Today as we think about the 100 years since the end of WWI, I want to focus on the last 100 days of the war in which victory was finally won. The reasons for the breakthrough included technology and strategy. Yet at ground level the deal was the same: when the whistle blew you went over the top and ran into enemy machine gun fire - it was insane! How did the weary soldiers summon enthusiasm for these attacks? One reason was morale - attrition had taken its toll but the allies had fresh supplies. Morale goes a long way - I guess that is why our reading today talks of (chapter 12 verse 1) 'a great cloud of witnesses'.
But more importantly those witnesses had faith. Back in chapter 11 verse 1 we get a definition of faith: confidence in what we hope for, assurance about what we do not see. Confidence is that inner knowing despite any uncertainty. Assurance tells us that it will be okay. Note that this is in what we do not see, it is about the future, something we cannot see yet ... but we will see at some point.
This is the Kingdom dilemma: Jesus said 'The time has come, the Kingdom is near', yet clearly all around us today we do not yet see every person, every circumstance aligned with the will of God. As Christians we have to wrestle with the 'Now but Not Yet' of the Kingdom - Jesus has come bringing his Kingdom, but it is not yet fully realised. But even though we are in the 'not yet' and we see all kinds of bad, we have confidence and assurance that His Kingdom is being established, that things will change, and that we will see Kingdom effects happen around us.
Chapter 11 lists all kinds of people who had faith. One thing that all these had in common was that every person acted - they did stuff and went through episodes working out and applying their faith. The chapter kind of gives us a gallery. Staring back with Cain it works through some ancient great names, and then works through Israel's history - working up to a kind of frenzy of people who suffered for their faith. It is as if the author imagines them now cheering us on from the balcony calling out 'come on - we did it, and so can you!'.
Yet here is a thing: in v39 we are told that though all these are commended for their faith, none of them received what had been promised. All of them lived before the actual coming of God's anointed, the Messiah come as Jesus. Their faith was valid, their hope was valid, but it pointed forward towards what God will ultimately do. Our author is saying now it is different - Jesus has come and so we are now in the new era of Jesus. Jesus was the one who brought God's Kingdom, was the one who did the once for all sacrifice, who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
So therefore in this new era, with the whole cloud of past faithful witnesses cheering us on, how much more should we be confident and assured to advance applying our faith. So therefore let us throw off everything else and charge forward as followers of Jesus!
Now if you are going to go up over the top to charge forward, you are not going to take all your baggage. You will take your weapon, some armor of course, but other things will be stripped down to the minimum. So let us also throw off everything that entangles: our baggage, e.g. false aspirations and other worldly things we cling to. Instead let us fix our eyes on Jesus, lifting our heads spiritually to look ahead in the direction of Jesus and His Kingdom fully realised.
But you may be thinking that charging ahead is insane, it will be straight into enemy fire! Yes, you are right ... but we are surely in the final '100 days' of a massively long war that has been going on. It is on us to make the final assaults, to break through the enemy lines. Of course by '100 days' I am talking symbolically - we are in an era called 'the last days'. The Kingdom is 'not yet', but it is close!
That is why on balance our language as a church tilts more towards attack. We charge not with guns or bombs, but spiritual weaponry which means loving people like Jesus did, backed up with practical acts of grace. Our weapons are to be about Kingdom stuff: seeing people set free, healed, forgiven and restored. Our attack charges are Kingdom initiatives, like Foodbank, CAP, Ely College Chaplaincy, as well as the future pioneering we are praying into.
In wordly eyes it is insane, and as we go it is right to fear casualties - for it will be messy and difficult. But the ultimate victory is already assured - victory is won in Jesus in His death and resurrection. And also there is a whole cloud of witnesses who have gone before in faith, willing us to go on - on towards our destination: Jesus and His Kingdom.