Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is 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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. (Hebrews 12:1-4)Hebrews chapter 12 is a continuation of the narrative begun in chapter 11 where the writer rehearses the roster of ordinary lives made extraordinary through faith that won Heaven’s highest endorsement, “of whom the world was not worthy.” (Hebrews 11:38) Chapter 11 crescendos in unattributed acclaim for “others” who looked beyond temptation’s apogee and paid the ultimate price for their triumph of faith over it:
… others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection. And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented. (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:35-38)
These are among the great invisible “cloud of witnesses” who attend our performance now in the arena of life. (Hebrews 12:1) When we have our own day in court before the “Author and Finisher of our Faith,” Jesus Christ, their lives will stand as irrefutable testimony to overrule every alibi for unbelief and self-justification for sin, for they were no less ordinary than you and I. Those who …
- deemed themselves unworthy of God’s calling will face Moses, a fugitive murderer for forty-years. (Exodus 2:11-15)
- softened the message will face the condemned who will wish they had not.
- omitted the hard sayings of Jesus, will face Paul who declared the whole counsel of God to his cure. (Acts 20:26-27)
- surrendered to sexual temptation will face Joseph who fled from Mrs. Potiphar’s sexual advances. (Genesis 39:7-13)
- were almost persuaded to follow Jesus will face the citizens of Nineveh who earnestly repented at Jonah’s eight-word proclamation, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4)
- were silent on the unborn will face countless millions who might have fulfilled God’s dream for their lives had someone been willing to speak in their defense.(Proverbs 24:11)
- dropped out of the race will face multitudes who endured to the end.
- bitterly cursed God for their suffering will face Job who said, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 2:21)
- retreated from life out of fear and unbelief, will face David who ran to fight Goliath. (1 Samuel 17)
- gave out of their abundance will face the widow who gave her last dime. (Luke 21:1-4)
- wouldn’t go because they couldn’t let go, will face the twelve who immediately left everything and followed Jesus.
- recanted in the face of torture or death will face Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) as well as the “others” of Hebrews 11:35-38.
Finally, the writer of Hebrews lays down the gauntlet for us by alluding to Jesus’ crucifixion as the ultimate temptation resistance strategy. “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. (Hebrews 12:1-4) It would seem irrelevant to reference Jesus’ suffering had He relied on His status as God the Son. But Jesus didn’t use the advantage of His divinity to triumph over the enemy, for He had “emptied Himself” of the divine privilege:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:1-4)When we say following Jesus is just too hard, that it costs too much, that it makes us look foolish, or that temptation is too great to be resisted, we would do well to think upon the great cloud of witnesses who have already won their battle over trials and temptations that are common to man, for their performance will negate any protestation we might otherwise offer for our own inability to triumph in this battle called life.
© 2009 Seed for Good Soil. (Last updated 20090730)