Get to Know the Great Cloud of Witnesses

A few weeks ago, a minor league player for the Baltimore Orioles got a homework assignment from Orioles manager Buck Showalter. Josh Hart, the minor league player, evidently didn’t know who the great Oriole Frank Robinson was, so Showalter required him to go home, do some research, and hand in a one page report the next day. According to Showalter, “It’s important that we realize there were some people that paved the way to have that strong fan base, the people that live and die with everything the Orioles do.”

The lesson for Hart was to know the history. Know whose shoulders you are standing on. It was a point well taken by the young man, and a valid point for believers as well.

Know the history. Know whose shoulders you’re standing on.

The writer of Hebrews, after listing out his own “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11, gives us the exhortation in Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.”

This echoes what God has told His people over and over again: Remember. Remember what these 12 stones represent. Remember when I brought you out of Egypt. Remember through these holidays and festivals. Remember.

In light of the call to remember, I think there are at least three reasons why we should get to know the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us:

1. To know there is nothing new under the sun.

Whenever we have a problem, we naturally think our situation is completely unique. That we are the first to deal with this issue, to struggle in this way, or to be concerned in this manner. We are not. Likewise, whenever we learn something new about God or the Bible, we naturally think we are the first one. The first with a new revelation. The first with a clever insight. The first with open eyes and hearts. We are not. It’s both encouraging and humbling to realize that there is nothing new under the sun, and we can look to the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us to see it to be true. When we are in touch with our history, we won’t trick ourselves into a deluded sense of self-importance that comes with an inflated sense of uniqueness.

2. To be on guard for the mistakes of the past.

Whoever said that when you fail to remember the past you are doomed to repeat it, was right. To take it a step further, you could say that a refusal to remember the past is equated to arrogance; it’s the belief that we don’t need to remember anything because we are not prone to wander. But we are, and Lord, we feel it. Because we are, it profits us greatly to remember how those before us have stumbled doctrinally and morally, and to know that our hearts are as deceptive as theirs once were. We can, and should be, on guard, and remembering what came before us is one way way that helps us stay that way.

3. To remind ourselves of grace.

It’s encouraging as you read back through the list of Hebrews 11, that particular cloud of witnesses, to see that without exception they were people of great failure. What marked them was not their morality; it was their faith. So as we remember the mistakes of the past, we can also remember the grace that was shown then, and we can know in the present that the fountain of that same grace has not run dry.

So get to know the great cloud of witnesses, both of Hebrews 11, and in your own life and history. Watch not only your perspective grow, but also your vision of the God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

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