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… ~Hebrews 12:1-2
“The dead still speak.” Those are the words I heard recently introducing a lecture on church history. And it’s true: the dead do speak. This is not in some macabre sense of ghostly spirits communicating through flashing lights, tv static, Ouija boards, or voice recordings. No, this is in the sense of people who have lived before having their words and lives shared through books, stories, or memories.
Even then, as Jesus said to the Sadducees, Moses called God “the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”—and he is not “God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:37-38). So we remember that those who belong to Jesus through faith, though physically their bodies may have died, spiritually they live on in paradise, awaiting the resurrection.
It is these of which the author of Hebrews wrote. These men and women, some remembered well by history and others not, who’s life stories still speak to us today (Hebrews 11). These are ancient Bible characters, men and women who belong in the annals of church history, and people of an enduring faith who have lived long or who have died before us in our churches and families.
Hebrews 12:1 says such people form a “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us. And what is their purpose in our lives? To fuel us to a faithful future.
They have run the race, following after Jesus, and finished (or have nearly finished) the course. Their lives are a testimony to the fact that one can indeed live faithful and die faithful in a sometimes dark, confusing, and faithless world. Their voices echoing in various ways from the past urge us to strip off the weights of sin and fix our eyes squarely on Jesus.
Sadly, there are also some who teach us this lesson but from a negative perspective. Paul wrote of such in 1 Corinthians 10 where many heard God’s voice and experienced his miraculous provisions yet “with most of them God was not pleased.” Paul concluded, “These things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (10:5-6).
So as we run the race after Jesus, we look back and see the lives of the past and hear their voices. Those who ran faithfully, we emulate the good. Those who did not, we avoid their evil. Remembering their lives provides for us fuel for a faithful future.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.