How much of the World Cup did you watch? It was great, wasn’t it? A celebration of football. The only truly WORLD game. A celebration of elite athletes – super-fit, breathtaking skills with the football, amazing speed.
Some of the Socceroos spent their whole life building and training and playing for that moment. And they had the chance to achieve something amazing. With the weight of expectation of the whole country on their shoulders.
Many left Australia as teenagers. And have spent the last decade or more making sacrifices for this goal. Moving families to new countries. Forgoing a nice climate, or a proper education. Putting up with disappointments, injuries, operations, painful recuperations.
It’s a well-used expression. But it’s true. NO PAIN, NO GAIN.
It’s true in soccer, and it’s true IN MUCH OF LIFE. And most of the time, it’s true in THE CHRISTIAN LIFE too.
And it’s the message Hebrews has for these Jewish Christians. Over these past few sermons we’ve seen that they’re at the point of throwing in the towel. Of giving up. Of just sitting back on the lounge with their feet up on the coffee table. Because they’ve discovered being Christian isn’t quite the easy ride they expected. There’s PAIN involved. And lots of it.
But the message is/ NO PAIN, NO GAIN.
Faith is setting your eyes over the horizon
Ultimately, what it means/ is they’ve MISUNDERSTOOD THE NATURE OF FAITH. They’d thought faith was THE GUARANTEE OF A PAIN-FREE PRESENT. Instead of what IT IS. A confident focus on the future GAINS / that come AFTER THE PAIN. Setting your eyes OVER THE HORIZON.
We’re looking at Ch 11 today, but just cast a glance back to the end of Ch 10. Because it sets the scene.
In verse 35, there’s the direct appeal. Don’t throw away your confidence. Keep going. Persevere. Don’t shrink back. Live by FAITH. And v39
39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who BELIEVE (who HAVE FAITH) and are saved.
And then, in Ch 11, we see what that sort of faith LOOKS LIKE. What it MEANS to NOT SHRINK BACK. In a way a very simple chapter that traces through the Old Testament story from Genesis chapter 1. With a long list of examples. And time after time makes the same point.
So often these days, we’re sold the lie that faith is kind of a LEVERAGE you get over God. That if you’ve got ENOUGH of it, God will deliver what you want. And deliver it NOW.
That the key to success in your business, that the key to prosperity and health, it’s faith. Which I gather/ in that definition/ means you WISH REALLY HARD FOR SOMETHING. Or NAME IT AND CLAIM IT. And if you do it RIGHT, you’ll get it NOW.
When the reality is, faith at every point and in every example/ is about SETTING YOUR EYES OVER THE HORIZON. On the goal that’s still out of sight. Faith is about LOOKING FORWARD. To the UNSEEN. With a kind of confidence that keeps you on track. And keeps you going. Because ultimately, you’re going to trust in the promises of God.
Hebrews 11 – The Faith Hall of Fame
So as we come to chapter 11, there’s a long list of examples of exactly that kind of faith.
Which is defined in verse 1. Faith hopes confidently… and looks with certainty… BEYOND THE HORIZON. To what we CAN’T YET SEE.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
And here comes the list. Run your eye through the chapter and you’ll see those words “by faith” recurring as a refrain. Again and again. 22 times, in fact.
All to do with A CERTAINTY IN WHAT CAN’T BE SEEN. Confident in the power of God to do what he promised. A confidence based, in verse 3, on the fact that for a God who can speak a universe into being, everything else is easy. He’s made everything that can be seen out of the invisible. So why not trust him for the other stuff you can’t yet see?
And so the list. The faith hall of fame. Abel, verse 4; the son of Adam and Eve in Genesis 4 who God counted righteous because of his faith. Enoch, verse 5. Likewise, commended for pleasing God. Which is impossible without faith.
Noah, verse 7. Even though he can’t even SEE A CLOUD IN THE SKY, starts building the boat. Because God says. “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.”
And Abraham. Verse 8, even though God doesn’t say where he’s going, even though he can’t see the destination; starts out on the journey. Genesis 12, God says, leave your father’s house in Ur, and go where I tell you.
And he was prepared to live in a tent like a tourist; because at every point, verse 10, he was looking forward.
“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
And you know what? If they were looking for a quick fix, if they were looking for INSTANT RESULTS, none of them got it. They had THE FAITH, but they never SAW what they’d been promised. V13.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. THEY DIDN’T RECEIVE THE THINGS PROMISED; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
These heroes of faith were still looking forward. Right to their last breath. Because they were looking for something better than a bit of Palestinian real estate. They were looking for something more than the good things of THIS LIFE.
See, if it’s earthly stuff he wants, Abraham can just head back home. But ultimately, God has bigger plans. V16.
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.
Because they were trusting the INVISIBLE God. The God OUTSIDE creation and time and space. A God who’d promised them a city. They were longing for God’s city. And so they treated THIS PLANET as a stop-over. A temporary residency until they could GO HOME.
And they won’t be disappointed.
And on it goes. Isaac, verse 20. And Jacob. Passing on the blessing of God’s future promise. Joseph, verse 22, confident in the future.
Moses, verse 24, If you read his story in Exodus sometime, he could have had a life of luxury in the Pharaoh’s court. But chooses to be mistreated with the people of God instead. Rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time, he takes THE LONG VIEW. And is prepared to put up with the PAIN. Because of the GAIN. The gain that comes from being counted as part of the people of God.
There’s an obvious message there, isn’t there, for these Hebrew Christians who are so tempted to just blend back in. And stop standing with their Christian friends who are suffering. Who are so tempted to put material things ahead of their faithfulness. Their comforts ahead of the challenges.
Well, look at Moses for a minute. Verse 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. 27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.
And verse 28 and 29, stands against the power of Egypt; and does exactly what God tells him to do. Until by faith the walls of Jericho fall in a miraculous way, verse 30. And even Rahab the gentile prostitute, by faith and against all the odds… throws her lot in with the people of God.
That’s a summary of about half the Old Testament already. And verse 32, there’s an summary of a whole lot more.
Some of the great victories of faith. But BALANCED WITH SOMETHING ELSE. Those who DIED for their faith AS WELL.
See, the Old Testament tells the stories of SOME GREAT ESCAPES. The lions mouth’s shut; the flames that don’t burn. Twice in the Old Testament, widows who received their kids back to life again.
(slowly) But OTHER CASES, in verse 35, something different. Of those who’d rather DIE than be unfaithful. Because they had their eyes on what was up ahead. A better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging. While still others, verse 36, were chained, put in prison, stoned, sawed in two, put to death by the sword.
They were JUST AS FAITHFUL as THOSE WHO WERE SPARED.
Do you see? It’s not as if faith guarantees one outcome over the other. But that NO MATTER WHICH WAY IT GOES, faith keeps CONFIDENTLY LOOKING FORWARD.
We sometimes think our testimony needs to be a VICTORIOUS one to be encouraging. A story of God’s RESCUE, or TRIUMPH, or empowering presence. Of things turning out alright in the end.
But it can be JUST as encouraging to hear of how someone’s stuck it out through terrible trials. Like Diane’s going through with her mum, or Ross is going through with his divorce.
Or like Kirk and Lisa Patston. Some of you know them. Kirk was the minister at Presbyterian Church at Swansea. He and Lisa were having a wonderful ministry there. Both wonderfully gifted by God. The church was growing. Showing signs of success. If THAT had been their story for the next fifteen years/ it would have been a great witness to God.
But their first son was born with some severe medical difficulties. SO difficult they had to give up pastoral ministry. And then Kirk began teaching at SMBC. And then when Lisa was pregnant with their third child, they discovered the baby had such severe medical problems, it wouldn’t live more than a few days.
It would be enough to make many people give up on God. Or at least give up on the marriage. Plenty of people before them have done just that.
But they’ve somehow kept life together. And are still faithfully following Jesus. And still encouraging others to do the same.
Faith that looks BEYOND the present. Over the horizon. To the future. Their story and example are a GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT to me.
Whether good or bad comes your way in life. Faith looks to the FUTURE. That’s the point. After the pain, comes the gain. Verse 39:
These were ALL commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. GOD HAD PLANNED SOMETHING BETTER FOR US SO THAT ONLY TOGETHER WITH US WOULD THEY BE MADE PERFECT.
Faith takes THE LONG TERM VIEW. It looks past today, or next week, or even next year. And looks to the NEXT LIFE. The REAL long-term view sees God’s ETERNAL plan as the important thing.
Keep Running… (12:1-3)
And so we come to the end of Ch 11. The end of the Hall of Fame. And then we come to the POINT of the whole thing. The LESSON FOR US. “THEREFORE”. Have a look at it there in v1. KEEP RUNNING!
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Follow their example! That’s the point! Run the race with perseverance. Don’t sit on the couch and WATCH them. Get rid of EXCUSES. Remove the obstacles. Cut out the bad food and the poor lifestyle. Start running!
It might be SIN that’s holding you back. Habits you can’t break. Thoughts, actions, and ways of dealing with life that are unhealthy, and black. That are a cancerous growth just eating into your heart for Jesus.
But it’s also ANYTHING that hinders. They may not necessarily be sin. Like the weeds in the parable of the sower. The cares of this world can choke our spiritual life. It might be finances, or the kids’ education, or saving for retirement. Or concern over your employment future. It might be a desire to be married, or a desire NOT to be married.
And Christianity just doesn’t seem so important anymore.
Get rid of it. Throw it off. Cast it aside. And run with perseverance. Run like Peter Robertson. Run like Diane. Run like Ross. Run like Kirk and Lisa Patston.
Run like Jesus.
Because it’s not just the saints of the past we’re to imitate. It’s Jesus himself. Have a look at v2. Jesus is the real focal point of faith. The great reminder that faith doesn’t mean a pain free ride.
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary… and lose heart.”
Keep at it. Copy Jesus.
And more than that. CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE on the tough times. Rather than think that God was being vindictive, or couldn’t care less about you. Think of there being A PURPOSE behind it.
It would be easy to think, wouldn’t it, that having your business go under or losing your job, it would be easy to think that having your whole office sniggering behind your back at the fact you’re a Christian, it would be easy to think stuff like that means God isn’t INTERESTED. Or is ANGRY with you. That God wouldn’t let that stuff happen to you… if he loved you.
But here’s a thought. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s the sort of PAIN THAT LEADS TO GAIN. Maybe it’s TRAINING. Maybe it’s actually discipline. To teach you what REALLY matters. And maybe that discipline is not a sign of God’s DISINTEREST at all. But his LOVE.
What if your illness, or unemployment, or loss, or struggle was actually DESIGNED by God to TRAIN you? To PROTECT you. To GROW you?
See, that’s the sad thing; parents who don’t discipline their kids are saying they don’t care. There’s a quote from Proverbs in verse 5 and 6. Which is a reminder that the Lord’s discipline is actually a sign of his love. And so verse 7 says, instead of throwing in the towel, keep going.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? In fact, If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.
Tough times are for your ultimate good. Verse 10 says,
“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
In other words, no pain… no gain.
So stop complaining, verse 12. STRENGTHEN YOUR FEEBLE ARMS AND WEAK KNEES. Get off the couch. Stop moping around. And get on with it. REJOICE at the tough times. Because it’s making you stronger. James 1 says to consider trials as PURE JOY. Because there’s GAIN to be had through the PAIN.
It’s hard, isn’t it? To keep going. Even if you’re not being marginalised or persecuted. Even without the threat of your house being confiscated and the possibility of prison.
Maybe in your situation, it’s hard just being here this morning. Getting out of bed, persuading the family; hard just keeping on as a Christian because there are so many good reasons not to be. Maybe you’re just tired.
Maybe you’re so caught up in the treadmill of making yourself comfortable in this life that it’s almost like that’s all you’ve got time for.
Maybe you just feel distant from God, emotionally unsatisfied; you’re thinking there’s got to be something more. Or you’re disappointed with how life’s turning out.
See, faith doesn’t promise to fix that. Faith says to keep looking beyond it. Faith says, I’m not going to find my satisfaction here… which is exactly why I need to keep trusting Jesus and pressing forward.
I’m not going to find my security here no matter how big my house; I’m not going to find my satisfaction here no matter how bright my career. As I switch off the office light and head home on retiring day I’ll still come home empty.
So I need to follow the example of the past. And cheerfully press on. Because there are better and lasting things up ahead.