“By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that 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, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2)
A dismal passage; or at least it seems so to me this evening. All that was suffered by the heroes and heroines of the Old Testament does not gain them what is available by virtue of by born during the life and after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. All that they gained was still less than what those who came to faith after Jesus’ resurrection might receive. A very dismal passage.
I understand the writer of Hebrews attempt, to convince his reader that just simply believing in Jesus and accepting the facts of Jesus’ life and death will earn them greater reward than the men and women who have been lauded by the Old Testament writers. Who would turn down such reward by refusing to believe and accept Jesus? Who indeed? But the salient point is, one must value what those men and women did receive, and desire what Jesus has to offer. And by directing this letter to the Hebrews (who were in fact the people who would ascribe honor to the heros and heroines of the Old Testament) the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is dangling something quiet alluring to his readers.
This is the implicit understanding that supports the parable of the “Pearl of Great Price” – that what is seen is recognized as valuable and all other things pale compared to it. But living a Christian life can be a very tough road. And the perks and benefits do not appeal to all. That is a sad fact.
But maybe, beloved reader, this type of reward does appeal to you. Maybe you want what the writer of Hebrews is offering; the type of acclaim and reward of faith that the writer of Hebrews offers. I am not saying it is not a good deal – far from it. But the basis of the “argument” does not appeal to me. Jesus said “blessed are those who have seen and believe.” BUT blessed are those who have not seen and still believe! I tell you, beloved reader, we are as far from Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as the men and women of the Old Testament. They clung to their faith, staked their lives on it, and paid the price of believe with their lifes. And I will not take that from them.
It is only through my own faith, without the visual and tactile confirmation of Jesus’ existence, that has gotten me this far. And will see me to the end of my life, and what is beyond. And this night, as I think of these things, that is where I see the value. Selah!