“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1, NKJV).
Today the word “surrounded” has a predominantly negative connotation. It brings up images of “Custer’s Last Stand” (aka, “The Battle of the Bighorn”) where a small detachment of cavalry was overwhelmed by thousands of Sioux warriors. Similarly we may think of the Battle of the Alamo where approximately 200 “Texians” were wiped out by Santa Anna’s Mexican army. Jack London fans may think of the two Alaskan dog-sledders who were stalked by a large pack of famine starved wolves at the beginning of “White Fang.” Being surrounded is mostly not such a good thing.
I still remember sitting alone in a van several years ago in a town in southern Bangladesh for about an hour while those with me were arranging tickets for all of us on a launch to travel down-river. Within a very few minutes of their leaving me the vehicle was surrounded by several dozen locals who stared at me continuously the whole time my friends were gone. Some even came to my side window and pressed their faces against the glass to see more clearly. Talk about being intimidated!
Since then I have experienced being stopped on the road by crowds with sticks or other weapons who inquired as to who we were and where we were going. None of those incidents turned out badly, but they certainly made me nervous for a little while.
But those around us are not always hostile and do not always pose a threat or make us afraid. Most of us are well acquainted with the concept of home field advantage. Athletes who play before their friends, family, fans, and supporters are strengthened and encouraged by the noise of the crowd. The opposing team? Not so much. Being surrounded by those who are on our side is always a good thing.
In the book of Hebrews a weak group of Christians was struggling to keep their faith while being persecuted. They seemed to feel that they were all alone and virtually helpless before the opposition. The Holy Spirit assured them that this was not the case. All those who had gone before them and were rewarded for their faithfulness were surrounding them and cheering them on.
We too can feel outnumbered and overwhelmed. Everyone else seems to oppose us and ridicule or attack our faith in God. Who are we to believe that we are right and everyone else is wrong? How can we stand against the claims of atheists, non-Biblical religions, and various other false teachings?
To those questions Scripture answers that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. We are not a small, helpless, ignorant group of old-fashioned thinkers, hopelessly out of date in our conceptions. Many have gone before us who have already been rewarded for their faith and are anxiously observing our progress, hoping to share eternity with us.
Let us remain steadfast, pursuing our promised prize until we also have prevailed.