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, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. (NKJV)
The writer has just finished a long list of the heroes of the faith, men and women who either did great things or suffered great things. But he’s not content simply to think about the past, or for us to stay there in our thinking. After all, we live in the present. What about us?
And what about this great cloud of witnesses in v. 1?
More than once, I’ve heard preaching on this verse as picturing a great stadium, with us down on the field running, and the OT saints up in the stands cheering us on. That may be, although I don’t know that the Bible says very much about what the inhabitants of heaven are doing right now, or what they think about those of us left behind.
I look at this verse another way. The writer says that we “also” have a cloud of witnesses. For the OT saints, what was their “cloud”? Who was cheering them on?
I think this verse could refer to one of two things.
First, it could simply refer to the testimony they left behind, especially those who endured the sufferings the writer listed. In the words of Revelation 12:11, some of them did not love their lives to the death. The way things are going in this country, and are already happening in other parts of the world, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs may be more relevant than we like to think. (I wonder how many in our comfortable, casual, contemporary Christianity have even heard of it.)
Second, and this is what I think it means, it refers to “the great cloud of witnesses” who see us in our day to day lives. The clerk in the grocery store, the waitress in the restaurant, the auto mechanic, the people we work with, the people we deal with in a hundred different ways every day. And I don’t mean that we have to “witness” to them, or try to “get them saved.” If such an opportunity comes along, we should take advantage of it and thank God for it, but that’s not what I’m writing about. How do we treat them? Are we courteous or churlish? Do we thank them when they help us? Are we honest when the clerk gives us too much change back? What kind of a “job” do we do at work?
In short, do we “live” Christianity?
Or, is it “Sunday-only?”
The writer gives us some advice about this race –
“let us lay aside every weight.” Now, I’ve never really been a runner, but I expect that when someone get ready to run, especially in a race, they don’t load themselves down with extra stuff. They wear as little as possible. Their focus is on the race. They don’t spend a lot of time checking out their electronic devices while they’re on the track or on the road.
There’s something for us here. We live in a time where “busy” is the order of the day. There’s just so much going on – so many distractions, that we just don’t have time to serve God. We don’t have time to read His Word. Sad, though, that we do have time for our favorite shows on TV or Netflix. Or some useless Facebook game.
We just carry too much weight. (No, not that kind. Though that’s not good for us, either.)
But there’s another kind of weight that we need to get rid of –
weight on the inside:
the sin which so easily ensnares us.
Paul put it like this in Romans 7:21, I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. There’s a lot more he says, but he would never say that he had “arrived,” as far as perfection was concerned. In fact, as we’ll see in a moment, he specifically denied that he was where he wanted to be. He still battled with the corrupt nature he was born with. There are those who say that this chapter refers to his pre-conversion life, that time before he was saved. That can’t be. More than once, he himself refers to that time as a time when he was well-satisfied with himself. For example, in Philippians 3:4-6, he wrote, If anyone thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
“Concerning the law, blameless.”
That was his pre-conversion view of himself. But in Philippians 3:7, 8, he continued, But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish.
There’s only ever been One who could say, “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” John 8:46.
There are some things on the inside we need to get rid of.
“run with endurance the race set before us.” I like the KJV rendering: “run with patience”. I know, it’s outdated and out of favor, but it’s what I grew up with, and it’s ingrained. You see, no race is just about the starting line. The Christian life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. The writer had mentioned “endurance” before in 10:36, in warning his readers to be faithful in their profession, that they had need of it.
In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul wrote, Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
A good attitude for any and all of us.
Too many of us tend to live in the past, rehashing old hurts or failures. But as someone has said,
“There’s no future in the past.”
By the grace of God, we look forward to a glorious future, a future beyond description.