I’ve never really been an athlete. I like sports okay but it was really important for me to call it a “game” because I really didn’t care if we won or lost as long as I had fun. So I didn’t play spots. Since I didn’t play sports, most of my “exercise” consisted of reading books and playing Nintendo. This was fine until I went to basic training where exercise was a primary focus of our days.
The hardest part for me was running. I’d never been much of a runner and now they wanted me to run for miles. I quickly discovered that running hurt. My legs hurt, my knees hurt, my side hurt and my lungs hurt. I also discovered that if I quit running and “fell out” the pain stopped. Fall outs were usually put on the fall out truck and then trucked back to the barracks.
I soon came to realize that while falling out made the pain stop, it was also going to prevent me from completing basic training and becoming a soldier. I couldn’t become a soldier if I didn’t learn to complete the runs. I couldn’t complete the runs if I didn’t push through the pain. I was in a quandary because all I’d ever wanted to be as a kid was a soldier. So I determined that I was going to push through the pain and finish the runs so I could become a soldier. Once I determined that and pushed through the pain once, I never fell out again. It hurt often but I knew I could push through the pain and I knew it would be worth it when it was finished.
Our spiritual lives are like this in some ways. One of metaphors used in Scripture to describe the Christian life is that of a race. There are times when the running is easy and there are times when the running hurts. When the pain starts the greatest temptation is to quit easing the pain. However, we have to recognize that quitting when it hurts will always prevent us from finishing the race. We have to be able to deal with the problem of pain if we want to finish the race set before us.
I think the Book of Hebrews teaches us some principles that teach us to push through the pain and finish the race that is set before us. Hebrews was written to an unknown community of Jewish Christians that were suffering severe persecution. From what we can gather from Hebrews 10:31-34, they were in a great deal of pain as they tried to run the race that was set before them. The pain of persecution was so great that they began to consider the idea of going back to Judaism.
The unknown author of Hebrews somehow finds out about this and writes this letter to encourage this community of believers to press on through the pain. He does this by pointing to Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law. He also does this by showing them the superiority of Jesus to the Law. What he’s basically saying is that there is nothing to go back to. What Jesus offers is far superior to anything that was offered under the old covenant.
In Hebrews 11 the author seeks to convince these folks to keep the faith. He does this by pointing out that the people of God have always been a people of faith. God’s people have always walked by faith and not by sight. They have always had to rely on the promises of the God they couldn’t see.
“who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again…” Hebrews 11:33-35 (NKJV)
When we talk about following Jesus and living a life of faith, this is the kind of stuff we want to talk about. Who wouldn’t get excited about stopping the mouths of lions, extinguishing the violence of the fires, being made strong in the midst of weakness and putting armies to flight? Books telling us how to live this kind of a life sell. When you read those books or listen to the preachers that preach about this, we are often told that this sort of victory is what the normative Christian life looks like. If you are a follower of Jesus and have enough faith, then this is the kind of live you should be living.
The problem with this sort of mindset is that the passage doesn’t stop with women having their dead raised to life. It goes on.
“Women received their dead raised to life again. And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented– of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” Hebrews 11:35-38 (NKJV)
These folks certainly didn’t have the easy “victorious” life we are told is normative. The description of happened to them is harsh. They were scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two and lived their lives destitute, afflicted and tormented. This is quite a contrasted with the group of people listed before.
One of the most important things about this that we need to get is that the contrast isn’t meant to show us what life looks like for the faithful and what life looks like when we aren’t as faithful. The people in both groups faithfully did the will of God. We are clearly told in this passage that both groups of people were approved by God because of their faith in God (see verse 2 and verse 39). Yet for some reason God chose those in the second group to travel the path of pain in order to finish the race set before them.
The picture the author is painting by mentioning some of the pain they had to endure is to show that those who pushed through the pain of mocking, temptation and affliction and finished the race were just as faithful, just as victorious as those who became valiant in battle and escaped the edge of the sword.
One of the things that is important to recognize about the people listed in this chapter is that at one time or another they were in both groups. Those who subdued kingdoms and worked righteousness also suffered mocking, rejection and pain. None of them went through life only living in the group that seemed to be victorious. In order to finish the race set before them, every one of them had to deal with the problem of pain at one point or another.
What was true of them then, will be true of us now. At some point we will endure pain in our Christian life. If we want to finish the race set before us, we will have to push through the pain as our spiritual ancestors have done. The fact of the matter is that we cannot finish the race without pushing through the pain. How do we prepare for the pain? How do we push through the pain? This will be the focus of my blog posts this week.
For further study read Hebrews 11-12.
Why do you think the people described in verses 36-38 aren’t named?
What does Hebrews 12:1-2 say we are to do despite the pain?
How have you experienced pain in your Christian life? What did you do?