Dear Radio Friends,
Hebrews 11 is a well-known chapter of the Bible. It is so because it lists for us in a succinct way the memorable acts of many Old Testament believers. It points out to us that all of their deeds were the fruit of a true and living faith There can be no doubt in our minds, when we reach the end of this chapter, about that faith to which the lives of these saints point us. They were living examples of faith. But it is so important today to understand what the faith that characterized these people is.
In today’s society lots of people talk about faith. But faith to them includes anything and everything that is religious in character. Even in the Christian church there is a horrible misunderstanding, even in some cases a deliberate redefining of the whole idea of faith. Faith is a blind acceptance of things. It is a feeling or a heroic deed. It is performing great deeds for Christ. When asked what faith is, one is hard pressed to define it because, to many, faith has no one in whom a person believes. So, in the next two broadcasts we intend to examine a few examples of faith in order to determine what faith is.
We read in Hebrews 11:32-39:
“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.”
We will find that the men and women spoken of here are not some special kind of people who stand in a class of their own. They are not heroes of faith who lived a life that we can never hope to achieve. The men and women of this passage belong to that cloud of witnesses who teach you and me what must characterize us in our lives. That is the entire point of Hebrews 11. These people lived by faith. Their lives reveal what true faith is. The point of this passage is not for us to stand in awe at what these saints were able to achieve in their lives, but, rather, to incite us to live in faith in this present wicked world. These verses place us right before the question: Where stands my faith?
FAITH: STRENGTH TO ENDURE
I. The Endurance of Faith
Every business has what is called a “job assessment” or “evaluation.” Those who work for the company are examined to determine whether they are doing the business good. Their attitude and faithfulness to the business is assessed. A report is then filed—sometimes a bad report and sometimes a good report, depending on the individual and his labors. Well, our text informs us in verse 39 concerning the saints of this particular chapter and of our text, “all these having received a good report.” These received a good report—not before mere men, mind you, but before God.
In God’s evaluation these saints gained through faith a good report. It was not merely on account of their deeds, you see, but their deeds revealed something deeper in them: they were men and women of faith. It is faith that stands on the foreground in the verse we consider. Verse 33 begins that way: “Who through faith…” we read. It was by means of faith that the witnesses of our text were able to receive strength to endure some of the cruelest tortures and deprivations possible. In other words, by means of faith a child of God is able to endure. Faith gives a spiritual strength even to people who by nature might be timid and afraid. It is this truth that the passage before us in all of its examples points out to us.
We cannot consider this Word of God before us without going though the list of examples we have. We look at these examples knowing that the deeds of these saints were the fruit of faith and that by them they obtained a good report of God. They were seen to be faithful, enthusiastic, and fruitful citizens of God’s kingdom.
The examples listed for us in our text today begin with those men listed for us in verse 32: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, David, and Samuel. These men, we are told in verse 33, through faith subdued kingdoms. We think of the battles fought by the Judges: Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, Samson, and Samuel and those fought by King David. By means of those battles heathen kingdoms were subdued. These same men in their rule over God’s people wrought righteousness—that is to say, their rules were just, standing in accordance with God’s commandments.
The writer to the Hebrews continues: these men obtained the promises of the covenant. We will discover how in a moment. We are reminded of Samson in the last phrase of verse 33—how he by means of the strength God gave him was able to stop the mouth of a lion. We are reminded of Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace when we read in verse 34 of “quenching the violence of fire.” By the next phrase we are reminded of David escaping the edge of the sword of Goliath or of Saul.
These are the first six out of the nine examples given us in verses 33 and 34. With the last three of the set nine examples we find a little shift in viewpoint. These last three build on each other to explain somewhat how these men were able accomplish what they did. Out of weakness God made these men strong, so strong that they became brave (waxed valiant) in fight, so brave that they were able to turn to flight the armies of aliens, the foreigners who sought to take away their inheritance. You know, the tendency we have here in our text is to look at these men in Hebrews 11 as being the epitome of bravery and strength. They were heroes of faith. They stand on a plain so much higher than we do. We could never achieve what they did! But our text points out that they were not by nature strong and brave! Gideon was a farmer’s son and he told God that he was not capable of leading an army against the Midianites. Barak did not dare to go and fight the Canaanites unless Deborah went with him. These men were common, ordinary men to whom God appeared and gave strength to go and fight. Out of weakness God made strong, and out of a timid nature God made brave. And God did this by working in these saints faith!
That is the first set of examples given us in the verses we consider. That ends the first sentence of our text. These first nine examples refer to those mentioned in verse 32. But the second set of nine examples goes beyond these men. They apply to many different saints of God who lived in the both Old and New Testament times. These examples refer to those who have been persecuted for the sake of Christ. The first example is given us in verse 35: “Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.” It may be true that in a few instances those who were put to death for Christ’s sake were raised again. But this has not been the norm. Women have seen their husbands and children put to death before their very eyes for the cause of Christ. Young women themselves have been beaten, raped, and then hung on crosses naked for everyone to gawk at. They did not look to be raised miraculously to life again. They did not accept death thinking that somehow they would be raised from the dead and back into this life. They died in order that they might obtain a better resurrection, that is, the resurrection unto eternal life that will take place at the end of time. They died in hope of that resurrection.
Still others, according to verse 36, had trials or tests of cruel mockings and scourgings. Men and women were brought before magistrates and mocked and whipped simply because they believed in Jesus Christ. They were put in chains and thrown into prison to rot there and never to see the light of day again—because they confessed their Savior.
Then the persecutions become even more violent and cruel. We read in verse 37: “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented.” They were stoned to death by their fellow countrymen. They were sliced in pieces or sawn asunder, beheaded. They were tempted, that is trial by fire. They were burned at the stake. They were slain with the sword, a reference to the impulsive behavior of an angry soldier or judge. Soldiers would angrily pull out their sword and stick it into the belly of one they had captured. All of this, dear saints, happened to people because they believed in God and in His Son Jesus Christ.
Then finally the conclusion to the list: there were those who were stripped of all their belongings and cast out. These wandered about not in the nice fancy clothes of class and culture, but in sheepskins and goatskins. They were destitute, that is penniless, in constant lack of food and drink. They were afflicted or hard-pressed. They were tormented or treated as scum and filth. Why? Because they believed in God. They wandered in deserts and in mountains, living in dens and caves! They were forced to live like animals. If one looked at them, he could not help but pity them. But then, they need not be pitied because the world was not worthy of such saints! These outcasts, these scum in men’s eyes, were the great and the noble of the earth in the eyes of God! The world of men was not worthy of such people! These men and women were out of weakness made strong and brave.
And they were willing to endure all things for the sake of Christ. You see, God had given them a promise! God had entered into covenant with them, and that covenant contained promises. Some of those promises, such as the land of Canaan they were able to obtain (reference is made to this in verse 33, where we are told they obtained promises). But there was and is yet one central promise of the covenant. That promise was the coming of Jesus Christ—their Messiah. That Messiah God’s people looked for and longed for and waited for with the greatest of patience even when the heathen raged against them. They looked for Him even when their own nation turned on them and persecuted them for still believing in Him. They had the promise of His coming and they looked for Him because salvation was to be found in Him!!!!! Eternal life—life in the glorious kingdom of heaven—was to be found in Him. There was no other way! They longed for that Messiah because they needed Him! And if it meant torture or death that they hoped for Him, then so be it! Nothing would turn them from their hope that He was coming and that when He came He would be strong to save them from their sin and misery and give them the joy of eternity! What is so striking in all of this is that “these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise!” Unbelievable! They never saw the coming of that Messiah! But so much did they believe in Him that they would suffer and die on His behalf.
Now, I want to make a comparison today between the saints recorded here and you and me today. I mean, this passage is not given us simply to tell us some interesting and exciting facts about the faith of the Old Testament saints. It is given us for our benefit. It is given both to admonish and to encourage us in our walk of faith today. So, what is necessary in this Word of God is to make a comparison between these saints and us. Ah! The mention of comparing ourselves with these saints already makes us squirm a bit, does it not? Who can be compared with people of such great faith as these? Listen again: the men and women of our text were common, ordinary, simple folk as we are. No different at all. Just men, women, and children who had a life just like we do before being cast into cruel trials and temptations.
So, we make the comparison. When we do, we see first of all our own present weakness—at least we should. These bold examples of faith only serve to make our lack of faith so glaring! We who live in this age of prosperity are so weak. We are so because we are surrounded with the pleasures and treasures of this world. As a result our sights are not set on the heavenly as they should be. We live so much for the earthly that our hope grows dim. While these saints before us wandered about in sheepskins and lived in caves and dens of the earth, we live for our fancy clothing and our more than comfortable homes. While they fought the great battles of faith with real and ferocious enemies, we are taken in by, even enamored with, the wicked world. While they were sawn in pieces and burned at the stake and stoned, we hold hands with the wicked and join them in their entertainment. What spiritually weak lives we live! It is true that we are puny in comparison to these saints of faith—not because those people were any different than we are, but because we in our society today have lost our focus.
Perhaps God sends on us as believers a light affliction. Sometimes we are shunned for our faith. Sometimes people look at us sideways because they think our lifestyle is strange and our goals different from theirs. And we convince ourselves that we endure so much for Christ! Others feel that by their deeds of mercy they are doing great deeds of faith for Christ’s sake! All that pales in comparison to the testimony that these saints here in Hebrews 11 leave us! We have not resisted unto blood striving against sin! Christ did! He suffered the cruel torture of rejection and the hatred of the church. He was beaten and spit on. He was hung on a tree and His blood was shed. He suffered under the eternal wrath of God to deliver you and me from our sins! And we? We have not resisted unto blood! We have not really been persecuted for Christ’s sake—not really! There are saints in our present world who indeed do resist unto blood. There are countries in our present world that hate the faith of God’s people. These saints are imprisoned and even slain for the sake of Christ. And here we are in our own country complaining about the smallest indignity that we must bear for Christ’s sake. We can become so caught up in the trivial and mundane matters of a Christian life.
But is this really what the Christian’s life is all about? Is this what it is supposed to be? Where is our faith? Do not we have a cause and a kingdom that we represent today just as well as the saints of old? Do not we stand in faith together and go forth in Christ’s service and strong in His might? We have not lost our focus, have we? Here we are today struggling, it seems, to keep our heads above water—with our family life, with our relationships with our children, with our relationships as husband and wife. Young people in the church view their parents as the enemy. Parents in the church do not want their children around. Husbands and wives cohabit the same house without carrying on any meaningful relationship with each other. It seems we are barely able to stay afloat. Where is our faith? Those saints risked their lives for their wives, husbands, children, and parents. They died for them that they might obtain a better resurrection! That is the faith I want! And I am sure that that is the faith you want too! How the examples before us humble us in our own weakness and pride.
But these same examples of faith ought to encourage us too. These people were not extraordinary—different from you and me. They were God’s people who were called by God to live through hard times. We are God’s people who are called to live in prosperity, where the world ignores the church. But these times will not last. But this is the time and place in history in which God has chosen to place us. And the battle of faith, though different, must still be waged. We still must remain unified around the cause of Christ’s kingdom. We still together have the same hope of our eternal inheritance. Our calling is no different from that of these saints therefore: stand! We as a church must make a stand. And we as individual believers must stand in faithfulness as well. Then, let us stand in faith—just as these saints did.
Let us walk in faith, opposing the sins of the unbelieving world that surrounds us. God’s saints must be willing to lay down their lives for Christ’s sake and for the sake of one another. When we do, when strife and affliction come our way, and they will, we will exhibit the same quiet, brave endurance that these saints in Hebrews 11 showed. We have spoken only about the endurance of faith. But this endurance comes only because of the character of faith itself. If we do not understand the character of faith, then we will not truly learn to be as these saints. So, next broadcast, the Lord willing, we will continue our treatment of this Word of God here in Hebrews 11. May God preserve us, so that the lives we lead might be a witness to the generations to come.
Dear Radio Friends,