Faith Against All Odds

Faith Against All Odds

“Faith Against All Odds”

(Hebrews 11:32-35)

Series: Captivated by Christ (Hebrews)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

  • Please take your Bibles and join me in Hebrews chapter 11.

We have been spending some time in chapter 11 learning all we can about faith.  What is faith?  The writer opens the chapter in verse 1 with a definition.  He says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  And then from definition he moves to illustration.  And in the second verse he says, “For by (faith) the elders obtained a good testimony” or, put another way, “by faith many of the Old Testament saints are good examples, good illustrations for us to show us how to live by faith.”   So we’ve learned from the examples of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Moses, and so on all the way through chapter 11 and right up to where we left off last week at verse 31 with the example of Rahab.

So we pick up at verse 32 where our study will begin this morning.  And I’ve got to tell you, I love the way the writer begins verse 32!  He says, “And what more shall I say?  For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, and also of David and Samuel—“ and picking up the pace significantly, he reminds me of the way I would conclude those timed essays I had to write in school!  You know in the beginning you’re taking your time writing at length about one particular topic or person and elaborating and embellishing and all is well—then the teacher interrupts and says: “10 minutes!”  And suddenly you realize you have so much more to fit into the essay in order to answer the question!  So like a madman you are writing away as fast as you can, stringing everything together in a hasty attempt to include everything before time’s up.  

So the writer here is like: “What more shall I say?!  I’m out of time!  Can’t really tell you about Gideon and Barak and Samson” and so on.  Well, let’s learn what he does say about these folks and others as we learn to have “Faith Against All Odds.”

  • Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.

32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 

33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 

34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 

35 Women received their dead raised to life again.  Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 

  • Pray.

This passage is about a people who had faith against all odds.  However difficult the path before them, they lived by faith and God honored their faith and gives us their faith as examples for us that we too may live by faith this week.  Let’s go through these verses and see what God has for us.

32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 

It strikes me that the writer mentions these six persons with the assumption that we will know who they are.  He takes for granted that he can mention them in passing with no additional comment.  In other words, the writer assumes that his readers are familiar with the Old Testament.  He assumes that we know our Bibles.

Do we?  Could the writer assume that we all know our Bibles as well as he thought the first century readers knew theirs?  If not, why not?  Are we reading it daily?  Are we reading whole chapters, books, getting familiar with the overall content?  I thought of this poem this week.

It’s an adaptation of Amos R. Wells’ poem:

I supposed I knew my Bible

Reading piecemeal, hit and miss,

Now a bit of John or Matthew,

Now a snatch of Genesis,

Certain chapters of Isaiah

Certain Psalms (the twenty-third!);

Twelfth of Romans, First of Proverbs—

Yes, I thought I knew the Word!

But I found that thorough reading

Was a better thing to do,

And the way became familiar

When I read the Bible through.

These six folks cover a time span from the Judges to the early Kings; the first four from  the Book of Judges and the last two, David and Samuel, are covered biographically in the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.  Then, the writer appends the phase: “and the prophets,” people like Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah taking us up through the end of the biblical history of the Old Testament.  Covers a lot of ground, right?!

So these first four persons—Gideon, Barak (not Obama!; different Barack!), Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah are listed not in chronological order, but in order of importance in the Book of Judges.  And the “judges” of the Book of Judges were not judges in the sense of popular usage today.  They did not sit in a courtroom and “hold court.”  They were deliverers that God raised up to deliver His people from the enemies around them.  Deliverers, or “saviors” with a little ’s.’  Like everything else—and everyone else—in the Old Testament, these judges, or deliverers, or saviors with a little ’s’ pointed forward to a greater deliverer, a better savior, a Savior with a capital ’S,’ our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have noted nearly every week while making our way, verse-by-verse through chapter 11, these individuals are by no means perfect!  Especially these judges.  My word!  Some of you will remember the series we did about 8 years ago in the Book of Judges.  Some of the craziest stuff you could ever imagine!  All kinds of bizarre behavior, deception, depravity, and head-scratching history.  And every single one of those judges, or deliverers, or little ’s’ saviors was a sinner.  But when they exercised true faith, they were a spot on example for us.  Same as Samuel, David, and the prophets.  So the writer is not saying, “Imitate these people in chapter 11 in every way!”  Rather, “Here are some good examples of faith.  As these folks had faith, you have faith.”  That’s the idea.  And what did they do through faith?  Next verse, verse 33:

33 who through faith (did some stuff!  And what follows in verses 33 and 34 are the things they did) subdued (or conquered) kingdoms, worked righteousness (or justice), obtained promises (Gideon was promised victory, Barark was promised victory, and David obtained promises as well, some fulfilled earlier, some to be fulfilled later) stopped the mouths of lions, 

Gideon is mentioned in Judges 7.  You can read the story about how God whittled down his army from 32,000 men to just 300 men.  The odds were already against  him when his army was at 32,000.   32,000 Israelites going to battle with 135,000 Midianites.  God whittled Gideon’s army down to 300 men.  We talked about a strange battle plan last week at Jericho.  God gives an equally unusual battle plan to Gideon.  Read it later in Judges 7, going to war with torches, and pitchers, and trumpets.  Gideon had faith and won the victory.

That phrase “stopped the mouths of lions” reminds us at once about who in the lion’s den?  Daniel.  That’s right.  Mightily delivered.  Though Samson and David also fought lions, too.  

34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 

“Quenching the violence of fire” probably refers to the three Jewish young folks—Rack, Shach, and Benny—or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  You can read about them later in the Book of Daniel, read about how God delivered them from the fiery furnace.  They had faith and won the victory.

Others “escaped the edge of the sword” like David running from Saul or Elijah the prophet running from Jezebel.  Speaking of Elijah, verse 35:

35 Women received their dead raised to life again.  Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 

“Women received their dead raised to life again,” women like the widow of Zarephath whose son had died and the Prophet Elijah had faith that God would raise him from the dead.  And God did—through Elijah’s faith.  Read about it later in 1 Kings 17.

Or the prophet who followed Elijah—who was that?  Elisha!  Right.  Read in 2 Kings 4 about how Elisha raised the Shunammite woman’s son from the dead.  Elisha had faith and won the victory.

But these were merely temporary resurrections.  Those who were “raised to life again” died again.  That’s why verse 35 refers to “a better resurrection.”  The writer says, “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection,” that is, better than these resurrections in the Old Testament, a resurrection that means life forever, never to die again.

We’ll deal with that phrase, “others were tortured, not accepting deliverance” next time, Lord willing, as it goes best with the remainder of the chapter.  What can we learn from these four verses?  Here’s what I learned and I want to pass this on to you.  “I can have faith”—and let me encourage you to write that down— “I can have faith” with regard to three things.  First:

**I Can Have Faith:

1) Whatever I Face

This is the greatest takeaway of the chapter; arguably the main point of the entire book.  Remember the historical context of the Book of Hebrews is a bunch of Christians who had come out of first century Judaism, believers under the old covenant, believers who had heard the gospel and said, “Yes” to Jesus Christ.   

Shortly after their confession of faith in Jesus Christ they began to undergo persecution for their faith.  Family who did not share their faith in Christ and remained under the old covenant worship system rejected them.  They were expelled from the temple, cut off from their former friendships and support system.  Persecuted.  Because of their persecution they were considering going back to their old ways of living and worshiping, back to the old covenant.

And the writer of Hebrews has been telling them throughout this letter: “Don’t do that!”  Nothing is better than Jesus!  Nothing!  Jesus is better than the old covenant, better than the angels, better than the prophets, better than Aaron, better than Moses.  Jesus is better than animal sacrifices—because each animal sacrifice pointed forward to Him, Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

So the writer’s point here in chapter 11 is, “Look at all these folks who lived by faith!”  They are examples for you and me.  They lived by faith no matter what!  No matter what they faced, they trusted God and move forward by faith.  They endured challenges, faced obstacles, walked through “unknowns,” stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, and so on.

If they could have faith whatever they faced, so you and I can have faith whatever we face.  There are many “unknowns” for each of us this coming week.  Everyone in this room will step out in faith this week as we leave the this place of refuge and enter back into our everyday workaday lives.  And you can have faith whatever you face.  The God who was with Daniel in the lion’s den, with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, with David facing Goliath—the same God is with you in your trials.  You can have faith whatever you face.  I can have faith whatever I face.  Say that: “I can have faith whatever I face.”  Secondly, I can have faith:

2) No Matter My Flaws

Every single one of these persons mentioned in our passage was flawed.  Gideon was flawed; uncertain at times about God’s leadership.  David was flawed; he committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for the death of her husband Uriah.  Samson was sexually promiscuous and often acted in ways that make you shake your head in wonder.  These folks were a bit like Rahab from last week: flawed people with a past—and still growing in their understanding of what it meant to serve the one true and living God.  As the writer puts it: “out of weakness they were made strong.”  And God can work the same way in your life.  You can have faith no matter your flaws.  Out of your weakness He will make you strong.

That doesn’t mean that we just live in our sin.  As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 6:2, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”  When we have sinned, we confess that sin.  Always and throughout each day we go to the Lord and say, “God forgive me for what I just did, what I just said, what I just thought.  I confess that sin and ask forgiveness.  You have said to Christians in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins you are faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Thank you God for always forgiving me because you always see me in your Son, safely clothed in the righteousness of Christ, amen!”

You can have faith no matter your flaws.  Be encouraged by the truth that these believers in the Old Testament were not perfect—just like you!  Imperfect beings trusting in a perfect God.

Remember that the grace of the gospel does apply to you if you believe.  So many Christians feel as though the grace of God’s forgiveness applies to everyone except them.  Like God poured out His grace upon David when he sinned, Samson when he sinned, and others when they sinned, but somehow it can’t be true for me.  I’m telling you it is true!  God loves you no matter your flaws.  He wants to work in your life whatever mistakes you have made, whatever failures, whatever shame, whatever guilt, whatever “big time sins” you feel have separated you from the love of God.  Confess that sin, turn to Christ, and live in the victory and freedom of forgiveness.  God delights in using people who know they’re broken.  Let me say that again: God delights in using people who know they are broken.  

You can have faith whatever you face.  You can have faith no matter your flaws.  So let God work in your life as you look to the future.  This is the third and finally takeaway.   You can have faith by looking to the future, a forward-looking faith.  This is the main takeaway for persevering this week, for endurance, for getting through the hard times whatever you face, whatever your flaws, look to the future.  Look to the future and live with an eye to the future.

3) Look to the Future 

Every one of these Old Testament believers lived by a faith that looked to the future.  They believed the promises of God and looked forward by faith to the fulfillment of those promises—that everything pointed to the Lord and that every promise was fulfilled in Him.

That’s why verse 35 ends as it does, mentioning believers who were tortured, not accepting deliverance—how?!—believing, looking forward by faith to the future, when they would “obtain a better resurrection.”  They knew that worse case scenario, they would be killed.  Worse case scenario they would die and leave this sinful, fallen world behind.  Their bodies tortured, beaten, killed, buried.  But that’s not the end!  They knew they would obtain a better resurrection.  They knew God would bring their souls safely to Him in heaven and that one day He would even raise their mortal beaten bodies and change them into a glorious body at the final resurrection.

A faith that looks to the future will live for what matters.  A faith that looks to the future will love what matters.  A faith that looks to the future will love God more than life.  

Do you love God more than your own life?  Do you love Him more than your family?  More than your savings?  More than your money?  Love Him more than your treasures and toys?  Love Him more than all the treasures of Egypt?  Love the eternal city more than this present world?  Look to the future as you live in the present.

I’ve been nearsighted since I was in high school.  Nearsightedness means you can see near better than you can see far.  Things far away are harder to see, blurry.  So I’ve worn contact lenses for years helping me see things far away more clearly.  In more recent years I’ve developed something common to folks as they age.  He hit around 40 or 45 we start to develop presbyopia, a word that just means it’s harder for our eyes to focus on things up close.  So I’ve had to go with a multifocal contact lens.  These lenses have a mixture of both near and far.  Like circles in the lenses—you can’t see them, but that’s how they work, various circles of both near and far.  

These lenses not only help me see more clearly both near and far, but they’ve also reminded me how to live as a follower of Jesus.  I can see where I’m going.  I can look to the future and see with clear spiritual eyesight the future resurrection and all the promises that are yes in Jesus Christ.  I’m getting there.  It’s up ahead.  Out there in the future.  It’s a reality that is certain.  And I can see it through the same “spiritual lens” that allows me to see up close.  I can allow what I see far away inform how I live up close.  As we noted a few weeks ago: “Let the hereafter shape what you’re after here.”  I can have faith by looking to the future as I live in the present.  That’s what it means to follow Jesus.

We follow Him in this world.  Through death into life everlasting He passed and we follow Him there.  Love Jesus, live for Jesus, look to Jesus!

  • Let’s pray.

Response: “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”

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