The passage we are looking at today from Hebrews continues the theme of faith that the author takes into a new gear at the beginning of chapter 11 and his introduction to this is:
 This is what the ancients were commended for.
He then mentions a host of people as well as events through which greats acts of faith and hope are demonstrated from creation onto a host of important events in the first half of the Old Testament and then he glosses the rest and brings us to a time possible only years before the coming of Jesus. This is a catalogue of heroes of faith, people who had faith in a living God who acts, gives hope and who has more in store! In fact at the other end of chapter 11 he brings an interesting turning point which is pivotal to what follows:
 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised,  since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
In fact the whole chapter is like a marathon, hold that, which starts with a very steady and measured pace and then accelerates from where we cut into it today.
Another thought on 'faith' and for that, back to the first verse of chapter 11
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
As part of the introduction to this passage one of my commentaries says this:
In a world where people dismiss faith as ‘wishful thinking’, or simply identify it with the beliefs and practices of a particular religion ( e.g. ‘the Muslim faith’), it is good to have a comprehensive picture of the faith that actually pleases God. Hebrews shows the link between faith, hope, obedience and endurance, illustrating that it is more than intellectual assent to certain beliefs. God-honouring faith takes God at his word and lives expectantly and obediently in the present, waiting for him to fulfill his promises. Such faith brings suffering and persecution in various forms.
Chapter 12 brings in his readers, and us, with complete prominence into the arena and also there is the ultimate hero of all who is also at the centre of the whole letter - Jesus. So, as I say,
Into the arena
Which is just the picture we have. Remember I said before that chapter 11 is like a marathon, well, most of a marathon is run outside the arena, certainly at the Olympics and probably in those days too, well, now we are there with Jesus in what is the final part of the event. And, this is what he writes:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
Can you see the masterful picture he is painting? All the people of chapter 11 have completed their leg of the marathon, which is also perhaps a relay where faith is the baton passed on, and by what we see in them we are cheered on our way by the encouragement we see in the way they exercised faith.
In a slightly different way I saw this a few weeks ago at Hixon school sports day and it was a lovely sight. Each group had their great long race round the course, and the younger the group the more their little legs were whirling, but in each year there were always a few who struggled or who couldn't even really run. The truly lovely bit was that those who had finished were there at the finishing line cheering those who were struggling so they completed the race.
Our writer also brings in two other important elements as an illustration for the race of faith in this verse and another
1. Ridding ourselves of anything that would hinder - compare that to what Jesus says about the seeds sown in the thorny part of the field in the parable of the sower how they are choked by the cares of this life - consider: what chokes our faith
2. Ridding ourselves of the sin that entangles - in other words all that dishonours Jesus or is not what he has for us or is against what he wants. The aim is to stay focussed on what we are through the victory of Jesus over sin and death.
All this then makes us lean, mean, running machines and as such there is
The focus of the race
Which is none other than Jesus who he is the starting line, the pace setter and the finishing post - v 2a
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
He is the source of faith, the reason for faith and the goal of faith and this faith is lived out in the realities of life.
This was also true for all those who he mentions in chapter 11 but their faith was much more on that which is unseen than ours because Jesus has now been revealed. Of course we still have that which is unseen but it is all there in Jesus in whom and through who we live the life of faith.
How He has become the focus of the race
Because as a participant with us this is what he did - v 2b
For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Joy was his focus as he, in faith, saw the outcome that is reality for him now which is to be seated at the right hand of the throne of God where he, seated there in victory, is the focus for our journey of faith. That has a conclusion in the next verse which wasn't in the reading - but we'll have it anyway and it will lead to our:
 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Jesus is the ultimate encouragement for us to stay firm in faith. Not other Christians, the church or whatever but Jesus the victor who brings life and salvation - our hope where faith lies.
And finally an anomaly thought: I meet many people who say they are open minded about faith and God but I wonder if lots of those people actually have an extractor fan fitted to their open minds that takes away anything God sows there! You can compare that once more with the parable of the sower and the seed that falls by the path and which is eaten by the birds.
Fix your eyes upon Jesus!
Steven Abram. Sunday 18th August 2013