We’re going to conclude our survey of the deeds performed by people who have soul-preserving faith, as the writer presents them to us at the end of Hebrews 11.
LOOKING BACK (Hebrews 11:23-29)
Last Sunday, we considered 5 decisions that were made in faith by Moses’ parents, Moses himself and the newly-redeemed people of Israel:
- Moses’ parents hid Moses rather than obeying Pharaoh’s decree to kill him (as a newborn male). They were not afraid of the king, and “by faith” they understood there was something special about the baby. So they spared him at the risk of their own lives. They combined this faithful fearlessness with the wisdom to keep the child hidden. God rewarded them by arranging for Pharaoh’s daughter to adopt Moses and pay his mother to look after him!
- Moses identified himself with “his people” (the Israelites) and rejected all the earthly pomp and luxury that belonged to a member of the royal family. Moses was looking to the future reward of God’s people and counted the reproach of Christ as greater wealth than anything Egypt could offer. Moses couldn’t have both Egyptian royalty and Israelite heritage and destiny. He chose the latter, considering everything this world has to offer as loss and “rubbish” like Paul (Philippians 3:7-11)
- Moses left Egypt (when his true identity as an Israelite, his affinity and his support for the people of God became known) unafraid of the king’s anger. He was seeking to do good for God’s people but his life seemed to go completely wrong at this moment. Moses endured the hardships he now faced “as seeing Him Who is invisible”. We need to see Jesus too, by eyes of faith, if we are to endure the hard times that living in this world will inevitably bring, yet see the invisible and infallible purposes of God unfolding in them all.
- Moses kept the Passover as God brings Israel out of their slavery. He and Israel had to trust that the Destroying Angel wouldn’t touch them if they had come under the protection of the blood of the Passover lamb applied to the doorposts and lintels of their houses. We are called by God to trust that the blood of THE Passover Lamb (Jesus) will likewise protect us from the wrath of God when He comes in judgment.
- The Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land. They walked between two walls of water, trusting that God would hold them back. The Egyptians rushed into the same place but without the same faith and the water covered them and destroyed them.
We were urged from these examples to see Jesus as God’ provision for our faith:
- Jesus is the providential baby born under the threat of death
- Jesus is the king of glory who identified with the sinners
- Jesus is the invisible God made flesh
- Jesus is the Passover Lamb whose blood covers our sins
- Jesus is the Red Sea through whom we pass through the waters of destruction and find salvation
And to pray for the courage to follow God that we may know when we see Jesus with the eyes of faith. Courage to:
- follow God into all of the good deeds he wants us to do
- act wisely
- see Him who is invisible and bank our lives on Him
- trust His deliverance when it comes.
LOOKING FORWARD (Hebrews 11:30-40)
Not too many great conquest stories begin with an army going round and round in circles! We have noted in the past that sometimes when we act in obedience to God and in faith that rests on His promises, we end up doing things that look like nonsense to those in the world. And yet the walls of Jericho fell “by faith” and Israel went straight in and captured what apparently was an otherwise almost unassailable city.
The writer turns from this event back to characters in the Bible who also lived by faith. He is wrapping up his list and wants us to understand that it is far from comprehensive – the Old Testament is full to bursting with examples of lives that were conducted with forward-looking, soul-preserving faith! And what a rag-tag bunch the rest of these characters are!
- Rahab was a prostitute – yet she is in this list, and came to be included in Christ’s genealogy!
- Gideon was fearful to do what the Lord had commanded him. He used the fleece of a sheep not to seek guidance about what God wanted but to try to calm his own doubts and fears – yet he has a place in this list!.
- Barak was fearful of going into battle unless Deborah the prophetess was there too. He was told that because of this, the glory for Israel’s victory would not be his – yet he appears in this list!
- Samson was a Nazirite from birth who seems to have had scant regard for the requirements of this calling in terms of touching (and eating honey from) animal carcasses, associating with immoral women and playing games concerning the source of his God-given strength – yet he has a place in this list!
- Jephthah made a rash vow which (although there is some debate on this) seems to have required him to offer up his daughter to God as a sacrifice – yet he has a place in this list!
- David – the best of the kings of Israel and yet one who sinfully commanded a census of Israel and who committed adultery and murder in the case of Bathsheba and her husband – yet he has a place in this list!
- Samuel – a mighty prophet before the Lord, who appointed his unrighteous sons to be judges over Israel after him – yet he has a place on this list!
- The prophets – a larger group of people who spoke for God and yet not one of them without significant character defects (think, for example of Jonah, running away from God, Elijah saying he had had enough and asking that he might die)
These are flawed individuals, to say the least. Would you pick them to play in your fantasy sports team? And yet look at what they were enabled to accomplish in their lives:
Hebrews 11:33–38 who … conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 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. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 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—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
How were they able to do these things? “Through faith” the writer tells us in verse 33. This is key to understanding this passage and to the encouragement it gives. To the last person, these were fallen people. The Bible puts their failings on public display precisely so that we may realize that they were no different than us. They are not superheroes but they have a super-God Who welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor, imbues them with faith and then does amazing things through them so that only He may have the glory. Yet they receive His commendation for their faith, and the amazing epitaph that the world was not worthy of them! He can do the same with you and with me!
The writer ends this passage by saying, in effect, that we who have trusted in Christ are part of this same rag-tag band that God has chosen. They didn’t receive what was promised to them but they saw it from a distance and marveled. God showed them that something wonderful – something (or Someone) better – was indeed coming, and the perfection they saw from a distance would only be fulfilled when all the people of soul-preserving faith were brought together in Christ!
We share the same faith as them, we have inherited the same promises but they are clearer and surer and nearer to fulfillment for us than they were for them. By God’s grace, we too can do remarkable things for Him in our lives because it is God who makes people strong out of their weakness and indeed uses the weak to shame the strong.
“You would be a fool to give up this faith, these glorious treasures, and to turn away from Jesus to a life of unbelief and worldliness.” So says the writer to his original readers. And so he says to us!