Proper 15 — Heb. 11:29–12:2
When I conduct a burial ceremony, I sense that I stand among a gathering of people who still speak, even though they are no longer alive. Sometimes their message is inscribed on their headstone: a Bible verse, a famous quotation or just the dates of birth and death. However, beyond a meager message on stone, the dead continue to communicate through the legacy they left us about how they lived.
The writer of Hebrews tried to capture the legacy of the saints who lived before him in a litany of their accomplishments. He remembered each individual for his or her faith and faithfulness to God. He concluded his honor roll of faith, as some have called it, with a list of anonymous saints. These unnamed believers of the past are important to us for their legacy that extends beyond their deeds.
They are important because their legacy informs us that the lives of the most faithful are filled with trials and troubles.
The suffering described in these verses touches men and women and is intensified with cruelty. Death for these martyrs was a blessed relief.
Good as well as bad people suffer. In the early 1990s, I met the Anglican Bishop of Lango, Uganda, the Rt. Rev. Melchizedek Otim. He recounted how his predecessor was martyred by the dictator Idi Amin for opposing his cruel actions. Melchizedek then was forced into exile so he could live to lead his people. Years would pass before he could return to his homeland.
We would like to make only the bad suffer, but suffering knows no gender, no race, no nationality. Pain enters fancy mansions and shabby tenements. The legacy of past people of faith is filled with trials and troubles. Faithful living provides no immunity against pain and suffering. On the night before Jesus was crucified, He cautioned His disciples: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (
They are important because their legacy informs us that the lives of the most faithful may not be filled with great earthly rewards.
“They were all commended for their faith,” says the author, “yet none of them received what had been promised” (
The hope of biblical eschatology may not be realized in our lifetime, which neither refutes it nor invalidates it. The legacy of these ancient believers, however, reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven and our greatest reward will arrive when Jesus returns for us (
They are important because their legacy informs us that the lives of past faithful people are fulfilled or made perfect in us.
The ancients lived faithful lives and suffered misery and death for their faith, always hoping for the appearance of the Messiah. They never received that promise, but New Testament believers witnessed the appearance of Jesus.
Christians have the opportunity to honor the legacy of faithful saints from the past by persevering in the midst of present struggles. We know how to persevere because Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (
The lasting legacy of ancient saints is made complete in us as we live faithfully and loyally for the Lord. They surround us and cheer us onto victory because they are able to find fulfillment in us.