Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and the people of Israel, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David, Samuel and the prophets…
“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. 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. 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.” Hebrews 11:39 – 12:1-2, NIV
This list of notable Bible characters comes at the end of a chapter in Hebrews describing how these people lived and died for their faith. The writer then says we are surrounded by this “cloud of witnesses” and because of that we should also follow God faithfully.
Why would this cause us to put anything aside if we weren’t already inclined to do so? Maybe their example would cause us to try harder because we would be embarrassed by the thought of our sin. This wasn’t a group of perfect people, but faithful people. I think there’s more to this section than just “they did it, so you can too.”
We’re Not Left in the Dust
Take a look at the verses right before the encouragement to throw off everything that hinders. They were commended for their faith, they didn’t receive what had been promised, and only together with us would they be made perfect. So, even though life is challenging, painful or even if we fail outright, we’re not left in the dust. To use a different analogy, the dinner won’t start until everyone in the family is seated at the table.
This section of Hebrews is not meant to threaten (we’re watching you!) as much as it’s meant to give hope (we’re waiting for you!). We can trust that Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, has already finished the work.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…how then shall we live?