By Helen Lambert
Jesus – the Initiator and Perfecter of our faith!
Does faith seem hard at the moment? In fact does life seem hard? It is often said that life is a marathon, not a sprint – and there are times in a marathon where it feels almost impossible to take the next step towards the finish. The image of a race is one that is used in Scripture to describe our journey of faith – and in today’s Bible reading, the writer acknowledges that it is an endurance race! Not only that, but Jesus has run it before us…
The writer of this letter highlights three ways in which we can be encouraged during this strange time when all is changing, but sometimes it feels as if nothing has changed. The first of these is set out immediately in v1.
We are surrounded
Whether we live on our own or with others, many have experienced the kindness, neighbourliness and a sense of community that has grown throughout this year. Coming on to our doorsteps to encourage the NHS, or to remember those whose lives have been lost, has somehow bound us together. Who, in particular, does this verse say “surrounds” us (v1)? At St Mary’s, many have known the importance of “fellowship” – that “togetherness” that we experience through the Holy Spirit in our lives – as we have continued to meet and worship, albeit remotely, through the wonderful technology of Zoom. How wonderful that our God is not limited by physical walls and distances! There are times when running a long race when it is only the encouragement of the crowds lining the road – “You can do this!” – that keeps us going. Let us not stop encouraging one another in these (hopefully) last stages of beating the pandemic.
Strip off the weight
For an endurance athlete, the balance between weight and strength is an important one, and it is essential that they are not carrying any unnecessary weight on race day that would slow them down. Whilst God does not mind what physical shape or size we are, he does want us to run this “race” of our Christian life unhindered. What are the things that might slow us down, or even “trip us up” (v1)? As we reflect on the past year, can we use the opportunity to consider what might be preventing us from living life as God intended? We may not have been out much – but are there aspects of our attitudes, relationships and behaviours that we have hidden away, but we know need to change? “Strip off every weight that slows us down” – use this time to commit to change!
Eyes on Jesus
If the challenges just mentioned seem hard, we are now told how to do it (v2) – what is the secret? All successful athletes have a trainer – the one who commits to seeing them succeed, from beginning to end. The athlete can only succeed if they follow the trainer, who will themselves have been a successful athlete who has won many races – a true “champion”. Who do these verses say is our “champion”, and what is his role (v2)? The secret is that we are not meant to run this race alone. The “crown of witnesses” (v1) can support and encourage us, but is it Jesus himself, our champion, who enables and empowers us. Note that he is both the “initiator” (some versions say “author”) and “perfecter” of our faith. We so often feel guilty that we are not trying hard enough to believe, or not trying hard enough to live the right way. The world tells us that we need to rely on our own inner resources. The Bible tells us that it is Jesus himself who, by his Holy Spirit living in us, is our inner resource. He sows the seed of faith within us, he shows us the way forward, and he gives us the strength and ability to live according to what he has shown us – to “run the race”.
We know we can trust him to do this because he has run it before us (v2b). This coming week we will remember how Jesus went to the cross (v2) and died for all our sakes (v4) in order for us to be able to live our present lives in relationship with him, free of all that slows us down (v1). We have this “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” * because this death was not the end – Easter is a celebration, not a mourning, because Jesus rose again and “is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne” (v2).
And so, this Easter, if you are tempted to “become weary and give up” (v3), “fix your eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith”!
1Great is Thy Faithfulness. Thomas Obediah Chisolm 1923
Hebrews 12: 1-4 (NLT)
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. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
Bible passage source: Bible Gateway online: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews%2012%3A1-4&version=NLT