Those who have followed me are familiar with my edited version of Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, which I finished up mid-year in 2018. After a few months off I decided to again begin writing – this time something I had been thinking about for quite a while (and which I set aside to do the Spurgeon project.)
A couple years ago I began a focus on a single chapter of the Bible – Hebrews 12 – to the point of committing it to memory. I decided to use that text as the basis for a 30-day devotional. I will be quoting the New American Standard except where noted, and assuming the authorship of the Apostle Paul. I am not a Greek scholar; I will be using the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (the Little Kittel) in the few instances I refer to the Greek texts, as well as various commentaries such as those from Adam Clarke and Calvin.
Following Jesus, Hebrews 12:1 (a)
Hebrews 12:1a Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us…
Before serious consideration of Hebrews 12 let’s consider the context: “Therefore” points back at one of the most famous of New Testament chapters, the “faith” chapter, Hebrews 11. Paul looks back to the past testimony of the faith-filled, forward-looking Old Testament believers – “so great a cloud of witnesses” – and shows us in the 12th chapter the implementation of such faith in our lives.
At first reading it can be taken that the “witnesses” are witnessing our performance from their place in heaven – a bit of a daunting concept – but the English translation betrays us somewhat here. The Greek word “μάρτυς” transliterated “mártys,” is where we get the English word “martyr.” This carries the sense of giving testimony in a court of law, or before an opposing crowd, even perhaps to the point of the cost of the witnesses’ life – a “testimony written in blood,” so to speak.
A variation of the Greek word is used in Hebrews 11:2 as “gained approval,” “For by [faith] the men of old gained approval.” Other places in Hebrews it is translated as “testifying,” “witnessed,” and “attested.”
So, while in one sense the faithful in Hebrews 11 are “all these veterans cheering us on,” (the Message version) the greater application is that their lives and deaths are the lexicon by which we interpret the verses to follow in Hebrews 12, those lives “that every one should be prepared to imitate,” as John Calvin says.
There is not the space to address the wealth of truth present in the “Faith Chapter,” but the “testimony,” or “witness,” points to the extent God may call us as believers.
We may be called to abandon our homeland and striking out with directions not yet revealed to us. We may be relegated to giving up homes and living in temporary shelters.
We should be joining the Hebrews 11 witnesses in their attitude “that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” We should be ready to defy leaders that demand the killing of children, as Moses’ parents did. We should be “choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,” as Moses did. We will not experience all the trials listed here: mocking, scourging, imprisonment, mistreatment, poverty, and even martyrdom, but all these witnesses “gained approval through their faith,” that same faith that looked forward to the freedom and redemption that Jesus Christ has provided for us.
As we press forward in our Christian walk (and our study of Hebrews 12) let us keep in mind these “Heroes of the Faith” in Hebrews 11. A close reading of that chapter will bear many benefits. It will also benefit us to remember that around the world, many believers today are experiencing the same trials as the heroes of Hebrews 11.
As Spurgeon says in his January 4 morning devotional, “Grow in that root grace, faith. Believe the promises more firmly than you have done. Let faith increase in fullness, steadfastness, simplicity.”