Some time ago a presentation on Israel included a scene in the ruins of an old Colosseum. The presenter shared how runners would enter the track determined to do their best and win the prize. He then reminded us that there is “a cloud of witnesses” that cheers on those of us who believe.
Any who have been involved in sports knows the encouragement that comes when people are cheering you on. Some years ago we lived in Boston and wanted to see the Boston Marathon in person. We went to view the race just before what the runners refer to as heart break hill, a spot where many lose strength and drop out. There was a crowd of spectators waving signs, shouting encouragement, and offering water and orange slices. Everything was being done to encourage the runners to stay the course and reach the finish line.
Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV) tells us “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…”
So who is this great cloud of witnesses? The great cloud of witnesses are all those people who have lived before us — whether famous or not — who have lived lives of faith, following God, worshipping Jesus, leaving for us a rich spiritual legacy.
We recently hosted a week at Ladore Lodge for seniors who have served as Salvation Army Officers, or been active as leaders in their local Corps (Church). What a cloud of witnesses! An officer now in her eighties co-pastored the Corps where I first became involved with The Salvation Army. She remembers teaching me to play the baritone, a brass instrument I play to this day. She and her husband helped me start my growth as a young believer. There was a couple who shared about serving God in assignments in Singapore, Papua New Guinea, and Jamaica. When they arrived in Papua New Guinea they were told to put their car key on a ring separate from the house and office keys. They were told that high jacking cars was common, and in most cases it wasn’t a matter of if, but when it would happen. One day they came to the office and heard a fellow Officer tell how someone tried to ambush her car and she fought them off. She was badly bruised, but still in possession of her vehicle! Service in a land rife with thuggery and they depended on God to protect them. They were surprised by the emotions that rose when they returned home and were able to put the car key on the same ring as the house and office keys.
The Bible is full of saints that have gone before us who are part of this “great cloud of witnesses”.
Hebrews 11 lists some of these heroes of the faith. We’re told of Enoch, Noah, Abraham and his offspring who are examples of faith. Hebrews 11 verses 30 – 38 continues to list both named and unnamed in the “cloud of witnesses” that cheer us on.
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”
In America very few believers ever suffer persecution, but in other parts of the world it is becoming all too common. And yet these believers continue to run the race set before them, and often with zeal that puts us to shame.
None us knows what the day ahead holds. But if you are a believer there is “a cloud of witnesses” cheering you on. Stand tall; get rid of anything that could hinder your race, and head toward the goal of serving God and others. And remember, someone coming behind you is depending on you to be part of the “great cloud of witnesses” that cheers them on.