17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
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, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder 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.
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
At the end of the Harry Potter series of books, the protagonist is facing the prospect of his death at the hands of his enemy. In case you have not ever read the stories, Harry is a young man upon whom is laid an impossibly large burden of defeating a horrible, may I say, demonic character named Voldemort. As he approaches the clearing where he is about to meet his enemy, Harry takes hold of a magical stone which brings up the ghosts of his loved ones, his deceased parents, friends, and mentors. They encourage him and bolster him for what he must do.
I cannot read that section of the novel without thinking about this passage and the final word of encourage we read here. Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses let us lay aside every weight, and every sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Harry had a cloud of witnesses.
In the novel Harry ends up defeating the villain, but only by willingly dying and coming back to life again. We look to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at God’s right hand. When J. K. Rowling needed to speak of the defeat of evil, she had nothing truly original to say, but put the only real victory over evil right into her novel. When we receive the sacrament, when we sing our hymns, when we love in Christ’s love, we are never alone. We are surrounded by a far more real cloud of witnesses than the fictional Harry Potter. They are the gift of the Holy Spirit to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.