Summary: Jesus, who has set the example for us, has finished the race and is at the right hand of the Father. We need to follow his example and that of the other heroes of the faith. These examples encourage us to finish the race.
Roll Call of the Saints
Rev. Mark A. Barber
Today, the first Sunday of November, is the Sunday on the church calendar which is set apart to remember the faithful service of Christians over twenty centuries who have gone on to their eternal reward. All Saints Day is commemorated in various way. For example, we had a special service at the cemetery in which we lit candles in memory of the departed. The evening before All Saints Day is called “All Hallows Eve”, or “Hallowed Evening” which is shortened to “Halloween” And the text we have read this morning is one of the texts that has been chosen for this occasion.. So let us now examine what this passage tells us.
“Wherefore, seeing we also are encompassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” – Who is this “cloud of witnesses”? First of all, the “wherefore” tells us lo look back to the text that comes before it. Chapter 11 is the famous “faith” chapter in which the roll call of the Old Testament saints are recited. Here we are reminded of the faith (faithfulness) of heroes like Abel, Abraham, and Moses, as well as many others, both named and unnamed, who did marvelous works for the glory of God. At the time Hebrews was written. This was the current list of heroes. The time was fast approaching that the Christian faithful would be added to the list. This is made clear in verse 4, where it say that the believers there had “not yet resisted unto blood”. This seems to me to be an indication that this was becoming a present reality to them. So it seems proper to me to extend this roll call of the saints to include the twenty centuries of Christians who have done similar exploits for God and in many cases become “martyrs” for Christ. It is interesting to note here that the Greek word for witness is the same word we get “martyr” from. At the time of the writing of Hebrews, the word simply meant “someone who bears witness.” But it would not be long before bearing witness for Christ would be at the expense of being tortured and executed for the faith.
The Greek emphasizes that the number of these witnesses was already vast. And the numbers to ba added from this time has added to the impressive list. These witnesses surround the believers like a crowd in a stadium. The idea of an arena where the Christian believers are participants before this crowd is certainly implied. So are these saints seated in the heavenly arena cheering us on to victory? This has been the interpretation of many expositors. In one way, it is comforting to think that these saints are looking on and cheering us in our journey, at least until we fumble the ball, as we are so apt to do.
We can only speculate what role, if any, that these saints play in our lives. The view is as cloudy as the names of countless numbers of the saints themselves. Some have suggested that the audience in the arena are not looking to us. Instead, we are looking to them. This may very well be the case. If so, is it only the inspiring witness they have left to us, or is it more. I can only thing that this is a living witness, as Jesus Himself notes that God is the God of the living and not of the dead. Instead we see that numerous saints have labored and through faith entered into their rest. These witnesses as not mere spectators watching a football game, where most have limited experience of having been on the field, yet as armchair quarterbacks think they know better how to play the game. Instead, these spectators are veterans, who had their day on the field. They have emerged victoriously from the field and are now seated in heaven, at rest. The book of Hebrews reminds us that it is through faith they entered this rest.
“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily besets us” – It is hard to determine for sure the meaning of this part of the verse, as some of the words used in Greek are very rare. But if the metaphor of us competing in the arena is correct. It is easy enough to get the idea of what is being said here. Athletes often trained with weights to build up muscle and endurance. Naturally, they would remove these weights for the competition. Or perhaps it refers to the fact that athletes in the Roman era competed in the nude, unencumbered by clothing. Perhaps this makes better sense in understanding the rest of the verse, because it would be hard to see sinning as a means of training.