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 source and perfecter 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.
(Hebrews 12:1-2 HCSB)
Who are these witnesses? The Greek term translated witness is
μάρτυς martus mar’-toos
a witness (literally [judicially] or figuratively [generally]); by analogy a “martyr”: – martyr, record, witness.
These witnesses are not the people around us watching our lives today. These witnesses are in the cloud. They are the people referred to in Chapter 11.
They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
(Hebrews 11:37-38 HCSB)
It says something doesn’t it that these faithful people suffered so much. The world was not worthy of them. If anyone was able to use faith to make their life comfortable, wouldn’t these people be able to? If they had God-given authority to claim health and wealth why didn’t they use it to get out of those goatskins and get into a mansion?
To get a sense of what was going on here is a quote from Pliny the Younger
…I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished…
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
Roman Emperor Trajan’s response to Pliny the Younger
…if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it–that is, by worshiping our gods–even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance…
Can you imagine? All they had to do was deny Christ and worship the Roman gods and they would be forgiven. Think this isn’t going on in the world today? Just check out the movie Love Costs Everything.
Let Us Lay Aside Every Weight
The Greek word onkos is translated as a weight, encumbrance or hindrance. The picture is of something so heavy it is bulging and the arm is bending outward with an ache. This is not some trivial weight. This is something that would definitely prevent your running.
What is that weight?
For the original readers of the book of Hebrews who were trying to live in Christ and the Law the weight was the Law. Can you just picture a runner slowly stumbling down the track while carrying a large bulging load. He’s not getting anywhere fast. Sweat pours down his face and the author of Hebrews comes to him and says “Why don’t you put that weight down?” You don’t have to carry that burden.
And The Sin That So Easily Ensnares Us
euperistatos – to stand around
The phrase “easily ensnares” is actually the same word repeated twice euperistatos. Can you just picture a runner who is supposed to be cruising quickly by but instead he is standing around and the enemy is encircling him. A net or a snare soon traps him and the enemy says – easy…
It was easy to ensnare him because he is carrying heavy loads and standing around when he ought to be running.
There are then two things that I need to lay aside
- The heavy load of good things done for the wrong reasons
- The sins that tangle up my feet because I’m not running and just standing around
It is time to apotithemi (lay aside, put off) these things. Why? Because I’ve got a race to run.
God show me the heavy loads that I am carrying. Those distractions, those good things like law keeping that weigh me down. God help me to keep moving so the enemy can’t encircle me and ensnare me so easily. When everything within me wants to give up and stop running give me the strength to keep moving. Help me to remember those who even today are martus, witnesses to a death defying faith and spurred on by their example run this race with endurance.