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. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)
Our author now gets directly in the face of his readers, the Hebrews, and includes himself and by extension, us too. We have a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, cheering us on in our faith, urging us with their own testimony, not to give up on the promise in Jesus and to run our race with endurance. At the end of the race, the finish line, is Jesus, our greatest cheerer, the one who founded our covenant relationship and by his sacrifice perfected our faith.
Our job is to lay aside the weight that would hinder our running. The added pounds could include listening to worldly arguments for going back to our old lives, fears about the persecution that might come our way, and sins that entice us to give up faith and pursue self-determination. This will free us to run with endurance.
Jesus himself had to do the same thing. The promise of joy in the Father’s presence and of many brothers and sisters brought to faith enabled him to endure the cross, a most ignominious and shameful death. God rewarded him with a seat at His right hand where his once-for-all sacrifice completely secured our forgiveness and cleansed conscience forever.
There is a tradition in Prague that the annual Spring Festival ends with a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. In 1963 the Czech Philharmonic asked Zubin Mehta to conduct the symphony in the Cathedral of St. Vitus. Mehta had never conducted it before, and he would be performing for Czechs who knew how they wanted it.
Looking out from the sacristy, Mehta saw the front pews fill up with officials of the city and the resident diplomatic corps. Behind them were perhaps 8000 people, all standing. One of the music-festival directors whispered to Mehta, “Did they tell you there would be no applause? It is against tradition to applaud in the church.” Everything had gone wrong during the rehearsals; maintaining his aplomb that night was one of Mehta’s most difficult assignments. But if ever music had been written to inspire confidence, it was the Ninth Symphony. By the time he led the assembled forces into their final Freude, schoner Gottenfunken, he was feeling some of the “divine spark” of joy himself. It would have been nice to hear a thunderous ovation, but there was at least a glow inside him from knowing he had pulled it off.
Mehta waited for the audience to file out, then went to his waiting car. As the car rounded the front of the cathedral, he was greeted by an incredible sight. The 8000 members of the audience, diplomatic corps and all, were lining both sides of the street. They began to applaud and cheer. Like a visiting monarch, Mehta waved to the crowd that stretched from the cathedral steps down the hill and onto the old bridge of the Moldau River. As the car crossed the river, the driver looked into his rear-view mirror and observed a curious sight. Mehta’s head was thrown back against the seat. Tears were streaming down his face. (Martin Bookspan and Ross Yockey, Zubin: The Zubin Mehta Story, Harper and Row)