39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
1 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, 2 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.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let these words of Scripture paint a picture in your mind. The picture is of a huge stadium, and it has to be massive. We’re not talking thousands or tens of thousands of seats. Imagine millions, billions, even trillions of seats. And every single seat is filled – a capacity crowd. You, believer, are there in that stadium, but you are not in the stands. You are running a race on the track.
All the people in the stadium are Christians. They are the believers who have come before us. Hopefully, the rest of Hebrews 11, which you didn’t hear, is familiar to you. It is sometimes called “the hall of faith” and is a list Old Testament believers who finished the same race. The chapter gives sixteen names including Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, David, etc., but it also includes multitudes more who aren’t named. All of them had faith in Jesus (v. 13, 39) even though they faced persecution, difficulty, trials, and temptations. They were all sinners who clung to faith in Jesus. But these saints have finished their race, are now in heaven, and are part of that great cloud of witnesses that surround us.
So, the picture is this: These Christians have crossed the finish line. But instead of going to the locker room and getting into an ice bath, they go into the stands to cheer us on as we run our race. And again, this is multitudes of people – more than you could count – people from every nation, tribe, people, and language (Rev. 7:9). Imagine the cheers, chants, clapping, and whooping encouraging you as you run.
Here you are on the track. Running your race of faith. The race has been long. It has been hard and difficult. Parts of the course of your race have been filled with sorrow, with disappointment, with discouragement. Parts of your course have brought you through the valley of the shadow of death. And you have gotten tired. Your lungs are burning. You can hardly feel your legs, and with each stride your feet hit the ground harder and harder. You are weary and might be tempted to stop pushing, to take it easy and walk, or even stop the race altogether.
But everyone in the stands is cheering you on, “Don’t stop! Run! Keep going! Dig deep! Keep pressing on! Go!”
I remember when I was in cross-country (I was never a great runner, but I still did cross-country to get ready for swimming, and I was good at swimming). But when I was in cross-country, everyone running the race would start in a huge pack. Scores of runners would all get on the starting line, and all the parents and classmates would be there to cheer everybody on at the start. As the runners would make their way through the course, fans would find different spots to cheer people on, and when their runner went by, they would move to another spot to cheer. Anyway, people would all try to be at the finish line to encourage runners to finish strong. But as the leaders and the main pack of runners finished, the crowd at the finish line would thin out. Usually, by the time I would finish, there would hardly be anyone left to watch. I think even once, the official timer wasn’t paying attention when I crossed the finish line which was discouraging to say the least.
But that is not the picture Scripture gives us about the race we are running. This great cloud of witnesses is there encouraging us at every last bit of the race.
These Christians who have gone before us and are cheering us on are called ‘witnesses.’ They aren’t called an ‘audience’; they are ‘witnesses.’ That means, as we run our race, they are cheering us on with their witness, their testimony, encouraging us to press on.
So, maybe you are tired and struggling with quarrels in your family, and you want to quit running. But there is Abel cheering you on, “Keep going. I know it’s hard. My brother hated me for my faith in Jesus and killed me. But Christ was faithful to me and brought me to the end of my race. Keep going.”
Maybe, you are tired of all the evil in the world and it’s pressing down on you. But there is Noah, “Don’t stop. The evil in the world is nothing new. I was one of only eight people in the whole world who believed in Jesus. But Jesus protected us. He delivered us from the evil. He brought us to the finish line. He’ll get you there too.”
Maybe, you discouraged because you want to have kids but can’t. There is Sarah, “I know your pain and heartache. Keep running. God is faithful. Jesus will see you through.”
You are afraid of your enemies, there are the people who crossed the Red Sea on dry land and the people who walked around Jericho and shouted telling you to look to Jesus.
You are filled with regret and guilt or how you gave your body away to people who were not your spouse, and there is Rahab telling you to look to Jesus.
You committed one little sin which tossed you headlong into more sin, shame, guilt, and regret. There is David telling you that Jesus is faithful to you.
This is one reason – not the main reason, but one reason – that it is important to know your Bible. No matter what you are struggling with, no matter what problems and guilt and shame you have, you can see how Jesus was faithful to your brothers and sisters in Christ who went through the same things you are going through.
All those saints are bearing witness. They are telling you, “Those sins and burdens you have, let them go. Get rid of them. You don’t need them. Lay them aside. Let them go, and don’t look back. Look to Jesus. Fix your eyes on Him. Look to Christ, the author, the founder, and the perfecter of your faith. For the joy what was set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Yes, dear saints, the race is long and hard. But here is Jesus. He is here to lift your drooping head. He is here to draw your wandering eyes back to Himself. He is here to nourish and sustain you for the race. He is here to give you His Body and Blood in His holy Sacrament. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.