Hebrews 11-13, Psalm 30
I was a competitive swimmer in college. My best event was the individual medley, but at times the coach would place us in other events depending on the competitiveness of the other teams. One day I was put in the 500 yd freestyle (20 laps), not a common event for me. I stayed focused on the swimmers on both sides of me and unfortunately ignored the counter in front of me. I touched the wall before them in triumph only to see them both flip turn instead of touch. Miscounting by 2 laps I tried to catch up but placed 5th instead of 2nd, all because I missed the correct finish line. One of the most common statements by those who reject God is: why does God allow bad things to happen to good people. Besides none of us truly being good which is mistake number 1, inherent in the statement is they seek the wrong finish line. Our finish line is eternal life in heaven, not earthly comforts. In today's reading we read the lives of those who lived lives of faith with their eyes focused on the correct finish line.
A prerequisite for this life is faith which is defined in Hebrews 11:1, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." In fact the author goes on to explain the opposite of this in 11:6, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." God does not want us to live in fear and anxiety, not trusting Him and doubting His promises. He wants us to boldly step out in faith, realizing that our time on earth is relatively short and that there is nothing to fear since we who live for Him can never be separated from Him, in this world or in heaven. Many died on earth before seeing the fruits of their earthly ministries. In 11:13,16: "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth...But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country." Though he lists specific examples, the author describes those unnamed individuals still living these lives of faith in 11:35-40, "...Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented-of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all of these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us,...". As opposed to those who preach a prosperity or name it and claim it gospel message, looking for earthly blessings, the reality is a life in service to God in true faith comes with no earthly guarantee, but the only and best guarantee, an eternal life in His presence. Outside of faith, people can not understand this eternal justice and instead develop bitterness when things do not go their way.
The original Scriptures contained no chapters (inserted in the 1200's) and verses ( inserted in the 1500's). Hebrews 12:1-2 really continues on the theme of the previous chapter and gives us the vision of how we can all live this life of faith, "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking into Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." The finish line for most people without true faith is longevity, good health, a good retirement, a good family, vacations, etc. In this world, many place their hope in things which can not last. Those things that we can touch and see are often deceptive and not true reality. Jesus offers us eternal security in heaven, but so many settle for the trinkets of this earth. May we all set our eyes on the true finish line and run the life of faith with endurance not allowing ourselves to be distracted by those things which do not last.
Messages from Pastor Lloyd Pulley: