A great cloud of witnesses
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)
Do you ever feel weary? Do you sometimes get tempted to give up?
I guess we all feel that way from time to time, especially when life gets difficult and when we are struggling with various issues. Our current pandemic can be hard to navigate and difficult to cope with. It can easily sap our strength and make us weary and worn out.
That was the exact issue that the letter to the Hebrews was written about. These Christians were worn out and on the edge of giving up as followers of Jesus. The letter was written to spur them on and encourage them, to ensure that they didn’t not grow weary and lose heart (12:3).
The writer of Hebrews motivates us to ‘run with perseverance the race marked out for us’. He tells us to throw off everything that might tangle us up or stop us from keeping going. This is necessary but not easy, so the writer gives us an particular motivation: “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…”
Perhaps when you read that you picture a marathon runner coming to the closing stages of a race. In the Olympics being the front runner in the marathon is often a lonely affair. But the final stages of the marathon are run in the stadium, and as they enter the arena the noise of the crowd suddenly surrounds them. That must be a huge motivation to keep going!
The writer of Hebrews doesn’t just have in mind a crowd of supporters, however. He has just spent a whole chapter listing some of the people of faith from the Old Testament. These are the witnesses he has in mind: people who have run the race of faith until the very end and not given up. Not just a crowd of supporters but a group of runners. Each of them evidence that it’s possible to keep going and not give up. If they can do it, we can do it too!
The writer calls these witnesses a ‘cloud’. It gives the idea of something that surrounds and envelopes us. Each moment of each day we are enclosed around by those saints of old. Flawed, imperfect people who are saints through faith in Jesus Christ. When we are struggling and feeling weary, they are surrounding us, telling us to keep going and not to give up. They are the witnesses who say to us, “If I can do it, you can too!”