************ Sermon on Hebrews 11:35-38 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on June 25, 2017

"Faith's Power to Endure Persecution"

A 50-something-year-old Muslim man didn't want his airline seat. His seat was next to an elderly white woman reading her Bible. Disgusted, the Muslim man immediately summoned the flight attendant and demanded a new seat.
The outraged man proceeded to tell the young flight attendant that he refused to sit next to an "infidel." So the flight attendant responded that she would try to find another seat.
After searching unsuccessfully for a seat in economy the flight attendant said she would check with the captain and see if there was something in first class.
Almost 10 minutes later, the flight attendant returned and explained that she had found one available seat. The flight attendant said: "It is our company policy to never move a person from economy to first class, but being that it would be some sort of scandal to force a person to sit next to an unpleasant person, the captain agreed to make the switch to first class."
Before the outraged man could reply, the attendant gestured to the elderly Christian woman with the Bible and continued: "Madam, if you would so kindly retrieve your personal items, we would like to move you to the comfort of first class as the captain doesn't want you to sit next to such an unpleasant person."
It didn't take long for passengers in the surrounding seats to applaud, while some even gave a standing ovation.

This story sounds too good to be true. Because, the fact is, in today's world radical Muslims are too often treated with deference while born-again Christians are maligned and disrespected. I told you a couple of weeks ago that Bernie Sanders opposes a Trump nominee because the nominee dared to write that Islam is a "deficient theology" and that Muslims "stand condemned" because they have rejected faith in Jesus Christ. You all know how the Obama White House tried to force Hobby Lobby to pay for birth control for its employees. And, the California Attorney General charged two pro-life activists with violating privacy laws after they exposed what really goes on in Planned Parenthood; it is a money-making machine that performed 328,248 abortions last year; thank God that this past Wednesday a California court dismissed 14 of the 15 charges.

Hebrews 11 is the great chapter on the heroes of faith. We learned last week that faith acts, faith performs, faith does. That was true for everyone of the heroes that we have looked at: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, and so on. I am so thankful that most here this evening follow their example of having a faith that acts, a faith that performs, a faith that does.

I Others
A Now, take note of the first word of our Bible reading: "Others." "Others." These "others" also were Old Testament people of faith but their experience was totally different. God did not see fit to give them the same kind of experience He gave to Moses, Gideon, and David. There are believers, dear people of God, who died without rescue. There are believers who did not shut the mouths of lions. There are believers who did not quench the fury of the flames. There are believers who did not escape the edge of the sword. There are believing women who did not receive back their dead, raised to life again. Not every Old Testament believer experienced triumph and victory in this life.

B I need to belabor this because of the "Health and Wealth Gospel." Because of the "Prosperity Gospel." Because of the "Name It and Claim It Gospel." These are three different ways of saying the same thing. I was visiting one of our cancer patients. This patient is a dedicated Christian who trusts God even in the midst of suffering. She was upset because someone gave her a book which basically says if her faith only was strong enough then she would be healed. How cruel. How unbiblical. How uncompassionate.

C Others. These others have a different kind of faith. These others have the most radical expression of faith. These others have a faith that shines more than any other expression of faith. These others have a faith that endures persecution.

Others. You know who is included? The audience of Hebrews recognizes themselves in the others. They are facing and enduring the persecution of Emperor Nero. Go back to Hebrews 10. Remember what we read there?
(Heb 10:32-34) Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. (33) Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. (34) You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property ...
They may not be building an ark like Noah. They may not slay giants like David. They may not be shutting the mouths of lions like Daniel. But by faith they are willing to suffer and die for Jesus. Theirs is a faith that is superlative, extraordinary, and thoroughly authentic. And, their faith has been that way since day one, since their conversion, since they received the light of the Gospel.

Let's look at how the "others" were persecuted. Let's look at how they suffered for the Lord God Almighty.

II Different Kinds of Persecution
A "Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection."

During the four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments there was a Greek king by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus is famous for his brutal persecution of the Jews. Antiochus forbade godly Jews from observing the Sabbath and the Jewish feast days, the offering of animal sacrifices, and the rite of circumcision. He ordered the destruction of all copies of the Torah. He forced Jews to offer sacrifices to idols. He ordered the Jews to worship Zeus rather than Yahweh. He raided the temple in Jerusalem, stole its treasures, set up an altar to Zeus in its midst, and sacrificed pigs on the altar. When the Jews expressed their outrage, Antiochus responded by slaughtering a great number of the Jews and selling others into slavery.

During this time of intense struggle Jewish believers faced violent death, torture, persecution, and prison. However, they were promised freedom on one condition: renounce their Jewish faith and demonstrate this by eating the flesh of a pig (something forbidden to Jews).

True Jewish believers refused to renounce the one only true God. So they were tortured. Antiochus had them stretched over a wheel. Like a drummer with his sticks, his executioner would pound the prisoners breaking arms and legs and shoulders and hips and chest until they died.

Deliverance was offered but it was refused. Why? They refused to be released "so that they might gain a better resurrection." A better resurrection. Better than what? Better than the resurrection mentioned in the first part of verse 35: "Women received back their dead, raised to life again." Think of the boys raised by Elijah and Elisha. Think of Lazarus. Were any of these resurrections permanent? Are any of these still alive? You know the answer: they all died a second time. Their resurrection was temporary.

Deliverance was offered but it was refused because they were looking forward to the great resurrection of the final day when bodies are raised for all eternity.

The martyrs -- with all of the heroes of faith -- were future oriented. They looked forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. They were longing for a heavenly country. By faith they put up with unbelievable torture because they believed God's promises about the future.

Dear people of God, a preoccupation with the future enables us to make sacrifices in the present. That's the only reason why any Christian believer is willing to be tortured for the Lord Jesus Christ.

B "Some faced jeers and flogging." Jeers. Mocking. Heaping scorn on a person by sarcasm. This makes me think of what the soldiers did to Jesus. They put a purple robe on His back, a crown of thorns on His head, a reed in His hand, and then they bowed before Him and said, "Hail, king of the Jews."

Flogging was not pretty. We are talking about the use of a whip with pieces of bone and lead embedded in the leather strips until the flesh is a bleeding mass.

C "While still others were chained and put in prison." Think of Paul and Silas in Philippi. Remember how they sang songs and the other prisoners listened to them?

Think of Jeremiah. He was beaten, put in stocks, ridiculed, thrown into a cistern to starve to death. Why did this happen? God's Word was like a fire in his heart. He had a burning desire to declare that Word and call people to repentance.

D "They were stoned." Killed by the throwing of rocks. Remember how Paul organized this kind of death for Stephen? More than once the Jews picked up stones to stone Jesus. The people of Jerusalem had a preference for this kind of execution. Remember what Jesus said?
(Lk 13:34) "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you ..."
When a man was called to be a prophet of God in the Jerusalem area he could just about figure on this kind of death. How could they endure? How could they keep on preaching? By faith.

E "They were sawed in two." Jewish tradition tells us this was how Isaiah died. King Manasseh ordered his death. As King Manasseh stood by laughing and rejoicing, two of his false prophets cut Isaiah in half with a wooden saw. You can well imagine it was a slow and gruesome death.

F "They were put to death by the sword." Elijah tells us this is what Queen Jezebel did to the Lord's prophets. When the prophet Uriah preached something that was not appreciated by King Jehoiakim, the king planned to put him to death. But Uriah heard of it and fled to Egypt. The king, however, sent some men after Uriah, captured him, and struck him down with a sword. John the Baptist was killed by the sword when he condemned King Herod for having his brother's wife. How can the Lord's prophets keep preaching in such a situation? By faith.

G Tortured. Jeers. Flogging. Chained. Put in prison. Stoned. Sawed in two. Put to death by the sword. This is what "others" experienced. This is what the Hebrew Christians experienced. Do these others include you and me?

The fact is, dear people of God, the world has always ridiculed and persecuted Christian believers. Remember what Paul said?
(2 Tim 3:12) In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
This is true of the Old Testament prophets, the faithful Jews living during the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, the apostles, the earliest martyrs, the reformers, the Puritans. This is true today in China, the Middle East, and in Western society today. If we live godly lives in Christ we can expect persecution.

Our culture has seen so many advances and changes in terms of technology and attitudes. Yet, for all its talk about toleration and inclusivity and diversity, our culture is shockingly intolerant towards the true Christian faith. Remember what I said about Bernie Sanders at the start of this sermon? Our culture hates us when we say there is no salvation outside of Jesus Christ. It hates us when we say Jesus is the only way to the Father. It hates us when we tell people they need to repent of their sins and believe.

Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. If your goal in life is to escape the ridicule and hatred of the world, you have two choices.

First, you can be like the Amish and separate yourself from the world. I grew up with Amish neighbors. More than once I sprayed their crops. I can't count the number of times my dad drove them to the hospital or the doctor's office or wherever else they needed to go. They were godly and good neighbors but with their horses and buggies and no electricity and no indoor plumbing and no telephones they were also strange. Every time someone left their religious community to live with the "English" (their word for the outside world) they held a funeral service complete with a casket and a burial.

If your goal in life is to escape the ridicule and hatred of the world, you also have a second choice. You can decide to accommodate yourself to unbelievers, to assimilate culture, to be no different than the world. Many churches, I'm afraid, have gone this route. Across the American and European landscape there are churches that have caved in to the culture and no longer preach the distinctives of the Christian faith. There are churches that make the Gospel pleasing to unbelievers. There are churches that never call people to repent and believe. There are churches that allow what God forbids. There are churches that no longer teach Jesus is the only way.

Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Maybe we don't face crosses and lions. But we do face a hostile culture. We face a liberal media and liberal governors and senators and presidents who hate what we stand for. They ridicule us. They say we are unfit for public office. They persecute what we stand for through decrees and court actions. They try to force us to do what God forbids, to tolerate what is intolerable, to believe what is heretical.

How can we endure? How can we continue as true Christian believers? The same way the ancients endured: By faith! By faith, dear brothers and sisters.

III Deprivation
We know all the apostles and many of the prophets were persecuted unto death. But sometimes the call to be a prophet or one of the early Christian believers didn't result in violent death. Don't make the mistake of thinking life was then easy and perfect.
(Heb 11:37-38) They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- (38) the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Do you hear what is being described? A live of deprivation, a life of poverty, a life of self-denial.

Hebrews mentions sheepskins and goatskins. These became the distinctive garments of the prophets. Why? Because they wanted to look strange and different like the Amish? No, because this was all they could afford.

Destitute means they lacked the basic necessities of life like food, clothing, shelter. John the Baptist ate locusts and honey because he could not afford bread and meat. Elijah was so destitute he needed to be fed by ravens and a poor widow.

Persecuted and mistreated. Physical abuse is in mind.

Deserts, mountains, caves, holes. Because they could not afford a home. Because they were hiding. Think of the Lord's prophets hid in caves by Obadiah during the days of Jezebel. Think of David hiding from King Saul.

The world hates true Christian believers. Every other religion hates true Christian believers. It wants to get rid of us. The world considers us to be unworthy of life and freedom and jobs and a place in government and society.

Hebrews says the world has it all wrong. Who is unworthy? Not Christians. "The world was not worthy of them." The world is not worthy of people of faith.

Do you live for Jesus? Do you live a godly life that the world despises? Do you believe what the world disagrees with? Let me tell you: the world is not worthy of you. Remember that the next time you are despised or ridiculed for your faith.

Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Everyone who strives to please God will suffer. You can withdraw from the world. You can accommodate the world. Or you can endure reproach and loss and persecution and deprivation for the sake of Christ and the Gospel.

Now, let me end by telling you Jesus is calling you to suffer what He Himself suffered. He is not calling you to endure something He Himself has not first experienced. He was the Suffering Servant. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. He was oppressed and afflicted. He faced jeers and flogging. His enemies wanted to stone Him. He was pierced with the spear. He had no place to lay His head. And, of course, the world was not worthy of Him.

He took up His cross for you. Being a Christian means you take up your cross for Him.

Authentic faith suffers. Someday. In some way. Because the world hates and despises true Christian faith. Because the world hates our Savior and Lord.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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