Tomorrow we honor and remember those who gave their all to serve our country. After all, we could not live the amazingly blessed lives that we have nor even meet here this morning to worship if it weren’t for their sacrifices. At this time, we’re going to have a moment of silence to remember those who have gone before us followed by a time of prayer for their families and those still actively serving today.
In Hebrews chapter eleven, we learn what faith is and are reminded of all of the great men and women of faith who have gone before us. While we always move forward and onward in our faith, it is important to take time to remember the pioneers of faith. It is from their lives – both successes as well as mistakes – that we can learn how to persevere and finish strongly in life.
1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
In our results-driven culture, faith isn’t something that is often valued. Striving, sacrificing, and working hard are only considered to be worthwhile when we can hold in our hands the fruits of our labor at the end of it all. We consider one only to be successful when something great is obtained in the here and now.
This mentality has seeped into the church as well. A church’s success is often measured in numbers of attendance and income. These are tangible things that are easy to measure, but is a church successful just because it doubles its numbers? If a church quadruples in numbers simply because it is a great social organization doing good things, but the lives of those attending are not transformed by the power of God, then is it really successful?
How does one measure the intangible change that God is doing within the people of a church and the community in which it exists? How does God consider success in a person’s life? What is it that God commends? What does God reward?
Hebrews chapter eleven teaches us that these ancient men and women were commended for their faith. They were sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they could not see. In the eyes of our culture, however, most of them would be considered dismal failures. They would have been considered as ones who wasted their lives. Why? Let’s look at what this same chapter says about the result of their lives.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
Consider Abraham who spent his entire life as a nomad wondering from place to place. He made plenty of mistakes in his lifetime. He tried to force God’s promises to come to pass by his own ability, he nearly murdered his own son, he gave permission for his wife to mistreat her pregnant slave and followed her advice to send her and her son off to die.
God’s promise to him was that he would be the father of many nations, that the land he walked would be his possession for generations to come. God promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. In the end, Abraham had eight children to three different women. God chose only one of those children to inherit that promise. God’s promise was never fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime.
Even when we look at his grandson’s family who became the nation of Israel, we don’t see Abraham being the father of nations. Jacob lead a very divided family with many issues. Jealousy became so severe that his sons nearly murdered his favorite son, Joseph. However, God used that broken family and those twelve sons of Jacob became the tribes and the eventually the great nation of Israel. God took the evil intent and actions of those brothers and used them for good to save that family and many others as well.
By faith, Abraham did eventually become the father of many nations and his descendants are now numerous and countless. However, this was long after he had passed away.
Consider Rahab, who was a prostitute who simply hid a few spies of a nation planning to destroy her own people. God was so impressed with this prostitute’s faith that He not only spared her life, but included her in the bloodline of His own Son, Jesus, and included her name in this list of great men and women of faith.
The mark of great faith is not necessarily to receive every promise of God. The mark of great faith is not necessarily to live a perfect life. Successfully living a life of faith is not measured by the world’s standards of success by any means! Faith is not a result, it is a lifestyle of trust and confidence in what is unseen.
The mark of great faith is trusting God to fulfill His word no matter the obstacles nor how impossible it may seem; even if we breathe our last breath without seeing them come to pass here on the earth. The mark of great faith is never giving up on God and choosing to turn back to Him even when we’ve failed Him. The faith that God commends is the one who is sure of what they hope for and certain of what they do not see.
The greatest faith that someone can express is staying with their spouse who breaks their heart over and over again because they see what God sees in their marriage and won’t give up on it. The greatest faith that someone can express is unconditionally loving a child who continues down the wrong path because they see God’s potential in that child and they won’t give up on them. The greatest faith that someone can express is continuing to work under an unfair supervisor knowing that it is ultimately Jesus that they are serving and their reward from Jesus will far exceed that paycheck. The greatest faith that someone can express is continuing to show love toward someone who claims to be a friend, but lies about them and gives them every reason to hate them because they see the potential in that friend and they won’t give up on them until they become that person that God created them to be.
Of course, that is perhaps the point of faith. Faith is not results-oriented, it is trust-oriented. Faith doesn’t see only the facts. Faith sees beyond the facts to the truth of God’s prophetic potential in everyone and everything. From the world’s perspective, a life of faith may not be considered a successful one. From God’s perspective, it is one that He can’t wait to richly reward!
We know that these people all certainly did receive every promise of God and even more! God’s word, His promises, never failed for these individuals and they will never fail for us. After we’re informed that they were still living by faith when they died, not receiving what was promised, we receive this perspective shift:
14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Their faith was in God and in His promise and they lived in the reality that this earth was not their home. What they truly hoped for and was certain of was the heavenly city that they were travelling toward. That is why Jacob could lean on his staff, bless his children, and choose to worship God with his last breath. He knew that his earthly journey was ending and he was about to take the next step of faith into the reality of every promise of His God. The earthly promises made to Jacob would come to pass, but Jacob was OK to step out of the temporal and into the eternal without experiencing them in his lifetime.
God was not ashamed to be called their god. Isn’t that an awesome reality to think about? God isn’t ashamed of you! God isn’t ashamed to call you His own! Think about the people that this was written about. They didn’t receive the fulfillment His promises. They made many mistakes and some pretty big ones. They didn’t measure up to much in the eyes of the world. God was proud to be called their god, He was not ashamed of them at all. In fact, He was making plans for their ultimate homecoming. This great chapter of remembrance goes on:
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Here again, we see this theme of God’s plan of togetherness. It is amazing to think that God had planned something better that only together with you and I would they be made perfect. When God made His promises to these great men and women of faith, He had in mind you and I who would receive the fulfillment of what they were promised. What they looked forward to, we have received. What they sacrificed so much for, we have been freely given.
After this great chapter of remembrance of all of those who have gone before us, we receive one of the greatest commissions that we could ever receive. In light of all of these great men and women of faith who pioneered a path of faith as they went before us, how ought we live? We don’t want to take their sacrifices lightly and we don’t want to lack appreciation for what we’ve been given. Well, Paul continues writing to explain exactly this.
Now most of us already have these verses memorized in the King James or New International translations of the Bible, so let’s read it this morning afresh from The Message translation.
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
When we start to lose heart, when we feel like giving up, when we feel like we are wasting our time, when we feel like we’re further from God’s promises than when we started this race of faith, look to Jesus. Consider His life. Consider His challenges and difficulties. Also, consider what all of those things earned Him because He faithfully walked in His Father’s will. He was exalted over everything and given authority over all things. At the right time, He was promoted.
Hang in there because your day is coming as well. Faithfully trust in God to somehow make a way where there doesn’t seem to be any other way. When you fall, get back up. When you grow weary, find rest in Jesus so that you can rise up to fight another day. Run the race with perseverance and throw off any sin that would slow you down or entangle you.
Remember that Jesus was tempted to give up, too. However, those words Jesus prayed three times and lived out should still ring through our minds every time we feel that same way.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Don’t give up just before the finish line! Jesus was just days away from the greatest breakthrough of all time, so of course, it was also the days of greatest opposition and frustration. Remember these words of encouragement to press onward and upward!
2 Corinthians 4:13-18
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
It’s going to be worth it. Every sacrifice that we make. Every step of obedience we take. Every time we choose God’s word over our desires. It may go unnoticed by the world, but it is celebrated in Heaven. Remember that it wasn’t the Pharisees generous tithes that Jesus commended, but the widow’s mite. Even the smallest of wins and successes here made in faith are gigantic to Jesus and will not go unrewarded!
Remember those who have gone before us in the faith to pioneer a way for us. Run that race that Jesus has called you to remembering where you are heading. Fix your eyes on Jesus and allow Him to give you that adrenaline shot in your soul to keep up the good work as you run to the place that He is preparing for you!