A Great Cloud of Witnesses
“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)
As children we have those that we look up to and try to be like. It may have been someone you actually knew like a family member, teacher, or coach. Sometimes children look up to and dream of being like their favorite professional athlete or singer or actor. No matter who it is the reason we try to be like them is because they inspire us
The Hebrew writer has been dealing not only with who Jesus is and what He has done for us but also the dangers and causes of people turning from their faith and belief in Him. He writes 11 paragraphs explaining what faith is and plenty of great examples of great faith. There are so many great examples that he couldn’t even write about them all and summarizes in Hebrews 11:32-40.
If you’re anything like me you probably have a hard time relating to some of these great men and women of faith in Hebrews 11. Sometimes when I evaluate my faith and what I’m going through, the struggle I’m having I have a hard time relating to people like Noah, Moses, David, Abraham, etc.
For a long time I looked at the 11th chapter of Hebrews in the wrong way. I looked at all these great examples of faith and went back and read their full stories and the result was I put them up on the top shelf. What they had to endure and go through is amazing and keeping their faith like they did is so great that I put them up on a pedestal.
Maybe you’re thinking “what’s wrong with that?” The problem with that perspective and looking at this passage in that way is that the result for me was that I wasn’t capable of such faith. I put them so high up that I convinced myself that their level of faith was so awesome that I could never reach it.
The Hebrew writer wasn’t trying to tell his original audience, who were struggling with abandoning their faith, or us today that we should put them up on a pedestal but rather his intention was to inspire us. While all of these people mentioned had great and awesome faith what I forgot to see in their stories was all of their failures, mistakes, struggles, and short comings.
In the infinite wisdom of our God we not only have the great stories of courageous valor and achievement but we also have in those stories the not so pretty side. Why? While I still struggle with it I’m not to put Noah or David up on a pedestal but rather realize that they were just like me. The purpose is for me to see what they endured, mistakes made, poor choices, consequences, and realize if they can endure so can I.
The Hebrew writer then said in 12:1 “…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance…” The key phrase in that verse is “let us.” It tells me that they endured by laying aside the things that weighed them down and they fought to run the race and if I’m going to keep from drifting (2:1), if I’m going to keep from not growing (5:11-14), if I’m going to keep from falling away (6:1-7), then I’ve got to lay aside anything and everything that is keeping me from running the race.
Not only are there plenty of people within scripture that inspire us but also all around us. I think the other side to that “great cloud of witnesses” is my brothers and sisters in Christ. There are people that inspire us each and every day. People that with great difficulty deal with physical ailments each day and yet still seem to be at worship and involved in other ways with positive attitudes and joyous hearts. There are people who have endured a lot of hardships and tragedies and remain diligently faithful to the Lord. There are people who live with far less possessions and less ease and yet are overflowing with happiness and contentment in the Lord.
Most importantly we look to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith. “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (12:4) “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” (4:14-15)