Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
My teaching for the men’s group this week begins with this verse from the 12th chapter of Hebrews. The great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us are those immediately mentioned previously in the 11th chapter. Of course, it also refers to all those that have died trusting in Jesus Christ. This verse does not mean that the dead saints are “looking down” on us and they are watching us and cheering us on. The verse is a call for believers to look back at the heroes of the faith and to imitate their hope and trust in God. When you read the end of chapter 10 and all of chapter 11, you cannot help but see that these were extraordinary people, men “of whom the world was not worthy.” From 10:34, they helped their brothers and sisters in prison, and while they were out, they joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. I do wish that we were such people of faith; that we might love Christ more than our things. The saints of old did not put their hope in earthly places or things. They knew they were strangers on earth and they desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one (v. 16). By faith Moses considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt. He left Egypt, not fearing the king. By faith, God delivered some and by faith God did not deliver some (see 11:32-39).
I want to highlight this verse because yesterday, October 24, was the sixth anniversary of my mother’s leaving this world and entering into the glory of her Lord. She is part of that great cloud. I look back on her life and I thank God that He blessed me with her. I want to mention quickly two things that I desire to imitate in her life. There are many more, but I don’t want to write a book right now, and you probably do not want to read one!
First of all, my mom loved the local church. She grew up as a PK (pastor’s kid). Her father had planted a church in Birmingham, AL, when my mother was born. There was never a time in her life that she was not in the house of God! From birth to death, except on rare occasions, she was in His house with other believers. During my entire life, there has never been a time when I have not been in fellowship with other believers. The importance of the local church was ingrained in me. There was never another place I wanted to be on Lord’s Day but in the house of God. Now that I have studied church history and I’m pastoring RBC, the local church is even more precious to me. The local church is God’s plan for evangelism and discipleship. It is the “ark of safety” for believers. To use the imagery of Pilgrim’s Progress, it is that Palace Beautiful. So many today have spoken ill of the church. But Christ loves the church and He gave His life for her. I actually heard someone say, “I love Jesus but hate the Church.” No, this person does not know Jesus! A person who says they love Jesus should love that which Jesus loves, and that is His Church. Christ is building His Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. My mom didn’t worship the church. She worshiped her Savior through the God-ordained means of the local church, the visible manifestation of the body of Christ. She was deeply committed to her brothers and sisters in Christ.
Secondly, my mom loved music. From her earliest days she learned to read music and play the piano. She also had a beautiful soprano voice. Do you remember when CB radios were popular? Her CB handle was “High C”! She could hit the high notes! I still hear her voice in many hymns that I sing today. I miss her voice. When my mother was a young girl, she and her sisters would take an afternoon and sing through the entire hymnbook! She was the choir director at church for years. After her death, we found some annual letters that she had written to the choir members. They were filled with Scripture and communicated her love for God and her thankfulness for the gift of music. When I was a boy, she tried to teach me to play the piano. Sadly, I was too restless and I gave her a hard time during lessons. I regret that today. But I do love music of all kinds, and especially music that is Gospel-centered. At the time of her death, my mother was singing in a choral group that performed with the Cincinnati Symphony. It was a great honor to be a part of that. Mom inspired me to keep a song in my heart and I try to do that every day. This morning it was As Long as You are Glorified. We sang this song Sunday, and I can’t get it out of my head. That is a very good thing and I believe my mom can be credited with training my mind for music.
I could say many more things about her, but I want to close with the rest of the verse above. Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. What can we learn from their example? There are three things:
1. Let us also lay aside every weight. Notice that it doesn’t say “lay aside every sin” yet. That is coming. But the author directs our attention to things that may not be bad in and of themselves, but are like a weight that slows our spiritual progress. Let me get very practical here. Here are some possible weights that you might be carrying. They might not be weights for everyone, but they just might be something that takes much of your time and attention: cell phones, internet, Facebook, iPods, cameras, cars, magazines, shopping, friendships, etc. Are there things in your life now that are not necessarily bad, but are taking time away from your walk with Christ? The writer of Hebrews tells us that people of faith strive to rid themselves of these weights. Examine yourself today. What is weighing you down and hindering your progress in the faith?
2. Let us also lay aside the sin which clings so closely. How diligent are we in our struggle against sin? How are we trying to cast off things that cling to us? Sin is like a dryer sheet that clings to your clean clothes. You can go half-way through the day and you finally realize that what is itching your leg is a dryer sheet stuck inside your pants. Sin clings to and entangles us. It trips us up and causes us to stumble. One of the themes of Hebrews is that Jesus is our Mediator, our great High Priest (4:14-16). We have one that prays for us and, by one single offering, has perfected for all time those that are being sanctified (10:14). That is a verse that gives me hope in the struggle to lay sin aside.
3. Let us run the race that is set before us with endurance. Each one of us has different obstacles, but believers are called to endure. The race often seems very long and the finish line is a faint image. But the finish line will get here sooner than you think (James says “life is a vapor”). My prayer today for all of us is for endurance. Let us not throw away our confidence, but let us hold fast to Christ. Christ is the Great Shepherd of the sheep (13:20). The message of Hebrews 11 and 12 is that God designs difficulties for a purpose. Look at 12:7: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” So friend, do not despise the Lord’s discipline. It is evidence of His love for you. Verse 11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
My mom’s race ended sometime in the early morning of October 24, 2005. I don’t know when my race will be over, but I have need of endurance. How about you? O, Lord, please tear me from the love of this world. Help me never to be comfortable in this world, but to forsake the things that are hindering me in my race. Having the things of this world torn from me is painful, but please give grace and healing. I’m thankful for the life of my mom. She now lives in your presence. That confidence is a gift of your grace and I give you all the praise. In Jesus name, Amen.