Monday, December 23, 2013
"And, Part 1" Sermon: Hebrews 11:32-34
“And, Part 1”
December 22, 2013 Second Reformed Church
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV).
We have talked about receiving the Word of God by faith for some weeks now. We have seen that faith is not a thing that we do, but a gift from God by which we receive what God has said in His Word. And as the author of Hebrews wrote, by this gift of faith, we receive the Word of God and we have absolute assurance that the things that God has promised in His Word will come to pass, and we are convicted – we believe as true and historical realities – all those things that we have not seen – things that have occurred before we lived – such as the world-wide flood of Noah, beings which are invisible – like the angels, and things which have yet to occur – such as the restoration of the Creation. Because God has revealed Himself to us and gifted us with faith to receive His Word, we hear God’s Word read and preached and we believe that it is all true. Christianity is a historical religion, not a book of stories that merely teach us to be moral people.
We have been looking at the major figures that the author of Hebrews has put forth in his book for us to look at and witness faith working – these are to be an education and an inspiration to us as we live the lives of faith that God has given to us.
As the chapter comes to a close, the author of Hebrews rapidly presents a number of people and types of situations for our consideration.
In this, we learn:
First, there are many more examples of faith in the lives of believers in the Scripture.
Second, we are not to make these men and women into idols.
Third, instead, we are to be so encouraged to look to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith.
“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of”
The author of Hebrews could have gone on for many more chapters going through the lives of believers – Christians, showing examples of faith in their lives, but instead, he leaves off after mentioning major figures of the patriarchal period in detail, and quickly mentioning the names of some figures from the periods of the judges and kings – believing that his readers would know the histories, or could hear them in worship.
The author of Hebrews was not attempting to catalog every Christian who ever lived – or even every figure of the Scripture – but to give a representative group so his readers could see that there are many more examples of faith in the lives of believers in the Scripture.
We’ve noted before that we have the unparalleled privilege in history to have our own copies of the Bible in our own languages – as well as churches every few blocks – some of them even Christian – where you can hear the Word of God read and preached and hear about these figures and see their faith and be inspired to live lives of faith, just as they did, because they are no different from us – at least in two ways: they were all sinners and they all received faith as a gift.
The Bible is unique in religious texts in that it tells us about all of the stupid, naïve, and sinful things that the saints did. God purposely left the truth of their failings in there so we would not become enamored with any man of woman of the faith – we are not to make these men and women into idols.
Especially in these days when we hear “the Christmas story” – that Santa brought the Baby Jesus to the manger, having defeated the Heat Miser and the Abominable Snowman, and turned Scrooge’s and the Grinch’s heart extra-large, just in time for the wise men to come with gold, which should be spent during the Christmas sales to support the economy so this remains a Christian nation.
The True Christmas story is the beginning of the fulfillment of the Gospel, but the Gospel doesn’t make any sense unless we know the bad news – the reason for the Gospel: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way;” (Isaiah 53:6a, ESV), “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, ESV).
The question for humanity, whose Answer is all the more prominent in this time of year, is, how can a person be right with God? We cannot be right with God through any of the saints – not even Mary – because they were all sinners – we can only be made right through Jesus Christ, if we believe in our hearts that God came to earth in the Person of Jesus, lived a perfect life under God’s Law, died for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, and physically rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne.
As we consider the heroes of the faith – both in the Scripture and outside of the Scripture – remember last week I said it was good to read good Christian biographies – after the Scripture – to see examples of living by faith. But the examples cannot end there, because every single one of them is or was a sinner – just like you and me. Which is an encouragement to us to not give any excuse for not living by faith. Because we who believe have been indwelt by God the Holy Spirit – and Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26, ESV). The Holy Spirit will lead us in becoming like Jesus.
And here was see again, that our salvation is all of God. Even our faith – and the faith of the saints of old – is a gift. As Paul tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV).
The saints received their faith as a gift from God, through which they received the Word of God, and were enabled to do the good works that God predestined for them to do – and the same is true of us.
So, if they were sinners, just like us, and they received faith as a gift, just like us, though we may find them inspiring in our living by faith, we ought never to put them on a pedestal. If we see something in the lives of these saints that we desire to aspire to, we ought to aspire to it, not to be more like them, but to be more obedient and faithful to our God and Savior.
Before we say more about that, let’s take a moment to look at these figures he names:
Gideon was a farmer during the time of the judges when Midian oppressed Israel, and God came to Gideon and told him that had chosen him to overthrow Midian. But Gideon told God He must have the wrong man – since he came from a small tribe. But God assured him that He was with him, so Gideon offered up a sacrifice and God caused fire to burst up from the ground and swallow the sacrifice.
Then God told Gideon to tear down the altar – the Asherah pole – and offer up a sacrifice on the hill, but he was too afraid to do it in the day time, so he did so at night. After he cut down the idol and offered up the sacrifice to God, God promised to lead Gideon in saving Israel from the Midianites. Yet, Gideon doubted and asked God for another sign – he would put out an animal fleece, and if the fleece was wet, but the ground dry in the morning, he would believe God. So God did what he asked, but Gideon still doubted and asked God to make the fleece dry and the ground wet, and God acquiesced again.
Finally, Gideon believed and gathered 32,000 soldiers to fight with him. But God told him that was too many – if they won in battle, it would seem that they had won, and not won by the Hand of God, so God whittled the number to 10,000, and finally to 300 men to fight against the entire nation of Midian, and by faith, Gideon and the 300 defeated Midian. (cf. Judges 5-7).
Barak was called to be a judge during the persecution by Jabin of the Canaanites, his general Sisera, and the prophetess, Deborah. Deborah called Barak to her and told him that God would lead him to victory against the Canaanites, but Barak was afraid and doubted God and said he would only go to war if Deborah came with him. Deborah told him that she would come with him, but because he doubted God, a woman would get credit for the victory.
So Barak went off to war with Deborah in tow and was victorious over the armies of the Canaanites. However, Sisera escaped from him. In fleeing for safety, he went to the tent of a woman named Jael, and she promised him safety, but when he fell asleep, she took a tent peg and drove it threw his head and down into the ground, achieving the credit for victory over the armies of the Canaanites. (cf. Judges 4-5).
Samson was called to be a judge from birth and his mother raised him as a Nazarite, but Samson was a playboy and submitted to the pagan woman, Delilah, who got him to reveal that it was through his Nazarite vow – part of which was never cutting his hair – that God gave him his strength. And Delilah had his hair cut off, and he was taken into slavery and blinded by the Philistines.
One day the Philistines were throwing a massive party, and they brought Samson out to make fun of him. Samson stood between the two pillars holding the house up to support himself, and he repented of his sin and asked God to strengthen him once more. God heard his request, and Samson pulled the pillars out of place, killing himself and all those in the house – more people than he had killed for the Lord in all the years before totaled together. (cf. Judges 13-16).
Jephthah was called to be a judge and fight against the Ammorites, but rather than just believe God’s Word, he made a foolish vow – that if God would really lead him to victory over the Ammorites, when he returned home, he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his front door.
God led Jephthah to great victory, and when he came home to the adulation of his people, his only daughter came out of his front door. And after a period of mourning, he sacrificed his daughter. (cf. Judges 10-11).
We remember David, the second king of Israel, who, by the Hand of God, extended the United Kingdom of Israel to the greatest extent it would ever be. He was called the man after God’s own heart – the writer of many of the Psalms – builder of many great buildings in Israel, but not the Temple.
We also know that though he had wives and concubines, one day he lusted after Bathsheba – a married woman, and had sex with her, and got her pregnant. And when he could not convince her husband to sleep with her so it would look like the child was his, David had her husband killed in battle.
Samuel was the last judge – one of the Major Prophets – the leader of Israel in very dark days. He was given to the Temple as a child and served his whole life. He anointed the first and second kings of Israel, though he argued with the people on behalf of God against having a king.
We are not given a specific example of a sin that Samuel committed, but since he was a mere human, we know that he was a sinner.
“and the prophets”
Here, along with the author of Hebrews, I turn the reading of the rest of the Old Testament – and the New – to hear the history of the faith of the men and women of God that He called to Himself as His people.
The author of Hebrews turns to examples of the things that the saints did through faith – through believing the Word of God – through receiving the Word of God.
“—who through faith conquered kingdoms,”
We think of Joshua and David in particular. Beginning with the end of the exodus out of Egypt and the conquest of the lands up the east of the Jordan and the conquest of Jericho, which we looked at recently, to the conquering of Canaan.
We think of the judges whom God appointed after the exodus and before the first king, who, with the prophets, brought and enforced the Word of God among the people.
This would include all those who believed – the promise of the Exodus, the promise of the Promised Land, up to the promise of a future salvation by God, making His people right with God, by God Himself coming to live a righteous life and pay the debt for the sin of His people, while crediting them with the righteousness that He earned.
“stopped the mouths of lions,”
Here, we think of Daniel, in particular, during the Babylonian exile, when King Darius passed a proclamation that only the king should be worshipped, and when Daniel refused and worshipped God by faith, he was thrown in the lions’ den. But, in the morning, when the king came, Daniel was alive, God having shut the mouths of the lions so they would not hurt him. So the king confessed faith in the God of Daniel and threw his accusers in the lions’ den – all of whom we eaten by the lions before their bodies hit the ground. (cf. Daniel 6).
“quenched the power of fire,”
Three young men, named in Babylon – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were thrown into a furnace to die for not worshipping the statue of the king. But they walked around in the fire – with a fourth Man – a preincarnate manifestation of the Son of God – and the king set them free, confessing faith in the God of these young men of faith, (cf. Daniel 3).
“escaped the edge of the sword,”
Many escaped the sword: David escaped the sword of Saul until God set him on the throne. Elisha escaped the sword of Ahab, and saw God put Ahab to death.
“were made strong out of weakness,”
Again we think of Samson who became weak through his sin, yet God allowed him to become strong again to take vengeance in God’s Name.
“became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”
This is the history of the men and women of God who God led to conquer the Promised Land, with God always fighting in the forefront.
And so we see:
There are many more examples of faith in the lives of believers in the Scripture.
And, we are not to make these men and women into idols. Because they are sinners, just like us, and because their faith – like ours, was a gift from God, through which they received God’s Word, and were enabled to do the good works that God predestined for them – and us – to do.
Still, we are to be encouraged by them to live by faith – to do those good works that God sets before us, just as He sets good works before all we who believe – that we would do them.
They key is to move beyond the fallible – sinful – example we are given in the Scripture and be so encouraged to look to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. We will look at this more in the coming weeks, Lord willing, but for now, let understand, as Paul writes:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10, ESV).
God has given us grace – He, according to His Own Sovereign Good Pleasure, has raised all those who believe from spiritual death – not because of anything we did, but for His Sake. And He has given us faith that we would be able to receive His Word and believe it wholeheartedly. God has made us who we are for His Sake, through Jesus Christ, for the good works that He predestined that we would do.
So let us take encouragement as we receive the histories of Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Sarah, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses, and Joshua, and Rahab, and Gideon, and Barak, and Samson, and Jephthah, and David, and Samuel, and all the others God has been pleased to record in His Word for us to learn from.
Yet, let us acknowledge their failings and sins and shortsightedness and doubts and strive to be more faithful, more obedient, receiving the Word of God with greater assurance and conviction, as men and women who know Who the Savior is, that He has come, and that He has work for us to do.
“What should I do?” some of you may be thinking? What work does God have for me?
I got into a discussion with a Baptist friend during a dinner the other night, and he said that we Reformed folk can’t believe in missions and evangelism because we believe that God has chosen all those who will ever believe. I explained to him that that is not true – while it is true that you and I cannot convert anyone or change the number of people God has chosen to receive Him by faith, God has given us the command and the privileged to be the usual way in which He brings people to Himself. We don’t evangelize because we think we will save someone, but because God has chosen to use us to bring people to Himself, and in evangelizing, as God is pleased, God will bring people to Himself.
With Christmas upon us, we have an easy “in” to the discussion: if someone wishes you “happy holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” you might ask them, “why?” “Why is this day any different from any other? Do you know what it’s about?”
It’s a place to start; and don’t be afraid, grace, faith, and salvation are all in God’s Hands.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You again for the examples of men and women of faith that You have given us in the Scripture. Thank You for showing us that You do use Your people to accomplish Your Work. Thank You for showing us that despite even our sin, You are Sovereign in bringing about Your purposes. Help us to be one of those men and women of faith that the author of Hebrews doesn’t have time to name, that we might do great things by Your Hand and for Your Name. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.