Wherever evil and injustice reign, God’s people must stand strong and trust the Almighty One. They must be faithful to their convictions, choose suffering with the poor over enjoying the rewards of self-indulgence, and be willing to lead captives to freedom when God says it is time to go. When the path leads to persecution and even death, they must trust the Lord to keep his promise of ultimate justice.
Hebrews 11 reminds us that Moses was not afraid of the king of Egypt. He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it better to suffer for the sake of the promised Messiah — and kept his heart focused on the great reward God would give him and his children. (vv.25-27)
The suffering of God’s faithful ones did not end, however, when they summoned the courage to leave Egypt. Those who trusted God were tortured, mocked, and their backs were cut open with whips. They were chained in dungeons, died by stoning, were sawed in half, and were killed with the sword. They chose to face death, rather than turn from God and be “free.” Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, hungry and oppressed and mistreated. They wandered over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. (vv.34-38)
Yet, thankfully, that is not the end of the story. Hebrews 11 also says the weakness of God’s faithful ones was turned to strength. They placed their hope in God’s promise of a better life and became strong in battle, putting whole armies to flight. In the end, they received God’s approval because of their faith — yet none of them received all God had promised.
We will reminisce today about the heroes of 9/11 … courageous airline passengers who fought back and sacrificed their own lives to save a multitude of others, brave first responders who risked their lives to rescue souls from the towering inferno. We also will do well to meditate today on the heroes of Hebrews 11. Like them, many of us will not receive in our lifetimes all God has promised.
The world’s path is a broad, heavily traveled highway to destruction, while God’s way is narrow, difficult, and lonely. Because the world demands rebellion against God, God’s people inevitably are outcasts who must summon the courage to stand on conviction, suffer with the poor, and fight for justice. When the Lord directs, they must be willing to leave the land of abundance for the wilderness path to the Land of Promise.
The final thought of Hebrews 11 is perhaps the most compelling of all: The faithful race-winners who have gone before us can’t receive their prizes until we finish the race ourselves. (v.40) The path of faithfulness before you is certain to be very difficult, but you must press on — you dare not turn back. The great cloud of witnesses is cheering you on because your every faithful stride brings them another step closer to joyfully seeing God fulfill his promise.
They were too good for this world. We must be as well.