"Faith in the Face of Death"
As a fan of the South Carolina Gamecocks, I like to say, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” It’s easier to have faith in your football team’s success when their roster is full of seasoned five-star recruits and they’re led by a coach who has won multiple national championships. It’s harder to have faith if you’ve watched them lose to Kentucky several years in a row.
Our “Hall of Faith” saints in verses 17–31 had faith in God despite the difficult circumstances surrounding them. As I read these verses, I was reminded of the reality that life is rarely easy. These saints believed in God and held to their faith, to “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV) even in the face of suffering—even, in fact, in the face of death.
Abraham, in faith, offered up Isaac as a sacrifice to the Lord when he was tested, believing God would keep His promises, even if that meant God would need to raise Isaac from the dead. Moses, in faith, led the people to cross the Red Sea, even though to the outsider’s eye such an action would mean certain death, either by the raging waters or by the angry hand of the Egyptians. Yet, they trusted that God would deliver them—and He did.
Even so, all of these saints still tasted death. As he was dying, Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph. On his deathbed, Joseph foretold the Exodus and told his descendants to take his bones back to the Promised Land. And even though God saved Isaac that day from an early death on Mount Moriah, one day, he, too, would die just like Abraham, Moses, and Rahab. We see no miraculous interventions on their deathbeds to revive their hearts and breathe life into their spirits. These saints, full of faith, died.
This may not seem like a hopeful word to us at first, but I believe there’s a promise here worth uncovering. That promise is this: the saints of old held to their faith in God even in the face of death, because they knew death was not the end of the story. They had faith that something greater was coming. Indeed, their faith pointed to the coming of Someone greater—Jesus! And because of Jesus, we, too, can have faith in the face of death because we know the One who defeated death. Because of our hope in Him, we, too, know death is not the end of the story. We, like Jesus, will be raised to life. As Charles Wesley tells us in his beloved hymn, “Mild He lays His glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth” (Charles Wesley, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”).
Hebrews 11:17-31 (ESV):
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down 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 given a friendly welcome to the spies.