And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 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— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
I was recently listening to the sermon A Better Resurrection by Tim Keller. He points out a radical division that occurs in the passage above. The separation occurs in the middle of verse 35. From verse 32 to the middle of verse 35, the people listed are what we would consider “triumphant faith”. There is movement from weakness to strength, success in battle, and resurrection to list a few examples. The saints in the first half of the paragraph overcame tremendous odds and ended in victory of some sort. To most modern American readers, the first half of the paragraph fits our accepted point of view of how God works. Think Facing the Giants or The Blind Side as examples in modern film of this half of the paragraph. Keller cautions, however, that “if your conception of faith ends with that list” or with the idea that if you believe and try hard enough you can overcome anything, that everything will work out and you will escape suffering and death…”you’re doomed!”
But why are we doomed if our conception of faith ends there? Because not every faithful believer’s life “works out” in a success model. If I believe that real faith always conquers kingdoms, always defeats cancer, or always wins the state championship, I have a faulty and insufficient view of faith or God. I may actually be trusting my agenda for God and not trusting God. He has promised to work all things together for good for those who love Him (Rom 8:28), but “good” is by His definition, design, and desires for us.
Others suffered mocking, flogging, stoning, being sawn in two and were killed with the sword. “All these”, verse 39 says, “were commended for their faith”. They trusted in the God of the final resurrection…the “better resurrection”, where all suffering, failure, jeering, and loss of life would be restored. They were able to face the loss of everything here because the treasure of their hearts was somewhere else (cf: Mt 6:19-21).
O God, grant us the true victorious faith that looks beyond “success” here to the Him who lost it all that we might have the better resurrection. We are boastful mists who often accuse you of wrong when our plans are frustrated. Forgive our silliness and forge a faith of true fortitude that looks to You who did not spare His own Son but freely gave him up for us. Teach us as you taught Peter, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!’ O Christ, help us to follow You!