Pillars of Faith: The Eyes of Faith

As people of faith, reading through this part of the book of Hebrews (11:29-12:1), it’s like giving us a look into the faith family album, if you will. I imagine most of you have a photo album – although technology is quickly changing that? But do you ever look through the pages, remembering the people and events who shaped your life? There are pictures snapped long before you came on the scene: aunts, uncles, and your parents before they were all grown up.

            Then there is that picture of you on your mother’s lap or that vacation photo with your father in the background. There’s also graduation, the wedding, the first baby pictures. Then the cycle starts all over again.  We gather up the memories and recall the people who stood by us in the good times and the bad.

>That’s what the writer of Hebrews is doing in chapter 11. He helps us look at our family photos in the gallery of faith…those who crossed over the Red Sea; Rahab, who welcomed the spies; those who marched around Jericho; Sampson and Daniel, who shut the mouths of lions; those who found strength out of weakness like Gideon and Esther; those who were tortured, mocked, and tormented.

            So why look at this photo album of faith and faithfulness again? Because in looking, we learn who we are. We learn that we are not alone and that we are part of a family with particular traits and characteristics.  We get a glimpse of God’s will.

            As we look at this remarkable family described by the writer of Hebrews, our eyes see two pictures of faith. At first, we see one picture filled with images described as too many for the writer to share: “What more can I say? I would run out of time if I told you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets.

Through faith they conquered kingdoms, brought about justice, realized promises, shut the mouths of lions, put out raging fires, escaped from the edge of the sword, found strength in weakness, were mighty in war, and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured and refused to be released so they could gain a better resurrection.” 

            But then our eyes are drawn to the other picture which is filled with images of suffering: public shame through harassment and whippings;     others were chained and imprisoned; some stoned to death – cut in two – death by sword.  By faith, they lived in humiliation.  They were dressed in animal skins – making them easy prey; they had become needy, destitute, oppressed and mistreated.  From the outside, the pictures and images are radically different. After all, our culture says we’re either successes or failures.

But the writer of Hebrews places these two pictures…portrayed

in two different outcomes together…because the state of our life is not a measure of our faithfulness.

            The intermingled images are a word of encouragement for struggling Christians. If we’re struggling, and someone tells us that the true mark of faithfulness is suffering, we might cringe, wondering if our suffering must continue forever. If we’re struggling and someone tells us that the true mark of faithfulness is triumph and victory, what hope is there for us? But the intermingling of suffering and triumph gives us a word of hope: faithfulness shines both in suffering and in triumph, both in sorrow and in joy.

            So we learn to see life – not merely through the pictures that make us smile with happiness or cringe with pain.  We learn to see life through the eyes of faith.  We learn…that faith endures. Faith trusts God’s promises even when the present calls those promises into question. In the face of suffering, faith holds on because of the certainty of a future in which God has something better in store.

Such are the lessons from our family photo album. We remember those Hero’s of faith and we’re reminded that we’re not alone.

            And yet, just as we remember those who have gone before, we also remember that we too have a race to run. We’re not mere tourists in this world, wandering from place to place, taking pictures, visiting landmarks, writing postcards or sending selfies, and then cheerfully returning to the safety of home. We are runners in a race—not a sprint, but a marathon.

            As runners, we must let go of the baggage that holds us back, for the purpose of the race. And so the writer calls us to lay aside every sin that could trip us up or weigh us down. Like an Olympian, giving everything she’s got, we dig deep, and focus to pay the price.

            But what do we do if all that doesn’t seem to be enough?

What if, despite a cloud of witnesses, despite that cheering section, despite our perseverance and sacrifice, what if, despite having our eyes focused, we don’t know whether we can hold out to the end?

            The writer of Hebrews has one final word of advice. There’s one more picture for us to see, the final and most important one of all: “Let us run the race that is laid out before us…fixing our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfector.” 

            Interestingly, pioneer translates as a particularly rich Greek word, archegos [pronounced ar-khay-gose]. The archegos is the author, the beginner, the instigator, the impetus, the trailblazer who goes before us. Here the writer has in mind the first namesake of Jesus–Joshua, son of Nun, who scouted out the land of promise. Just so, this new Jesus has been the scout, blazing a trail through all of human existence and tested in every way like all of us, yet finding joy at the end of the suffering of the cross.

            But there’s more. In the context of a race, the archegos is the team captain. In the Greek games, the team captain would run the race and then wait at the finish line to encourage his teammates as they followed in his steps. 

Yet Jesus is not simply the pioneer; he is also the perfecter.

Here the author of Hebrews has in mind a second namesake of Jesus–Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the first high priest after the exile.

Priests per-fect and complete what we lack, bringing us to our goal so that we may have full access to the presence of God.  So Jesus not only calls us across the finish line but also fills in and fills out what’s lacking in our faithfulness. He takes our incomplete faith and makes it whole.

            So when our knees are weak and our hands shaky, when we feel worn out in the journey of faith, wondering whether we can hold on and hold out…or knowing when to let go of the baton, we hear again this brilliantly, loud and clear call from Hebrews.

            Run the race…not in order to receive your salvation, as though earning it or working for it.  Run it with memory of those who fill your photo albums but are no longer with us…that great cloud of witness who serve as the eyes of faith watching and cheering us on.

            This image…that family portrait of that great cloud of witness…is a beautiful picture in my mind.  Dr. William Barclay, in his Daily Study Bible Series on Hebrews, suggests that this unseen “cloud of witnesses” are witnesses in a double sense. Their earthly life was a witness to their confidence in Christ, and now, having won the crown of life, they witness our performance in the arena of life.

            When you understand it that way, it puts a new light on how we play the game. When you know that the “saints” are in the grandstand watching and identifying with every play you make, it not only makes you try harder, it also encourages you on the way. It gives you the courage that you didn’t know you had, to do things you didn’t know you could do. 

            And so we run our race encouraged by the memory our faith forefathers and foremothers, but above all, we remember our captain who has run this race and who calls us home. When we feel we can go no further, when we find ourselves unable to live as did the pillars of our faith…THE FAITH OF OUR FATHERS…OUR MOTHERS, a faith that sings with assurance: “Faith of our fathers, holy faith! We will be true to thee till death”…let us remember the eyes of faith found in that great cloud of witnesses…the eyes of faith watching over us. 

            But mostly, when we look at life through The Eyes of Faith – that is – faith in Jesus Christ, when we fix our eyes on Jesus, everything else pales in comparison.  Not only are we reminded that we don’t make this journey alone but that God through Christ helps us discern God’s will and helps us see what lies ahead in the life of faith.