March 23, the Thirteenth Day of Lent
March 23, 2011 § 1 Comment
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.
At this point in the chapter, the author feels the need to add some clarification. He sets aside the tales of Abraham and addresses that question that surely was being asked by some in his audience: “But these people did not live to see the promise fulfilled! How did a life of faith do them any good?”
Here, the author of Hebrews takes time to make a clear point: Even though these people died before seeing God’s promise fulfilled, they were able to believe that the promise would be fulfilled. In so doing, they came to see the promise in terms of a factual statement of future reality. Because they believed in this reality, they were able to rejoice in its future arrival – even though they would not be alive to witness it. This is faith-behavior that reminds us of the first verse of this chapter; Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob become the highest examples of those who live in faith and act accordingly. They lived as foreigners, knowing that it was not for them to claim the land for their own; and yet, they rejoiced in the knowledge that their descendants would.
As we read this passage today, we may find this idea difficult to swallow. After all, if God makes us a promise, we can expect to see that promise fulfilled, right? How does that work if the fulfillment does not take place in our lifetime?
In response to these questions, the author of Hebrews would tell us that God’s promises are bigger than our lifetimes. Abraham and those who came after him knew this, and they were able to go to their graves resting in the faith that God would yet fulfill what he had said.
It is easy to think that God’s promises begin and end with us as individuals. However, by becoming followers of Christ, we become part of a larger story. A more contemporary example of this is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A pastor in Nazi Germany, he opposed Hitler’s regime; he even worked within a plot to assassinate the dictator. The plot was uncovered and Bonhoeffer was executed in a concentration camp in 1945. Bonhoeffer was aware that God’s promises were not for him alone, but for the entire community of faith. He recognized Hitler as someone who opposed God’s work in the world and acted accordingly. Though he did not live to see the regime overthrown, he lived and died in the assurance that Hitler’s reign would not last.
As Christians, we have become players in a story larger than our own. Laying aside our own desires, we seek to be used by God as he fulfills his promise of redemption to the world. This promise may not be fulfilled in our lifetimes, but we can rejoice in the future reality that will come; in the meantime, we can be used by God as agents of redemption in the world in which we live, acting according to God’s promises not just to us, but to the world and for the sake of the world.
As we journey through Lent together, may we rejoice in the anticipation of God keeping his word to the world.
“Dear Lord, thank you for your promises for the world. Please help me to understand your work in terms that are larger than myself. I repent of my sin of thinking of your promises only for myself; please help me to live in ways that fulfill your promises to others. Help me not to grow tired as I live in faith; help me believe that you are at work, even if I do not get to see the culmination of what you have done. Amen.”