“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1–2

Not everyone you will meet in life is a marathoner. Now, I know that is not a surprise, but a true marathoner does make such a distinction (including those running the spiritual marathon of life). To be a marathon runner demands discipline and sacrifice if you intend to give a good account of yourself on race day. If you listen to the misguided advice of those who do not run marathons you will most probably pay a heavy price. It is the non-marathon runners that cannot understand your desire. They say things like, “Why would anyone run a marathon? What? Are you crazy?” (as they put another cupcake in their mouth).

The first-time marathoner signs on amid great excitement but it is not long before the mind begins to second guess and creeping doubts multiply. You experience a strange mix of anticipation and terror. If you are smart you seek out those who have run the race, you listen to their experiences, you collect their hints and advice, and you gain from their confidence because they have crossed the finish line. A marathoner knows that you never run a “fun” marathon and so the blinders go up when negativity abounds and you hunger for any wisdom that equips you to run a good race.

When a man is born again he enters into running the marathon of life. From the very beginning of the contest the new believer knows that the race is serious, it is for keeps, failure is costly, and where he will find the strength to compete well is a mystery! The race of life is made up of many small runs, just as the practice is for a marathon runner. The discipline of starting small to finish big, the goal of running more mileage each week, the burgeoning love of the “long run,” and the growing realization that if you can run a 10K you can most probably do a 26.2 are gifts that diligent practice provides.

The spiritual race, like the physical marathon, seems daunting. Fortunately, the sources of good information and the examples of successful spiritual-life marathoners are legion. Our text points this out. Hebrews 12 is the culmination of the “Hall of Faith” life marathon runners being lauded in chapter 11. Hebrews 11 is a veritable “Who’s Who” of the Old Testament. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and the list goes on. It is as if we get a race-side seat and we see these runners come steadily plodding past us, one by one and off into the distance they go, every step taking them to the glorious finish line. Their sturdy legs, their rhythmic cadence, their stout hearts, and their steady eye fixed on the goal impresses us with their courage and faithfulness. The record of their success has been written down. Their lessons have been faithfully laid out for all who will follow. Their victorious award now hangs from their neck. The same faith to endure and the God-given strength to prevail is available for every Christian.

Hebrews 12:1 reminds us that it is now our turn to perform in this race of life. The first phrase could be translated, “We also, let us run….” We are surrounded by such an august crowd of marathoners who have finished their race. They are each testimonies of victory. The Greek word for witness is martureo, martyrs; they were committed to the end! They testify to the fact of the sufficiency of God-given faith and that God fulfills His promises. It is now our turn; we must take up the challenge of running our life marathon. Never forget that we are also surrounded by another great cloud of witnesses who are watching our every step and learning from us how it is done and how victory is won!

The first verse goes on to instruct that our race must be won without carrying weight we do not need and without surrounding ourselves with the entanglements of sin. These must be thrown off (Colossians 3:8, 1 Peter 2:1) and shed as we set foot on the track. Sins we know. Pride, doubt, slothfulness, disobedience, unfaithfulness, and, in short, playing the fool as God calls it—these things ensnare the legs, get you out of spiritual stride, trip you up, and take you out of the race. Weights are those things which may not be necessarily sin, but they slow down the pace and drain your endurance for the race. The serious marathoner will studiously learn what to avoid and will diligently feed his strength well for the task that lies ahead.

Verse one ends with an admonition that robs us of excuses: “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” We do not get to choose the route, the crowd, the weather, the date, or how we feel. The race is set, the entry fee has been paid by the blood of the sinless Savior, you are registered, the course has been run and won by those who have passed this way before, the Holy Spirit is your Coach, and the endless reservoir of strength to endure has been provided by the “author and finisher of our faith,” the Lord Jesus Christ. He Himself has run this race and He has prevailed so that you shall too! Learn, prepare, and run—give it your all! Trust and obey.