The Great Cloud of Witnesses

Sunday night I read from Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (ESV). There was an amazing tie in from Hebrews 11 that I didn’t have time to draw our attention too…

The “Great Cloud of Witnesses” includes men like Abel, Abraham, Moses, David and others, who lived by faith. These men encourage us to lay aside every hinderance and sin and run with perseverance the race that God has made.

One of the witnesses, Moses, is particularly encouraging in light of what we were talking about Sunday night – the radical life transforming change that comes from beholding the beauty of God in Christ. It is a transformation that frees us from sin, conforms us to the image of Christ, and enables us to persevere to the end.

Look at Hebrews 11:24-27, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.” (ESV).

I didn’t see this until late last week, but the connections are amazing. Moses grew up in the household of Pharaoh. Yet, when he was grown up he left behind the wealth of Egypt and all the sensual pleasures that accompanied being a prince and chose to be mistreated with the people of God. Notice that it refers to the fleeting pleasure of sin. The author of Hebrews isn’t naive – he knows there is a certain pleasure in sin. Yet, he also sees the greater truth that this pleasure is fleeting. It only lasts for a moment (even if you enjoy it for a lifetime, what is that compared to eternity).

He goes on to say that all the treasures of Egypt don’t stack up to the “reproach of Christ”. Again, doesn’t this seem ridiculous. To choose the abuse of Christ (not that he is the one abusing, but we suffer the same abuse he did) over the wealth and ease and comfort of life in the palace is foolishness to the nth degree in the minds of this materialistic world. How did Moses suffer the abuse of Christ when Christ didn’t appear on the stage of world history for thousands of years? Well, that’s another blog for another day, but let me say that it seems the Bible portrays all the sufferings of God’s people throughout the ages as somehow being a part of Christ’s sufferings.

Why did Moses choose the abuse of Christ, the scorn of beign one of God’s people over the wealth of Egypt? Because, as the author points out, he was “looking to the reward”. One commentator makes the point that this verb is a very active and deliberate verb meaning to look away from one thing and to another. Moses chose not to look at the wealth of Egypt but rather to look to the rewards offered for being counted as one of God’s people. What are these rewards? One could say it was Promised Land, but Moses never actually entered it. I think it is more likely that the author of Hebrews has in mind the spiritual rewards – rewards that are more enduring rather than fleeting.

There is one more connection – one crucial and beautiful one. Remember, Moses was “looking to the reward”. Now look back at v. 27. He endured the anger of the kind “as seeing him who is invisible”. There is a kind of paradox in this – Moses was seeing the one who was invisible. But, that is the nature of faith according to v. 1. The connection between these two verses is what I want you to see. He was “looking to the reward” in v. 26 and then in v. 27 it says that he was “seeing him who is invisible”. He was looking unto God, the one who is invisible, as his reward! Seeing this enabled him to chose God and even the reproach of God’s people and the abuse of Christ over the fleeting pleasures of sin. Seeing this enabled him to endure the hardship and the wrath of the king. He knew his treasure. He beheld it by faith and it changed him, turning him into a fool for Christ.

Oh how important is beholding the beauty of Christ, the glory of God in the face of Christ, to the Christian life.