Summary: Sermon about historical characters that we should look too as guides to our own walk with Christ.
Heb 12:1 NKJV Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
I have witnessed and even (when much younger) was a participant in foot races. I note that when one runs a marathon it would be nice to be able to carry at least a couple of energy bars and maybe a couple of bottles of water. However the extra weight would act against the runner, not to mention the slapping of the pack on your back or legs. Likewise, when we run the race of life things that we hold dear as men and women, can weigh us down and make it difficult for us to live Christ like lives.
Well in Hebrews 11 we learn about a whole lot of folks who also ran the race of faith, and we are told that they are the ones we are to look at when we run that race. That although we are to keep our eyes on our Lord, Jesus Christ as he tells us in verse 2, we also need to remember the history as put forth by these heroes of the faith. The truth is that we have even more people than those to look to, we also have 2,000 + years of men and women to look to and to study. The life of faith is not a sprint, it is a marathon and one that takes a lot of perseverance and faith. These are the folks that are the model for us to follow, for they gave all that they were to further the Kingdom of God.
You know that every Memorial Day, and Veterans Day we remember those who have been the heroes of our nation, many of whom gave their lives to insure our freedom. This list in Hebrews is the same kind of list of heroes, only these are the ones who set up the Kingdom that Jesus became the final hero of.
Let us therefore look to this list of ancient heroes, as well as to Jesus for our example, our model, of living the Christian life. Our history, the history of the Church is replete with those who were willing to give up their lives to serve the Lord. We don't have a lot of stories of those who came after the Apostles, but we do have some. There is the story of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was offered release if he would renounce Christ. His reply to the Proconsul was: "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?" At the stake to which he was only tied, but not nailed as usual, as he assured them he should stand immovable, the flames, on their kindling the fagots, encircled his body, like an arch, without touching him; and the executioner, on seeing this, was ordered to pierce him with a sword, when so great a quantity of blood flowed out as extinguished the fire. But his body, at the instigation of the enemies of the Gospel, especially Jews, was ordered to be consumed in the pile, and the request of his friends, who wished to give it Christian burial, rejected. They nevertheless collected his bones and as much of his remains as possible, and caused them to be decently interred. This was in the persecution under Marcus Aurelius sometime after AD 161 when he became emperor.