March 9, 2012

Hebrews Chapter 11 - Faith Requirements and Rewards

Certain passages of the Bible are ideal for learning history, others for understanding the nature of God, some for applying personally to develop in spiritual maturity.  Hebrews chapter 11 is one of my favorite fall-back chapters, a place I go to recenter when my mind wanders from the facts about how God operates this world. Because this chapter is rich with teaching, I want to outline the value I find in it.  I hope it bless you as it blesses me.

Hebrews 11:13 begins, “These [Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sara] all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them [the promises] afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.

 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.

 But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them a city.”  (Hebrews 11:13-16)

This chapter of the Bible is referred to as the “Roll Call of Faith”.  It recounts Old Testament individuals of proven faith and praises them for their legacy.  It reminds us to aspire to exceptional lengths of faith and perseverance. 

It is to our advantage to follow these pioneers in the actions described:

1.      Perceive the delay between ourselves and rewards (having seen promises afar off),

2.      Meditate on the assurance of rewards until we are fully convinced of their future reality (were persuaded of them),

3.      Experience pleasure in the present over future blessings (embraced them),

4.      Confess our allegiance to Heaven’s ranks, not earth’s (confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth), 

5.      Eject from our minds an attachment to the temporal (if they had been mindful from whence they came, they might have returned),

6.      Build a passion for the eternal (desire a heavenly country).

For me, there is no way to study faith without examining these champions and the realistic terms of their longsuffering.  I cannot digest the requirements God places over my spiritual life without welcoming the extremes to which these leaders went to prove their faith.  By “prove”, I mean to pass tests and fortify their beliefs into something substantial upon which they built their lives and testimonies.  Endurance is imperative for our faith to grow and life experience advances our knowledge of faith’s power and breadth.

Some people experienced victory through their faith (verses 33-35):

Who through faith: 

subdued kingdoms,

wrought righteousness,

obtained promises,

stopped the mouths of lions.

 quenched the violence of fire,

escaped the edge of the sword,

out of weakness were made strong,

waxed valiant in fight,

turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

received their dead raised to life again:

Sometimes they suffered distress because of their faith (verses 35-38):

tortured, not accepting deliverance;

had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings,

bonds and imprisonment:

they were stoned,

they were sawn asunder (physically cut in two),

were tempted,

were slain with the sword:

they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins;

being destitute, afflicted, tormented;

 they wandered in deserts,

 they wandered in mountains,

 they wandered in dens and caves of the earth.

This text makes it clear that the Christian life does not guarantee earthly ease.  Faith incites miracles, but the faithful also endure suffering much resembling our Savior’s experience on earth (John 15:20).  William Gurnall wrote, "God looks on Christ as the archetype to which He will conform the saint, in suffering, in grace, in glory."

God is inherently good and His promises inherently trustworthy, but the fulfillment of His promises is not confined to the earthly timeframe we presently perceive.  His promises are not always realized in this lifetime, this side of Heaven, but they will be realized. The delay does not diminish the absolution of a promise; it merely steps beyond the parameters of our expectations.  Under circumstances when God’s promises are delayed until Heaven, the rewards will be much greater.

Hebrews 11:38 begins, “Of whom [Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gedeon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae, David, Samuel, and the prophets] the world was not worthy: they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.  (Hebrews 11: 38-40)

In reference to honorable and upright individuals of faith, the Bible pointedly admits that they died having not received promises fulfilled this side of Heaven.

The gleaming sentiment I take away most profoundly is that without us, those of us reading this message in 2012, the great pillars of the faith would not be as perfect as they will be in Heaven now that their legacies are blessing the generations which followed them.  When I read verses 39 and 40 I substitute this personal application: 

“God decidedly withheld earthly rewards from the great legends of faith because He had me in mind.  In the days of Joseph, Moses and Samuel, God knew that I would need to learn from their stories of endurance and delayed gratification, so He withheld their earthly blessing for my sake.  Because their testimonies are a powerful incentive in my life, each of the great legends will receive a jewel in his crown for his influence on me as well as for all of the other lives he has inspired across the ages. Their perfection will be actualized and all promises fulfilled in the rewards which their sacrifice will reap as many people have been inspired by their testimonies.”

If promises delayed for Heaven perfects the great legends of faith, then how could I possibly prefer for God to apply an alternative approach toward blessing me?  Let it be said that I have experienced more promises granted than I stand waiting to receive.  God is generous.  As I assess the few remaining unanswered promises in my life, I comprehend ultimate value in the delay.

The fact that God delays some promises by no means declares that all promises wait for Heavenly fulfillment.  Nothing in Scripture indicates such.  Abraham and Sarah enjoyed the birth of a promised son Isaac.  The Israelites received the promised land of Israel as their earthly territory to occupy.  Hannah received a son Samuel.  Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist at an advanced age.  The Messiah was born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem!  The list of promises granted this side of Heaven exceeds the list of promises waiting for Heaven. 

We should advance through life anticipating earthly rewards but surrender our hearts to accept a different portion should God delay the fulfillment of some promises until Heaven. These hold a greater advantage for they will culminate in perfection.  To God be the glory.

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