Wow! The last couple of months have been absolutely wild for SVC, our community, our nation, and our world. Given everything that is going on, I thought it might be a good idea to pause and simply reflect on God’s word.
Hebrews 11 is one of my favorite chapters in all of scripture. It has been called the Hall of Faith. If it’s been a while since you’ve read it, you need to go back and check it out. You will be challenged, convicted, and inspired.
But, for the sake of this post, here is a quick synopsis.
In verse 1, the author defines Faith as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Wow! That’s a tough one. I’m not gonna lie. I read that verse and it convicts every piece of me … because I actually don’t live like that. I actually don’t trust like that. I actually don’t have that kind of faith. In my flesh, I would much rather remove those bold-faced words. I could stop right there and already be called to repentance … and that’s only verse 1.
The author begins to rattle off a series of stories of the faith heroes of the Hebrew scriptures. He spends a few verses recapping moments of great faith displayed by Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, the people of Israel, and Rahab. Each one of these stories has something in common. That is, these heroes did something against conventional wisdom. They chose the road less traveled and “knew” that despite the odds, God was on their side.
Now this is me just reading between the lines a little bit, which is always a fun exercise. But I almost think that the author has a moment of realization once he gets to Rahab, whose story is only the second chapter of Joshua. It’s almost like he says to himself, “There is no way I can keep going down this path or this letter is going to be as long as the Old Testament … allow me to summarize.”
Verse 32 is one of my favorites. It is so real and so honest. He says, “What more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets …” I love that. In other words. Hey guys, there are a bunch of other stories too, but you get the idea. Go ahead and turn to any story in your own scriptures and you will see a story of a hero of faith. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
In verses 33-40, the author goes on to say that, while some of our faith heroes conquered and won, most of them were seen as failures by the world. They were flogged, mistreated, killed, tortured, and outcast. In other words, even though they had great faith, God did not reward it with worldly success. The author says it best, The world was not worthy of them (ver 38).
There may be nothing that is more important and more difficult for us 21st century Americans to swallow. Sometimes we do everything God asks of us and it doesn’t work out for our benefit. Sometimes we display great faith and we don’t see a reward. Sometimes we suffer for the sake of Christ without any solace or comfort. In fact, the author makes that exact point when referencing Moses, noting that he chose to be mistreated for the sake of Christ. At first glance, this might seem odd as Jesus was not born for another 1500 years. But this is a mistake we often make because we often think of Christ as Jesus’ last name. In fact, the cause of Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer had existed long before the birth of Jesus. Simply put, the cause of Christ is to suffer in order to redeem His people from bondage. So, in that sense, both Moses and Jesus served the same cause — the delivery of God’s chosen people. But both also suffered for an end that is not yet seen. They fought a battle that is not yet completed.
The tough part for us is that this is the exact opposite of what so many of us believe about Christianity. We actually believe that when we surrender to Jesus, he will take care of all of our troubles, here and now. This is prosperity gospel 101. And, while most of us would probably reject “name it and claim it” theology, I would also venture to say that most of us have prayed some version of this prayer…
God, I am trying to follow you. I have sacrificed for you. I have prayed and fasted and given of myself. Why aren’t you fixing it?
I, for one, am guilty of that prayer. I am guilty of that worldview. And, I too often do not understand why my sacrifice is not being rewarded. And, quite frankly, it ticks me off. It makes me mad. I’m an American. I live in a contractual society. I do X, I get Y. That’s the way the world works. Why doesn’t God do it my way?
But listen to the author of Hebrews…
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Oh man, that’s deep. He is saying that God’s plan is actually that we would all suffer and that the generations of suffering would all somehow encourage the next generation to suffer still. Moreover, he is saying that the suffering of our forefathers was only worth it if we take up the mantle and choose to suffer with them. It’s almost like we are letting them down if we don’t suffer with them, like we are selling them short if we choose an easier path.
If you read on to Chapter 12, this is exactly the point. The author is telling us that we have not suffered as greatly as our predecessors and none of us has suffered as greatly as Jesus. So, take heart. Keep fighting. The battle is much larger than us. We join in the struggle spanning generations of believers knowing that our reward is coming, even though we do not see it.
If I was teaching a writing course, that is proper persuasive technique. Verse 1 is the thesis statement and the conclusion comes back to the idea that everything we hope for as a follower of Christ is unseen. That is why FAITH is defined by the assurance of the unknown, because we know the end of the story. We know who sits on the Throne. We know that this present age is just a blip on the eternal radar.
But I, for one, do not often live with an eternal perspective. I get caught up in the here and now. I let the worries of this world choke my faith.
Why is this so hard for us? Why don’t we come to this type of faith naturally? I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. The reality is that I don’t often come to a place where I am totally reliant upon God. Most of the time I can solve my own problems. If I am hungry, I just drive to the grocery store. If I am thirsty, I turn on my faucet. Remember that whole “eye of a needle” thing that Jesus was talking about? He was talking about us! We are the most affluent society in the history of mankind. And, when we have everything taken care of, sometimes it’s hard to learn to have faith.
That is why this year has been so formative. Be it the Coronavirus, the sale of our property, a new iteration of the SVC mission, a restart of a portion of our school, or the collapse of the stock market … all of it puts us deeper and deeper into the unknown. All of it calls for faith that God’s plan is bigger than ours. All of it is reliant upon hope. All of it is suffering. And, all of it points us to Christ, the Author and Perfecter.
Head of School