HUNGRY SAINTS SUPPLEMENT
"By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground" (Heb 11:29-38).
The effectiveness of faith is again seen in its effects. Israel passed safely through the very Sea in which Pharaoh and his armies were drowned. The difference between them is that Israel believed. They were willing to risk upon the Word of the Lord. There was no reason to venture through that river bed apart from the command of God. It defied logic, and challenged their courage. Yet they did it. They were neither disappointed nor ashamed for trusting God in the Red Sea crossing. When facing the first battlements of the promised land, Israel realized victory through faith. The walls of Jericho were formidable, yet they were like paper before the mighty tide of faith. Believing the Word of God, Israel circled the city walls for seven days--once each day, and seven times on the seventh day. Their involvement in the toppling of the walls was uncomplicated. The priests blew a long blast on the ram's horn, and the people shouted. The laws of physics do not provide for such action to cause walls to fall down. It was faith that caused the walls to fall contrary to the law of physics. They did not crumble, they "fell down flat" as though pushed from the inside out (Josh 6:3-20). God did it, and faith caused the Israelites to enter into the victory.
The account of Rahab the harlot also exemplifies the power and effectiveness of faith. "By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace" (11:31). When Israelite spies came into Jericho, Rahab was swift to recognize the city was about to be judged. The presence of the spies was reported to the king of Jericho. The people reporting the incident know where the men were from, and why they were there (Josh 2:2). When the king sent to inquire of Rahab, she said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don't know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them" (Josh 2:4-5). This was not an accurate portrayal of what happened. Scripture apprizes us, "But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof" (v.6). Some would call this a lie, but the Scripture refers to her deed as an act of faith. She protected the spies because she knew they were from God. She told the spies, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you" (v.7). Rather than succumbing to fear, however, Rahab gave assistance to the spies--BY FAITH. The result was a marvelous deliverance. "Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent" (Josh 6:17). She was unqualified for deliverance because she was not included in Israel. She was also unqualified because she was a harlot. Faith rose above these disqualifications, and brought the blessing to her.
There were also great victories wrought by faith--i.e., triumph was realized because the people believed God. A wide variety of accomplishments are listed. They include the subduing of kingdoms (2 Sam 8:11), working righteousness (Num 25:7-11), obtained promises (2 Sam 7:11-17) stopping the mouths of lions (Judges 14:5; 1 Sam 34:34-35; Dan 6:22-23), quenching the violence of fire (Dan 3:19-28), escaping the edge of the sword (2 Kgs 6:16-18), being made strong out of a state of weakness (Judges 7:19-25), becoming valiant in the heat of battle (2 Sam 23:9-10), putting alien armies to flight (1 Sam 14:13-15), and women receiving their dead raised to life (1 Kgs 17:22-24). Faith made those saints equal to the challenges they faced. They believed God, and thus were given Divine strength with which the world could not contend. Faith also enabled past saints to endure unspeakable opposition and suffering. It provided people with the eagle eye of faith which saw beyond the adversities through which they passed. Some were "tortured, not accepting deliverance." It was not the deliverance of God they rejected, but the deliverance of men. They chose to suffer unto death because of their persuasion of the resurrection. Rather than choosing deliverance from a prison in exchange for their denial of the faith, they chose to look forward to the resurrection of the dead, keeping their faith. The spiritual substance appropriated by faith enabled them to do this. Their persuasion of involvement with God enabled them to taste the worst the world had to offer--and to do it admirably. Heartless mockings, merciless beatings, chains and imprisonments were endured by faith. Some sent to glory in a hail of stones, and some was sawn in two. Others were thrust from society to wander in animal sins in a state of destitution, affliction, and torment. They became nomads, with no certain dwelling place, being hounded by ruthless enemies. Although they appeared to be the scum of the earth, the world was not worthy of them. It is not possible to get into a situation for which faith does not equip you. Faith makes people adequate for the greatest triumph and the greatest affliction--the height and the depth, abounding and suffering need!
"All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:13-16; 39-40, NASB)
Sin has so affected the discretionary powers of fallen man, that extensive reasoning attends the promises of God. This reasoning is designed to persuade our hearts of the reality of the things God has promised to those who love Him.
It is not enough to provide an academic definition of critical Kingdom matters. The heart must take hold on the truth to profit from it. It is imperative that the world, with all of its delusions, is pushed into the background by our apprehension of the truth of God. Therefore, the Holy Spirit makes strong appeals to our heart, striving to motivate us for the glory of God. If we are not moved to abandon all for Christ, we will fail.
The objective of Scripture is to feed our souls, encourage our hearts, and our confirm faith is effectual. The introduction of prior saints provides all of this. Faith is depicted in the crucible of life. In prior saints we see how faith functions in triumph and seeming defeat. It can enable us to excel, as well as suffer need. In the last analysis, faith prepares us for the world to come. It is not designed to ensconce us in this world, but to ready us for the next one. A religion that leaves people clinging to, and placing a priority upon, life in the flesh, is seriously deficient and out of harmony with heaven. The lives of prior saints confirm this to be the case.
"All these died in faith, without receiving the promises . . . " Once again, this confirms the transitory nature of life in the flesh. Although these saints experienced marvelous blessings from God, they all (with the exception of Enoch and Elijah) "died." Even in the cases of Enoch and Elijah, however, they left this world. They did not remain to live forever in a temporal body. Their faith had suited them for another world, and thus they had to leave this one. They did not "die" in the ordinary sense of the word, but they did leave this realm, and thus are included in the point under consideration. Make no mistake about this, the righteous do not die as other men! Even Balaam knew this. He said, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" (Num 23:10).
What is "the death of the righteous?" It is the conclusion of life in a peaceful condition. As it is written, "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace" (Psa 37:37). Simeon knew this, and requested the same following his viewing of the holy Child (Luke 2:29). It is a death that is "precious in the sight of the Lord" (Psa 116:15). It is also a deliverance from the "evil to come" (Isa 57:1-2). Death belongs to those who live by faith (1 Cor 3:21-22). It is an occasion belonging to the people of God--and they triumph in it.
Notwithstanding these circumstances, the blessedness of the death of the righteous is not automatic, or without human involvement. Prior saints confirm this to be the case. They all "died in the faith," a condition requiring their diligent participation. When they heard a word from God, they had to keep their grasp of it, hiding it in their hearts. They had to think upon it, ponder it, and give it dominance when life circumstances appeared to contradict it. When the Lord visited them, they could not forget it, take it for granted, or treat it as a casual matter. Like you, they had to "fight" to maintain their faith, warding off contradicting and hostile thoughts (1 Tim 6:12).
Jesus spoke of "faith as a mustard seed," declaring it was potent enough to move a mountain and make all things "possible to you" (Matt 17:20). Such faith does not involve minuscule effort, a stubborn heart, or an insensitive ear. The mustard seed is used to convince us of the POTENTIAL of faith. How excellently this is demonstrated in the patriarchs. With extremely limited revelation (comparatively speaking), "these all died in the faith, without receiving the promises." This circumstance was not owing to any unbelief, but because they lived prior to the time appointed for the fulfillment of the Messianic or covenantal promises. While in the world Abraham and Sarah never did see all nations blessed through their offspring--but they died knowing it would come to pass! Isaac and Jacob did not live to see their seed inhabit the promised land--but they died knowing it would come to pass! While in this world, David did not see the promised King upon his throne---but he died knowing it would come to pass!
To "die in faith" has more to do with your persuasion of the future than of the present. At death, when you face the "last enemy," and the warfare may be the most fierce, the glories of the world to come can envelope your soul. Your heart and mind can be dominated by what the Lord is going to do, rather than what you are passing through. At the hour you descend into the valley of the shadow of death, you can boldly say with the Psalmist, "Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident" (Psa 27:3).
Believing God, does not depend upon realizing promised benefits in this world! At best, what we receive now is only a pledge, first fruits, or earnest. If you are to glorify God in your death (John 21:19), you must die in faith, "fully persuaded that, what he had promised, He is able also to perform" (Rom 4:21). Presently, you do not have an incorruptible body--but you can die in faith, persuaded you will have one (1 Cor 15:52). Now, Satan is not yet crushed under your feet--but you can die believing "the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly" (Rom 16:20). In this world, you shed tears, experience sorrow, and endure pain. But you can die in faith, believing you will enter a realm where "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (Rev 21:4). Faith does not let go of the promises when we face death, but grips them more firmly than ever before.
I give tribute to prior saints, who did not bask in the bright sunlight afforded us now. They died believing the blessings we possess would be fulfilled according to God's promise. I applaud those who died before the remission of sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and participation in the Divine nature. They died believing in the God of promise, knowing His word would not fall to the ground. What will faithless people say when they face these saints on the day of judgment? How will those who have stumbled appear when they stand before a body of saints who died believing, even though they never received the promise? Be challenged by these prior saints. Their experience was inferior to that which is offered to you, but their faith was not. It made them adequate to life's challenges, and it will make you equal to every circumstance also. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. That is not a mere theological position. It is an unwavering Kingdom reality.
Faith sees what is inaccessible to the carnal senses. It reaches into eternity, and penetrates the mysterious realms that are beyond nature. Take saints before Jesus as an example of this. Even though they did not receive the promises, they saw "them afar off, were assured of them, and embraced them." For some of them, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, "afar off" was measured in millenniums--thousands of years. For all of them, it was well beyond their own life, generation, and even dispensation. Not only were the promises "afar off" in the sense of fulfillment, they were also "afar off" in their clarity. Some past saints were given very little detail concerning coming blessing. They heard the promises in terms of "the Seed of the woman" (Gen 3:15), "a Prophet" (Deut 18:15,18), "a King," and "a Man"(Isa 32:2). Some heard of "finishing the transgression," making an "end of sins," making "reconciliation," and bringing in "everlasting righteousness" (Dan 9:24). As time progressed, others heard of men receiving a "new heart," and willingly walking in the ways of the Lord (Ezek 36:26-27). However, little was comprehended concerning HOW these promises would be fulfilled.
The patriarchs occupied a segment of time that was, by it's very nature, "afar off" from the coming promises. Yet, this was not an insurmountable obstacle for faith. Faith reached past their generation, seeing the promises: comprehending them, and being convinced of their reality. The Word of God declares they "were persuaded of them, and embraced them." That, of course, is a quality of faith. It persuades the heart of the reality seen, and brings the moral power to embrace it. Joseph saw Israel coming out of Egyptian bondage 400 years before it happened, was persuaded it would happen, and commanded his bones to be taken out with them (Gen 50:25). Before Joseph, Job saw the resurrection of the dead in the end of time and affirmed, "Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes shall see and not another" (Job 19:26).
Faith convinces the heart of the reality of Divine commitment! That is its unvarying nature. Living at a distance from the fulfillment of the promise is no hindrance to faith. It persuades the individual of coming realities, and constrains its possessor to embrace them. It does not produce eloquent arguments designed to persuade the individual, but fastens upon the Word of a God Who cannot lie. The Person in fellowship with God sees the future from a perspective unknown to the children of darkness, and confidently embraces it.
" . . . and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." These prior saints not only did not fit into the world order, they knew they did not, and acknowledged it without shame. Jacob referred to his tenure in the promised land as his "pilgrimage" (Gen 47:9). The land of Canaan, with all of its "milk and honey" (Ex 3:8) did not engross the attention of the patriarchs. Their affinity with the Almighty had so dwarfed the world and all that is in it, that they acknowledged they were "strangers and exiles on the earth" (NASB, RSV)--"aliens and strangers" (NIV)! While in the world, they were away from their real home. They felt the conflict of the world, its chaffing temptations, and the lure of the transitory. Faith produced this condition! As it gave substance to things hoped for, and became the evidence of things not seen, a sense of not belonging arose in regards to "this present evil world."
They did not have what you have! They did not have the indwelling Spirit (Gal 4:6). The Father and the Son had not taken up Their abode with them (John 14:21,23). Life and immortality had been illuminated for them (2 Tim 1:10). Their conscience had not been purged from dead works (Heb 9:14). No! The day of those remarkable benefits had not yet dawned. The "Sun of righteousness" had not yet risen with "healing in His wings" (Mal 4:2). Still, the summons of the Almighty had opened a glory to them that eclipsed the best things of this world. The Divine call had uprooted their basic affection from the earth. They sensed the world could not give them what they now longed for. They were "strangers and pilgrims in the earth," and they knew it and confessed it.
Faith reconciles us to God, but alienates us from the world. That has always been the case. The closer you are to the Lord, the further you are from the world. If the patriarchs knew this, how much more those who have "tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" (Heb 6:4-5). When you participate in "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places" (Eph 1:3), you have indulged in things superior to this world. They satisfy the soul, and whet the appetite for eternal glories. That is what they are designed to do. Those in love with this world are not imbibing the things of God. They are not sitting at the King's table! Their at-home- ness in this world belies any claim they may make to being a Christian, or saved, or having a home in heaven.
There is an unavoidable conflict between heaven and earth, the eternal and the temporal, the unseen and the seen! Those who attempt to straddle, as it were, both worlds, living comfortably in them both, attempt the impossible. This is something for which Divine assistance is not available! A heavenly citizen can live as a stranger in this world, but an earthly citizen cannot live under any circumstances in heavenly places! The power of God, through faith, can enable the individual to occupy a temporary residence--this world. However, nature cannot empower us to live in an eternal realm. The lower never strengthens for the higher. The flesh has no ability to acclimate us to the Spirit. As it is written, "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please" (Gal 5:17, NASB).
Faith, in making us "strangers and pilgrims in the earth" empowers us to refrain from sinful indulgences. As it is written, "Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul" (1 Pet 2:11). Oh, that everyone in Christ saw this with greater clarity! An acute awareness of your citizenship in heaven will bring a disdain for sin. Notice the nature of Peter's appeal. It is powerful! He pleads with us upon the basis of our alien status in the world. We do not belong here. Salvation has uprooted our hearts and affection from this realm. We are being conformed to the image of God's Son, Who is in heaven. Spiritual life is readying us to occupy a glorified body. In view of these things, it is unreasonable to immerse ourselves in the world order! As "strangers and pilgrims in the earth," and taught by the grace of God, we "deny ungodliness and WORLDLY lusts" (Tit 2:12). Those who profess godliness, yet are worldly in their outlook and manner, have, by that very condition, betrayed their affection is not set on heavenly things. They are not living by faith, and are not walking in the Spirit. They are therefore on the very precipice of eternal ruin. Their salvation depends on the correction of their condition. If men are not brought to live by faith, they cannot be saved!
"For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one." There is more to being godly than being separate from the world and refraining from fleshly lusts. Being discontent with the world is not enough! Having a hatred for sin is not enough! Unless our aversion to the world is produced by a longing for heaven, it is of no benefit to us. If our hatred for iniquity is not the result of our love for righteousness, it is meaningless.
The patriarchs, by their confession of strangership, made clear they were seeking another country--one with which they would be harmonious. They were not simply reactionaries, but genuine travelers--pilgrims! Faith produced this reaction and action within them. Mind you, there had not been much said about a "heavenly country" in those spiritually primitive times. The promises made to these men spoke of a country in this world, even giving the borders and dimensions of the land (Gen 13:15; 15:18-21; 17:8; 26:3). God did not speak to them of a heavenly inheritance. How is it that they desired "a better country, that is a heavenly one?"
It was their acquaintance with God Himself--their faith--that prompted their quest. Their hearts knew there had to be something better than a country in this world. They knew God had come down to walk with Adam (Gen 3:8-9), and even to view the work at Babel (Gen 11:5). Their longing involved more than a peaceful habitation. They were actually longing for the "courts of the Lord." I do not doubt they were unable to articulate this desire adequately, but their heart had grasped it by faith. Their faith had brought them into acquaintance with God. They knew "their own" country had to be one where God Himself resided. They therefore "looked" earnestly and expectantly for that land.
Candidly, I am concerned that this mind-set is relatively strange in the contemporary church. The average church service will not convince you the people are discontent with this world, and fervently in the quest of a heavenly country. But where this spirit is not found, faith is not found! Faith is what produces estrangement from this world and a longing for the "world to come." It never fails to produce these results. They are in every believer, differing only in degree. Faith is uprooting us from the temporal realm, and creating an insatiable appetite for a "better country, that is, an heavenly." In confirmation of this, the Psalmist cried out, "One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to meditate in His temple" (Psa 27:4, NASB). David once spoke of his pilgrimage in this world, and the anticipation of dwelling in the next one. "Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever" (Psa 23:6).
This is the objective of God, as saliently stated in the Sixty-Fifth Psalm. "Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple" (verse 4). We must never forget that Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant in order that "those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Heb 9:15, NASB). Faith brings a sense of this, even though we may not be able to articulate it clearly. Believing God makes us restless in this world. We have been called into an eternal realm, and yet we are surrounded by temporality. This condition makes us "strangers and pilgrims," and urges us to seek a better country.
It is our business to appeal to the regenerated in a proper manner. Frequent appeals ought to be made to their lack of affinity with this world. No approach to them should encourage them to be at home in this world. We will not counsel our brethren to blend in with the world, participate in its manners, or imbibe its mind. If faith has made them strangers and pilgrims, woe to the person that seeks to make them friends with the world. I am afraid that altogether too much effort is being expended to bring believers into harmony with this world. We do not belong here! Our citizenship is in heaven! Faith does not allow for our speech, manners, and appearance to make it difficult to distinguish between the world and us! We speak differently, because we are citizens of another country with a different nomenclature.
Our life in this world is a "sojourn." We are journeying through the world to a "better country." That makes our lives here temporary. But faith has suited us for the eternal, and is preparing us to enter an everlasting habitation. It simply is not possible to live by faith, and yet remain at home in this world. However cultured and likeable people may be, those who want to stay in this world have managed to suppress what measure of faith they may have. Faith will not allow you to settle down in the realm of the curse. It will constrain you to run the race that is set before you, and look for a place where we will no more wander, go out, or be confronted with contradiction.
If they had been mindful
"And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return." He is speaking of the patriarchs, and of the land they left. As it is written, "they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees." Israel thought about Egypt after they had been delivered from it, even seeking to appoint a captain to lead them back. "And why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt? So they said to one another, "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt" (Num 14:3-4, NASB). But this is not the spirit that drove the patriarchs! Faith pushed them forward, not backward! It blurred what was behind them.
The argument here is strong, and worthy of elaboration. The patriarchs did not consider themselves strangers because they came from Mesopotamia. They might have been able to return to their homeland if they wanted to, but they did NOT want to. They left Ur of the Chaldees willingly. They were not driven out like the inhabitants of Canaan (Ex 23:23-31). When, therefore, the Spirit speaks of another "country," the land from which they departed was not the subject. They sought a heavenly country. That longing made them just as much a stranger in Mesopotamia as in Canaan; just as much a stranger in Ur of the Chaldees as in the geographical land of promise.
I often hear people of age, or those suffering from a disease, speak of wanting to go to heaven, but not now. It all may sound innocent enough, but it is not. Their words betray the absence of a dominating hope and persuading faith. Whatever may be said of their church membership and allegiance to a theological position, they have admitted they are really not strangers and pilgrims in the earth. How, then, will they be able to resist its lusts, which "war against the soul?" It is time for the professed church to take seriously the at-home-ness of its members in this world. It is not acceptable to God, Who has called us "out of the world" (John 15:19; 17:6), and it must not be acceptable to us! The worldly mind-set is out of place in every facet of the faith life. It is to be thrust out of our churches with aggressive determination.
"But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them." Note, this was not a creedal profession (i.e., I believe there is a heaven). The "desired" a heavenly country! If the Psalmist could "long" after God's precepts, commandments, and salvation (Psa 119:40,131,174), what will faith in Christ provoke within the saints today? On one occasion, when cut off the house of God, David lamented, "My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. The bird also has found a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even Thine altars, O LORD of hosts, My King and my God. How blessed are those who dwell in Thy house! They are ever praising Thee. Selah" (Psa 84:2-4). He even envied the small swallow, who could build her nest in the upper parts of God's house, dwelling peacefully there. There, the insignificant bird could lay her young upon the altars of God. But David was cut off from such privileges, and therefore envied the birds. What a sensitive spirit! No wonder this was a man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:14). I wonder how David would react to the spirit of our age, when people appear to have little longing to be in places identified with God, and among people in quest for glory. It will be interesting, to say the least, to hear him on judgment day!
God Is Not Ashamed
Why was God unashamed to be identified with these saints? It was not because they were a part of a condoned group--one that possessed all the truth, so to speak. Nor, indeed, was it owing to the accomplishments of these believers. It was because of their DESIRE! "They desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God." The Spirit is referring to God's open identity with the patriarchs. "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex 3:6). There are precious few people in the history of the world of whom this is said. God was also known as "the God of Elijah" (2 Kgs 2:14), "the God of Daniel" (Dan 6:26), "the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego" (Dan 3:29), and "the God of . . . David" (2 Kgs 20:5). In each of the cases, their desire was Godward and heavenward. None of these men were willing to compromise their faith to prolong their life in this world. None of them were at home in the world, or sought the approbation of the world. That is precisely what endeared them to God!
It is more than interesting that it has become fashionable in this unspiritual day for some preachers and teachers to criticize Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, speaking of them with a sense of shame. God is not ashamed to be identified with them, and neither am I! It is not on the part of wisdom to hold up to ridicule or disrepute those with whom God has identified Himself. Such actions will be called into account on the day of judgment. Those who judge these patriarchs as though they were common men, will themselves be judged, even as they have judged.
If God is "not ashamed" to be identified with those desiring a heavenly country, what of those who do not? How does God regard those who do not long for His courts and His Presence? How must He view those who have a preference for this world, when He gave His Son "to deliver us from this present evil world" (Gal 1:4)? When He has apprized us of the coming destruction of the world (2 Pet 3:10-12), how will He consider those who refuse to become detached from it? It appears to me [and this is an opinion] that we are being faced with a form of religion that brings shame upon its adherents. Much of what is going on in the name of the Lord will, in fact, be repudiated on the day of judgment (Matt 7:22-23). If God is "NOT ASHAMED" of those desiring a heavenly country, you will be hard pressed to deny He IS ashamed of those who do NOT desire the same.
He has prepared for them a city
God is also unashamed of these desiring saints because He has "prepared FOR THEM a city"--a place where they will be at home! The word "city" is used because it is a society more than a place. It was said of Abraham, "For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb 11:10). By faith, and in our spirits, we have already come "unto the city of the living God" (Heb 12:22). It is a city where God is dominant, where His will is preferred and prevails, and where the people are of one accord. It is a place in which to reside, not to visit. There we dwell, but do not sojourn! Jesus called it "the city of My God" (Rev 3:12). It is also called the "holy city and the new Jerusalem" (Rev 21:2,10). It has been prepared for those who have left the cursed order, and are strangers and pilgrims in the earth. Their appetites have been whetted for better things, and they will have them.
Throughout the history of the world, the people of God have been subjected to sorrow, difficulty, and often harm--from people. Abel was killed by Cain. Enoch walked with God in spite of a contrary society. Noah had to build the ark in the midst of a jeering and rejecting generation. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had to contend with the heathen. Joseph even had a controversy with his own brethren. The children of Israel were subject to abuse in Egypt, and Moses endured the contradiction of his own people. The prophets were rejected by the very ones to whom their words were addressed. John the Baptist faced the opposition of a wicked woman, and was finally beheaded. Jesus was rejected by the very people to whom He came. The Apostles were counted as the "filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things" (1 Cor 4:13). This world has never been a friend to the people of God!
Jesus said, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19). No amount of culture can remove this basic enmity. The only way to avoid it is to deny the faith, and walk in the flesh. The patriarchs refused to do this, maintaining their walk of faith. The Spirit says emphatically, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim 3:12). The word "will" in this text denotes a preference to live godly, i.e.., "wills to live godly . . . " The NASB states it this way, "And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted," while the RSV reads, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." It is not so much what the saints DO that incurs the indignation of the world, but what they prefer. The very thing that endears them to God separates them from the world. The world is not capable of receiving the believer, because the spirit of the world is hostile to the Spirit of God. No amount of worldly culture can remove this fundamental enmity. Faith enables us to confront it.
"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" (NIV). Whatever may be said of human achievement, it is nothing to compare with believing God. The saints of old were all commended for their faith. That is what required the greater effort. It takes more of your person to believe God than it does to build an altar, offer a sacrifice, and fulfill the finest detail of the ceremonial law. Human discipline is highly lauded by men. Many have become independently wealthy by peddling their secret tips. But with God, faith is the qualifying factor. It is the ointment that sanctifies everything else.
Of particular note are those who suffered unspeakable atrocities and rejection, even being slain because of their faith. Of this notable group it is said, "and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated" (vs 35-37, NASB). Surely, this was the ultimate in rejection--sure evidence they were citizens of another world with other manners. Their motives were impugned, their names reproached, and their witness rejected. But, after the world had done its worse, God gave a good report of them all! By keeping the faith under duress, they brought great glory to God, and procured for themselves a place in glory.
Remember, the Spirit is contrasting for us the superiority of life in Christ and under the New Covenant. He is taking from lethargic spirits every excuse for being ungodly and not persevering in the faith. He will show us that in a time when the "Sun of righteousness" had not yet risen, and the grace of God was but a dim light compared to now, faith produced constancy in the saints. What must be said of those who vacillate in this "day of salvation?"
Obtained a good report
The KJV says the patriarchs "obtained a good report." It was God Who gave that report. He attached a sense of Divine approval with the names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah . . . etc. it is not possible to receive the Word of God concerning these saints and conclude they were at variance with God. The Lord aligned Himself with them, blessed them, and placed their names in Scripture as an example for those who would follow. Abel was given a "good report." As it is written, "God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh" (Heb 11:4). We have heard of men testifying of God, and this is good. But it is most remarkable when God testifies of a person, giving a good report of him!
On the day of judgment, those who lived by faith will receive the ultimate "good report." The Lord Himself will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant . . . " (Matt 25:21,23). God will "praise" those who have maintained their faith in an alien world (1 Cor 4:5). Keeping the faith is everything! Without that, Divine commendation is not possible, with "without faith, it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). Make it your aim to be "approved of God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed" (2 Tim 2:15).
Received not the promise
Even though they died in the faith and obtained a good report through their faith, still these saints did not obtain the promise. The failure of these saints to do that was not owing to unbelief on their part. It was because the time of the promise had not yet come.
Peter reminds us of the holy prophets, and their proclamation of the salvation we enjoy. "As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow" (1 Pet 1:10-11, NASB). They not only declared the promise, but they probed it, earnestly desiring to comprehend it. In other words, they believed the promise of coming grace. Their investigation was not academic, but spiritual. It was their faith that prompted them to know Who the Savior would be, and when He would appear.
The promises of God, however, are fulfilled at appointed times. The prophets were told the grace of which they prophesied was not intended for them. "It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven-- things into which angels long to look" (1 Pet 1:12, NASB).
The person who lives for the NOW could not have received this revelation. It had a strong appeal to faith, but was repulsive to the flesh. It meant the prophets would live, exercise their prophetic ministry, and die--all "without receiving the promise." But faith is equal to that challenge. Think of the people who lived and died believing in a coming Redeemer. Some of them lived for centuries without obtaining the promise. Adam, Eve, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the Prophets. How were they sustained for such a lengthy period of time? It was faith that enabled them to hold on!
Believers can continue a life of spiritual consistency by hope. Focusing on that bright, yet distant, star, the child of God can endure unimaginable stresses and challenges. A religion that does not emphasize faith places its constituents at a great handicap. Through all generations, faith has been the means of survival for the people of God. Given promises from God, they heartily embraced them, and lived under great handicap.
In Christ, we fellowship with them in some respects. While we have obtained the salvation which they anticipated, there are some things we have not yet experienced, yet have embraced by faith. The second coming of Christ, deliverance from this "vile body," God Himself being with us, complete conformity to the image of God's Son, sitting with Jesus in His throne . . . etc. All of these have been promised, but have not yet been received by those "in the body" (Heb 13:3).
Yet, these promises are "seen afar off," and "embraced." It is that condition that gives the individual strength to continue running the race in storms of temptation, deserts of trial, and waters of testing.
A better thing for us
For the carnally minded, nothing could be better than being delivered from a 430-year bondage, receiving bread from heaven for forty years, and drinking from a river that gushed from a rock? But there is something better than that! For others, successfully commanding the sun and moon to stand still, defeating a towering giant, or overcoming 450 false prophets, are superior activities from bygone days. But this is not the case at all. Outward victories are not the greatest victories, and external displays of powers are not superior exhibits of Divine power. Our text declares the "better thing" was reserved for those in Christ Jesus.
It is important to see the comparison the Spirit is making. He is showing us the power and effectiveness of faith. Prior saints were brought safely through this world with but a spark of spiritual light. Comparatively speaking, the illumination they had was extremely small. Yet, faith in those embryonic promises made the saints able to survive!
But it is no spark of spiritual light that we now enjoy! The "Sun of righteousness has arisen with healing in His wings" (Mal 4:2). The Son of God is exalted above all things, and His light fills the world, illuminating "life and immortality" and showing the way to God. Things can now be comprehended that were never before seen as they are now. To name a few, God, heaven, Satan, life, the world, death, and justification. But the "better thing" is not merely our understanding.
The Spirit is emphasizing our access to God--our welcome into the "holiest of all." This is something the ancients did not have. By the grace of God, we enjoy a "purged," or cleansed, conscience. Grace has made us suitable for, and confident in, Divine fellowship. Those in the New Covenant are not continually faced with their sin, but with the remedy for their sin. We have a "better thing."
We have not been called out of Egypt, but out of spiritual "darkness"--not into Canaan, but into His "marvelous light" (1 Pet 2:9). For us, washing and sanctification are not ceremonial, pertaining only to the body. They are spiritual, qualifying us for to come to the throne of all grace (1 Cor 1:30; Heb 10:22). We have not been "called" to a solemn assembly, but "into the fellowship of God's dear Son" (1 Cor 1:30). We have a "better thing."
In view of the superior "day" in which we live (2 Cor 6:2), what excuse can be given for not growing in "the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3:18). Given the advantages of the reign of Christ, how can an inability to discern good and evil be explained in those professing faith for some time (Heb 5:12-14)? What acceptable explanation can be offered for the remarkable level of carnality in the contemporary church? If God has provided a "better thing" for us, why should there be so many parallels between recalcitrant Israel and the contemporary church?
Why should professed preachers of the Gospel preach a message inferior to that of the prophets, if God has reserved a "better thing" for us? Why should less consistency be found in those who have been made "kings and priests to God," than in the Levitical priests of old? If some "better thing" has been reserved for those in Christ, how could any professed believer imagine they could eat heavenly food once a week, when Israel ate it every day? The applications are endless! The time has come for the people of God to declare war on spiritual mediocrity, meager provisions for the soul, and insensitivity to God. These things are inappropriate and out of place in the time of the "better thing."
They were not perfect without us
Here we learn of the oneness of the people of faith. From times eternal, God determined "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him" (Eph 1:10). In the expression being considered, we find unperfected believers for the first 4,000 years of history. But they were not destined to remain imperfect. The time would come when their perfection would be accomplished!
The saints of old were not made perfect "without us," but they WERE made perfect WITH us! The atoning sacrifice of Christ reached backward as well as forward! As it is written, "And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance" (Heb 9:15).
The patriarchs, as well as those under the Law, never experienced the remission of sins in this world, as provided in Christ Jesus. The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin (Heb 10:4). They remained guilty, believing in the coming Remedy! How often the contaminated conscience erupts in their writings, as well as a longing for expiation and the purging of the conscience (Psa 32:5; 38:3-4; 38:18; 41:4; 51:2; 69:5). "They were not made perfect without us!"
When reading such expressions, one might suppose the ancients lived in continual transgression, sinning extensively every day. But this was not the case at all. They lived righteous and disciplined lives before the Lord, oft excelling those who now wear the name of Christ. Their frequent pleas were required because their conscience had not been "purged from dead works." The defiled conscience drove their supplications.
But, praise God, they are defiled no longer! No longer does the sin of David plague him! He, together with all believers before Christ, have been "made perfect." The blood of Christ flowed back into the Edenic Paradise, then rushed as a mighty torrent through history until the end of the world, purging and cleansing the conscience of all who lived or live by faith! Praise God for the effectiveness of the blood of Christ! Thank God the day of purging came for those of old who lived by faith.
Last become first
They were "not made perfect without us." Here is a classic example of the first being last, and the last being first. As our Lord said, "But many who are first will be last; and the last, first" (Matt 19:30; 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30). This is a Kingdom principle that is frequently adduced in Scripture. It is not to be viewed from a contextual view alone, but from one of principle.
Jesus revealed the application of this principle in His day. "Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you" (Matt 21:31). Publicans and harlots were the last to hear, but the first to see. The Pharisees were first in privilege, but last in apprehension. Paul appeals to this principle in His proclamation of the acceptance of the Gentiles. "What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness" (Rom 9:30-31). As a people, the Jews were the first to hear, but the last to believe. The Gentiles were spoken to last, but were first in the embrace of the truth (Acts 13:46-48).
The resurrection of the dead also provides an application of this principle. "And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven" (1 Cor 15:45-47). Adam was first in appearance, but last in priority. Jesus was last in appearance, but the Head over all things. Our present bodies are first by reason of possession, but last by order of importance. Our resurrected bodies will be last in time, but first in glory.
Our text is another example of this Kingdom principle. Prior saints were first to believe God, but last to be "made perfect." They were the first to experience deliverance, first to see the hand of God, first to hear the voice of God--but last to be "made perfect." They were the first to speak the words of God, first to serve the Lord, and first to see their enemies subdued--but last to be "made perfect."
Conversely, we were the last to hear from God, the last to be visited, and the last to hear the prophets-- but the first to be "made perfect." Those in Christ are last in time, but first in grace! Under such an arrangement as this, there is no reason why you cannot excel in the heavenly Kingdom! You may be the last to see a truth, but you can be the first to be moved to excellence by it. You may not have seen the marvelous truth of God until you were seasoned in years, but you can be first in the effective use of that truth. Only in Christ do disadvantages become advantages. When we are weak, we are strong!
Certainly you have seen the superiority of faith in this impressive chapter. We have only glanced at the jewels that lie hidden in this text, bringing only a few of them to the surface of consideration. But our glimpses have been sufficient to show us "all things are possible to him that believes" (Mark 9:23). Faith may not rank high in a religious institution, but it is highly regarded by God.
It is interesting to note that throughout history, great men of faith have largely labored alone. They did not seem to fit into the institution, or a religious organization. The reason for this is obvious. God does not work through organizations, but through faith. He saves us "by grace THROUGH FAITH" (Eph 2:8). We become His children "through faith" (Gal 3:18), and are justified "by faith" (Rom 5:1). Those who have subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire, have done so "through faith" (Heb 11:33). It is "through faith and patience" that the promises of God are inherited (Heb 6:12).
It simply is "impossible" to please God without faith (Heb 11:6). Unless the soul is convinced that "God is true, and every man a liar" (Rom 3:4), there is no hope of making heaven--no hope of overcoming the adversary! Conviction, persuasion, and confidence are qualities of faith. They are what makes the child of God acceptable to and useable by God. Make much of faith! It is abundantly available to you. The grace of God is filled with faith and love, which you can experience in large measures (1 Tim 1:14).