Jesus tells a parable about a man sowing seeds. Some seeds land on the path, where they are eaten by birds. Other seeds land on rocky soil, where they wither under the sun. Other seeds land on thorny soil, where they are choked. Still other seeds land on good soil, where they produce a crop (Matthew 13:1-23).
This parable illustrates the different ways people receive the gospel. However, we can also apply it to seasons of the Christian life. Sometimes our hearts are hardened by sin or doubt. Sometimes our faith falters when we endure hardship. And sometimes we’re distracted by worldly concerns.
We are still “good soil” by virtue of the fact that we are saved. But the bad soils represent the reasons why we don’t bear as much fruit as we should. The American church is best represented by the thorny soil. Our faith is often waylaid by “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” (13:22).
These worries produce a spiritual lethargy that is difficult to shake. The world puts us in a chokehold that strangles our faith – not to the effect that we lose our salvation, but we stop attaining higher levels of spiritual maturity and usefulness to the Lord. We take our eyes off heavenly things and set them on earthly things instead.
Cloud of Witnesses
The author of Hebrews knew we would go through spiritual slumps. His readers had “endured in a great contest full of suffering.” They “were publicly exposed to insult and persecution,” and “joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property” (Hebrews 10:32-34). Now they needed to stand firm in their “struggle against sin” (12:4).
He inspired them by recounting the faith of famous Bible characters. He looked back at 2,000 years of Jewish history to surround his readers with a “great cloud of witnesses” (12:1) that they might find new strength to persevere.
We need such inspiration today. We are not subject to persecution or confiscation of property in America. But Jesus says thorny soil is just as dangerous as rocky soil. Although we worship Him in comfort, we too need the inspiration of a “cloud of witnesses.”
There’s only one problem – the author of Hebrews pulled his examples from the Old Testament. These characters were inspiring to readers in his day, and they serve as lasting examples for us as well. But it’s difficult for us to relate to them or feel like their faith has anything in common with ours.
Providentially, we too can look back over 2,000 years of church history. We can be inspired by the lives of famous Christians from the past. Our heritage is replete with men and women who stayed faithful to Jesus no matter what! And their legacy continues with the persecuted church today.
I’d like to share some resources that are helping me build my own “cloud of witnesses.” If your faith feels stagnant or strangled, I’d encourage you to give them a try. May God use them to inspire you too!
Witnesses from the Past
Christian Heroes: Then and Now is more comprehensive. It is a series of biographies about famous Christians from recent times. They show how Christians in our own day and age have responded to God’s call. These books are available in any format.
Witnesses from the Present
Voice of the Martyrs ministers to persecuted Christians in over 70 countries. They publish a free newsletter and host a podcast that share real stories of modern-day persecution. They also offer practical opportunities to pray for and help the persecuted church.
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