Take a moment to think about a life story portrayed in a biography, novel, or movie that has inspired you. What was it about the story that particularly impressed you?
Today’s passage contains a series of short vignettes designed to inspire and encourage. It begins with a virtual tour through an Old Testament “Hall of Fame,” but then, due to the author’s realization that “I do not have time to tell” all the stories (Heb. 11:32), the narrative diverts to a summary of the achievements of the heroes of the faith (such as administering justice, raising people from the dead, shutting the mouths of lions, etc.), and some of the inhumane adversities they endured because of their faith (such as jeers, mistreatment, isolation, torture, etc.). Calling attention to the stories of the enormous “cloud of witnesses” (12:1) is consistent with the most commonly used words of Moses, the psalmist, and the prophets in their admonition to the people of God, that is, “to remember” the actions of God through the lives of His people. Remembering is an essential feature of ongoing faithfulness!
A unique feature of this passage is that it begins with a succinct definition of faith—it’s the only place in the New Testament where a definition of faith (πίστις or pistos) is provided (11:1). It has to do with the assurance that a personal God who loves creation and humanity is real, and that our hopes about God’s reign will become actualized even if we do not see this occur fully within our lifetimes (vv. 13,39-40). What all these exemplars have in common is that they are people whose lives were characterized by a combination of faith and persistence despite lack of clarity about the future.
Not only do the stories of these exemplars show us what is possible through faith, but the memory of these stories “surround” us much in the way that the sound of cheering encourages athletes to give their all in their performances.
As we make our way closer to Easter—where we will once again celebrate the story of Jesus Christ, penultimate exemplar, and the “pioneer and perfecter” of faith (12:3)—let us not grow weary or lose heart (even in the midst of a pandemic).
As we think about our own experience of faith, however incomplete, what are some of the stories we might share with others?
Bruce L. Guenther is Professor of Church History and Mennonite Studies at MB Seminary. He attends Bakerview Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia.
This devotion appears in MB Seminary’s 2022 Easter Devotions resource called Out of the Shadows: The Substance of the Son.