You might have a difficulty believing that Abel and Abraham and Enoch have nothing better to do than to sit there cheering us on. And so do I. I am still to sign off on the details of my Theology in this area. What I do know is that if they have a choice between focusing on Jesus and focusing on me, they will be focused on Jesus. Of course, if the concept of a great cloud of witnesses is all about the Saints in Hebrews 11 being able and willing to testify to the truth and reality and efficacy of what I believe… then, their presence is of great value to me. However, if in fact they do have some spare time to actually be concerned about me, then of course I welcome their inspiration. What I do know is that the Angels rejoice over each sinner that repents and joins the Kingdom of God (Luke 15:10). So for me it is an easier sell to believe that there are Angels assigned to me who are there supporting me, and helping me, and yes, cheering me on under the instructions of Jesus. Of course, what is not open to discussion is the fact that Jesus is there cheering me on. For we know that He lives to continuously make intercession for us… Hallelujah… What a savior! O How I love Him, because He first loves me! (Hebrews 7:25)
That said it is a fact that we are not alone in our Christian journey. Others have gone before us and have left us a great example. Angels are all around us, routing for us. And Jesus , the author and Finisher of our salvation is always supporting us, and through His Holy Spirit, encouraging us. And it is important to be aware of this. In fact, being aware of it is easily more than 50% of its value. Think of the little child who goes out on the big field to play his first ‘serious’ game. He anxiously looks to the stands in the hope of seeing his mother, father or any familiar supportive face. With that encouragement, hitting the home run becomes a possibility. Or think of the little girl on stage in her first play… she can’t remember her opening lines… then she sees daddy and mommy smiling at her… and all of a sudden the lines return to her memory. And what about the professional athlete. He does not need encouragement to build his self-confidence,.. But he too needs to know that there are people in the stand who he represents, and on whose behalf he is competing. It is one thing to be representing yourself. It is another thing to be representing a nation.
Hebrews 12:1-2 uses the imagery of the athlete. He needs the track suit to keep his muscles warm before the race, but he can’t compete with them. The wind will get trapped in the cloth and the effect will be to reduce his speed. Similarly, as we run the spiritual race, any sin in our lives will reduce our speed, and could even take us out of the race completely. Just as the athlete must lay aside his track suit, so the Believer in Christ must lay aside any sin that besets us, and that means every sin that sets on us.
Hebrews 12:1-2 provides us with three components of the strategy that we must employ to effectively run the race. First we must rid ourselves of all encumbrances and hindrances. Second we must run with perseverance. The imagery here is not the 100 yard sprint. It is the marathon. Bursts of speed don’t count. Endurance and perseverance do count. Third, we must fix our eyes on Jesus. We fix our eyes on Jesus because He has already made it to the Finish Line and He is there cheering us on and encouraging us. We fix our eyes on Jesus because he provides us with the sustenance necessary for perseverance in the race.
But there is something else about fixing our eyes on anything, and in this case, Jesus. The shortest distance between two points is always a straight line. Did you know that you can draw a perfectly straight line on the ground if you keep your eye fixed to the smallest possible visible point on an object and walk towards that object? It is when our eyes wander, that we go astray, swerve to the left and veer to the right. We might still reach our destination, but we will do so less efficiently and take a longer time.
Ultimately, it is not the great cloud of witnesses, nor the angels, nor the Saints with whom we fellowship, to whom we must look for our motivation. It is to Jesus Christ. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that He is the pioneer of our faith. He started it. He is the perfecter of our faith. He finished it. Just as we must fix our eyes on Jesus, so He fixed His eyes on the joy set before Him… the joy of redeeming His lost children… the joy that came with His being able to say, “It is finished.” With us in mind, Jesus endured the cross, and oh what an endurance that was. He looked pass its shame, for He was being made a shame for us. And having completed His race, He received His prize, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. I don’t know if He made a special exception for Stephen, but I would like to think that He stands to welcome us home, especially those who persevere through great trial and affliction like Stephen did.
Hebrews 12:3 fittingly reminds us… “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
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