A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Did you hear about the dad who pledged to run one marathon for every week of his daughter’s life in utero? Click Here for the full story. Christopher got the news on New Year’s Eve 2015, that his daughter had died. His wife Lynne was 22 weeks pregnant with their third child, when during a scheduled ultrasound doctors discovered that the baby had no heartbeat. The baby was delivered the next day and they named her Angelina. It was shortly after this, wanting to find a positive way to work through his grief, that he decided that there was no better way to honor her than to find the strength to run 22 marathons, one for each week of her life in utero. In addition to running, Christopher and Lynn have found support through family and friends and their church. Looking ahead at the races to come he said, “The pain that I experienced in the marathon – that’s temporary pain. Losing a baby is going to be endured forever but we have to find ways to cope and this is my way.” Reading Christopher’s story reminded me of these words from the letter to the Hebrews;

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

Chapters 11 and 12 of the book of Hebrews are some of my favorite in the whole of scripture. Chapter 11 begins with the great definition of faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” What follows is a listing of the great men and women of faith who have run this race before us. By faith, we are told, Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. By faith Enoch was taken up into heaven by God and did not see death. By faith Noah built an ark before a drop of rain had yet fallen. By faith Abraham followed where God led, not knowing where he was going. By faith Sarah, conceived and bore her son Isaac when she was in her 90s. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be identified as a prince of Egypt, but choose to be mistreated along with the Israelites instead.

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.” – Hebrews 11:32-35

Then, after this great retelling of lives lived in faith, the author of the letter to the Hebrews gives the great “therefore.” Therefore; keeping in mind everyone who has gone before, we run with endurance. Those who have gone on before us in the faith stand by the side of the road cheering us on. Life isn’t easy. The life of faith can be doubly difficult. Jesus said that any of us looking to follow him should be willing to take up our crosses and follow him. Jesus promised that our lives in this world would be difficult. We shouldn’t expect any better treatment than Jesus himself received.

I’ve been in races where the thought of taking the next step is daunting, let alone the thought of the next mile. What has made the difference between the good and bad finishes isn’t the time that I was able to finish in; but the way in which I ran. Often times what has made the difference there are the people along the side of the road who shout encouragement. The most encouraging thing I’ve seen in a race was when one of the runners who finished near the front of the pack ran back alongside the course and encouraged the other runners who were still running. His race was over, and yet he stood alongside and shouted words of encouragement to those still in the midst of their race. 

In the races of faith that you run, you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses as well. You are surrounded by those mentioned in Hebrews 11, but also by many others. Each of us can trace our family trees of faith back to those first apostles. They shared the good news in Jesus with someone else who shared that good news, and on through the years until that moment the good news was shared with you. And so now while you run, when you experience those moments of hardship, or tragedy, or sorrow; those times when the thought of that next step is overwhelming look up. Take your eyes off the ground in front of you, all of those problems and pitfalls, and remember all of those who have finished their race who surround you as a great cloud of witnesses cheering you on. And all the while look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of your faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

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