Feb 15, 2016
The Great Cloud of Witnesses
I am making this blog entry in honor of two of my dear brothers in Yeshua the Messiah who I am confident have now joined “the great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the passage below, Lewis Sherman of Jerusalem, Israel, and John Hernandez of Chicago, Illinois. Always bearing witness to the gospel of Christ while they walked on the earth, and sad they no longer reside here, I have every confidence that there will be a great reunion when Jesus returns! They had no fame or popular national ministry, but were faithful ministers of the message of salvation, so it is not a stretch for me to imagine them hearing the words from Jesus’s mouth, “well done my good and faithful servant, enter into your reward”!
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,” Hebrews 12:1, KJV
The writer of the book of Hebrews makes the above statement after reviewing a long list of God’s servants who sacrificed creature comforts and popular acceptance for the sake of God’s kingdom. The list included the likes of Abraham who left the land of his birth for the “land of promise”, and Moses who left the wealth of Egypt, and many other old covenant saints of whom it is said:
“And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:39, 40, KJV
So, this great mass of witnesses is looking forward to being joined by the believers in the New Covenant, and they are not being disappointed. The writer goes on to speak of the active worship of the new covenant assembly of believers:
“For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, … But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” Hebrews 12:18-24, KJV
This verse speaks of the unity of all God’s people, and how this unity is best displayed when we are gathered together to worship and proclaim Gods truth, we actually come to “mount Zion”, enter the “heavenly Jerusalem”, and join all the good ones who are there; Jesus, His angels, and the old and new covenant saints who have gone before us.
While some might challenge the assumption, I believe the cloud of witnesses includes those we have known and loved on earth that also knew and loved the Lord, and are now with Him in heaven. They have finished the race, and, although we may not hear them or seem them, they are cheering us on as we run toward Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
I met Lewis Sherman, “Lew the Jew” as he sometimes referred to himself, when I was a young, recently ordained minister, living in Israel as a volunteer teacher. Lew ran a Christian bookstore just inside the Jaffa gate of the Old City, part of the “Christ Church” campus. We became acquainted at the bookstore, but became lifelong friends when I bumped into him while visiting Eilat (or Elot). We were both bunking at “The Shelter” Hostel and came to realize that each of us had a heart to reach the lost with the love of God in Yeshua. I grew to know and love Lewis, his wife Catarina and his children because they accepted me as one of their extended family, sort of adopting me, and Lewis and I shared in outreach and evangelism to the lost. Even after I returned to the US, we always kept in touch, he stayed with me on occasion in the US, and then I stopped hearing from him in 2013. I knew Lew suffered from heart issues, so I began to wonder if he was still with us. Finally able to locate one of his children online, it was confirmed that Lew indeed had gone home to join the great cloud of witnesses. My pastor and friend while I lived in Israel, Wayne Hilsden, I was told presided at his funeral.
“Atonement in Jesus World Outreach Center” was the vision-encompassing name of the sponsoring church of a weekend training seminar on evangelism being held at a Chicago-land hotel in 1990. A small group from my church in Rockford, Michigan decided to attend. I am not even sure how we came across the flyer advertising the event, but it led to a divine appointment. Having recently returned from over 2 years of living in Jerusalem, I decided it would help me get replanted into US church life if I went. While there was not a huge crowed at the seminar, the passionate, Messianic, praise and worship being led by pastor John Hernandez and his Jewish believing wife Barb along with their team brought us into the great assembly in heaven! And yes, you guessed it; I met another couple with whom a common love for Israel and reaching the lost led to another strong relationship. John and his wife Barb were full of the love of God, a hunger to reach the lost, and a love for Israel, Barb being a daughter of Israel herself. John and Barb started inviting me to preach and share my gift of music God had given me, and for one whole summer I drove every weekend from Grand Rapids to Chicago to work together with other passionate members of their congregation to do open air outreach on a Chicago beach. Establishing a “beach front” for God’s kingdom if you will. Well, I became engaged to a beautiful woman who happened to live in the Chicago area, so while I ended up moving to the Chicago area, I lost touch with John and Barb as we focused on building our family, even though Barb had let my wife borrow her wedding dress because we could not afford one at the time. Now that my kids are older, I decided to try to find out what had become of John and Barb, and discovered that John has also gone home to join the great cloud of witnesses. His courage, love for God, and boldness in Christ will and has always remained an encouragement to me, and I look forward to another great reunion at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
So, if you have family members or loved ones who have died knowing the lord, maybe even some you had lost contact with, take comfort in knowing that they too have joined that “great cloud of witnesses”. You can’t see them, or hear them, but they are with the Lord in heaven, and they are cheering you on to run the race that is set before you, and are waiting for you at the finish line!
Happy Birthday Barb Hernandez!
February 15, 2016