The day Instagram found out I was a Christian was a very strange day for me. My feed suddenly went from posts of computer repairs, Star Trek facts, and memes to a mix of all those things interposed with what I can only call the Christian side of Instagram. It wasn’t uncommon to find myself staring at a post of Mr. Spock looking to the side at another post of Jesus on the Cross. But besides the sudden clash of two different worlds for me, I found that the Christian side of Instagram is a wonderland of different takes on Scripture. If you go digging through it, you can find multiple accounts dedicated to preaching their views on scripture and trying to correct perceived falsehoods. One such account once posted a snapshot from Twitter that said something along these lines:
“Pastors, stop preaching on other figures in the Bible. We don’t need to hear about how we can be like Job or hear about Peter or Paul, we just need to focus on Jesus and how we can be like him!”
At first, this does not seem to be an incorrect statement. After all, we are called as Christians to focus on Christ as we walk through this world. There’s no room to debate that. But this post bothered me. It was as if every other individual in the Bible had suddenly been reduced to the point of background characters that mean nothing. And yet, the Bible makes it a point to tell us about these people. The problem is that by ignoring everyone else in the Bible, we miss out on examples of those who have held onto their faith and trusted God through the trials of their lives, which the book of Hebrews would refer to as “running the race”. Like a race, we face difficulties while running to the end goal of our ultimate destiny with Jesus. We need to pay attention to the other figures in the books of the Bible so we can take note of how we can move forward through this side of eternity.
First off, Jesus wanted us to pay attention to these people. It is understandable to think that by studying them and putting them on a pedestal of sorts that one sets the stage for them to become idols that we elevate above Christ. But with Jesus’ ministry, it is clear to see that he did not intend for himself to be the only example. Jesus, being “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) was able to run the race brought up in Hebrews flawlessly. But our striving to be like Jesus or do his work on our own is in vain. We can never hope to achieve the same level that Jesus was on while we are still here on Earth. We’re like little kids, struggling just to walk. But that’s why Jesus gave us an example of redeemed followers in the form of the Apostles, who were his close group of students here on Earth. He chose a group of broken, sinful men, and ultimately shaped them into the group responsible for continuing his ministry here on Earth. Even after Jesus left, the Apostles continued to be sinful, broken men. They had been saved, they had been blessed with the Holy Spirit, but they were not given a pass. They had to continue to devote themselves to God and repent regularly. If Jesus did not intend for us to pay attention to other individuals, he would not have placed the Apostles in charge of continuing his ministry and making more disciples. There is no way that Jesus thought that they would be forgotten after their deaths. He knew people would look to them for centuries to try and figure out how to run the race. Another example of how he calls us to look at others is with the parables he taught with. There are several things we need to keep in mind while looking at the parables; one, that these are stories designed to illustrate our interactions with God and what he expects of us, and two, that this is done with human characters. Consider the story of the Good Samaritan and the context behind it. Samaritans were hated by the Jews because they disagreed on where they should worship. And yet Jesus put a Samaritan man who would have been seen as a heretic in the hero role of the parable. Imagine being the expert in the law who asked the question that led to the parable. When Jesus said, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37), he probably wasn’t auto-filling Jesus into the role of the Samaritan. He was probably reflecting on his prejudice against the Samaritans and trying to process the fact that Jesus had just told him to be like the one in the story. Jesus calls us to pay attention to other people. So why did he want us to pay attention to them?
Other figures in the Bible point to how it is possible to live a faithful life for God despite our worldly nature. Going back to the racetrack, we find Jesus slowing down and helping us start to run. We stumble, we fall, we get frustrated and cry out “You know what, I’m done! I can’t do this, it’s impossible!” But then Jesus helps us up and points to the finish line. We see that others have made it and have become part of “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) Jesus points to them and starts to tell us their stories as encouragement and as lessons. With them, we start to see that despite our stumbles we can still live lives that glorify God. Take King David for example; In Acts 13:22 he is described as “a man after [God’s] own heart.” The important fact that we have to take away from this is that this was said long after David’s reign had come to an end. Despite his affair with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, he was still remembered for living a life that honored God. His repentance and devotion were still seen as a glorious thing to God, leading him to be remembered as a man after God’s heart. Not only that, his devotion to God led to the honor of being part of the lineage that ultimately led to Jesus. And if we go back further, we see Abraham. At the beginning of his story, God made it clear what he intended to accomplish with him, saying “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3). And yet, despite this promise coming straight from God, Abraham doubts him and tries to get things done his way. When he encountered the Egyptians, he had Sarah pretend to be his sister because he believed that was the only way to ensure his security. When he and Sarah had no children, they turned to Hagar to give him a son. But despite all of this, God remained devoted to Abraham because of what faith he did have. Eventually, Abraham and Sarah had their son Isaac, who in turn started the lineage that led to Israel and Jesus. In every instance with David, Abraham, and the other figures in the Bible, we see that despite their shortcomings, their faith and devotion to God and willingness to repent was ultimately what helped them finish the race. We see this reaffirmed in 1 John Chapter 1, where we are told “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This should be a great encouragement for all of us still running!
But we also need to consider that they serve as a reminder and warning to us as well about our sinful nature and the consequences that will follow certain behaviors. Even though we look to the end of the track for encouragement, Jesus wants us to know every major stumble that these people had so we can take note of them and avoid them. Looking back to David, we have to remember that even though he was praised for his devotion and repentance, his actions still had consequences. The child born from his affair with Bathsheba suffered for seven days and then died. And to avenge Uriah, Israel becomes embroiled in constant conflict. Overall, David’s reign was never the same after the affair because his actions diminished his kingdom’s glory. But I think the repercussions of his sexual sin go further than his lifetime.
In 2 Samuel 16:21, when Absalom enters Jerusalem, we are told David left concubines behind to keep his house. This fact shows that David’s sexual sin goes farther than the affair with Bathsheba because he was being sexually promiscuous with a great number of women. Now, imagine a young Solomon observing this behavior in his father. Is it shocking that he ended up falling into the same kind of sin as David? Like a runner falling during a marathon and knocking over others, David’s sin cascaded down into his descendants. And in addition to Solomon also being sexually promiscuous, his wives and concubines helped lead him astray from God. Again, ignoring the commandments of God made an influence on his children, and the actions of Solomon’s son Rehoboam ultimately led to the splitting of the Kingdom of Israel. Despite David and Solomon having favor with God and being remembered as such, their sinful actions still had major consequences. And while our sins are forgiven through our repentant faith, we can also expect God to “discipline the ones he loves” (Hebrews 12:6). This isn’t to say that the consequences will be as dramatic as a nation being divided. But there still will be some response. I believe you can see an example of this with Abraham after he and Sarah had Isaac. After years of waiting and trying to fulfill God’s promise his way, Abraham and Sarah had a son that they loved and treasured dearly. But then God decided to test Abraham’s faith. In Genesis 22:2, Abraham is told by God to “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2). Imagine the devastation that Abraham must have felt. Years of waiting and the promise was finally fulfilled only for his son to be taken from him by the One who made the promise. Abraham probably felt sick to his stomach, his heart aching, his brain trying to process the request. In his heart, he probably struggled, screaming internally and grieving over it. I have to wonder if he thought of this as a punishment for his past faithlessness. Of course, we know how the story ends. Abraham submitted to God and almost went through with the request, but at the last second Isaac was spared and God provided a ram as a substitute for the sacrifice. While the story ends with Abraham having been spared the pain of sacrificing Isaac, I can’t help but wonder if this test was used as a response to his faithless actions in the past. Whether that was God’s intention, I do not know. However, one thing is for sure; no matter the consequences, the door for repentance and salvation will be open to us. But what the people in the Bible do for us is help us look at ourselves and take steps to ensure that we don’t fall into the same pitfalls as them. Every person has a story, and we cannot afford to ignore them.
To recap, by focusing on the other figures in the Bible, we can see how we can live a faithful life to God. We are called by Jesus to focus on them with his Apostles and his parables. With the other figures, we find the encouragement to run the race because our faith, devotion, and repentance to Jesus will ultimately be what wins the day. But we also need to take note of every stumbling block and mistake they encountered to avoid running into the same problems they encountered. We should always remember the words of Hebrews 12 as we run, remembering that “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). By focusing on others, we don’t diminish Jesus’ glory, but magnify it with the realization that he is the one that helped them and helps us cross the finish line.