Heroes of the faith – clouds of witnesses


Mitch Glaser

So, we need to please God with our heart.

And there’s a list of people who did that. I call them the ‘heroes of the faith’ and there’s a long list of them.

Abraham takes centre stage. Abraham, I guess, had a lot of things happen to him related to faith. What would we do without Abraham?

We now know that God could miraculously provide children, we know that God can even raise the dead, right? Because he was confident that when asked to kill Isaac his son, he was confident that God would raise the dead.

Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
11 But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”
So he said, “Here I am.”
12 And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

Genesis 22

It’s an interesting scripture, Genesis 22, which, by the way, is called the Akedah (הָדֵקֲע) / The Binding of Isaac in Hebrew. We read the Akedah on Rosh Hashanah, the New Year.

We just read it and we tell that story for two reasons:

One, it helps make sense of the shofar (musical horn typically made of a ram’s horn) because Abram found a ram and replaced it, and we blow the ram’s horn, and it reminds us of the sacrifice of Isaac. So, it reminds us of the story.

Two, it reminds us of Abraham’s obedience. According to Jewish tradition, Abraham’s obedience is so extreme, so full, that if we don’t have enough righteousness of our own, we can pray a prayer and borrow some righteousness from him (and we don’t have to pay it back to Abraham).

The Righteousness of Abraham – Chosen People Ministries

“Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression,
And the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek Me daily, And delight to know My ways, As a nation that did righteousness, And did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; They take delight in approaching God.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ “In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your laborers.
Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, To make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the Lord?
Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ “If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 If you extend your soul to the hungry And satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
12 Those from among you Shall build the old waste places; You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.

Isaiah 58.1–12

Therefore, there is a concept of Abraham (I need the accountants in the room to think with me on this one, okay?): it’s a debit and credit. Abraham has a lot of credits left, we have a lot of debits, and we can transfer accounts from Abraham.

Anyway, you’ll figure that out later, but it makes sense, doesn’t it?

If you can’t understand that you can’t understand what Jesus did: we have one big debit of righteousness, and He has one huge, eternal credit. And He transfers that to us.

So, here’s the principle: everything that we deserve He received, and everything that He deserved we received.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53.4-6

That’s the transfer, and there’s a little bit of that in the relationship with Abraham.

Abraham was a person of faith. Sarah was a person of faith, although she laughed at the wrong moment.

So, we learn about a lot of great people of faith verse 13 in Hebrews 11 says,

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 11.13-16

Our lives are built on the substance of faith. We look forward to a greater day, don’t we? We look forward to a greater Kingdom, don’t we? We look forward to heaven, we look forward to God being with us through our entire lives.

When we go through hard times, we know that God is with us because the Word of God promises that. And the word of God is the substance of our faith as we move on through the Christian life.

Of course, you gain experiences knowing that God actually is faithful, that God answers prayer.

Every time you go through a hard experience – just think of it as sort of eternal tuition – and every time you go through a hard experience, you’re going to learn that God is faithful.

Now, the interesting part about this whole passage is that they all died. What we have to understand here is that death is not the end of the life.

Even though they all died, and some of them died a martyr’s death, do you remember the, I’m not sure of the verse? I don’t want to start looking but, do you remember the one in the list at the end who was sawn in half? Remember that one? Yeah, that was Isaiah. The great prophet Isaiah had a very strong view of the coming Messianic King, The Suffering Servant.

Isaiah 60-65. If anybody had a clear vision of the future, it was Isaiah.

Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you.
The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.
“Lift up your eyes all around, and see: They all gather together, they come to you; Your sons shall come from afar, And your daughters shall be nursed at your side.
Then you shall see and become radiant, And your heart shall swell with joy; Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you.
The multitude of camels shall cover your land, The dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; All those from Sheba shall come; They shall bring gold and incense, And they shall proclaim the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together to you, The rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
They shall ascend with acceptance on My altar,
And I will glorify the house of My glory.

Isaiah 60.1-7

He had a clear vision of the future, and what happened to him? He became a very unpopular prophet, and he was sawn in half, he died a martyr, he was a martyr.

It was true of Abraham, it was true of Moses. It was true of everybody, they all died. But they all felt that being faithful to God throughout their lives, even though their lives would end, was worthwhile.

Therefore, no matter what your fate might be, some of you will live forever because you’ll be alive at the rapture (maybe… I must ask Tony when it’s coming…). However, most of us will die and we will pass from this life.

The question is: will what we have done been worth it?

And the truth is, if we live by faith, it will be worth it.

You can have joy every day knowing that your life always counts for something, knowing that you have a great hope, knowing that you’ll be with the One you served on Earth in heaven, forever. That’s good, isn’t it?

That can motivate you to do strange things. So, that’s what we’re going to look at for just a moment.

Hebrews chapter 12. This whole group of people from Abraham to Isaiah all ended up in heaven and they ended up being called ‘a cloud of witnesses’ and so, verse 1 chapter 12.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12.1-2

So great a cloud of witnesses. Just a moment, the word is in the plural, so, actually, it’s clouds. I don’t know if that means a lot to you, but it implies that there are multitudes who are part of this cloud of witnesses, and probably not merely the people that were listed.

Therefore, you must believe that all faithful believers who are in heaven are part of the clouds of witnesses.

People take this one of two ways:

One is that their legacy is their example and they’re a cloud of witnesses.

The Greek word for witness is (μάρτυς) martus from which we get the word ‘martyr’.

Strong’s Greek: 3144. μάρτυς (martus) — a witness (biblehub.com)

Some of them who died for the faith are great examples of faithfulness and so it’s a passive view. They’ve gone before us, we know their stories, some of them we see, some of the biblical stories are great examples for us.

Then, there’s the more active view. I always love it when great Bible scholars disagree because it’s more entertaining! You read the different views, for example, this other group, which is definitely the group I like, is not justified in the Greek at all, but I like it better. That’s the group that say that this cloud of witnesses are believers from throughout the ages who are in the stands at ‘a football game’, rooting for you.

I told you I like that image better. I can hear they’re cheering and yelling at me when I make a mistake.

So, either of these views, you could almost justify either one, but they are both examples and they are people that we will be meeting one day. Isn’t that great?

I hope Isaiah is put back together again because that would just be frightening!

But we will be meeting all these great heroes. Can you imagine just sitting down for a chat with Abraham? I mean, for me that’s cool! I like that idea! And Moses, I don’t know, he’s scary you know.

But one day, this these great clouds of witnesses will become our friends in our community.

I know I should say all I need is Jesus, but I really want to meet some of these other people. I’ve been reading about them for a long time, and I want to see what they’re like.

Quite a few of them did die for their faith.

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