Hebrews 11 lists the heroes of the faith. On All Saints’ Sunday we remember the Communion of Saints who have preceded us. They were all commended for their faith. They are witnesses to us of God’s faithfulness. We look to them for encouragement and inspiration.
The list of the Old Testament saints is long: Abel, who “by faith still speaks, even though he is dead.” The saints speak to us, witness to us, beyond their mortal life. Enoch, who did not experience death, who pleased God. Noah who heeded God’s warning about things not yet seen, and lived by faith. Abraham who obeyed God and went out even though he did not know where he was going. Isaac and Jacob were heirs with him of the promise of a city to come whose architect and builder was God.
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised in this life; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. They admitted they were aliens and strangers on the earth. They were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. God has prepared a city for them. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead. He believed in resurrection. Moses regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. He persevered because he saw him who was invisible.
There was Rahab, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; whose weakness was turned to strength, and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, mistreated –the world was not worthy of them. They were all commended for their faith, yet none received what had been promised in this life. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
Then there are the saints of the New Testament and the early church; the great multitude of Christian missionaries who carried the Gospel to all parts of Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. They are far more numerous than us. We stand on their shoulders. What do they say to us?
First, what we do in this life counts for eternity. Our lives speak even though we are dead. My Christian discipleship has been nurtured through reading biographies of the saints. Glancing over my bookshelf I see biographies on Oswald Chambers, Hudson Taylor, Samuel Zwemer, Malcolm Muggeridge, G.K. Chesterton, Eugenia Price, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Vernon Grounds, Michael Green, John Newton, J.C. Ryle, Jim Packer, William Wilberforce, Charles H. Spurgeon, Miguel de Unamuno, Soren Kierkegaard, Emil Brunner, Lesslie Newbigin, Thomas Cranmer, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael and many more. The story of your life will be read by more people than you imagine. It may not be written down but it will reverberate through the lives of all those who have known you.
Second, we should heed God’s warnings about things not seen. Just because we do not see God does not mean that he is not there for “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is seen is eternal.” There is a heavenly reality even though we cannot see it with our physical eyes. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” We take seriously “the King, eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God.” “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” The prophets warned the people of their time to change their ways and return to the Lord or else they would face judgment. That message is still true. “Just as it was in the days of Noah so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
Third, living by faith requires being obedient to God’s leading and taking the risk of venturing forward in life when we don’t know all the details of the future. Abraham undertook a major trip to an unknown destination and became for us a model of faith. Life is such a journey. We never know what the future has in store for us. Unexpected challenges cause us to have to respond with decisions and actions that we never anticipated having to make. We pray for the leading of the Spirit, for wisdom to make the right decisions, we seek confirmation in the counsel of godly friends, we discern the spirits, and we obey. All obedience in following Christ involves risk.
“How do we make truly difficult choices? How do we act when the risks seem overwhelming? How can we muster the guts to burn our bridges and create a condition of no return? The real issues are: What kind of life do I want to lead? What is my destiny? One of the gravest problems in life is self-limitation. We refuse to fulfill our potential.” (Peter Koestenbaum)
Fourth, we will not be fulfilled in this life for we are destined for a better life, a heavenly life. Our reward is to be found in heaven. The treasures of this life are not to be compared with the treasures that are laid up for us in heaven. Moses could have lived in luxury in Pharoah’s court but he chose comparative poverty because he could see the eternal reward in heaven was greater and more lasting. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” “An inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.”
Fifth, God can take our gifts and use them to his glory, and turn our weaknesses into strengths. He can do what seems to be impossible things through us. Jesus took a motley group of fishermen, tax collectors, and others and launched the kingdom of God that eventually spanned the globe. He can take our failures, mistakes, and disabilities, our obtuseness and ignorance, our handicaps and shortcomings and turn them into assets. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” With God nothing is impossible. He is able to do immeasurably more that all we ask or imagine.
The great cloud of witnesses for us contain the saints of the past. In the future they will also include each one of us in Christ. We will be witnesses of God’s faithfulness. Others will look to us for encouragement and inspiration.