Hebrews 11:17–31; 12:1–3
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, 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, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
Last week we explored the certainty that faith creates. The reality that faith is not about things we don’t know or understand, or about some fanciful mythical creations of our imagination, but built on the certainty of Jesus Christ. We saw how Able, Enoch, Noah, Abraham & Sarah all lived lives of faith in the sure knowledge that what God calls them to do is realised as they followed that call. That’s the wonderful thing about being a Christian. We are not alone on this journey. We share it with some amazing and awe-inspiring people. But we often get lost and think that’s fine for them, but what about now. It doesn’t take much to see similar awe-inspiring stories from people around us, even those sitting in the pews with us.
It is a fascinating story to listen to people working in places where there is war, and open hostility to the Christian faith. Just recently I read several accounts of Christian converts in Iran. This extreme fundamentalist Muslim nation shows no leniency toward people who are not Muslim. Christians are regularly tortured, detained, beaten publicly and even martyred. Yet there is a growing upsurge of Christian converts who, as they read about Jesus in the Koran and then research him in the Bible, start to conclude they are following the wrong person in Muhammed. Why are we not following someone whose ministry and actions far surpass anything Muhammad has done, is their conclusion, and so they are choosing to become Christian. It is the faith they find in Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that gives them absolute certainty that no matter what their country’s extreme religious leaders do, they have no choice but to follow Jesus.
But we face similar challenges in Australia. We have a growing animosity towards Christianity displayed from various left-wing socialist oriented state politicians. In Victoria the Labour government is actively trying to not just sideline but engage in open persecution of Christian leaders. Under the guise of revealing child abusers, the sacred trust of the confessional is being forced to comply to their rules. The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne has already said he will go to jail before violating the sacred trust of people seeking to reconcile their sin and guilt with the loving embrace of God’s unconditional grace. But it’s more than just that. Churches are painted as hate places because we don’t embrace social norms like same sex marriage, the state sanctioned killing of the unborn and the infirmed, and the skewed notion that Christianity is unwelcomed, but all other religious groups are to be celebrated as a reflection of our cultural diversity.
Hebrews 11 reminds us that the people of Israel faced the same sort of oppressive destruction of their community as we face today. Isaac is redeemed, Jacob is blessed, and Joseph creates a future, so the promises God made to Abraham continue to be seen. Moses is hidden away because Pharaoh designated all male children to die. The people of Israel and rescued because Egypt’s economic advancement meant the enslavement and abuse of God’s people. Rahab is saved because she protects Israel’s spies. In the midst of all the difficulties, struggles, death, and oppression, God continues to ensure his promises are fulfilled. Because of the certainty of faith, God’s people survived. I once heard it said, if you want proof of God’s existence, look at the history of Israel. Their faith in God sees them still around today, while tribes, nations, and empires have come and gone. If God can do that with Israel, imagine what he will do with the new Israel, His church.
It’s easy to get lost in our world. The pressures not to be Christian are as strong today as they have ever been in Australian history. We live in a world that tells us to look after the individual. We are compelled to allow individuals to be who they wish to be, as long as it conforms to the social norms. Sundays are now crowded in by sport, brunch, and other social gatherings all in an effort to make church attendance, not just redundant, but unattractive. We aren’t just dealing with our own sins which threaten to trip us up, such as not putting God first and loving our neighbours, but with the sins imposed upon us to denounce our faith. Too many people have become closet Christian as a result. Just like Iran, we hide away fearful that someone will make sport of our faith, embarrassing us, harassing us, ostracising us, and even putting our jobs and lives at risk if we don’t actively support their anti-Christian worldview. Many Christians have opted to becoming Sunday Christians because anything more is too frightening.
But we have the people of faith who have gone before us urging us to remain true. They cry out to us through the Bible to see the example they set before us as they faced the harsh realities of a sinful world hostile to God. They look in on us as individuals and cry out to grow and mature in Christ so the worlds antagonism to God does not trip us up or cripple us. They cheer to those churches that step up and become intentional about sharing Jesus with the world around them. They are passionate about seeing this generation, our generation, become what they know God desires it to be, his presence in the world. It’s not only the Biblical characters who do this. They millions of people, well known and obscure, who have been martyred for their faith in Jesus also cry out to us to remain true, to run the race, to finish what God has set about doing in our lives.
Yes, being a Christian in the world today is tough. But we are not alone in this pursuit. The Holy Spirit continues to call to us to follow. The saints who have finished the race urge us to follow. And the world around us, which have no real clue about the amazing grace of God’s unconditional love, need us to speak with love into their chaos. Faith gives us the courage, the certainty, the absolute confidence to be the people God has called us to be. We need to step out in faith, not just for our sake, but for the sake of those around us.