This Friday is Veterans Day in our country, and, I don’t know if this is the case for you, but there is something about Veterans Day that puts a lump in my throat every single year, especially when I am at a Veterans Day gathering, and I hear the various songs for the different branches of the military played in that medley, with men and women from that particular branch standing up to be acknowledged when their song is played and their branch is honored. To me that is really something! We do express our thanks to all who have served – and who continue to serve – in this special and important way. That’s why we have a Veterans Day in our country of the United States.
Our reading from Hebrews 11 can also make us think of a different kind of Veterans Day, as our Lord gives what we can say is a spiritual acknowledgment to those heroes of faith who have served him and his people in the ongoing battle of life. I pray the Lord will give all of us a spiritual lump in the throat as we think about what our Savior here says about this Veterans Day of all Veterans Days – a Veterans Day we can call a Veterans Day in the Kingdom of God.
To appreciate this kind of Veterans Day, we first of all have to remember that God tells us our faith is constantly under attack, either by people outside us making life rough for us because of our faith or by our own sinful nature inside us making life rough for ourselves and having us often questioning our faith or even at times going against our faith. The verses in front of us this morning from Hebrews 11 give us some names of people just like us and some descriptions of what these people went through for their faith, and how God used them in his kingdom – something that would make a very interesting Bible Class to study more thoroughly, since there is a lot of material in these words — but this entire chapter of the Bible is filled with names of people of God who often struggled to stay close to their Lord, but whose faith got them through, as they kept looking to the promises of God which God used to create that faith and to strengthen that faith, as they kept hearing those promises.
It is that faith in the promises of God that way back at the beginning of Hebrews 11 before our Lesson the Lord described in this way: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Isn’t that exactly what faith is – being certain of what we do not see? After this sermon we will together confess things we believe in with all our heart that we cannot see – God the Father, who made us and everything on this earth; God the Son, our Lord Jesus, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary; God the Holy Spirit, who uses things like these words – and some water – and bread and wine connected with his words and his promises, which give us the faith to believe all that and to keep believing all that, even though we can’t see it with our eyes or figure it out with our minds.
In those verses before our Lesson God mentions people of the past, to whom he gave the faith to believe the same kinds of things they could not see by the promises he gave them: Noah, to build an ark in a place of a totally dry climate, while waiting 120 years for the deluge to begin; Abraham, to receive a son when he was 100 years old – a son named Isaac would carry on the line of our Savior; Moses, to convince some two million people to follow him safely away from Egypt — the strongest nation in the world at that time – a nation which had enslaved them bitterly. and then the children of Israel themselves, to walk through the Red Sea on dry ground and before whom the walls of Jericho would come tumbling down, after they marched around them for seven days, as they began the conquest of that land where the Savior would someday be born. And then he comes to the verses that Pastor Free read as our Second Lesson.
We thank God for those veterans of faith – people, just like us, who were really nothing at all in themselves; people, just like us, who could only do this, because God gave them promise after promise that he would continue to be with them, since he had never stopped forgiving them – a promise that would be further confirmed at an unknown time down the line when Jesus, that promised Savior, would finally be born – followed by another promise that you and I are still waiting to see fulfilled, as well—when Jesus comes back again. Earlier in this chapter the Lord had said this about these veterans of faith who could only hang on to the promises of God: “They were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” You and I are looking forward to that same country, because you and I know that through the work of Jesus our Savior, God is not ashamed to be called our God – and he has prepared that city of the heavenly Jerusalem for us, as well.
And that is also what was true of the veterans of faith mentioned in today’s verses, some of whom may be very unfamiliar to us. Look at the opening verse — verse 32 — for the names. People like Gideon – a leader used by God to defeat the enemies of Israel with only a small group of soldiers; people like Barak – a general of God’s army used by God to work with a woman named Deborah to do the very same thing; Samson – a man of many faults and sins whose massive God-given strength God used to bring a palace hall down on the Philistines; Jephthah – a man rejected by his family as illegitimate and one who made rash vows to the Lord, but, again, used by the Lord to defeat Israel’s foes; David – the shepherd, the warrior, the king, the man of adultery and the man of courage whose heart followed the Lord in repentance, used by God expand the land of Israel so that one day the Son of David could come to live there as the King of all kings and rule as king in your heart and mine; Samuel, the little boy who said, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” and whom God told to listen as he was sent to anoint kings to be rulers of God’s people and then told them to listen to what God himself told him to tell them to do;
…and, finally in verse 32, the prophets – people who are then described in the rest of the verses as having done great things through the power of God and having been called upon to suffer great things for the sake of God, including not just mockery and jeering and poverty and mistreatment and injustice, but also stoning and flogging and imprisonment and torture and death in ways too difficult to talk about. As the Lord said in verse 38, “The world was not worthy of them.” Sadly, those who rejected their message rejected the only way they could be worthy before God, and the consequences of that unworthiness were eternal, just as they are today.
But then unexpectedly God ties all these veterans of faith together with you and me today in a fascinating way in the last two verses of our lesson. Verse 39: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” They went through all these things – being used to do wonderful things for God and being given strength to endure horrible things from those who opposed God – they went through all these horrible things, God here says, because God had planned something better for us! God says that once all these heroes of faith are with us in heaven they – and we — will be “made perfect.” That means that everything will have come to a perfect conclusion – the promised conclusion – the conclusion they had not physically received during their lifetime – but the promised conclusion that every single one of us is looking forward to right now as we struggle in the battles of life, meaning that every single one of us here this morning is a veteran of spiritual military service right now – as we have the sword of the Spirit in God’s Word and the shield of faith, which protects us as we hang on to every promise of God, no matter how impossible the keeping of that promise might seem in whatever aspect of life may be challenging you right now. Our God cannot fail us.
And just as a better understanding of these words I pray came for you from the words which came before our Lesson, which told us what faith is, so the reason for our comfort and confidence to march forward in life definitely comes from the very next words which come right after our Lesson, which tell us who our faith is in. In those next words God says this: “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (all these veterans of faith), 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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him 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 sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
That, dear friends, is the song for our branch of spiritual military service, because that is the song that encourages every one of us as children of God to keep our eyes on what Jesus did for us and our ears attuned to what Jesus has promised to us because of all he did for us in his eternal life-winning battle against everything the devil had to offer. Veterans Day in our land is for those we are thankful to say served us in that special way in our country. Veterans Day in the Kingdom of God is for every single one of us every single day. God has won the battle to make you his own – and to keep you as his own — and to someday give you and me as our own the same better country he has given to everyone who has gone before us in faith. That’s a song that just has to cause a lump in the throat for all of us, as we continue to serve our Savior, no matter our age – young or old — as veterans – veterans of the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.