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 perfector 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)
It was the infamous 6:30. Six minutes and thirty seconds. In order to play baseball at my high school you had to run a mile in under six minutes and thirty seconds. Our head coach was an old-time skipper. He knew how to win and was well respected, and since he had set the 6:30 rule early in his career, it had become something of an adage in our community. All winter long hopeful players would train for “the 6:30.”
But I never really liked running, especially not around a track. The hard part for me was the four (seemingly meaningless) circles. At least in baseball there is a home, and once you hit a base you don’t go back. Not so on the track. It was one, then two, then — when is this going to end? After practicing and failing enough times, I figured out that the best way to get it done was to imagine the destination. I had to envision crossing the finish line on lap four. And it was only this picture — this goal — that fueled me forward. And in a sense, it’s the same way in the Christian life.
The writer to the Hebrews has encouraged us to run the race of faith with endurance (Hebrews 12:1). And in verse 2 he tells us how: looking to Jesus. We run the race of faith looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith. But what does that mean? What does it mean to look to Jesus and offer our hearts completely to him?
Looking Means Leaning
Looking to Jesus means relying on him. The word translated “looking” in Hebrews 12:2 has the idea of zeroing our gaze on something with confidence. The NIV captures it: “fixing our eyes.”
Jesus is our encouragement in this race, both as our example and as our help. As an example, Jesus is the forerunner who has charted the course. He has lived faithfully in this world, trusting the Father and yielding to his will. He has left us an example that we might follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21).
As our help, Jesus is the one from whom we draw power. He is the one who by his life has given us life (John 5:21), and has sent the Spirit — the Helper — to be with us forever (John 14:16). We can stand and run this race only because he gave it all — his blood, his love, his Spirit alive in us. So we look to him. We lean on him.
Looking Means Not Looking
Another aspect embedded in this idea of looking to Jesus is that we look without distractions. One Bible scholar notes that the original language here carries the meaning of “looking away from all others toward one.”
This makes absolute sense. When we look to Jesus, it means we are not looking at anything else. Looking to him means we turn our backs on all the other stuff. Forget the approval of man. Forget the consuming aim to leave a respectable “spiritual legacy.” Of all the good things we could focus on and draw energy from, Jesus demands our exclusive gaze. Looking to anything else will eventually be exposed as the hollow pursuit it is. Look to him — him alone.
Looking Means Loving
Looking to Jesus means he is our reward. There is a parallel in this passage between where we look in our running and where Jesus looked in his. The text says of Jesus’s own forerunning: “for the joy set before him.”
Jesus ran for a joy. A reward. We see a few clauses later that this reward was his being “seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” This was where he fixed his gaze. It was the vision of this finish line that carried him through the suffering and shame. This was how he could stand in face of such hostility. When he could have been consumed by weariness, when his faint heart could have taken the day, he knew where he was going. That was his goal.
So what about ours? What’s our goal?
It is Jesus himself. Jesus is our goal. To look to him means to love him, to yearn to be with him, to see him as he his, to live in fellowship with him forever. We really, sincerely, truly offer our hearts completely to him because he is better than anything else. He is our treasure. Our good. Our God.
That’s why we lift our arms and abandon our hearts. That’s why all that we are is his. One day we will see Jesus. We will see him with our eyes. We will see the Lord Jesus with our eyes. We will see him and hear him and touch him. Before him, because of his love and power, we will stand. And for that, we run.