Ascension Lutheran Church

Calgary, AB

Tenth Sunday After Pentecost

Hebrews 11:29--12:2

[29] By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. [30] By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. [31] By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
[32] And what more should 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, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, [34] quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. [35] Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. [36] Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. [37] They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented-- [38] of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
[39] Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, [40] since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
[12:1] Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

I’m not sure where the idea originated that following Jesus and living a life of faith would necessarily be simple and easy. But yet there is no shortage of people and preachers who make Christianity out to be a mode of life free of all troubles and trials—teaching that if you do everything right you will be rewarded with health, wealth and smooth sailing.

A quick reading of today’s lesson, to say nothing of a more thorough reading of the rest of Scripture, demonstrates that following Jesus faithfully and fully is not necessarily easy, and certainly isn’t without its challenges. The verses above describe a wide range of experiences, but the common thread running through it all is faith in Jesus Christ.

Faith does not exempt the believer from suffering—but it does promise the grace and strength necessary to endure it. If Jesus Christ, who was perfect and sinless suffered, then his followers can’t really expect anything else.

Suffering is one of the givens of life in this fallen, sinful world. It isn’t a question of “if” you will suffer, but what form that suffering will take. This passage of Scripture reminds us of God’s faithfulness in the midst of suffering. That we don’t go through any of this on our own, but are surrounded by the mercy of God and the cloud of witnesses, those faithful who have gone before us and are now enjoying their heavenly reward, who are encouraging us in our journey, that by the grace of God we too may remain faithful, relying on the strength and grace of God, regardless of our circumstance.