Hebrews 11:13 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.
When people come to faith in Jesus Christ, they often have an idea of how their lives should go, and it’s often a version of the American Dream. When their lives do not turn out that way, many give up on God. By one estimate, eighty percent of those who begin to follow Jesus Christ turn away from him eventually. Some are disappointed because they expected too much from this life, and not enough from the next.
But if we take a longer view, we can welcome everything God has promised form a distance. We can enjoy a vacation before it begins, by welcoming it from a distance. We can enjoy retirement before it begins, by welcoming it from a distance. And we can enjoy our eternal reward before it begins, by welcoming it from a distance. The best is almost here, so we can enjoy it now.
Hebrews 11:26 [Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.
As long as Moses remained an Egyptian prince, the best of everything was his. But he threw it all away for God. He did not do this because he was noble, but because God has infinitely greater value than anything else. Moses suffered disgrace for a while, but now he has an eternal reward.
Fifteen hundred years later (when Pharaoh was long dead) Moses stood on a mountain with Jesus Christ, very much alive (Luke 9:28-36). His faith in God was not misplaced, and it serves him well today. He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose (Jim Elliot).
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
This is the only place the Bible suggests that God’s people in heaven can watch God’s people on earth—but that is the idea. Those who have gone before us, watch us run the race of faith, from balcony seats above. Abraham, Moses, David and others cheer us on as we make our way to the finish line.
Running the race of faith requires more than avoiding sinful entanglements, but getting rid of everything that hinders. We should review our lifestyles often to be sure that nothing is slowing our pace. Simplicity and focus are both required to finish our race well.
Hebrews 12:1b-2 And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
In some of the ancient games, the judge stood at the finish line, holding up the victor’s crown. As the runners came to the final stretch, they were at the end of their strength. But when they saw the victor’s crown, they received a burst of energy, and accelerated to the end. Whenever our strength is flagging, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus, who holds a crown for each of us—the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:4), wrote Peter.
Hebrews 12:2 For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus endured the cross by focusing on the joy set before him. While hanging on the cross, he focused beyond the cross, to the glorious joy of heaven. This would include the joy of his Father’s approval, the joy of forgiving sinners, and the joy of receiving believers into glory. Whenever life’s pain is too much for us, we should imitate Christ, and focus on the joy set before us.
Hebrews 12:5-6 My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.
Jewish Christians may have wondered why God was not treating them better. Unbelievers were doing fine, but Christians were suffering terribly. If God was their Father, why wasn’t he taking better care of them? Surprisingly, it’s because God was their Father.
Most parents do not care if the neighbor’s children disobey, but if their own children disobey, they correct them. The word translated chasten actually means to whip, and the Lord’s chastening can be severe.
Many Christian men have a story like this: I started following Christ and everything was going great. We were going to church, reading our Bibles, and sharing our faith. But then we started to party, and started missing church. Then we stopped reading our Bibles, and quit church completely. Then I lost my job, got a divorce, and lost everything. Finally, when I was at rock bottom, I turned back to the Lord. God may have to chasten us, in order to keep us, but it is always for our good.
Reflection and Review
- How is Christianity different than the American Dream?
- How does thinking about heaven help us through our troubles?
- Why does God chasten his children?