Of Saints and Stadia

One thing my dad did really well, although it could be frustrating at times, was invest himself in the places that he lived. When we moved from the suburbs to the country, he found a book written by an early settler in the area and within a few years he knew the history of our little town and the surrounding area. When we moved out of state, he learned the local history. His 40 years in Illinois before moving to the Ozarks might as well had not even happened.

When he passed away, I have no doubts that he probably was as eager to settle into heaven with no backward looks to earth.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the verse in Hebrews 12.

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 that was 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 (ESV)

I’ve heard this verse interpreted as the cloud of witnesses in heaven watch those on earth as we run our races.

I disagree.

I don’t believe they are those in heaven who are looking down on our race. Mainly because if I am in heaven and can look upon the face of Jesus, I don’t want to look down on earth. What would you see… unfaithfulness, worldliness, ungodliness, pride, death, destruction?

Nor do I think the cloud of witnesses are those on earth who are alive and watching us. Yes, we are to be an example to others, but notice the “Therefore” at the beginning of the verse.

Hebrews 12 comes after Hebrews 11. This is the kind of deep theology and mathematical genius you can expect on this blog. You’re welcome.

Anyway, Hebrews 11 is the Hall of Faith, the accounting of those from Abel through the prophets of the Old Testament who lived and served God faithfully. These people witnessed the faithfulness of God and were witnesses of his faithfulness to the ungodly around them. They are witnesses in a courtroom, not in a stadium.

We’re surrounded by martyrs, not by spectators. We run the race because of the faithfulness of others who have run the race, not because there is a crowd cheering us on. We look to Jesus, the ultimate witness. The ultimate martyr. The one whom the Old Testament heroes of faith looked forward to, and the one whom martyrs from Stephen through today look back upon.

We’re surrounded
by martyrs,
not by spectators.

The focal point is Jesus on the cross. Not our race.

Let us lay aside every weight — all the worldliness that tries to capture our attention — and look to Jesus. For when our race is done, we will see Jesus face to face.

And nothing that is happening in the world then will tempt our eyes away from the One seated on the throne. 

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