10th Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 15) LSB #’s 720, 748, 411
Text – Hebrews 11:39
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.
What Was Promised
Promises, promises! It’s a phrase that people use when they do not believe the person who’s making the promise. It goes along with the line, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!” How important to you is it that your friends & acquaintances keep their promises? The reading from Hebrews highlights the long-term perspective taken by God.
This morning, the sermon piggy backs on to the sermon from last Sunday. It will continue to meditate on the nature of faith. This began last week with the emphasis on faith as the basis for hope. It gave examples from Abel all the way to Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land. Now the emphasis will shift to the results of faith.
This new emphasis is framed by the use of the phrase ‘through faith.’ The author names Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel & the prophets “who through faith conquered kingdoms…” That’s in verse 33. Verse 39 closes the frame by stating, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.”
That seemingly negative thought is the guiding thought for this morning’s sermon. And that thought is preceded by these words regarding those who trusted in God, they:
“…suffered mocking & flogging, even chains & imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep & goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated… wandering about in deserts & mountains, in dens & caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:36-38 ESV)
Unlike 30 years ago, & more, it is not difficult today to regard Christians as a despised minority of contemporary society. However, with his letter, the author of Hebrews is making a passionate appeal for us to instead regard ourselves imaginatively as part of a heroic community with God’s backing. He wants us to identify emotionally with all the named & nameless people of faith. Over millennia, they have born witness to Yahweh, & His love for us, by what they achieved & by what they suffered.
It is faithful endurance of suffering that most clearly demonstrates the power of faith. The faithful people of God endure Abel-like suffering even when that is all that their physical eyes can see. Meanwhile, their eyes of faith look forward to & ‘see’ their eternal salvation. Here on earth, God’s children do not receive what was promised. That comes on the Last Day.
Intellectually that’s understandable enough. Emotionally, suffering is much more difficult to accept, especially due to the long-term nature of the payoff. It’s easier for us to accept suffering if there’s an end in sight. It’s less trouble to endure suffering if the payoff is 20 minutes from now.
Abel & Abraham, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel & the prophets have all been dead for thousands of years & they still have not received what was promised. Each of them is still a soul without the resurrection from the dead. They are still waiting for God to fulfill His promise. All the children of God are still waiting for the result of their faith.
Throughout history God’s children have struggled to live by faith. Faith is the basis for our hope, but our faith is weak. Through faith we will gain results, but all of us are still waiting for that ultimate, never-ending result that Jesus referred to as paradise.
And who on earth waits longer to see the results of their work than teachers? We have kindergarten graduation ceremonies, but the graduates are far from a finished product. The same is true for graduation from 8th grade & high school & even from college. In the Christian realm our graduation does not occur until our body is raised from death & reunited with our soul. Until then, we have not received what the heavenly Father has promised. Sinful creatures that we are, having to wait patiently can be frustrating, because every aspect of our lives is corrupted by sin. Nothing works out perfectly for anyone, ever. Even if God performs a miracle our sinful nature is still not unhappy. We see that in our nation right now – anger in so many places.
What’s your response to all that anger? The author of Hebrews is trying to help his audience deal with their struggles against sin. The book seems to have been written in the latter half of the 1st century, to what was likely a Jewish-Christian house church in the city of Rome.
The audience of Hebrews was likely a small community that stood apart from the culture of its day. The courage of the people there had not failed in time of crisis, but it was failing in the long, drawn out, unending struggle with sin in small ways. They were sliding down the slippery slope rather than falling off the cliff.
They were facing persecution & ridicule which caused them to be offended at what they saw as the weakness of Christ. They were looking for a Savior to make things happen, like conquer the pagan Roman rulers. They may have wanted their house church to grow & change lives dramatically. Maybe they felt like they were not receiving what was promised.
They wanted to ‘see’ results rather than continue living by faith. Their frustrations were overwhelming them. They were tired & worn down by life in this sinful world. The last verse of the reading from Hebrews points them, & hopefully you see it too, in the right direction:
“Consider [Jesus] who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (12:3 ESV) Living out our day to day lives is a battle, & like the soldiers in Ukraine, we get tired, especially when all that we see is our own resources. The resources of Jesus Christ are infinite even though you can’t see them with your eyes.
God has promised a new creation & He raised Jesus from the dead as proof that He is
going to complete it, but sitting here now, you can’t see any of that either. And when the disciples first saw Jesus, after the resurrection, even though they saw Him with their own eyes, they still did not believe it. When it comes to the things of God, eyesight is highly overrated. Trusting Jesus, no matter what we see, is what the cloud of witnesses commend us to.
In life & in death, in prosperity & adversity, in victory & in persecution, Yahweh vindicated His OT people for their faith in Messiah. We shall see proof of that as they are raised from the dead on the Last Day, & by seeing it we will have proof that our own resurrection has occurred. On that Day all God’s children will fully receive what God has promised.
It is worth waiting for, through joys & sorrows, through blessing & tribulation. We struggle because God works with such a long-term perspective. He’s eternal. Our lives fall a little bit short of that. It’s not unusual for our courage to fail in the face of eternity. The OT cloud of witnesses struggled as well, but remained faithful by God’s grace & mercy.
We can lean on God’s grace & mercy as well. He is faithful to all His promises, but in the time that He knows is best. As our culture moves away from God, faith in Jesus will become even more important in our lives because increasingly we will no longer blend in with society around us. Faith in God will not fail, even though we do, because God never fails.
It is not our faith alone that saves, but faith in the almighty God is what saves, & it is through faith in the almighty God that we receive results such as forgiveness & eternal life. This story gives an illustration of the Christian life.
A group of Japanese high school students was on a tour of the United States. As they went through busy airport terminals & tourist sites, their leader told them, “I will hold a Japanese flag high above my head as we work our way through the crowds. Just keep an eye on the flag & you won’t get lost!” When the group returned to Japan, a teacher asked them, “What is the one thing you remember most about your trip to the United States?” They replied in unison, “The Japanese flag!” Whenever they were concerned about their greatest fear, getting lost, they found comfort & courage in seeing their flag. Christ Jesus is our flag.
Whenever we find ourselves struggling, Jesus calls us to look to Him, the founder & the perfector of our faith. When we get to heaven, if St. Peter asks you, “What is the one thing you remember most about your life on earth?” the answer will be “Jesus!” Amen.
I’m but a stranger here, heaven is my home; earth is a desert drear, heaven is my home. Danger & sorrow stand round me on every hand; heaven is my fatherland, heaven is my home. What though the tempest rage, heaven is my home; short is my pilgrimage, heaven is my home; & time’s wild wintry blast soon shall be overpast; I shall reach home at last, heaven is my home. Amen. LSB 748:1-2.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet