IF you grew up attending church, did you have a favorite Bible story as a kid? Or even today, is there one person in the Bible whose story still captivates you?
I’ve been developing group Bible studies for 28 years. During that time, I’ve outlined somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 Bible studies, and the ones we receive the most positive comments on are those studies that focus on specific well-loved individuals in Scripture: people like Abraham, Joseph, Joshua, David, and Daniel. It’s easy to understand why. These individuals faced an incredible challenge, yet they trusted God and came through victorious. We’re inspired by such stories—and we should be. They give us both hope and encouragement. As Paul told us:
“For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures” (Rom. 15:4).
No chapter in the Bible captures this better than Hebrews 11—a chapter commonly referred to as the Hall of Faith. The writer gave up brief snippets of many of our heroes of the faith. Why? To instill hope and encouragement. The writer was addressing Christians who were struggling in their walk with Christ. Difficulties, ostracism, and even persecution were tempting these Jewish believers to revert back to their old way of live in Judaism. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the writer showed them how Jesus was superior to everything the Jewish people held dear. It’s not that these things were bad, but Jesus is far better. And with that, he called the people to trust God no matter what. Live like the people in Hebrews 11 who lived by faith and were victorious.
Yes, Hebrews 11 gives us wonderful stories of faith and victory. Even when he was running out of time, the writer said, “And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight” (Heb. 11:32-34).
But the writer didn’t stop there—although that is where we usually stop. Up to this point, the writer has given us specific names, and we can recall the stories of their victorious faith. But the writer went on to mention others whose experiences don’t seem victorious at all.
“Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground” (vv. 35-38).
It’s harder to relish those stories—and it’s harder to retell them. I remember as a young kid learning about David and Goliath, but I don’t remember any flannelgraph presentations of someone being sawed in two.
Yet here’s the writer of Hebrews lifting up these anonymous men and women as examples of people who lived by faith. But where was the victory in their faith? The answer is in the closing verses of Hebrews 11.
“All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us” (vv. 39-40).
Let’s keep before us why the writer was saying all this. It was for our encouragement. We may face the frustration of a hard day at work, the harassment of an obnoxious neighbor, or the unwelcome test results from a doctor, but God is still God. And you are still His. Keep your eyes on Him. He will see you through.
We live in the here and now. We live in a world of instant gratification, and we prefer instant victory. But these men and women saw the big picture. It didn’t matter what the world threw at them, and it didn’t matter that there was no instant payoff or victory. Victory was still coming. By faith, they knew God was providing them something far better.
We need not fear death. We need not fear the uncertainties of the economy. As bad as this life may get, it is not all there is. God has something far greater waiting for His children. This life is but a moment, but an eternal life free from all harm, pain, and sin awaits us when we maintain a confident trust in Christ.
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