Hebrews 10:32-36 | Preparing to be the Persecuted Church | Jason Drumm
Topic: Stand-alone messages Passage: Hebrews 10:32–10:36
Well, you’re with me now in Hebrews 10. We’ll be looking at verses 32-36, so let me read that.
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.
Father, we humble ourselves before the authority of your word this morning. We humble ourselves before eternal truth. Lord, we would ask that your Spirit would be at work. Let it be true in me, that I would step out of the way and let your word communicate to your people what you want to say.
Lord, you know how I need your help. You know how weakly I stand before such a powerful text of your word. And oh, how I want, God, for this passage to land on your church and make us radically counter-cultural people who live differently from the people of this world because we don’t live for this world.
Lord, let your Spirit work in all of our hearts, that we would walk out of here changed, not because we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps to do better, but because we have beheld your glory in the pages of Scripture and we’ve been transformed from one degree of glory to another. It’s gonna take a miracle, God. Only you can do it. And so we’re calling on you, the Lord of heaven, the Creator of the ends of the earth, to work among us this morning through this passage by the power of your Spirit in our hearts. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Imagine with me a very common church service on a Sunday morning in 2017, believers coming in the back, talking with one another, finding their seats. They begin with a reminder from one of their elders about the upcoming baptism they’ll be having, and they sing 10,000 Reasons. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” A small child runs up and down the aisle. A police officer stands in the back in uniform. Father nudges his teenage son to pay attention. And one of their pastors reads a passage of Scripture and prays. They sing, “Come thou fount of every blessing; tune my heart to sing your praise!”
You may assume I’m describing a church service in America, perhaps our own. One of the pastors walks to the front, opens up his Bible, and begins to teach from the word. And the police officer in the back draws his gun, points it at the pastor as other police fill the room, and the last thing the pastor sees before being knocked unconscious is the believers in his church being beaten and arrested.
This is a very common church service on a Sunday morning for Christians.
Seems out of place to us. Police are not at churches for anything other than to either attend as members or to direct traffic, if in uniform, to make it easier to attend. Here in America, the police don’t come to church to shut it down.
Today, even now, in places like Bhutan, Nepal, Afghanistan, and many other places, if the police show up at church, it’s not a good thing. They’re there to shut it down and in many cases to arrest, to beat, and sometimes to kill those in attendance who call themselves Christians.
Persecution, opposition, has been the norm for Christians throughout history. In fact, I did a little bit of research this week and just was reading about persecution throughout the centuries. I ended up with a list of persecuted Christians in every century from now all the way back to Christ. And I would just encourage you, I mean, even just get on Wikipedia and look at the page “Persecution of Christians” and see how throughout all of history, the norm for Christians has not been comfortable chairs, being allowed to meet at the local high school, stage lights, amplified sound, air conditioning.
All the way back to Christ—our leader, Jesus Christ, who began all of this, who came to build his church. Mocked. Ridiculed. Beaten. Crucified. Murdered. And John 15:20 we’ve just studied a few weeks ago: “If they persecuted me,” Jesus told his disciples, “they will persecute you.”
And he was right. His apostles and his disciples were no different, right from the beginning of the church. In Acts 4, you see the prayers of the saints, and I think about this in light of our prayers sometimes: Lord, take notice of their threats and grant that we would speak your word with confidence.
God answered that prayer, and they spoke his word with confidence amidst all of the threats, and in Acts 7 Stephen preaches and is bludgeoned to death with large rocks, the first of many countless Christians to be killed for his gospel faithfulness.
And then in Acts 8, even as devout men are burying Stephen and making great lamentation over him, a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem, and they were scattered. Imagine a persecution so great you had to run from your home, from Jerusalem.
Saul was ravaging the church, entering house after house, dragging off men and women, committing them to prison, and how did they respond in the early church? Played it safe. Stopped preaching the gospel, didn’t they? It says, “…those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
We love the book of Revelation. It’s easy for us to forget that John wrote it while exiled on the Alcatraz Island of their day after all of the other disciples, apostles, had been martyred. From then until now and even today it’s been the norm for Christians to suffer persecution throughout history. Whenever the gospel advances, Christians pay for it with their blood. Believers had faced hardship and opposition from the inception of the church, and we should be astonished that it is so different for us.
One commentator says, “Fearless proclamation in the face of deadly violence will be the calling and the challenge for Jesus’ disciples throughout history to the very end.” Friends, every day that you and I are not persecuted, every day we don’t face opposition simply because we call ourselves Christians, is an undeserved grace of God. Every day we’re not persecuted is an abnormal day for a Christian.
So, if this has been happening throughout church history, then why doesn’t the Bible have passages to help prepare us for this? Well, it does. We’re just not very familiar with them because in our comfortable version of Christianity, they seem so out of place to us we just don’t talk about them very much. We don’t really face much persecution yet, so those passages seem so strange and different. Our view of Christianity has been distorted by the last 350 years of peace and prosperity that Christians have experienced in America, which is not normal.
2 Timothy 3:12: All those who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. When Jesus said that the gospel will be preached to all of the nations, he said in the very same context, and you will be hated by all of the nations.
A friend of ours, Jesse Johnson, is a pastor in Washington D.C. When he was called to the pastorate there, they told him, we want you to prepare our people to be the persecuted church, because it’s coming. We’re talking about this this morning because I feel a burden to prepare us for the persecution that is coming in America.
John Piper says, “We have been dominant and we Christians have been prosperous, and therefore we’ve come to feel at home in this world and have developed a deeply ingrained assumption that things should go well for us if we live according to the Bible, and so we have developed a form of Christianity to support this expectation.” And I would say, friends, it’s high time we wake up from our sleepy version of Christianity that we’ve grown accustomed to and cast aside our expectation that things should go well for us if we just live according to the Bible.
The short 350-year parenthesis in church history known as Christian America is ending. The peace and prosperity that Christians have felt for the last 350 years is rapidly coming to a close, and we see the keystrokes of the closed parenthesis all around us.
In fact, Jesse chronicled it in a blog post recently, and I know many of you are familiar with Jesse’s blog, The Cripplegate. He points out that the day is quickly coming when churches will be subject to legal obstacles for their stance on homosexuality. Expect that banks will call in loans if the government declares that the loan was made to a group that “facilitates hate speech.” Many cities such as Boston and Chicago have already said they will not approve of granting zoning changes for businesses or organizations that “don’t reflect the inclusive values” of our city. This won’t be limited to churches, but also private business owners as well. Lawsuits for discrimination have already started; you can expect that those will continue and increase.
Expect marriage to become completely secularized. We already see that happening, but you can expect that states and counties and the nation will revoke a pastor’s ability to perform a marriage ceremony unless they sign a document affirming “marriage equality.”
A federal judge in California has already ruled that if it can be shown that Christians voted for a ballot proposal, and that their faith influenced their vote, then their votes don’t count. A federal judge in California has already ruled that. It’s a done deal.
And so, I say all of that to help you see we need to look at the example of the Hebrew Christians this morning. We’re not used to thinking about this, but it’s coming. We need to look at their example of endurance and learn about endurance through persecution. Let’s learn from how they endured so that we will be ready to endure, so that we can teach our children to endure.
Our focus this morning is on Hebrews 10:32-36, but you need to know as you read through the book of Hebrews, the context is important. You can clearly perceive that Paul is concerned about the Hebrew Christians. This book is full of warnings and encouragements.
It seems to be written to a group of seemingly mature believers who have been believers for a while but are now tempted to abandon their commitment to Christ seemingly in the face of persecution again. He’s concerned that some of the members of their church will walk away from Christ, and in so doing prove themselves to have never been believers to begin with, much like 1 John 2:19 says—“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
He’s concerned, concerned that some of them may prove to be those who profess Christ but who do not possess Christ—or if you prefer, are not possessed by Christ. He’s concerned that they will not endure. Endurance is the key here, and it’s repeated in the text, you can see.
Obviously there’s some type of temptation for them here in this passage for them abandon Christ. It seems, based on his use of the previous time of persecution to instruct them, it seems to indicate that what they’re facing is another time of persecution and suffering for their faith. So he hopes to encourage them to endure the persecution they’re facing and so prove themselves to be authentic followers of Christ, the crucified King.
He says in verse 32, and look at it there in your copy of God’s word, “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings.” Recall, he says. Carries the idea of carefully thinking about, reconstructing something in their minds. It’s as though he’s holding up a portrait to encourage them.
You know, in our church offices if you’ve been there, you can see there’s portraits of Jonathan Edwards and great men of the faith that I walk by every day. We’re encouraged as we think about those who have come before us. It’s as though he’s holding up a portrait to encourage them.
And the portrait is of themselves. He bids them remember, as though by some mnemonic device the days when they first were saved. He refers to it as the days “after you were enlightened.” The fact that he’s able to use themselves as an example is a testimony to their faithfulness, their maturity. We can see from the way they were living.
This word, “enlightened.” From the word photizo. You hear photo in there. This can have an active or a passive meaning depending on the context. It can mean they were enlightened—the light shone on them. It can also mean that they are shining, that they are enlightened and that they are shining; they’ve been enlightened so that now they shine.
It’s kind of like you imagine a house with solar cells on the roof, right? Solar City now has those roofing shingles. Have you seen this? You need to google it. Not now! These solar panels that are actually just roof tiles so that your entire roof—you replace your roof every couple years, every (what is it?) 30 years, 15 years—and when you replace the roof, instead of just plain old shingles you use solar shingles so that now they absorb the light of the sun and actually power your house. They’re only available in California right now, I’m sorry.
But you can think about this. The sun is shining on the house, and because of the light of the sun on the house, the house is enlightened, right? It’s lit up. You can also then think, when the house lights turn on, the house has been enlightened, and now the house itself is shining light coming out the windows.
So there’s a passive sense in which the light is shining on, and an active sense in which the light is shining from. And this word, photizo—enlightened—can mean both of these things. So when he says they were enlightened, it can mean the light shone on them or that they began to shine.
And I think in the case of any true believer, I think both of those are truth. Right? I mean, 2 Corinthians 4:6: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” When we were saved, it happened not because we carefully examined the facts and decided, but because suddenly the light of the glory of God shone into our hearts, and we were enlightened by the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.
But the opposite is also true. Matthew 5:14 and 16: Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” “Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16; NKJV). So, they’ve come to see as the light has shown into their hearts to give the light of the glory of God in the gospel as the most precious thing, and it has transformed the way that they live so that they now shine as lights in the midst of a dark world, Philippians 2:15 says.
And so he’s saying here in verse 32, recall those days. “[R]ecall the former days when, after you were enlightened”—it seems he means after they came to know the Lord and their lives were transformed so they began to shine—“you endured a hard struggle with sufferings.”
See, their lives began to shine as light in the darkness, and it caused them suffering. Why? Because people who love darkness hate it when your life shines light on their darkness. John 3:19: “[T]he light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19-20).
See, this is where we have to be careful. It’s so easy for us to think, like, well, you know that persecution just happens in those third world countries where they haven’t really developed in their thinking yet, but eventually you know, the world’s becoming a better place and they’ll come along too, and Christianity will freely spread amongst peace and prosperity the way we have it here in America.
The problem with that kind of thinking is that’s just not what the Bible says. The Bible says the normal reasonable and intellectual thought process of a human results in them hating the light, unless the light of the gospel of the glory of God shines into their hearts and enlightens them.
In the midst of this hard struggle with sufferings, Paul is reminding them how they endured that suffering. Endured. Key word, repeated twice just in these verses, all over the place in the book of Hebrews—it’s the thing he’s calling them to do. In the midst of persecution, endurance.
And he is reminding them of a time when they’ve already done it. Here he says, recall when you endured. And in verse 36 he’s going to say, you have need of endurance. So it’s not like, hey, remember that time you endured? Great job. Everything’s good now. You can kick back and relax. No, he says, remember that time you endured? You still need endurance. In spite of your years in Christ, in spite of your maturity, in spite of your Bible knowledge, you still need endurance.
How to endure as a believer amidst persecution and suffering is a key theme here in this whole section. He says, “you endured a hard struggle with sufferings.” A hard struggle. Sometime translated, “great conflict,” or “much combat.” He’s going to identify precisely what that struggle is shortly in these verses, but what I want you notice here is the way the word struggle is being used. There’s an active endurance, a tenacity under pressure to this struggle. Great pressure to cave in, and yet struggle to endure.
Very different to how we often use the word struggle. Imagine two Christians sitting at Starbucks sipping their lattes. Hey, how you doing with that issue you asked me to pray for you about? Oh man, I’m struggling. We mean, I’m losing the battle and giving in to temptation. We say, I’m struggling, and what we really mean is, I haven’t been struggling. I gave up the struggle, and I’ve been sinning. That’s how we use the word struggle. Oh man, I’ve been struggling. Pray for me; I’m struggling. And what we mean is, pray for me; I’m sinning.
When someone says, I’ve really been struggling lately, we ought to be able to say, really? In what way? What’s the struggle look like? What are your battle tactics? How are you struggling? How are you winning the battle? What are you doing to struggle? How are you enduring under great pressure? What does the “great conflict” look like? What is the “much combat” that’s happening? Or do you mean you’re not struggling?
And you say, oh Jason, come on, you’re killing me here. You’re just being nitpicky about words. Yes. I am. Because the only way we can communicate about these things is with words! And when we’re not careful to communicate clearly, our ability to live zealously in the face of persecution will become lost in a foggy jungle of nebulous inarticulate Christianese.
So let’s be nitpicky about our words. When we talk about struggle, let’s talk about it the way the Bible talks about it. Let’s reclaim Biblical Christianity in our church one word at a time. He says, “you endured a hard struggle with sufferings.” So he specifies that their hard struggle was with sufferings.
What kind of sufferings? Well, now he’s gonna elaborate. Look at it there in verse 33 in your Bible. He says, “sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.” So two different ways here these believers faced persecution. I just want to look at these phrases little by little here. There’s a direct and an indirect struggle that they faced persecution.
They were directly persecuted because they were Christians. Verse 33: “…sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction.” He describes exactly what happened to them. Publicly exposed. One word in the Greek—theatrizo, where we get our word, theater. To make a spectacle out of something. To be shamed in public.
Publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, it says. This is abuse, disgrace, trouble, humiliation, insults, sufferings, beating, injustice, shame, cruelty, persecution. Publicly exposed to reproach and affliction. But wait, there’s more. “…sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and [here’s indirect] sometimes being partners with those so treated.” What does he mean by this? Sometimes being partners with those so treated.
He explains further in verse 34: “For you had compassion on those in prison [those are those so treated], and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” So some of the Christians were—think about the moral dilemma here you would face—some of the Christians were arrested and thrown in prison, and in those days prison wasn’t like it is now. In those days if you get thrown in prison it’s better to think about it more like we think about a dungeon. If someone who cares about you doesn’t bring you food, you die. If someone who cares about you doesn’t bring a blanket to the prison to give it to you, you freeze.
So, the believers here, these Hebrew Christians, were in a difficult position. Man, if I take food to Paul, they’re gonna know I’m a Christian. Look what they did to him. What about my wife and my kids? What about my house?
In fact, this word accepted—you joyfully accepted—it has a clear connotation to it that tells us they knew exactly what would happen. And they accepted it. They’re thinking, if I stand with these believers in prison, they’re gonna ransack my house; maybe they’ll throw me in prison too! This is costly compassion. May we be a people who have a compassion that costs us something, costly compassion.
It says, “you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.” So they chose to take food to their brothers and sisters in prison, to publicly identify themselves as a believer, to publicly identify with them, to partner with them, and they were publicly ridiculed; their property was plundered. Maybe it was a mob who set their houses on fire, or smashed in the windows, looted their belongings. Maybe it was an officially sanctioned confiscation of their belongings, or enormous fines for disobedience to the societal rules of the day. Maybe the government flagged them as terrorists who support hate speech and froze their bank accounts and repossessed their homes.
You know what the Bible calls this willingness to suffer together with other believers? Here in these verses it’s called fellowship. You notice there in your Bibles it says, “sometimes being partners [partners] with those so treated.” And partners there—it’s the word you know, koinonia, fellow participants, sharing companions.
So, again, let’s be Biblical about language here. Let’s all just take a moment, reach back into our minds, right, and adjust—let’s just crank the dial on our definition of fellowship to match the Bible’s definition of fellowship instead of America’s definition of fellowship, so that next time we’re standing around in the church lobby together with little individually wrapped bags of cashews and sodas, we’re a little more hesitant to call it fellowship.
The fellowship of these believers is an all-in life or death collective venture in the face of great evil and overwhelming opposition, and they partnered together. They had compassion on those in prison and joyfully accepted the plundering of their property. This fellowship took a great deal of courage and faith, to let their light shine in a world that loves the darkness.
But it is more than that too. There’s more than that. There’s something under this endurance. There’s something under it. Because look at verse 34 in your Bible. It says, you had compassion on those in prison, and you accepted the plundering of your property. Right? Is that what it says? Let’s try again. “[Y]ou had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully [joyfully, joyfully] accepted the plundering of your property [joyfully].”
I mean, if they went to identify with the Christians in prison, they’d look over their shoulders, they see their houses being looted, and they say, praise the Lord! Now they’re gonna see we don’t live for this world! Now they’re gonna know what we’re really about! Now they’re gonna see that Jesus is our treasure! Not my house, not my iPad! Jesus Christ is everything to me, and now they’re gonna see it!
It’s just a little bit of heavenly insanity here, some holy meshuga going on. I don’t know if we’re ready for this. I don’t know if my heart is ready for this. I want to be; we need to be. I just don’t know if we are. I want to get my kids ready for this.
And I can hardly keep my cool when my internet provider bills me wrong and then they have bad customer service. I expect so much, like the world’s going to be so good to me, even though Jesus has told me to expect exactly the opposite. Someone speaks ill about us, and we fly off the handle. Someone lies about our character, and we just don’t even know what to do with ourselves! It’s like we’re surprised!
We’re surprised when we’re told we can’t share the gospel in our workplace. We’re surprised when unbelievers talk bad about us behind our back. We’re surprised when we’re not treated fairly as Christians, even though 1 Peter 4:12 says, do not be surprised at the fiery trial among you, as if something unusual were happening to you. Instead, as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah, rejoice, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of his glory.
We shouldn’t be surprised! This is what it means to be a Christian; it means being light in a world who loves darkness. It means being holy in a world that loves sin. It means being Christlike in a world that hates Christ! So we need to be ready!
John Piper says about these verses, these verses in Hebrews 10; he says, “I think I can say with the full authority of this text and the rest of the New Testament that whatever measure of material and physical loss God may call you to in this world, one thing is certain: Being a Christian means being willing and ready to let it all go for the sake of Christ and his word.”
So how do we do that? I mean, because I look at these verses and I think, yes! I want that! Lord, give me this kind of holy meshuga! Give me some insanely bold faithfulness that rejoices when they take my house away from me for preaching the gospel. What’s it gonna take?
I mean, if Brad Penner or Will Peterson or Dave Lutz get thrown in prison, I want to fearlessly stand by their side, and I want you to go with me. I don’t want to back down; I don’t want us to back down, but…but I know my heart. I look back over my shoulder at my iPad and my laptop and my home and my bank account, and I hesitate.
So how do we do this? How do I get that in here? How do we prepare to be the persecuted church? How do we prepare our children to be the persecuted church? How in the world do we become the type of people who shake off our apathy and die to our American need for luxury and comfort, and risk our possessions and our lives for the sake of the advance of the gospel? How do we do that? How do we endure?
Well, how did the Hebrew Christians do it? Let’s take a look; that’s what we’re here for. Let’s read these verses again and look. How did they do it? What motivated them? What happened in their hearts to make this true?
Verse 34: “For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew”—since you knew. It’s all about what you know. Endurance is all about what you know to be true. “…since you knew that you yourselves [notice the emphasis there—you, yourselves] had a better possession and an abiding one.” Better quality, longer duration. A better possession, and a lasting one.
How in the world do we become this kind of people? By reminding ourselves, and each other, that we have something better than everything that they can take away from us. In heaven, we have a better possession and a lasting one. Our possessions here are temporary anyways! You don’t get to keep ‘em! As much as I fall in love with my iPhone, it doesn’t go to heaven with me.
I made a list as I was studying this passage. In the last two weeks I sat down, and I just wanted to be practical about this. I made a list and wrote out, what are the things, possessions in this world, this life, that are most precious to me. What would be the hardest things for me to see taken away? And within the last two weeks, two out of five of those things are gone. Didn’t plan it that way. Since I wrote the list, two out of five of them are gone. Just like that. Broken. It’s just a great testimony to the fact that we don’t get to hold onto this stuff anyway.
And you know what? It’s funny—it sounds stupid—but one of them was my authentic, original, hand-blown Chemex coffee maker. It sounds stupid. In light of this passage, I say that out loud, and I’m just like, what an idiot. Right? But it’s true. We fall in love with stuff, don’t we? What’s wrong with us?
Hand-blown, authentic, still had the patent pending stamp in the glass from where it was hand-blown—you can’t buy these things anymore; it was made in the 40s. And as my daughter, cleaning up the kitchen, reached to put the dishes away, her elbow bumped it on the counter where I shouldn’t have left it. And it toppled over and smashed into pieces on the counter. And my daughter, knowing how much I love that thing—to my shame—she burst into tears. And you know what? I thought immediately of the list, like…. And I walked over to her, and I put my arms around her, and I was like, sweetheart, that thing doesn’t mean anything to me. And I told her, I have a better possession and a lasting one that will never break.
When you truly believe you have future heavenly life with Christ and that no one can take it away from you, it makes you a radical force for good in the world, an unstoppable light in the darkness. It changes the way you live when you stop living for your silly possessions here on earth and start living for the lasting ones in heaven!
That’s why Colossians 3 tells us to set our mind on things above, not on the things of this world. Looking to this visible world, you will fail. You will not endure. You’re not prepared to be the persecuted church.
But, looking to the future heavenly world, the world that we have not yet seen but we have confidence we will gain, you will endure. You realize that’s the whole reason for the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11? Right? So often you think about Hebrews 11 here, the Hall of Faith, and we’re so familiar with chapter 12, verses 1 and 2. The passage we’re looking at this morning is immediately preceding Hebrews 11, the great Hall of Faith.
The whole idea of Hebrews 11 is to support the idea that the believers who came before us endured by looking to the reward, looking to heaven, setting their eyes on Christ, and not living for this world. In fact, fly through Hebrews 11 with me. Look at it there in your Bible.
Immediately after these verses, Hebrews 11:1. Faith. “[F]aith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation” (Hebrews 11:1-2).
Look at Abraham in verses 9 and 10. “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Abraham lived not by looking to this world, but the world to come. He knew he had a better possession and an abiding one.
Verse 13, summarizing the people he’s talked about so far: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country [a better country], that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Moses, in verse 24. “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt [how did he do it?!], for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
Closing statement of the Hall of Faith begins in verse 35. Think about this in light of the Hebrew Christians facing persecution. The author of Hebrews writes to them—verse 35—“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” Wait. What?! Verse 40: “…since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Daniel, David—the heroes of the Hall of Faith do not receive the fullness of the reward until after you and I, beloved, arrive. And once all of us are together, then God will unleash the fullness of the culmination of history in the age to come. The Hall of Faith is not completed until we endure and we arrive.
And that’s why chapter 12, verse 1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us [well then, how do you do it?], looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” So we can say, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still.”
You know, it’s interesting; I was reading just in the last week, Luther wrote A Mighty Fortress, of course, in German, his native language. I know it’s hard to believe Luther didn’t speak English. He wrote A Mighty Fortress in German, in the common tongue of his day, and it was translated into English. Of course, if you know anything about translation, you can’t just carry it over; it doesn’t rhyme, the meter doesn’t match, and you know, it’s just—getting from German to English is hard enough as it is.
And so what we have is a loosely translated version of what Martin Luther originally wrote. We sing, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still.” Luther wrote, in German originally—and you can see why they didn’t translated it directly—literally translated it says, “If they take the body, goods, honor, child, and wife, let them go away. They have no profit. For the Kingdom will remain for us.”
The Kingdom will remain for us. We’re not a people of this world; we’re a people of the world to come. Our citizenship is in heaven. We can say with Paul in 2 Corinthians, we have nothing, but we possess everything. We own nothing on this earth, and they can take it all away from us, but we have a better possession and a lasting one, and I think God’s trying to teach our church something here. I mean, the passage that we looked at last week in John with Andrew. God wants us to move away from normal American Christianity. He wants us to be the kind of believers who get threatened for evangelizing our neighbors and say, praise the Lord! Lord, take notice of their threats and grant us to speak with boldness your word.
So Paul makes his plea, his final plea to the Hebrew Christians in verse 35: “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36).
Endurance in suffering. Endurance is what they had before; endurance is what they need now. And he points them again to the future reward of their possession, the better possession, the lasting one. It’s like we recently studied in women’s Bible study in 1 Peter 3—“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed” (1 Peter 3:13-14). Which is it? You suffer? Or you’re blessed? Yeah. You’re blessed even as you suffer.
Like Jesus said—Luke 21—“[S]ome of you they will put to death…. But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16, 18). Write that down on a 3x5 card and meditate on it for a bit. Some of you they will put to death. But not a hair of your head will perish. You will suffer in this life for the sake of the advance of the gospel, but you will not be harmed in an ultimate sense because you’re going to live forever. No one can take that away from you; you have a better possession and an abiding one.
And this should make us just a little bit crazy for the advance of the gospel and the spread of God’s kingdom on the earth while we’re here. We live with a sense of invincibility, like, what can you do to me? I belong to God, and he’s sovereign and rules over everything. I’m God’s. I belong to him. No one can snatch me out of his hand. You can’t kill me until his purposes for me on this earth are done.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Beloved, let us, let’s let Canyon Bible Church of Prescott, let the believers in this room be characterized by this kind of bold faithfulness, fearlessness in the face of opposition, because we’re not living for this world.
And that’s what causes us hesitation. We’re afraid to be bold for the gospel because we love our stuff. We’re afraid to preach the gospel to people because we don’t want to lose…fill in the blank. If our greatest treasure is not on this earth but ultimately in heaven, then we have nothing to fear. What can man do to me?
Beloved, let’s live with an assurance of what we hope for, an unshakable conviction of the fact that we have a better possession in heaven that can never be taken away from us. And let’s be ready, that we would never throw away our confidence in the face of persecution or a great struggle with sufferings, so that as we do the will of God, we look forward to a great reward.
Father, we need your help. We would just confess that this kind of thinking is so foreign to us, Lord. Forgive us. Forgive the church in America for having come so far from what your word teaches us to expect. Forgive us for living with such an entitlement mentality, as though we expect things will go well for us, as though we expect the world will pat us on the back for telling them that they’re in sin and that they need to repent and turn to Christ.
Father, take note of their threats and grant that your servants, Canyon Bible Church of Prescott, would speak with boldness, that we would declare the truth of your word fearlessly, no matter what may come this week, no matter what may come this month, this year, or this lifetime.
Father, let us set our eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. We are his servants, and he is our master. They called him the devil. Lord, let us not expect they’ll show us kindness. Lord, let us live for the life to come. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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