"Yet She on earth hath union
With God the Three in One
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won:
happy ones, and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly
On high may dwell with Thee."
To live above with the saints we love
Oh, that will be glory;
but to live below with the saints we know
Well, that's another story.
As we look at this subject of the Communion of the Saints, we're going to begin by taking a look in the Book of Hebrews, starting in chapter 11. Now, throughout history, this chapter has become known to us as the great Hall of Faith, since it lists the names of many Saints who have been faithful to God, even to the point of death.
Hebrews 11, verse 1 begins, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, for by it the men of old received Divine approval, and by faith we understand that the world is created by the Word of God so that what is seen was made out of things that are not seen."
After saying this, the writer goes on to list some of the great Saints of the Old Testament family of God beginning with the first martyr, Abel, who offered an acceptable sacrifice to God. And then he talks about Enoch and then Noah and then Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah. And then the passage goes on to talk about Abraham some more and Isaac and Jacob and all the sufferings they endured because their hope was ultimately not in the earthly Jerusalem but in the heavenly Jerusalem - not in the earthly Promised Land but in the heavenly Promised Land.
Then in verse 23 it speaks about Moses and all that he gave up in order to gain this glorious inheritance in heaven. And then Rahab, the prostitute in Jericho - even her faith is honored here. Then Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jethro, the Judges, David the King, Samuel, and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms and brought about justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions and quenched raging fires, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, and put foreign armies to flight. All these great deeds are being recounted - not just to go through history - but mainly, as we're going to see later on, to inspire greater faith, hope and love within each of us.
Verse 36, "Others suffered mocking and scourging, even chains and imprisonment." And many of the readers of this letter to the Hebrews, the initial readers, could relate to exactly what the writer was saying. They were stoned. They were sawed in two like Isaiah was supposed to have died. They were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats (because they had no clothes to wear), destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, of whom the world, this world, that is, was not worthy.
Now let's take a look now at Hebrews 12: Verse one begins with the word "Therefore" - now one of the most basic things you do when trying to understand what the Bible is teaching, is that whenever you see that word, "therefore," you must always ask yourself what it's "there for," because it basically sums up everything before it and draws a very practical conclusion to what it's trying to teach. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely to us, and let us run with perseverance, the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher (pioneer and perfecter) of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin, you haven't resisted yet to the point of shedding your own blood. Have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons?"
And it goes on to talk about the discipline of the Lord and the chastening and the suffering which is proper for children of God to mature and grow up. Then in verse 12, "Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed."
The whole picture in Hebrews 12 is a big race - and who's in the crowd? All of the Saints. And what do crowds of people at a stadium do as they watch their favorite athletes? They cheer them on.
And as Christians, we're always playing a "home game," and there's this great cloud of witnesses, all the Saints of the Church - some of them we know as family members that have gone on before us, others we have never known before - and they're all around us, cheering us on.
And as these people are raising up their hands, and cheering us you can see the scars on their hands and their feet and their faces and on their backs. You know that they've already run the race, and through much struggle and perseverance, they made it to the finished line and obtained their reward, and now they're calling you to do the same.
And the greatest and loudest cheerleader of them all is Jesus himself, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, the firstborn among many brothers and sisters, as Romans 8 tells us. I mean the whole stadium is full of our family - our older siblings. And what does it do to us, to know that our family members, and the Saints of old, are cheering us on? It inspires perseverance, courage, and sacrifice.
And you know what? And this is important. The writer of Hebrews never considers it important for a second to argue about whether or not this is true. He takes it for granted and he thinks that you and I should take it for granted. He never argues about it, or tries to explain how it all happens. He just tells us that this is the way it is.
The Saints of old are not a bunch of dead people who lived and died hundreds and thousands of years ago, and who have no idea what's going on here on earth today. The Bible never gives that picture. Instead, these Saints have just passed from this earthly realm over into the Spiritual realm, where God and the Angels are. And they're NOT DEAD - in fact, since they're now with God, they're more alive than they've ever been before. God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the Living. St. Paul said, "For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain." Why? Because "to absent from the body is to be present WITH THE LORD."
Those Saints are more alive than we are, and they're continually worshipping God, and they're continually cheering us on.
We'll stop there for today, and pick it up again in the next article..
Things we'll cover next time: