Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2
In the passage above, we may observe how it begins with the all-important, therefore, instructing us that the words to follow find their basis in what had previously been said. In this case, chapter 11 of Hebrews provides for us a bit of Christian history overview beginning with Abel and extending most likely to those of the first century. In light of those who have gone before us and have persevered in faithful obedience unto death, referred to as a great cloud of witnesses (martys), therefore. Following this is an exhortation with three injunctions: lay aside every weight and sin, run with endurance, and look unto Jesus. The entire passage sounds like a scene from an Olympic track meet, and purposefully so. With that in mind, the cloud of witnesses almost forms a type of audience watching and cheering us on from the stands, having already finished their own race.
The opening command is for us to rid ourselves of what is holding us back in the race of a faithful and persevering life. Here, those encumbrances are called a weight and sin. The verb to lay aside carries with it the idea of literally throwing or casting off, while the word for weight means whatever is prominent, like bulk or mass. Keeping with our metaphor of a race that the inspired author has provided, picture an out of shape runner with a few extra pounds around the midsection that are holding him back from running with endurance and finishing the race. For those old enough to remember, think of the first Rocky movie when he tries to run the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and is forced to quit early due to being out of shape.
Interestingly, added to this weight is the word sin, from the common word group harmartia. The implication may be that something can hold us back that is not specifically sinful, but standing alongside that as an additional encumbrance is sin. It is these that we are to cast off of us, or spiritually speaking, renounce. The ESV translation says that these hindrances cling so closely, but this misses the connective metaphor of running. The actual word is related to running and while it means to prevent or retard running on every side the concept is akin to standing around. Laying these hindrances aside keeps us from idly and lazily standing around. Instead, we are to run the race with endurance, looking unto the finish line, which is Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. In other words, while we have the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, it is Jesus and Him alone who we should fix our gaze upon. He has finished His race and set us on our course. He endured and persevered with joy even unto death and is now seated at the right hand of the Father where He intercedes for us on our behalf as the Great High Priest.
When we step back and consider our life in terms of a spiritual race, it is not difficult to see the connections that our being made. Through Jesus the course has been set and completed, therefore we are to keep our focus upon Him as we finish ours. There are, however, things in life that hold us back causing us to be fat and lazy which lead us to sin resulting in a lack of endurance. We are called to recognize and renounce them. May we have the faith necessary to recognize these in our lives; may God supply the grace necessary to cast them off; and may we faithfully persevere to the end of our race.
Soli Deo Gloria