Do you sometimes wonder if you will be able to qualify for God's Kingdom? The testimony of a "great cloud of witnesses" who did it through faith shows that — no matter what your problems — you can too!
If only I had faith like the people mentioned in Hebrews 11!" some have thought. "Life would be one continuous series of dramatic miracles. Obstacles in my Christian life would vanish as suddenly as the walls of Jericho crumbled, and life would be pretty easy." Just think — immediate answers to every prayer. Speedy deliverance from every problem. No need for patience or perseverance. Is that what Hebrews 11 is all about? Not really. None of the pilgrims of faith listed in Hebrews 11 had an easy life! They all had to overcome problems — big problems. Yet they exercised quiet, patient, persevering faith. Faith tested over long periods of time. Faith proved by works. Faith purified in the fires of trial and affliction. Faith that claimed promises that were sometimes miraculously fulfilled or, on the other hand, sometimes not fulfilled at all in this life. Nevertheless God affirmed that "these all died in faith" (verse 13). Together these witnesses testify with a common voice that they have overcome — and so can we.
The witnesses testify
Abel is the first witness to offer his example (verse 4). In faith, he gave the best he had to God. This is the kind of faith we need when we are tested in the area of giving. Abel is contrasted with his brother Cain. The "way of Cain" (Jude 11) was the selfish way of getting. Cain wanted to keep for himself what was of greatest value and offer God a few vegetables instead (Gen. 4:3). That way — human reasoning — does not require any faith at all. Abel lived the opposite way — God's way — the way of giving. He gave God the best he had (verse 4). It requires faith to live that way. But in spite of Abel's faith, God allowed him to suffer a brutal, untimely death (verse 8). The first man of faith was also the first murder victim. That God would permit such a thing would be hard to accept if we did not know through faith that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are — the called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
Too long to endure?
Enoch is a reminder to us to retain our faith at times when we are tempted to feel that 50, 20 or even 10 years is too long to endure. Enoch walked with God for at least 300 years (Gen. 5:22). That's a long time. What is more, the final result of Enoch's faith — the promise of eternal life — he never received — yet! We are told that Enoch pleased God. That means he had faith, because "without faith it is impossible to please him" (Heb. 11:6). How much faith does one need to please God? "He that cometh to God must believe that he is [as Christians we all have this much faith], and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." All the pilgrims of faith whose testimony we are reviewing believed that God was actively interested and involved in their lives. At times circumstances do not allow some individuals to have regular contact with other Christians. This makes them feel "alone" and may lead to discouragement. Listen to the witness of Noah (Heb. 11:7).
Faith in the invisible
In his day Noah was the only godly person on the face of the earth (Gen. 6:9-13). The Bible doesn't even use the word righteous in describing his wife and sons. Noah was surrounded by carnal, wicked people devoted. to revelry and merrymaking (Matt. 24:37-38). But God had given him a job. Day after brilliant, cloudless day he ventured out of his house to construct a "boat" on dry land. You can imagine the ridicule he had to bear. He toiled on the project for up to 80 years, at the same time preaching to the mocking crowds that came to watch (II Pet. 2:5). Everyone on earth must have known and laughed about "poor old Noah." The only evidence Noah had of the flood to come was God's promise; he wasn't even told exactly when the waters would appear! Noah believed in the invisible and endured. Even after the flood was over, he continued to live a righteous life for another 350 years (Gen. 9:28). Abraham also had faith in what he could not see. Whether it was packing up and heading toward an unknown destination (Heb. 11:8) or obeying God even if it would cost his son's life (verse 17), Abraham acted on his faith. An accompanying article discusses his story. The faith of Isaac, Jacob and Joseph testifies to us because they believed in what they did not yet have. They died without seeing or receiving what they hoped for just as some of us may have to do (verses 20-22).
Faith plus works
The faith of Moses' parents (verse 23) is particularly noteworthy in light of recent events in God's Church. For three months• Moses parents hid the baby Moses — in spite of orders by the government to the contrary. Some might have thought that they should have handed baby Moses over to the authorities and just "trusted God." They trusted God all right, but they also acted to keep Moses safe. As an adult, Moses in faith chose to please God rather than please himself (verses 24-28). It was no easy task for him to have to appear before the powerful pharaoh time after time with only bad news to give him. Moses must have wished that he could be anywhere else. It was a lot harder than having to tell one's boss or the school principal about the Sabbath and Holy Days. But Moses "endured, as seeing him who is invisible" (verse 27). And the same faith that parted the Red Sea will work for us. Those people by whose faith the walls of Jericho fell give their testimony next (Heb. 11:30). This impressive miracle occurred only after a test lasting seven days. Each day the Israelites, led by Joshua, had to march around the walls of the city. What they were doing just didn't seem logical. Each day when the Israelites had finished marching, the walls stood just as strong as ever — until the Israelites finished doing the will of God. They then received the promise. With a rumble the fortified ramparts suddenly collapsed into piles of broken brick and plumes of dust. Do you sometimes feel that God is not hearing your prayers because you haven't yet received what you are praying for? If you are a child of God there is no doubt that God hears your prayers (Ps. 34:15). And if He hears your prayers, He answers them (I John 5:14-15). But the answer may not always be "Yes." Often it may be "Not yet." God may have something for you to learn first. "For ye have need of patience, that, after he have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise" (Heb. 10:36). Rahab and her family would have perished with the rest of Jericho's inhabitants (Heb. 11:31), but in spite of her questionable background and the little she knew about Israel's God, she had enough faith to recognize Him as the true God (Josh. 2:11). She believed the Israelite spies when they instructed her to hang a rope In her window (verses 18-21), and as a result, her house, which formed part of the wall around Jericho, did not fall.
The sum of the matter
In Hebrews 11:32, the apostle Paul begins to sum up the matter. He lists various individuals who through faith performed great deeds, won victories and wrought miracles. We all know faith can accomplish dramatic results such as these. Notice, however, in verses 35 to 38, that faith has another aspect. Many in the "cloud of witnesses" suffered. In faith! They were tested. They were afflicted. They had trials from which they were not delivered in this life. Many were struck down with painful, horrible deaths. But faith in God and His promises gave them the strength to endure to the end. They came through with flying colors. So can you! It's as though you are in a great track meet. Jesus is waiting for you at the finish line. On the sidelines is a crowd of cheering spectators. They have all run — and won — the race. They are there to urge you on to victory. You fix your eyes on Jesus. You throw aside everything that could in any possible way slow you down. And you run — mightily. This is one race you must not lose. "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 perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Heb. 12:1-2, Revised Standard Version). When you begin to tire of running, think again about what Jesus endured (verse 3). Think about Abel and Enoch. Remember Noah and Moses and all the other pilgrims who in faith have gone this way before. Remind yourself that even when God must chasten and correct you, it is to train you so that you can win even a bigger prize (verses 4-11). "Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees" (verse 12, RSV). The others did it. You can, too! Bear down and finish the race of faith. And then, amidst shouts of triumph, go over and take your place among the "great cloud of witnesses."