Faith: The Gift That Conquers
Sermon # 215
“Faith: The Gift That Conquers”
Helen Rosveare the English Missionary to the Congo in this last century, went through the early part of her life seeking God’s wisdom by asking the question “Is it worth it?” She asked this question about which college to go to, whom to date and even to make the decision to go to the mission field. She was well known for leading programs to see hospitals built and after many years of work in the Congo a civil war broke out in which all she had worked for was destroyed. Soldiers came into her village and beat her and raped her. After the assault villagers came to her aid and as she recovered she was challenged with her life question, “is it worth it?” Humanly speaking the answer was no. It was then that she rephrased her question to be “Is He worthy?” In a world of “felt needs Christianity and the health wealth prosperity garbage that we export around the world, is it possible to persevere in faith? After all, life is difficult, especially for the Christian. For some of us, life got more difficult when we came to Christ. For others, it becomes more each day! So much for the prosperity so-called gospel. For the first century Hebrews Christians that were enduring persecution, the author is writing to in this text to them and to us, that faith is a gift that conquers. A gift you may ask? Ephesians 2:8-10 says:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
This has been a wonderful chapter looking at the hero of this chapter in the lives of so many. That is, The Lord Jesus Christ. As we look at the end of Hebrews 11 this morning it speaks of the gift of conquering faith and being revealed in three ways:
- Faith is Revealed Corporately (29-30)
- Faith is Revealed Individually (31-39)
- Faith is Revealed Historically and Continually (40)
- Faith is Revealed Corporately
Throughout this chapter of faith the author has primarily focused on individuals. But I think it is important to note that starting in verse 29 and continuing through verse 30 it speaks of the faith of the people of God. While this chapter is a summary of faith over the course of history to this point, it should be noted that while many acts of faith are seemingly skipped over, the author is communicating God’s work in mankind through faith. As we have discovered, faith is not a power to work up in ourselves, or an attitude to adopt but is a gift from God to His redeemed people with the assurance of who He is and that He will do what He said He will do. So, as we looked at last week that the people crossed the Red Sea on dryland by faith a miraculous provision by God as His people trusted Him to deliver them. We looked at the pharaoh and his armies not having faith, but presumption. And so the author continues here most notably skipping over the 40 years that Israel spent in the desert. Much could’ve been said concerning the faith of Joshua and Caleb but the author of Hebrews skips straight to the first act of conquering faith in the promised land. Again, by summarizing God’s work through His people the author is accomplishing his intended purpose to encourage his readers that the same God that has been entrusted to conquer for His people is now indwelling them. We know from the beginning of the book of Joshua that Joshua meets an interesting character in Joshua chapter 5. Joshua asks if this individual is for them or against them and in one of the most profound scriptures in the Old Testament the man says, “ no; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” We know from the context of Joshua 5 that this was no ordinary angel, for He received worship. Joshua was asked to take off his sandals and it says Joshua fell on his face to the earth to worship Him. This awesome theophany (or an appearance of God in human form) takes place right before where the author of Hebrews gives us another example of the faith of God’s people lead by Joshua. Verse 30 says: “by faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been in circled for seven days.” The Joshua passage tells us that the Lord assured Joshua victory that Jericho was given into their hand and they were to march around the city all the men of war going around the city once and do this for six days, seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams horns before the ark of the covenant and on the seventh day they would march around the city seven times. We know Joshua believed and his faith was contagious. The people of God are built up, equipped, and encouraged through the faith of their leader. Is this not true for us as well? Faith is contagious. Sometimes those people get on our nerves don’t they but we know they are right! At other times we are ashamed that we didn’t trust the Lord the way we should have. So while Joshua is not even mentioned in this passage we know that through his leadership and his bold faith that God empowered his people to trust him in the conquering of Jericho. Of course the author of Hebrews is drawing upon the familiarity of his readers with this story. The spies went in to scout out the city and found Rahab. They probably went to her side of town to fit in with other traveling merchants and in doing so found that great fear had come upon the city and that God indeed had given it into their hands. We know this from the end of Joshua chapter 2. So, the corporate faith of God‘s people didn’t just show itself contagiously but it also showed itself actively. Kent Hughes said this concerning the faith of God’s people at Jericho: “A life of faith is evidenced by a life of obedience to God’s word.“ In this whole chapter, person after person evidenced their faith through obedience. So, here corporately God’s people believed Him. God said He would take them into the land, that they would conquer and displace its inhabitants. Now, the details of how that would happen no doubt was on the mind of God’s people. But, they trusted God and through faith the walls of Jericho came down and the city was destroyed. So we see that conquering faith reveals itself corporately amongst God’s people but the rest of this chapter returns to the fact that faith also represents itself in the lives of individuals.
II. Faith is Revealed Individually (31-39)
Starting with Rahab and going through to the first century, the author draws a line of God’s faithfulness in and through His people. The intent of the author is not to do exhaustive character studies on each of these individuals, although that would be very beneficial, the author instead links together each individual and their faith filled choices. Look with me at first 31: “by faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” We know from the text of Joshua that Rahab and the people of Jericho had heard of what God’s people had done and how God was showing Himself strong on their behalf. Rahab believed God… Before the spies ever came that day she knew and believed that God was going to destroy her city. By faith she hid the spies, lied three times to the king saying : “I did not know where they were from, they went out the gate at dark, I do not know where they went. Pursue them quickly for you all overtake them.” By saying these things, she effectively took the kings attention off of the spies and successfully hid them and kept them alive.
Here is her astonishing confession of faith from Joshua 2:9-13, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.”
The spies of course honored her request after the city was taken. So the Hebrews passage attributes Rahab’s actions as acts of faith. Is this “lying by faith?” Can lying can be an act of faith? Well, lying of course is not being validated here as God commands His people to not bear false witness, but just as the Saints mentioned prior in this chapter do not have their sin recorded but rather their acts of faith, we get to see that Rahab’s overall actions prove to be grounded in faith. Notice she was not destroyed with those who were disobedient. We might ask in what ways were the people of Jericho disobedient? After all did not these Israelites march into their land? Was it wrong to defend their town? We must remember “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof.” (Ps. 24:1)Rahab’s confession reveals that the people of Jericho had a revelation of who God is and what He intended to do to bring destruction upon their city. Their actions were not actions of humility and meekness, but just as their city was walled up, and supposedly impenetrable, so their hearts were before God. There is so much here to dwell on. Jericho is like many today who have hard hearts towards God even after hearing of who He is and what He has done. Hearts that refuse to yield to His greatness but rather foolishly trust themselves and seek to barricade their hearts from a God who is unstoppable. It can also be noted that Rahab herself being a prostitute shows the condition of mankind before the good news of God shines on that condition. We all like Rahab are guilty of spiritual prostitution. There is hope for the sinner! We are lost in idolatry and in the cords of our own sin and yet the revelation of this great conquering God was revealed to us. By faith we trusted him and He delivered us from our sins. And so, Rahab was delivered not just physically with her family but she was saved eternally. God took the life of an immoral woman that believed Him and He not only spared her, but the narrative of the Old Testament tells us that she married an Israelite name Salmon and Matthew chapter 1 tells us that she bore Boaz therefore becoming the great great grandmother of King David which places her in the very line of Christ! Right here in our text the gospel is displayed and His salvation is made evident in the lives of people who trust him by faith and turn from their sin. Verse 32 says “and what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of…” The author has made his point in this chapter and while not seeking to be exhaustive he desires his readers to see God‘s faithfulness in the lives of the people who trusted Him. They too could trust him, they too could conquer. So to be exhaustive, time would fail me to! So moving on the end of verse 32 speaks of several of the judges starting with Gideon. The book of Judges states that is was a time that everyone did what was “right in his own eyes”. It is through this season of Israel’s history that God brought the Judges who delivered God’s people over and over again, as they went through a cycle of sin, slavery, repentance and deliverance. Gideon believed God as he was instructed to reduce his troops from 32,000 to 10,000 then to 300. In his battle with the Midianites, his people were armed with just trumpets and pitchers that concealed torches and they caused them to flee. What would’ve been a disaster humanly speaking, God made a way . Barak mentioned next, was known for obeying God’s word given through Deborah the prophetess and met the great army of Sisera with 900 chariots of iron and myriads of troops but himself only having 10,000 from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun but this small army was victorious. Barak was seemingly faithless in much but here his overall faith is unveiled. This next judge, Sampson we don’t really take as being a great hero of the faith. After all he gave himself mostly to the lust of his flesh and suffered continual repercussions for his selfish indulgences. But such encouragement comes to us through the character of Sampson for here he is listed as a man of faith. Overall in his life he understood that God had given him his strength to deliver his people from the Philistines. The most notable act of faith in his life was unfortunately his last. He prayed and received strength to avenge himself and God’s people upon the Philistines. And so, God brought judgment through this judge and he conquered by faith. Jephthah is next. Most infamous for his foolish vow to sacrifice whatever greeted him when he arrived at home from a recent victory. His own daughter greeted him revealing the great anguish that our foolish vows cause. But, God used him to deliver Israel in his day. He believed God and God acted in delivering His people from their enemies through this judge as well. David of course is well known for being a man after God’s own heart. Although his guilt of adultery and murder is evident, he pursued God by faith and it was God who gave him strength from his youth in defeating Goliath. He trusted in God as he fled from Saul, and trusted God to make him king over Israel and Judah. His reign brought stability and strength to God’s people. But we know, and David knew from where his strength came. Samuel is next. Samuel is mentioned after David for he was considered the last judge but also the first prophet. And so we see from the time that Samuel’s mother Hannah took him to the tabernacle as she had vowed in service to the Lord, he served faithfully and fearless delivering God’s Word wherever he went. While he too saw his sons walk away from the Lord and he experienced much in his life that exhibited his lack of faith, he conquered by faith. It is at this point the author of Hebrews draws together the prophets and many others as he recounts the faithfulness of God through the faith of His people. It mentions that through faith they conquered kingdoms the enforced justice, obtained promises, and stopped the mouths of lions. Probably speaking of Samson, Beniah (one of David’s mighty men) and of course Daniel. Verse 34, “quenched the power of fire” (makes us think of Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego) they “escaped the edge of the sword” Elijah, Elisha and even King David escaped the edge of the sword. “Were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” Notice that from verse 32 to 35 it’s speaks of a conquering faith that displaced enemies and brought victory to God’s people. But starting in verse 36-39 the topic changes to God’s people having faith even when victory does not come this side of eternity. The focus becomes enduring in faith even when persecution threatens. Notice it starts with women who received back their dead by resurrection. This could refer to Elijah raising the son of the widow of Zarephath, or Elisha raising the Shunammite woman’s son. But, this epistle being written probably sometime after 60 A.D. could even have been referring to the Widow of Nene or the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus. It could even refer to Dorcas in the book of acts who was raised to life by Peter. Further the author may have had in view the many women who were Jesus’ disciples, who believed that He would rise again as our blessed Savior did, just as He said. End of verse 35, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.” Many of the saints from the end of the Old Testament and on into the New Testament suffered these kinds of persecutions. We think of Jeremiah we think of Isaiah and even on into the New Testament like John the Baptist and the apostles. Verse 37, “they were stoned, sawn in two (as tradition says Isaiah was). They were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated–” and then the profound first 38. “Of whom the world was not worthy wandering about in deserts and mountains and in dens and caves of the earth.“ God’s people have always been a marked people. Their lives are not humanly speaking “normal“. It is through these individual lives that God reveals what the gift of conquering faith looks like. Verse 39 states “and all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,“ you see, living by faith does not always mean that we see God’s work finished on this side of eternity, but faith enables us to look beyond our lives and see that God is working a much bigger plan. And so, we have seen that faith is conquering corporately, in a contagious and active manner. It reveals itself through the lives of individuals as we have seen throughout this whole chapter. But this final verse of our passage this morning should encourage each one of us further. And so, our third and final point faith represents itself historically and continually.
III. Faith is Revealed Historically and Continually
Verse 39 told us that though the saints mentioned in this chapter were commended through their faith they did not receive what was promised and then here in verse 40 it says, “since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”
This text reminds us that God‘s historical redemptive plan continues through the ages. The Saints of the old testament looked in faith to Christ. They believed that Christ would fulfill the promises from Genesis 3:15 all the way to the words of Jesus Himself. The promise that He would die in our place and justify us before God therefore reconciling us to a right relationship with Him. The Hebrews were to be encouraged that Christ was worth following even to the death. Christ was better than Moses, better than Angels, better than the old covenant system, better than anything. The Old Testament saints looked forward to Jesus’ coming, these Hebrews were looking back on what Christ had accomplished just as we do. And so, in verse 40 the text changes from speaking of these saints of old and focuses on them. God had provided something better for them, and for us! What a blessing to live in the New Covenant and to have God’s Word in its fullness to have Him dwelling in our hearts through faith! And so the perfection that they sought is the same that we seek. It is in Christ! Christ is the only way to the Father, the only way of being made right with God who we have offended by our sin before Him. The Church past, present and future is in view here. In other words, God is working a massive redemption project through the ages and should be an encouragement for us. It is not just that He continued redeeming till this time that this epistle was written, but that now we can even look back on 2000 years of history of the gospel advancing around the world. Further, it should remind us that God is not done yet. Should He tarry another hundred days or 1000 years or more we can be assured that He is redeeming for himself or people that identify with him that His great redemptive plan. It will go to every tribe, tongue and nation then the end will come. But, let us not forget the authors’ intent. As we saw at the end of chapter 10 that these Saints are not those who shrink back and are destroyed. But those who have faith and preserve their souls. Faith has but one object the Lord Jesus Christ. Are you looking to Him? You cannot persevere without Him. “Just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk Him. Rooted and built up in him and established in the faith just as you were taught, abounding in Thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-8)We have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving don’t we.
In closing, we have been encouraged by seeing how the gift of faith is one that conquers, revealing itself corporately in the lives of God’s people. It conquers and reveals itself individually, as we have seen in the many lives represented here. But, it also has revealed itself in the 2000 years since this epistle has been written even to the last century through many lives of Christian missionaries. Are we asking like Helen Rosveare “is it worth it?” That will not sustain us in tribulation, but rather we must ask as she learned, “Is He worthy?” We can be assured that conquering faith will be revealed even in our generation. My prayer is that God would do that in and through us. That Christ would be made much of, that we would humble ourselves at His feet asking for Him to use our lives as conduits of His grace and mercy till He returns. How foolish it would be for us to think that we could go very much longer without experiencing the persecution that every age of Christianity has experienced. As Tertullian said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” May God give us strength to do exactly that for our good and His glory. Let me end with a poem entitled
“Faith is a Gift”:
“Faith is a gift given by God,
To all who believe, guided by His rod.
He asks them to follow,
But at first, His words ring hollow.
Faith is a verb and not a noun,
A race in which all strive for a crown.
God promises that one can win,
But he must lay down his life and turn from his sin.
Faith brings the soul life,
However, he who rejects receives only strife.
God calls only a select few, young and old,
But He gives His strength and power untold.
Faith in Christ alone brings hope,
Not good works or allegiance to the Pope.
Because of His death, no man is under the Law,
But under grace, which leaves all in awe.
Faith means that one has the ability to accept,
That he or she is one of God’s elect.
Still, in the end, all will bow the knee,
But only the justified will have life eternally.”
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