Hebrews 11. The readers of this letter were Christian converts, probably in Rome, who were suffering persecution, hardship and discouragement – not the extreme and brutal persecution that was still to follow under Emperor Nero, but these early believers were still regarded with suspicion and distrust by the Roman state. Some had lost their jobs because they confessed belief in Christ. Secular people looked down on them, their status in society was greatly diminished, and even Roman slaves would have mocked them with impunity. Most of these converts were Jews, and they had been rejected and cast out by their families, who had remained committed to the old Mosaic traditions. They probably missed some of the old Jewish rituals and observances, and now looked on – from the outside.
In these circumstances, many were discouraged, wondering if Jesus really was in control, and whether it was worth continuing. Some had fallen away, others were barely holding on, and it was into this context that the author addressed his letter. It is written, as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, as a beautiful combination of exposition and exhortation – exposition to take the readers deeper into good, strong biblical theology so they could anchor their faith, giving them clarity about who Jesus is and what he has accomplished – and exhortation to persevere and hold onto this faith.
The exhortation in this passage recalls a host of people from the scriptures who had lived by faith and had been commended by God for their faithfulness. The examples given of these ‘people of old’ show that faith is trusting in what God has revealed to be true. Yes, it does involve trust, but not blind trust – we believe in the testimony of others, and it is a step into the light, the light of what God has revealed about Himself, and so we trust in the character of God as we have seen it and experienced it, and as we have seen Him work in the lives of others.
Two things stand out from this chapter. The first is that nothing has changed – believers today still face trials, difficulties, unanswered question and doubts, just as Christians did when his letter was written. We too need exhortation to hold on, to trust in God’s character, the one who is faithful and true, who knows the end from the beginning, whose is sovereign and almighty, and who never changes. Although set apart from us by His holiness, we have been reconciled to Him and brought near by His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. So when times are hard, when temptation crouches nearby, when the appeals of the world sound so plausible, when our faith is ridiculed or maybe just quietly sneered at, when things don’t seem to be working out the way we had expected, we hold onto this – we know who God is. In Him we can trust, in Him we can anchor our hope, and hHe will never disappoint us.
Something else also stands out from the passage – not all of the people listed were giants of the faith. Some were deeply flawed characters, like Samson and Jephthah (read Judges 11:31-35), and yet all were commended for their faith. We don’t have to be an Abraham or a Moses, God affirms and loves the faithful in the midst of their weakness and humanness. Let this be our encouragement today.
Heavenly Father, thank you that the scriptures so clearly show us who you are. Help us to grow deeper in knowing you so that our faith will not be shaken. Thank you for example of Godly people whose faith was tested and who persevered. Help us not to neglect meeting together with fellow believers, whose Godly example will keep encouraging us in our faith. Amen.