselves, and are all the more keen as observers of the way we run or fight.
Every weight must be laid aside if we would run well in this race. Weights are things not wrong in themselves, but such as would retard the racer; who if he enters into the spirit of the position he is in and values the Object, Christ, will carry nothing that hinders his reaching the goal and prize. Alas! how many are weighted here. All pomp and pride; all majesty and sublimity of present things—for the word (Ongkos, only used here) means all these—must be sacrificed to the Object, more glorious than them all. It is surely to be counted greater riches than all the treasures of this world; but alas! this does not suit those who value such things, to whom they cling as with a hook.
But more than this, it must be remembered that sin easily entangles us, and weights may run complacently into sin. Sin stands round about us and easily attaches itself to us like a garment, entangling us in the race. Good it is to know that One tabernacles over us, to protect us also. One who is solicitous that we should be delivered from this easily besetting sin, enabling us to put it away from us and to fall into the arms of the mercy which embraceth us on every side. This will make us also glory in infirmities that the power of Christ may tabernacle over us. All these things must be persistently refused as hindering running. Perhaps each man’s running is known as of old, where it is stated, “The running is like unto the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok”; and indeed it must be that He who knows us through and through, knows also how we run.
Run we, therefore—
LOOKING OFF UNTO JESUS.
This word (Aphorontes) signifies the looking away from other things and fixing the eye exclusively upon the object. Here, then, we are to look away from everything else, whether the things not yet put under Him, or the witnesses of the previous chapter, and fix the eye upon Jesus, the Leader and Completer of faith, the glorious Object who is to control our pathway.
We may get encouragement from the separate acts of faith of others, but we get endurance or stay only by fixing the eye steadily on Jesus who ran the whole race without failure or breakdown. When thinking of others, it is impossible not to think of the failures connected with the very acts mentioned, but Jesus commenced the course of faith and ran right through to the and triumphantly; for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame.
Anticipative joy rendered Him superior to the pains of crucifixion, obliterating the shame of it all, so that He rejoiced amid all the circumstances that surrounded Him. “Lo, I come, in the roll of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, O My God,” shows both the object and the spirit in which Jesus performed that which He came to do. The joy was the prospect of seeing God’s will accomplished and the whole universe filled with His blessing and praise (see vv. 22-24), though a more immediate object filled His heart also, that of seeing a praising people now in the midst of the confusion, who by faith enter into the holy places with heart and voice at liberty to speak freely to Him in praise. It is not alone the thought of having the church as the bride with Him in glory—this is but part of it, though the chief part.
For Him the race is already run, and the witnesses in the previous chapter. He has entered into the possession of the promises, which have all been fulfilled (yea and amen) in Him who is seated on the right hand of the throne of God, to the glory of God by us. In Him they are ours, to avail ourselves of them by faith and the Spirit’s power, that in the joy of it all we may give thanks to His Name.
This is the fourth time this session of our Lord at God’s right hand is mentioned (though referred to at other times). As the Son, who made purgation for sins (1:3). The perfected Son, High Priest, Minister of the Sanctuary ready to offer gifts (8:1-3). As having done with sacrifice for sins for ever (10:12). As Jesus, who having run the race has taken His seat on the throne of God. Occupied with Him there, we can but view Him in all these aspects, and may well look away from everything within and around us, to Himself.
For consider well Him who endured such contradiction against Himself, lest ye be weary and faint in your minds (v. 3). This word (Analogizo) means to weigh so as to judge its value as against other things. What is anyone else in comparison with Him? What endurance like His? Not only the cross and shame in itself, but all the gainsaying of sinners in detail that led up to it. All were opposed to Him at the last: Satan, man, His own friends and disciples, and finally, because of our sins, God’s judgment was upon Him and God’s face hidden from Him. Vet with the most intense sense of all the degradation, was there no weariness, but endurance; no fainting in mind, but submission to the will of God and continual renewal of strength.
Christ’s temptations were all from without, all from the enemy. There was no weight arising from desire of anything contrary to God’s will; that will was what He had come to do, and this He continually pursued even to the end, and though He had as Man to cry, “If it be possible, let this cup pass,” He added immediately, “Not My will but Thine be done!” Further, the thought that any sin could pounce upon Him who hid God’s word in His heart that He might not sin against Him, is blasphemy.
Now the Hebrews up to the then present moment had endured much opposition of the same character and from the same source as that from which Christ’s came, and though some may have even been slain, he reminds those to whom he wrote:—
YE HAVE NOT RESISTED UNTO BLOOD STRIVING AGAINST SIN.
Here is, again, a reference to Gethsemane, the word being “agonizing against” sin. Jesus, being in an agony, sweat, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground. The more awful Calvary, is also in view; the thorny crown, the nails, showed resistance unto blood; while the spear thrust proved in blood and water the death of Him, whose life blood was thus shed.
They had not come to this, though they had endured much; others in chapter 11 had done so, including perhaps some from among themselves, and at any time they might be called upon to pass through death for His sake. Endurance must have its perfect work that they may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing, even to the end. Jesus was complete and perfect in all the will of God and was heard from the horn of the unicorn.
God, on the other hand, is above all things, so that He can use even the troubles which come upon His people for His sake, to discipline them and to teach them lessons not to be otherwise learnt by them. This is the wonder working of our God, who makes the very enemy to accomplish His purposes in and for those who love Him; and this above all His dealings is the object before Him. Creator He is, but the stability of the universe is with Him as nothing in comparison with the spiritual progress of the souls of His own. This can be understood when the fact is considered that He called the universe into existence that He might secure a people for Himself who should be for ever with and like Christ His Son. This being borne in mind will help to keep the loins girded and the heart filled with desire to endure to the end.