The Next Hero

Hebrews 11:39-40

March 8, 2009 | Ray Pritchard

Twice recently Marlene has brought up a song by Steve Green called Find Us Faithful. It’s a song that any Christian would find moving, but parents especially will ponder its message.  Marlene said she has been thinking about this particular verse:

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift though all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find.

What, she wondered, will our children find when we are gone? What sort of legacy are we leaving? Just today she asked, “What if people came to our home and looked around? What message would they find here?”

“China,” I said. They would find China in our home. And they would know we have three sons and two wonderful daughters-in-law. And they would know about football and the civil war and they would see evidence of our two basset hounds.

Would they know that we lived by faith?
Would they know that we loved the Lord?
Would they know that we honored the Bible?
Would they know that we were followers of Jesus?

It seems a strange conversation to have, but you reach a point in life where you know that you won’t live forever. I’m 56 on my way to what? 60? 70? 80? Who knows? But this much is certain.  No one lives forever.

Already our sons are grown up and moved out on the own. We’ve been empty nesters for a few years now. Life rushes on, we get so busy, and then one day the Lord says, “It’s time to come home.”

What will we leave behind? Will those who come behind us find us faithful?

Until tonight I never realized that Steve Green must have written this song based on Hebrews 11 because the second verse goes like this:

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who’ve gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives.

With this message we come to the end of our journey through Hebrews 11. I find myself overwhelmed as I think about the challenge of living like these great men and women who left behind that “heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives.”

So for one last time, let’s take a journey through this wonderful chapter and remind ourselves of those who ran the race before us.

This chapter tells us over and over again what faith is. It defines faith by describing how it works. Here are twenty descriptions of faith for us to ponder.

God loves it when his people dare to trust him.
</h6 class=”pullquote”>

Faith Always Involves the Unseen.

That refers to faith as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (v. 1). By faith we see what the world cannot see. The world says, “Seeing is believing.” God says, “Believing is seeing.” We believe, therefore we see.

Faith Wins God’s Approval.

That refers to the Old Testament heroes who trusted in God (v. 2). In some churches when preachers get excited, they will say, “Can I get a witness?” They want someone to shout “Amen!” That’s what verse 2 means. Only it is God doing the witnessing. When Moses stood up for righteousness, when David slew Goliath, when the three Hebrew children refused to bow down, when Nehemiah rebuilt the walls, when Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, God looked down from heaven and said, “Amen! That’s my boy. That’s my girl! Those are my kids. They all belong to me.”

God loves it when his people dare to trust him. He loves it so much that he bears witness to the world that his people belong to him.

Faith Explains the Universe.

That refers to the great question of how the world came to be (v. 3). Did we evolve from molecules to man in some undirected, random act of chance? Many proponents of evolution would answer yes. They say that evolution explains the universe and all that is in it. But Hebrews 11:3 tells us that God designed the universe. He designed it, framed it, and spoke it into existence. He spoke and the stars filled the sky. He spoke and the mountains rose. He spoke and the birds flew, the fish swam, and the rabbit hopped across the meadow. He spoke and suddenly there was Adam. He breathed into Adam the breath of life, had him name the animals, put him to sleep, and took a rib and fashioned Eve. Then he performed the very first wedding ceremony (Genesis 2:18-25).

Science plus faith leads you back to God. Science without faith leaves you in a hopeless quandary.
</h6 class=”pullquote”>

Science plus faith leads you back to God. Science without faith leaves you in a hopeless quandary.

Faith Gains Acceptance With God.

That would be Abel who offered a “better sacrifice” from Cain (v 4). Though God accepted his sacrifice, jealousy caused his brother Cain to murder him. But note this. Both were religious men. It’s not religion that God wants. He never wanted a river of animal blood as the payment for sin. It was the faith behind that sacrifice that mattered to God. Genesis 4:4 says that God looked with favor on Abel and his offering. The order is crucial: first the man, then the offering. Ditto for Cain. Man looks on the outward and makes his judgments that way. God always looks to the heart first and foremost. Where there is no faith, even the finest offering the world can make no difference.

Faith Pleases God.

That would be Enoch (vv. 5-6) who at the age of 65 began to walk with God when his son Methuselah was born. Perhaps he was like many men who don’t get serious until they look into the face of their firstborn son or daughter. Suddenly they realize the heavy weight of responsibility that is upon them. Perhaps that’s what happened to Enoch. In any case he walked with God for 300 years.

One day Enoch and God had walked so far that God said, “Why don’t you come home with me?” And Enoch walked beyond space and time into eternity. He “was not” because God took him off the earth and allowed him to enter heaven without experiencing death.

Living by faith means stepping out for God and leaving the results to him.
</h6 class=”pullquote”>

Faith Saves Your Family.

That would be Noah who built an ark when he had never seen rain (v. 7). He preached righteousness to a generation that cared nothing for his message. When the world was going to hell around him, Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. So he built the ark and saved his family.

Take heart from Noah’s example. You can be godly in a very ungodly world. Let’s stop complaining about the evil of the present day. As bad as things are, they were worse in Noah’s day. Back then, there were only eight true believers in the whole world. We have far more spiritual advantages than Noah had. All we need is the courage to do what Noah did and to believe what God has said.

Faith Steps Out and Never Looks Back.

That would be Abraham who left Ur of the Chaldees as a prosperous, middle-aged businessman who heard the voice of God and departed for parts unknown (vv. 8-10). Living by faith means stepping out for God and leaving the results to him. It’s no guarantee of long life and good success. You may have those blessings. But you may not.

The life of faith means, “I am going to be the man or woman God wants me to be, no matter where it leads. I don’t know the future, but I’m trusting him to work out the details. In the meantime, I step out by faith and follow where he leads me.”

Faith Raises Up a Godly Heritage.

That’s Sarah who believed the promise of God when she 90 years old (vv. 11-12). And even after the scandalous situation involving Hagar and Ishmael, God never wavered from his plan to give children to Abraham and Sarah. So it happened that a 100-year-old man and a 90-year-old woman joined together and brought forth Isaac. Through she never lived to see her grandchildren, her faith brought forth a vast multitude.

Faith Believes What It Sees in the Distance.

That’s all the Old Testament believers (vv. 13-16) who, like passengers on an ocean liner, wave as they pass islands in the distance. They lived and died and never received all that God had promised. But they never gave up. And God was proud of them because of their faith. He called them his sons and daughters.

Death cannot cancel the promises of God.
</h6 class=”pullquote”>

Faith Holds Nothing Back.

That’s Abraham who offered his son Isaac on the altar (vv. 17-19), typifying the coming death and resurrection of Jesus Christ many centuries later. And in so doing, he demonstrated that true faith goes “all in” for God. It does not withhold the dearest and the best.

Faith See Beyond the Moment of Death.

That’s Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, father, son and grandson, who at the point of death looked to the future (vv. 20-22). Jacob blessed his sons, Jacob his grandsons, and Joseph looked into the distant future and said, “Don’t leave my bones in Egypt. When you here, take my bones with you.” Joseph knew that death could not cancel the promises of God.

After I preached on this at Mount Hermon in California, I received a note from a man who heard that sermon. It happened that he and his wife celebrated their 50th anniversary at the conference. This is part of what he wrote:

I want you to know that 2 of the most touching things you said at the end of the conference made it all worthwhile for me. They are, “When a Christian dies, nothing of God dies.” and “Death cannot cancel the promises of God.” I have friends who are dying so often now, and these little phrases may be just the encouragement they may need, or that the family would love to hear.

Faith Risks Everything-Gladly!

That would be the parents of Moses who defied Pharaoh’s order and hid Moses so that he would not be put to death (v. 23). They feared God so much, they didn’t fear the king at all. They sensed that God had a particular purpose in mind for Moses, one that they could not have imagined at the time. As far as we know, no angel came and said, “Your son will someday deliver God’s people from Egypt.” But they knew that he was a gift from God, a special delivery child from heaven, deserving of their love and protection. And so they risked everything to keep him alive.

Faith Refuses the World.

That would be Moses (vv. 24-28) whom the Egyptians fundamentally misunderstood. Though raised in Pharaoh’s court, though he knew  the Egyptian language and culture, though raised in the lap of luxury and potentially an heir to the throne himself, he counted it all as nothing because he knew who he was and where he came from. Like Daniel in a different time and place, he couldn’t be seduced because he remembered his heritage. And when the chips were down, the walked away from Egypt and took up the cause of the oppressed people of God.

Faith Separates the Church from the World.

That would be Moses and the children of Israel at the Red Sea (v. 29). They  experienced one of the mightiest miracles in the Bible. While they walked across on dry ground, when the Egyptians tried to follow them, the waters came and swallowed them up. Thus does faith make a great separation in the world. Today it can be hard to tell who is who. As the saying goes, You can’t tell the players without a scorecard. But the Lord knows his own. He takes note of their faith. He knows who truly belongs to him. And in the great judgment to come, true faith in Jesus Christ will be the bright dividing line between the saved and the lost.

Everything hangs on those two words. “But God.”
</h6 class=”pullquote”>

Faith Brings Down the Walls of Impossibility.

That would be Joshua and the people of Israel who marched around the walls of Jericho for seven straight days (v. 30). Nothing seemed more absurd than the sight of thousands of Jews marching silently around the walled city of Jericho while the priests blew the trumpets in front of the Ark of the Covenant. There was no way-no way!-that the Jews could ever get into that vast called city.

But God!

I told someone recently that those were the two most important words in the Bible. Everything hangs on those two words. “But God.” When we start to count up the problems we face, they soon look overwhelming. Some people reading these words feel backed in to a corner. Maybe your situation looks hopeless. If so, remember these two words.

But God!

Faith Redeems an Unsavory Past.

That would be Rahab the harlot (v. 31). She had three strikes against her. She was a woman, she was a Gentile, and she was a harlot. The Bible makes no attempt to cover up or downplay her past.  She traded sex with men for money in the “world’s oldest profession.” But because she hid the spies, they promised to spare her if she put a scarlet cord outside her window.

No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace.
</h6 class=”pullquote”>

When the great invasion came, she was spared and her family was spared, but the whole city around her was destroyed. This story teaches us that no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. Even in the midst of judgment, God reaches out and saves a harlot who turns to him in faith.

Faith Empowers Flawed Heroes.

That would be Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, four flawed heroes from the book of Judges (v. 32).  Each had significant weaknesses. Gideon defeated the Midianites despite his fear. Barak defeated the Canaanites despite being forced into battle by a woman. Samson defeated the Philistines despite his moral compromise with Delilah. Jephthah defeated the Ammonites despite making a rash vow that cost the life of his virgin daughter. None of these men were wholly admirable. They were all messed up in one way or another.

Which makes them pretty much like us.

If God can use them, he can surely use us.

Faith Overcomes the Odds.

That would be all the heroes of the Old Testament who went into battle and won great victories (vv. 33-35). That would be the kings who brought righteousness to their land. That would be Daniel in the lions’ den. That would be his three friends who did not burn up in the fiery furnace. That would be the men and women who didn’t think they could but trusted God anyway. That would be the widow of Zarephath and the Shunammite woman who received their sons back to life.

Faith Pays a Great Price.

That would be the martyrs who were hated, abused, mocked, pursued, falsely accused, and then were tortured and put to death (vv. 35-38). There was nothing wrong with their faith. Nothing! They were just as pleasing to God in their agony as the saints who were delivered by great miracles. Remember the majestic closing words from Luther’s hymn A Mighty Fortress:

Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Faith Joins Us With a Glorious Past.

“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” (vv 39-40).

That would be all the men and women in ancient times that lived by faith. He means that we should stand back and look at this long list of heroes-all of them as a group-and know that God gave a witness, “These are my kids. They all belong to me.” From Enoch to Rahab, from Jephthah to Sarah, from Daniel to Elijah, from Moses to Hezekiah, and from Jeremiah to Esther, they were all commended by God.

So if they managed to do great things by faith, we have no excuse when we don’t.
</h6 class=”pullquote”>

They only lacked one thing. They never received the promise.
But we have!
We know Jesus Christ.

All these heroes lived and died before Christ came. And yet they lived by faith

They had the shadow. We have the substance.
They had the sacrifices. We have Jesus, the fulfillment of the sacrifices.
They saw the coming of Christ afar off. We know him personally.
They knew so little. We know so much.
They had a tiny spark of light. We have the Light of the World.

So if they managed to do great things by faith, we have no excuse when we don’t. That’s the whole point!

“I Expect God Will”

On May 12, 1807 Robert Morrison boarded a ship in New York on his way to China where he would become the first Protestant missionary in that great land. After 113 days at sea, he arrived in Macao, on the southern coast of China. Seven years later he baptized his first convert. He served for 27 years as a missionary in China, dying at the age of 52. It is said that on his voyage to China, when someone derisively asked if he expected to convert China, he replied, “No, but I expect God will.” When he finally baptized his first convert, he wrote these words in his journal:

May he be the first fruits of a great harvest, one of millions who shall come and be saved on the day of wrath to come.

God gave him faith to see beyond his meager beginning to a day when a vast multitude of Chinese would be saved. On that day no one would have believed it possible. You do the math. If it took seven years for the first convert, it would seventy years for ten converts. It was a pipedream to talk of “millions” of Chinese coming to Christ.

Morrison, like so many heroes of the faith, died without ever seeing his dream come true. At his death it would be fair to say that evangelical Christianity had established a tiny toehold along the coast of China. Years later others would come, including J. Hudson Taylor. Over time the gospel would spread very slowly into the interior where the primary opposition came from suspicious Chinese who regarded Christianity as a “white man’s religion.” That stigma would last for well over a century. Slowly, very slowly, missionaries carried the Good News to the cities and towns of the Middle Kingdom.

Today in China there are more Christians than members of the Communist Party.
</h6 class=”pullquote”>

Then came the Communist takeover in 1949. That’s where the story turns in a new direction. When the Communists came to power, there were perhaps 700,000 Christians in China. For years the church was persecuted, pastors were imprisoned, and churches were destroyed. Many lost their lives for their faith. When the curtain began to lift in 1980, many feared that the church in China had been destroyed. But during the years of oppression it grew to 10 million. Today some people say the church in China numbers 130 million. It’s the most amazing story of church growth in the last 100 years. Today in China there are more Christians than members of the Communist Party.

I mention that to reflect on the faith of Robert Morrison who back in 1814 “saw” the day when millions of Chinese would come to Christ. That’s how faith works.

That leads me to the final question for this final sermon from Hebrews 11.

Who will be the next hero of the faith?
Why not you?

Who will respond to God’s call?
Why not you?

Who will stand up against the world?
Why not you?

Who will step out in faith?
Why not you?

Who will march around the walls?
Why not you?

Who will dream big dreams for God?
Why not you?

Who will lead the way for your family to follow?
Why not you?

Hebrews 11 is God’s “Perpetual Plaque” of those who live by faith.
</h6 class=”pullquote”>

Who will risk opposition from the world?
Why not you?

Who will become the next Abraham, the next Sarah, the next David, the next Esther?
Why not you?

Who will give up the pleasures of the world for the sake of the cross?
Why not you?

We’ve all seen “perpetual plaques” on the walls of schools, churches and hospitals. Those plaques list the names of people whose gifts made the building possible. But if you look closely, there are always blank spaces on a “perpetual plaque” because there is always room for more.

Hebrews 11 is God’s “Perpetual Plaque” of those who lived by faith.

And if you look closely, you can see there is plenty of room for more names.

There’s room for you and there’s room for me.

By faith Sharon . . .
By faith Eddie . . .
By faith Shavez . . .
By faith Debbie . . .
By faith Carlos . . .
By faith Arlyn . . .
By faith Terry . . .
By faith Rajesh  . . .
By faith Millie . . .
By faith Carolyn . . .
By faith Ray . . .
By faith Marlene . . .

Who will be the next hero of the faith? Why not you?

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

May God give us steady courage to follow the Lord so that someday our names might be added to the long list of men and women who lived and died by faith. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?