What is “the Cloud?”
Most of us have things stored in “the Cloud.” We have pictures and email and documents floating around in the Cloud. We’re able to stream Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime because of the Cloud. And today “the Cloud” touches almost every aspect of our lives. But what is it? If you’re not a very technical person, “the Cloud” might seem almost like magic, this wonderous place where memories live. But “the Cloud” is just a cute term for the storage of materials remotely instead of locally. Back in the old days, like in the 1980’s and 90’s, if you didn’t have your data downloaded to your computer or stored on a floppy disc, it didn’t exist. Remember floppy discs? Computer games, photos, and documents all had to be stored literally somewhere in your home. And you could almost forget about video. The amount of data it took to transmit video was enormous by those standards. But with advances made in communications and technology, we can now store and transmit all of that material to and from different places nearly instantaneously. We call that accumulation of material, “the Cloud.” As Obi-Wan Kenobi might describe it, “It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” We imagine that “the Cloud” is all around us and in a way it is.
The Bible talks about us being surrounded by a cloud, too.
And it too is all around us. This passage is part of the famous “faith” narrative in the letter to the Hebrew people living in Jerusalem. The writer of the letter gives many examples of what it means to live by faith using people the Hebrews would be familiar with. People like Abel and Noah and Abraham. People like Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. He talks about all the trials and tribulations they dealt with and about the trials and tribulations of the Israelites in general – the crossing of the Red Sea and the walls of Jericho falling. And then the writer adds this.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. 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, 2 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. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
Kind of intimidating actually. There are some places I don’t want a “cloud of witnesses” to be watching. But that’s not what the writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote this passage. He was instead telling us our belief in God is not empty. Faith isn’t just some pipe dream created by people clinging on to hope. It is real, built upon the experiences of our forefathers in faith. People like Noah and Joseph and Moses help us to understand God in a better way and to know who he is. Because of the disciples like Peter, John, and James, we know the person of Christ and have come to trust in his promises. Our “cloud of witnesses” are all those people who have come before and whose stories form the foundation of what we believe. As it says in John 20, “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” We tell the stories of those who have passed to give us strength and inspiration in tough times and to help us have confidence in what we believe.
It gives me hope to read that first line.
“None of them received what had been promised.” Sometimes we get trapped into thinking in the ways of the world. That when we act as expected or better than expected, we should be rewarded as expected. Whether that’s in money or prestige or power, when we do a job well done, we expect what we believe we deserve. But that doesn’t always happen. And it can be disappointing. It can weaken our faith and trust in the system. The same is true with our faith in Christ. Sometimes things don’t work out as expected and we become disappointed in God. We think somehow God has reneged on his end of the deal. But this passage reminds us that is not the case. Those who act in faith, even if they didn’t get the reward they expected, it’s only because God had something better planned. That “something better” may not always seem obvious to us because we see through a much different lens than God does. God can see the whole picture while we can only see our piece of it. But the writer of Hebrews here is trying to encourage us to keep our trust in God and shares this “cloud of witnesses” as testimony to God’s faithfulness so that we can remain strong, even in difficult times. This passage is meant to encourage us to throw off our fears and trust in God. To continue to live a life of faith, to act and behave in a way that is consistent with a person who believes in the living Christ.
Reflect on your own “cloud of witnesses.”
Who are those people in your life who have impacted your faith? Who is it who was there for you and showed you love and support when you needed it most? Whether they are living or have passed, all of these comprise our personal cloud. And it’s one we take with us wherever we go. Be sure to take a moment and give thanks for these people who God put in our path to help us when life gets tough. If they are still with you, make sure to take the time to show them how much they mean to you. If they have gone on, honor their legacy by being that kind of person to someone else. And so the cloud grows.