Faith in the Promise-Keeping God

Faith in the Promise-Keeping God

“Faith in the Promise-Keeping God”

(Hebrews 11:29-31)

Series: Captivated by Christ (Hebrews)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

  • Open your Bibles to Hebrews Chapter 11.

We are preaching our way through the Book of Hebrews, verse-by-verse and we have spent a few weeks in Chapter 11, the great “roll call of faith” as it is often called.  

Like a coach inspiring a room of athletes by making them watch videos of great football plays over and over again, or a baseball pitcher, or a boxer, or watching a golf swing, watching the video and learning what to emulate, and how to mirror or copy all the right moves—so the writer of Hebrews points to all of these Old Testament believers and says, “Look at their faith!  See how they believed!  See how they obeyed!  Now, get out there and do the same!”

That’s how we’re to read chapter 11.  It’s not that these people are perfect or even that they are great moral leaders.  They had their faults and we’ve talked about a number of them in past weeks.  But what the writer of Hebrews is doing is pointing out what they did right.  And where their faith was worth pointing out, the writer points it out!  And he says, “Have faith like that.  Obey like that.”

So we’ve learned from the faith of Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Sarah, and Isaac, and Jacob, and others.  And we left off last time with Moses as Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt.

Then there is a shift from verse 28 to verse 29, a shift from individual faith to corporate faith.  There’s a shift from the faith of Moses as an individual person, to the faith of the  Israelites a collective people.  We note that in the pronoun “they” in verse 29.  Let’s study these verses.  We’re going to just look at verses 29-31, but there is a lot here and we’ve been slowing our pace a bit so that we can learn from these Old Testament believers.

We should take care not to become so familiar with the Old Testament stories that we become jaded and dull overly familiar withe these stories as though there were nothing new to learn from them. 

Heath Cox, our new police chief, preaching Zacchaeus, a familiar story a couple weeks ago in our evening service asked, “Does the truth of Zacchaeus still move us?”  Are we still moved by a familiar story?  It’s a good question.

We ought to read the Word of God and listen to the Word of God every time as though we had never read it or heard it before!  When we do that, God just opens it up to our hearts.  Let’s do that right now.  Let me read about a couple familiar stories to many of us, and likely new stories for many here as well.

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

29 By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. 

31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.

  • Pray: “Dear God, we stand before you as a people who want to live by faith.  Grow us this morning as we study your word.  Holy Spirit, penetrate our hearts and minds to teach us and to show us what needs to change in our lives if we would walk by faith.  In Jesus’ name and for your glory, amen.” 

We often say that love is not just something you have but it’s something you live.  Love is not just a noun, love is a verb.  Love is something you do.  In the same way, faith is not just something you have but it’s something you live.  Faith is not just a noun, faith is a verb.  Faith is something you do.  Faith is both belief and obedience.

The Apostle James notes this truth in his letter, especially in Chapter 2 where he asks, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? (James 2:14),” and the implication is that it does not profit at all.  A faith that does not result in obedience is a useless faith.”

The writer of Hebrews is showing us that God is a promise-keeping God. He promises His people great things and He intends to keep His promises.  All He requires of His people is that they both believe and obey.  True saving faith is both a noun and a verb.  Faith is both having trust and obeying.  As the hymn-writer puts it: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to (both) trust and obey.”

In my study this week I wrote at the top of my sermon notes: Obedient Faith.  What does obedient faith look like?  How does obedient faith work?  Let me share these three things from these three verses about obedient faith.  If you’re a note-taker then write this down big and plain:

**Obedient Faith is:

  1. Faith no Matter the Peril  (29)

Faith no matter how dangerous, how daunting, or how disturbing is the path before us.  Faith no matter the peril.  

My life verses are Proverbs 3:5-6.  I have them posted above my office door and frequently point them out as I am doing pastoral counseling: Trust the Lord with all of your heart.  Do not lean upon your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”  Nowhere is His directing the paths of His people more evident than in the verse before us.

God directed the path of His people as they crossed the Red Sea, an actual historical event that occurred some 1400 years before Christ.  The background of the narrative is found in Exodus 14 if you want to look it up later.  Exodus 14.  There we read how God miraculously delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, forced slavery and mistreatment in Egypt.  After the 10 plagues, in a demonstration of His glory, God uses Moses to stand up to Pharaoh and God works through the events to lead His people out of Egyptian bondage.  We noted last week that Moses’ name means “to draw out” because Pharaoh’s daughter drew him out of the water when he was a baby.  Well, now God uses Moses “to draw out” His people from Egypt.

You can go later and review the history of how God’s people escaped the Egyptian task masters and fled from the Egyptian army as they high-tailed it out of Egypt.  They don’t get too far down the road before the Egyptians come running after them in so many chariots blazing through the dusty land.  And as God’s people approach the vast, Red Sea, it appears as if it’s all over, and their deliverance may well be a short-lived deliverance!  They’ll never get to the Promised Land now!  How will they cross this huge sea to keep ahead of the Egyptians in their run for freedom?  Well, the theological answer is that they will cross by faith.  Verse 29 captures the theology explanation for how they crossed:

29 By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.

And all the details of that crossing are found back in Exodus 14.  Were we to go back and read that passage this morning we would read how Moses stood before the people there at the sea.  The waves crashing this way and that.  And initially, the people are frightened.  They cry out to their leader, to Moses, they say: “Hey! Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you took us out here to the wilderness to die?”  That’s a sarcastic question, isn’t it?!  “Hey Moses!  Was their a shortage of burial plots back in Egypt that you decided it’d be better if we were all buried out here?!  We should have stayed in Egypt.  It’s all over.”

And the Bible says that Moses said to the people in Exodus 14:13: “Do not be afraid.  Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today.  For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.”  And Moses raises the staff that God had given him, he holds it up high above the waters and God works a mighty miracle.  The sea divides in two.  A wall of water on their right and on their left as they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land.  That took faith, didn’t it?  I mean at any moment it would seem, miraculous as it was to have a wall of water at their right and left that they could come back together at any moment.  But God held the waters as God’s people passed through the perilous sea.  

And after all His people had passed through safely, what happened next?  The Egyptian army comes running from behind.  All of Pharaoh’s men with their chariots in hot pursuit.  They attempt also to pass through as by dry land, but what happened?  Verse 29 gives the terse summation: “The Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.”  God brings the waters back together over the Egyptians, the horsemen, the chariots, and every single Egyptian dies.  

The great movie classic “The 10 Commandments,” by Cecil B. Demille captures the scene graphically—with special effects that cause modern viewers to smile, at times, but pretty impressive for 1956.  Charlton Heston is a pretty convincing Moses.

But the whole biblical narrative is concluded in the last verse of Exodus 14:31, “Thus Israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt; so the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and His servant Moses.”

And that’s what the writer of Hebrews emphasizes, that the people believed the Lord as He spoke through His servant Moses.  He does not here bring up again how they lapsed later on into unbelief and disobedience.  He has addressed that in earlier chapters, namely Hebrews 3 and 4.  Again, his point in Chapter 11 is to call attention to when God’s people acted in a way worthy of imitating.  He doesn’t show the team the bad “video clips,” just the good.  When they crossed the Red Sea, they had faith, faith no matter the peril.  

As they ran across that recently dried up sea floor they had faith that God would hold back the waters.  It would seem at any moment that the wall of water on their right and left could come back crashing down upon them.  But God holds the water back in keeping with HIs promise to His people.  And when the unbelieving Egyptians try to pass through, God unleashes His wrath upon them, bringing the waters of judgment crashing down upon them.

Water is often used as a judgment upon unbelievers.  Recall the earliest act of God’s judgement in flooding the entire earth.  The waters sweeping away all unbelieving and unrighteous people, with only Noah and his family escaping that judgment in an ark.  Then you have the waters of judgment here in the story of God’s people escaping judgment through the Red Sea and that sea engulfing the unbelievers.  You have Jonah.  Remember Jonah?  Thrown into the sea, and sinking down into the waters of judgment before God rescues him from the waters by way of a big fish of all things.  

We had a baptism last Sunday evening and we talked about how baptism pictures union with Christ; death, burial, resurrection.  It’s a sign of beginning the Christian faith.  Death to the old us.  Raised to walk in a new way of life.  And that is pictured in baptism.  The baptismal waters serve as a picture of salvation from judgment.  We are drawn up out of the waters as a picture of our being drawn up and out of death.  Praise God.

It’s the truth of the old gospel hymn: “I was sinking deep in sin far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more, but the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me, now safe am I.”

Have you been lifted from the waters of sin?  The Red Sea crossing is a beautiful foretaste of redemption through Jesus Christ.  Jesus lifts us up and saves us from the penalty of sin.  And how does this gift come to us?  By faith.  You have to believe.  Remember verse 6: Without faith it is impossible to please God.  Believe in Him. 

And go on believing in Him.  Faith no matter the peril.  Faith no matter how scary the path appears before you this week.  Remember God is with you.  If you go back and read Exodus 14 later you’ll read about how God manifested His presence with the people in a pillar of cloud and the Angel of the Lord, reminders that He was always right there with them.  This is the same God who promises to be right there with you, Christian.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He is with you always.  So whatever you face this week, however daunting, however scary, God is with you.  Have faith, no matter the peril.  Number two:

  1. Faith no Matter the Plan (30)

One of the most delightful things about how God works is that His ways are not our ways.  That’s Isaiah 55:8-9: 

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,

Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

So are My ways higher than your ways,

And My thoughts than your thoughts.

The way God carries out His will is often mysterious and curious to us.  But He acts this way in a demonstration of His glory, power, and sovereignty.  Verse 30 records a significant battle God’s people fought not long after Joshua leads them into the Promised Land.  We simply read the conclusion of the event in verse 30:

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. 

And if we knew nothing about this event from the Book of Joshua we would just assume it was a typical battle.  But it was not typical at all!  You know the song, right?!  “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho.  Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down.”  Catchy tune!  But how did the walls come tumbling down. 

Again, the writer gives the theological answer: “By faith.”  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.

Joshua 6 gives the story if you want to look it up later.  It was an interesting battle plan to say the least!  God tells the people to walk around the city seven times.  Each morning then, the people got up, the priests went before them with the rams horns and the ark ahead of them, the ark of the covenant, and the army behind.  But they don’t fight.  They don’t speak.  They just march around the city.  And after going around the entire city.  Joshua says, “Right men, that’s all for today.  We’ll meet again here tomorrow morning, same time, same plan.  Dismissed!”  And they did that every day for a week.  Then on the seventh day, they go around the city seven times.  And after the seventh time, the priests blow the trumpets and the people shout the battle cry and then the walls come tumbling down.  

Interesting way to fight, isn’t it?  But imagine the Canaanites living inside the city of Jericho watching this go on for seven days.  They’ve got to be thinking, “What in the world is happening with these folks?!”  Maybe they laughed the first day or so.  After all, the city of Jericho was heavily fortified.  But I’ll bet as the days went by they became more fearful of the way this was all looking.  Some of them had heard about the One True and Living God.  Some had heard about how He brought His people safely across the Red Sea.  I think a number of the bad guys living in Jericho became fearful as they watched God’s people marching around the city.

I said Jericho was heavily fortified.  Like most big cities in the ancient near east there was a double wall, both an outer and an inner wall.  And when the walls came tumbling down, Jericho 6:20 tells us that the walls “fell down flat,” a Hebrew phrase indicating that the wall “fell beneath itself.”

Archaeological evidence suggests that’s exactly what happened.  Here’s a picture, an archaeological rendering of ancient Jericho.  See the two walls.  And some people lived between the walls, cheaper housing there!  Some houses were literally built up against the outside wall.


You’ll see here the two walls and the outer wall there was supported by a stone retaining wall.  Excavation reveals that, as the mud-brick wall fell, it fell down flat, depositing bricks down at the base of the stone retaining wall.

Archaeologist Bryant Wood (Associates for Biblical Research) explains the significance:

Excavations have shown that the bricks from the collapsed walls formed a ramp against the retaining wall so that the Israelites could merely climb up over the top. The Bible is very precise in its description of how the Israelites entered the city: “the people went up into the city, every man straight before him [i.e., straight up and over],” (Joshua 6:20). The Israelites had to go up, and that is what archaeology has revealed. They had to go from ground level at the base of the tell to the top of the rampart in order to enter the city.

Isn’t that cool?  So the impenetrable, unassailable fortress could be surmounted after all.  How?  By faith.  God’s people believed that He would do just as He said.  He would keep His promise to deliver the city to them.

Why do you suppose God used this seemingly ridiculous battle plan?  He told them how everything was going to happen.  Circle the city each day for a week.  Just march around it.  I’m sure it didn’t seem make much sense to the people at first.  God’s ways are not our ways.  And I’m sure there was some snickering from inside the city wall.  You remember that this week, when unbelievers snicker at you, too.  

But this mighty destruction of the city is such that only God can get the glory for its demise.  Clearly God did this and He did it through the faith of His people.  

Faith no matter the peril, faith no matter the plan.  Thirdly:

  1. Faith no Matter the Person (31)

This brief narrative tells us about one occupant of the city of Jericho, an interesting person, a lady named Rahab.  But she was no lady, know what I mean?!  She was a shady lady, at best.  She is described as a harlot, that’s an archaic word for prostitute.  She had a past.  But look at this!  What a surprise!  Verse 31:

31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe (or obey), when she had received the spies with peace.

This prostitute is listed among the great “roll call of faith,” can you believe it?!  Faith works no matter the person.  No matter who you are, what you’ve done, the moment you exercise faith, God works.  Without faith it’s impossible to please Him, but with faith, all things are possible to him who believes.

Joshua 2 tells us that Rahab became a believer in the One True and Living God.  She had heard about God’s mighty works, namely His delivering the Israelites through the Red Sea.  Word had reached Rahab there in Jericho and she believed.  

We won’t turn back to Joshua 2, you can read it later.  But the Israelites sent out two men to spy out the land, especially the city of Jericho.  And someone sees them and tells the king.  And providentially, God leads the two spies to Rahab who hides them in her house, literally hiding them in the stalks of flax that formed the roof of her house.  When the authorities come knocking at her door, she tells them that yes, they had come by, but were no longer here.  She tells them that they had left at evening when it was dark.  “Go quickly,” she suggests, “You may find them yet.”  

Then she goes back to the men and says, “We have heard all about you all, about your God, about how he has delivered you through the Red Sea.  Many of us here in Jericho are shaking in our boots for fear.”  And Rahab makes this strong profession of faith in Joshua 2:11, she says, “The Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”  Rahab believes.  And God begins a work of grace in her heart, changing her as the days go by.

Well, she sends the spies off to safety, letting them down the wal by a rope through her window because her house was one of those that was built on the city wall.  And she tells them to flee to the mountain nearby for a couple days until it’s safe to return to the Israelite camp.  But first she asks that when they come back to destroy the city, she requests that she and her family be spared, be saved from the destruction.  And the spies agree.  They tell her to tie a scarlet cord in the window through which she had let them down.  This way when the Israelite army returns to take the city, they will know which house Rahab lives in and will avoid that one, seeing the red cord hanging from the window.

Let me quote again from Archaeologist Bryant Wood.  It may be helpful to put that picture up again as I read this:

The German excavation of 1907–1909 found that on the north a short stretch of the lower city wall did not fall as everywhere else. A portion of that mud-brick wall was still standing to a height of over two meters (eight feet).  What is more, there were houses built against the wall! It is quite possible that this is where Rahab’s house was. Since the city wall formed the back wall of the houses, the spies could have readily escaped. From this location on the north side of the city it was only a short distance to the hills of the Judean wilderness where the spies hid for three days (Joshua 2:16, 22). Real estate values must have been low here, since the houses were positioned on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls. Not the best place to live in time of war! This area was no doubt the overflow from the upper city and the poor part of town, perhaps even a slum district.

I just love the way archaeology confirms what we already know to be true when we read God’s Word.

Faith no matter the person.  Even a prostitute can believe and be changed.  Before we conclude, I want to address the deception of Rahab.

She acts deceptively.  How do you deal with this?  If someone asked you, “Why is Rahab the harlot, or Rahab the prostitute, why is she commended for her faith?  After all, she is a prostitute and she acted with great deception!”  It’s a fair question.  How would you answer that?

We should be ready to answer a question like that.  The reason some unbelievers are turned off by many Christians is because they feel that their answers are sometimes overly simplistic, too “black and white,” as it were.  We may not like to admit it, but there are gray areas we often grapple with that require the thinking through our faith as a more nuanced belief system.

For example, someone says, “Well, look.  I don’t care what anyone says.  It’s just always wrong to act with deception!”  Okay, let me ask you a question: When you’re blessed to be away from your house for several days, maybe a vacation, something like that, do you ever leave a few lights on?  Ever use those little timers you can plug a lamp into that goes on and off at certain times?  If you do, why do you do that?  There’s no one in your house is there?”  Someone says, “Well, because I want to make it look like someone is home!  Got to run the robbers off, you know!”  Yes, you want to act with deception.  You believe it is right to act with deception because thieves and robbers, in their thieving and robbing have demonstrated that they forfeit their right to the truth.  They forfeit their right to the truth because they don’t respect your property.  So in the case of leaving lights on, your deception is justified. 

There is a difference between lying and deception.  While all lying is deceptive, not all deception is lying.  The Bible indicates that there are times where deception is permissible where it may bring about the greater good of protecting lives.  

Even last week as we studied about the faith of Moses’ parents, you’ll remember they hid the baby Moses among the reeds of the Nile River.  Why?  Because Pharaoh had commanded the death of all baby boys.  The deception of Moses’ parents, then, is warranted—just as the deception of the Hebrew midwives also mentioned back in Exodus chapter 1 who, the bible says, “feared God” and for this reason also acted in a deceptive way to allow newborn baby boys to live.

Incidentally, Paul Copan writes about this sort of thing in a philosophical book with a great title: When God Goes to Starbucks.  Isn’t that a great book title?!  Copan is a Christian and his book is something of a guidebook to everyday apologetics, engaging with others about the Christian faith.  When God Goes to Starbucks.  Check it out on Amazon.

Make no mistake: Christians believe in moral absolutes, absolute right and wrong, but we also recognize from passages and verses such as verse 31 that the biblical ethical framework is often more nuanced with tension and shades of gray coloring.  

We live, after all, in a fallen world.  That’s why police officers engage in drug stings and use wires and act with deception in order to bring down Mafia bad guys.

It’s the whole problem of war, for example.  Battles themselves, incidentally, are often magnificent acts of deception, aren’t they?  Deceptive battle plans in order to achieve the greater good of saving and protecting life.  Where a governmental system or leader is so corrupt and self-serving, and evil, as an Adolf Hitler, for example, his killing innocent people to serve his own warped and twisted self-interest—in these cases Christians are under no obligation to give the truth when the truth leads to the death of more innocent victims.  An evil, corrupt person has forfeited his or her right to the truth.

Rahab lived among a people who were corrupt and immoral.  And she had heard about the One True and Living God.  She feared the true God and so while her actions were deceptive, they were for the greater good of saving the people of God and all those who fear Him.

And the writer commends her here for her faith.  Faith no matter the person.

Listen: you may feel unworthy of God’s grace.  You have sinned and you feel dirty and guilty.  If God can work through the harlot Rahab, he can work in and through you.  Just turn to God.  Believe in Jesus.  Trust Christ and begin walking by faith.  God will change you, grow you, and do mighty things through you.  Faith no matter the person.

Let’s pray.

Heads bowed and eyes closed.  We have talked about faith this morning.  Faith no matter the peril, no matter the plan, no matter the person.  

Some of you are saying, “I need faith to live this week.  I’ve got things coming up and things I fear and things I don’t know how are going to work out.  I need faith.”  Well, right now you can say in your spirit, “Dear God, help me live by faith right now.  I surrender.  I trust you.  I believe you will do the right thing in me and through me.”

Others of you, you’ve been trusting in the wrong things, clutching to the wrong things.  You need to repent.  Let go of sin and turn to Him.  Trust Jesus Christ who saves you from the judgment to come, who “draws you out” of the judgment upon your sin, just as God drew His people out of the judgment of waters of the Red Sea.  Trust Him as your Lord and Savior.

In a moment we will sing our hymn of response and as we sing I’m asking you to surrender and trust the Lord.  Believe.  And live out your belief through obedience to God and His Word.

“Father in heaven, thank you for your word.  Thank you for teaching us about obedient faith.  God, give us grace right now to trust you, to surrender to you, to walk by faith—to be saved, to follow you through baptism, to have the courage to come forward and ask for prayer or spiritual help.  God give us grace as we respond to your truth through Jesus Christ our Lord in whose name we pray, amen.”

Now stand and sing, and respond however you need to respond.

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