April 7, 2019

The Others with Faith

Passage: Hebrews 11:32-40

Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Hebrews 11. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, I’m just going to begin by reading Hebrews 11 for us, in its entirety, so that we can be reminded of what we’ve all looked at, so far.

“1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”

“8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

“13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”

“17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.”

“23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.”

“29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”

“32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

“39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

For the past couple of months, we have been going through Hebrews 11, looking at these Old Testament individuals mentioned here and the faith they had that made them the heroes they were.

And as we read through Hebrews 11, it’s tempting to want to become like them. We wish that we could be like Abraham, who went where God told him to go. We wish that we could be like Moses, who refused to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. We wish that we could be like Daniel, who stood up boldly for His God even when he was the only one.

We read about these individuals and we wish that we could be like them. But the reality is that they are no better and no greater than us. In fact, they are just like us. They struggled in the same ways we struggle; they doubted just as we doubt.

What I have tried to convey over and over again in this series is that it’s not about the individual, it’s about the faith of the individual. It’s not about how great Moses and Elijah and Noah are, it’s about how great God is, for rescuing them by His good pleasure.

Faith, as we have seen it defined in this chapter, is a gift from God, not a result of anything we do. It should not surprise us, then, and it should actually bring us much comfort, to know that faith enables flawed people to accomplish great things for God by His power working in them. Throughout the entirety of Scripture, God uses broken sticks to draw straight lines. That’s good news for us.

But we now get to the point in Hebrews 11 that really opens up our eyes to the reality that faith doesn’t always have a happy ending. Up until this point, it seems as though everything ends well for those who have faith in God.

You look at Enoch who was taken from this world to forever be with God, and you look at Noah who was saved from the global flood, and you look at Abraham and Sarah who eventually gave birth to their promised son, and it just seems like it’s one feel good story after another.

But then, we come to the latter part of Hebrews 11, and we are reminded that the Christian faith is not always glamourous.

1. Sometimes, God blesses those who trust Him with spectacular results, but sometimes, God blesses those who trust Him with the grace to endure suffering.

Look at verses 35-38. “35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

After reading everything in Hebrews 11, up to this point, you might be tempted to think that these guys didn’t have faith quite right. Like, maybe they’re missing something. But they're actually just as much people of faith as the rest of them.

If anything, you could argue that they had greater faith, because it’s not as easy to trust God when you’re being flogged, stoned, or sawn in two, as it is when you’re seeing foreign armies put to flight and the dead raised back to life. If we’re being honest, we want to be in the first group of Hebrews 11. We’re not eager to sign up for what the second group faces.

And it’s because of this popular belief that the Christian faith does not include suffering. The prosperity gospel that says that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy and prosperous, and that if you are not this way, then you don’t have enough faith or something is wrong with you, is a lie from the pit of hell.

The Christian faith will not always lead us to happy endings. I just don’t see that in our text. Do you know what is in our text? Torture, mocking, flogging, chains, imprisonment, stoning, being sawn in two, killed with the sword, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated—all “so that they might rise again to a better life.”

This text is not saying that it’s because we don’t have enough faith, that we are experiencing mistreatment for following Jesus. That’s the kind of belief that views God’s blessing only as something that is visible, and that if I am suffering hardship, then I’m not being blessed by God.

But in reality, if we are suffering for the sake of following Christ, then we are joining a great company of God’s people down through history, “of whom the world was not worthy.”

Sometimes, God blesses those who trust Him with the grace to endure suffering. That’s as much blessing from God as those who lived lives of faith and God did extraordinary things in and through them. But unless we see it as blessing from God, we won’t see the glory that God is revealing to us and working in us, through our suffering.

And we will only grow resentful towards God and discontent for where God has us, as we wait for Him to take us out of our uncomfortable situations.

Maybe this is where some of us are at, this morning. But what I want us to see is how our text actually confronts this idea of a comfortable Christianity. We weren’t intended to sit on our faith. You don’t need to leave the pages of Scripture to see these verses in Hebrews 11 played out for us.

The first Christian martyr that we see in Scripture is Stephen in Acts 7. The year after Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and ascended to heaven, Stephen was preaching the gospel to the betrayers and murders of Jesus. And Acts 7:58 says that, upon hearing what he was preaching, “they cast him out of the city and stoned him.”

And it all goes downhill from there. Here’s what Foxe’s Book of Martyrs says about what happened to each of Jesus’ twelve disciples: Simon Peter, Andrew the brother of Peter, Philip, Thaddeus, Bartholomew, and Simon the Zealot were all crucified. James the brother of John was beheaded. Matthew and Thomas were killed with a spear. And James the Lesser was beaten and stoned before his head was bashed in with a club.

The only disciple of Jesus to escape a violent death was John, and that’s because they cast him into a cauldron of boiling oil, but he survived that, so they banished him to an island where he would later die of natural causes.

No one in the New Testament dies well. Outside of Scripture it doesn’t get any better. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, in the middle of the second century, heard that Roman officials were seeking his life, and though his friends urged him to run, he waited for them to arrest him.

And just before he was to be sentenced, Polycarp asked for an hour of prayer, during which the guards around him, repented, for being instrumental in arresting him, because of the fervency in which he prayed. But he would still be carried before the proconsul and condemned to burning at the stake.

The proconsul asked him, one last time, “Swear, and I will release thee;--reproach Christ.” To which Polycarp gives his well-known response, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?” And Polycarp dies a martyr.

All of these—all of the martyrs throughout Christian history, and there are many of them—were commended by faith.

And notice that this passage in Hebrews 11 contains no names. It only says, “Some” or “Others.” These were ordinary men and women. They were not necessarily leaders. They were not necessarily noted by this world or even the people living closest to them. They weren’t necessarily movers and shakers.

But they all had one distinctive trait: They believed God. The faith of these “others” teaches us to hold fast to God and His promises, even in the face of suffering. God will give us the grace to endure what we are going through. It’s what the heroes of the faith held on to, and it’s what we can hold on to, today.

God continues to take the ordinary and do the extraordinary through them, whether that’s stopping the mouths of lions, or quenching the power of fire, or escaping the edge of the sword, or putting foreign armies to flight, or raising the dead, or bringing His people through the suffering that this world throws at them.

2. Sometimes, God blesses those who trust Him with the grace to endure suffering. But here is the hope that we have and what we can be sure of: God will bless all who trust Him with eternal rewards.

Look at Hebrews 11:39-40. “39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

I’ve said this before: One of the privileges we have, living on this side of the cross of Christ, is that we can look back over all of Scripture and see how all of it is one coherent narrative and how all of it points to One Person: Jesus.

All of the individuals mentioned here, in Hebrews 11, did not see fully what we can see; they did not receive what we have received. They were looking forward to the promise of Jesus—they were pointing beyond themselves and their situations to something better—but they never received it.

And this doesn’t make us better than them, but it does put us in this privileged position, where we are able to look back and see how all of this is fulfilled in Jesus, and how we are partakers of the glories that were promised to each one of these heroes of the faith.

And the good news of the gospel is that the promise of Christ is available to each one of us here today. We have the opportunity today to respond to God’s gift of salvation.

And if you don’t know what that it is, it’s this: Our Creator God is holy, just, and loving. We are His people, made in His image. Though we were once in fellowship with God, we are now cut off from Him, because of the rebellion of man to not believe God and to attempt to make ourselves God, instead.

Because of this, all of humanity is born in sin and we are all under the judgment that comes with it. But even though we are unable to earn our way out of the curse of sin, God in His love provided a way of escape back to a loving, forgiven relationship with Him.

Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, lived the perfect life and became the perfect sacrifice to ransom us from the curse of sin and death. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins through His death on the cross, and He rose from the grave in triumph over death.

Through His death, Jesus purchased the right to offer us forgiveness from sin and the right for any who would turn to Him to become children of God, so that anyone who hears this message of good news and responds to Jesus will not be turned away and will forever be with Jesus when they die.

That’s the good news of the gospel. And all that is required of us to become a follower of Jesus is to offer our life to Him in faith and to walk in that life of faith for all our days.

The hope of eternal reward rests in whether or not you have put your faith in Jesus. That’s the bottom line. It’s not about how good a person you are, it’s not about how hard you try to keep God’s commandments, it’s not about how much you give, or about how often you go to church, or about how often you pray. It’s ultimately about whether or not Jesus is your Lord and Saviour. That is what truly matters in this life.

This is what the Old Testament individuals here in Hebrews 11 were looking forward to—they were looking forward to Jesus, who was the perfect solution to their need. And we are the ones looking back at Jesus, rejoicing in the reality that we are joined together with them, through our one faith in our one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

And yet, although we have the promise of Christ, we do not have the full experience of the glory that is to be revealed with Him in heaven. And so, like these Old Testament individuals, we live by faith in God’s promise, as we await the final consummation when Christ returns. We are still waiting.

But make no mistake, it’s coming. The eternal reward is coming. That’s the point as we come to the end of Hebrews 11. The Old Testament saints were faithful through all of their trials, even though they didn’t receive what was promised. They could endure mocking, torture, imprisonments and death, because their focus was on God—they were looking to eternity. Do we have that same faith?

As the ones who have Christ, is our focus on the God who walks with us through, and has experienced, our every trial? Since “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” are we looking to eternity and the reward that is coming?

The Christian faith is not always glamourous. We know that. It’s not this get-out-of-hell-free card that we can simply hold on to, until we get to the end of our life. There will be struggles. There will be doubts. There will be trials. But if the Christian faith, laid out in Hebrews 11 is any indication, the surpassing worth of knowing Christ as Lord and Saviour is worth it all. Do we believe that is true?

My hope is that we do. May God continue to increase our faith in Him, as we face our various trials in this life, in His power and in His strength. Let’s pray…


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