God’s “worthless” trophies

God’s “worthless” trophies

The book of Hebrews 11 is often referred to as the “Faith Hall of Fame.” This chapter lists what appears to be various Old Testament heroes of the faith and their deeds. However, a closer examination of the text reveals that the point of Hebrews 11 is not to describe the works of these heroes, but rather to emphasize the singular, cumulative vision of faith that moved them (Hebrews 11:1-2).

The Importance of Vision

The “heroes” had a vision of God’s plan of salvation, the testimony of God concerning Christ, (which we call the Gospel) and were kept by that vision through every kind of temptation and adversity. They were not just motivated by blind obedience, but by a singular, cumulative vision that moved them towards the Great Salvation.

The so called “heroes” were imperfect and went through periods of distraction and even sin. However, they were eventually brought back to a place of fully assured faith through the process of God burning out their fleshly zeal and replacing it with a faith that was rich in content and detail.

Seeing the heroes of the faith solely as obedient works misses the point of their faith, which was centered on their vision of God’s promise centered in Christ.

The author of Hebrews makes it clear that faith is the substance of unseen things. This is what set these “heroes” apart from the world – God revealed something to them that was not of this world. As a result, they were all moved by a singular, cumulative vision that was a progressive revelation in the scripture of what Hebrews calls the great salvation (Hebrews 11:13).

Abraham as an Example

Abraham is a prime example of this. He was promised a son and told that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. He was also promised a land that would belong to his descendants. He sought a city whose builder and maker is God. When he offered up Isaac, he knew he was acting out prophecy and that God would have to raise Isaac from the dead because he knew God would fulfill His promise concerning the Seed (which ultimately is Christ) (Hebrews 11:17-19).

The Vision of Faith

These Old Testament “heroes” of the faith had a vision that was focused on the promises of God that were made to the Seed, which is Christ. They were not motivated by “the carrot and the stick”, but by what captured their hearts and imaginations. They saw something that others did not see, and this vision sanctified them from the world (Hebrews 11:39-40).

The Christian Life as a Matter of Vision

But the vision of faith was not just for the heroes of old. As believers today who stand in the doctrine of Christ, we too have a vision of God’s great salvation, announced through the gospel. This vision is what moves us, what motivates us, and what captures our hearts and imaginations (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Christian life is indeed a matter of vision. Man is designed to be moved by what he sees. When we see the great salvation that God has promised us, we are transformed by that vision. The more we see of Christ, the more our appetite is generated to pursue Him more. This is the genuine sanctification by the spirit through the knowledge of the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14)

The point Hebrews 11 is not to hold up the works of the heroes of the faith as a standard for us to strive towards. Rather, it is to highlight the singular, cumulative vision of faith that moved them. This same vision is available to us today through the gospel. When we focus on that vision, we are transformed and set apart from the world.

The Progressive Revelation of the Doctrine of Christ

Hebrews 11 is a progressive revelation of the great salvation that centers in the gospel of Christ. The chapter shows how each of those of faith had a vision of God’s plan for redemption, which is realized in the gospel.

The revelation begins with Abel’s blood sacrifice, which represents the blood of Christ shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. Abel’s faith in the blood sacrifice typifies salvation by faith in Christ. At the same time, it points to the fact that Christ’s sacrifice was anticipated by the faithful of the Old Testament.

The revelation is cumulative. After Abel’s altar, all the saints in the Old Testament times had an altar and an offering. After Enoch walked with God, Noah was said to walk with God.

They knew God’s promise of inheritance represented by the seed, who would undo the curse and bring them into rest. Lamech named Noah, whose name means rest, saying “this one shall comfort us from all our toil.” Each anticipated that their seed might be the one that was promised, who would undo the curse and deal with Satan, and deal with sin. And bring man back to a place of blessing, which eventually is called “the inheritance.”

They also began to understand that the world itself would be judged by God but that the righteous would be delivered. As Noah’s escape from the flood serves as a type of salvation through the ark, typifying our deliverance through Christ. Enoch, who was taken by God, represents the hope of resurrection and ascension through Christ. Enoch prophesied prior to the flood that the Lord would one day come to execute judgment with all his saints.

The Building of God

Finally, their vision began to include the building of God.

Abraham’s vision of a city whose builder and maker is God is fulfilled in the New Jerusalem, which is described in Revelation 21 as the dwelling place of God among men. The city represents the presence of God in believers, as He becomes their inheritance and they become His (Eph 1:18; Ps 16:5-6)

Abraham’s faith journey also points to the tabernacle as he dwelled in tents in contrast to Babel. The tent was where he met with the Lord and even dined with Him with the three measures of meal representing the meal offering! With Abraham there are so many types of Christ that are sovereignly arranged by God (Genesis 18:1-8). Not only did these seemingly “useless” (to the world) people simply follow the vision that ruled their heart, but God ordered their steps so that his signature is on every page of the story and it all points to Christ. Abraham being moved by a vision of a city whose “builder and maker is God” dwelled in the tent which prefigured the tabernacle of Moses, representing God’s dwelling among His people. Fulfilled first in the incarnation of Christ (John 1:14) the tabernacle represented God’s dwelling among men. Moses’ tabernacle typifies the coming of Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life., and his building shows us the hope of the holiest, which was inaccessible at the time. Now, through Christ, we have access to God the Father through the Spirit and are encouraged by faith in the blood to come nigh (Hebrews 10:19-22).

Too Heavenly Minded to Be of Any Earthly Good

Hebrews 11 shows how the heroes of the faith were “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” in the eyes of the world. The people listed in Hebrews 11 moved and acted outwardly with Faith in such an amazing way to us. And as a result, because they were strangers to the world, they were mocked, persecuted, and in many cases, killed. However, they were not perfected. They did not have the satisfaction of conscience that we have now, and they did not have a satisfactory rest the way we do, where the Blood of Jesus through the Eternal Spirit can purge our conscience from dead works and bring us into the Presence within the Veil.

The people listed in Hebrews 11 were focused on the promises of God and the vision of His great salvation. They were not motivated by worldly success or prosperity, but by what captured their hearts and imaginations. They saw something that others did not see, and this vision sanctified them from the world. Their heavenly-mindedness did not make them ineffective in the world, but rather empowered them to live out their faith in bold and courageous ways.

In the same way, as we pursue Christ according to the vision provided through the doctrine of Christ, we may be accused of being “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” But, as Hebrews 11 shows, a heavenly-minded focus on the promises of God and the vision of His great salvation is the reality of sanctification, and is the atmosphere in which the Church is built up. We are actually instructed in the scripture to set our mind on things above (Colossians 3:2), and warned about those who are earthly minded (Romans 8:5, Phil 3:18-19). As we walk in the footsteps left by the shepherd as sheep of his flock we find our company with these people, the “cloud of witnesses”, who were strangers to the world (Hebrews 12:1).

Php 3:18-21 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: (19) Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) (20) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: (21) Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

“Worthless” Trophies

The progressive revelation of Hebrews 11 ends with the description of the faithful who endured persecution, who dwelled in caves, were forgotten and despised, were sawn in two, and yet “the world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11:38). The culmination of the chapter is the description of our predecessors in the faith who become our cloud of witnesses, those who are waiting for the city whose builder and maker is God, which is fulfilled in the New Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Hebrews 11 is not simply a list of the deeds of the heroes of the faith but is a progressive revelation of God’s plan of salvation culminating in the gospel of Christ. The vision of faith contained in the chapter points to the blood sacrifice (Hebrews 11:4), the ark (Hebrews 11:7), the habitation of God (Hebrews 11:9-10), the tabernacle (Hebrews 11:8-9), and the New Jerusalem (Hebrews 11:10, 16), which are fulfilled in the gospel.

The faith that the “average” or “normal” believer walks today is not separate from the faith of heroes of the faith such as Abraham, Noah, Moses, and David. According to Hebrews 11, each of these heroes of faith experienced seasons of weakness and failure, just like us. They were human and struggled with the same things we do, including temptations, distractions, and worldliness. However, in God’s narrative, because they are justified, we don’t get new testament accounts of their sins. God shows them off as trophies to be admired!

In the same way, as we walk in faith, following in the footsteps of our Good Shepherd and listening to His voice, we can become part of the same eternal flock that includes all the heroes of the faith that have gone before us. So, we should not be discouraged by the enemy’s lies or the religious world’s accusations, but instead take heart and be encouraged by the examples of those who have walked before us and the faithfulness of our God who is with us every step of the way (Hebrews 12:1-3).

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.

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