And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised... –HEBREWS 11:39
Hebrews 11 is a history of men and women who lived (and died) by faith. Some of the names—Abraham, Moses, Noah—are familiar. Others—Barak, Jepthah—are not. And some are not called by name at all, but their stories are recorded in shorthand: men and women who quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, became mighty in war, were tortured, stoned, tempted, put to death, even sawed in two! All of these died without receiving the promise, Paul tells us, and the promise is Jesus Christ, the Messiah. But they were all men and women of God, and they are links in a chain of faith that reaches all the way to you and me. They exercised faith by looking forward to the promise. We exercise faith by looking back at it. But we are linked by a common faith.
I don’t visit a lot of cemeteries, but when I do it always means something to me. I think everyone should visit them every now and then, because it reminds us that death is a certainty. There’s a spot in Hawaii called the Punch Bowl where soldiers who died in the Pacific in World War II are buried. I am linked to them by our national heritage. They sacrificed for me. In Rome, the catacombs hold the bones of early Christians who were martyred for their faith. I am linked to these who had to worship underground and fight for their beliefs in a pagan culture. And closer to home, in Laurel, Mississippi, there’s a little cemetery that holds the bones of people I grew up with, my wife’s grandparents, her father, my parents, my grandmother and other relatives. Their faith and their prayers and their generosity are links in a chain that runs all the way to me. From Adam to Edwin and at every point in between, we are linked together by faith to an incredible cloud of witnesses.