“. . .Therefore, since we surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus . . .” - Hebrews 12:1-2
I love the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11. It provides such rich vignettes of faith lived-out throughout the Old Testament. The people listed were far from perfect-we only need to look up the corresponding stories in the Old Testament to discover this. Noah was drunk and left himself publicly indecent. Abraham was deceptive, and Sarah laughed at God’s promised child instead of believing. Moses killed a man and was ultimately refused entry to the Promised Land. Rahab was a prostitute. And this is just the beginning.
We cannot follow these faithful people in everything, but this in no way discounts the power of their example. They show us a real life picture of what it looks like to seek God, to obey Him, to follow in faith when it defies our circumstances. We see how God works pain and brokenness into something good, which can further His work in the world.
While I in no way want to put them on the same plane as God’s inspired Word, I think faithful Christians throughout all of church history can offer us similar examples. Here are people who are flawed and get some stuff wrong, as any of us do, but who offer us stories of faith, courage, wisdom, love, and a human attempt to follow Christ the best they know how. We can learn from this “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before-both from their victory and from the ways they failed. Just with any fellow believer now, we can get to know them, hear their story, build on and incorporate the lessons they learned, and derive encouragement and inspiration from how God has been at work in their life. And this is why I love church history (and why I hope you pardon my frequent mention of it!). It holds a treasure trove of examples of Christians who were on the same journey as we are today-trying to figure out how to live as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ in a particular time and place.
The martyrs teach us how to endure any suffering for the sake of Christ. The scholars and theologians teach us how to love God with our minds. The monastic orders and ascetics teach us how to simplify and deny ourselves to craft a lifestyle which can be focused on God alone. Medieval Christians teach us how to keep the work of the Cross at the center of our vision. The Reformers teach us to love the Word of God and cling to the freeing Gospel of salvation by grace through faith. The missionaries teach us to forsake all to bring the message of the Gospel to every end of the earth. And here I’ve hardly scratched the surface!
Our vision is ultimately fixed on Christ-no human can bring us to God or empower us to live a godly life. But He did not ask us to tread this path alone. He brings us fellow-sojourners, both in our time and place and throughout the ages, to provide encouragement as we traverse the road of faith.