Great Cloud of Witnesses
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses . . . Heb 12:1
I’ve never much relished the thought of being watched. Watched by God, yes, I am comforted to know I’m on His radar. He sees my every move, knows my every thought and emotion, to Him I must give account—and He loves me all the same. [i] But this great cloud of heavenly witnesses actually cheering us on as some interpret this verse, I find a little creepy. For an athlete to hear the roar of devoted fans when they score or when they heroically take a hit for the home team is everything. By all means, may crowd noise levels break world records.
But the thought of my parents and countless greats like Moses in Hebrews chapter 11 watching me, eh, that just doesn’t feel right. I mean, what exactly are they seeing from heaven’s panoramic view? These are men and women renowned for their faith. Do I really want my personal space—the ebb and flow, the ups and downs of my most-private faith life with God—to be on open display? Are they that much in the know? Have they nothing better to do than to play spectator in heaven’s rah-rah section or coach us from the sidelines? I would think by the time they reached the sweet by and by they would’ve had enough of people watching and the nail-biting dramas of transient earthly affairs.
Okay, fine, so they probably do have a vested interest in the body of Christ’s progress, being that they are members of the same. And they would have the advantage of heaven’s perspective in processing all they are seeing. And there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. [ii] Be that as it may, as a recovering people watcher, knowing the temptation to judge after the seeing of my eyes, it just doesn’t set well with me to know they are observing my every move. Warped thinking perhaps, I know.
It's not that these particular witnesses are your typical people watchers. These comrades in the faith come from a place of personal experience. Their testimonies, recorded in the Word of God, bear witness to God’s existence and the resurrection power of Christ that graced them to finish their earthly courses through the most arduous of trials. [iii] Their stories, like huge banners stretched out across the grandstands of time, are the standard that cheers us on, saying, “Christ did it, we did it, so can you!” [iv]
For the sake of peace, let’s say these particular witnesses are both—witnesses, as in their lives testify of Christ, and witnesses as in they are observing—and we’ll move on to the people watchers down here on earth. Those are the ones I’m most concerned about. The fact that the verse says surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses spurs me to venture outside the box of traditional interpretation, to include the medley of others keeping track of our faith’s progress. Oh, they’re out there all right. They’re everywhere, watching, listening. I say that because we are living epistles of Christ for crying out loud, testimonial letters to be known and read by all men (and other sundry people watchers) as confirmation of Christ’s transforming power in hearts. It’s Christianity 101 for us to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things, and risk others thinking they have us all figured out. [v] I say again, they’re watching, listening. And not all are cheering us on.
Take the devil for instance. He’s a big-time people watcher, studying our every move, listening to every word. He knows our weaknesses, sees our habits, our sins, and wastes no time speaking out against us before God and man. His intentions are evil. If given the chance, he will discredit our witness. In Job’s case, he apparently thought he discovered a fault line in the dear man’s faith and figured that if given a substantial push from his well-meaning friends—another group of potential watchers—would trip him up. Fortunately, God is a people watcher Himself. And our biggest fan.
Then of course, there are those we rub shoulders with at work and play, and the casual observers on the street. They seem harmless enough. But one move on our part against the grain, one hastily spoken word misinterpreted, and they’re on it. Sometimes it’s just a clash in spirits that can turn things sour. The fortuneteller girl who followed Paul and his fellow disciples to the place of prayer was a people watcher who spoke out her findings to all within shouting distance. She at least got it right when she cried out, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. But a bullhorn attention grabber wasn’t exactly what the disciples anticipated while on their way to prayer meeting—especially when her demons’ goal was to incite the ruckus that landed them in prison. But God witnessed it all and initiated an earthquake that turned the demons’ ill-intentioned witness into a platform to witness for Him. [vi]
Let’s move past the obvious. We’re being watched, I tell you. Many eyes are on us, and what these people watchers witness, they will speak out—for or against us.
There’s that which is said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops for all to hear. [vii] Let me just say that either there’s a loose-lipped mouse in the corner, or some snitch repeated what should never have been said in the first place. What a wakeup call, to watch our p’s and q’s at all times!
The heavens and earth are people watchers as well. Therefore, any denial of God’s existence or rejection of Him as an ever-present, hands-on God won’t stand up against their witness. [viii] No, you say? Deuteronomy 4:26 says I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day . . . Granted, their intentions are without malice since all creation groans, waiting for us to get our act together so they can partake of the overflow of our blessings. I’d say they are rooting for us big time. But they do have to give an account to God of what they witness.
If still not convinced, there’s the great stone Joshua set up under an oak tree near the place where the tabernacle was, after he’d made a record of all the words the Lord spoke to them. This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the LORD has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God. Get that; some rock was the witness of a covenant they made with God. Who would have guessed rocks were such blabbermouths had we not read it for ourselves in the Bible? [ix]
So, with all this people watching going on down here—whether with ill intent, or by God’s design—the body of Christ needs cheerleaders. The more, the better. We need to hear the whoops and hollers of devoted fans and teammates when we score, and the “Come on, you can do this through Christ who strengthens you!” when we stumble or heroically take a hit for the home team. [x] Now, more than ever, let’s keep rooting for each other as we huff, and puff, and stumble toward the finish line. Encourage one another daily while it is still called today. [xi]
By all means, let’s make the crowd noise levels break world records!
[i] Hebrews 4:13; Romans 8:31–39 [ii] 1 Corinthians 12:12–27; John 15:10 [iii] 1 Peter 1:25; Matthew 24:35; Isaiah 40:8 [iv] Revelation 22:9; Hebrews 11 [v] Titus 2:10 [vi] Acts 16 [vii] Luke 12:3 [viii] Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20 [ix] Joshua 24 (note vs 26–27; Luke 19:37–40 [x] Philippians 4:13 [xi] Hebrews 3:13