Richard Burgess, 21.11.2021
We all love a champion, especially someone who beats all the odds. Back in September we were taken up with the amazing story of 18 year old Emma Raducanu who came from almost nowhere to win the US open… Her victory also inspired others – “if she can do it, so can I.”
In this blog I want to share with you about a greater and more inspiring victory, a victory against even more astounding odds, and a far greater champion.
Heb 12:1-3. “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, 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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV). In the New Living Translation it has, “keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” “The Champion, ” I like that, and though its not there in the original, I think that’s true to the text.
These three verses are like a zip file, they are compressed and rammed full, and I want to try and unpack them. Reading the text recently I was blown away by it and went back as they say to the drawing board.
Sometimes it’s unfortunate we have chapters and verses in our Bibles, and this is one of them. It’s very easy to read, teach and preach chapter 12 as a standalone chapter, when in actual fact its immediately and vitally connected to the chapter before. In fact these two or three verses could be said to end that chapter.
The writer has been seeking to encourage the discouraged Hebrews to stay true to Jesus, to persevere, though they don’t yet see everything fulfilled at the moment – the temple is still standing, the priests are still offering sacrifices, and in view of the suffering and persecution they are being tempted to go back to the old way.
He tells them, Jesus is truly God, he was truly man, he is the great high priest, and yes the sacrifice he offered was a truly once for all atoning sacrifice and the Covenant he instituted way, way better than what went before.
Then as he comes towards the end of his letter he begins to move from exposition to exhortation. So he says at the end of chapter 10 verses 35, 36, “don’t throw away your confidence, which has great reward, for you need endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”
Then he reminds them of the heroes of faith, everyday, imperfect people, who believed, who trusted God in seemingly impossible situations against insurmountable odds, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites who left Egypt, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, etc. Then he says though they believed they didn’t receive.
Then we get to chapter 12 and he says, now look these are all witnesses to the life of faith. Look at their testimony and take note, be encouraged – they are not a crowd in the stands as is so often suggested, rather think of a courtroom, the more the witnesses the more the point is proved. They are witnesses to the life of faith.
So he says to them, in view of these witnesses, in view of their testimonies, let us also keep going, let us persevere in the race (race, long or short, may not be the best and intended metaphor, more likely the image is of a pilgrimage marked out for us), let’s us lay aside the weight and the sin that hindered (literally, “having laid aside,” something already done. When you run a race you do all that at the beginning), looking unto Jesus the Author (Pioneer), and Finisher of faith – the Champion.
In what way is Jesus the champion?
Its common for us to think that Jesus saves us through his atoning death, that he was simply born to die for us, in our place, to remove that which separated us from God. And that is true, but its not the whole truth.
Scripture also speaks of his very necessary life, how from incarnation to his death Jesus stood in our place as our Substitute and Representative, and lived out saving Righteousness for us.
It says that Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh, that he was made like us in every way (Heb 2:12; Rom 8:3). He was tempted in all points as we are – he knew the full power of temptation, but every time he said “no” to Satan and “yes” to his Father. He did not deviate from his Father’s will. Day by day he fulfilled a true and complete obedience to his Father in the power of the Spirit.
Jesus was born for us, baptised for us, kept the Law for us, lived out the life of faith for us – a life of absolute and perfect trust in the Father, then he died for us. He lived the life we should have lived but couldn’t. Everything counted from beginning to end. His whole life was a saving act. When he was born he was given the name Jesus, meaning he would save his people from their sins. Throughout his life he lived into that name, through his priestly and prophetic ministry, becoming in reality Jesus in every sense of the word.
Every word, every deed, every act of obedience, every forgiveness, deliverance, healing, miracle was a demonstration of who he was and of his priestly and prophetic ministry on behalf of broken humanity, defeating evil and restoring fellowship with the Father and fullness of life. What gives power to Jesus’s death is his life, without it, it would mean and accomplish nothing.
So he truly becomes the “Author and Finisher of faith” the champion (variously translated: the faith, our faith, of faith – literally it is ‘of faith’)
- ‘The faith’ can make it a mental or intellectual exercise, believing facts. Believe more.
- ‘Our faith’ can put the emphasis on us – keeping it up, gotta have more faith. Danger of having faith in our faith.
- ‘Of faith’ places it back on Jesus, which I believe was the authors intention
When it comes to salvation the meriting cause of salvation is Christ’s own faith, not yours or mine, we believe IN Jesus Christ to be saved BY FAITH OF Jesus Christ. So Romans 3:22 (KJV), “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe”.
When it comes to living out this life the enabling cause is Christ’s own faith, not yours or mine, its looking away unto Jesus who has authored, trailblazed and finished faith. Hence the writer says, “consider him who endured such hostility…” You have not and will not have to endure all that he did for the sake of your salvation.
This is why I think its right to follow these verses in a more literal, expanded translation. When the writer speaks of the weight and the sin that in most versions we need to lay aside, he is actually saying that in Christ that has been done, sorted!
- ‘the weight’ of religious ritual and performance that cannot save – they knew that only to well. Jesus spoke of the heavy and impossible burdens the religious leaders of the day laid upon people. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
- the reality of ‘Sin’ (not sins) which we cannot defeat. Sin is humanities biggest issue, but Jesus has defeated it, robbed it of its power.
It’s not then about something we are having to do! It’s DONE!
This parallels what Paul has to say in his letters,
- its not by religious works or rituals, but by God’s grace alone…
- in Christ we have died to sin, we are not under its power anymore, we can live righteously by the Spirit.
- we can run the race, we can persevere wherever we are, whatever we are going through, as the one who originates faith also finishes it, and enables us to continue in it as we keep our eyes on him
Here is my own translation/paraphrase of these verses:
“Therefore, since we also are surrounded by such a great number of testimonies to the life of faith, let us having put off every weight, and the sin that ensnares and hinders us, press on with endurance in the pilgrim journey that is set before us, looking to the originator and perfecter of faith – Jesus, who, over-against the joy set before him – endured the cross, having despised its shame, and is now sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, that you may not be wearied and faint.” Heb 12:1-3, my translation/parahprase
So the writer to the Hebrews calls on them once again to “consider him…” Maybe that’s what you need to do in the situation you find yourself, to turn your eyes upon Jesus once again, and look full in his wonderful face.
Perhaps you feel discouraged, perhaps you feel like turning back, perhaps you’ve been let down, or you didn’t get the answer you wanted, or hoped for. Perhaps things have not worked out as you imagined. Self pity will get you nowhere. Going back is not an option. You have need of endurance and you’ll get that as you look away unto Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, the Champion.