Sunday, February 07, 2010
Heroes Pay a Price
Hebrews 11 is the great chapter of past heroes of faith. When we read it or hear sermons preached on it, what are we focused on generally? I have to wonder if we tend to ponder the great exploits of these heroes while glossing over the difficulties many of them faced.
Down the whole litany of great biblical figures, we see that most died in faith without receiving the promises. That didn't deter them in their lives, nor did it cause them to doubt God's promises. Instead, having seen and welcomed them from a distance, confessing themselves as strangers and exiles on the earth. The Scripture goes on to state that God is not ashamed to be called their God, and He has prepared a better city for them. The idea of God not being ashamed to be called their God is striking.
Also striking is verse 25 of Chapter 11, where it says that Moses chose to endure ill treatment with the people of God rather than enjoying the passing pleasures of sin. He was looking toward the reward. Imagine what a choice that would have been, growing up in the household of Pharoah and knowing what would lie ahead with a people that had been enslaved.
Verse 36 begins the really difficult section, describing what many other biblical heroes faced. It's a daunting account. The thought of being sawn in two doesn't thrill me too much. But such was the experience of a biblical prophet, whose prophecies of God's judgment angered the people around him. All gained approval through their faith, and did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, that apart from us, they would not be made perfect.
Are We Ready to Count the Cost?
We live in such a spoiled age and spoiled culture. Do we know what really, really hard times are? When first starting out in broadcasting in 1978 and 1979, I made less than $7,000 a year if I remember correctly. We can’t think of living on such meager amounts these days, but even today, that amount would seem like vast wealth to someone living on $100 a month. They live on $100 in some countries overseas. Even less.
Would we be willing to endure substantially more hardship for our faith? Would we be tempted to give up? Or would we look ahead to the promise ahead, in faith, that something better was waiting for us?
Hebrews 12 begins with the great cloud of witnesses, and then begins discussing the Lord and His example. People often like to describe this passage as a crowd cheering us on, but that’s not exactly what's intended in the text, especially when looking at the Greek. The word “witnesses” is the origin of the English word “martyr” and means “testifiers or witnesses.” They are testimonies to God’s faithfulness and the power of faith. They are examples to inspire us.
Are we ready to run and finish our race with endurance? Short sprints don’t require much in the way of endurance. This is a marathon run. We need to avoid encumbrances and entanglements. Sin entangles us very easily. We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. He also had a finish line, a goal that was set before Him. Remember what He said in Luke 12:50 . . . I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished.” But he had joy set before him also. When I am in distress, it’s hard for me to even think about joy, much less feel it But the Lord had such joy before Him, even contemplating that joy while enduring the agony of the cross.
I love how it says that Jesus was "despising the shame." Suffering is humiliating. When you think about the level of barbarity mankind is capable of, how would we react to humiliation? Our American heritage and/or attitude is to draw the sword and charge, and to demand our rights. We fought a revolution to prove it. Is it within our psyche to humbly submit to brutality?
Yet we had the Creator of the universe willing to absorb great brutality at the hands of His creation. If He had desired, He could have instantaneously vaporized those who were whipping him, plucking out his beard and nailing him to a cross. In Matthew 26:53, Jesus reminded His disciples He could call for 12 legions of angels. If He did, I don’t think the Temple guards or the Roman garrison would have been able to do much about it. But He didn’t call for the legions of angels. He humbly laid down his pride and His crown, and endured for our sakes. He is our example.
We are to consider Him, so that we do not grow weary and lose heart. We have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in our striving against sin. We often tend to spiritualize that passage, but I think in the immediate context it is talking about striving against sinful men. The people who were reading Hebrews at the time had suffered persecution and loss of possessions, but had not yet had to die for the faith.
Immediately after these passages, the writer of Hebrews begins talking about the discipline of the Lord. Verse 10 says that He disciplines us for the purpose of sharing His holiness. Fire purifies. Verse 14 talks about pursuing peace with all men, but it also talks about pursuing sanctification. James 1:2 says to consider it all joy when we face trials, a similar point to what is found in 1 Peter 1:5-9. Same exact thoughts as in our Hebrews passages.
Are We Like Esau?
I see a lot of potential Esaus in our culture. Esau thought of his creature comforts more than he thought of his birthright and blessing. If Esau could sell his birthright down the river because he wanted a bowl of soup, would Esau have been able to withstand much more severe deprivations? Would it have yielded fruit in him? His repentance was not sincere and of the heart. He only regretted his loss, not his actions.
In our churches today, how easily we seem willing to sell doctrinal truth down the river without any persecution at all. These are the ones who will not have any foundation on which to stand when and if severe hard times hit us here. The promises of God in His Word, including all the great truths of Scripture and the principles of holy, righteous living, are our treasures in advance of our final treasure. Will we sell out our birthright, paid for with Christ’s own blood, for a little popularity and the approval of our fellow man?
I hope not. Instead, I hope and pray that we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (2 Timothy 1:12)