It is the autumn season in the United States and that means two things, school is back in swing for the kiddos and so are the sports teams! In Nebraska there are two dominant sports played during the fall, football and volleyball. Every parent, grandparent, family, and friends will be crowding the bleachers to cheer on their favorite schools team. For those lucky enough to have a ticket to a college game there will be tailgate parties in the parking lot before the game begins. For those who don’t have tickets there will be tailgate parties in living rooms across the nation as they watch their favorite teams play on television. It is an atmosphere of encouragement for players and incentive for the players to do their best on the field and hopefully win. Win or lose they all will finish the game unless weather interferes and stops the game. Even if that happens though, the game will be rescheduled and will be completed or replayed. Did you know that as Christians on the field of life we also have those who are cheering us on?
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2, (New American Standard Bible or NASB).
Just think about this for a moment. You and I are going about our daily lives doing the things required to sustain our lives. Some of us are working in a job. Others are retired, or perhaps in the process of gaining an education. Still others may be seeking employment. All of us are making sure that our bills are paid, our stomachs are fed, and our bodies are clothed. Many of us are doing the same for our families. Sometimes we have a group of friends and family that are emotionally and spiritually supporting us. Other times in our lives we walk alone, or so we think, as our family and friends may not have an inkling of what we are facing or enduring. We certainly don’t feel like we have a cheering section that is unseen and unheard and maybe even unfelt. But the writer of this passage in Hebrews says that we do have a cloud of witnesses surrounding us. How can this be? Who can it be? Well to find that out we need to look into the previous chapter which begins with an interesting definition of faith.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. Hebrews 11:1-7, (NASB).
Faith is essential to a Christian as it is the foundation of everything that we believe about God and about Christ Jesus. Faith is knowing and believing that God not only exists but also interacts in our lives here on earth. Faith is the vehicle that drives us down the road to eternity which is our hope in Christ Jesus. Faith is believing that Jesus is God’s only Son and that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. We haven’t seen Jesus or God but with the eyes of faith we see God and Jesus everywhere and in everything. That is faith. There were some mighty men and women from the Old Testament that experienced faith and longed to see Jesus Christ but they never got to experience the Holy Spirit as we do today because Jesus had not sent His Spirit to live inside of them as we have if we are Christians. Why is this important? Because the list continues through the entire chapter of Hebrews eleven.
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE.
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.
And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Hebrews 8:13-40, (NASB).
This great list of men and women who demonstrated great faith in the promises of God is still waiting for us Christians to finish the race that they began. They are cheering us on because they know that we have a purpose to our lives. They cheer us because they know that Jesus died and eternity awaits those who are in Christ Jesus. They cheer us on because of their witness while they lived here on the earth. They didn’t have technology or the New Testament because those things hadn’t happened yet. They waited for years sometimes before hearing a single word from God and yet they still continued to hope and to believe and demonstrated great faith in the coming of eternity through the Messiah, through Jesus Christ!
I can almost hear them shouting, “Come on Christian, you can do it! You can fight the good fight, run the good race, don’t give up now, the finish line is so close!” Can you hear them? Can you imagine them sitting in the bleachers and praising God when we Christians get up from the last hard-fought battle with Satan and his demons. Can you see them high-fiving each other as they see you running the race with endurance, with grit, with perseverance? Can you see them wince when they see you getting weary within the battle and wanting to give up? Can you hear the moan when you stumble and fall into sin? Can you hear their loud and enthusiastic cheering when you repent and get back up with stronger determination to keep going in the battle of life? I can. I hope you can too.
We are not alone in this battle between the Church and the World. We have many heroes in the battle that have gone before us. Faith connects us all together, faith that Jesus Christ is God’s Son sent by God to a lost world and that Jesus died on a cross and rose again from the sting of death so that we all may spend eternal life with Him, with God, and with a great cloud of witnesses. I look forward to the day when I join the cheering section and know that I made it to the finish line. Hang in there, get up, get going, and know that you are never alone!