A Cloud of Witnesses

Bible Book: Hebrews  12 : 1-2
Subject: The Race; Faithfulness; Dedication; Commitment

Let’s look at the Christian life as a race. The writer of Hebrews told us to do that and the Holy Spirit can teach us great lessons from it.

I. Meet The Observers

It's written in Hebrews 12:1, "Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with s great a cloud of witnesses."

Many are observing you; some playfully, others prayerfully; some slyly, others sympathetically; some tenderly, others temptingly.

A. Your Foes

Your foes are observing you. It's written in Psalm 37:32, "The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him." While in Capernaum the Lord Jesus went to a synagogue. He noticed a man there with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, His enemies watched Him closely. Would He heal the man's hand? If He did, they planned to arrest Him. Another day the Lord Jesus passed through Jericho. A rich, influential Jew in the Roman tax-collecting business climbed into a tree to see Him. When Jesus looked up, He said, "Zaachaeus, make haste, and come down; for today U must abide at thy house." The tax-collector hurried down and tool the Lord Jesus to his house in great joy. But the crowds were displeased because He went to be the guest of a notorious sinner. As Christ was watched, so you'll be watched, Christian. Genghis Khan instituted the ropewalk. The man condemned could walk a long stretch of the tight rope while his accusers jeered. Very few could do it. You're walking a tightrope. You, too, are being hounded and heckled. If you get off balance our Lord will be dishonored, and your life will be disgraced. Be careful to honor your Lord!

B. Your Friends

Your friends are observing you. When the mother of Moses could no longer hide him from the baby butchers, she made a little boat, put him in it, and laid it along the river's edge. But his sister watched him. When you were just a babe in Christ, a brother or a sister in the Lord watched you. Their care for you meant the difference between victory and defeat for you.

While I have intimated that "the cloud of witnesses" may refer to your foes and friends on this earth, it has a more sacred meaning. I see in the cloud of witnesses the humble heroic men and women who have given up kith and kin, title and treasure, and are now in the grandstand of heaven. They bear witness to the fact its worth it all to serve the Lord, that His grace is sufficient for any grief, and that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

Should you be tempted to disbelieve in the blood of the sin offering, then listen to Abel as he gives witness. He says, "I brought the fatty cuts of meat from my best lambs, and presented them to the Lord. I admitted my sins. I accepted by faith the Lord who was sacrificed for my sins, and He accepted me."

Should you be tempted to desert God and walk no more with Him, then listen to Enoch as he bears witness, "I'm glad I allowed no one and nothing to come between my soul and my Savior. Day after day I walked with God. One day as I walked with God, He translated me and I triumphed over death.

Should you be tempted to doubt God, then listen to Noah as he gives witness, "The direction of men's lives were only towards evil. And God said He was going to cover the earth with a flood and destroy every living being. All will die. But He told me to build a ship, and that He would keep my family and me safe. Those were dark and difficult days. We built the ark even though there was no water. We were ridiculed and rejected, but we remained true to the Lord. One day He told us to come into the boat, and bring animals, and we did as He commanded. He shut the door, and then it rained for forty days and nights.

II. Mark The Obstacles

Hebrews 12:1 says, 'Let us lay aside every weight." What's a weight? Something that pulls down or holds down. A weight is something that hinders action and advancement.

Alexander the Great was marching on to Persia. His army had conquered a country and had carried off much loot. They were so loaded down with expensive clothing, silver and gold that they could hardly advance. Alexander called a halt, and commanded his men to burn their loot. The soldiers were angry. Some cried. Others cursed. But they burned the loot and moved on. It wasn't long until they realized the wisdom of their leader. Instead of the weights, it seemed that they had wings. Then they walked easily and quickly to victory.

Many of God's soldiers are held back and held down because of weights. Whatever isn’t a wing is a weight. Everything that doesn't help, hinders. Anything that doesn't speed us, slows us.

It's not the question of whether something is important, but whether it's most important. It's not a question of whether something is good, but whether or not it's the best.

Oftentimes you may wonder, "Is this right or is this wrong?" "Shall I go there, or shall I not?" It's better to ask, "Will this hinder me or will it help me? Is this a weight or is this a wing? Will this slow me or will it speed me?" Remember the advice of the Word of the Lord, "Lay aside every weight."

But it doesn't stop there. It goes on to say, "…and the sin which doth so easily beset us." What's that? The sin that easily and frequently tempts us.

If you're a Christian, the devil studies you closely and carefully. He knows your weak points. He passionately and persistently attacks you at your weak points. Some are more vulnerable to the sins of the mind - anger and arrogance, envy and evil speaking, selfishness and stinginess. Others are more vulnerable to the sins of the flesh - greed and gluttony, impurity and immorality, drunkenness and drug addiction.

What's your weakest point? You're not sure? Then make sure. Pray as did David in Psalm 139:23 and 24, "Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

If you're honest, the Lord will help you. If could be that the exciting thing in your life is an evil thing, or that the bewitching thing is your besetting sin. Oh, you thought if it as a weakness. But it's wickedness. But if you'd get rid of it, you must recognize it as a sin, something hateful to the Lord and harmful to you.

It's interesting to note that the Revised Standard Version renders this verse on this fashion, 'Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely." Yes, the devil will do his best to get between your soul and your Savior with a sin and cling closely to you.

But the New English Bible renders this verse in this fashion, "every sin to which we cling." Has some sin in your life become so captivating, so comfortable, and so cheerful that you're now clinging to it? It may be a pleasure, a position, a person, a possession. But it's holding you back and holding you down.

"Oh," you may be saying, "I really want to do what's right, but I can't. I do what I don't want to do, what I hate. But I can't seem to help it!"

It takes twice as much power for an airplane to get off the earth as it does to fly. The difficult thing to do is to break with your old life of sin. And the Lord will enable you to do this, if you want Him to.

Without any arguing, debating, or fighting, surrender yourself to Him right now; and He'll set you free.

That's what He did for Peter. His besetting sin was self-confidence, or pride, or the tendency to think more highly of himself than he ought to.

One day the Lord told His disciples that He was going to Jerusalem, and there He'd suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, and that He'd be killed, but that He'd be raised to life again. But Peter dared to set Him straight. He said, "This isn't going to happen to You!"

Another time our Lord said, "You will all desert Me." But Peter protested, "If everyone else deserts You, I won't!" But Peter did desert Him and deny Him. He fell! How tragically he fell! But how triumphantly he was restored, because he truly repented. And for your repentance, there'll be His restoration. For your weakness, there'll be His strength.

At a nationally famous race, there was a young runner who was unknown and who represented a small college. At the first corner, while fighting for the lead, he was horribly spiked and quickly thrown down. His leg was gashed, his face and hands were cut, and he lay bleeding in the cinders. But he didn't stay there. He got up and by the time he started running, the others were thirty yard ahead of him.

It seemed hopeless for him to go on. But blackened and bleeding, he started after the crowd of runners as if nothing had happened.

Little by little, he began to cut down the lead of the runners nearest to him; and when they reached the fourth quarter, he was number five.

As the runners swung around the last corner into the home stretch, the four runners who were out in front heard the sound of flying feet approaching them. They knew he was in the race to win. As they came closer to the red cord, there was a strange silence as the boy with bleeding leg and blackened face drew away from the others and won the race; breaking the Intercollegiate Record for the mile. Have you been tripped or spiked? Have you fallen, and are you now blackened and bleeding? Don't lie there. Can't you hear the observers in the grandstands urging, "Get up, and go on!"

It matters not how far the fall or how fearful the failure. The fall doesn't have to be fatal, and the failure doesn't have to be final. The start is important, but it's the finish that counts.

Hebrews 12:1 continues, "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us." The word "patience" doesn't refer to that which capitulates to something, but that which conquers something. It signifies steadfastness, not spinelessness; tenacity, not timidity.

When this steadfast endurance burns within your soul, hate can't kill it, envy can't stamp it out, criticism can't disable it, and persecution can't destroy it.

It refuses to be defeated by disappointments, dismayed by discouragements, or destroyed by disasters. It's never hampered by handicaps, hindered by heartaches, or held back by hostilities.

It's like Nehemiah, when enemies are sneering at his work, it continues courageously, overcoming the opposition. It's like the first Christian martyr, when being stoned to death, it will forgive but not give up, but remains faithful to the Lord to the end.

This steadfast endurance rises above adversity and attains new heights of achievement, by turning barriers into bridges, failures into fortunes, obstacles into opportunities, setbacks into successes, and trials into triumphs.

In the words of Jim Corbett it means to "fight one more round. When your feet are so tired that you have to shuffle back to the center of the ring - fight one more round. When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard - fight one more round. When your nose is bleeding and your eye are black, and you're so tired you wish your opponent would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep - fight one more round. The man who fights one more round is never whipped."

The Hebrew children practiced this, when they chose to burn than to bow. Daniel practiced this when he chose to be thrown to the lions than to throw off the Lord. Joseph practiced this when he chose to be imprisoned than to be caught in iniquity. And Stephen practiced this when he chose to be stoned than to be speechless about the Savior.

III. Mark The Object

Hebrews 12:2 says, "Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the sham, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."

The work "looking" means to turn your eyes away from things and fix them on something. It also means to turn your mind to a certain thing. The minute the Greek runner took his attention away from the course and the goal and turned it on the crowds, his speed slackened, and it's this way with the Christian. The moment you take your attention away from Christ and get it on the crowds or conditions, your speed slackens, and your progress is hindered.

Princess Atalanta was famous for her beauty and speed. Men were captivated by her charm, and asked for her hand. To each one she said, "We will run in a race. If you win, you will get my hand. If you lose, I will get your head." Many men lost their heads over her. But there was one who determined to win her. His name was Hippomenes, and he entered the race with three golden apples.

Amid the cheers of the crowd, the princess and the young man began to race. In just a little while he felt her hot breath behind him, and he dropped a golden apple. She slowed a little to look at it, and he got ahead of her. But she kept on running. Again, she was about to pass him. He dropped his second golden apple. She was fascinated by it and hesitated a little longer, and once more he was out in front. But she picked up speed and started to pass him, and he dropped the third golden apple. Atalanta couldn't resist it. She stopped just for a second, she stopped, and she picked it up. But the young man won the race. The princess lost her hand and her crown for the golden apple.

The devil entered the race, like this young man, with three golden apples, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." He drops an evil desire before you, hoping you'll slow your speed, and lose your race. And when you don't stop for that temptation, he drops another, and then another.


You can't afford to hesitate, you must hurry. Keep your eyes off that which glistens and keep them on God. Turn your eyes from the solicitations to sin and keep them on the Savior. And run, steadily and swiftly, to win the prize.

Yes, looking to Jesus gives you the motive in running and winning the race.

A fable says that a certain dog used to boast of his ability to outrun any animal. One day that dog started to chase a rabbit, but couldn't catch it. His friends teased him. "But," he protested, "the rabbit was running for its life. I was only running for dinner."

Christian, run in such a way to get the crown that will last forever. Determine with the apostle Paul, "I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."