So great a cloud of witnesses

Published 11:00 am Sunday, May 5, 2024

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight; and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was 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 (NKJV)

This verse comes immediately after chapter 11, the faith chapter, where the generals of faith are called to remembrance. The writer says “therefore” — because of these great pioneers of faith we should ourselves run the race that is set before us. We read about these icons, not as a mere history lesson, but as an encouragement and challenge for us to do likewise, to stay the course.

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As we look upon the lives of those saints who have gone before, hopefully we recognize that it is because of their faith that we are encouraged to press on. It has been said by many down through the years, that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. Nowhere is this concept more necessary than in our own Christian growth; while it is true that only Jesus can save us, it is also a fact that we are able to “see” things better because of those who paid the price before us and paved the way for our understanding to be opened. These men and women lived lives of prayer and study so, as Paul said in Philippians 3:12-14, “that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.”

I was privileged last Sunday to be involved in a special service at China Grove Methodist Church. As we gathered within those walls the evidence of past worshipers was almost palpable. As we sat under the weight of those who had stood before us, I had a little better feel for what it means to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. It was also evident that if this Christianity that we profess is to continue, we must step up and pave the way for those who come after. To paraphrase the country artist George Jones, we must fill the shoes of those gone before us; we must stand tall so that the next class may see even farther than we do.

The Rev. Bobby Thornhill is a retired pastor.