since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses … let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us … Hebrew 12:1
Who is this “great cloud of witnesses” that encourages us to “run with perseverance our race” of faith? That’s probably a message we need to hear (and share) during this time of shutdowns, pandemics, and anxiety.
So who is the cloud of witnesses? In context, the verses right before tell us. It’s all the “saints” who’ve gone before us …
- Chapter 11, often called “the Hall of Faith,” tells the stories of familiar Old Testament heroes like Noah, Abraham, and Moses.
- It tells of the obvious triumphs of those “who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (11:34-35).
But that’s the fun, easy, victorious examples. In the days of struggling pandemics, maybe the heroes that we need to pay attention to are the ordinary people commended for faith in the rest of the chapter. Those who stood boldly for their faith in the midst of extraordinary – and often extraordinarily hard – circumstance.
- “Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection.
- “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.
- “They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy.
- “They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (vv. 35-38).
“Therefore … let us run with perseverance the race that is set before” – who? – “us”!!!
We’re not the first in history to suffer trials. And barring a soon return of Christ, we won’t be the last. Right now, this is our generation’s trial. But we’re not alone!
- The same Christ who said, “come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens,” also ascended to heaven with these words: “Remember, I will be with you to the end of the age.” (Mt 11:28 and 28:20 respectively).
- We have the gift of the Spirit abiding with us. (Want more? Jesus said, “How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” – Luke 11:13).
- We have a great cloud of witnesses. We have Old Testament saints and New Testament saints. And that’s why I’ve encouraged you to read more Scripture and Christian biographies. (Remember, tales of heroic faith – like that found in Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place – can inspire us in our trials.)
So the question is this? How many of you, through all of this, are … surviving? … enduring? … thriving? … fretting? We’re all built different! Nevertheless, the same Apostles who encourage us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” also encourage us to “rejoice confidently in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3).
Wait?! Surviving? Enduring? Thriving? Fretting? Rejoice confidently?!?!?! Anybody there?!
How about this Apostolic perspective: “Consider it nothing but joy … whenever you fall into various trials” (James 1:2).
Surviving? Enduring? Thriving? Fretting? Rejoice confidently? Considering it nothing but joy! Whoa! But here’s James and Paul’s perspective:
- James says – 1:2-4 – “Consider it nothing but joy … whenever you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance; so let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
- Paul says – Romans 5: — “let us rejoice confidently in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
We all want the fruit, right? – “complete” faith, “lacking in nothing” and “God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” Yes, we want the fruit – and intellectually, we know we grow more in seasons of trial than seasons of mediocrity – but few of us want to go through the process, do we?! Nevertheless, maybe that’s why the Apostle encourages us, saying …
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in
Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
In Christ’s Love,
a guy who wrote
this for you today,
and needed it