Chapter 11 is taken up with a great list of heroes of faith from the Old Testament – one after another commended for the faith that they showed. The writer seems (in a way the force of which I hadn’t really noticed before) to be building up the contours of the picture of these great forerunners living and dying still looking forward to what would be fulfilled in Jesus.
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. (11:13)
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. (11:39-40)
Faith is presented as a source of guidance and confidence in life which goes beyond sight and experience alone. I remember a sermon many years ago where the preacher pointed out that in the Biblical picture, it’s not that we walk by faith when sight fails, but that we walk by faith first, falling back on sight where we have to. In Hebrews, faith is here seen as the quality which makes it possible for us to obey and honour God even when we know that we’re still awaiting the fulfilment of his promises; even when we can’t see the evidence that he is with us.
Chapter 11 brings together the writer’s sweep of ‘greater in Christ’ themes. Because Christ has died once for all, and now stands as the perfect High Priest, we can see what Abraham, Moses and the others only greeted from a distance – the fulfilment of God’s promises.
So where does that leave our need for faith? In most of the biblical authors, there’s a strong sense of waiting for the fulfilment of God’s kingdom at some time yet to come. In Hebrews, the stronger theme is not so much ‘now and still to come’ as ‘here below and there above’ – with the sense of a perfect heavenly reality already overlapping this one.
But there is still the ‘now and still to come’ here. I love the call in 10:24-25,
Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
There’s something wonderful about the idea that the church should be meeting to provoke one another to love and good deeds – to keep us from getting too comfortable just because Jesus has completed the work of our salvation! Alone we won’t push ourselves – but how much do we really live up to this when we do meet? How would our worship and meetings be different if we lived as though we really knew that Jesus was about to come back, and that he was counting on us to be doing good together in the mean time? After all,
In a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. (10:37-38)
We have seen more than Abraham, Moses, Elijah and the others listed. We have more grounds for confident faith. Do we live up to that in our actions?