Have you ever been the source of a crowd’s applause?
Perhaps you have to think back to singing or playing sports in high school, or maybe you recently received applause for an award at work. If you asked people “Would you rather have one thousand dollars or have everyone you know stand and applaud you at once?”, most would probably choose the latter. Maybe we’re vain, or perhaps in some deeper way we are hard-wired for this.
The Letter to the Hebrews paints this unusual, unexpected picture:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1–3 )
What is this “great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us? Are they still standing and cheering today? If so, for whom?
The clue is in the word therefore, which points us back to the previous chapter. Hebrews 11 is sometimes called “The Faith Hall of Fame.” It offers a list of people who faced enormous challenges yet found the faith to keep believing and the courage to keep fighting.
So those are the witnesses. But what about this cloud? It’s an all-encompassing cloud, more like a heavy fog that surrounds us. You feel this type of cloud around you and enveloping you.
The ancient Greeks used this word for cloud to describe a crowd, a massive gathering of people. So in Hebrews 12, we have the idea of a huge horde of people all around us, wherever we go.
This cloud of witnesses gives us a compelling picture: a packed-house throng of history’s greatest heroes watching you, cheering for you, calling out to you, “Get up! Keep going! You’re almost there!”
The language may be figurative or literal, but since witnesses are simply “those who see,” we’re invited to enjoy the inspiring idea that history’s greatest heroes—Abraham and Joseph and Moses and David—are cheering us on.
The crowd is chanting: Don’t Give Up!
If you are enjoying this reading plan, check out the entire Don't Give Up book by Kyle Idleman