“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”[a] For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance,obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she[b]considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 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. 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.
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[c] 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.[d]
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;[e] 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. – Hebrews Chapter 11 NIV
In my daily reading I have come up to Hebrews 11 – known as Gods Hall of Faith. It is a glorious recalling of the great examples of how faith is to look… the shining stars that drew God’s mention because they made decisions that would follow him above all else. I have always loved this chapter, and found inspiration from their examples.
The words “By faith” appear in this chapter 18 times…. Pointing us to clear glimpses of how people lived out their lives in obedience to God, following him even when they did not see physical reason to do so. I took the liberty to underline each appearance of the phrase, and then highlighted in green print who this “by faith” referred to. Powerful glimpses of mighty events in history…. and of patriarchs of our faith… people who made the decision to obey, and in doing so became examples for us to follow. Encouraging stuff.
But the one thing few people speak of are the last verses of the chapter beginning at verse 32. These are hard stories… challenging things that don’t seem to have the glamour and glitz of Abraham, or Noah, or Rahab. These are stories of people who are not named, who saw the power of God transform their lives, and their world. These are people who suffered for their obedience, or had little, lived in poor situations, were persecuted, and some were tortured and died for their faith. These are the stories that, if we are brutally honest, we fear. We do not like to be crushed, or ostracized, or beaten, deprived of basics of life because of what we believe.
But truth be told, around the world there are countless Christians that are indeed facing this portion of Hebrews 11… bearing daily the weight of their obedience to the Lord. Following at the penalty of death, or torture in mental, financial and physical terms.
The first time I heard this passage preached was in 1988, and i was a new believer. I wept. Emotions ran high with the thought that the price of obeying and following is not always easy, not always popular, and very often will cost more than we realize. I agreed with the person who was speaking on this point – obedience is better than any other option. I would rather obey than compromise. But i must tell you that 26 years later i still shudder at the thought of compromise. And i ask God for the wisdom and strength to do what is right each day.
There are amazing accounts of mighty acts of God moving through his people in those last verses… shutting the mouths of lions and receiving the dead raised to life…. wow. I am thankful i have never come face to face with a lion – fierce, large claws, extremely muscular strength, mighty voice, powerful set of destructive teeth… easily able to devour a human. So to be able to shut the mouths of lions there was more than strength going on there. Mighty power from God himself, going ahead of the situation. And could you imagine someone returning a body of your loved one, dead – but through prayer the man was brought back to life… alive again. How startling that must have been to everyone who witnessed this… and what new sense of gratitude and life purpose the formerly dead person must have felt – given a second chance.
And then there are those who had their lives taken – beaten, stoned, sawed apart, and so forth. World history tells us about the first century church, and the many who were martyred for their faith, becoming torches for Nero’s garden, or faced off gladiators in the arena where they were quickly killed for sport. And throughout history there are recordings of the death of people for their deep and abiding faith. Sadly, in our modern age there is a wide swath of the world that is aggressively attempting to destroy and kill believers. One christian agency reports more death and martyrs in the 20th and 21st century than all of the previous centuries combined. It is dangerous to be obedient. But the reward is not on this earth… it is eternal.
And the scripture says “the world was not worthy of them.”