By Jane Grivjak
“By Faith” all those that we have observed thus far obtained a good testimony. These are the stories of the people of God who refused to draw back, to question the direction, the sovereignty or the timing of God in fulfilling His promises. They held fast to their faith in God no matter if they saw the fulfillment of His promises or not. The author is using the good testimony of these witnesses to urge his readers to continue to follow Christ despite the escalating hostility they were experiencing in their new found faith. The apostle Peter described the culture of the day as running contrary to everything that the Christian faith stood for:
1 Peter 4:3-5 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles — when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. 4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.
Earlier in Peter’s epistle, he exhorts his readers to “gird up the loins of their minds,” so as to not lose heart when facing the hostility of the world.
Here are how my bible notes describe this term: Just as people in biblical times would gather up their long robes and tie them around their waists so that they could move quickly and freely, we need to do whatever it takes to focus our thoughts on those that allow us to serve God successfully, all the while, eliminating any thoughts that would trip us up. (more on this later)
In the same way, the author of Hebrews now pauses in his accounting of the stories to give his readers a little exhortation, to remind them that true faith will chose to believe the promises of God even if the outcome is not visible in this life.
1) TRUE FAITH HOLDS FAST TO GOD’S PROMISES
Let’s read Hebrews 11:13-16
(vs 13) These all died in faith, not having received the promises.
In Abraham’s case, and as we will see later in this chapter, in the case of Isaac and Jacob, they did not receive all the promises found in Genesis 12.
Now the Lord had said to Abram:
"Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father's house,
To a land that I will show you.
2 I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
Abraham never saw the complete fulfillment of this promise in his lifetime, nor did his son Isaac or his son Jacob. He saw a partial fulfillment through the birth of his son Isaac but the gathering of his descendants into the Promised Land would not become a reality for many centuries in the future. Notice that within this promise of the birth of the nation of Israel, we also find the universal promise that goes well beyond the borders Israel and the Jewish race. This universal promise extends God’s blessing to the entire world through the “Seed” that was promised well before Abraham’s day.
We find this promise way back in the book of Genesis:
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:
"Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel."
God was declaring that there would be a remedy for the separation that man experienced through the original sin of Adam in the garden. The banishment that was necessary would be rectified by God, Himself through the Seed of His Son.
Job eloquently sums up this universal promise:
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
27 Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
That universal promise to which the writer of Hebrews is referring to is this; that God would raise up a horn of salvation, the Promised One, Who would reconcile sinful man back to God by His atoning sacrifice on the Cross!! All those who kept the faith, like Job, were yearning to see that day in which the promised Redeemer would come.
In the end of this chapter, the author makes clear that he is referring to the Promise of Messiah:
And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
In Hebrews 7 we see that “perfection” could not come through the Levitical priesthood; in other words, the sacrificial system set up in the Mosaic Law was inadequate in bringing the completed work of salvation to the world. God had something BETTER in mind through Christ. He is described as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. When Jesus proclaimed from the cross, “It is finished,” He was declaring that the work of redemption was completed, the debt of sin had been discharged once and for all. Man could now be reconciled back to God!
2 Cor 5:17-19
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation .
We are fortunate to have lived to see so many of the promises that these longed to see fulfilled…our faith has been made sight. For those who came before us, their faith enabled them to possess (embrace) those promises as if they were a reality. They hoped to see that day that salvation would come and looked for the signs of Christ’s advent throughout the centuries.
Luke 10:23-25 Then He (Jesus) turned to His disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”
We are truly blessed to not only see the fulfilment of so many promises that go beyond the birth of the nation and Israel; we are now the recipients of the promise of salvation that would come through Jesus, our Messiah. Beyond this greatest promise, there are many future promises that we also must embrace by faith as well.
Those promises pertain to the things that are beyond this present reality. We find in our text that Abraham embraced the earthly promises but also looked beyond those and sought “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (verse 10) Even though God had promised earthly things, Abraham and his descendants understood that the true promised reward would come not in this life, but in the next. In verse 16 we read that, “they desire(d) a better, that is, heavenly country.”
Before coming to Christ, our desires were according to the flesh. Because we were carnally minded, our desires were motivated by the world, our flesh and the devil. Upon salvation, God imparted His Spirit in us and with that Spirit came those new desires that are in accord with the will of God. And with those new desires come a willingness to bear whatever cross God may chose for us for the sake of the BETTER reward awaiting us in His eternal kingdom.
We find this in the prior chapter:
But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.
Matthew Henry- True faith draws forth sincere and fervent desires; and the stronger faith is, the more fervent the desires will be.
All true believers desire a better country!!
2) FAITH MAKES US INTO PILGRIMS
Colossians 1:13-14 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.
In a sense, we are all like Abraham and Sarah…we have all answered the call of God to forsake this present world and enter into that pilgrim’s journey to our heavenly home. Similarly, we are like the character named Christian, in John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress. We are all making our pilgrimage from the City of Destruction to the glorious Celestial City.
Phil 3:20-21 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.
I must confess that I have often been so comfortable with all the blessings that God has so graciously given in this life that I have forgotten that this world is not my home. I think that all of us would agree that living here in the US has afforded us the ability to be insulated from the troubles that so many of our fellow pilgrims face on a daily basis. I believe all of us were dealt a huge wake up call this past year. We have witnessed a drastic paradigm shift in this nation that has shaken us to our core. Good has become evil and evil has become good. Christianity and Patriotism are now considered to be akin to the type of fundamentalism that our government is labeling a terrorist threat!! Our sense of alienation by the world because of our faith in Christ has become a present reality.
In all this, we must fix our hope on the bright future that awaits us! More so now than ever!
Romans 8:22-25 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
Matthew Henry- Faith and hope go together and the same things that are the object of our hope are the object of our faith.
The object of our hope is that God will come and redeem our bodies just as He has redeemed our souls!!
By faith, we believe the promise that Jesus gave us in John 14…that He is preparing a place for us AND that He will come again to take us to our heavenly home. And while it is hard to imagine the things that are prepared for us, we can be assured of them and embrace them as if they were reality. And as we meditate on what awaits us, we can be filled with hope!
3) FAITH REJOICES IN HOPE
As we survey the landscape of this world today, it can be easy to become downcast, discouraged, disheartened and even downright terrified!! The road we are traveling has taken a dark turn. Doubt can come creeping in and destroy our hope. Once hope is gone, it erodes our confidence and opens the door for unbelief and shipwreck.
I love the example of Christian in the story Pilgrim’s Progress. He encountered many people, places and things along his journey. Some things were wonderful and some things were terrible!! Of all the places he visited, Doubting Castle was one of the worst. In it, he and his companion were held prisoners in a dark dungeon by the Giant Despair. They are mercilessly beaten and demoralized by the giant. His counsel to them was that they do away with themselves , for there was no hope of their escape.
The Giant Despair can creep into our thinking and put us in a dark dungeon of hopelessness. This recently happened to me; and after talking to some fellow pilgrims this past week, I found that I wasn’t the only one plagued by an oppressive depression and despair. What I realized is that I was being overwhelmed by the onslaught of negative information that is being blasted on television, social media, email blasts, podcasts and every other outlet that we allow to have influence over us. These are the means by which the enemy can come in, and in the case of the Giant Despair, “beat us without mercy,” until we are demoralized, terrified and despairing of life!!
This state of anxiety and despair can be traced back to what we allow to enter into our thoughts:
Phil 4:8-9 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.
If we pay attention to the voices controlling the airwaves, we are only going to hear bad news!! We have the power to shut off the constant supply of sewage that is coming at us like a firehose. It is up to us to choose to reflect instead on the Good News found in God’s word.
Back to our story:
Fortunately for Christian, he had a fellow pilgrim along with him named Hopeful!! It is Hopeful who encourages his friend not give in to despair on several occasions. He reminds Christian of all the hardships and terrors he had already gone through successfully and that they must patiently endure until some opportunity would arise for them to me set free. Hopeful had the right attitude…he refused to resign himself to this fate…he mused on the means by which God would bring about their deliverance. Hopeful had faith in his God!!
Ps 42:5-6 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.
Finally, after a night of prayer, Christian came to his senses and, “brake out in this passionate speech: ‘What a fool, quoth he, am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk in liberty! I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.”
Christian had lost sight of the promises of God that had always been at his disposal. The oppression of the Giant Despair had caused him to forget that in his bosom, he held all the precious promises of God:
2 Peter 1:3-4 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
Now we find ourselves right back at the place we started!!
Clinging to the promises of God in the midst of the hardships we encounter on our journey will produce in us that essential attitude and virtue of HOPE!!
Rom 5:1-6 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
May we walk with the same assurance of hope throughout our pilgrimage, looking for that better homeland and may God not be ashamed to be called our God!!
Final exhortation: Don’t lose sight of the blessed hope we have in Jesus!!