The Great Cloud of Witnesses

December 4, 2013

The daily radiation treatment has become a quiet time for me, albeit a short, disciplined pause in my morning. Because I must lie very still and relax in an awkward position held in my custom-made cradle, I have found it helpful and even entertaining to let my “holy imagination” roam for those precious twelve minutes or so. Yesterday, my thoughts drifted to the “men [and women] behind the curtain.” I gave thanks to God first of all for the technicians in their cockpit behind that 3-foot lead wall, pushing the buttons and running the computer program that governs the radiation delivery apparatus. I appreciated the physicists and engineers who had programmed my treatment protocol, then moved on to give thanks for the machine’s manufacturer and all its employees. I thought about the company of researchers (not enough of them for lung cancer, I might add) and scientists, who, over the years have unpacked the complexities of this disease, And while I was at it, I gave thanks for the pharmaceutical companies that developed drugs to kill it. By the end of this exercise, my mind’s eye beheld thousands of people who had been at work for decades in order that I, at this moment, might receive treatment. It was quite a sight!

Every Christian has access to such a group of contributors and should think about them often. The writer of Hebrews underwent this exercise in Hebrews 11, enumerating generation after generation of faithful men and women who had believed God and acted accordingly throughout biblical history. Known in Hebrews 12 as “the great cloud of witnesses,” the communion of saints of the Apostles’ Creed, this spiritual cheering section is rooting for every one of us who have trusted Jesus Christ and put our full faith in God’s Kingdom purposes. The present generation of Christians is here because of the courageous witness of someone in generations past. One of Billy Graham’s great stories recounts the line of individual evangelists who had led his spiritual forebears to Christ. The last of those was Mordecai Ham, who was gripped by the gospel and commissioned by it to Charlotte, NC, where Graham sank to his knees at a revival meeting.

In some parts of the world, one’s list of spiritual forebears includes martyrs whose deaths gave rise to faith among those remaining. There is no other explanation for the explosion of Christianity in China, which in my lifetime has been perceived to be a remnant. What we know now is that, after the faithful seed-planting of missionaries, an underground indigenous church has grown—albeit persecuted— to become a significant presence in that country.

According to Hebrews 12, the role of these spiritual forebears is to cheer us on as we now “run the race set before us.” They are encouraging us to persevere when our lungs are giving out, when our legs are tired, when we are about to give up mentally, when we forget what Christ did to save us. These saints, by their faithful witness, remind us that we are not the first to run this particular race, nor are we the first to suffer or to find it difficult. We are not the first to struggle with giving thanks in our circumstances, nor are we the first to face death. We are only the last of a long line of ancestors whose battles against the Beast took many forms. They witnessed in their lives either the defeat of the Beast or the hope of same, and their cheers are meant to keep us focused on the finish line, where we too will urge the next generation to endure its own contest.

I hope in some small way that my posts serve to give courage to a reader out there who is facing his or her own Beast. I am cheering you on! You can do it, with Jesus’ help! I’m here to tell you, Jesus Christ has done everything possible to bring you home safely! He suffered and died for you, and by his scourging you were healed! Believe it, and keep running (or walking or staggering) toward his finish line. You are not alone on the track. It may feel like you are isolated in your struggle and the saints are but fictional “men behind the curtain.” But Jesus is carrying you to the race’s end and will get you to the finish line in one piece, while the rest of us break out into boisterous singing to praise him and greet you!


4 Responses to “The Great Cloud of Witnesses”

  1. William Goff Says:

    Thank you for these inspiring words. I am praying for you.

  2. Debi Murphy Says:

    Mary, thank you for an amazing devotional. God is guiding your thoughts and your life. Bless you for sharing your journey with us – we are your cloud of cheerleaders too! Praying daily for health and healing. God bless you! Debi

  3. Oh, yes! Thanks for this one. Glad it takes twelve minutes, if that’s what it can produce. I’m cheered!

  4. emd5542 Says:

    Mary, your blogs are ever timely and introspectively daring for your readers and some of the best scriptural preaching and teaching of our lives, well mine anyway. Melding Scripture and trust in God as you do while drawing from an unwanted but accepted gut-wrenching personal experience just might draw us all into examining how deeply and richly the Holy Spirit indwells us. Ever grateful to be traveling with you, Eleanor

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