“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
My daughter called me this morning looking for some help in understanding this verse in Hebrews. The “coincidence” is that hubby and I had been talking about that same verse the night before.
Before I relate the explanation I gave my daughter, let me say that I am not a seminary-trained theologian. I do not know Greek. Over the years I have learned to use the inductive method of Bible study, and, more importantly, like every other Christian, I have the Holy Spirit as my teacher.
The first hint in Hebrews 12:1 is the word “therefore”. When you see the word “therefore”, ask what it’s there for. So we looked back at Hebrews 11 which is full of what God did through the faith of a whole group of men and women just like us. They believed when it didn’t make sense; they conquered unbelievable obstacles; they endured unimaginable trials. These people did all these incredible things but their lives were a testimony of the magnificent power of God, not their own. God does whatever He wants and, inexplicably, He sometimes uses the weakest of people to do it.
This is the cloud of witnesses referred to in Hebrews 12:1. What are they witnesses to? Are they witnessing us in our trials and are they our heavenly cheerleaders? I have heard this verse taught this way, but I have to disagree. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses to the power of God. We tend to have an egocentric view of the Bible. We have to remind ourselves constantly that the Bible is not about us and what God can do for us. The Bible is about God – who He is and what He has done. The cloud of witnesses constantly cries out for us to look at God. Look at the One who did all these marvels through mere men!
Hebrews 12:2 says it quite clearly: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” The example of Jesus is the one the witnesses are calling us to follow – not their own.
And what is that example? Looking beyond the sufferings and shame of His life on earth to the joy that was His because of what was accomplished through the suffering and shame. We are to run our race, enduring whatever we must endure here on earth, knowing that there is joy to come. Joy that makes the trial of our earthly lifetimes trivial and of no consequence.
Even as I write that last sentence, I am thinking, and you may be too, that seeing our trials and sorrows as trivial is not easy. Again, look at verse 2. Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith”. Faith is His gift to us, not something we work up on our own. Just as He founded and perfected the faith of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and did great things through them, He can perfect our faith and do whatever He wants with us too.