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The World was Not Worthy of Them

Series: Better: A Study of the Christian Life in Hebrews

Sermon by Ligon Duncan on Aug 18, 2013

Hebrews 11:30-40

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If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 11. We’re going to be looking at verses 30 to 40 this morning as we continue our way through this book and as we continue our way through this great chapter of faith. The author of Hebrews has been explaining to us that the Christian life must be lived by faith. And in the passage today, he is going to show us five ways that that is so. And I'd like to go ahead and point those out to you so that as we read through the passage together you can be alerted to them and on the lookout for them.

First, look at verse 30, then 31, then verses 32 to 34, verses 35 to 38, and verses 39 to 40. Those are the five different ways that he teaches us about faith. Let me tell you what to look for. In verse 30, he tells us that faith means believing God when the odds look impossible. Second, in verse 31, he tells us that faith means believing God when you cannot imagine that He loves you. Third, look at verses 32 to 34, he tells us that believing God is the key ingredient to every real spiritual achievement in this life. In verses 35 to 38, you’ll see a fourth thing, that believing God is also the key to enduring the trials and tribulations of this life. And then finally, in verse 39 and 40, he tells you that believing God is not something that you do at the beginning of the Christian life and then you’re done with it. No, believing God is going to be necessary for us all the way up to our final breath. So be on the lookout for those five things as we read from God's Word this morning. And before we read, let's ask for His help and blessing in prayer.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word. We need it more than food, for we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Heavenly Father, we need Your Holy Spirit both to understand and embrace this Word, so teach us by Your Spirit the truth which we will now read here and study. And grant, O God, that we would indeed heed and hear and believe and trust. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it beginning in Hebrews 11 verse 30:

“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets - who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. 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. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated - of whom the world was not worthy - wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God.” This whole chapter is virtually an exposition of that truth. And if that truth is true, and it is, it's also true that without faith it's impossible to live the Christian life. And here, the author of Hebrews is explaining to us why faith is essential to the living of the Christian life and he's doing that by showing us five ways that faith is essential to the living of the Christian life. So I'd like to look at that with you this morning for a few moments.

I. Faith believes God can do the impossible

First, look in verse 30. Here we learn that faith believes that God can do the impossible. You remember the story. The children of Israel had been unbelieving in the wilderness for forty years. A whole generation had been judged for unbelief; but now a believing generation is being brought into the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, and guess what happens? At the very outset, as they come into their land, their faith is tested! One of the great tests is when they get to the great fortified city of Jericho. How are they going to take it? How is God going to deliver His people? How are they going to capture the Canaanites? And the word is given from God to Joshua and Joshua gives instruction to the people. Can you imagine how they would have responded when they came to Joshua and said, “Well Joshua, what's the plan?” “We’re going to walk around the city for seven days and blow trumpets.” “Hmmm…okay! That sounds like a good plan!” That plan made no sense, humanly speaking! Surely there's a battle plan. Surely there's some sneaky strategy that will be deployed to allow the people to gain the upper hand from a military perspective. But no, they’re going to walk around that city for seven days and they’re going to blow trumpets and God is going to bring the walls of that city down. They will learn there that faith believes that God can do the impossible.

And my friends, we have to learn that lesson ourselves today. When Anne and I were married we wanted children from the very beginning but we waited many long years before we were able to have children. And when we went to the University of Mississippi Medical Center to seek treatment for infertility, they were wonderful to us but the fertility doctor looked us in the eye and said, “My friends, if you want to make sure that you have something to show for your money, you would be far better to buy a used pickup truck and park it in your driveway and look at it, because I would give you less than a 2% chance of ever having children.” Well there are two of them sitting up in the gallery this morning.

I’ll never forget in the fall afternoon when Douglas Kelly showed up at our door at our apartment in Woodmoor in Clinton and I said, “Well Dr. Kelly, what a surprise. What brings you here today?” “I'm here to pray for you to have children.” And he pulls out a jar of anointing oil and just like our elders do when we gather to pray with the sick, he came in and anointed us, and one year later Sarah Kennedy was born. Not long ago, our elders prayed for Pete and Nan Whitney who had longed to have children and God opened her womb and gave Pete and Nan a beautiful baby. It doesn't always work that way, you understand, but God, by faith, does the impossible. Some of you today have given up hope that you’ll ever be whole again. You don't think it can happen in this world. Believe, because faith believes that God can do the impossible.

II. Faith means believing God when you cannot imagine that He loves you

Secondly, one of my favorite verses in the entire New Testament is verse 31. Do you see it? “By faith Rahab, the harlot” - Rahab, the prostitute. Now just meditate on this for just a second friends. Rahab is only mentioned twice in the New Testament, here and in James. In both places, she is identified as a prostitute. But in both places she is held in high esteem by the writer of Scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and she is given as an example for those who believe. And listen to what we hear. “By faith Rahab, the harlot, did not perish along with those who were disobedient.” Rahab identified herself with God and with His people rather than with her own unbelieving people and we learn in that that no one is excluded who trusts in God - even a Canaanite prostitute. Faith admits absolutely everyone into the privileges of the people of God. Rahab chose God and His people over everything that she had known, and God blessed her and saved her. And listen to this - made her the grandmother of King David; and even more importantly, the grandmother of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I want you to take this in for just a few moments because it's absolutely astonishing the reach of God's grace. Have you pictured it, mothers? That day when your son tells you that he's bringing home a pretty young girl that he wants you to meet. And you sit down to have a cup of tea and to talk with her and you say, “Well, are you in Chi O? Tri Delt? DG?” And she shakes her head and she says, “No, I was a prostitute in Memphis.” Do you swallow your teacup? Don't you see, the grace of God reaches out to Rahab the prostitute and completely changes her life and brings her into all the privileges of the sons and daughters of the Most High. You may be sitting here this morning and you think that what your life has been and what you have done puts you beyond the reach of the grace of God in the Gospel. Oh, my friend, you have no idea. You have no idea how far, how powerful that grace is, and it is received by faith. By faith, Rahab shows us that absolutely anyone can receive the blessings which are purchased for us in Jesus Christ.

III. Believing God is the key ingredient to every real spiritual achievement in this life

And then there's a third thing, isn't there, in this passage. Look at verses 32 to 34. Here we see that faith is essential to every spiritual accomplishment. All sorts of things are listed in this passage - an inventory of exploits that date from the days of the judges and from the early monarchy. There are attainments, there are deliverances, there are achievements; there are conquered kingdoms, there's the establishment of justice, there's the inheriting of promises; there's the stopping of lion's mouths and the quenching of fire and the sparing from violent death; exercising strength in weakness, being powerful in battle, putting the enemy to run. And in all of the above instances, guess what the author of Hebrews says the key ingredient is? Faith. Not military skill, not even courage, but faith. Trusting dependence on God Most High. And so we learn that faith is essential to every true spiritual accomplishment in the Christian life. How do we live? By faith! How do we serve? By faith!

IV. Believing God is also the key to enduring the trials and tribulations of this life

And then you see verses 35 to 38. Here we now see a catalog of things that the people of God endured. This life, as John Newton reminds us, is filled with “many dangers, toils, and snares.” As the Puritans used to say, “with losses and crosses.” Every Christian life has trials. How do you get by that? How do you endure that? How do you survive that? Faith enables us to endure every trial and tribulation. It is by faith that we endure those trials.

V. Believing God is necessary for us all the way up to our final breath.

And then finally there is this word in verses 39 and 40. We’re never done with faith. Faith is necessary to the very end, all the way to the resurrection. All of these, we learn in verse 39, gained approval through their faith. They received commendation through faith, but they didn't receive what was promised. In other words, what they were ultimately looking for they did not fully experience in this life. They could only have it at the great and final resurrection at the second coming of the Son of God. Their ultimate hopes depended upon that. They would not, in this life, receive the ultimate satisfaction of their desires. And what does that mean? It means that they had to keep on believing until their last breath. We live in this world all the way up to the end by faith. Only at the second coming and the inauguration of eternity will faith turn into sight. Until then, we live by faith.

And that's what the author of Hebrews is teaching us today. How do you live the Christian life? By faith. Faith that believes that God can do the impossible. Faith that can reach anyone. Faith that depends upon God for whatever we're going to achieve. Faith that gets you through your trials. Faith that goes on until the very end. That's how you live the Christian life. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we bow before You today and we thank You for Your Word. We ask that You would apply it to our hearts and lives. We pray, Heavenly Father, that You would grant us, by the Holy Spirit, to believe to the very end, to the saving of our souls and to the glory of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

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