Summary: Fix our eyes on Jesus, Put Aside all that gets in the way, Run the race with perseverance.
When we are scared, facing our fears, what sort of advice do we need to hear?
“Whatever you do, don’t think about the fact that there are 7 million people watching this live right now…” so says the live chat show presenter to a guest who already looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights…Stage fright, performance anxiety, fear in general can be a horribly paralysing thing.
Laurence Olivier — suffered five years of agonising dread following a press night in 1964, when he found his voice diminishing and the audience “beginning to go giddily round”. He developed strategies. When delivering his Othello soliloquies, he asked his Iago to stay in sight, fearing “I might not be able to stay there in front of the audience by myself”. He asked actors not to look him in the eye: “For some reason this made me feel that there was not quite so much loaded against me.” The venerable Sybil Thorndike gave him trenchant counsel: “Take drugs, darling, we do.”
Adele — was once so frightened that she escaped out of the fire exit. In Brussels, she projectile-vomited over somebody. She copes by telling jokes.
Ellen Terry — An actress in the 1860s gave this description of stage fright “You feel as if a centipede, all of whose feet have been carefully iced, has begun to run about in the roots of your hair.” Then it seems as if somebody “has cut the muscles at the back of your knees”. As your mouth slowly opens, no sound comes out. “It was,” she said, “torture. Like nothing else in the world.”
The author: Fix your eyes on Jesus, forget everything that holds you back, put it to one side and run the race.
Generally, the advice seems to be to take your mind off of the situation you are in and those watching you who are causing your anxiety. Yet in this text the author seems to take great pains to remind his readers of exactly who is watching them.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
He is writing to Jewish Christians:
frightened and anxious
Asia Minor, Syria, Thessalonia or Philippi.
These are dangerous times to be a christian:
professing your faith was likely to lead to imprisonment, torture and probably death.
There was a lot of pressure to turn away from Christianity.
Far from a bum note or a forgotten line, this was real fear, real terror, for life and limb.
This is all part of his encouragement that following Jesus is better than anything else. He has told the readers:
Jesus is better than the angels,
better than Moses and the Old law,
better than Aaron and the levitical priesthood,
forms a perfect new covenant with God,
in the perfect tabernacle of heaven,
as the perfect never needed again sacrifice (chapter 10)
The author has already mentioned Abel, Noah, Moses…then we come to these further heroes:
Gideon, who led Israel to victory over the Midianites,
Barak a great Judge alongside Deborah,
Samson who ‘won strength out of weakness',
Jephthah who fought against the Ammonites,
David one of the greatest — and also most flawed — kings Israel had known,
Samuel the prophet…and
allusions to Daniel.
Suffering is part of the race
So far so good right? These people were led by God to do mighty acts, surely this encourages the readers that they can be comforted by being faithful to God, because he will lead them to mighty acts too right? So why does the author then go on to say…
Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Wait a minute! This doesn’t feel so encouraging. Torture (the Greek has a sense of being pounded like drums)? Mocking and flogging? Chains and imprisonment? Stoning? Being sawn in two? Penniless, persecuted, tormented, homeless? What is going on here? What is the writer trying to say?
Heb. 11:39 Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.