Hebrews 12: 1-13 ‘Not So Droopy”
Yeah, we get to talk about clouds today! It so nice to see the clouds in the sky at evening sunset as they change color. The clouds can tell you what the weather is going to be like in a few hours or a few days if you know how to read them. I know that today when we talk about “the cloud,” it mostly refers to server-side computing. And, I wish people would just say “server-side computing.” But then, why it even call it a “server”? Why not just say what is actually happening? My little computer is talking to some bigger computer somewhere else! Or, we could say, my little magnetic disk is talking with a larger magnetic disk. Really, in terms of technology we have not come that far from Thomas Edison’s phonograph from two centuries ago.
Getting back to the Bible, and that is why we are here, the “cloud of witnesses” is really a cool metaphor if you ask me. Back in the day when clouds were just white puffy things in the sky, you can imagine why the idea of a “cloud of witnesses” would be so powerful of an idea. The word for “sky” and “heaven” is one and the same in Greek, and in Hebrew too actually, and clouds are in the heavens! So, we should think about those people who are already in the heavens but may still be seen from earth.
I watch the clouds everyday here in Waimea. That is because I want it to rain. I have a handheld computer device, a cell phone, that always displays the weather for me 24/7 from the computing cloud. Yet, the real clouds are a much better weather forecasting device if you ask me. They are far more accurate.
So, the cloud of witnesses for us as Christians, those who have gone before to God already, can help to tell us what the spiritual weather conditions are coming up. Pay attention to the cloud of witnesses to know how your own life might play out. You will see when God will reign down over this world! Excuse the pun.
Another really cool metaphor in this scripture that has been put out for our understanding is that we are in a race. Again we have to understand what that means to be in a race. The first thing here in our text for today is that Jesus has already run that race. Here in the text from our pew bibles it says that Jesus is the “pioneer and perfector,” which literally means in the Greek is that he is the starter and finisher of the race in front of us. There is a finish line that Jesus has already crossed. Because Jesus has already crossed it, we can all come in after him!
Just to be sure, for those who are without faith in the life hereafter, the finish line in their lives is death. Yet, those who have faith in Jesus Christ see death as the starting line. When we are born, death is already born into us as human beings, so that is where we start. The finish line is not death but rather breaking through to being with God again in the hereafter. This is just like the story of Jesus’ life: When Jesus was born at Christmas, he was already born to die. Yet, his death on the Cross was in no way the end. On Easter morning he was raised up again. Please make sure that in your life your finish line for the race is being together in the Kingdom of God with the cloud of witnesses. Shoot for the clouds!
I believe that there lies a huge difference between “perseverance” and mere “endurance.” I would like to make clear that being a Christian is not so much about endurance as it is about perseverance as we read here. You see, when you persevere you know that there is a finish line up ahead. To endure means merely to grit one’s teeth and carry on in the moment despite being weary.
When I swim every morning back and forth across the pool, there is no finish line. I swim for the sake of endurance. I want to build up my strength. Why? So that I can persevere when I get stuck in the riptide again while swimming in the ocean. Several times I have been caught in riptides while ocean swimming. I can persevere because I have endured. I can make it back to shore again because I have swum back and forth in the pool so much. The goal is always to make it back to shore when ocean swimming.
Endure today, so that you will be strengthened in faith to persevere tomorrow. I wish to share with all of you a little-known fact from church history: The Council of Nicea in 325 was convened by Emperor Constantine (the first Christian Roman Emperor). The purpose of this first council was to define clearly a standard Christian Creed on what it literally meant to be a follower of Christ. So, the bishops that were gathered there were ranked according to their martyrdoms. They had to show the marks, the physical marks, of having suffered by persecution for the faith.
They had to show the scars, the welts, the disfigurements from having been persecuted publicly. In our scripture for today, the statement is made that most of us have not had go through shedding blood as Jesus did. But, these fellows who were gathering in the town of Nicea actually had shed blood for their faith. They had endured for the sake of the Name of Jesus. Because they had endured, there was no question of the strength of their faith and that they would persevere in the end to be in the heavenly cloud of witnesses.
By the way, the Council of Nicea was the first big church business meeting ever. Yes, you had to show your scars to get in! This afternoon at 3pm we will be on Zoom for the Fall Aha Mokupuni of our churches. I know that I can persevere through this meeting of the wider church because those poor martyrs made it through back in 325 AD. Ha ha. That was a poor joke.
Okay, we are persevering, running this race, heading for the finish line, and then all of the sudden we get tired. Our arms are flailing at our sides. We start swerving off course. We are dragging our feet. We are just becoming droopy. That is when self-discipline is supposed to kick in!
We have a great discussion of discipline here in our text this morning. It says in fact that God will discipline God’s children. And, at the time, nobody likes to be disciplined.
So, my wife Helen has been away for the last four weeks. For a whole month I have been living alone. She comes back tonight from Seattle. I have to say that in this time by myself at home, I have become much less disciplined. I will go to bed when I want to. Get up when I feel like it. Turn the television way up so I can listen to the news while I do other things. Mix whites and colors in the washing machine. Eat Butterfinger candies at dinner time and then eat dinner at 10pm. Oh, I have become slovenly! To go through life alone without someone to discipline your life is just asking for it!
I know the real reason God made Eve for Adam. I know why Jesus sent his disciples out in twos. I know why planes have a pilot and a co-pilot. Human beings are really bad at keeping it together all by themselves! WE need to be accountable to other people. That is why we go to support groups and pay counselors. We need eyes-on.
I know that the metaphor in the Bible is about running; however, I have already mentioned my swimming for endurance. I used to be runner, but then I was told by my doctor to go to a low impact form of exercise. When I started swimming then, there was a lifeguard at the pool who watched what I was doing in the water and made comments to me just about every time I swam. “Hey, you need to glide in between your strokes! That way you can rest while you swim.” “You need to let your hand slice the water just before taking your stroke and get full extension from fingertips to toes.” “Stay on top of the water to reduce drag.” He always had something to say. I hated it at the time. I love it today! Well, I don’t want to say this, but sometimes I look at Christians today as flailing in the water. This is the water that Jesus walked on!
We need to pick up our droopy arms and strengthen our weak knees. We need to accept the discipline that comes with faith in Jesus. We are not going to cross the finish line without it.
More than two decades ago I read the book The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. He is also a Fuller graduate by the way. The book is still in the list of the top ten books that Christians buy today! I am going to recommend it to you all today. The title of the book portends the main point. And, it is the same idea that we see in our text for this morning: Discipline leads to peace and joy, and therefore should be celebrated as Richard Foster explains so well.