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The Cloud of Witnesses

all saints sunday

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)

Sometimes it feels like we are all alone, struggling to live a life that is faithful to God. Sometimes we believe we can life a faithful life alone - that we don't need other people to walk with Jesus. Both of these beliefs are lies from the pit of hell.

We are saved from sin and death by Jesus Christ's sacrificial death on the cross and glorious resurrection from the dead. He died in our place to pay the penalty for our sin and conquered death to free us from its consequences. And when we trust Jesus and welcome Him to live in our lives as Savior and Lord, we are grafted into His Body, the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ has two expressions: the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. The Church Militant is the Church that is still in this world, engaged in the spiritual battle with the enemy of our souls, Satan. We carry both a shared faith with believers in other expressions of the Church - the Baptists and Presbyterians and Catholics and Lutherans - and a common community with the local congregation where we worship and serve. Both the larger church and our own congregation are expressions of the Church Militant.

The Church Triumphant is the Church gathered to eternity and given the reward for their faith in Jesus and their life of faithfulness. When we die, we do not cease being part of the Church, we simply move from the Church in the battle to the Church in glory. I believe this Church Triumphant is exactly the "great cloud of witnesses" mentioned in Hebrews 12:1:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...

The witnesses referred to by the "therefore" in this verse are the Old Testament saints mentioned just before in Hebrews, chapter 11 - the faith Hall of Fame. By faith, Abraham... By faith, Moses.... By faith, Jacob... Since they completed their race and are watching from heaven, cheering us on, let us run with perseverance our leg of the race.

Truth is, the moment any individual person puts faith in Jesus Christ, they become part of something BIG - the Body of Christ through all the ages and in all its various expressions, including the Church Triumphant. You and I, friend, are never alone, and we are not meant to fight the battle alone.

For centuries, November 1st has been designated by the Church as All Saints Day. It's a day to remember the lives of the faithful ones who have gone before us into glory. The word, Halloween, is short for "All Hallow's Eve" which is the day before All Hallows Day (Or All Saints Day). The first Sunday of November has traditionally been a Sunday to remember those of our own congregation who have passed into the Church Triumphant over the previous 12 months, and to give thanks for all the saints who have encouraged our faith.

This takes on deeper meaning for me when I consider that the Biblical term "saint" does not refer to one who has been elected to sainthood by the Church for living an especially holy life - Saint Patrick or Saint Thomas, etc. No, the Biblical definition of "saint" is simply a forgiven sinner. We are made saints by our faith in Jesus Christ. All of us. Every single believer, including you and me.

So All Saints Day remembers the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. Our Godly grandmother. The heroes of the faith whom God used to bring others to Jesus, like Martin Luther and John Wesley and Billy Graham. And regular, faithful, unrecognized believers like the Sunday School teacher who first showed me the love of Jesus when I was a child.

So here's the thing. Since I am a part of the Church Militant, running my leg of the great race of faith, and since a great cloud of witnesses urges me on to faithful witness in my part of history, I am encouraged to run the race with perseverance, fixing my eyes on Jesus. I am urged by the Word of God to throw off whatever hinders, including sin, and to not grow weary or lose heart. The great cloud of witnesses were faithful, and I can be faithful. They fought their battles and won victory by their faith in Jesus, and I can fight mine and win the same victory.

I want to encourage you with Hebrews 12:1-3. Read it again. Apply it to your life, while giving thanks for your heroes of the faith. And run with perseverance your leg of the great race of faith.

I'll close today quoting my favorite All Saints Day hymn:

For all the saints who from their labors rest, who Thee by faith before the world confessed; Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might; Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight; Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light. Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia, Alleluia!

But then there breaks a still more glorious day: the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the King of glory passes on His way. Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, in praise of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia, Alleluia!

I hope you have a blessed and joyful All Saints Sunday!



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