By faith they crossed the Red Sea as if they were on dry land, but when the Egyptians tried it, they were drowned. 30 By faith Jericho’s walls fell after the people marched around them for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute wasn’t killed with the disobedient because she welcomed the spies in peace. 32 What more can I say? I would run out of time if I told you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. 33 Through faith they conquered kingdoms, brought about justice, realized promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 put out raging fires, escaped from the edge of the sword, found strength in weakness, were mighty in war, and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured and refused to be released so they could gain a better resurrection.
36 But others experienced public shame by being taunted and whipped; they were even put in chains and in prison. 37 They were stoned to death, they were cut in two, and they died by being murdered with swords. They went around wearing the skins of sheep and goats, needy, oppressed, and mistreated. 38 The world didn’t deserve them. They wandered around in deserts, mountains, caves, and holes in the ground.
39 All these people didn’t receive what was promised, though they were given approval for their faith. 40 God provided something better for us so they wouldn’t be made perfect without us.
Let’s also run the race
12 So then, with endurance, let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, 2 and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him, and sat down at the right side of God’s throne.
Have you ever been tired – worn down by life – not sure you can keep up the pace?
Hebrews is basically a sermon by “the Preacher” to a tired people. We don’t know much about the people “the Preacher” had in mind, but they were most likely predominantly Jews. We are not even certain about who “the Preacher” is. But we do know it is a powerful sermon deep with theology, intended to strengthen weary people.
The Preacher begins by reminding the people that “God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways.” [Heb. 1:1] When we intersect the sermon now at chapter 11 he begins with a definition of faith and introduces the theme, “…by faith…”.
At this point in the “sermon” the Preacher moves from how generations heard God to how generations have responded to God’s speaking. Chapter 11 is “Faith’s Hall of Heroes.”
By way of a summary of what precedes Chapter 11 verse 29 – Verses 4-7 speaks about those who were righteous (not that these only were righteous, just examples of some of the many righteous) – Abel, Enoch and Noah. For instance we recognize the story on Noah. The reason God instructed Noah on how to survive the flood was because “Noah was righteous man in his generation.” [Genesis 6:9 NRSV]
Ten in verses 8-16 the Preacher calls out those who journeyed obediently in faith – Abraham & Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. [Genesis 12:1, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”]
Next, in verses 17-28 the highlight is those who were tested by suffering – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. Recall that in chapter 22 of Genesis Abraham was called on to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Imagine the suffering her went through until God provided the ram!
Then, in our section, verses 29-38 there is a series of additional heroes. You can tell that the Preacher is ramping up to something big. In verse 32 he says, “What more can I say? I would run out of time if I told you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets.” All these are an encouragement for us. We might add Lewis C. Thompson, the first Methodist pastor of this church in 1897. It is reported that he traveled in excess of 4000 mile a year on the Big Horn Basin Circuit. To that we could add Ira McConaughy who was the first Presbyterian pastor here in Thermopolis. And to that a myriad of others who created Community Federated Church, and have sustained it through all these years.
Here is where things get interesting. The Preacher pauses, and then says, “All these people didn’t receive what was promised, though they were given approval for their faith. 40 God provided something better for us so they wouldn’t be made perfect without us.” This is reminiscent of 11:13, “All these people died in faith without receiving the promises, but they saw the promises at a distance and welcomed them.”
They didn’t receive what was promised, but God provided something better. “Better” is a theme in Hebrews. In Hebrews 1:2 the Preacher says, “In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him.” Then throughout Hebrews that theme of “better” is developed. Jesus is better than angels – 1:4; it is a better covenant in Jesus Christ, 7:22; These are better promises, 8:6; Jesus sacrifice is a better sacrifice in 9:23; in Jesus there is a better inheritance from 10:34. Do you catch the theme? All is better with Christ, and this become a wonderful encouragement for the tired and worn down. [Slide- The Chain of Faith – Thomas Long] The Preacher has drawn an amazing word picture of a great cord of faith extending from the beginning of human history all the way to the heavenly sanctuary in the City of God where the cord has been secured and anchored by Jesus. Listen to Hebrews 6:19-20 – “This hope, which is a safe and secure anchor for our whole being, enters the sanctuary behind the curtain. 20 That’s where Jesus went in advance and entered for us, … .” What he is doing at this point is including us in that great chain of faith – that great cord stretched all the way to heaven.
We are a part of that great line! We, who may be tired, are blessed by a recital of the faithful, and now encouraged to renew our acceptance of the invitation to rejoice. The Preacher turns to a “race image”. It is Interesting that to the tired he speaks in a race image! But it makes sense! [Slide: Stepping up to the Cord] What did it mean for us to take hold of the cord in the first place? It was a commitment to Jesus, a commitment to listen, to righteousness, to follow, to suffer, all for our faith. We are to run with endurance. We need to dump extra baggage (sin and all that would hinder our journey of faith), and we are to fix our eyes on Jesus. Jesus authored our faith, breathes life into our faith, and invites us on the journey of faith. If Jesus did all this for us, we can do all that is necessary for Jesus, for we do not run alone! We are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses”, past and present. We see faith in each other. We take encouragement from each other.
But, there is one more logical movement we must take. We become part of the great cloud of witnesses for God and for all those who will come after us.
Carl Allen quoted a song as the title of the history of our church published in August 2001: The song was, “Find Us Faithful”. The chorus goes like this: “Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful. May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe, and the lives we lead inspire them to obey. Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.” [Slide: Helping Hands] We are a part of the “great cloud of witnesses.” What does it take to make ready to receive others into that great line, great cloud of witnesses? We have to make room! Having just come through Denver and Kansas City we were confronted with traffic. Along the way we discovered that many close the gap in heavy traffic so you can’t get in. Whether merging or just changing lanes it can be a real challenge. We are truly blessed in Wyoming. Drivers seem to hold back to let you in, or move over to let you in. That said, churches have been known to close the gap on occasion in order to keep things just as they are. After all, the more people we include, the more things are art to change. Yet we are called to the line of faithful generations inviting others into faith. We can better do that by backing off a little in order to invite another in. It is making room for them in our pew. It is inviting them into the ministries that ware going on. It is sharing our ideas and listening to their ideas. Now, this doesn’t mean that we are pulling to the side of the road and ending our drive. It is working alongside each other. It also isn’t leaving a gap with no one to fill it. It is, like the Preacher in Hebrews: point to the line, make space in the line, and invite another to take hold of the cord alongside us.
I recently read a great image. There was a football program that acquired an amazing quarterback. He was a leader and he was so amazing. The coaches ultimately tailored the program to this amazing quarterback. He was the key to everything. Another season started and the program was wonderfully successful for the first five games. In the sixth game the quarterback was seriously injured, a career ending injury. The team literally fell apart. Without their star the rest didn’t know how to function. Everything had depended on him.
In the church, we are all a part of the team. While many may bring amazing gifts, we all are necessary to minister for Jesus Christ. How tight in your hold on the great cord of faith? Are you expecting other to join you? Let us all be witnesses in the great cloud of witnesses so that God’s church will flourish for generations to come.
Pastor Paul Grossman