Hebrews #32 Faith Tested: Common Denominators of Faith
Forward in Faith #32
(Common Denominators of Faith)
What’s the Score?
A grandfather showed up late to his grandson’s little league baseball game. He went to the dugout and asked “what’s the score son?” The boy matter-of-factly replied “18-0, we are behind.”
The Grandfather said “don’t be discouraged” … The little leaguer said “Why should I be discouraged … we haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!”
It’s all about perspective isn’t it?
We have spent the last three plus months looking at this Hall of Fame of Faith. As our writer brings things to a close, he realizes that he can’t list them all. And so as he’s summarizing he lists a few of the famous feats of the faithful. It is obvious that his listeners would know who he was talking about and what they had experienced but he goes on without naming them …
After listing the last few by name in verse 32, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and then generally, “the Prophets” and he continues
READ Hebrews 11:33-40
These faithful all did mighty or noteworthy things for the Kingdom
They did righteous things for the Kingdoms
And they even received the immediate things that were promised them … but we find that it wasn’t always “good stuff Maynard”
Let’s look again at these verses and see…
I. What happened to some of the faithful?
- 1. “Shut the Mouth of Lions” –
“Lions? … I didn’t sign up for Lions” Samson killed a lion with his bare hands, David killed a lion with rod or sling, Daniel literally saw the Lions mouth closed by the Lord when thrown in the Lion’s Den
- 2."Quenched the fury of the flames" –
In Numbers 11:1,2 God’s anger burned against Israel because they complained about hardship and God’s anger in the form of fire began on the outskirts of the camp and consumed some of the People. Hmmm complaining because things are tough AFTER Deliverance from Bondage, ON THE WAY to the Land of Promise., anyone here ever been guilty of complaining to God about hardship even though you are saved from sin and on the road to Heaven? Let me be clear. If you are struggling, and questioning, it’s OK to go to God, but they blasphemed and blamed God. But even in the midst of their unfaithfulness, the faith of ONE man, Moses, rose and he prayed and the Lord stopped the fire.
Know anyone else who quenched the Fury of the Fire? How about three confident Hebrew teenagers, Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego? The were confident in their God and it quenched the power, “the fury of the fire” – that word is literally dynamis¬ means POWER. The fire had no power because they didn’t fear it. In Daniel 3:17 they said “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is ABLE to save us from it" – notice they said he is ABLE … because the choice was God’s. But then in verse 18 they said "even if he does not, we want you to know, Oh king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Faith doesn’t fear man but God, and that takes the power away.
- 3. "Escaped the edge of the sword" –
the word for “edge” literally means “mouth” Goliath’s sword couldn’t bite David, nor a bite from his own King, Saul. Haman couldn’t come against Mordecai. Matthew Henry writes “the swords of men are held in the hand of God, and he can blunt the edge … when he pleases. Faith takes hold of that hand of God which has hold of the swords of men
- 4. “weakness was turned to strength” –
the word for “weakness” is astheneia – illness, timidity, weakness - Listen, weakness or sickness doesn’t necessarily mean you are sinful or faithless, it may just mean you are human. It may mean God has allowed it for a greater purpose. Hezekiah speaking of his illness said “what can I say? He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this. I will walk humbly all my years because of this anguish" (Isaiah 38:15)
Paul understood in 2 Cor 12:10 “that is why … I delight in weaknesses … for when I am weak, then I am strong."
Your faith can be strong when your body, mind, even spirit, may be weak.
- 5. “made/became powerful in battle – routed foreign armies” –
notice, faith walkers, it didn’t say they WERE powerful so they went into battle … it says they “became” powerful IN battle. Peter couldn’t walk on water before he got out of the boat. He got out of the boat. The word ginomai – to be born, become, happen --- it is IN struggles that our faith transforms us into power
- 6. “Women received back the dead raised to life” –
The Widow in Zarepath, 1 Kings 17:23 was faithful and Elijah brought her son back to life after he died. The Shunamite woman saw his protégé Elisha do the same. Both were strong women of faith. Jesus did the same for a woman in Luke 7:12 – What about Mary and Martha
- 7. “tortured and refused to be released to gain a better resurrection” –
“tortured” tympanizo – to torture with tampanum - a wheel shaped torture device – people were stretched over it like a skin and beaten with clubs or whips until they renounced their faith and thus were “delivered” or “released” to life again. But these faithful didn’t want a temporary or fake “deliverance” because they had the hopes of a better resurrection that was coming. The Apocryphal Book of 2 Maccabees chapter 7 tells the story of seven Jewish brothers that the pagan ruler Antiochus tried to force to eat pig. In front of their aged mother, they were beaten, one had his tongue cut out, they had their extremities amputated, they were fried on a fire, scalped, and eventually tortured through ever part of their bodies. Finally the last words spoken of one were, "thou like a fury takes us out of this present life, but the King of the world shall raise us up … unto everlasting life." Those are the words of faithful ones
- 8. “some” faced jeers and and floggings –
Some or others = heteros – another of a different kind – i.e. a different class of victories or victors this group were victors in jeers and floggings – Just because the torture for them was psychological doesn’t mean it was no less faithful and victorious could even be more so .
- 9. “still others”
eti – yet, still others chained and put in prison – it is amazing to me through the years those who are so mistreated and hated simply because they embrace the truth of the singular exclusivity of a God who says I alone am God, I alone am the way.
- 10. stoned –
classic jewish form of pumishment … Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada the Priest. After Jehoiada died, Joash the King turned the people from the Worship of God. Zechariah spoke against it, inspired by the Holy Spirit. He pronounced that God had forsaken them and they stoned him in the Temple Courtyard and his last words were “May the Lord see this and call you to account” - 2 Chronicles 24:20
- 11. sawed in two –
tradition says that Isaiah was sawn in two by King Manassah
- 12. put to death by the sword –
slaughtered … carries the idea of mass killings
- 13. “sheepskins / goatskins, destitute” –
because they didn’t have means for clothing made from cloth or other material. None wore the fancy things or had big bank accounts
- 14. “persecuted” –
afflicted – thlibo – to press hard upon
- 15. “mistreated” –
tormented – kakoukeo – maltreat, oppress, plague
- 16. they were kicked out of normal society and “wandered in deserts … mountains … caves … and holes in the ground” -
With no money, no houses, they lived in deserts, mountains, caves and holes in the ground. By the way, the word here for “hole” means “cleft in the rock” … it is the same as what is used for when Moses wanted to see God and God hid him in a cleft in the rock and covered him with his hand … Oh folks I would rather, as a man of faith, live in a cleft in a rock, a hole in the ground covered by God’s hand than the finest mansions the world has to offer. My mansion is yet for a world to come. I don’t know what the prosperity peddlers do with this word, for faithful ones who, though full of faith, were destitute, clothed in animal skins, living in barren places and holes in the ground. They had no fine clothes, expensive cars, or earthly mansions here. It was not because of sin but because of faith.
As I read through that list the other day, it reminded me of a song that was on the Radio many years ago
some of you are old enough to remember the song ...
“I beg your Pardon, I never promised you a Rose Garden”
There are some people who think if they will just follow God faithfully, it is going to be a Rose Garden, a Bed of Lillies, or the like.
But I think we could bring forward a group of faithful from the Bible that would beg to disagree. Perhaps some of you here today would also line up to disagree with that premise.
I would go so far as to say without the GIFT of ADVERSITY … without the GRACE of Persecution … some of us would have no faith at all.
Suffering, Persecution, Infirmities, are FAITH builders. They are also the demolition crew for the castles of pride built in our lives.
If we were to try and find common denominators for the faithful in this chapter would it be Victories? No. Success? No. Were they all loved by those around them? No. Complete fulfillment of the promises of God? No.
You know most of us can’t even relate to guys who have faced so much … when it comes to laying down our lives for Christ
Fred Craddock, in an address to ministers, caught the practical implications of consecration.
"To give my life for Christ appears glorious," he said. "To pour myself out for others. . . to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom -- I'll do it. I'm ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory. "We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking $l,000 bill and laying it on the table-- 'Here's my life, Lord. I'm giving it all.' But the reality for most of us is that God sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $l,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid's troubles instead of saying, 'Get lost.' Go to a committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. Usually giving our life to Christ isn't glorious. It's done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; sometimes it's harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul."
But however we live our life of faith … from this passage what are the common denominators for the faithful? And what can we learn from them?
II. Common Denominators of Faith
- Trouble Came Their Way
I don’t have to elaborate on this we just did that. But I should say that we should expect no less. It is a crime against the faithful to preach to Christians you can have all you want and everything can be easy if you are faithful. To say that you can “name it and claim it” or “mark it and park it” is not the picture that I see of reality in scripture. Nor is it presented by our teachers as the expected norm in scripture. If there is a norm it is trouble for our faith
But in the midst of Trouble or ease …
- Faith Was Exercised
It was all they had.
That’s why Paul said I am suffering … yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. 2 Tim 1:12
The world can’t keep me from the hand of God
Attacks can’t get my soul
I know where my faith is placed and it’s not me and it’s not what I have, and it’s not where I live … it is behind the curtain with Jesus Christ my sacrifice and priest. You must exercise your faith or it isn’t faith but just a theory
- Did Not Receive the Ultimate Promise in this Life
They only saw it coming in the future. This might seem like a contradiction because verse 33 says they “gained what was promised” – but that is talking about the immediate promises … but they all were looking for a salvation that was eternal. They all were looking for a coming Messiah. And yet they were commended for their faith.
People Abraham was a great man of faith and did great things for God but he didn’t have what we have
Gideon did mighty things but he hadn’t seen the Empty Tomb
Rahab made a great stand for truth but she had only heard about the wonders of God.
What is OUR excuse? We have read it all
We have 6,000 years of the history of a faithful God
We have the cross and the empty tomb
We have the record of the miracles of God
We have 2,000 years of the work of the church so what is keeping US from being people of faith?
They understood that they may not have it all yet … but And we too can be faithful knowing
- God was planning something Better and Promise WAS Fulfilled in those who came after them so they share with us … they were made perfect with us
Folks, Jesus Christ died on the cross purchasing the pardon for our sins. He rose on the third day getting the victory over death and the grave. He ascended to the right hand of the Father to complete the legal transaction. He placed the Holy Spirit in our lives as a down payment guaranteeing what is to come … and oh how sweet he is and what power he provides but that is just a down payment that means
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
Paul says right now in our relationship with God we see like through a darkened glass. It is only a little. But the best is yet to come.
No matter what you have known in your faith walk
No matter what you have experienced God has something better planned for you. When you are in your deepest sorrow, know that he has something better for you. When you are on your highest peak, know that he has something better for you. From the valley of the Shadow of death he has something better for you and from the Highest peak of the Himalayas God has something better for you!
And for every one of them
- God Was Faithful –
And so he has been for us … Look at how God was Faithful as it’s listed in Hebrews
Heb 1:1 – details God’s Revelation so they would remain faithful
Heb 8:7-13 – Though he gave them a covenant he promised and delivered a better Covenant provided by
Heb 9:23 – a Better Sacrifice
And What Christ did for us elevated the Old Testament Saints into a Better Covenant as well … their perfection was dependant on OUR Perfection
Saint I’m calling us today to be faithful because God is Faithful –
1 Thes 5:24 the One who calls you is faithful and he will do it
Psalm 89:8 – O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you.
Deut 7:9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands
Deut 32:4 He is the rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he
And folks don’t worry about this world because the common denominator of faith is that
- The World Was Not Worthy of Them
Kosmos – world in the sense of the economy of the senses – -- In many parts of the world, there was a time when different types of shells were used as currency. It was part of the economy, in Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America. But what would happen if you tried to use that currency today? Why don’t you go down to Walmart and try and buy you a Flat Screen TV with a handful of Clams?
Or just go right to the bank and cash in the shells you got on vacation, or the clams from a trip to Boston or Maine. It won’t work because it’s not a valuable currency. Well the economy of God is Faith. It is the currency by which we operate in the Kingdom of God. And though the world decided to put out the faithful labeling them unworthy … yet in God’s view it was the world who was not worthy of the faithful.
Hebrews 11:13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth
Don’t hold tightly too the things of this world because this world is not my home
Everything in this world will be scratched and remade again anyway right?
Nouns and Adverbs
The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city's hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child's name and room number and talked briefly with the child's regular class teacher. "We're studying nouns and adverbs in his class now," the regular teacher said, "and I'd be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn't fall too far behind."
The hospital program teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, "I've been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs." When she left she felt she hadn't accomplished much.
But the next day, a nurse asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. "No, no," said the nurse. "You don't know what I mean. We've been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, responding to treatment. It's as though he's decided to live."
Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?"
(Bits & Pieces, July 1991.)
Jesus got word in John 11 that his close friend Lazarus was sick and expected to die. They asked for Jesus to come right away. When Jesus heard the news in John 11:4 he said “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it”
If you belong to Jesus Christ and follow his leading and commands your life is for the glory of God. And Jesus knows what you are facing and it is For God’s Glory and won’t end in death.
We can make it through whatever we face with our faith intact because we know that Jesus Christ would not have left Heaven, lived, died on the cross, rose again, and ascended to the right hand of the Father if we were just going to die.
He is Coming Back
(Jim Goforth 2008)
Don’t Bury Your Head, lift your chin
He is not dead, He is coming again.
Do not be discouraged, when you are under attack
He has not forgotten you, He is Coming Back!