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 ywith endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
We stand on the shoulders of giants. The phrase is often used by scientists paying homage to Sir Issac Newton, but it originally comes from the writings of Bernard of Chartes; a French theologian.
That the phrase comes from Christian thinking is not surprising. The Bible is clearly based on the idea that we stand as part of a long history of God’s revelation, not as the reult of a single act of God at one point in history. The Christian faith is beholden, not just to Paul, or Abraham, or Peter, or Moses, or David, but to God’s action through people moved of God throughout history. The Bible itself is a loooonnnng history of God’s working through humans to bring glory to himself. Indeed, the history of the church is a history of God working through fallible humans to continue the witness to the glory of God in Christ.
*begin tangent*: Note that I did not include Jesus in that list of fallible humans. Jesus is the God that acted and worked through all of them to bring Glory to God. When we say that all scripture speaks of Jesus then, we are not stating some esoteric idea of interpretation, but a simple fact of what the Bible is. Jesus is our model, as the passage states, but he is also our goal. It is to Him that we bring glory. *end tangent*.
As I sit here now, thinking on how Jesus saved me from sin, on how glorious God is, my thinking is shaped by those who brought my ancestors the Gospel. It’s also shaped by the many faithful believers, some known, most not, whose lives and witness worked to express to me the Gospel in its fullness. There are many who fought heresy, error, and even malicious lies, to make it possible for me to see those things when they come up again. In each case, they were working to make God’s glory known, looking to Jesus “who for the joy that was set before him” went through privations we can scarcely imagine to secure for us the eternal crown.
The reason I reflect on this is simple. A dear sister in the faith (and indeed one of those “cloud of witnesses” in my life) was telling me a story about how an ancestor of hers was closely tied to one of those evangelical schools that now shapes people in the faith that they might show even more the glory of God. I thought then of the many stories of ancestors and saints who worked, often not knowing by anything but the eyes of faith, whether their labours would be in vain. People who faced the many difficulties ahead of them and worked that God might be glorified.
I thought of the Bible studies that began the methodist movement, and the small group (the Clapham sect) that would serve as the death knell for the evil institution of slavery…. and I thought of the Bible study I attend.
I thought of the missionaries impaled on the shores of equador, not knowing that their deaths would mobilize thousands….. and then think of the calls to witness to the truth of Jesus here and abroad.
I thought of the major writers of theology that we now can read, and be edified by, often at peril to their own wellfare (and as in the case of the Pilgrims progress by John Bunyan, and the letters from prison by Bonhoeffer, written while under persecution)…. and then thought of the people around me who perhaps should be writing of the glorious truths of Christ, and what that means for how we live.
The point is simple, while we stand on the shoulders of giants, if God is gracious, and if we are found faithful, God can make us giants too. If we are willing to look to Jesus, who for the joy set before him did what he did, someday somebody who follows us will look at the computer you now type from, the apartment you now live in, the Church you now attend, and the Bible study you now journey with, and say thank you, Lord for compassing me about with such a cloud of witnesses as these. Indeed, God will be glorified in doing much through mere humans such as us.
All that stands between us joining that cloud of witnesses, is our ability to act for the joy set before us in Christ. The question is whether we will live and labor for perishable and ultimately meaningless crowns of institutional power, or riches, or worldly security, or whether we will labor for the lasting joy of the Lord, and in doing so, be grafted into the Church of our mothers and fathers in the faith.
We stand at the nexus between the cloud of witnesses that went before, and the children in the faith yet unborn. Will we be part of the legacy of God? That is a choice we must make. Dear readers, I pray that I will live for Christ.
My sisters, my brothers, 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.