Death makes us uncomfortable in our society. As a minister, I have often watched individuals squirm and shift during funeral services. We "pay our respects" and "offer our condolences." Rarely do we examine our hearts. For the Christian the "end" is not death. The "end" is often the culmination of a lifetime pursuit of intimacy with God. Death becomes the doorway into the unfiltered presence of God. Living with that "end" in mind, the Christian daily exercises faith in an unseen, almighty, and awesome God. The writer of Hebrews is expanding what he previously taught in verse 6:
Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6 CSB)
What role does faith play in a life lived with the end in mind?
I. Faith sees a God who can do anything (32-35a)
And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead raised to life again.
...for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists (Hebrews 11:6b)
The writer of Hebrews says "time is too short for me" when he thinks of all of the stories not being told about men and women of faith. He can't get it all in. Although every name is not mentioned, it is clear that every name is important. Beginning by naming four men from the period of Judges, the writer only mentions one king: David. Samuel is mentioned with the prophets. Thereafter, the writer describes only the experiences of faith-filled followers of God.
Initially, the examples used are triumphant in tone and scope. God acts through the faith of His people. The writer describes dramatic experiences of deliverance, empowerment, and miracles. No authority is too great. No force is too powerful. No army is too large. God can act!
Men and women of faith believe in a God who can do anything. Confronted with overwhelming odds, they will ask, "But what about God?" He is always included in their thinking because they are living with the end in mind! More specifically, the examples illustrate how God can work . . .
II. Faith wants God more than anything (35b-38)
Some men were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection, and others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts, mountains, caves, and holes in the ground.
For the one who draws near to Him must believe that He . . . rewards those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6c)
What a change! The believer is as likely to experience trials as he is triumph! This passage flies in the face of preachers of wealth and health. The writer of Hebrews describes a people completely rejected by their age. They are forced to redefine what it means to be safe and secure in the love of God. It doesn't always mean deliverance from difficulty.
How can they endure such incredible suffering? Because they are living with the end in mind. They place more value on pleasing God than they do on taking care of themselves on this side of eternity. (See Hebrews 11:13-16) They are looking for a homeland. They are looking for a city that God builds.
Like Paul they would rather be in the presence of Christ than here. Jesus instructed His followers to seek His kingdom first. As a result, they are looked down upon and abused by the world. God's value on their lives is so great that the writer can say, "the world was not worthy of them."
As a promise-driven person, I should want God . . .
More than personal survival.
More than personal happiness.
Faith Delights God More Than Anything (39-40)
All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.
"Approved through their faith" literally means they obtained a witness from God. He approved! He was delighted! This indicates that the person who chooses to live a promise-driven life holds God's attention!
The writer adds that God already has "provided something better for us." The "something better" is a place where God reigns. The kingdom of God was announced by Jesus and proclaimed by the disciples as they went out. It is a country. It is a city. It is a place unlike the world conditions we experience now. It is our destiny and birthright.
The child of God can say
He always sees me.
He already has a place for me.
The promise-driven life was defined by Noah. The dangers of the journey were illustrated by Abraham. The motivation to keep it up was modeled by Moses. Now David and others capture what it means to live with the end in mind. Living by faith is a 24/7 activity. We do not turn it "on" or "off".
On dying well
The Puritans of the 17th century tackled the issue head-on. Death was a major topic of devotion and discipleship. To "die well" was part of living well. The Practice of Piety was the most popular devotional work of the Puritan era, second only to John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Around 1611, the author Lewis Bayly wrote:
"Death is never strange or fearful . . . not strange, because he died daily – not fearful, because whilst he lived, he was dead, and his life was hid with Christ in God . . . to die, therefore, is to him nothing else in effect, but to rest from his labour in this world, to go home to his Father's house . . . "
- Lewis Bayly, The Practice of Piety: Directing a Christian How to Walk, that He May Please God, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, n.d. (reprint), 48.
Living Near the End: Four Christian women in south China were recently tortured into making a false confession that their pastor raped them. Released for a brief time, the four were seized again and placed in prison for a three-year term when the local authorities learned the women might sue the police for the mistreatment they received.
- "Released South China Church prisoners re-arrested by Chinese police," Voice of the Martyrs [online], 14 October 2002 [cited 16 October 2002]. Available on the Internet: http://www.persecution.com/news/index.cfm?action=fullstory&newsID=200.
Psalms 27:4 (NIV) - One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
Matthew 6:33 - But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.
Hebrews 2:14-15 - Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, He also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death - that is, the Devil - and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.