Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 37. Faith is waiting for God’s better
Heb 11:39,40 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect
We strayed into this area some while back when we considered v.9,10 and Abram living as a stranger or alien and looking for a city yet to come. I think I probably commented back then that one of my concerns for the modern church is that so often we see a people who have settled, who are content with the sub-Gospel experience of so much modern Christianity where both character and charisma are lacking. Sorry if that sounds hard but as I look around both in the UK and the USA (and what I hear of other so-called Western nations) I believe it is often a fair assessment.
Let’s check it out as we consider these closing verses of Hebrews 11. “These were all commended for their faith.” The people we have been considering have been outstanding people. They stood out because for many of them, the age in which they lived was not, in comparison to today, an era of revelation. They did not have the Bible and the earlier you go the les they had – except God. We have revelation pouring into our eyes and ears and for many the old fashioned ‘quiet time’ has now been superseded by half an hour of Christian TV. Unfortunately that becomes a spectator sport and is very different from you alone with Him, with His word, listening to what He has to say through it. Even using my notes can be a cop-out. I write them to feed me and I go away fed at the end of every one. You will be less fed by them because they are second hand, and so I would always encourage you to go and spend time alone with Him. First hand faith is best.
But then he says something that will no doubt bring dismay to many: “yet none of them received what had been promised.” This sounds at first sight like a God who doesn’t keep His promises but it is not. And if you didn’t read that part of the verse carefully, note the word, ‘none’. NONE of then received what had been promised. Hold on, what were they promised? Well if we go right back to Abram (and the subsequent family lived in the light of this) there was a twofold promise: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you,” (v.2,3) and “To your offspring I will give this land.” (v.7)
This twofold promise – a great nation and the land – was reiterated by God again and again. They lost the land at the Exile in 587/586BC, were given it back and lost it again in AD70 and were given it again in the middle of the twentieth century. The ‘great nation’ bit appeared to have been fulfilled, but the problem lies in whose definition of ‘great nation’ applies. We may be content with the thought of however many million the natural nation of Israel comprised plus however many ‘Jews’ have lived, scattered across the world since AD70, but from what the writer says in verse 40b, “only together with us would they be made perfect” or complete. When God speaks of a great nation, He means ALL believers, all Christians whether their origin is Jew or Gentile.
Now I know I am likely to tread on the toes of some people here in respect of Israel so may I be clear. I am sure God has a part to play in the end times for the physical nation of Israel, and the apostle Paul in Romans seems to suggest a great end time revival in Israel when at last thousands accept Jesus as their Messiah and are saved, but that is as far as it goes. Today Jew and Gentile are saved by exactly the same means – the blood of Jesus shed on the Cross. God’s goal is His whole world; the kingdom of God is not limited by national or racial boundaries. Jews are saved in exactly the same was as Gentiles – by obedience and response to the gospel.
And there is another truth there to be noted in the first part of verse 40: “God had planned something better for us.” The writer to the Hebrews says God had something better for New Testament followers that people in the Old Testament period could ever have known about. In the new covenant inaugurated at Calvary, we receive clear forgiveness of sins, with an assurance that none before had. We also receive justification, our sins being fully dealt with on the Cross so that we no longer have to worry about them and keep on offering sacrifices. We also receive sonship, adopted into God’s family with an intimacy never before known. We also receive the indwelling Holy Spirit who never leaves us, a resource and a power to enable us to live as the children of God in constant contact with God.
We have been studying for over five weeks men and women of faith from the Old Testament, people who stood out because they heard God and responded to Him. How amazing was that! But all these people lived in an incomplete era of God’s will, it was all working towards the coming of Jesus and the coming of a new covenant.
I’m sure if there was such a thing as time travel and you brought Abram into the New Testament period, viewing the early church, he would be amazed, all these believers in God, relating to God, praying on a daily basis, prophetic gifts being exercised indicating a communication with God on an almost daily basis, not just once every few years. Yes, surely he would be astounded. Take him into the twentieth century and sit him down in a Billy Graham crusade of that century and he would not be able to take it all in. No doubt, if he could look back to his own experiences with God in those early days of embryonic faith, he would feel he hardly knew anything, hardly had any experience of God, and yet the absence of the resources that we have today made him a giant in the kingdom, a man who somehow heard God in a world where no one else was apparently hearing God, but he did and he acted on it.
But then we come to the hub of the matter which is that when it comes down to it, we can go to church, go to prayer meetings, go to Bible studies, yes even go to Bible College, but at the moment when God speaks, THAT is the crucial moment when nothing else counts. At that moment we will believe and act – or we won’t. If we act that is faith; it is an imparted gift and it is an act of the will, it is a mystery. This is faith.
Very well, we move on in this series from Hebrews 11 where we have been examining personal examples of faith in Old Testament saints, to wider teaching or perhaps more specific teaching on faith from other parts of the New Testament.