What does the cloud of witnesses from Hebrews 12:1 have to say to you and me? Simply this: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers” (1 Peter 3:12).
I don’t believe this great crowd of heavenly witnesses would speak to us about holding to complicated theologies or doctrines. I believe they would speak to us in the simplicity of truth:
When God sets his heart on you, you will be tried often. But the fact is, the longer and harder your affliction, the more deeply God has set his heart on you, to show you his love and care. That is the witness of Paul’s life and of Jesus’ life. The enemy may come against you, but our Lord has raised up a standard against him. We find absolute rest in Jesus.
There comes a time in the life of every believer—as well as in the church—when God puts us to the ultimate test of faith. It’s the same test Israel faced on the wilderness side of the Jordan. What is this test?
It is to look at all the dangers ahead—the giant issues facing us, the high walls of affliction, the principalities and powers that seek to destroy us—and to cast ourselves totally on God’s promises. The test is to commit ourselves to a lifetime of trust and confidence in his Word. It’s a commitment to believe that God is bigger than all our problems and enemies.
Our heavenly Father isn’t looking for a faith that deals with one problem at a time. He’s looking for a lifetime faith, a lifelong commitment to believe him for the impossible. This kind of faith brings a calm and rest to our soul, no matter what our situation. And we have this calm because we’ve settled once and for all, “My God is bigger. He is able to bring me out of any and all afflictions.”
Our Lord is loving and longsuffering, but he won’t allow his people to dwell in unbelief. You may have been tested time after time and now the time has come for you to make a decision. God wants faith that endures the ultimate test, a faith that won’t allow anything to shake you from trust and confidence in his faithfulness.
As Israel faced Jericho, the people were told not to say a word, but simply to march. They were focused on the one thing God asked of them: to obey his Word and go forward.
That is faith. It means setting your heart to obey all that is written in God’s Word, without questioning it or taking it lightly. And we know that if our hearts are determined to obey, God will make sure his Word to us is clear, without confusion. Moreover, if he commands us to do something, he’ll supply us with the power and strength to obey: “Let the weak say, I am strong” (Joel 3:10). “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). Many believers quote this verse daily, applying it to their trials and tribulations. Yet the context in which Paul speaks it suggests a deeper meaning. Just two verses earlier, Paul states, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (15:54-55).
Paul was speaking eloquently about his longing for heaven. He wrote, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).
According to Paul, heaven—being in the Lord’s presence for all eternity—is something we are to desire with all our hearts.
As I ponder these things, a glorious picture begins to emerge. First, I imagine Jesus’ description of a huge gathering, when the angels “gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31). When all these multitudes have been gathered, I picture a great victory march taking place in heaven with millions of glorified children singing hosannas to the Lord, the way children once did in the temple.
Then come all the martyrs. Those who once cried for justice on the earth now cry, “Holy, holy, holy!” All will be dancing with joy, crying, “Victory, victory in Jesus!”
Then a mighty roar comes forth, a sound never before heard. It is the church of Jesus Christ with multitudes from all nations and tribes.
Maybe this all sounds farfetched to you, but Paul himself testified about it. When the faithful apostle was caught up into heaven, he “was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). Paul said he was staggered at what he heard there. I believe these were the very sounds he heard. He was given a preview of the singing and praising of God by those who will be rejoicing in his presence, their bodies made whole, their souls filled with joy and peace. It was a sound so glorious that Paul could hear it but not repeat it.
Jesus tells a crowd of Pharisees and religious people around him, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:14-16, ESV).
The Greek word here for “listen” isn’t just for hearing and recognizing someone’s voice; it can also mean “language.” Jesus is telling the Pharisees, “You don’t recognize my voice” in one sense, but he’s also saying, “You don’t understand the language of grace and mercy.” They couldn’t understand the language of a father’s heart of love.
For those who have been rescued by God, we will not only recognize Christ’s voice, but we will also understand the language of love and mercy. Once you hear that language, you’re not going to want to listen to another voice. The languages of works, dead religion and sin will no longer be appealing.
This is part of how we go out into the world without fear of the world getting into us. We can go out with a confidence and boldness because we hear the Father’s voice and we know his language.
“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:4-6).
We will know God, and we will be known as his own, and the spiritual powers of darkness in the world cannot overcome the Spirit in us. That’s a wonderful promise.
As I teach the Bible, I am perpetually amazed by its relevance to our family challenges in the 21st century. After all, the Bible is the only ancient book where the author is still alive. My faith and my confidence is fortified through the fights and trials that we traverse in the family of God because “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1, ESV), and “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!” (Psalms 128:1).
The psalmist taught many promises and blessings that come to those who build with God. I have these experiences in my house, and I can assure you that they are real.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that our families will be perfect. Even the parents of Jesus weren’t perfect. Remember that time with the family’s trip to Jerusalem? Jesus wasn’t more than 12 years old, and his parents simply forgot him in the temple.
Imagine the discussion between Papa and Mama in the family caravan returning to the house. Despite being accidentally left behind, Jesus still grew up in wisdom, in stature and in favor of the Lord and of all men (see Luke 2:52). Having Jesus growing up in wisdom, the family grew emotionally, in their relationships and in spirituality.
Although the parents of Jesus weren’t perfect, the Bible shows us the model of an extraordinary family, and it has this one, powerful reminder and encouragement for all of us: a strong family is not a perfect family. Rather, it’s a family that grows.
Claude Houde is the lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.