|This will be a short message on faith and courage in the face of suffering.|
Martin Luther said: “Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible. Then, it accepts the impossible, does without the indispensable and bears the intolerable.”
Faith sees what’s not there. It believes what’s incredible, like seeing hundreds of soldiers pack out this chapel. It believes the impossible. Then it accepts the impossible, like “okay, this is gonna happen.” It does without the indispensable, meaning when you don’t know how you could live life without a particular person, or promotion, or degree, or a particular event happening, faith reminds us that Christ’s grace is enough for us, we don’t need anything else. And it bears the intolerable. How many people know someone annoying, arrogant, stubborn, mean, or just downright difficult? You’d rather not be around them, right? Well faith will bear with that person, seeing them through Christ’s eyes, and filtering them through the cross. THAT is faith. And THAT is what this message is all about. We are going to take another look at some giants of the faith in Hebrews 11. My prayer is that we don’t look at faith like we have it all figured out. My prayer is that our faith would be re-ignited, rejuvenated, and refreshed by the end of this message. We’ll be taking a look at Hebrews 11:29-35, and Hebrews 12:1-2. In Hebrews 11, we look at heroes of the faith, beginning with Moses and the Israelites.
Hebrews 11:29-35 New Living Translation (NLT) 29 It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned. 30 It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down. 31 It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. 32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. 33 By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. 35 Women received their loved ones back again from death. But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.
Beginning with the Red Sea crossing, the writer recounts some of the most epic stories in all of scripture. The writer describes how the Egyptians tried to follow Moshe and the children of Israel but all died. He talked about Jericho and its seemingly impenetrable walls. And let’s talk about Rahab, the working girl. She was a lady of the night. She was Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. The writer then goes on to Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. They were so convinced of the goodness of God that there was nothing they believed he couldn’t accomplish.
Look at all the things they were able to accomplish by faith – the Old Testament saints and the early church conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. If all of this could be accomplished by faith, imagine what can be accomplished in our everyday lives. Since we’re here in Germany, this story should resonate with us…..
John Wesley once said: “Give me a hundred men who love nothing but God and hate nothing but sin, and I will shake the whole world for Christ.”
It doesn’t take many… but it does take someone who decides to be faithful.
In December 1944, the German army launched an unexpected attack. In what was to become known as the Battle of Bulge, the Nazis drove deep behind Allied lines. Writing in WW II about the reaction of the American troops to this attack, James Jones said
“No one of these little road junction stands could have had a profound effect on the German drive. But hundreds of them, impromptu little battles at nameless bridges and unknown crossroads, had an effect of slowing enormously the German impetus… These little die-hard ‘one man stands,’ alone in the snow and fog without communications, would prove enormously effective out of all proportion to their size.”
From a sermon by Jeff Strite, Time In The Trenches, 10/19/2009
So you see, when we choose to walk in faith and walk in courage, the results can be more radical than anyone could ever imagine. My prayer is that faith would govern every aspect of our lives.
Faith in Christ can recharge our lives – We can return to the story of the father in the Gospel of Mark. His child was demon possessed, and he struggled to believe Christ could heal his son. Yet he asked Jesus to help him in his unbelief. Many of us have become hardened or calloused in certain areas of our lives, thinking Jesus cannot redeem and resurrect that place or situation. Let it not be so! Look at the great lengths Christ went to in order to purchase our redemption. And look at the suffering of those that have gone before us. The fact that they were able to maintain their hope in the Risen Savior should give us hope. Look at what Hebrews 11:36 says about the saints who have gone before us.
Hebrews 11:36-40 New Living Translation (NLT)
36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.
The saints before us were mocked, and flogged. They were thrown in jail. They were stoned to death. It is believed that the prophet Isaiah was sawed in half. I cannot imagine the agony. Other died by the sword. Others, like John the Baptist, and the Essenes and the Qumran community, went about and were marginalized and mistreated, and were misunderstood. Yet they all earned a good reputation and eternal rewards for their faith. Even with all of that, they didn’t receive all that God had promised. God had something better in mind for us, and they could not reach maturity, which is what that word perfect means in the original language. They couldn’t reach it without us.
Many of us can relate to that for our Christian faith in a non-Christian, often hostile culture. Many Christians today in third world country have had to hide out in the desert. At Frontline Church where I attend with my family on Sunday evenings, our pastor recently finished a series on the life of David, who often hid in the wilderness and in caves while he was on the run from Saul. Even with all that the Old Testament saints when through, the highest point in history was the coming of Christ. The most important events in history are His life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, we can’t leave out the fact that he went back to heaven, where he is preparing a place for us. We also have the Spirit of God, living inside us and with us on this earth forever, as a down payment and seal upon us, which is the proof that our Bridegroom will return for us. And to that we say, Maranatha, come quickly Lord! The entire story of Christ, his fully divine and human nature, his dying for the sins of humanity, his righteousness being credited to those who place their trust in Him, his brutal mistreatment, trial, scourging and death, all of these have to be received by faith. None of us were there, we have to rely on the testimony of those who were there. None of us were there for his resurrection and return to heaven. Let’s not take for granted the fact that we believe this; so many people struggle to do so. Yet faith in the finished work of Christ still has the same transforming power it did 2,000 years ago—but first we must be fully convinced. I mean seriously…meditate on this for a moment. For those of us who are Christians in here….seriously examine whether or not you believe all of this. And I ask everyone else to consider, who Jesus is, and also what He has done on behalf of those who would believe.
Faith in the finished work of Christ can be world-changing – The methods of spreading the message have changed. The technology and the scope of the message have changed. But the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not changed. And it will not change.
John 1:17 New Living Translation (NLT)
17 For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ.
John 1:17 Amplified Bible (AMP)
17 For the Law was given through Moses, but grace [the unearned, undeserved favor of God] and truth came through Jesus Christ.
See…there are 613 instructions in the Old Testament; the original language is actually closer to “instructions,” than law. But still, there were 613 that we couldn’t live by. We can’t even live by the 10 commandments by our own strength. Martin Luther says:
This is why we need to have faith specifically in the finished work of Jesus. There was a study several years ago which showed that even non-religious medical doctors believe in the power of prayer, faith and physical healing.
A survey conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians shows that ninety-nine percent of doctors believe a relationship exists between faith and physical healing. Recently, more than one thousand health-care professionals met at Harvard Medical School to examine the connection between spirituality and healing.
Doctors’ faith in faith was bolstered by a California study of the effect of prayer on recovery from heart problems. About two hundred heart patients were assigned to Christians who prayed for them, while an equal number, a control group, received no known prayers. Neither group knew about the prayers, yet those who received prayer developed half the complications that were experienced by those in the control group.
A similar study by the Dartmouth Medical School examined the effect of prayer on healing when the patients prayed for themselves. The death rate six months after bypass surgery was 9 percent for the general population but 5 percent for those who prayed for their own healing. And none of the deeply religious patients died during the period of the study.
[The Associated Press, quoted in “Religion in the News,” Signs of the Times, March 1997, p. 4]
So you see, with all of our technology, our space program, our scientific and medical research, the power of faith is still circulating in our sophisticated western world. People want to believe in the supernatural. They want to believe that God cares and that He hasn’t stopped working:
Habakkuk 3:2 says:
Isn’t this amazing? And what’s even more amazing is that we have even more witnesses today than the writer of Hebrews did during his or her time. We have the testimony of all the martyrs who were killed during the time of the Roman empire, before Constantine converted and made Christianity the state religion. Martyrs like Polycarp, Blandina, Justin Martyr, and many more would testify today if they could. And through the stories we have about them that have been passed down, they are reminding us to fight the good fight. So what’s our choice gonna be? Hebrews 12:1 and 2 say….
Hebrews 12:1-2 New Living Translation (NLT)
God’s Discipline Proves His Love
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
Since we have so many who have gone before us, from the Old Testament, to the New Testament and early church era, to the Protestant Reformation to modern times, let’s run this race, and drop off the ruck sack, and the parachute, and the Kevlar that represents sin. Let’s be good runners and score a 100 on that PT test. We do this by keeping our eyes on Christ. He founded, initiated, and perfects our faith. He ignored the shame of the cross and endured it, because of the joy of purchasing us from the penalty of violating God’s laws through our sin. Now he is seated in majesty and splendor at the right hand of the Father.
This passage is reminding us who exactly it is that we serve. It is reminding us of what the witnesses remembered, of what the martyrs remembered. They remember WHO it was that they were dying for, fighting for, living for. And their faith was stirred by the fact that HE, Christ, their Bridegroom, endured the cross because of the joy that was set before Him. We who are His, we who belong to Christ, we are that joy. It was his love for us, and our desperate need for forgiveness, that kept him on that cross. And our love for Him, and our need for His grace, truth and mercy daily, should keep a cross on our backs.
Faith in Christ’s love for us should fuel our motivations – If we call ourselves Christians, if we are believers, then the love of Christ, the love for our Bridegroom is what we live for. Faith in his faithfulness is our joy. That’s the thing…It is all about Christ. The Lion of Judah. Christ the Victorious.
But if you believe Christ is vengeful, or he is spiteful, or he is just waiting to punish you, or that he is a puppetmaster with strings, then you don’t understand Him, His Love, or the cross. You’ve got to believe that he loves you radically, and died for you. MLK Jr. says…
In conclusion, remember that faith in Christ can recharge our lives, faith in his finished work can be world-changing, and faith in Christ’s love for us should be fuel for our motivations. Take the first step towards Him, even if you don’t see the whole staircase. Christ is the staircase, the doorway, to God the Father, to Heaven, and to eternal life. Let’s pray.