Crowd of Witnesses

“Reaching Perfection Together”

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
Hebrews 12:1-2

Many of us are familiar with this verse from the book of Hebrews, but what does it mean?  Apparently people are watching our faith, but who are these people?  Are they friends, family and co-workers; are they saints that have died before us or someone else?  And even more importantly, why are they watching us?

The previous chapter of Hebrews is often referred to as the “hall of faith” a play on the “hall of fame,” and in that chapter specific Old Testament saints are highlighted as a demonstration of how they walked in faith before God.  At the end of that chapter and immediately preceding the verse above we find this.

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
Hebrews 11:39-40

The grouping of faithful people in chapter eleven is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather some important examples which can help guide our spiritual journey.  These Old Testament saints are a sampling of those who have already run their leg of the race.  They have completed their course and now handed the baton over to us.  As we run our race of faith, they are watching, pulling for us, hopeful and expectant that we will faithfully finish our course.  But that is not the best part of this message. 

The very last sentence in chapter eleven contains a very surprising phrase … “so that they would not reach perfection without us.”  Let’s try to understand what is happening here.  As we know, God’s plan of redemption began back in the garden and has been at work throughout the last six thousand years or so.  His plan continues to build on, complete, and fulfill everything that went before.  In the same way, so does our faith.  The faith journey that was begun by Abel, Enoch, Noah and countless others is still alive.  It is alive and at work in you and me.  We are completing the faith of the great patriarchs and saints of old.  How can this be?  Consider an example with me. 

The faith chapter highlights individuals through whom the plan of God was carried out.  None of these notable mentions completed God’s plan by themselves; they built on the faith of their predecessors.  Before each of these people we find the definitive phrase ”by faith”.  For example, “by faith Abel,” then “by faith Enoch,” followed by Noah, Abraham and Sara, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’s parents, Moses, the people of Israel and then Rahab.  God was initiating the restoration of Eden, but he was performing this work through people of faith. And his plan is continuing through the people of faith today.  Abel, by his faith, expressed that it is possible to be made acceptable by God. Rahab hid the spies showing her belief in a promised land for the Lord’s people; her home (Jericho) was the first conquered city in the land of Canaan. How might the others that we mentioned above have contributed their faith to the magnificent plan?

The fullness of God’s plan was not complete with Rahab, for we are in that chain of saints as we look ahead to the full restoration of God’s kingdom.  This explains why they did not receive all that God had promised (yet), because it is only with us that they will be perfected.  What a joyous day that will be when our faith journey is complete, the kingdom of God is made manifest, all legs of the relay have been run and we celebrate with the saints of old as together we reach perfection.

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