So great a cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1)

POST OVERVIEW. Meditations on Hebrews 12:1-2.

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

All disciples of Jesus have the great cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 11 and we also all have the faithful men and women who have preceded us in obedience to the Lord and then into glory, but each disciple should also seek to be gathering their own cloud of witnesses, saints that we have known personally who have faithfully run the race to the end. For me, two that leap immediately to my mind are Jill Britton and Edye Caldwell. These, even though dead, still speak (Hebrews 11:4) into my life.

Jill Britton is my mother, a woman who modeled for me what it means to live a humble, faithful, simple, God-surrendered life. Mom came to faith at 50 years old and walked with Jesus for her last 30 years. She regularly spent over an hour in prayer each morning as she went through prayer cards and missionary letters and thought about her children. As soon as she came to faith, she began praying for her wayward second son, who was spending his life is worthless pursuits and dissipation far from the Lord. Four years later, the Lord answered those prayers and this prodigal entered the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ and was saved. From that point on, my mother and I were sister and brother in Christ. On Friday morning May 12, 2017, my mom quietly went to heaven to spend eternity with her Lord. Her work was done, so her Savior called her home.

I was new to my church when Mom died, but I had already become acquainted with a senior saint named Edye Caldwell. I told Edye about Mom’s death and she said, “I am sorry to hear about your loss, but that is the way I would like to go.” Even though Edye was 92 years old when she went home, our pastor said he never saw her eyes closed when he was preaching. “I may put some of you to sleep, but not Edye! She wanted to hear every word.” Edye had been a member of Oakhurst for 64 years. She had faithfully prayed for the church when the membership hovered around 40 and attendance was around 30. She lived to see the church replanted and attendance rise to about 400 with more than 300 baptized members and many children all over the place. Now in heaven, Edye Caldwell still speaks by her perseverance in the race and her hunger for the things of the Lord over a lifetime. She and my mom both finished the race at full speed.


Turning back to Hebrews 12, we read, “Let us ALSO lay aside every weight. . .” Notice the word “ALSO.” The Lord has placed us in the body of Christ and therein we have examples and role models who have run and are running the race and who have finished strong. And, as these role models “laid aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles” them, so we ALSO are to lay aside every weight and lay aside every sin that entangles us. The purpose of these godly role models in this cloud of witnesses is NOT ADMIRATION BUT IMITATION. Having a hero to admire is of dubious value in the life of a disciple, because we, as fallen humans, are so prone to become spectators, mere admirers impressed by the personal success of others. Because of our flesh, we are all beset with a “groupie tendency,” the urge to watch our heroes rather than imitate the godly, spectate rather than do the hard work of discipleship and repentance and obedience and hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Because I know I am flawed and broken and insignificant, I tend to seek out the “great” so that, by my association with them, I can become significant. This is worldly and is the exact opposite of benefiting from our great cloud of witnesses. The gospel declares that we are already significant because Jesus has died for us on the cross and the Holy Spirit has ushered us into new life in the kingdom of God. We are followers of the King of kings, so who else matters?

There is no benefit from idolatrously admiring a hero from a great distance. Rather, what I need are flesh and blood examples who live nearby and who will run the race with me. My cloud of witnesses shows me, by their example, how to lay aside every weight. And where do I find this “cloud of witnesses,” these flesh and blood examples? I find them in my local church! Here among the pews I find those who will help me define “every weight,” then identify what my “weights” are, then pray with me and walk with me as I lay aside these weights. And my brothers in my church do the same thing with “the sin that so easily entangles” me.

You may ask, “What is the primary source of my personal ‘cloud of witnesses’?” What if the Lord provided me with a large, multi-generational group of committed disciples of Jesus who are accessible to me and who have covenanted together with me to walk the godly path as we grow in holiness and usefulness? If God provided me with such a group, it would seem that I would be very likely to grow as a follower of Jesus. Of course, the name for the group I have just described is the local church.


The main take-away here is that we are to actively imitate this great cloud of witnesses and to work hard to be like our role models in the faith. Our culture is all about having us find “great” people to worship and then reducing us to spectators who blindly follow our heroes. Yes, this can easily happen even among believers in good churches. But the disciple is to reject the “admire and spectate” mentality of the world and is, instead, to fix their eyes on the perfecter of faith, the Lord Jesus, as they imitate the godly cloud of witnesses.

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 2/2/2023                     #618

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