It’s easy when reading through Hebrews 11 to see the individuals portrayed there as larger-than-life, heroes and heroines of truly Biblical proportions who accomplished amazing things of which we can only dream or read about. After all, which of us will ever lead a 300-man strong special forces unit against an occupying army numbering in the tens of thousands? Or head the charge of poorly armed men against a force of 900 tanks, er, chariots? Or capture 300 foxes, tie their tails together in pairs with lit torches, and send them through a corn field? Pretty tough acts to follow, aren’t they?
Even the current day experience of Maryam Rustampoor and Marzieh Amirizadeh will likely not be ours to endure –VOMarticle.
Yet we must recognize some things about these and the other individuals identified in our text this morning. The Holy Spirit did not provide Hebrews 11 to intimidate or discourage us; rather, quite the opposite. Chapter 12 of Hebrews begins with an exhortation to persevere – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”ESV
So what are some of the things God would have us learn from the example of these faithful saints of another time?
Ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things by faith
Gideon – born to an obscure idol-worshipping family of farmers; threshed his wheat in a winepress so the Midianites wouldn’t take it away from himJudges 6:11,25
Samson and Samuel – both given by God in response to the prayers of barren women and devoted to God’s service from before birthJudges 13:2;1 Samuel 1:9-11
Jephthah – unknown until he appears on the scene as the son of a prostitute, driven from the family home by his half-brothers, then called upon by residents of Gilead to to deliver them from the AmmonitesJudges 11:1-6
David – the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd by occupation; not of the apparent royal line1 Samuel 16:11-13
Similarly, little is known about a number of the prophets apart from their ministry and the barest minimum of details included in their written record.
Joel, the son of PethuelJoel 1:1
Amos, one of the sheepbreeders of TekoaAmos 1:1
Jonah, the son of AmittaiJonah 1:1
Micah of MoreshethMicah 1:1
Nahum the ElkoshiteNahum 1:1
Obscure men from obscure backgrounds who appeared on the world stage with an enduring message from God as their only legacy
Like every other man or woman, boy or girl born since the beginning, each of these men of faith had their sin issues for which they needed God’s forgiveness.
Gideon’s making of the ephod out of the spoils of the Midianites cannot be excused, and is condemned by the Holy Ghost,Judges 8:27. Jephthah’s rash vow, and (as is supposed) more rash accomplishment of it, enrols him among sinners,Judges 11. Samson’s taking a wife of the PhilistinesJudges 14:2, then keeping company with a harlotJudges 16:1, were sins of a high provocation, not to mention the killing of himself at the close of allJudges 16:29-30, for which he seems to have had a divine warrant. And it is known what great sins David himself fell into.Owenbesides Samuel’s great lack of good judgment regarding his sons1 Samuel 8:1-5and the necessity of Deborah to prod Barak into actionJudges 4:8-9.
Yet each of these individualsby faithaccomplished great things in the service of the King of kings. They were God’s instruments for the deliverance and guidance of his people and they serve the church still by their example recorded in Holy Writ. The message of God through his prophets preserved for centuries and given to us in our own language inspires generation after generation to wait in confident hope for God to bring about the next great action in his plan.
Faith that overcomes and endures is nourished by a gracious God
God does not expect his people to maintain a strong faith in a vacuum. He provides resources to strengthen and nourish their faith, to provide hope when it all seems hopeless. Each message given added more light, more information and more encouragement about what God had purposed to do. As the initial recipients of the word from God the prophets themselves were the first ones strengthened in their faith by a gracious God.
Then by virtue of their office, those faithful men of God in turn encouraged the faith of others, a ministry that continues even in our day. Men like Isaiah not only saw God, they recorded spine-tingling details about the Promised One whom God would send, the one who would bring hope to a world in darkness. Even more remarkable is the fact that the hope offered to those who would believe transcends this present world – hope of deliverance not only from oppression and injustice but more importantly from slavery to sin and death.
Listen again to the incredible description of the Promised One given by the prophet Isaiah:
a Child is born – a virgin shall conceive
a Son is given – and shall call his name Immanuel
the government will be upon his shoulder – the Son of David, rightful heir to the throne
His name (character) shall be called:
Wonderful Counselor– one who in his very being and person is a Wonder, a worker of miracles
Mighty God– a Child who is God over all gods – the mystery of the incarnation
Everlasting Father– one who is eternally a Father to his people – in relationship with them in this lifeandthe next, guarding and nourishing and providing for the needs of those who are his
Prince of Peace– the one who will restore peace to the world and rule in peace; requires overcoming the enemy at the root of all conflict (between God and men, between man and man) – sin and its embodiment Satan
a government universal in its extent and prosperity
characterized by perfect justice and righteousness
Desperate times whether under the government of an ungodly king or president requires a supernatural Deliverer. The prophets were looking strictly forward to their hope represented in two advents. We understand that our Deliverer has already come and is yet to come again; we live in that time of tension between his comings, experiencing a partial fulfillment of the Promise and awaiting its consummation on the last day.
Overcoming enduring faith is grounded on the zeal of an omnipotent God
Jealous and exclusive love of an all-powerful God who will permit no opposing force to thwart his purpose
For our faith to enable us to endure whatever the world throws our way without caving in and losing hope requires the right object for that faith – one that has the ability to prevail and overcome all obstacles. One that is able to overcome the greatest enemies of all – sin and death.
Only the Sovereign God of the universe is not limited by means or circumstances and has already triumphed over sin at the cross and death at the empty tomb. For God to accomplish that on man’s behalf required that he be born of a virgin, assume a human nature and form, and live a life of perfect obedience in full view of his heavenly Father. Then he must offer himself as the only acceptable substitute, the God-man who sacrificed himself on behalf of his people.
It’s during time of greatest darkness that individual faith shines brightest
Consider what they suffered: mocking, flogging, chains, imprisonment, stoning, sawing in two, death by the sword, destitution, affliction, mistreatment. Despicable treatment to be sure.
But consider what all this means about those who were inflicting such treatment on God’s prophets. The sort of culture, society, in which this kind of thing could occur. When those who should be held in the highest regard because they are the emissaries of the Most High God are despised.
It was because of the proliferation of evil and disobedience that God sent prophets with his message of repentance and hope. Those who were wallowing in rebellion needed to hear the truth that they were headed for certain disaster unless they repented of their sin and turned to God in faith. At the same time the faithful needed reassurance that God had not forgotten them, that he was surely moving toward his determined goal of providing a Saviour to the world.
It is against this backdrop of pervasive evil that the heroes of faith are especially noteworthy, those in the minority who publicly stand virtually alone against overwhelming wickedness. Much of the time it’s the ones who appear most unlikely who shine the brightest, those who are “made strong out of weakness”:
CNN reports that a Pakistani school is revering their Christian janitor as a hero after he died preventing a suicide bomber into the girls’ school cafeteria. On Oct. 20, two suicide bomber’s tried to enter Islamabad’s International Islamic University, but the one targeting the women’s side of campus met Pervaiz Masih, the school’s new janitor. Masih stopped the bomber after he shot the guard on duty, arguing with the bomber when he tried to proceed. The bomber then self-detonated, killing himself, Masih, and three girls – far fewer than intended. “Between 300 to 400 girls were sitting in there,” said Professor Fateh Muhammad Malik, the rector of the university. “Despite being a Christian, [Pervez Masih] sacrificed his life to save the Muslim girls.” Masih’s family, who depended on his $60 a month job, had to borrow money to bury him.Religion Today Summaries, 11/24/09
According to estimates by the Network for Strategic Missions and the US Center for World Mission, the percentage of Christians in the world has remained relatively constant over the last 100 years at about 30%. But we must remember two additional details – the total world population has more than tripled (from 1.7 bil. to over 6.1 bil.) in that same period.Andit is estimated that only one-third of those who claim to be Christian, that amounts to about 10% of the world’s population, are “[t]rue Christians, available as a work force, through discipleship and equipping”.
If we are to have this sort of faith, it begins with a recognition of our need, our utter helplessness and unworthiness before a holy God. We must acknowledge our need for a Savior, this Promised One, the hope of Israel, who took on the form of a man that he might go to the Cross on our behalf. It is only by faith in Jesus that we can have victory over sin, that we can like the saints of old overcome obstacles and endure the trials of this life, and share with our Savior the ultimate victory over death. This is the message we must bring to 90% of the world who live outside the walls of this sanctuary, that they, too, can have victory in Jesus because He has gained the victory over sin on their behalf.