Having “so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (1a) might seem an odd expression, but it was a statement intended to encourage.
Because firstly, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews intended his readers—a group of Christians facing persecution—to know that they were not alone. As a consequence, he recalled something of their Hebrew heritage. Indeed, many of their faithful predecessors had suffered persecution, and many had lost their lives. But, more importantly, many had remained faithful to God regardless of the personal cost.
And, the writer concluded, that if God’s people of the past had been able to stand up under all sorts of awful conditions, and remain faithful, then so too could the members of God’s church.
But, secondly, he also wanted to reinforce who it was at the centre of the church’s faith. So, he continued, “Let us look to Jesus alone, the founder and finisher of our faith” (2a).
In other words, despite opposition, despite being told by others they needed to change their ways, they needed to stand firm in Jesus. And if they didn’t, he concluded, people would “grow weary and lose heart” (3b).
Now, of course, the letter was written with a real concern at heart—people had wandered off track and people had wandered from the faith. Which is why the exhortation to consider the faithful of the past—the people who had not been swayed by public opinion or the whims of the day—is just as relevant today as it was back then.
Because Christians today still suffer from persecution—some subtle, some obvious. And we need to be careful not to be swayed by others, and not to be caught up in the obstacles and blocks that are thrown our way.
Indeed, what matters most is that we join in with the crowd of witnesses, that we make sure that Jesus is the central focus of our lives, and that we “persevere in running the race that has been set before us” (1c).
Posted 19th January 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis