Summary: Bad things happen even to Christians. Yet, we are not alone. God places us in the family of faith. And as we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can endure anything, for his sake, knowing our faith will be rewarded, if not in this life, then in the next.
Today’s passage is one of the most beautiful and most moving passages of the Bible. It brings us to the end of our two-week walk through the Bible’s “Hall of Faith.” Hebrews chapter 11 lists many of the great faith heroes of the Bible, people who trusted God to bring them through tight, sometimes death-defying situations.
I want to use today’s passage to attack three myths prevalent in today’s world, the myth that if you have enough faith, you will live a prosperous life, the myth that you can live this Christian life alone, and the myth that all roads lead to heaven.
First, consider the myth that, if you have enough faith, you will live a prosperous life. This is nothing new. We are wired to look for cause and effect. At the least sign of injustice, our kids cry out, “It’s not fair!” Likewise, Jesus’ 12 disciples once asked their Master, “Why is this man blind? Is it because of his own sin or his parents’ sin?” Trick question. Jesus replied, “Neither, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).
There is not always a direct link between our obedience and our reward or our disobedience and punishment. In other words, God doesn’t settle all his accounts in 30 days. The psalmist asked about a bazillion times, “Why do you let my enemies prosper, God?” Despite what some TV preachers assure you, things will not always go right if you send enough money for their prayer rug.
Hebrews chapter 11 lists some incredible victories, some truly God-sized events. Abraham and Sarah had a baby in their sunset years, as they began to parent a nation. Moses led the people across the Red Sea on dry land. Gideon and his three hundred routed the Midianites with only torches and jars (Judges 7:7-25). David and others enjoyed great victory over their enemies through their faith in God. Mothers saw their sons brought from death to life. Lots of victories, and yet,
We come to the second half of verse 35 and find that faith doesn’t always end happily ever after, at least in this life. Some were tortured and still held to their faith even to death, knowing their resurrection lay ahead. Some were flogged, chained, and imprisoned like the Apostle Paul. Some were stoned to death, like Stephen and the prophet Zechariah. Some were sawed in two. (Tradition says the prophet Isaiah died this way.) Others suffered in poverty because of their faith. And verse 38 says, “This world was not worthy of them.” Verse 39 tell us that in this life, “None of them received what was promised.”
What kind of faith is this? I want something that delivers all the time, not just some of the time! What about you? But these people in Hebrews 11 hung on! They kept the faith at all costs. When things got tough, they just kept believing. When people tortured them and even killed them, they said, “Bring it on! I know where I’m heading. And if God doesn’t save me in this life, he’ll save me in the next.” Kind of like Daniel’s reply to the king as he entered the lion’s den!
One of my study Bibles noted, “Faith is not a bridge over troubled waters, but is a pathway through them” (New Spirit-filled Life Bible). I wish I could promise you that, if you have enough faith, everything will go right in this life. But we both know that is a lie. Enough faith may help you to endure well the hard times, but it will not necessarily take you out of those times.
We don’t really know much about suffering for our faith in America. But people around the globe suffer and die for Jesus every day. The worst we might get for now is a little ridicule that hurts our feelings. I think our greater challenge is to keep the faith in adversity, when our health declines, when our marriage breaks up or we lose a spouse, when greedy bankers mess with our retirement accounts, when family or friends let us down, when life just becomes really hard. Will we hold onto a God who will see us through every challenge? That is the question.
And part of the answer is to know that you are not running the race alone. You are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). All of these saints of old are cheering you toward the finish line. Someone once asked me, “Do you think everybody in heaven is spying on us all the time?” No, I think they have better things to do in heaven. F. F. Bruce says, “It is not so much they who look at us as we who look to them—for encouragement.” Even though chapter 12 might envision a coliseum of people watching us crossing the finish line of our own marathon of life, the word “witness” carries a richer thought than passively sitting in the grandstands. In the Greek, the word “witness” is the same as the word for “martyr.” These people listed in chapter 11 witness to us by the example of their lives. Sometimes our perseverance will lead to incredible victory, other times to agonizing defeat. Yet, ultimately the victory is ours. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. And the writer of Hebrews urges us to keep running, even when everything seems against us.