So - you think you've had a bad day?! Check out these last words in Hebrews 11! Things are not always easy for the "hall of faithers." Sawn asunder? Stoned? Destitute? Afflicted? Ill-treated? Yeah!! That's what I want. Here is the sadist's dream! Yet here is the reality, at times - oft times throughout history - for the people of faith.
Peter reminds us "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange things were happening to you..." Paul reminds Timothy "and indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Our Lord Jesus, Himself, tells his disciples "in the world you will have trouble, but take courage; I have overcome the world."
Theses verses stand soberingly well on there own. There's just not need for much comment. However, as you read them let the three main dividing points catch your eye. Take note of:
1). The mighty acts that were done as a result of their faith (vs 33-34): they "conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight."
Friends, please note that there is MUCH opposition to true godliness in this world. The faithful are enlisted in an army - we are soldiers of the cross - and at times we are at "war" with kings and kingdoms. In times past there have been entire governments opposing the message of Christ, some still do, and others yet will until the day when He finally and fully puts all of His enemies under His feet. Faith is able to "conquer kingdoms". May we be faithful citizens in the land of our earthly abode, ever recognizing that our greater citizenship is in heaven.
As was the case for Daniel, faith is also able to "shut the mouth of lions." Mr. Henry, commenting on the power of faith that is held forth in 33-34 writes: "Faith engages the power of God for His people, whenever it shall be for His glory, to overcome brute beasts and brutish men."
Of course all of these mighty victories fall under the sovereign and wise counsel of Almighty God. While kingdoms have been conquered, lion's mouths have been shut, fires have been quenched and swords have been escaped. In God's greater purposes our outward physical victory is not always the greatest victory. That brings us to the second part of this section:
2) The many hardships suffered because of their faith (vs 35-38). "Others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground."
Multitudes have suffered. Many have been martyred and "the world was not worthy" of those who have! Our brothers and sisters have suffered physical pain and emotional anguish. They have faced much mocking, have been the victims of verbal abuse and have seen destruction of their reputation by the lying tongues of the wicked. Some have been treated in a most inhumane and cruel fashion. They have been terrorized, demonized, and ostracized. Yet, they have continued to walk by faith, not recanting, not relenting, pressing forward with their eyes to the prize!
Henry writes: "Such sufferings as these they endured then for their faith; and such they endured through the power of the grace of faith; and which shall we most admire, the wickedness of human nature, or the excellency of divine grace, that is able to bear up the faithful under such cruelties, and to carry them safely through all?"
Our response to suffering is a great aid to us in our endeavors at evangelism. When the Christian is cut, the way in which he bleeds will say more than all the sermons espoused during the good times.
3) The eternal reward for their faith (vs 39-40). "And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect."
If we stop short with verse 39 we can find ourselves discouraged. "Wait a minute! They suffered all of these things and didn't receive what was promised?!?!" Oh, but read on to verse 40. They did not receive an earthly inheritance - because the ultimate fulfillment of the promise of God is not for this land but for the next. "God had provided SOMETHING BETTER...."
Friends, what are we looking for - earthly treasures or heavenly? Fading gems or eternal ones? As for me, by faith, I am looking toward the city of God and know that on the day of my arrival in that place I shall "obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away." (1 Peter 1:4).
May the God who is the author of our faith increase our faith that we might serve Him mightily in this land of our sojourn. May we be willing to suffer and die for Him, even as He suffered and died for us. And may our gaze always be fixed on the Celestial City where our faith will be made sight!
In His glorious grace,