Please open your Bible for the last time in this series at Hebrews 11. I have enjoyed every step of our journey through this marvelous chapter of the Bible, in which the Holy Spirit teaches us about living by faith.
We’ve seen what faith is: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1).
Faith is as assurance and a conviction. Faith is sure of things we hope for because they have been promised by God. Faith is convinced of things we cannot see because they have been revealed by God.
Faith believes what God has revealed and trusts what God has promised.
Hebrews 11 shows us what faith looks like through a series of examples: Each of them highlights a distinct aspect of faith, and we have seen that: Faith listens to God, faith walks with God, and faith fears God. Faith obeys God, faith receives from God and faith submits to God. Faith worships God, faith hopes in God, faith depends on God and faith commits to God.
“Faith is a living tree bursting with fruit” (Luther). If you have faith, all kinds of good things will follow.
We have looked at 10 models or examples of faith in this series. And the writer of Hebrews, clearly could have called on many more.
“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” (Heb 11:32).
You will be glad to know that I am not going to attempt to tell the stories of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets today. Time would fail me! The point here is that the examples of genuine faith are not a few, they are many.
Then the writer goes on to describe the achievements and the agonies of the heroes of faith. Vs. 33 lists some of the achievements: They conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, stopped the mouths of lions.
Vs. 35 lists some of the agonies. “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release. Others were mocked, flogged, and stoned to death. The world was not worthy of them.”
And now, as we come to the close of this chapter, we all know how it’s going to end. It’s going to say: Some heroes of faith achieved great triumphs. Other heroes of faith endured great suffering. But all of them received what God had promised and entered into their glorious reward.
But that’s not how the chapter ends. Just when we are expecting the heroes to receive their crowns, we read: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Heb 11:39).
You read this verse and you say, “Really?” These people have been held up to us as models of faith, and none of them received what was promised? That’s what it says. Abraham did not receive what was promised. Moses did not receive what was promised. David did not receive what was promised.
Now, clearly, Abraham Moses, David and the others received many wonderful gifts from God.
Old Testament believers were forgiven.
And they were forgiven in the same way we are today. Our faith looks back to Jesus and what he accomplished on the cross. Their faith looked forward to Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross.
The whole point of the Old Testament sacrifices was that they were a way of expressing trust in the sacrifice that God Himself would provide for our sin. On that basis, David says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity” (Ps 32:1-2).
Old Testament believers received the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit was poured out in greater abundance in the New Testament, but the Spirit of God came rushing on the Judges, and God answered the prayer of David when he said, “Do not take your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps 51:11).
Old Testament believers went to heaven.
Asaph describes the experience of an Old Testament believer when he says, “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory” (Ps 73:24).
These Old Testament believers looked in faith to the Savior who was to come. Their sins were forgiven, by grace and through faith they knew the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They entered into the glorious presence of the Lord when they died, and yet Hebrews tells us, “They did not receive what was promised” (vs. 39). What part of the promise did they not receive?
Look at what it says: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Heb 11:39-40). This is a difficult verse, but the key words are “something better.” What is this “something better” that God has planned?
It could be that the writer is making a contrast between the blessings that the Old Testament believers enjoyed and the blessings that New Testament believers enjoy today. But I don’t think so, and here’s why. He speaks here about being “made perfect,” and that is not something that happens in this life.
The contrast here seems to be between the experience that they and we have on earth, and the experience they and we will have when we are made perfect.
God has promised “something better” for us than anything we could experience in this world, just as He promised something better for the Old Testament believers than anything they experienced in this world.
So, the point here is not that our position is different from theirs, but that in this life, our position is exactly the same. They lived and died looking forward to what God had promised, and we will do the same. They did not receive what God has promised in this life, and neither will we.
It was the same with Jesus. He came preaching the kingdom of God. And He lived and died in a world that rejected Him. But that is not the end of the story. He rose from the dead and right now, He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
God had planned “something better” than the cross and the grave for Jesus. And God has planned something better for the Old Testament believers and for us. The Old Testament believers have gone ahead of us. And they are waiting for us to finish our race, because “apart from us” they will “not be made perfect.”
This makes me think of Christmas morning, growing up in Scotland. In our family we opened presents on Christmas morning. Stockings were hung in the living room on Christmas Eve. And I remember being desperate to get into the living room and see what was there on Christmas morning.
But there was one strict rule in our family on Christmas morning: No one goes into the living room until we are all ready. So, I would stand outside the living room door, waiting until mum and dad and my little brother were ready to go in. Then when we were all ready, we all went in together.
That’s how it is, not only for Old Testament believers, but also for our believing loved ones who have died.
Believers Who Have Died Are With Christ.
To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). And the conscious enjoyment of the presence of the Lord is better by far than any joy we can know in this world (Phil 1:23).
Believers Who Have Died Are Waiting
They don’t yet have the resurrection body. They don’t yet have the company of the whole believing family. They don’t yet enjoy the new earth that will be the home of righteousness. So, they are waiting for the glorious return of our Lord because only then will the whole family be gathered.
Only then will they receive the resurrection body. Only then will they enter the fullness of all that God has promised. Something glorious lies ahead, that even those in heaven have not seen.
When God gave the Apostle John a glimpse into heaven, he said, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev 6:9-10).
Notice their question: “How long?” They are in heaven, but they are still waiting.
What are they waiting for? 3 R’s. They are waiting for the Resurrection body. They are waiting for the Redeemed family to be gathered. They are waiting for the Restored universe – The new heaven and earth that will be the home of righteousness forever.
This is the position of Old Testament believers and of our believing loved ones who have died.
They are with Christ, consciously enjoying the glory of His presence. And they are waiting, for the resurrection body, the gathering of the Redeemed family and the Restored universe, all of which will come when the glory of the Lord is revealed.
Now what does all this have to do with us? These heroes of faith have run their race, and now we must run ours. Think about Olympic athletes running in a vast stadium. The stands are packed with spectators, and they are cheering as we run.
In the same way, we are surrounded by a great “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). Abel, Enoch, Noah
Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab and many more beside.
They have run their race, and now they are waiting for us to finish ours. So, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).
Now how are we to do this? How are we to run our race with endurance. How are we to withstand the relentless pressures that keep coming to us throughout the course of our lives? The answer lies in three wonderful words in vs. 2, “Looking to Jesus.”
1. Faith Looks To Jesus
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Heb 12:1-2).
Christian faith is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have learned from these models of faith in the Old Testament. But faith is not looking to Noah, Abraham, Moses or Rahab. Faith is looking to Jesus.
This is what the Old Testament models of faith were doing. Jesus says, “Abraham saw my day” (Jn 8:56).
Moses chose the “reproach of Christ” over the treasures of Egypt (Heb 11:26).
The whole point of Hebrews 11 is that we are in the same position as these Old Testament believers. We believe as they believed. We must endure as they endured. We look to Jesus as they looked to Jesus.
Faith believes what God has revealed and trust what God has promised. And it is in Jesus that God has revealed Himself. And it is through Jesus that all God has promised will be ours. So, faith looks to Jesus.
2. Jesus Is More Than Our Example
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1, 2).
These words are really important because they remind us that Jesus is more than our example. You can admire Michael Jordan defying gravity on a basketball court but that does not give you the ability to do what he did.
If all we have is examples, we would crushed. If the message of this chapter was to say, “Enoch walked with God, Noah feared God, Abraham obeyed God, Rahab committed to God, so get your act together and follow their example,” we would all be saying “How can we match up to them?”
If we were told simply that Jesus is our example and now we must step up and live a life like His, we would all be saying. How can we ever match up to Him? So, thank God the message of this chapter is not “These heroes of faith were great, and you should try and do better.”
The message is, “the same faith that was formed in them has also been formed in you, and Jesus is the One who has formed that faith. Jesus is more than our example of faith. Jesus is the “founder” of our faith.
A founder is a person who brings something into being. Jesus is the “founder” of our faith.
You believe. You have faith. How did this come about? Jesus formed faith in you. He is the founder of your faith. He laid hold of you. He put His Spirit in you. He opened your eyes to the truth. He brought your faith into being.
And Jesus is the “perfecter” of your faith. A perfecter is a person who brings something to completion.
Notice that faith does not make you perfect. The best of the Old Testament believers were far from perfect. Noah got drunk. Abraham lied about his wife. Moses lost his temper. Jacob was a miserable old man. They were all flawed people as we are. But Jesus will make them perfect, and He will do the same for us.
“God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Heb 11:40). Our faith is far from perfect. We often feel like the man who said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24).
That prayer will be answered. Jesus will perfect your faith. He will bring it to completion. He will vindicate your faith by bringing you into all that He has promised. And He will do this when all of His family are gathered together.
Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith. Jesus brought your faith into being, and He will complete what He has begun.
3. Jesus Will Enable You To Endure
You have need of endurance (Heb 10:36). “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb 12:1, 2).
Hebrews was given first to Jewish believers who were facing difficult days. They had “endured a hard struggle with sufferings (Heb 10:32). They had been “publicly exposed to reproach and affliction (Heb 10:33). Their property had been plundered (Heb 10:34).
The strain of all this was beginning to tell, and the writer tells them “You have need of endurance” (Heb 10:36). You read that and you find yourself saying, “That’s me! That’s what I need!” I need endurance, but how am I going to get it?
Hebrews 11 is the answer to that question. The writer says, “My righteous one shall live by faith” (Heb 10:38). And from there, he launches into this marvelous exposition of faith in Hebrews 11.
But here’s the question: How does faith enable us to endure? We’ve seen that faith Listens to God, Walks with God, Fears God, Obeys God, Receives from God, Submits to God, Worships God, Hopes in God, Depends on God, and Commits to God.
How does faith do these things? Faith joins us to Jesus in a spiritual union in which what is His becomes ours. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:5). When you are in Christ the life that is in Jesus flows into you. Paul says, “Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
When Christ lives in you, He gives you a righteousness you would not have on your own.
When Christ lives in you, He gives you a strength you would not have on your own.
When Christ lives in you, He gives you a peace you would not have on your own.
When Christ lives in you, He gives you an endurance you would not have on your own.
Look at the endurance of Jesus: He endured the cross! The Savior who endured the cross lives in you by His Holy Spirit. And because He lives in you, you will be able to endure as you run the race that is set before you.
4. Jesus Will Bring You Into His Glorious Reward
“…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).
Jesus endured the cross, but He is not there now. He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
And notice that He got through the cross “for the joy that was set before Him” and I believe that the joy set before Him is the “something better” that God has planned for all His people.
The Three R’s
The Joy of the Redeemed Family
Jesus is going to bring the whole family together, and when He does, not one of His own will be missing.
You will be reunited with loved ones who are already with the Lord. What a day of rejoicing that will be.
Jesus said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 8:11).
On that day there will be no divisions, no disputes, no arguments in the believing family. Every effect of sin will be removed from us. We will be made perfect. The bride of Christ will be without blemish.
The Joy of the Resurrection
Your redeemed spirit will be clothed with a resurrected body that will never ache, never tire, and never tempt you to sin. A body in which you will be able to serve the Lord and enjoy His new creation forever.
The Joy of the Restored Universe
Abraham was looking for “a heavenly city whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). And John says, “I saw the holy city…coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev 21:2).
What makes the city holy is that God Himself is there. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold I am making all things new” (Rev 21:3-5).
Jesus will bring us into His glorious reward, so “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2).
Father, thank you for the joy you have set before us. The redeemed family. Resurrected bodies. A restored universe. Help us now to lay aside every weight, and the sin that clings so closely. And looking to Jesus, to run with endurance, the race that is set before us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
© Colin S. Smith
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