Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Great Cloud

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


Hebrews 11 assembles a dazzling gallery of Old Testament witnesses whom, it says, were commended for their faith. By faith, Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain’s. Enoch escaped death. Noah obeyed God’s warning of and saved his family. Abraham’s epic faith was a legacy passed down through Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The roll-call goes on until the Hebrews writer finally offers, “What can I say? There’s not enough time to list all the titans of faith and their exploits.”

Christian history teems with similarly courageous, unshakable heroes who set aside personal security and private doubts to live by faith. Many have been officially canonized as “saints,” having met rigorous criteria to raise them above the general Christian population. Yet I assert any believer guided by faith qualifies as a saint. We’re all saints, witnesses of faith’s power and potential. And on this All Saints Day let’s celebrate one another along with heroes past.

Learning by Example

The crux of Hebrews 11’s group portrait becomes clear in 12’s first statement. With such a great cloud of witnesses, it says, there’s much gain in learning by example. We discard the notion that the Bible is a collection of fantastic stories. As well as we know them, they continue providing new insights about our faith as we revisit them at different stages in our lives. With that, the Hebrews writer—the Bible’s top literary critic—magnificently breaks down three traits common to all heroes of faith. 1) They lose anything bogging them down. 2) They don’t get tangled up by sin. 3) They run a steady race, refusing to give up and staying on course. “Since they prove it works,” Hebrews says, “this is what we do.”

Look to Jesus

Then the writer turns to another Witness not yet mentioned in the pantheon. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12.2-3)

When moments of crisis unfold, we look to Christ. It’s not what would Jesus do, but what did He do? This removes all speculation and error. Christ focused on “the joy set before Him.” In spite of all He endured—agonizing shame and opposition—His faith rested entirely on God’s final acceptance. Saints, this is the example to follow, the one followed by all saints through the ages. If we stick to it, we won’t grow weary or lose heart. We’ll become heroes.

Hebrews compares living by faith to a race, encouraging us to follow examples set before us, chief of which is Jesus.

(Tomorrow: Come Together)

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