Text: Hebrews 11.29–12.2ff
We Christians have a dirty little secret. It is rarely shared these days and not often spoken aloud. It is almost as if we might be afraid that if it gets out, people won’t want to fellowship with us or know our Lord. It is not exactly pleasant, but it’s the substance of our greatest hope. It is the secret the disciples spent the lifetime of Jesus learning, and then as apostles had to realize every day.
There is no fancy way to tell this secret. It is a very straightforward truth that we all must face. It is also an unpopular secret, especially among Christians these days, for it goes against the grain of much that is said and taught in order to fill our churches. In fact, this secret is unique in that it is widely available to any who would see. It can be found all through scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments, and yet it is so often overlooked and all too rarely spoken.
What is especially disturbing about this secret, much like the secret Jeremiah was compelled to proclaim, is that to fail to share it is tantamount to telling a lie.
We are reminded in the Old Testament reading for today that when all of Judah felt like all was going well and that God was blessing them for their obedience, and when all the other prophets of the time were proclaiming peace and prosperity in the name of the Lord, the Lord said to Jeremiah,
“Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord. “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? …Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. …Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? See, therefore, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who steal words from one another. See, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who use their own tongues and say, ‘Says the Lord.’ See, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, says the Lord, and who tell them, and who lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or appoint them; so they do not profit this people at all, says the Lord.” (23.23–32)
No, the secret to which I refer is not the same as the judgment of God upon Judah with which Jeremiah was burdened. But like Jeremiah, I am prepared to tell you the truth that may be quite different from what we hear these days. What we are to hear from God’s word is like a fire. Although some have kept it secret, it will not be quenched, and it cannot be sugar-coated.
Recently we spent a little time in Hebrews 11 remembering the heroes of the faith and looking for the assurance they enjoyed:
-Abel, who found God’s favor, Enoch who did not die.
-Noah who escaped destruction and judgment.
-Abraham who obeyed and received back the life of his son.
-Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, David, Samuel.
The list is endless. These were the faithful about whom the author or Hebrews said, “through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection” (11.33–35).
Wow! This is the kind of faith we want, this is the faith we like to proclaim.
Faith is triumphant, it moves mountains, it heals and consoles, it fixes problems. What a God we serve—look what he can do when we have faith in him! Side by side with the wonderful love of Christ, faith like this is the stuff of modern Christianity. We extend promises, forgiveness, love, and hope.
People are hurting, and faith is the solution. People suffer sickness and loss, pain and death, fear and uncertainty, hopelessness and depression. People struggle with their own sin, with greed, lust, hatred, and selfishness, and Christ is the answer, the church proclaims. Come and be healed, filled, and fulfilled.
Many of us know enough to know that this is not the whole story. This is obviously not our dirty little secret, for this is what the church proclaims almost universally. This is the attractive truth of the Christian faith to a hurting world. And it is truth. No doubt, and praise God!
It’s funny, though, isn’t it, how the most straightforward and powerful truth can become a destructive lie when it is not the whole truth. When we withhold our dirty little secret, this great and wonderful truth of faith and love becomes to some the great lie that keeps them from faith.
This truth is the one all believed who now curse God for letting their son or daughter die. This truth is what embitters the cancer patient laying in pain in the hospital, wondering why. This truth is the one referred to when someone in disbelief exclaims, “I can’t believe God would let this happen!”
Some are quick to say, “they didn’t really have faith in the first place, if this is where they ended up.” They couldn’t possibly have known Christ if they gave up so quickly.
But we are not talking about those who never had faith in the first place. We are talking about those who once knew faith. We are talking about those who came to the church seeking real solutions to real problems and found them. We are talking about those who, like the people the writer of Hebrews was addressing, know Christ but are facing troubles that their faith doesn’t seem to be solving.
Let’s be honest. Some of us here today feel deceived by this truth. Some of us even this week have asked God, “Why? How could you? What good is it for me to trust you?” Some of us who have known Jesus for many years are up against trials we don’t think we’ll be able to bear. We’re hurt. We may be angry. We may even feel betrayed.
Where is our loving God in all of this? After all the years I have known and served him, how can he let me go through this?
I must pause for a moment, to address those of you who may not know Jesus, yet. I know there may be someone here this morning who is looking for faith and love. You may have been told that Jesus is the answer you’re looking for.
If you are not sure, I’ll tell you now that he is.
You are seeking someone or something to make sense out of life; someone to help you face your struggle; someone to help you fill your emptiness; someone to bring you hope, give you peace, to fill your life with love.
Please do not fear—you have come to the right place and the right person. Jesus is everything you are expecting him to be…and more. And today, you will have the chance to hear our dirty little secret, the whole truth about faith in Jesus that will make all the difference in your life if you will make the commitment of faith.
In fact, our dirty little secret is for all who seek and question; for all who know of God’s great love and power and yet wonder why life is still so cruel and trial unbearable.
But why a “dirty” little secret, you wonder. Why is it even secret at all if it will mean so much?
It’s ‘dirty’ because it is not a comfortable truth. Our dirty little secret is at first a harsh reality. Much like our gospel reading today, our dirty little secret is not fluffy and nice. While certainly consistent with the love of Christ, it is not necessarily what we want out of that love.
Our dirty little secret requires a divine flip flop, a change in perspective much like the disciples had to make as they followed Jesus. When they looked for deliverance from the Romans and peace in the land under the rulership of a king, they got Jesus who said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed. Do you think I come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12.49–51)!And so our secret requires us to accept an uncomfortable flip flop, a lurch in our perspective that will at first be offensive to us, especially in our struggle.
Let’s return to Hebrews 11 to find a hint about our secret. Of the heroes of faith, the writer also tells us beginning in verse 35,
Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised…” (35–39)
Ah, now we catch a small glimpse of our dirty little secret. These heroes of the faith suffered, even to death, and they did not even receive the promise of God for relief, deliverance…for peace. Why? “Since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect” (40). Their immediate hope was deferred for that time when all of us, them and those of us who are faithful in these and times to come, share in the final perfection of God in glory.
So here we are at the moment of the revelation of our dirty little secret, just as we have reached the point of the review of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews.
With those who conquered in faith in ways we too would like to conquer, alongside of all of those who found victory, healing, strength, and blessing, were all of these who did not. All these together, become the “great cloud of witnesses” in chapter twelve (1). And that to which they witness, the conquerors and the sufferers, is our dirty little secret;
-the secret that is hard to hear and harder to live.
-the secret that if rejected will leave us with nothing but anger at the truth and the one who failed is.
-the secret that if known and lived will put us in the company of these heroes of faith and will guarantee our share in the “something better” mentioned in 11.40.
Now I’m a little worried. I have built up our dirty little secret, and yet it seems to be the simplest truth. I am almost afraid that I have already given our secret away, and your response might be…“Duh!” But then I guess if that is your response, you know our secret, and you know the whole truth, and when you lay in bed this evening and cry “Why?” it will not be followed with unyielding despair. But if that is not your response already, if our dirty little secret is not yet obvious to you, I hope you will listen very closely, now, for everything you will ever face hangs on this.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12.1-4)
What is our dirty little secret? In a word: ENDURE.
Set aside anything that is holding you back. We know these things from Colossians—fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, truthlessness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusiveness. ENDURE (3.5).
Face the fact that we have a race to run and ENDURE.
Look not only to those who bear witness both to the victory and struggle but to Jesus himself who faced the immeasurable torment of the cross, and ENDURE.
ENDURE for the sake of the joy, not that you have now, for you may not at this moment, but for the joy set before you.
“In your struggle against sin”—your own sin, the effects of other’s sin, the sin that has corrupted this world and brought sickness and death and violence and injury and despair—“you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12.4). You don’t even know yet what it means to suffer, so ENDURE.
This is our dirty little secret. Faith in Christ is not always easy. We will face struggles with few answers and must endure. This is the truth that makes the real difference when the rubber meets the road in our walk with Christ.
I know—this secret is difficult to accept, especially when we feel like we need comfort and answers. For those of us who have not yet committed to love and serve Jesus, it makes us think twice, doesn’t it. When we have faith, and when we accept the grace of Jesus Christ and commit to serve him, we are committing to press on and endure no matter what and to set aside anything that will hinder our perseverance. We are committing to not having all of our problems solved in this world. We are committing to not finding an easy way through life.
If we read on, we find that we are committing to submit to God’s discipline and in that discipline to find our greatest hope.
Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (12.7–13)
And so our dirty little secret becomes the full hope of our salvation; the refining fire that leads to holiness, the full realization of the love of God in Christ that brings us to his righteousness, and the hope of our salvation and eternal rest—if we but ENDURE.
Last week we read that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11.1). And at the end of chapter 12 we are reminded of this.
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (12.18–24)
We don’t have faith in something visible and terrible that will lead to our destruction, but we endure what can be terrible for the hope of that which is not seen that will lead to our salvation. The very blood of the one to whom we look as the example for our own endurance is the blood that will save us. The very result of his pain and suffering is the word to us that though we suffer we will be saved—if we but endure. This is the word to all of us who walk in faith and face the struggle. This is the difficult little secret that will bring us into the kingdom that cannot be shaken.
To we who know Christ in faith and who struggle with sin and its effects, even as we know the secret of his eternal love that shares in our struggle, I commend this secret to strengthen our hope and add to our resolve. “Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your week knees, and make straight paths for your feet” (Hebrews 12.12-13).
To those who have been fed the falsehood of the easy love of God and the healing without the pain, I disclose this secret to give you hope when you despair and to bring you to the fullness of hope in the blood of Christ. “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart” (12.3).
To you who do not know Jesus and are looking for the peace, grace, and love he has to offer, I declare this truth to you that you may know in full what it means to commit to Christ and may find the full depth of his love as he walks with you through your trials and prepares you for eternal life in his kingdom. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God,…and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (12.22-24).
And finally, on behalf of all who would know what it means to walk in faith, to live in victory and in suffering for the sake of he who died for our sins, I thank God for the depth of his love and the privilege to endure in his name. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed, our God is a consuming fire” (12.28–29).
And so I leave you with the very simple plea, the very profound hope, and the secret upon which our lives depend. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (12.1–2).
As he did, and as he is with us, endure, endure, endure.
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10.19–23)