A Great Cloud of Witnesses (Heb. 12:1)
The Bible tells us that we are surrounded by a large group of onlookers as we live out our lives as Christians. Scripture also says that we are running a race, the race of faith, and that those who have gotten to the finish line ahead of us are watching our race, waiting for us to finish and perhaps even cheering us on. “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that slows us down and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
A long list of saints – Noah, Abraham, Job, and others- who had already lived out their lives faithfully for God, had just been named in Scripture (Heb.11) before we read this passage about being surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses.(Heb12:1) Did this mean that Noah, Abraham and Job along with others were among the witnesses? This passage, I believe, was a reminder to those early Christians – and to us too- that many others have gone before us on this faith journey. That we are not alone in our joys and sorrows but we are part of a bigger story!
Can you think of a person, maybe several people, who have deeply influenced your life? People who have helped make you the person that you are today? Maybe your parents, a grandparent, or a teacher? People who are no longer with you – who have finished their race. You see, those people who cared about you, who passed their values on to you and loved you, they have a stake in how you live your life – how you run the race. You aren’t in this alone. You aren’t a self made person. You are part of much larger family.
The Christian life is often likened to a race. (1 Cor. 9:24, 2 Tim. 4:7) And in our race (our Christian life) we are instructed to “throw off everything that slows us down and the sin that so easily entangles us,” (Heb.12:1) so that we can run faster. Right now I can think of several sins that I allow myself to become entangled in: petty resentments, anxieties and fears. And those sins mess up my race and slow me down. I must throw them off so I won’t be sidelined. Can you think of things that impede your running too? Do you need to do housecleaning along with me? We are told to “throw off” these weights and concentrate on running. The saints who have already finished the race had the same kinds of problems we are having now and they ran their race and finished well. So we can do it too.
This verse, Hebrews 12:1, tells us many things. But it ends with, “let us run with perseverance, the race marked out for us.” Do you notice that this isn’t just any race we personally choose to make it? That this faith race of ours has been “marked out for us!” We aren’t in charge of the twists and turns in the path, just in how we maneuver those twists and turns. Scripture says, “The steps of a Godly person are ordered by the Lord.” (Psalms 37:23) Our path has been personally set up and “ordered” for us to run! So how can we lose?
Also we are told to run with perseverance. To not become discouraged and give up. To keep on keeping on. It’s easy to be a Christian in the short run. But what about the long run? Faith is all about endurance. What good is loyalty if it doesn’t last? God hates quitters. (Zechariah 7:11-12) We are to finish the race. And it matters how we finish it. Having done all to stand, we are to stand. (Ephesians 6:13) Remember these balcony people are watching.
While we are running we are commanded to keep our eyes on Jesus. Let’s listen: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3) As we run, Jesus is the supreme or ultimate example of running a good race. Jesus endured more persecution and suffering than we ever will. He is with us now and praying for us during our race.
So if you are discouraged with the way other Christians act, or you’re suffering and feel out of control, or you wonder why God allows the world to be so messed up, just put your head down and keep on running. Just always keep your eyes on Jesus. He lived with all of your sorrows and many more. And all the witnesses who ran the race before you had similar problems as you have, but they kept on running anyway. They have all crossed the finish line now and have passed the baton on to you. So now it’s your turn.