"We all want to do things and intend to do them, but then sometimes we forget. Sometimes we have bad habits, like procrastinating or else failing to finish what we start. Other times we veer off course by forgetting the reason it was important to do the thing in the first place. Or we can try stubbornly to find an easier way to do it," Fr. David enumerated as he began our Sunday meditation.
The passage in the Book of Hebrews we were considering was written to a church that had grown tired and, for one reason or another, was no longer vigorously pursuing its mission. In order to rally these believers, the author of Hebrews recounts many old-time heroes of faith. The implication is that the heroes faced harder struggles than the contemporary readers but still persevered.
The Israelites were able to breach and overrun the fortified walls of Jericho because they were obedient to God regardless of the unusual tactics they were commanded to use. "They weren't stubborn and didn't look for an easier or even more logical way to meet the foe," Fr. David explained. "God told them to march around the city blowing trumpets for seven days, and on the last day to end with a shout! I think what they shouted was probably 'hosanna', but whatever it was, when the Lord gave them the way forward and the task at hand, they didn't procrastinate, or equivocate, or fail to finish. They acted with faith in Him and this is what God also desires of us."
Rahab, a resident of Jericho, also appears in the roll call of heroes. Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, doesn't seem like a person God would call to be a hero. In fact, she seems like what another of the day's texts would call a "wild grape". Isaiah 5:1-7 presents a parable of a vineyard planted and tended on a fertile hill, but instead of juicy grapes it yielded only hard little wild grapes. Many times throughout scripture we are shown instances where the Lord seeks to bless His chosen ones, but people who were less "choice" serve Him instead. Thus, Rahab.
"Rahab understood that nothing would stand in the way of God's will and decided she would assist with His plan even though it meant changing her loyalties. She hid the Israelite spies and even lied to save their lives. And she also made a bargain that she and her family would be spared when the invasion finally came," said Fr. David.
"We'll have to reconcile the lie (and the manifest flaws in all the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews). Rahab and the others exercised a faith that transforms sinners -- restores, heals and honors them. In her case, her honor was to later become the great great grandmother of King David and a member of the lineage of Jesus Christ. She became great through her great faith."
Fr. David next drew our attention to verses in Hebrews that "sometimes get skipped over. We're told that we're united with the saints who went before us, but that 'apart from us they should not be made perfect'. There's something we need to do for them. What could that possibly be?"
Theologian John Piper interprets this as follows:
I take verse 39 to mean that when the believers in the Old Testament died, their spirits were made whole and perfect (as 12:23 says), but they do not receive the full blessing of God's promise, which is resurrection with new bodies in a glorious new age with all God's enemies removed and righteousness holding sway and the earth filled with the glory of God. They did not receive that promise yet.
Why not? Why must the saints wait, without their new resurrection bodies? The answer is given in verse 40: 'Because God has provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect'. In other words, God's purpose is that all his people -- all the redeemed -- be gathered in before any of them enjoys the fullness of his promise. His purpose is that we all come into the fullness of our inheritance together.
Because of this, the writer of Hebrews concludes, we need to "run with perseverance the race set before us" -- in other words, not neglect the harvest or our witness -- "looking to Jesus... who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross".
"The Lord's desire," Fr. David concluded, "is that we should 'get it'. See the eternal importance of the task before us, forget what lies behind and focus on the prize before us, that multitudes would come to a saving knowledge of Christ. This is God's will. This is what the heroes of faith are desiring for us, that the great task might be complete. Let's renew our faith, strongly commit to the ACTION of living by faith and go forth to serve the Lord, Amen."