This is now the 12th week that we have spent in Hebrews 11, which is an all-time record around here for just one chapter! Today we will be finishing it up, albeit at the expense of spending any significant amount of time on the personalities that these final nine verses draw attention to.
Remember that the author has been encouraging the Hebrews to persevere in faith, not to give up on their Christianity because of either trials and persecutions or their homesickness for the Judaism they'd grown up with.
He has told them to hold fast without wavering, not to shrink back, but to endure in their faith. To assist them, he first defined faith and then gave them bunches of Old Testament examples of people that persevered in faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses' parents, Moses, the Israelites, and Rahab. No doubt he could go on and on with more examples if he had the time, which is where we find ourselves in verse 32...
Because his audience knew the history, it was easy for him to rattle off names, knowing that they would know of whom he spoke:
Gideon, a frightened man who was called by God to deliver Israel from the hand of the Midianites with only 300 men (Judges 6-7).
Barak, another frightened man that the Lord was calling - this time to deliver Israel from the king of the Canaanites (Judges 4-5).
Samson, a man who was disobedient and carnal for most of his life, but in his final hours grew in faith (Judges 13-16).
Jephthah, a man who'd run away from his brothers early in life, but who was raised up as a leader against the Ammonites (Judges 11-12).
David, a man who sometimes gave into his fleshly desires, but was overall a man of great faith, trusting in the Lord to fight a giant in his youth and rely on the Lord when all was going wrong.
Samuel, a man who was called of God to rebuke the priests, the people, and even the king (1 & 2Samuel).
The rest of the prophets had similar ministries. Regular men whose only way to endure opposition, humiliation, and persecution was their faith in God. But because they had faith, they did amazing things, incredible feats...
By faith, many of the men that God called to lead His people conquered kingdoms. Others who put their faith in the Lord found the ability to perform acts of righteousness. Other faithful people written about in the Scriptures obtained promises from the Lord through their faith.
Daniel prayed to the Lord in spite of the law that had been passed making such an act illegal. When he was cast into the lions' den as a death sentence, he survived the night because God was with him - the lions' mouths were shut (Daniel 6).
When the king of Babylon insisted that his image be worshiped, the faith of Shad-RAK, May-SHAK, and Ab-ADE Neg-O made them refuse to worship it. They were cast into the midst of a blazing, fiery furnace. And yet, because God was with them, they walked about in the midst of fire without their hair or clothes being burned or even smelling like smoke (Daniel 3).
By faith, people escaped attempts on their lives. Weak and frightened men were made bold and strong, becoming mighty in war, and putting foreign armies to flight.
Faith has amazing effects on people - it transforms them, enabling them to take a stand against all odds. That's because...
2Tim. 1:7 ...God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
A noticeable attribute among people of real faith is boldness: Boldness to share the gospel, to speak the Word, to stand firm against opposition.
In our study of the book of 2Kings, we learned of a Shunammite woman whose son complained of a pain in his head. Within a few hours, he lay dead in his mother's lap. By faith, the woman went to Elisha the prophet. Elisha raised the boy from the dead (2Kings 4:27-44).
This is a good measure of where your faith is at: when disaster hits your life, to whom do you turn? Do you run to the people of the world, or do you run to the people of God?
The Bible never tries to hide the fact that life is full of suffering and pain, tears and turmoil, difficulties and obstacles, sicknesses and death.
It is unfortunate that much of the so-called "gospel" that is proclaimed nowadays tries to convince people that by becoming a person of faith, you can avoid all of life's difficulties. "The man with faith will never be sick, only healthy! The woman of faith will never be poor, only rich! The person with enough faith will experience only blessings, and no problems!"
It sounds like a good deal, but it is far from the truth. As a matter of fact, the Bible says,
2Tim. 3:12 And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
John 16:33 "...In the world you have tribulation..."
And this list tells us that great men and women who had faith in God were tortured, mocked, scourged, chained, imprisoned, etc.
How does this encourage us to be people of faith? Why would this make me want to endure if God is going to allow this sort of stuff to happen to me?
Frankly, if this world is all there is, then I wouldn't want any part of faith. If this life is the only one I get, I want to have fun and do what I please. As Paul told the Corinthians,
1Cor. 15:32 ...If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.
But the dead are raised. The fact is, this life is only a vapor, a millisecond, compared to eternity. So I walk by faith in this life to secure a reward in eternity. Notice that verse 35 says,
Hebr. 11:35 ...others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection
You see, many people of faith have been presented with choices. "Forsake your God, and we will release you. Worship our false god and you will be given a position of prominence." If there were no life beyond this one, they would be foolish not to jump at the opportunity. But they refused, because they wanted to make sure their eternity was better.
Are you running away from difficulties, taking the easy way out? You're only ripping yourself off of eternal blessings.
The author is not saying that those who did not receive what was promised somehow missed out on God's blessings. Just because some of them died while being tortured, some lost their kingdoms, and some didn't see fulfillment of prophecies while they were alive doesn't mean they failed or got ripped off by God.
You see, all of these people of faith entered the afterlife with great reward. But it was not until us, the age of the church, that the work was completed. It was not until Christ's work on the cross that perfection of true sinlessness was attained.
The Bible shows us that before the cross, those people who were counted righteous by faith went to Paradise. But although Paradise was a place of comfort (Luke 16:25), it was not in heaven, it was in the center of the earth, across a large chasm from Hades, the place of fire and torment (Luke 16:23-24).
It was not until Christ was crucified that the sins of those faithful were paid for. It was then that he led those Old Testament saints to heaven, giving them the true gift of resurrection into eternal life (Eph. 4:8).
They had finally received the promise of salvation by faith, of eternal life. We, in the church age, live under a better promise than they had. For today, we do not have to look forward, waiting for an event which has not happened. We look back at the finished work of the cross, when the Son of God took the death penalty of all our sins upon Himself, dying in our place.