“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.” ~ Hebrews 12:1
This lovely and hopeful verse isn’t best understood unless you read the verses that precede it. All of chapter 11 is a description of this great cloud of witness’s; exceptional giants of the faith who have gone before us. They, by faith, took up the call of God and finished their race strong. I often hear this verse spoken of out of context as though the cloud is speaking of Christians alive and among us. How we encourage eachother on our journey. But clearly that is not what the writer of Hebrews is describing.
There is a reason why these witness’s are great. They finished the race. They laid aside the weight of life and the sin that we all cling to. And then they did, what all Christians desire to do. They entered into the heavenly realm, after persevering the great race God set before them. They aren’t just better for being dead. They are better for remaining faithful till death.
But what is most interesting is the list of men and woman who is given to us in chapter 11. The majority of the chapter describes person after person and their victory over adversity. They are in a sense heroic in nature. Enoch didn’t have to experience death because he was pleasing to God, so God just shot him up to heaven. Abraham was faithful and his descendants are as numerous as the stars. Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised to them because of their faith. It’s all so positive and joyous these stories of victory that make up our cloud of witness’s. Until of course verse 35.
Because at this point we realize that the saints of old didn’t just experience the joy of God’s prosperity. They were also tortured, imprisoned, jeered, flogged, stoned and, I hate to say, even sawn in two. They were destitute, mistreated wanderer’s living in holes in the ground. Didn’t God love these guys too? Why didn’t they experience the same kind of riches?
Well they did. And do. Verse 8 says “the world was not worthy of them” and so God made an eternal home for them. And now they sit among the other witness’s, equal in value and made perfect in God’s eyes.
Some of us will know such prosperity in this life as the men in woman described above. Unimaginable blessings with little to no experience of hardship for Christ’s name. And some of us will remain lowly like the latter. We may be wanderer’s, in poor clothing, persecuted for faith in Christ.
But all of us will experience eternal glory.
If we persevere the race that is ahead of us through blessing or affliction.
So be encouraged by this great cloud of saintly witness’s. They cheer us on as we run and run with Heaven in our sights. Put off the weight of sin and endure the task at hand.
God laid out the track…we just have to keep running.