THE PEOPLE WHO DID NOT RECEIVE

THE PEOPLE WHO DID NOT RECEIVE

Hebrews 11:13-16; 35b-40 CSB

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

“Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.”

Our study of the heroes of faith concludes this morning, and we have saved the best for last. This is indeed a fine list of heroes, but it is a little different that all the other lists. All of the other heroes we looked at had names – famous names. But today’s list does not name a soul. Last week’s list was a who’s who of people who got to see God intervene in their lives with miracles of deliverance. But today’s list features no names, and boasts of no miracles.

After the apostle Thomas looked at the scar on Jesus’ side, he said to Jesus “My Lord and My God.” Then Jesus told Thomas “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:28-29).

Our Lord promises a special blessing for those who choose to trust him even if they don’t see miracles and have lots of victory stories. Those are the kind of people the author of Hebrews lists in today’s text.

These people are heroes of faith even though the world did not notice (38-39).

Their names are not written in this text, in fact many of them don’t even show up in the historical records. The author of Hebrews merely calls them “other people”, “others” and “they.”

God knows their names. They were “approved through their faith” (38). We are going to meet these special people at the marriage feast of the Lamb. They will have a special place in that celebration. For many of them, it will be their first celebration ever.

Let us not think that these people were second class citizens in Christ’s coming kingdom. No, God approved them through their faith. They saw the invisible God like Moses did. The fact that they were never rescued from the avenging angel by blood on their doorposts does not make them losers. The fact that they never passed through the parted waters did not make them losers. They were winners who ran the race well. They just have not yet crossed the finish line.

The world did not value these people, but their heavenly Father did. The very hairs on their heads were all numbered. They were more valuable than the sparrows. The author of Hebrews says “the world was not worthy of them” (38).

These people are heroes of faith because they stayed faithful when others gave up (35b-37).

• They stayed faithful to God when the world ridiculed them for believing.
• They stayed faithful when they were taken from their homes, and forced to wander about homeless and destitute.
• They stayed faithful when they were imprisoned because of their obedience to God.
• They stayed faithful when they were afflicted, mistreated, scourged and tortured without relief or release.
• They stayed faithful even when their faith led to their death – by the sword, by stoning, or even by being sawn in two.

Our Lord told us that putting our faith in him might possibly lead to our deaths. He said:

“”Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB).

We learned from Rahab that faith involves risk. Rahab risked losing her life in order to preserve her life, and that of her family. Her life was on the line, and that line was a thin, red rope.

These heroes of faith will be rewarded at the resurrection (35, 40)

For today’s heroes, that red rope was the resurrection. They lost their lives for Christ’s sake. They did so, “not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection” (35).

The apostle Paul wrote that “if Christ has not been raised … then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost” (1 Corinthians 15:17-18 NIV). If there is no resurrection promised for us “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

These heroes of faith risked their lives for God, trusting that there would be another life in which their faith would be rewarded. They are still waiting for that reward. Jesus says “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me” (Revelation 22:12). The reward he has for us is a permanent life. Martyred missionary Jim Elliot knew about that reward. That was why he could say “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

What these heroes lost was the temporary lives that they could not keep anyway. We all have an appointment with death, and we are going to keep it. But what these heroes gained is a permanent life in the world to come with no pain, no sorrow, no wandering, no suffering, and no more death – ever.

And the best part – the thing that makes that good news for them and also good news for us – is that “God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us” (40).!

Jesus once told a story about a landowner who had a crop to harvest. He went out early and hired some workers, and promised them good wages. But he hired some more workers the third hour, more on the ninth hour, and even more on the eleventh hour. When it came time for him to pay his workers, they all got the same wages. He didn’t cheat anybody. He just decided to be generous and give them all the same reward.

When I think about these heroes of faith that we looked at today, I think it really isn’t fair. They were so much stronger in their faith than I have been. They were tested with so many more trials than I have been. They had to be faithful under the most extreme of circumstances. And I wonder what they will think of me. I feel like an eleventh hour worker. I didn’t suffer like they did. My faith has not been tested like theirs were. But the good news of the gospel is that our generous master is going to welcome them – and me – and you into his eternal joy.

Let us look again at verses 13-16:

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”

In the end, the people who “did not receive” will receive – and so will we.

The author of Hebrews explains how we should apply his “heroes of faith” passage in the first two verses of chapter 12:

• “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

It is commonly taught that the cloud of witnesses is all these dead saints whose spirits are in heaven. They are said to be witnesses of what we do down here on earth.

But that is not what the author of Hebrews is saying. A witness is someone who testifies to something. The cloud of witnesses is the biblical testimony of all these heroes of faith.

What the author of Hebrews is saying is that we should follow their footsteps and run the race with endurance like they did. Jesus is the one we are following to victory. He is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Jesus perfectly demonstrated how to live by faith whether you receive or do not receive. One day he was starving in the desert, the next day he was feeding the 5000. One day he was raising the dead, the next day he was dying on a cross. But every day he was living by faith.

LORD, make us people of faith. Make us runners who keep our eyes of Jesus, and run the race with endurance like he did.

Author: Jefferson Vann

Jefferson Vann is pastor of Piney Grove Advent Christian Church in Delco, North Carolina. You can contact him at marmsky@gmail.com -- !

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