Guest blogger: Michael Bird

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Hebrews 11, which shows the great people of God clinging to their faith in him despite troubling circumstances.  I have some “unsung heroes” I think of when I read this passage.

From the Old Testament, the example of Jonathan comes to mind.  He is torn between being loyal to his father, King Saul, and his best friend, David of Bethlehem.  Eventually, he is killed by the Philistines on Mt. Gilboa along with King Saul.  David, later crowned King, grieved for their loss.  Jonathan did not get to see his best friend become king or the defeat of the Philistines. David repaid his kindness by taking Jonathan’s son (Mephibosheth) into his household.
A New Testament example is John the Baptist, who lived by the words of Hebrews 11:39-40 while he lived a simple life preaching a message of repentance and baptism.  Paving the way for the Lord, he eventually did get to see Jesus.  For preaching against Herod, he was beheaded prior to Jesus finishing his earthly and redemptive work. Jesus said “there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (author of The Cost of Discipleship) was a leader of a unified German church that opposed replacing the supremacy of Christ with the supremacy of Hitler.  He spent time in Harlem in the 1930 prior to Hitler’s rise and had a chance to stay in America.  But Bonhoeffer chose to return to Germany to serve God in his own country, despite the danger.  He was in New York again in 1939, but wrote this message to a friend (and returned to Germany shortly thereafter):

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people ... Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.”

Bonhoeffer was executed in April 1945 in a concentration camp two weeks prior to the camp being liberated.  He did not see Hitler’s defeat.  While he was trying to save the church and serve others in his country, he was longing for God’s country.

We are not guaranteed an easy life when we choose to follow Jesus. On the contrary, Jesus told us that “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). But when we fix our eyes on Jesus and walk by faith, we are following in the footsteps of those unsung heroes of Hebrews 11, and we will find that the words of Hebrews 11:13-16 will be true of us:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

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