Your wonderful miracle and answer to prayers didn’t happen, yet? What would you do?
Hebrews 11:35-40, ” There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
Consider and deeply ponder two completely different experiences of faith warriors.
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The first group of those who experienced wonderful deliverance from the hand of God.
By faith, Enoch was taken from this life so that he did not experience death. By faith Noah when warned about the things not yet seen built an ark and saved his family. By doing so he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness according to faith. By faith Abraham, another victorious life example of faith, when asked by God to go to a place that will become an inheritance for him, obeyed and went even though he did not where he was going. He became of many nations and his descendants became numerous as the stars in the sky and countless as the sand in the seashore. By faith when God tested Abraham by asking him to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, he faced the test and came out victoriously. He fully obeyed God and consequently, he didn’t have to offer Isaac as a sacrifice but God showed a ram and spared Isaac’s life. By faith, Isaac had a good and quiet life and blessed his two sons, Jacob and Esau regarding their future lives. By faith, Jacob, though he started his life as apparently a cunning deceiver became another hero of faith by pleading for God’s blessings at a dangerous crossroad of his life and blessed Joseph’s sons at his very old age, worshipped God as he was dying by leaning on the top of his rod. What a wonderful way to die! By faith, Joseph, when he was about to die, spoke about future things waiting for the children of Israel (regarding their future exodus from Egypt) and gave some instructions concerning the burial of his bones. By faith Moses’s parents when Moses was born not feared the verdict of the king to kill all the infants but took steps to spare him from death. By faith Moses, when he became a man, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and left the palace of Pharaoh and joined the people of God. He considered the temporary pleasures of sin and treasures of Egypt are only fleeting pleasures and treasures when compared with the everlasting and more valuable God’s reward. By faith, the children of Israel after they left Egypt passed through the Red Sea as on a dry land because God divided the Red sea and prepared a path for them to walk to the other side. Egyptians whey they tried to walk through the dry land were drowned. By faith when they marched around the Jericho wall for seven days, it fell down right in front of their eyes. By faith Rahab though a prostitute welcomed and kept safe the spies of God’s people and spared from those who were killed who were disobedient.
The writer of Hebrew says I have more example to give but do not have time for the great and wonderful achievements of faith by Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and other prophets. The writer reminds they conquered kingdoms, administered Justice (kings and judges), shut the mouth of lions, quenched the fury of the flames (Daniel and friends), escaped the sword, became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Some women received back their dead because their dear ones were raised to life again (Widow’s son by Elijah the prophet and Shunammite’s son by Elisha the prophet)
So far so Good. Wonderful and miraculous achievements by faith.
The second group of faith warriors who did not experience wonderful deliverances – Life was hard for them.
Now read slowly and carefully the next list of the people of who exercised the same faith.
“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all (the first and the second list) commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
In contrast to the conquering, successful, wonderful life experiences of the pervious list, there is a big twist from verse 35 onwards. Did you notice this sudden change?
By faith, there were many other faith warriors who were tortured. They even refuse to be released. They could have been released if they renounce their faith in the living God. But they did not. Why? The passage says “so that they might gain an even better resurrection.” They did not look at the ‘now’. They looked forward to the great and marvelous reward waiting for them in the resurrection. Jeremiah was called at a very young age to speak the Word of God. He faithfully spoke the Word of God but received nothing but scorn, persecution, torture and near death experiences. He was the suffering prophet who faithfully proclaimed the Word of God.
Another set of faith warriors who did not experience wonderful deliverance in this section of the ‘hall of faith’ are those who faced jeers and flogging. Those who faced chains and imprisonment. Joseph was cast into a prison, Jeremiah was let down into a dungeon full of mire. Elisha was mocked severely.
The third group is those faith warriors who were put to death by stoning. How cruel would that be? Can you imagine? They were stoned to death by the hands of those who hated the living God. When they received stones on their face, head, chest and all over body how painful that experience was? They stood there and got all the stones on their bodies and gave their life for their faith. Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest who stood for the truths of the LORD was stoned to death in the courts of the house of the LORD.
The fourth group is those who were sawed in two. Cut into two pieces. Tradition says the prophet Jeremiah was sawed into two. This prophet was hated and ridiculed by all and suffered unexplainable sufferings and atrocities by his own countrymen and finally, per the tradition, he was sawed into two by the sword. Recently we have seen the pictures on our own TV in this new modern era the same atrocities against Christians in the Middle East. Many were cut into two pieces (by cutting of their head). Many Coptic Christians died by exercising their faith in God. They were strong in their faith and gave their lives for the truths of the Bible.
Some others by faith went about in sheepskins and goatskins. They were destitute. They were persecuted, and mistreated. Some others for their faith wandered in deserts and mountains. Some lived in caves and in holes in the ground. Why? This world was not worthy of them. When Jezebel decided to kill the prophets of the LORD, hundred prophets were kept in a cave hiding them from Ahab and Jezebel. The prophet Elijah had to hide in caves fearing the evil king Ahab.
Read what Bible says about them in the next verse –They were all commended for their faith. You see, the Hebrew writer in chapter 11 portrays the picture of two groups of faith warriors. Both groups are included in the ‘hall of faith’. Those who experienced wonderful and marvelous deliverances in their lifetime and those who had to experience only difficulties and pains in their lifetime. Both had heaven’s approval but clearly different experiences on this earth.
The first group described in the chapter are the people who experienced wonderful deliverance from God. They got the wonder they were waiting for or praying for. But the second group are the group of faith warriors who did not experience the wonder of God at all. They did not have a good or even decent life. In contrast, all they experienced were unexplainable sufferings. They had to live in caves and holes in the ground, persecuted, mistreated and finally a death by their enemies. Their faith was not rewarded here on the earth while they were living.
We want to be in the first group. We don’t want to be in the second group, right? But only God knows which group we will be in. Either way, when you live a life of faith in Christ, you have heaven’s approval. All of them, both groups, died in faith and none of them received what had been promised. What was promised? They lived in the faith of the promised Savior- Messiah- who will remove all their sins. The one who will die for all their sins. You see, now we are looking backward at the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. Then they were promised their sins will be removed once and for all. They did not see what we have seen now. Like Jesus, Himself said and was recorded in Luke 10:24, “For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” But in faith, they died in that promise that God will take care their sins one day in and through the promised Messiah.
Much more than that they were looking forward to something far better in future. What was that? The chapter says they only saw it and welcomed if from a distance. And they admitted they were foreigners and strangers on the earth. They stated their faith life in the living God and they were looking for a country that God is preparing for them. They did not want to go back to their old ways and when they left the old things, they don’t have any more cravings for them. Instead, they were looking for a better country – a heavenly one because God has prepared a heavenly city for them.
But the text says, “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 the 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.” Hebrews 11:13-16
How About you?
So how about you dear brother or sister in Christ? If your miracle did not happen and if your prayer was not answered remember you are not alone. You too have such a great cloud of witnesses around you and they are cheering and encouraging you to fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of our faith.
You see, in the faith venture with God, you could end up in either one of these two groups described above. Wonderful miracles and amazing deliverance may not happen to all believers. I understand this is hard and bad news. But this is the truth that Bible gives us. But remember we are not looking for a temporary reward. In contrast, we focus our attention on the divine call by Jesus and the rewards in future in heaven.
Remember all the twelve apostles except apostle John became martyrs for their faith in Christ. Apostle John was tortured when they exiled him to Patmos but later freed and went to modern-day Turkey and died as an old man. The apostles were willing to give their life for their faith in Jesus Christ because they were the witnesses of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
I don’t know about you. I am more touched by the second group of sufferers, and their faith because through a long time of trials, sufferings, persecutions and torturing, they never gave up their faith and they persevered in their faith although all things were against them. Praise and Hallelujah to the LORD! I can imagine that they even praised and worshipped God in the midst of their severe trails, fears, tortures, and face to face death experiences.
Do you know, none of them are going to get the promise without us being there on that beautiful shore of heaven. They will be perfect on that day along with us. They will get glorified bodies in heaven along with us in heaven. What a gracious, loving and faithful God we serve!
Read what Hebrews 11:39 says, “These were all commended for their faith (both victorious and suffering groups), yet none of them received what had been promised since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”