Keep Going (Hebrews 12:3)

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I recently watched a video clip on CNN.com of a marathon that was run in Austin, Texas. The story was about a female runner from Kenya, Hyvon Ngetich, who was expected to win the event.

For most of the race she was in the lead until, with several kilometres to go, she dropped back to second place. She began to fatigue and, due to dangerously low blood sugar levels, collapsed with four hundred metres from the finish line. Quickly surrounded by race officials and medical personnel, she refused to quit. She could not get to her feet, so she crawled. I watched in astonishment, and tears, as she looked up to the finish and just kept crawling. At one point she collapsed but after a moment’s respite she continued. Then, some two metres from the finish line, she was passed by another woman. She kept crawling and finished the race—in third place. She moved from first place to third place, with bloodied hands and knees, but she finished.

The race officials were so moved that they recognised her and the second place finisher as both finishing second and gave her prize money accordingly. After the race, when she was recovering, she was asked why she did not give up. She replied, “In running, you have to keep going.” So it is in the race of faith.

Christians may often feel like giving up, but they understand that “you have to keep going.” This is the message of Hebrews 12; in fact, it is in many ways the message of the entire book. But nowhere is it clearer than in these opening verses.

We saw previously that we are in a race; a race for our life—eternal life. The race of faith is a matter of life and death. Rather, it is a matter of life or death. Therefore the Christian, the person who has been born again by God’s grace and therefore who has been freely and sovereignly entered in the race of grace, will run that race. He or she will endure until the end. But this matter of enduring is more difficult than we often appreciate—until we are confronted by the harsh realities of life. Then we realise how hard it can be.

When hardships confront us, we will be tempted to complain, criticise, isolate ourselves, grow bitter, and/or despair. All or any combination of which will eventually sideline us from the race, unless we experience more of God’s grace. And this grace is ministered as we “consider” Jesus. We must look to Him consistently, clearly and intensely. Above all, we must look to Jesus faithfully.

Our author has told us this in v. 2: “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” In the race of faith we need to be sure that we look in the right direction: not inward, but rather outward and upward. Yes, the examples of the faithful who have gone before us can certainly stir us, they can inspire us; but they cannot empower us. Only Christ can do this. It is for this reason that, in v. 3, our pastoral-hearted writer exhorts his fellow believers to “consider Him.”

When we are discouraged and fatigued to the point of wanting to give in, we are to lift our heads and consider the one who endured so much more than we can ever imagine. And when we do so, then, by the Spirit’s aid, we will be empowered by His loving grace. It is this grace that keeps us in the race.

Previously, we spent our time examining vv. 1–2 under the theme “Soul Striders.” In this study, we will delve deeper into this matter as we move into v. 3. The theme is the same, and most commentaries treat these verses as a unit. But in fact the entire chapter, and even into chapter 13, seems to have this theme at its core. As A. T. Robertson wrote long ago, “Understanding Jesus is the key to the whole problem, the cure for doubt and hesitation…. The rest of the Epistle drives home the argument.”1

Consider the Challenges

The context of this verse is intimately connected to the opening verses of the chapter. The words “run … the race” put a challenge squarely before the reader, who is challenged to persevere in the challenge of clinging to Christ in the midst of difficulties.

They are challenged to run with endurance the race of faith, through thick and thin, to the end. As Morris comments, “The readers were still in the race. They must not give way prematurely. They must not allow themselves to faith and collapse through weariness. Once again there is the call to perseverance in the face of hardship.”2

As we saw previously, the Christian is very much in an endurance contest for the prize of eternal life and, as Paul wrote, we are to “run in such a way that [we] may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24). This has nothing to do with earning one’s salvation but everything to do with persevering in the faith to which, by grace, we have been brought. By God’s free and sovereign grace, the race has been set before us. That is, we are destined by grace for this race. We have entered it by God’s grace and, because of this, we are called to run it—until the end.

It is not an easy race to run. There are many uphills along the way and very few places along the way to coast. The heat of trials and temptations can be severe and energy sapping to the point of exhaustion. The strength of our spiritual legs can become so sapped that fatigue sets in the lactic acid of discouragement and even bitterness can nearly atrophy any progress in our efforts to follow Christ. The blisters formed from others rubbing us the wrong way, even those who are also in the race, can cause us to hobble rather than to stride. Sometimes the challenges can be so severe that we hit the wall of disillusionment and we are tempted to abandon all further effort. Our minds begin to play havoc with us and we forget all the grace that has brought us thus far and we lose all perspective concerning the promised finish line. We even delude ourselves that “Did Not Finish” is not so hard to live with—or to die with—after all. Yes, the race is filled with challenges. Though we are called, and expected, to keep going, nevertheless this is often easier said than done. So what should we do? We must look to Jesus but, further, we must consider Him. This is the writer’s point in v. 3.

Consider the Champion

The word translated “consider” is found only here in the New Testament, and it comes from the mathematical sphere. It could properly be translated as “reckon” or “calculate.” It connotes the idea of “to think over, to ponder by making comparisons.” Louw & Nida describe the word as meaning “to think or reason with thoroughness and completeness.” Edgar Andrews makes the helpful observation that we “must take a long look at Christ, not a cursory glance.”3

This is such an important exhortation that we dare not simply glance at it. No, we must consider it! Richard Phillips helpfully explains what it means to “consider Him”: “This is an accounting term related to the English word ‘logistics’; when we speak of ‘logging’ something in, we mean that a record should be kept of what transpired. The point here is that we should meditate on or reflect on, take stock of Jesus’ life and death.”4

Clearly the idea is that we are to deeply contemplate, to “carefully calculate,” the Lord Jesus Christ in all that He endured toward His promised reward. And the implication is that, as we do so, we are to apply this to our efforts to keep going. “Calculating, they should make a rough estimate of what Jesus endured as active opposition in order that they may find and renew their own energy.”5

When we are tempted to despair and to give up rather than to keep going, we must exercise a careful assessment of the life and death of our Lord. After all, He is the forerunner (6:20) who, as our captain (2:10), has run the race and received the reward. As we consider Him, we have every reason to believe that we too will receive the crown. But in what ways are we to consider our champion?

Consider the Contradiction

The NKJV speaks of the “hostility” that runners in this race will face. This translation no doubt captures, the mood, but its attempt at interpretation seems to miss the main point. The KJV translators chose the word “contradiction,” which seems to be a better translation of the original. The Greek word is antilogia, which means “a word against” or “to speak against.” It carries the idea of a dispute, and is translated this way in 6:16. It is translated elsewhere as “contradiction” (7:7) and, significantly, as “rebellion” in Jude 11.

I am belabouring this because I believe that the writer is not so much exhorting us to focus on the physical sufferings of Christ on the cross (v. 2) as he is emphasising the “aura” of hostility that encompassed His entire life and ministry.

The fact of the matter is that often sticks and stones—and even a cross—can be less painful than the unrelenting criticisms, antagonisms, misrepresentations and slanders that we sometimes are called to endure as Christians. I believe that Marcus Dods is correct when he comments, with reference to the “hostility” Jesus faced, “It was the repudiation of His claims throughout His life which formed the chief element in His trial.”6 And Donald Guthrie affirms this when he writes, “The word for ‘hostility’ has the primary sense of hostility in words.”7 Consider the following scene.

When Simeon held Jesus in his arms as an infant, he pronounced this prophecy: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against” (Luke 2:34). “Spoken against” was the description Simeon gave of what Messiah would face. And His mother would experience this as well: “Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (v. 35). The unrelenting assault on one’s character and reputation is a soul-piercing experience.

This past week witnessed the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya. It was a horrifyingly despicable deed. I would never minimise that. But it does not compare with the constant verbal assaults upon our Lord Jesus, all of which, of course, culminated in the crucifixion.

Consider that the one who created everything and everyone was constantly being labelled as a fraud, as an imposter. Jesus was the victim of innuendo about His morality and about His drinking habits. He who is sinless was maligned by sinners. This is emphasised in this verse. He who belongs in heaven was verbally assaulted by those who deserved to be in hell. He who is filled with mercy and compassion was vilified by those filled with hatred and hardened hearts. He who came to merit righteousness on behalf of sinners was called a sinner by the self-righteous. He who came to defeat the devil and his works was slanderously called the devil. He who came to give eternal life was vilified by those bound by spiritual death. He who had nowhere to call His home and who knew not where His next meal was coming from was called a glutton. He who fulfilled every jot and tittle of the law was called a law-breaker who deserved to die. He who experienced the ultimate blasphemy was accused of being a blasphemer. He who is God was put to death because He claimed to be God.

Do you see now why the word “contradiction” is a more accurate translation?

In a world characterised by filthy shades of grey, it is almost unimaginable that He who is brilliantly white in His holiness would be so slandered. Hated, yes—but labelled evil? Unthinkable. Nevertheless He was.

If ever there was an example of hostile contradiction of the facts, the onslaught against Jesus Christ was and is and will forever remain Exhibit A.

And yet—don’t miss this—He kept going. He “endured,” our writer tells us. In spite of the whispering campaign, in spite of the malevolent attacks upon His person and work, Jesus kept running the race set before Him. He kept the faith. He endured to the end. He kept running because He believed the Father. And you? This is an important question and the tense of this word should provide us with the answer.

The word “endured” is in the perfect tense, which means that it speaks of a past action with present, abiding results. The idea then is that “what he has done has an abiding significance.”8 Since Jesus endured, the results are ours for the taking.

The point is that Christ’s work is both finished and functioning; it is finished and flourishing. You can keep going!

We need to see a couple of things here: First, in what way did He endure and second, by what means did He endure?

First, Jesus endured sinlessly. He was innocent of all charges levelled at Him; and when such libellous opposition assaulted Him, He did not sin. The contradictions actually revealed His sinless character. Hostile opposition is a great character revealer. The pressures of such hostility will force who we really are to come forth. So, who are you? What are the “contradictions” from sinners against you revealing about you as you respond to them? Perhaps a better way to ask the question is, are the hostile attacks actually contradictions of who you are and what you really believe? They should be, but all too often the criticisms stick.

Second, by what means did He endure? Well, we have already noted the means: He looked upward. He knew what awaited Him. Jesus knew the prize “set before” Him and so He kept going. But practically this knowledge, this assurance was coupled with His daily pursuit.

Jesus was in constant communion with His Father in prayer (see Mark 1). This is what kept His perspective. He received His orders from headquarters and this guarded Him from becoming distracted by His enemies and by His own popularity. And the same will be true for us.

We need some “me” time—time between us and God—every day before we begin the race. We need to daily spend time in communion with Christ, contemplating who He is and how He lived, if we will keep going. Perhaps I am not off the mark when I say that Christians should every day read in the Gospels abut Christ. As we do so, we will see first-hand how it was that He responded to the “contradictions” of sinners against Him, and then we will be empowered to respond accordingly. Is this not precisely what Peter admonished in his first epistle?

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed.

(1 Peter 2:21–24)

John wrote, “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6). And how will we know how He walked? By reading the Gospels. The four Gospel accounts give us the account of the same person and life but from different angles. We need these pictures for our own walk in this world. Look to Jesus, calculate carefully how He lived and you too will keep going in the race of faith.

Consider the Comparison

At one level, we have already addressed this, but we need to take it further. Contextually it is important to see that the recipients of this epistle were, in the words of Marcus Dods, “finding how hard it was to maintain a solitary faith contradicted and scorned by public sentiment.”9 It is for this reason that they were being called upon to “consider” and to compare their lot with what Jesus went through—not to minimise their sufferings but rather to maximise their motivation to keep going. So with us.

Of course, when we compare our race with Jesus’ there is a huge difference. It would be like comparing running the Comrades Marathon with running a sixty-metre jog! Both have their place in the big picture, but the effort over the long haul is incomparable.

But perhaps this is partly the writer’s point. That is, when you compare what Jesus experienced and endured with what we are called to experience and endure, there is no comparison—so resolve to run! Certainly if He kept going then we can keep going. So “consider Him.” And do so not half-heartedly but rather intentionally and increasingly passionately. In the words of Kent Hughes, “Jesus must cover the entire sky. He must be the centre and horizon of our sight. Such vision will insure for us faith’s beginning and end.”10

Yet, having resolved to run, the reality is that we are not Jesus. And we will grow weary and fatigued in ways in which He did not.

We are sinful and He was not. We will hear accusations against ourselves which in fact contain an element—sometimes a large element—of truth. We will be prone to thoughts of self-condemnation. So, in light of this, how does considering Jesus help us? The answer is, by looking to the one who is so holy and so powerful that He overcame all temptation to sin. And because of this He is able to sympathise with us. The writer has told us this earlier in his epistle:

Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.

(Hebrews 2:14–18)

Again,

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

(Hebrews 4:14–16)

His victory was incomparable, and therefore ours is undeniable. We will finish. So keep going.

As we consider the contradictions Jesus endured we are called to make a fitting and helpful comparison. I said earlier that, in some ways, Jesus did not experience the same kind of weariness and fatigue that we do. But, as I attempted to show, that was not meant to minimise what He experienced. His conflict with sin and with sinners was so much more intense than ours will ever be, for only by completely overcoming temptation has one felt the full brunt of it. For when we give in to it we have yet to experience its full effects. This is why we are encouraged to “carefully calculate” the record of Jesus. As we do so then we will find the encouragement to keep going. And, oh, how we need to exercise this consideration! For the race is long and difficult and we are so prone to exhaustion and despair to the point of dropping out of the race. The words in the latter part of this verse point to this reality.

The words “weary” and “discouraged” were used in the ancient world in the realm of an athletic contest. Lane writes, “Aristotle had used both verbal expressions to describe the condition of runners who collapsed from exhaustion once the goal line had been crossed.”11

The word translated “weary” speaks of toiling to the point of fatigue. In James 5:15 it is translated by the word “sick.” It implies “gradually losing one’s motivation to accomplish some goal” (Louw/Nida). It might literally be translated as “to become tired in one’s spirit.” And, of course, when this happens it is awfully hard to keep going.

The word “discouraged” (or “faint” in some translations) is closely akin to “weary” and it means “to grow weak” as if one is “tired out through exertion of effort.” It therefore is used to describe one who “gives up” because they have “lost heart.”

The word “souls” (note the plural here—this is a community affair) speaks of that which is the source of the will and the emotions. The point he is making is that, in running this race, our heart and mind must be in it. But this is precisely where the battle rages.

Hitting the Wall of Fatigue and Tempted to Fail

Anyone who has persevered in a long distance race can feel the meaning of these words. When it comes to running a marathon and beyond, runners often speak of “hitting the wall.” This is the point when in spite all of your training, your mind, begins to say, “Enough!” Your legs feel like lead and the thought of putting one step in front of another becomes a major challenge. I have hit the wall on several occasions to the point where a speed bump in front of me appeared to be Mount Kilimanjaro. It is at those times that the will to keep going is hard to come by. At least speaking for myself, the motivation to accomplish the original goal loses its sway—until I begin to talk to myself.

When I want to give up it is precisely then that I must do some careful calculations. I must remember that I have trained for this race. I must reckon that I am in shape to go the distance. And sometimes I need to consider the financial investment and the sense of failure that will accompany my withdrawal from the race. And then, all things considered, I usually find myself persevering. I keep going. And finishing feels so sweet!

When it comes to the race of faith, the comparisons are dwarfed by what is at stake and by what continues the motivation.

Eternal life is at stake. Pleasing my Saviour is at stake. Setting an example and building a heritage for my family is at stake. Passing on to the next generation the baton of the gospel is at stake. Honouring my Saviour and my sovereign before a watching world is at stake.

And concerning “motivational calculations”? When I consider the Lord Jesus Christ and all that He suffered and endured for me, how can I not keep going?

The Painful Challenge of our Contradictions

I fully understand that to keep going is not an easy task. I get that.

I can relate to the heartache that arises from sinful failures and the sense that change seems to be elusive. I understand the hurt that occurs at the hands of those who claim to be Christians and yet who behave so thoughtlessly, so inconsiderately, and even at times so cruelly. I understand the sense of futility and of fatigue that can attend our devotional life. I can relate to reading the Bible when it seems like a dry well and when the heavens seem like brass bouncing my prayers back as if to mock me.

I also know the painful reality of my sin being exposed and the fear that others will turn away from me, reject me and refuse to forgive me. In other words, I understand the problem of pride with its energy draining effects.

I have empathised with the sorrow of broken hearted parents who have raised children who do not serve the Lord. I have observed and walked a long road with believers who seem to go from one trial to the next. I know something of shattered dreams and unfulfilled aspirations. I know the sadness that attends regret for past failures and for missed opportunities.

I know the pain of hurting people by my words and deeds and then seeking reconciliation, all seemingly fruitlessly. Yes, admittedly, the good fight of faith is exhausting. And the sense of being exhausted tempts us to an early exit from the race.

Yet this is precisely where our author exhorts us to consider Jesus! Hang in there. Remember Jesus. Call to mind the biblical truths that point you to the finished work of Christ and then preach this gospel to yourself. And who cares if you look strange to those around you. You won’t care once you cross the finish line! So keep going!

Again, this is not about Jesus being merely a great moral example to us; it has rather everything to do with Jesus Christ being the one who empowers us for the race (v. 2). He is the perfecter of our faith precisely because He is the founder of our faith. Look to Him and run the race with Him to the finish.

We need to carefully calculate the reality that Jesus kept going in the face of immense challenges. He faced physical, mental, emotional and spiritual fatigue. Outwardly judged, His mission appeared to be a failure. Yet “He did not allow weariness, despair, or discouragement to deter him from obedience.”12

He persevered; He kept going. You therefore can keep going. You, in fact, must keep going.

One more point deserves, if not demands, to be highlighted. This passage (vv. 1–3) emphasises the corporate, communal nature of this race. We are to keep going together. “Let us” are important words to this writer, for he uses them some thirteen times in this epistle. In fact, it can be argued that, in 12:1, he uses this corporate terminology four times (“let us lay aside,” “so easily ensnares us,” “let us run,” “set before us”), bringing the total to fifteen in the epistle (4:1, 11, 14, 16; 6:1; 10:22, 23, 24; 12:28; 13:13, 15).

The point is clear: We run the race together. It is precisely because so many Christians try and go it alone that they do not run well. And some drop out completely. Proverbs 18:1 says, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgement.” In the end, such a lone ranger does not finish the race. We all need running partners. We need to get on the “bus” if we will qualify in the end.

I was running a race some time ago and came across the concept of a “bus” for the first time. In this particular race, which is an important qualifying race for the Comrades Marathon, a “bus” is a group of runners, accompanied by a lead runner, who run together with the goal of ending in a certain time. There is a four-hour and a five-hour bus. If you wish to finish the race in four hours, you run with the four hour bus. And those running with you encourage you along the way.

We need the same spiritually. This is why corporate worship is so essential for us. This is why Grace Groups and other small group gatherings are so important for us. This is why prayer meetings are so essential for us. And it is especially important for us when we don’t feel like being with “us”!

As I wrote recently for the church website, we need to look up to Christ and to look out for one another (see 12:13–15). And we do this “looking” in community.

Perhaps I can summarise by saying that we consider Jesus in community and then, in community, keep on going—all the way to the finish.

Consider the Choice

As we come to the end of this study we are faced with a choice—a very sober choice: Will you persevere or will you drop out? And equally sobering, will we persevere or will we quit?

The Lord Jesus Christ set His face to go to the cross (Luke 9:51; cf. Isaiah 50:7). He ran the race from the manger to the mangling on the cross. But, of course, that was not the end of the story. Though the cross was the place where Jesus finished His work (John 19:30), the finish line led Him to the victor’s podium where He received His crown. He “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

His choice to believe the Father was rewarded, and because of that your choice to believe Him will also be rewarded. · Jesus has secured your reward for you; and He will see you through. John recorded it this way:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

(Revelation 3:20–22)

Don’t make the wrong choice. Don’t cast away your confidence, which has great reward (10:35). Don’t draw back to perdition but rather believe to the saving of your soul (10:39). Hear the appeal and lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares you. Then run the race. Hear the call of the gospel and repent and believe it. Then let us, keep going.

Show 12 footnotes

  1. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1960), 5:434.
  2. Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 12:135.
  3. Edgar Andrews, A Glorious High Throne: Hebrews Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2003), 418.
  4. Richard. D. Phillips, Hebrews: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006), 537.
  5. William L. Lane, Hebrews: Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 2:415.
  6. Marcus Dods, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 4:366.
  7. Donald Guthrie, Hebrews: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983), 253.
  8. Guthrie, Hebrews, 253.
  9. Dods, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 4:366.
  10. R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, 2 vols. (Wheaton: Crossway, 1993), 2:164.
  11. Lane, Hebrews, 2:417.
  12. Lane, Hebrews, 2:415.