Hurray! We’ve made it to Chapter 11, one of the most inspiring chapters in the Bible, often referred to as “The Faith Hall of Fame”. I picture this portion like a series of breathtaking peaks, each worthy of a closer look. As we hike through, we’ll take lots of pictures and ponder these ancient true stories. We’re hiking on holy ground, recalling ‘mere mortals’ whose acts of faith pleased God.
The Hebrew writer takes us on a chronological sweep of Old Testament heroes, focusing on men and women whose lives were transformed by faith. All of them walked the earth long before Christ did, with far less evidence of God’s faithfulness than we’ve been given. Take a minute to absorb this. We are so blessed to be alive NOW: even in this desperate, sin-soaked world, we have all of God’s revealed Word, and full knowledge of the gospel—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and all his sacrifice accomplished. Only the glorious details of heaven are hidden from us, simply because we’re incapable of imagining what God has in store for his children.
But we know heaven is so much more than a spruced up version of this world. I wish more Christians would grasp this!
If Biblical history is a tapestry of God’s interactions with His people, we stand far enough away—and on the right side of it—to see the big picture. And though our modern lives might seem light years away from the world inhabited by Abel, Abraham, Moses and others in this roster (whose own stories were separated by generations of change, apostasy, and unbelief), we walk the same earth and face the same struggles. How do we hold onto God in a God-hating world? How do we show that we love Him? What does it mean to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength? And why does this world feel so alien and empty, when it’s the only place we’ve ever known?
Most lessons I’ve heard on Hebrews 11 focus on one thing: the relationship between faith and obedience. Scan the chapter and it’s easy to see: by faith this person acted. They offered, built, went, blessed, chose, marched, fought, welcomed, and endured, all in response to God’s call. Their lives and their eternal destiny changed because they believed—and acted. As James notes, Faith without deeds is dead.
What demonstrates your faith? Apart from going to church, what, in your life, makes you different from your good-hearted, non-Christian neighbor? (Yes, I realize “good-hearted non-Christian” is an oxymoron in view of Romans 3—There is no one righteous, not even one—but you get my point. I’m talking about those nice neighbors who care about social issues and will happily lend you their tools.) I’d say the biggest difference in my life, at this juncture, is trust: I have no anxiety over my future which, from a worldly point of view, should have me frozen in fear and worry.
Hebrews 11:1 gives us a clear definition of faith: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see. This is what God wants from us: an unwavering faith in Who He Is and What He Says. A faith that tackles all the challenges, disappointments, and decisions coming our way. A certainty that God exists, that He is all-powerful, and that how we live—the things we think, do, and say– concern Him. And, as we’ll see in the lives of these faith heroes, a singular hope that what God has in store for us, beyond this life, is exceedingly worth whatever sacrifice and suffering we undergo to get there.
People who think a lot about heaven are often mocked, even by other believers. “Pie in the sky by and by” comes to mind, an expression that ridicules the concept of living for heaven, rather than the here and now. “Too heavenly minded for his own earthly good” is another common putdown. It’s understandable when unbelievers hold these views, especially if they believe life ends at death. But for those who believe in Jesus and eternal life, belittling those who live for heaven reveals a lack of faith. “Being sure of what we hope for” doesn’t refer to hope for worldly gain and fortune, but to our supreme hope: the hope of being with God for eternity.
Against that hope, everything else shrinks in significance.
This is what the ancients were commended for.
Let me ask. How much is this hope is infusing your days?
As I get closer to my own earthly finish line, anticipating heaven gets easier. I still have personal goals and dreams, especially in the writing realm, but whether or not these dreams are realized is up to God. I also hope and pray for others to do well, to find joy and meaning in their lives, but this, too, is ultimately out of my hands. My overriding hope is making it to heaven, and seeing my brothers and sisters in Christ make it, too.
I’m blessed to share life with someone who has often been accused of being too heavenly-minded for his own good. No one I know thinks more about heaven than Henry, my pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by husband. He knows “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him”, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to imagine. And no one I know has more exasperation with small, worldly concepts of heaven—like a heaven where we go fishing and hang out with friends on a new-and-improved earth, several steps up from our current one. Or for “Cloud 9”scenarios, the harps and angels version. Jesus suffered and died for so much more! God’s home—His eternal dwelling place—must be a gazillion times more glorious than any of these earthly imaginings.
If heaven doesn’t excite us—because our concept of spending eternity with God is puny and boring—we have a faith problem. And if our focus is mostly on earthly concerns, how will we find courage to please God in our hardest decisions?
When it comes to asking God for earthly blessings, what can we be sure of? All our temporal requests are subject to God’s will; they may or may not be what He wants for us. But if we’re God’s children, we can be 100% sure of salvation and God’s ultimate gift: eternal life with the Father, Son, and Spirit, in our true spiritual Home.
That, my friends, is our true hope. Upon that hope we rest our lives. Upon that hope we stake our faith!