Cheering Us On
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 11 tells us about those who looked ahead to “a heavenly country,” reminding us of those who have successfully gone before. Knowing their faith encourages us to run our own race as they ran theirs, believing that, like them, what God is working in and through us will bear fruit long after our lives end here on earth.
The beginning of chapter 12 builds on that thought and gives us one of the most inspiring and emboldening images we could have: “…so great a cloud of witnesses.” What a glorious thought! We know we are never alone, because God is with us. But He is not the only one! We have so many cheering us on that they look like a cloud!
The imagery is from a public race, an easy image to catch in our culture. If you have ever attended or participated in a walk or race of any distance, you know the importance and power of the “witnesses.” They cheer, they encourage, they give refreshment all along the way, and they help the runners make it through to the end. The goal of the witnesses is to see that the runners finish strong and well. Scripture isn’t clear about how the Hebrews 12 witnesses do that in our lives. We don’t pray to the saints, and the only ones with direct contact with us are the angels and the Holy Spirit.
But as the blood of Abel cried out (Genesis 4:10 and Hebrews 12:24), the faithful lives of the witnesses cry as loudly: “God is faithful.” “Others did this, relying on the same grace of God that is available to you.” “Yes, it can be done—and has been!” “Watch my life, and be encouraged.” “We were never alone in this—come join our company!”
You see, they were not only waiting for Jesus, but for us. The verse just before Hebrews 12 (remember that verse numbers are not original, but were added later by men) says that “apart from us, [the Old Testament witnesses] should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40). They get it—we are all in this thing together. Their lives were recorded in part to cheer us on, and it seems clear that they understand this. As those who successfully ran the race, they are now happy to encourage us by example.
As a book, Hebrews encourages us that the New Covenant is so much greater than the Old, that the many sacrifices have been replaced by the single sacrifice of Jesus at the Cross, that the blood of Christ is so much more powerful than the blood of Old Testament animal sacrifices. The book reminds us of so many people who lived and moved by faith, knowing that they would not see the fruit of their labors in this life, yet who lived fully for God, trusting in His promises.
They are with us; they are part of us. May we begin to see this as clearly as they do.
Prayer: Father, thank You that I am part of a huge group of believers all over the world and throughout history. Thank You that the lives of others are for our encouragement. Help me to be as encouraged by these lives as much and in every way as You intend.