Summary: Among all the conquering heroes of Hebrews 11, God introduces us to those who suffered, struggled and died for their faith. Why would God tell us the stories of those who didn't "succeed"?
OPEN: I love a good action movie - the kind they used to make. Movies where good overcomes evil; the boy gets the girl; righteousness triumphs and the hero rides off into the sunset. Those are “feel good” movies because everything works out the way it should.
One website talked about the movies where that kind of thing happens. “It's the end of the movie. The Drifter has to be moving on. There are other people in trouble, other wrongs to right, other paths to follow and so, he saddles up his horse and rides west into the setting sun. And the townspeople look on as his figure, silhouetted against the orange disk, disappears into the horizon. The music swells and the words "The End" appear on the screen” (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RidingIntoTheSunset)
Hebrews 11 has always struck me as a “Riding Off Into The Sunset” kind of passage. It’s often been referred to as the Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11) and it lists such greats as Abraham, Moses, and Gideon and David and Samuel. These were heroes that stood up for God and for righteousness. And their story ended with them riding off into the sunset.
In fact, the Bible’s filled with many of those kinds of heroes. Heroes that “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. Hebrews 11:33-34
THAT’S THE WAY IT OUGHT TO BE!!!
(pause) But, you know… life doesn’t always work out that way. Good doesn’t always win; the boy doesn’t always get the girl; and righteousness doesn’t always triumph. Sometimes there isn’t even a sunset to ride off into.
That’s why Hebrews 11 doesn’t stop by just telling us of the conquering heroes. We’re told: “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, 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…” Hebrews 11:35-38
And you catch a hint of that kind of thinking at beginning of chapter. Hebrews 11:4 tells us “By faith Abel (the first man mentioned in the chapter) offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though HE DIED, he still speaks.”
Did you catch that??? HE DIED! Abel was a man of faith – and he died! He was killed by his brother. That's not right. That's not fair.
And whether we like to hear that kind of thing or not…that happens alot in Scripture. Stephen preaches a powerful sermon in Acts 7, and then the crowd stoned him to death. The Apostles were the leaders hand-picked by Jesus to form the foundation of New Testament teaching - and every last one of them (except John) were martyred. They died because of their faith.
And who could forget the story of Paul: “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” II Corinthians 11:24-27
And in the end – Paul was beheaded in Rome for his faith.
I don’t remember signing up for that!
And yet, that was the kind of thing that Jesus promised us would happen to us. He said “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
IN THIS WORLD… YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE!!!! You might face persecution; You might face unfair treatment; You might be insulted or abused; You might face tragedy and loss and sorrow… and even death. The Bible is very up front about those truths.
BUT HERE’S ONE MORE TRUTH… and that truth is this: Jesus came to give us peace. Peace even when life isn’t fair. Peace even when things aren’t right.
ILLUS: Back in the 1800’s there was a successful lawyer and businessman named Horatio Spafford. He and his wife Anna had five children and it seemed that all was well with his life. But then, in 1871, his young son died of pneumonia. And in that same year, much of his business was destroyed in great Chicago fire. By 1873, he’d rebuilt his business and could afford to take a vacation with the family, so they booked an ocean liner to travel to Europe. However, because of an unexpected business issue, Spafford was forced to stay behind. But he promised he’d catch another ship and join his family later. About four days after his family left for Europe, the liner collided with another ship and quickly sank - 226 of the 313 passengers drowned, including Spafford’s 4 daughters. His wife Anna was rescued and sent a telegram to her husband “Saved, alone.” Spafford took the next available liner to be with his wife, and as his ship passed near where his daughters had died he was overcome with grief. But on that voyage, he penned the words to now famous hymn… it goes like this: