************ Sermon on Hebrews 11:32-35 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 18, 2017
"Faith That Acts"
We've been looking at the heroes of faith of Hebrews 11. We've looked at Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses' parents, Moses, the faithful people of Israel at the Red Sea, the soldiers marching around Jericho, and Rahab.
Their stories were not written down to entertain us. Rather, they were written down to inspire and fortify the faith of the Hebrew Christians. Because of Roman persecution, the Hebrew Christians were being tempted to forsake the Christian faith and return to Judaism. Hebrews is telling those Hebrew Christians they can endure in the faith, they can prevail, they can keep on going only if they are like the ancients. That is, they need to be men and women of faith.
Don't leave Jesus for Moses. Don't return to your Jewish roots. Don't forsake the Christian faith. Be people of faith like the heroes we have already looked at.
My hope and prayer, dear people of God, is that you want to be like the heroes of faith. I hope you look at the heroes and decide you don't want to be a mediocre Christian with a mediocre faith. If your faith is weak and half-hearted and lacks luster, I hope and pray the heroes of faith will inspire you to greater devotion.
A quick note on the format of our Bible reading. The point no longer is to hold specific examples of faith before our eyes. Rather, the point is to hold before us a type of faith. So what kind of faith does Hebrews hold before our eyes this evening? What does the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets have in common? Hebrews looks at these men and holds before us a faith that acts, a faith that performs, a faith that does things.
I A Faith that Acts
A So what does faith do? Hebrews lists ten things for us.
One, faith "conquered kingdoms." We see this with Gideon. An angel comes to him when Israel was oppressed by Midian. "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." Gideon certainly did not look or feel mighty. He probably wondered who the angel was talking to. "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand."
What does Gideon do? He gets together an army of 32,000 men. But the LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many men." So Gideon sends 22,000 men home. Then the LORD said, "There are still too many men." So Gideon sent 9,700 men home. He was left with an army of 300 men. Gideon armed his men with the normal weapons of war: swords, spears, bows, arrows, shields, helmets, breastplates. But the LORD said, "Give your soldiers trumpets and jars." Sounds like mass suicide, doesn't it?! This isn't how battles are won!
Gideon does what God told him to do. Israel blows trumpets. The jars are broken. The Midianites panic and kill each other. And the Midianites are defeated.
How were the Midianites defeated? By faith. Faith "conquered kingdoms." Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
We see the same thing with Barak. Most of us remember from the Bible that he was not willing to fight the Syrians unless Deborah went with him into battle. Yet, he answered the call of God despite overwhelming odds. Barak led a force of 10,000 men, but Sisera, commander of King Jabin's army, had the advantage, because Sisera had 900 iron chariots. In ancient warfare, chariots were like tanks: swift, intimidating, and deadly. Deborah told Barak to advance because the Lord had gone before him. Barak and his men raced down Mount Tabor. God brought a massive rainstorm. The ground turned to mud, bogging down Sisera's chariots. The stream Kishon overflowed, sweeping many of the Canaanites away. The Bible says Barak and his men pursued. Not one of Israel's enemies was left alive. Sisera, however, managed to escape. He ran to the tent of Jael, a Kenite woman. She took him in, gave him milk to drink, and had him lie down on a mat. When he slept, she took a tent stake and a hammer and drove the stake through Sisera's temples, killing him.
How were the Syrians conquered? By faith. Faith "conquered kingdoms." Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
We see the same thing with Jephthah. A couple of months ago someone asked me how someone like Jephthah could end up in Hebrew's list of heroes. Jephthah's mother was a prostitute. The Bible has nothing good to say about him. Yet, by faith, Jephthah led Israel against the Ammonites. Faith "conquered kingdoms." Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
B Two, faith "administered justice." I cannot help but think of Solomon here. Remember the mother who came to him seeking justice? Two women had both recently given birth to sons, and they lived together in the same home. During the night, one of the infants was smothered and died. The woman whose son had died switched her dead baby with the baby of the other woman as she slept. The other woman, seeking justice, took the matter before the king. Solomon could not tell from their words which woman was telling the truth. Instead, he issued a shocking command: "Bring me a sword ... Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other."
Why would Solomon give such an outrageous command? Did he really intend to cut a baby in half with a sword? The text is clear that Solomon's intention was to discover the truth. He did so by watching the responses of the two women and relying on the maternal instincts of the true mother. He did so believing in an ultimate judge who someday will set all things right.
Solomon "administered justice" by faith. Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
C Three, faith "gained what was promised." One promise, of course, was not fulfilled: that was the promise of the Seed of the Woman, the promise of the Redeemer and Mediator, the promise of Jesus. But many other promises of God were fulfilled by their faith. Think of the Promised Land. The Hebrews did not inherit the land because they were more powerful and better equipped and better trained than the Canaanites. They took God at His Word. By faith they did what God told them to do. They inherited the land by faith.
I already mentioned Gideon. God promised him victory over Midian. By faith, he gained what was promised.
God promised David a throne and a kingdom. By faith, he gained what was promised.
Faith "gained what was promised." Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
D Four, faith "shut the mouths of lions." Samson killed a lion with his bare hands. David killed a lion who attacked his sheep. One of David's mighty men went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. But the best example of all is Daniel.
Daniel was hated because of his faith even as the Hebrew Christians were hated for their faith. Daniel is a living, breathing illustration of the words of Paul to Timothy:
(2 Tim 3:12) In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted ...Don't ever think, my brothers and sisters, that persecution only happens under tyrants. Don't ever think it happens only in Muslim or Hindu lands. Persecution is tied to godliness. Persecution is the experience of those who try to live righteously. Authentic Christian faith leads to persecution. If you try to be a Christian business man, if you try to be a Christian student, if you try to be a Christian neighbor, you will arouse the wrath of our culture. If you dare to Christianly address the social issues of today -- abortion, homosexual marriage, euthanasia, refugees, Muslim extremists -- you will arouse the wrath of culture. If you dare to call people to repent and believe in Jesus as the only means of salvation, you will arouse the wrath of our culture.
Now, you all know the story of Daniel and prayer. His enemies could not find any way to attack him so they used his faith, his godliness. The got a vain and foolish king to decree that all prayer for 30 days had to be directed towards the king. What did Daniel do when the decree was passed? He went home and prayed to God, just as he had always done. When the commands of men are in conflict with the commands of God, Daniel knew God must be obeyed. So by faith, in faith, on the basis of faith Daniel prayed. As a result a heart-broken king had Daniel thrown into a den of hungry lions. The next morning a sleepless king rushed to the lions' den. He called to Daniel in an anguished voice. Wonder of wonders and miracle of miracles, Daniel answered him. Daniel was unhurt.
Faith "shut the mouths of lions." Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
E Five, faith "quenched the fury of the flames." Hebrews directs our attention from Daniel to Daniel's three friends. Another vain and foolish king directed that everyone bow before an idol in honor of his god. When every knee bowed, Daniel's three friends remained standing. The king was so enraged he ordered that his fiery furnace be heated to seven times hotter than usual. The three men were thrown into the furnace. Guess what? The fire did not harm their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Remember how Daniel's three friends explained this miracle?
(Dan 3:17) If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.
Faith "quenched the fury of the flames." Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
F Six, faith "escaped the edge of the sword." Hebrews is speaking of violent death. Moses escaped death at the hands of Pharaoh. David escaped death by the hands of Saul and his soldiers. Elijah escaped death at the hands of Jezebel. The two spies escaped death at the hands of Jericho's king.
There is one example that is better than any of these. Remember the story of Esther? Remember why she was raised up by God? To thwart the wicked plan of Haman. Haman planned to exterminate the Jewish people in much the same way as was tried by Hitler and the Nazis. By faith, acting on the basis of faith, at great personal risk to herself, Esther "escaped the edge of the sword." Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
G Seven. For those with faith "weakness was turned to strength." Who looked weaker and more pathetic than a blind Samson? Because of his sin and lust he was utterly humiliated, treated like an ox, reduced to grinding grain. He was led out to be mocked at a feast to Dagon. By faith he cried out to God to strengthen him just once more. He pushed his hands against the load-bearing pillars of the temple of Dagon and it collapsed. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
By faith "weakness was turned to strength." Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
H Eight, those with faith "became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies." David. David has to be in mind here. Israel's army has been called against the Philistines. Every day Goliath came out against Israel and hurled abuse at Israel and Israel's God. A young David saw this and went against the giant armed only with a sling and five stones. Goliath scoffed when he saw David:
(1 Sam 17:43) "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.Do you remember David's reply?
(1 Sam 17:45) "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.David killed the Philistine with a single stone. He hacked off his head. He did this by faith.
By faith David "became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies." Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
I Nine, by faith "women received back their dead raised to life again." I think of Elijah. I think of Elisha. Elijah brought back to life the son of the widow of Zarephath. Elisha brought back to life the Shunammite's son. By faith. Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
J Ten, by faith "others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection." This took a bit of research on my part. The Hebrew Christians knew what was meant because it was part of their history. You won't find the reference anywhere in the Old Testament. Instead, you need to look at 2 Maccabees. There we are told the account of the aged Eleazar. He was martyred because he would not pollute himself with either pig's flesh or with meat offered to an idol god. The very next chapter records the martyrdom of seven brothers, who for their adherence to their law were put to death with cruel tortures. They were offered deliverance but refused its offer.
They did this by faith. Faith acts. Faith performs. Faith does.
II Faith of Imperfect Saints
A Authentic faith, my brothers and sisters, doesn't just sit there. It isn't dormant. It isn't lethargic. It isn't passive.
So let me ask, are you ready to put faith into action? Do you want a faith that acts, faith that performs, faith that does?
Perhaps you are tempted to say, "I don't have the kind of faith Hebrews talks about. I have too many struggles and trials. I cannot hope to accomplish anything for the Church, the Kingdom, the Gospel."
B Let me remind you that every hero of faith is a sinner, just like you and me. Every hero of faith has feet of clay and is easily toppled. Gideon was slow to take up arms. Barak needed a woman to hold his hand. Jephthah made the dumbest vow possible and ended up sacrificing his own daughter. Samson couldn't control his lusts for and attraction to Philistine women. David committed adultery and murder. Sinners and fallen, every single one of them.
Yet, God commends their faith. And, by faith, they do so much for the Church, Kingdom, and Gospel.
Faith and perfection are not the same thing, dear people of God. Even the greatest faith is in the hands of sinners. If you are a Christian and you have fallen, don't ever think God will never ever use you again. Take heart. Because God delights to use broken, fallen, weak, scarred, sinful, broken people. By faith, His power is made perfect in weakness. So confess your sins. And ask God to use you.
C Let me end with this thought: there is only One Who is a perfect man of faith. I am talking of Jesus. All the others we have looked at in Hebrews 11 are heroes but none of them are gods. We must never pretend they are perfect. So, ultimately, we don't look to them but to Jesus.
(Heb 12:1-2) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (2) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
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