As believers in Christ, we are all in a marathon. This marathon is much different from its earthly counterpart. There is a prize—and a punishment for not finishing or not entering at all. It’s grueling to think that we are in one race or another, taking one side or another without being aware. But the Bible affirms that the race we run will either be within the Gate Broad or the Gate Narrow (Matthew 7:13-14).
Fortunate for us, God’s grace is as broad as it is deep. He has provided not only a way to finish this race but also Someone who already has. Our devotional focuses on Hebrews 12:1-2. Below is an English diagram along with some of my own thoughts. A full-sized diagram can be downloaded with the provided link on the bottom of the picture.
Red = main subject/clause
Purple = participial/participial clause-phrase
Green = subordinating/coordinate conjunction
The chapter starts with the familiar “Therefore…” which looks back at the preceding Hebrews 11, affectionately called the Hall of Faith. Chapter 11 lays out the men and women whose faith is praised, going as far as to highlight the fact that even though they tasted earthly death their faith gave them the sight to see since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect (11:40).
The main clause, Let us run the race, and the prevailing idea, is sandwiched between two participle phrases. I believe these two phrases are complimentary to the main verb as both are circumstantial and give the means as to how we are to run the race (i.e., the Christian life). Circumstantial participles, though not the main verb, can shed light on a text as Greek scholar, Herbert Smyth points out.
The circumstantial participle is added, without the article, to a noun or pronoun to set forth some circumstance under which an action, generally the main action, takes place…Such participles usually have the force of subordinate clauses added to the main verb by conjunctions denoting time, condition, cause, etc; but may often be rendered by adverbial phrases or even by a separate finite verb, which brings out distinctly the idea latent in the participle(Smyth, H. W. (1920). A Greek Grammar for Colleges. New York; Cincinnati; Chicago; Boston; Atlanta: American Book Company, pg. 456-457 – Logos Edition).
- The first participial clause, let us lay aside every weight and sin, precedes the main verb. According to Steve Runge, Research Associate in the Department of Ancient Studies at the University of Stellenbosch, this clause is a literary device known as a Topical Frame. It serves to “front” a specific action, in this case, the running of the race. (Lexham Discourse Greek New Testament-Logos Edition). The author then proceeds to tell us why we are to perform this action. It is because of those who had gone before them. The attributive participle since we are surrounded refers specifically to the heroes of chapter 11. It gives the audience a sense of hope that they are not the only ones to “give up” something of temporal value.
- The second participle phrase is looking unto Jesus. It is connected to the main subject and verb let us run and describes the manner in which this is to occur. BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature), gives two possible definitions for this word: the first is to direct ones attention to without distraction. The second is to develop a more precise knowledge about something or someone. (Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pg. 158 Logos Edition). The first definition seems to fit the context much better. But the question remains of how one is to look to Jesus? I believe the answer is found in our first participle clause: we look, fix, gaze our attention upon Jesus by laying aside every weight and sin which so easily clings to us. Since the participle looking is subordinate to the main verb and is connected to the participial phrase lay aside every weight and sin by the coordinating conjunction καὶ (and), I believe the author of Hebrews is admonishing his audience from apostatizing by laying that temptation aside to gaze upon the sure and steadfast anchor of the soul (Heb 6:19).
The author now turns to the focus of the Christian life, Jesus, whom he calls the founder and perfecter of the Christian faith. Interestingly, the author points out two parallels between our own race and that of the Savior.
First, just as Jesus has endured the cross, we are to run our race with endurance. The word ὑπομένω (hupōmenō) is used in both cases and indicates maintaining a belief or course of action in the face of opposition (BDAG). The recipients of this epistle were in danger of turning back from the faith because of opposition from the Jewish community. They must now run with endurance in the same way the Founder of their faith had to hupōmenō His own course which led to death on the cross!
A second seemingly parallel is the idea that both Jesus’ course and our course is laid out for us to see. Again, the author uses the same Greek word for both, πρόκειμαι (prokemai). He uses the word in chapter 6 to describe our future hope, as well. And interestingly, the word is also used in Jude to refer to the example of the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah. All of this appears to indicate that whatever course is marked out for the author’s audience, it will take not only endurance, but a dependence on the One who finished the race against all opposition that was before Him.
The Christian life is indeed a marathon. It is not something to be entered into lightly, as Jesus Himself has told us, “Consider the cost.” (Luke 14:28) The race is full of dangers, oppositions, temptations, fleshly enemies, and the powers of Hell itself opposes all who would enter into the narrow gate. The only way to finish the race is by fixing our gaze upon the One who has already won, laying aside and cutting off anything and everything that would hinder us from reaching the finish line. Our Savior has given us gifts to complete our race.
First, and chiefly, He has given us Himself as the sacrifice which is pleasing to the Father. Without His merits and atonement, we would not even be able to enter into the race and we would be left on our own to walk in this realm, unaided and uncared for.
Second, He has given us the gifts of baptism and His body & blood. These visible, physical elements are His way to aid us in our endurance. We feast on His body and blood to revive our weary sin-stained souls so that we may continue to run (John 6:55-56). And in our baptism, we are daily reminded that our old Adam must be drowned and our new life must rise from the flood waters and live moment by moment unto Christ (Romans 6:1-6).
Dear Christian brothers and sisters, be encouraged that your race, your problems, your trials, are not so peculiar that there has never been one to endure what you endure. Know that Christ has already won Life for you by perfectly submitting to the Father. Be encouraged that His gifts are sufficiently and abundantly provided to you so that you too, when crossing the finish line will hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”