Summary: A look at the "Hall of Fame" of the faithful.
Some years ago, I was in Tennessee, passing through Gatlinburg, and as I was passing through, I noticed that there were several rather unusual billboards advertising a rather unusual tourist attraction. Along with billboards advertising restaurants, fishing ponds, and amusement centers, there were several billboards that advertised HELL. This of course, was unusual for many reasons. One does not normally see an advertisement for Hell, nor does one expect to be invited to visit Hell. It was especially unusual in this case, because the billboards gave Hell a street address in Gatlingburg.
Approaching the city, I began to see bumper stickers that said something like, "Go to Hell, Admission $5." Others said, "While in Gatlinburg and Go to Hell."
Sure enough, as I entered Gatlinburg, I saw a huge building that had a big sign that proclaimed that this was Hell. Apparently, for those passing through Gatlinburg, Hell was nothing more than a tourist attraction. Now I can avoid most tourist traps. On that particular trip through the mountains, I had avoided such attractions as Blowing Rock, Ghost Town and Rock City, but there was something irresistible about going to Hell, especially since I assumed I’d be able to get back out.
So I paid my $5 and went through the doors, over which was yet another sign, declaring, "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here."
Now I don’t know what, in Hell, most people expected in their visit, but what I found was a wax museum, and one display after another of the greatest sinners who had ever lived. Or at least some of the best known. This wax museum was actually operated by own of the churches in Gatlinburg and portrayed these great sinners as suffering in Hell. Much of it was rather biblical; a lot of it was speculation. I suspect that the church was trying to woo tourists into heaven by scaring them out of hell.
I am reminded of my $5 tour through hell and of those sinful souls on exhibition whenever I read the New Testament lesson for today, Hebrews 11. Not because this chapter has anything to do with hell, or because this chapter has to do with the greatest sinners of history, but rather, because this chapter is the exact opposite of my experience in Gatlinburg.
Rather than a tour through hell, this is more like a tour through heaven. Rather than seeing on exhibit the souls of the reprobate, we see on exhibit here, the souls of the faithful.
The one characteristic that these souls on exhibit in Hebrews 11 have in common is their faithfulness.
Faith is an elusive experience in Christianity.
It is difficult to define.
It is difficult to recognize in others.
It is difficult to develop in ourselves.
It would be difficult to point to historical figures and to say who is faithful and who is not. If I were going to open up a wax museum and have a hall of fame of the heroes of the faith, I would have a difficult time deciding who should be in it. Not because history is not full of people who have faith, but because it is difficult to define exactly what faith is and what it is not.
It is a whole lot easier to pick the worst sinners of history and to decide who should be on exhibit in a wax museum named Hell that it is to decide who is good enough to be on exhibit in a Hall of Fame of the Faithful.
If I were in Gatlinburg Tennessee, opening up a wax museum called Hell, I would have picked many of the same exhibits that were actually in the museum, Blackbeard, Hitler, Benedict Arnold.
But if I were given the task assumed by the author of Hebrews -- if I had to select souls to be on exhibit in a Hall of Fame of the faithful, I’ve got to confess, I would not have picked these souls that are in Hebrews 11.
I mean, just take a look at them.
There’s Noah. Sure, he built an ark. He was a good man. But what does he do when he gets off the boat? He goes out and gets drunk, passes out and lies there with his face on the floor and without a stitch of clothing.
If Noah was up for an appointment on the Supreme Court, the Senate Judiciary Committee would have a field day with that kind of behavior.
You’ve got the entire nation of Israel mentioned in this list of the Faithful because of their stroll across the parted Red Sea. But keep an eye on where those people go to next, and what you’ve got are a bunch of people who turn their backs on God the first chance they get. While Moses is up on the mountain conversing with God, these faithful people build an idol of gold and start worshipping it.