************ Sermon on Hebrews 11:39 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 2, 2017
"A Faith that Anticipates"
I've been stirred by the great examples of faith Hebrews has laid before us: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses' parents, Moses, Joshua and Caleb, the Israelites who marched around Jericho, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. My heart quivers as I think about "others" who were tortured and persecuted because of their faith. All of these lived and died by faith in God and His promises.
Now, here is something that might surprise you or even shock you. Our faith should be greater. Our faith should be greater than the faith of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, and so on. Our faith should be greater because, as verse 40 puts it, "God had planned something better for us." Our faith should be greater because we live on this side of the cross and the grave of Jesus Christ. Our faith should be greater because Abel and Enoch and David only had the promise while we have the fulfilment.
Dear friends, I don't want you to be like Noah and Abraham and Moses. I want you to be better than them. I want your faith to be stronger. I want your perseverance to be greater. I want your anticipation of the future life to be more heartfelt. Why? Because you live after the cross and grave of Christ. Because God has planned something better for you.
To understand this we need to look at the two statements, the two clauses of verse 39. The first is positive and the second is negative.
I Commended for Their Faith
A Observe with me that Hebrews 11 ends the same way it starts. Listen to how Hebrews 11 starts:
(Heb 11:1-2) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (2) This is what the ancients were commended for.Now listen to how the chapter ends: "These were all commended for their faith." Hebrews 11 begins and ends with the idea of commendation. The idea of commendation frames the chapter.
B Who is being commended? "These" says verse 39; these saints; these heroes of faith. The "ancients" says verse 2. Don't read anything special into the word "ancients." It simply means people who lived long ago. It simply points us to those who lived in Old Testament times.
Don't forget, we are talking about imperfect people. Everyone of the heroes of faith was flawed and fallen and sinful. And they knew it. They lived and died as sinners. And yet they were commended for their faith.
C Who is doing the commendation? The ancients, the heroes of faith, are being commended. So, who is commending them? Are they commending themselves? Are they saying, "Look at us. Look at our great faith. Look at how amazing we are. Look at the glorious things we have done." If the ancients were commending themselves they were the worst kind of narcissist.
Who is doing the commendation? What we have in our text this evening is a divine passive. That is, it is not stated but it is understood in the Greek that God is making the assessment of their faith. It is God Who is commending them. It was God Who commended the faith of Abel. It was God Who commended the faith of Enoch and Noah. It was God Who kept commending the faith of Abraham and Moses. It was God Who commended the faith of the "others" in verse 35 -- those unnamed martyrs who were tortured flogged, chained, and put in prison. So, whether they were named or unnamed, famous or infamous or unknown, God commended their faith.
D What does it mean to "commend"? The word we translate as "commend" means to bear record, give a good report, testify, give testimony, bear witness. In the Greek the word is "martureo." You might recognize the word "martyr" here. Who is a martyr? First of all, a martyr is someone who witnesses to Jesus. A martyr bears witness even to the point of death.
The faithful saints were God's martyrs. In response, God has become their martyr. He testifies to them, bears witness to them, commends them.
God commends the faith of His servants. God bears witness to the faith of His servants. This means, dear friends, God has taken note of your faith. He remembers your faith. He speaks well of your faith. He testifies to your faith. And, and, He takes great delight in your faith. This should encourage you to persevere, to keep on believing, to keep on working, to keep on serving.
Isn't this a beautiful thing? Isn't this amazing? God does not forget your faith, your work, and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people (cf Heb 6:10). God sees. God takes note. And, left unsaid is the idea that He rewards.
Right now our grand-daughter is being potty-trained. It is not enough to commend her. It is not enough to say, "Well done, big girl." We also need to hold gummy bears before her.
God commends and rewards. This should encourage the Hebrew Christians as they are about to undergo the most vicious of persecutions. Hebrews is saying to them:
God knows your faith. God knows the sacrifices you have made and are about to make. God knows your perseverance. God commends you and someday He will reward you.
God commends the faith of His servants. There are a lot of people who only think of God as a God of judgment, as a God Who picks out our faults and shortcomings, as a God Who notices where we fall and fail. But now we are told that God praises those of faith.
In this church we always want to speak well of God. We will never say "God is unjust." We will never say, "God should be ashamed of Himself." We all know we have been placed on this earth for His glory and honor and praise. But now we see that our gracious God also speaks well of us. God commends the faith of His servants.
God commends the faith of His servants. Does God commend you? Will God commend you? Someday will you hear Jesus saying to you, "Well done my good and faithful servant"?
II Promises Not the Reality
A This brings us to the second half of our text about those Old Testament saints who were commended for their faith: "yet none of them received what had been promised."
God made many promises to the people of the Old Testament. According to verse 33, they "gained what was promised." God made promises and God kept promises. God promised to save Noah and his family and God kept that promise. God promised to give Abraham a son and God kept that promise. God promised to deliver Israel out of Egypt and God kept that promise. God promised to give His people the land of Canaan and God kept that promise. Promises made and promises kept.
B Now, in contrast to this, our text says "none of them received what had been promised." A literal and better translation: "none of them received the promise." The promise. Realize here that Hebrews is speaking of the central promise, the most important promise, the preeminent promise. The promise has taken different forms throughout the millennia. God promised the Seed of the woman Who would crush Satan's head. God promised that through Abraham all peoples on earth would be blessed. God promised that the throne and kingdom of David would be established forever. God promised the virgin will give birth to a son, Immanuel, and He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. God promised the Suffering Servant Who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. God promised but none of them -- none of the Old Testament saints -- received this promise. None of them saw the fulfilment of the promise of the Messiah and the salvation He brings.
The Old Testament faithful died in faith. The Old Testament faithful entered into the glories of heaven. When they entered into heaven they were freed from suffering, pain, sin, death, sorrow. But they entered heaven with the promise unfulfilled. They entered without celebrating what we celebrate: the coming of Jesus Christ. They never saw His conception by the Spirit nor His virgin birth. They never saw Him in the flesh. They never saw His sinless life. They never saw His miracles. They never heard His teachings. They did not witness His death upon the cross. They did not witness His resurrection. They did not witness His ascension into heaven. They did not receive the blessing of His poured-out Spirit.
C "None of them received what had been promised." "None of them received the promise." Now, don't forget what Hebrews said earlier: that the sacrifices of the Old Testament priests can never take away sins. That it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (cf Heb 10:11,4). So how were they saved? How did they enter heaven? By a faith that anticipated the promise. By a faith that looked forward to the promise someday being fulfilled. They, like us, are saved by the Messiah. They, like us, are saved by the blood of the Lamb of God. They, like us, are washed in His blood. But the sacrifice that accomplished all this was still future.
D "None of them received what had been promised." "None of them received the promise." Yet, they believed. Yet, they were people of faith. This speaks well of their faith, doesn't it. No wonder God commended them. Remember what was written about them back in verse 13?
(Heb 11:13) All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.So Noah spent 120 years preaching without leading a single soul to repentance. So Abraham left home and country and city and people and gods and went to a place God would show Him. So Moses left the treasures and pleasures of Egypt and chose to be mistreated along with the people of God. So others were tortured and refused to be released, faced jeers and flogging, were chained and put in prison, were stoned, were sawed in two, were put to death by the sword, and went about in sheepskins and goatskins. What they, by faith, put up with was simply amazing especially when you consider none of them received the promise. I repeat, their faith speaks well of them. So God speaks well of them. So God commended them. So God bears witness to them.
E Let me hold before you something I already mentioned from verse 40: "God had planned something better for us."
What does that better plan involve? The Old Testament saints had the promise. We have the fulfilment. We who live in the fullness of time have the fulfilment of God's promises. Therefore, we possess something infinitely greater than any of the Old Testament faithful ever had. Unlike them, we don't have to satisfy ourselves with shadows and copies. Unlike them, we don't have to satisfy ourselves with ceremonies and washings and tabernacles and burnt offerings. We have gone beyond the promise to the fulfilment.
You know what I am talking about: the Messiah has come. Sin has been atoned for. Salvation has been purchased. The Holy Spirit has been poured out.
Therefore, THEREFORE, our faith should be greater. Our faith should be greater than the faith of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Rahab. Our faith should be greater because we live on this side of the cross and the grave of Jesus Christ. Our faith should be greater because Abel and Enoch and David only had the promise while we have the fulfilment. They had the promises, they had the shadows, we have the reality, we have the substance. So our faith should be greater.
Dear people of God, I hope you realize we are living in a time of great privilege, a time of greater privilege. I hope you realize we are part of God's better plan. Jesus said,
(Lk 10:24) For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.We are privileged, I tell you. We see and hear what they were not privileged to see and hear. I hope you realize we have so much more than the Old Testament saints.
Does this fill you with awe and gratitude? Do you resolve to have a faith stronger and greater and more steadfast than their faith?
Living after the cross and the grave, we know God has kept the promise. The Savior has come. Salvation has been accomplished. May you, by grace, believe and receive God's commendation.
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