Therefore, since we are surrounded…what shall we do?
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
How does it feel to be “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses?” The answer to that question may depend on our past experiences. Someone who has been convicted of a crime because of the testimony of witnesses, may re-experience guilt and shame at the memory of having their actions brought before a judge by angry, hostile, or contemptuous witnesses. Others who have been unjustly accused and convinced by the testimony of deceitful witnesses may feel angry or even enraged.
I know of such a case. Many years ago an innocent man was arrested, charged, tried, and convicted based on the testimony of corrupted witnesses whose stories didn’t match up. He was given the death sentence which was served almost immediately. The injustice of this story agitates us. The tragedy of his untimely death saddens us. You have probably heard his story before, and you will certainly recognize his name, for the innocent man was Jesus Christ.He knows what it feels like to face his accusers. He understands the response of the human spirit in the face of injustice. And he cares about the criminal who is convicted of crimes he or she undeniably committed.
The last person to experience the compassion of Jesus Christ before his death on the cross was a convicted thief. A man who had, indeed, committed crimes worthy of his penalty. “Today,” Jesus said, “you will be with me in paradise.” Imagine the outrage of the ‘holier than thou’ religious officials who instigated the crucifixion of Christ. Here he was, hanging on a cross, bleeding from multiple wounds, in the process of dying, and yet he reached out to a man who clearly deserved to die. That man may be among the ‘witnesses’ who witness the way we live our lives. He knows what it is like to be justly accused and suffer for the crimes we’ve committed. He also knows what it is like to be forgiven, justified, and restored to the heart of God. If you share this man’s experiences, you can take heart because he may be one of the many witnesses among that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ who cheers you on in your walk of faith and empathizes with your sorrows. The Christ of Calvary, who suffered, though innocent of the crimes charged against him, is most certainly one of the witnesses who stands at the right hand of God advocating for you on a daily basis. (Hebrews 7:25)
I don’t know if I have grasped the full theological significance of this verse, but I picture heavenly beings, perhaps spirits of departed loved ones and heroes of our faith, watching us run the course of our lives, cheering us on toward victory, rejoicing in our accomplishments. If this is true, what should our response be? The writer of Hebrews gives us direction here, too. “Let us throw off everything that hinders…” In other words, let’s get rid of our baggage. You know, the old ‘stuff’ that weighs us down—unforgiveness, bitterness toward those who have harmed us, guilt over our own bad behaviors, selfish ambitions, greed, and the list goes on. Get rid of it. “Throw it off.”
And, finally, he says, “(throw off) the sin which so easily entangles us.” What is that sin? Some of us may think of lying, stealing, physical violence, etc. But at the core the sin that entangles every one of us is the same—it is unbelief. Failing to believe that God is big enough, good enough, faithful enough to take care of us. When we put our trust in him and pursue His good will, we find that our load is lightened and our path is straight –or as the writer of this passage says, it is “marked out for us.” What more do we need? Well, there is one other thing—perseverance. Endurance. The grit to get up and go on even when everything seems to be falling apart.
“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 Let us run the race with perseverance so that we will hear the words of Christ, the Divine Witness who went before us and marked out our path, who advocates our cause before the Heavenly Father, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your Lord.” Matthew 25:23b