by Rob Martin
(Editor’s note: This is the final post in a series through Hebrews 11 called “In the Shadow of the Cloud.”We will be exploring what we can learn from those mentioned in this clouds of witnesses section.)
Our family dog, Dude, is a fine example of the best attributes of canine-hood. He is loyal, loving, fun, obedient, and altogether trustworthy, except when it comes to the dinner table (and chasing ducks). At the dinner table his eyes say love and devotion, but the licking of his chops speak the actual truth, “Please drop something from the table. It’s all that I care about right now.”
And although I am no longer a child, the occasional ‘crumb’ does fall from my plate. This came to mind when during our early morning devotion time recently; Bev (my wife) and I encountered the story in Mark’s Gospel of the Gentile woman who begged Jesus to deliver her daughter from a demon. In the story, there is one of those thought-provoking moments of uncertainty where Jesus uses a quick turn of phrase to expose a penetrating truth about his mission:
First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” “Yes Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he told her, “For such a reply you may go: the demon has left your child. (Mark 7: 27-29)
Her faith was triumphant. We are told by Peter in 1 Peter 1:7 that the perfecting of our faith through suffering produces something more valuable than gold. The Gentile woman could not have used gold to provoke Jesus to deliver her daughter from the demon, nor can gold help us book a passage to heaven.
Sometime ago, when laying on a gurney in an ambulance with blood dangerously draining from a wound in my leg, the eyes of the paramedic stared back at me, confirming what I already knew: I was dying. At that time, the fearful, feverish thought that dominated my mind was a simple question, “Where are you, God?”
I am not writing this from the grave, so obviously I survived, but the question did not go away, even as the answer was embracing my soul. God wasn’t distant. My faith was. As I recovered, I realized that my faith had fallen in line with some mutant form of the gospel–that is, that bad stuff shouldn’t be happening to me. I needed to understand what the Gentile woman understood–that bad stuff happens and Jesus can and does heal. I needed triumphant faith.
Yet, beyond the story of the Gentile woman, even if Jesus chooses not to heal, He will comfort us in the promise of the complete restoration of our life after death in Heaven. He’s the Jesus of the here and now; the Gentile woman’s daughter was healed. And He is the Jesus of the hereafter who fulfills His promises.
The writer of Hebrews has an answer for us in that time of despair as he draws our attention to the prophets.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated–the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Heb. 11: 32-40)
These verses have never meant more to me than now. As I worked through the shallowness of my faith, I found it deepening. This was the very process of discovery, saying, “Yes, Lord,” and understanding as James said, “Our faith needs to be strengthened in times of struggle.” I now know that we are not alone. God had not failed; instead, my misplaced understanding of God in my most desperate moment of fear had failed.
Consider the therefore that follows Hebrews 11:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb. 12: 1-3)
For me, the phrase, “… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” is the deepest reality of life. I would trade anything and everything I have, including life itself, for knowing this and the assurance that comes with it. Do I want to be on that gurney again? No! But has it prepared me for whatever is yet to come? I hope so. And hope will be rewarded. Even Dude, sitting at my feet at dinner, knows that.
Rob Martin is a partner with the First Fruit Institute, serving ministries and colleague foundations as a coach on a variety of organizational issues. He also serves as senior associate for global philanthropy with the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.