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The World Was Not Worthy of Them - (1998)

Series: Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jan 27, 1999

Hebrews 11:30-40

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If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me Hebrews 11. We come to the end of the chapter. We will begin in verse 30.  Hear God’s word. 

Hebrews 11:30-40       

“Father, these words are so majestic that we could hardly do justice to them. But You mean them, O Lord, for our souls to strengthen us, to strengthen us in faith even as we study Your word tonight. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.” 

As we come to the end of the great chapter on faith here in Hebrews, we see again examples of saints of old deployed to encourage us in our faith and we see once again four or five more aspects of faith as to how it functions in the Christian life highlighted for us.  

I. Faith believes that God can do the impossible.

I would like to look at these with you and we will begin in verse 30. Verse 30 is a description of the corporate faith of the people of God at Jericho. You remember the people being called to march for seven days around Jericho and finally with the sound of the trumpet and the shout of the people of God, the walls fell down. In this event we have a very striking activity of God. You remember the children of Israel had exercised not much faith during the period of their wandering in the wilderness. In fact, the earlier generation had so vexed Him by their unbelief that He decreed that they would wander in the wilderness for forty years.

So it is striking that when God brings a believing generation into the land of Canaan, He immediately begins to give them a succession of tests of their faith. One generation had forfeited the promised land because they had no faith. There was unbelief that pervaded their hearts. Now the generation that will inherit the promised land is tested in its faith the minute it enters into that land, and corporately so. All the people of God together have to believe that somehow some mysterious way God is going to bring down this powerful city of Jericho and He is going to do it without them lifting their arms in warfare, except in spiritual warfare.

So this public and corporate expression of faith and the power of God was important for the building up of the faith of those who were going into the land of Canaan. We can see how God would have used that experience to strengthen their trust in Him. No doubt many were solidified in the faith as they saw God answer in a miraculous way in vanquishing their enemies.

So we learn in this passage yet another aspect of faith. On thing that faith does is that faith believes that God can do the impossible. You remember Paul’s discussion of faith in Romans 4. How does he describe Abraham’s faith there? He says that Abraham believed despite all evidence to the contrary that God was going to fulfill His promise. God was going to give him a son. That is one aspect of faith ­­— believing that God can do the impossible.

Even though the children of Israel are called upon to believe in only a miraculous intervention, nothing they were doing would have humanly speaking answered the situation before them in trying to take the city of Jericho. Even in calling them to believe in God’s miraculous, God was strengthening their faith.

Of course, by telling this story again the author of Hebrews is reminding this group of Hebrew Christians of the importance of them believing in things that cannot be seen. Believing in promises that have not yet been fulfilled. He is saying to think of our forefathers who marched around that city believing that God would bring down the walls, believing that God would conquer that people, even they were not going to organize for military conquest. Now you follow their example, he is saying.  

II. Faith aligns us with God and His people.

Then we look at verse 31 and we are reminded here (and you can almost hear a rebuke) the author is speaking to a Hebrew Christian congregation. Who does he hold up as a great example of faith? Not only a non-Hebrew, but an Ammorite, an occupant of the land of Canaan. No only an Ammorite, but a female Ammorite. Not only a female Ammorite, but a harlot, a woman of ill repute. She is now held up as an example of faithfulness. And there we learn that no only is excluded who trusts in God.

Calvin says that the very reason that the author of Hebrews mentions her former profession was to magnify the grace of God. To remind us of what she once was, transformed by the grace of God, as she believed on Him.

But this story also reminds us of something else. Rahab had heard of the wonders of God on behalf of Israel. As they had come out of Egypt, as they had come across the Jordan on dry land, they had begun the conquest of the land. And we know that there were many in the land of Canaan who had heard of the exploits. If we skip over to chapters 9 and 10 of Joshua, we would be reminded about the stories of the Gibbionites and they had heard of what Moses had done in brining the children of Israel out of Egypt and they had heard of what Joshua had done. That is why they wanted to make a covenant with the Lord. Well, this woman, too, has heard about what God has done on behalf of Israel and so she puts her faith in the God of Israel. She turns her back on her people, on her culture, on her nation, and she puts her trust in the God of Israel.

That reminds us of another aspect of faith. Faith aligns itself with God and with His people. Faith, because of our trust in the Lord, causes us to shift our alliances. No longer are we alive with the world and with our former way of living. But we are alive with God and with His people, and with a new way of life.

Rahab heard of the wonders of God and so she sheltered those spies. She welcomed those spies and she sought a way of relief from the judgment that was going to come against her people.

So we see another aspect of faith here. A woman who is a most unlikely candidate for grace in the world given her background, given her religious pedigree, given her national pedigree — the most unlikely candidate for grace in the world — believed in the Lord Jesus Christ because she has heard of the report of what the Lord has done in Israel. What a rebuke this is to the Hebrew Christians who are wavering in their allegiance to Christ. The author of Hebrews says, “Let’s think about this woman. Let’s think about her background and let’s think about how she believed. Now you believe like her.” 

III. Faith is essential to every true spiritual attainment.

Then in verses 32 and 33, we have reminders of how God’s people exercised faith from the times of the judges through the times of the early monarchy. Again we see here that faith is essential to every true spiritual attainment. The people mentioned in verse 32 date from the time of the Judges and go through the early kings of Israel, and their faith enabled them to do outstanding accomplishments. In this inventory of exploits that are given in verse 33 and 34, you will see nine different kinds of faith achievement. They are grouped in three categories.

Look at verse 33 and you will see three specific attainments mentioned there. “By faith they conquered kingdoms, established justice, inherited promises.” You can see in each of those descriptions things that both judges and David did. We can think of the judges who rebuffed kingdoms and we can think of David conquering kingdoms and we can think of David establishing justice, establishing equity in the land. And we can think of David inheriting those promises in II Samuel 7.

And so he says by faith all those things were done. What is the point?  It is not David’s might. It is not David’s brilliance. It is not David’s personal goodness. It is not David’s strategy. It is not David’s chariots. It is God who enabled those exploits.

So it was by faith that those who did those exploits were enabled to do them. What a radically different attitude this from the world. The world thinks that everybody ought to have faith in himself. You see, that is not faith. Saving faith is faith in God, not faith in God. Faith in God says there is no way I am going to trust in myself because that is a futile action. I am going to trust in God because I can’t save myself and I am not worthy of saving faith. Only God. So we turn our eyes away from ourselves and we look to God.

The point of the author here is these attainments were not done by human strategy, but because they were dependent upon God; and because they trusted in God, God accomplished these things.

Then if you will look again at the next three things that are said. These incredible endurances and deliverances that occurred. “They stopped the mouths of lions, they quenched fire’s power, they were spared violent death.” Again we can think of Daniel in the lions’ den and we can think of Hananiah and Mishael and Azariah in the fiery furnace being unscorched by the fire, even though it was stoked to many times its normal heat. These were spared violent death. Why? Because they trusted in God. That’s the point. 

Then again, if you will look at verse 34. Now positive achievements are mentioned here. “They exercised strength in weakness, they were powerful in battle, they put the enemy to flight.”

Perhaps the name of Samson comes to mind. He spent much of his final years of service as a judge in weakness, but was given strength out of weakness in the last mighty act of his life in bringing judgment against the oppressors of his people.

Of course we can hear Paul’s words echoing in the background here too, when he speaks of “in weakness, being made strong.” And we think again of those who are powerful in battle on behalf of the Lord’s people and put the enemies to the run. And it is stressed again that it is not the military prowess of these people that enables these great exploits. It is God who accomplished this and it is faith that was the instrument which God used in these cases. In all of the above instances, the key ingredient was faith. Everyone who did these things was dependent on God.

Again, the author of Hebrews was saying to this congregation of Hebrew Christians, “Look at the kind of dependence and trust on God that they had. Despite the fact that they had no idea what the outcome of these things are. Remember Hananiah and Mishael and Azariah. We know that the Lord will spare us because we do not bow down to the golden idols. But even if He doesn’t, we are not going to worship your ggod.”

They had no idea what God was going to do, but they were ready to die if necessary. The author of Hebrews says these people trusted, though they could not see what God’s ultimate providence was going to be in this circumstance. David believed. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah believed. Daniel believed. They trusted in God. 

IV. Faith enables us to endure every trial and tribulation.

Then in verses 35-38, he then reminds us of things that happened from the times of the prophets all the way into the New Covenant period, all the way to the days of the New Testament. “Women received back their dead by resurrection.” And we can think of examples both in the Old and the New Testaments. Others were tortured and eventually killed. Others were tortured and lived and yet did not recant their faith in God. And he goes through a catalogue of various kinds of endurances that they went through. “They were in chains, they were imprisoned, they were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword.” But all of these they did in endurance, in faith.

Again he is reminding us it is faith that enables you to endure every trial. It is the instrument which God gives us by His grace to enable us to endure tribulation.

So again, he is speaking to a congregation which may well be facing persecution. And he says to them, “Don’t turn your back on Christ in the time of persecution. Endure like our forefathers in the faith did.”  

V. Faith will be necessary until the Perfect comes.

Then finally, in verses 39 and 40, he summarizes everything for us. He gives us a recap of the whole chapter and reminds us of the connection between faith and the communion of the saints and the plan of God. He reminds us that no part of the Christian community can be complete without the rest. He says, “Look, the reason why all these had to wait for the promises to be fulfilled is God has ordained it so that we and they must be perfected together. We and they will receive the promises together.” And, therefore, there is a link between our continued faith and the communion of the saints and the link is this, until the Lord Jesus comes and reveals His perfection and the kingdom comes in its fullness, all of us who are here in the meantime must live by faith, because God is not going to call us to that great city where we live by sight until we are all called at the same time. That means for those of us who are here in the meantime, we must continue to live by faith just like our forefathers did. That is the plan of God.

Calvin reminds us of exactly what the author of Hebrews is doing here. He has given us this hall of fame of those who believed, who trusted in God, who are waiting for His promises. And yet they had not seen the fullness of the Messiah. They had not seen the glory of His teaching. They had not seen His finished work on our behalf. They had not seen His ascension. They had not seen the Pentecost. They had not received the teaching of the Apostles. And yet, they trusted. So he is saying, “Look you Hebrew Christians, who heard the gospel from those who had heard it from the apostles themselves. You have seen how the story ends. You have seen the coming of the Messiah. These people before had not seen it and yet they trusted. So why don’t you trust?”

Here is what Calvin says. “A tiny spark led them to Heaven. But now that the Son of Righteousness shines on us, what excuse shall we offer if we still hold to this earth?” If God led them to glory with types and shadows and signs and prefigurements of the gospel, will we not believe in the midst of our own walk when we have seen the Savior and we have heard His word from the mouths of the apostles? 

Let’s pray. 

“Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the truth of Your word and we ask that You would help us to believe. Give us the grace of faith and also, O God, cause us to persevere, to endure in faithfulness. For Christ’ sake, we ask it. Amen.”

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