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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Christ: The Focus of Saving Faith
Text:Hebrews 11:32-12:3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Selections from the Trinity Psalter Hymnal:

524 – Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
34C – Through All the Changing Scenes of Life
23B – The Lord’s My Shepherd
526 – He Leadeth Me: O Blessed Thought!

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
“Christ: The Focus of Saving Faith”
Hebrews 11:32-12:3
As the 11th chapter of Hebrews comes to a close, the author of Hebrews points out that there are many people who have experienced great temporal blessings of faith. In verse 32 we read about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. That list of people, whom the author says he doesn't have time to write in depth about, is not an exhaustive list. Instead it is given to us so that we recall that in every era of time there are people of faith who have been greatly blessed by the power of faith in Christ, given to them by God’s sovereign grace.
As an example, Gideon is well known for the fleece that he used to test the Lord's will (Judges 6:36-40). That was not an act of faith; instead, it revealed the weakness of his faith. But it was an act of faith that he took on the entire Midianite army with just 300 men as they obeyed the command of the Lord. As such he is among those “who through faith conquered kingdoms.”
The same can be said about Barak, even though he was afraid to go to war against Sisera, the leader of the nation that was oppressing Israel. In fact, he would not have gone to war if it were not for a woman of great faith, Deborah, who accompanied him, reminding him, “This is the day that the Lord has given Sisera into your hand” (Judges 4:14).
Or consider Samson who is also listed among those “who through faith conquered kingdoms.” In his prime he conquered kingdoms who were oppressing God's people by his power. But by faith he did far more damage to the Philistines when he died. You perhaps remember that the Philistines captured Samson, plucked out his eyes and put him to work grinding grain in prison.
But when the Philistines gathered in the temple of their god, Dagon, they brought Samson to the temple to entertain the people. But “Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived” (Judges 16:29-30).
­Jephthah was another leader “who through faith conquered kingdoms.” By faith in God's power, he was used to overthrow the Amorites and the Ammonites.
David is yet another ruler, who through faith conquered kingdoms.” His exploits, and also his missteps and sins, are chronicled in a number of Old Testament books. And, as a man after God's own heart – as a shadow of the greater David, Jesus Christ – he is also referred to numerous times in the New Testament.
Samuel was the wise judge who ruled in Israel. He is among those who “administered justice, and gained what was promised,” though he did not gain the fullness of what was promised. Instead he faced the repercussion of sin, especially in his lack of discipline for his children who brought grief to Israel and to Samuel. David is also mentioned as one who administered justice, but is also noted for many family problems with his children.
When the writer speaks about “those who shut the mouths of lions, (and) quenched the fury of the flames” you children might immediately think about Daniel. Through faith Daniel trusted God to deliver him from the mouths of lions when he was thrown into the lion's den. (In addition, Scripture records that both David and Samson were also able to shut the mouths of lions).
God also blessed the faith of Daniel's three friends. When they were thrown into the fiery furnace, the Lord “quenched the fury of the flames.” And he fulfilled his promise to be with his people always, regardless of whatever fiery trial they face. You remember how when the king looked into the furnace, he saw not three people but four. “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods,” he said.
Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them” (Dan. 3:25-27).
The fourth man in the furnace was a preincarnate appearance of the eternal Christ. His presence with Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego reminds us that he is with his people in whatever fiery trials we encounter. It is just as Jesus promised when he said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Escaping the Edge of the Sword
The passage in Hebrews 11 also speaks about those who escaped the edge of the sword” referring to those who were powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. But they did so, not in their strength but in the strength given them by the Lord.  
Did you notice the phrase “whose weakness was turned to strength and who became powerful in battle…”? The people who he is describing were victorious in life not because they rested in their strength, but instead they rested in the strength of Almighty God. Consider David when he went out to fight Goliath. Or Gideon when he was commanded to take just 300 men into battle against the Midianites.  Or consider Sampson who did more damage to the Philistines in his weakened condition after he was captured then he did when he was a free man.
Those events are reminiscent of what Paul would write about in 2 Corinthians 12 where he describes how the Lord’s power is made perfect in our weakness. He wrote: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
The same is true for us. In all the troubles of life we are faced with our frailty, weakness and sin. We are faced with doubts and uncertainties. But when we acknowledge our weakness and inabilities, then we find God’s strength by turning to him in his Word and in prayer. We find strength in fellowship with his people and renewed strength through the sacraments he has instituted for the strengthening of our faith.
Verse 35 talks about women receiving back their dead, raised to life again. Both Elijah and Elisha, through faith in God, raised to life young children who had died. Elijah raised to life the son of the widow of Zarephath. And later Elisha's prayer of faith would bring life again to the son of the Shunammite woman who had befriended Elisha.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list by any means. But what the author of Hebrews does by listing these various people, and the blessings that their faith brought them, is to show us that the definition of faith in verse 1 is a reality for everyone who focuses on the Lord with saving faith. This chapter begins by stating, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah and all the others mentioned would all admit that there were things in their lives that they could not see. There were things in their lives that brought many question marks: How would they conquer kingdoms? How would they administer justice? How would they gain what was promised? How would they shut the mouths of lions, or quench the fury of the flames, or escape the edge of the sword?
As they initially looked at the obstacles before them, they realized their weakness. But they were certain of what they did not see with the physical eye because they looked beyond with the eye of faith to see the eternal Christ. They followed in the footsteps of Abraham about whom Jesus spoke when he said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
So does that mean that if we just look to the Lord God Almighty with the eye of faith, we too will have these great temporal blessings: conquer kingdoms, administer justice, quench the fury of the flames, and all the other blessings mentioned?  According to the prosperity preachers the answer is an unequivocal “Yes!”
A man suffered with cancer. His church prayed for him. The cancer seemed to go into remission for a short time, but then it flared up showing the man's terminal condition. His days on earth would be few. When his pastor came to visit him, what words of comfort would he bring? He had no words of comfort. Instead he told the man, “If you had more faith you would be healed. It is because of your lack of faith that the cancer has come back.”
That is the message of the “name it and claim it” prosperity preachers – that if you have faith you can “name it and claim it” and it will be yours: health, prosperity, job promotions, happiness and all sorts of earthly goods. And if you don’t have those temporal blessings, it is because of your lack of faith.
Cut by the Sword
But that is not the message of the Bible, nor is the message of this passage. Because in verse 35, after telling us that women received back their dead, raised to life, the author of Hebrews goes on to write: “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”
That is quite a contrast, isn't it? It exposes the cruel error of a prosperity preacher who would tell those who are suffering that they suffer because of a lack of faith. But the truth of Scripture – and the school of personal experience – teaches that faith in God does not give us an exemption from sorrow. Instead often, precisely because of our faith in God, we face a harder life here on earth than those with no faith.
How many Christians even today are tortured because of their faith? How many today face jeers and ridicule for their faith?  Even in the United States where coins declare “IN GOD WE TRUST” Christians are increasingly ridiculed and hated. How many Christians are flogged? How many Christians are bound in chains and in prisons around the world? How many are martyred? The number is beyond our calculation; and the persecution of believers has reigned ever since righteous Abel was martyred by ungodly Cain.
Jeremiah is rightly considered “the weeping prophet.” He faced intense ridicule by his countrymen. The king burned his scroll page by page in the fire. Jeremiah wrote, “I have become a laughing-stock all day, everyone mocks me” (Jer. 20:7). He was thrown into prison, put in stocks, put into a cistern where he would have died had not Ebed-Melech, an Ethiopian from Cush, rescued him.
And how did Jeremiah die? The Bible doesn't tell us, but historians believe that his death came as his own countrymen stoned him to death. Jeremiah had predicted that Judah would fall. At one point many fled to Egypt, and they took Jeremiah by force with them. It was there that historians describe how he was stoned to death. The same was true for Zechariah. 2 Chronicles 24:21 describes how he was stoned to death because he spoke the truth of God’s judgment against the people of Judah.
And what about being sawed in two? Most historians believe that is a direct reference to the way that Isaiah faced his death. Origin, Justin and Tertullian, all trustworthy scholars in the early church, taught that Isaiah was sawn in two with a sharp wooden saw. In a Jewish work entitled The Martyrdom (or Ascension) of Isaiah it is reported that as he was being martyred “Isaiah neither cried aloud nor wept, but his lips spoke with the Holy Spirit and so he was sawed in two.”
But even though Jeremiah, Isaiah and many of the other prophets of God in the Old Testament faced horrific martyrdoms, it was nothing compared to the ridicule and mockery aimed at the One whom they wrote about – the Lord Jesus Christ. He was spit upon, mocked cruelly, scourged with a whip, thoroughly humiliated, and then crucified for your sins and for mine. And the author of Hebrews reminds us to “consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:3).
Fulfillment in the Life to Come
As this passage shows us the contrasts of faith – that faith can lead to great temporal blessing and faith in the Lord God Almighty can lead to horrific suffering – it also reminds us that the fulfillment of God’s gift of faith is seen not in this life, but in the life to come.
Verses 39 to 40 tell us: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
The Old Testament believers did not receive the fullness of the promises of God during their life on earth, and neither do we. But together, Old Testament believers and New Testament Christians, will receive the fulfillment of the gift of faith in the life to come. Although as believers we are richly blessed by God – in our sufferings and persecution as well as in our blessings – we don't receive the reward of faith in its fullness in this life.
Perhaps you have heard of the missionary who years ago was coming home from the mission field on an ocean liner. As they approached the port in New York City, he saw a great crowd of people waiting to greet the other passengers on the ship. All the passengers had been gone from the states for a long time. The trip across the ocean was lengthy, but now they were in port and family and friends were gathered there to meet those on the ship.
But the missionary had no one to meet him. Feeling somewhat dejected and sorry for himself, he prayed, “Lord, everyone else has someone to meet them, but I come home from the mission field and there's no one here to meet me.”  But the Lord made it clear to that missionary, “You are not home yet.”
This earth is not our real home, and the reward of God’s gift of saving faith doesn't find its fulfillment here on earth, even when the Lord allows us to conquer kingdoms, administer justice, and gain what has been promised temporally. Our real reward will be realized in heaven when the church of the Old Testament era and the church of the New Testament era is presented as a bride, spotless and without blame before the Lord.
This passage reminds us that no matter what our faith leads us to – whether great temporal blessings or severe persecution – we are to remain ever faithful to our Lord by focusing on Jesus Christ.
In the opening verses of Hebrews 12 we are reminded that the plan of salvation was written by Christ. He is the author and the founder of our faith. He is also the one who perfects our faith. In this life – because of our doubts, fragility and sin – our faith is still imperfect and weak. But in the life to come, all doubts and uncertainties will be completely removed from us as we see the Lord face to face, and live and reign with him forever!
And as we wait for that great and glorious day, we are to consider him who endured such great opposition from sinful men. We are to focus in faith on Christ so that we do not grow weary and lose heart. May Christ always be the focus of your faith and mine! May he, through the inspired and eternal Word of God, be the focus of our thoughts, actions and prayers, now and throughout all eternity! Amen.
Bulletin Outline:
Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:3
                      “Christ: The Focus of Saving Faith”
                               Hebrews 11:32-12:3
I.  In this passage the author of Hebrews points out:
     1) The great temporal blessings of faith for many (32-35a)
     2) The horrific persecution of many other believers (35b-38)
     3) The fulfillment of God’s gift of faith is seen, not in this life, but in
          the life to come (39-40)
II. Application: No matter where our faith leads in this life, whether to
     great temporal blessings or severe persecution, we are to remain ever
     faithful to our Lord by focusing on Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:1-3)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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