And There Are So Many Others
The Preacher didn’t even make it into the first millennium B.C. with his Roll Call. He had left off with Joshua having taken Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. This sermon was getting long. What more was he to discuss? Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. Goodness! And that last word included so many: Elijah, Elisha, Nathan, Micaiah, and then Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Amos—where shall we end? And what did these and so many others do? Conquered kingdoms (David), enforced justice (Solomon), obtained promises (all the above), stopped the mouths of lions (Daniel), quenched flames (Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego), and escaped the sword (Elijah, Elisha). I love “made strong out of weakness” as it reminds me of Paul’s words, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
But the lives of those who live by faith can also come at great cost: Torture, mocking, flogging, chains, imprisonment, stoning, death by the sword, and even sawing in two as tradition declared happened to Isaiah. Going about in skins, living in caves and deserts, destitute, abused, afflicted—and then come those thunderous words: OF WHOM THE WORLD WAS NOT WORTHY!
“Behold,” roars the Preacher, “the reward of living by faith!” “What reward?” you cry, “Living in caves? No thank you!” “Ah!” says the Preacher, “You still do not understand.” In the fourth century, a man named Eusebius wrote a history of the Church over those first three hundred years. He includes in it several episodes of martyrdom so intense, so horrendous, so bloody that the accounts put chills down the spine. He records that the pagan onlookers asked themselves about the Christians who refused to say the simple words, “Caesar is Lord” or offer incense to a pagan god, or renounce their faith: “What did they get out of their religion, which they preferred to their own lives?” (5:1).
It is a disturbing and penetrating question, is it not? Do I prefer Christ and his teachings over my life—even to the point of torture and death? Or in America—over simply denying myself daily pleasures and gratifications which I take for granted? And yet, they endured so much to gain the promises. We too are those upon whom the end of the ages has dawned (1 Corinthians 10:11). Shall we be less faithful when we have so much more, namely the Holy Spirit and our Lord’s exaltation to the right hand and inauguration of his High Priesthood? Surely!