When it’s time to start talking about “life in the fifth act” with my students, I often use Hebrews 11-12 as my starting point (which is why it’s neat that the passage is the New Testament epistle reading for the first few days of the new year). The chapter, which is all about living by faith, presents a long list of fallible people who lived their lives in a particular, seemingly invisible, direction. By the time you get to the part where individuals are no longer named, you’ve been totally synched to the passage’s rhythm.
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— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 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. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two,[a] they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
But the chapter’s end is not the story’s end by any stretch of the imagination. With the first two verses of chapter twelve, we find that all followers of Jesus are part of the story. And we have a better understanding of what is appropriate for us by seeing the secondary example of those who have gone before us and the primary example of the founder and perfecter of the our faith: Jesus.
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, 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.