We are entering a season of beginnings. For some it’s the beginning of another school year; backpacks are full, spirits are high, excited, anxious, light, terrified, or a combination of these and more.
For others it is the beginning of a brand new adventure. Some are heading to college, others to work, still others to kindergarten. The parents of the latter are probably experiencing a combination of excited and terrified. Come to think of it, all these doubtless have their own mishmash of emotion.
We are also entering a season of finishing. High school seniors have a little more than 180 days to go, college seniors a few credits, seniors, not in school but in age, see retirement on the horizon.
Seasons of beginning and finishing. We can all pretty much plan our beginnings and know how it will go. It’s the finishing that is a mystery. However, there are things people believe they can do to work on finishing well. Studying for tests, working ahead on project, setting up a retirement account are used to hedge successful finishes. Despite the safeguards, all would have to admit there are no guarantees. Even more, when looking over this list of finishings they are, in reality, not the end of anything. Rather, these are just mile markers.
There is a true finish to this race we are running. There is a last lap, a closing bell. The race is life, the finish is when this life is over and life after life begins. It is to this end that the writer of Hebrews challenges the runner to finish well. For many his words are familiar ones: “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.” (12:1-2)
Led by the Spirit of God, the writer reminds us that we are all running a race and his desire, even more God’s, is that we keep running and finish well. Finishing well means we live a life that pleases and honors the Lord. There are three words and a picture in these two verses that help us do just that. And make no mistake he is talking to us. Seven times pronouns are used that point to you, to us. As for the three words, we are called to lay aside every “weight,” put aside every “sin” and to run with “endurance.”
First let’s put aside every weight. The word translated weight describe something that slows a runner down. We’ve all seen athletes, for instance marathon runners, prepare to start a race. They come in their warm-up clothes on the chilly morning of the event. Before the starting gun sounds, they strip down to just their running shorts, shirt and shoes. There would be nothing wrong with running in their sweats but they know those articles of clothing would slow them down. They would not finish well.
In life there are weights, things that are not wrong or sinful but can impede us from accomplishing a good finish. Technological advances have provided many weights in life. There nothing inherently sinful about the internet but it becomes a weight when one spends so much time on it that time with God is robbed and relationships within the family are neglected. It’s not wrong to have the latest upgrade, unless the money used to acquire it should have been used to provide for a true need or belonged to the Lord. Again weights are not blatantly sinful activities but they keep the runner from running the course well.
Then there is sin. The writer reminds us that this ensnares, entangles. There is a reason runners makes sure their shoes are tightly tied. To be tripper up and fall in the middle of a race ensures a poor completion of the run. God has given us His Word so we can know His heart and thoughts, and so we can know what sin is. As we run we must stay clear of sin for it will trip us. God has given us the way to keep from being entangled and falling.
The third word is endurance. We must keep on running. The word presupposes that the race is not an easy one. There will be seasons when quitting will be tempting. But God calls on us to keep running. We must not let the obstacles and the hills stop us. God has a race for us to not only run but to finish.
To reinforce the three words the writer gives us one picture. He illustrates the reason and way to run an unencumbered race. The picture is Jesus. In the second verse we are called on to keep our eyes fixed on Him. He is both our example and our ability. He finished the race His Father set for Him. Because Jesus finished, He enables us to do the same.
Even more, Jesus is our ability to run with endurance. He is the writer of our faith from start to finish. Because He completed His race, dying on the cross and raising from the dead on the third day, all who are His can complete the race God has set out for His children to run.
We do not run on our own, nor do we complete the race in our own strength and ability. It is in and through Christ that the believer can run the race to the end and cross the finish line well.
In this season of beginnings and finishes, may we all focus on the only finish that matters. May we keep our eyes on Christ and run to race to the end.