So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

Last week, I wrote about the gospel being the best defense against the temptation to despair and give up in our fight against sin. Jesus is and always will be the One on whom we should fix our eyes and run towards. But because our Heavenly Father is abounding in wisdom, understanding, compassion, and mercy towards His children, He didn’t stop there even though that really is enough. He kept going, continuing  to provide above and beyond the necessary for His beloved children.

Hebrews 11 is the famous Hall of Faith chapter, where person after person is given as an example of the rewards of faith and the perseverance within that faith. Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, David, the prophets – all lived with the same sin that we do in the same fallen world and faced severe trials. And every time, their faith in God was not returned void.

‘Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’ – Hebrews 12:1-3

The author of Hebrews encourages us to fix our eyes on Jesus so that we can live out our life with endurance. He urges us to remember time after time across history where God was faithful so that we can persevere in our faith. He reminds us that Jesus also endured much hostility by sinners so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.

We are not alone, we have Jesus! And we have a great cloud of witnesses who persevered before us and whose stories now cry out to us to keep going, to persevere in faith because they did – and it was worth it.

The below is a story that I’ve taken from Jesus Freaks, a book put together by the Voice of the Martyrs and D. C. Talk that shares stories of Christian brothers and sisters who gave their lives because of their faith. As you read, I hope you are encouraged to continue to persevere in whatever trial that the Lord has seen fit to allow in your life right now and to persevere in such a way that it speaks loudly to the hope we have in the risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

The Thundering Legion
A Legion of Roman Soldiers under Emperor Licinius, 320 AD

The Roman governor stood resolutely before the forty Roman soldiers of the Thundering Legion. “I command you to make an offering to the Roman gods. If you will not, you will be stripped of your military status.”

The forty solders all believed firmly in the Lord Jesus. They knew they must not deny Him or sacrifice to the Roman idols, no matter what the governor would do to them.

Camdidus spoke for the legion, “Nothing is dearer or of greater honor to us than Christ our God.”

sebasteThe governor then tried other tactics to get them to deny their faith. First he offered them money and imperial honors. Then he threatened them with torments and torture with the rack and with fire.

Camdidus replied, “You offer us money that remains behind and glory that fades away. You seek to make us friends of the Emperor, but alienate us from the true King. We desire one gift, the crown of righteousness. We are anxious for one glory, the glory of the heavenly kingdom. We love honors, those of heaven.

You threaten fearful torments and call our godliness a crime, but you will not find us fainthearted or attached to this life or easily stricken with terror. For the love of God, we are prepared to endure any kind of torture.”

The governor was enraged. Now he wanted them to die a slow, painful death. They were stripped naked and herded to the middle of a frozen lake. He set soldiers to guard them to prevent any from coming to shore and escaping.

The forty encouraged each other as though they were going to battle. “How many of our companions in arms fell on the battle front, showing themselves loyal to an earthly king? Is it possible for us to fail to sacrifice our lives in faithfulness to the true King? Let us not turn aside, O warriors, let us not turn our backs in flight from the devil.” They spent the night courageously bearing their pain and rejoicing in the hope of soon being with the Lord.

To increase the torment of the Christians, baths of hot water were put around the lake. With these the governor hoped to weaken the firm resolve of the freezing men. He told them, “You may come ashore wen you are ready to deny your faith.” In the end, one of them did weaken, came off the ice, and got into a warm bath.

When one of the guards on the shore saw him desert, he himself took the place of the traitor. Surprising everyone with the suddenness of his conversion, he threw off his clothes, and ran to join the naked ones on the ice, crying out loudly, “I am a Christian.”

Some call it “the mystery of martyrdom.” Why would seeing 39 believers who were willing to die for their faith inspire a highly trained soldier, in the prime of his life, to join them in death? It seems so foreign to our way of thinking. It is amazing to see how God works through these tragic situations to call more people to Himself.

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