************ Sermon on Hebrews 11:29 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 7, 2017
"The Faith of the People"
I People Without Faith
A I have a big problem when I read our text. I have a big problem when I hear about the faith of the people who passed through the Red Sea.
(Heb 11:29) By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land ...Though the word "people" is not part of the Greek, we know people are in mind.
My problem is who are the people Hebrews is talking about? Who are the people who by faith passed through the Red Sea as on dry land?
You are probably saying, "That's easy, pastor. Why are you even asking this? It is the nation of Israel. It is the covenant people. It is those who kept the Passover that last night in Egypt. They are the ones who by faith passed through the Red Sea as on dry land."
Last time when we looked at Hebrews 11:28 I asked you whether every Israelite kept the Passover? Another question to ask, as a follow up, is this: Did all those who keep the Passover do so in faith? Similarly, did every Israelite who passed through the Red Sea as on dry land have faith? I ask these kinds of questions because there is every reason to question the faith of the Israelites.
B Let me tell you why our text cannot be talking about all the people of Israel. Think back to what is said in Hebrews 3 & 4 about these people during the forty years in the desert. God says they "hardened" their hearts; I want you to notice this is the same word used for Pharaoh. God says the people were in "rebellion." God says it was "the time of testing." God says their "hearts are always going astray." God swore "They shall never enter my rest"; God is talking about eternal rest.
We all know what these people did. At the Red Sea, when they saw the Egyptians approaching, they accused Moses of bringing them to the desert to die (Ex 14:11). In saying this, they were accusing God of being a liar, of being untrustworthy, of not keeping His promises. Because God, through Moses, had promised to free the children of Israel, to redeem them, to be their God, to bring them to the Promised Land (cf Ex 6:6-8). The people believed none of these promises. Then they grumbled about water. They grumbled about manna. They grumbled about the lack of meat. They missed the melons and leeks and onions of Egypt. They grumbled about Moses. They built a golden calf. They refused to enter the Promised Land. And the list goes on and on ...
Don't be like these people, is the message of Hebrews 3. "Don't harden your hearts like these people" (cf Heb 3:7,8). "See to it, brothers [and sisters], that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God [like these people]" (Heb 3:12). "Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?" (Heb 3:16).
Hebrews is not the only book talking this way about the people of Israel who left Egypt. The author of Psalm 106 has this to say:
(Ps 106:7) When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Paul writes something similar to the church in Corinth:
(1 Cor 10:1-5) For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. (2) They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. (3) They all ate the same spiritual food (4) and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (5) Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
We should not be surprised by any of this. Because last time we learned that Moses believed the children of Israel were as sinful as the Egyptians. And, because they were sinful, the children of Israel needed the atoning blood of the sacrificial lamb or the destroyer of the firstborn would touch the firstborn of Israel (cf Heb 11:28).
Not only were they sinners, but today we see they also were unrepentant, unbelieving sinners. Nothing in Exodus 14 or the book of Hebrews testifies to us that they had saving faith. "God was not pleased with most of them " (1 Cor 10:5).
C Are these people who passed through the Red Sea as on dry land proof that true faith can be lost -- as is said by the Arminians and many Baptists? Are they proof that we can have no surety of faith -- as is the experience of many in the Netherlands Reformed churches? Are they proof that we Reformed Christians are wrong in believing in the perseverance of the saints?
Let's go back to some of the wonderful statements of Hebrews 10. Those with true faith are "made perfect forever" (Heb 10:14). "I will put my laws in their hearts, and write them on their minds" (Heb 10:16). "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more" (Heb 10:17). "But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved" (Heb 10:39). And, according to Hebrews 11:13, "these people [what people? people of true faith] were still living by faith when they died." None of these wonderful statements are true for the children of Israel who passed through the Red Sea as on dry land. Telling us what? Telling us that the children of Israel are not people of faith who believed and then fell away. Rather, they must be people who never believed.
Didn't Jesus warn us about this? Didn't Jesus say the seed of the Word may flourish for a while but then be choked out by the worries of life (Mt 13)? Didn't John write about those who went out from us, but they did not really belong to us (1 Jn 2:19)? Didn't Jesus say there are weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:24-30)? Doesn't Scripture warn us that there are those among the people of God who aren't sincere and true and real about their faith?
D Some of you might point to the last verse of our Scripture reading from Exodus 14 and argue that they did believe:
(Ex 14:31) And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.Psalm 106 puts it this way:
(Ps 106:12) Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.Doesn't Exodus and Psalms say they believed? Don't these passages say they had faith?
According to these verses, do you notice the kind of faith the children of Israel had? Those who passed through the Red Sea as on dry land, what kind of faith did they have? They had a faith that believed when they were safe and sound on the other side of the Red Sea. A faith that believed when they saw the Egyptians floating like dead fish in the Red Sea. Isn't this the same as the faith we see in John 2?
(Jn 2:23-24) Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. (24) But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.
According to Paul, the Jews demand miraculous signs (1 Cor 1:22). We see this over and over again in the gospels. Jesus performed His first miracle in Cana of Galilee. When Jesus returned there they expected Him to do some more miracles.
(Jn 4:48) "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe."We see the same attitude in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man asked Father Abraham for dead Lazarus to rise from the dead and warn his brothers about the fires of hell so they would repent. "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Lk 16:19-31). And, remember this same attitude on the part of the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders? Part of their mockery on Good Friday was, "Let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him" (Mt 27:42). It is all the same theme: we will believe by sight and not by faith.
Now, do you remember what Jesus said to Thomas when he confessed Jesus to be Lord and God?
(Jn 20:29) "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."Jesus blesses those who live by faith and not by sight. But this does not describe the children of Israel who came out of Egypt. They lived by sight and not by faith.
E God looks for one thing in the lives of His people: He looks for faith (Lk 18:8). Everything else God wants flows from faith: good works, prayer, worship attendance, Bible study, offerings, evangelism, using one's gifts and talents for the service and enrichment of the other members, growth in grace and knowledge, sanctification, living for His glory.
Jesus noticed faith when He lived and walked on this earth. Jesus even praised faith when He saw it. When Simon Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah" (Mt 16:16-17). When a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter from demon-possession, Jesus praised her for "great faith" and granted her request (Mt 15:22-28). When the centurion believed Jesus had to simply say the word and his servant would be healed, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith" (Mt 8:5-10). Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith (Heb 12:2), commends His people for faith.
God looks for faith. We know He doesn't find it in the Egyptians. Because when they try to cross the Red Sea they are drowned. But neither did God find faith in the children of Israel who left Egypt and passed through the Red Sea on dry land.
II People With Faith
A Hebrews wants to commend people of faith to us. Hebrews wants to surround us with a great cloud of witnesses telling us to live by faith. So who is our text talking about?
(Heb 11:29) By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land ...If it wasn't the children of Israel, who are the people who by faith passed through the Red Sea as on dry land?
We know Moses was a man of faith. When the children of Israel were caught between the water of the Red Sea on the one side and the horses, chariots, and army of Pharaoh on the other side, Moses showed himself to be a man of faith. He said to the people,
(Ex 14:13-14) "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. (14) The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."But Hebrews has already covered Moses so we know Moses can't be in mind.
I doubt if Hebrews is talking about Miriam and Aaron. We know both did some godless and despicable things that put them down to the level of the people.
B Our text especially holds two men before us, two men of faith, two men of true faith, two men of godly faith, two men who lived by faith and not by sight, two men that everyone of the Hebrew Christians knew about. I am thinking of Joshua and Caleb.
All the people were terrified when they were caught between Pharaoh and the Red Sea. They cried out to the Lord. They cried out in unbelief. Joshua and Caleb, as men of faith, did not know what God would do but they knew God would do something. After all, God had made promises to deliver and redeem and save and rescue (Ex 6:6-8). And they believed those promises. So they watched and they waited -- in faith -- to see what God would do. Everyone else was crying and screaming and moaning and groaning. But these two men waited in faith.
They saw something. They saw the Lord's pillar of cloud move from in front of Israel to behind Israel. And they heard something. They heard a wind blowing. All night long they heard a strong east wind. Actually, Psalm 77 indicates it was more than a wind. Listen to how the psalmist describes that night by the Red Sea:
(Ps 77:16-20) The waters saw you, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. (17) The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. (18) Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. (19) Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. (20) You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Joshua and Caleb didn't know what was going on but they knew the Lord was doing something. So they watched in faith. They listened in faith. They anticipated and expected in faith. What is God doing? What will He show us? How is He going to deliver us as He promised?
They didn't know what was going on but the entire night the Egyptian army did not make a move to attack. They didn't know what was going on but something seemed to be happening with the water. So at sunrise, when they can finally see, there is a path through the sea. There are high walls of water on both sides of the path but the path itself is dry land.
Joshua and Caleb. They lived by faith. They waited by the Red Sea by faith. They are the ones who by faith passed through the Red Sea as on dry land (Heb 11:29). A few weeks or months later that same faith showed up again. Twelve spies went to check out the land of Canaan. Ten of the spies came back with a bad report because of the walled cities and the giant descendants of Anak. "We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them" (Num 13:33). Again the people wailed and cried and grumbled and complained against Moses. Joshua and Caleb had something to say about this:
(Num 14:9) "... do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them."
That is faith. That is living by faith. That is looking to the Lord.
What fears do you have in your life, dear friends. As you face them, are you like Joshua and Caleb? Or are you like Israel by the seashore and in John 2? Do you believe only when your wallet is full of cash, only after you have come through surgery, only after the life of your son or daughter has been spared, only after your business succeeds? Or, even worse, are you like the wicked and evil Egyptians who had no faith whatsoever?
There is a name for Christians in the New Testament. The name appears 21 times. The name "believer." "Believer." That's what we are. Someone who believes in Jesus. Someone who believes in the promises of God. Someone who lives by faith.
That describes some of the covenant people who crossed the Red Sea on dry land. Does that describe you?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page