Summary: An introduction to a series on Hebrews 11
Super-heroes are popular. Batman, Superman, Wonder-Woman, Spiderman and Mr Incredible. The thing with super-heroes is their identity is secret. They live ordinary lives but have extraordinary powers. Hebrews 11 is a chapter about heroes – but not superheroes. There is only one of those Jesus who really does save the world through his suffering and death as opposed to using “super-powers” to do it. Hebrews 11 is about heroes – people who by faith made a great difference to the world we live in. They are God’s incredibles! - People who overcame great obstacles and faced great adversity to change the world for God. Many people have a favourite chapter in the bible. For some people it is Hebrews 11. I want us to take a few weeks to look at it. But before we get into chapter 11 I want us to see how it fits in the context of the whole book. As I often say one of the problems is that we often take favourite bits of the bible out of their context and sometimes as result lose their true meaning. So let’s get the story behind this chapter...
1. The Christian life can be tough
Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who like us had never seen or heard Jesus themselves. After initial progress it seems that they had stopped making progress and seemed to be slipping back into Judaism. Being a Christian in the Roman world was harder than being Jewish which enjoyed certain privileges. In the Roman world believing in one God was like being an atheist and could get you into big trouble. The Jews were exempt from this. But as the infant church grew it became clear that Christianity was distinct from Judaism and lost the protection it offered. Since their conversion they had been exposed to persecution – public abuse, imprisonment, looting of their property – but as yet they had not been called upon to die for their faith. So their faith was being put to the test.
Sometimes being a Christian is harder than not being one. The temptation was to give up, or at very least to stand still, not to press on, enthusiasm restrained & energy sapped. These are things that we may have experienced. Faith can become difficult when we face persecution. Or when we are faced with hard choices – e.g. do I pursue a relationship with someone who is not a Christian; do I pursue a sexual relationship with someone I am not married to; do I tithe when I could do so much with the money; should I be honest in this situation even though I could benefit from dishonesty or be harmed by honesty; Do I forgive someone who has hurt me? Faith can be challenged when we face suffering either personally or in the lives of those close to us. There are many situations when it could be said that not being a Christian would be easier.
Hebrews 11 reminds us of heroes of faith, God’s incredibles – they did not have an easy time. We are not promised an easy time. When I’ve been asked, “Why should your family be going through this trial?” My answer is “Why not”! Isn’t this what Jesus promised – “In this world you will have trouble”! Christianity has often been seen as the religion of the wimp. That is a travesty – following the crowd is for the wimp. Following Jesus means taking up a cross, it means a harder life in some ways than not following him. The question “why me” is the question of the victim. The people in Hebrews 11 may have had those moments, but they got over them to become God’s incredibles. So can we. That is one of the things we are being reminded of here.