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Sermon Notes

Please note that these are only notes, not transcripts, and as such are not identical to the recorded sermons. They also contain frequent abbreviations.

Introduction

    1. Hebrews 11 is badly divided. The Bible was not originally written in chap. and verses

      1. Often the chapter and verse divisions we have in our Bibles are helpful but not in the case we consider this evening. A new subject begins in verse 35b, “And others were tortured …” A new verse should begin with these words.

        1. In verses 33 to 35a, God’s people are delivered from perils and dangers: they subdued, they wrought, they obtained, they stopped, they quenched, they waxed, they turned to flight, they received.

        2. All these are active verbs and in all these activities God’s believing people were successful or victorious.

      2. In verses 35b to 38, God’s people are not delivered, but they suffer, they endure perils and dangers.

        1. They were tortured, they were tried, they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain, they wandered about, destitute, tormented, afflicted.

        2. Most of these are passive verbs and in all their sufferings God’s believing people do not appear to be successful or victorious.

    2. But, whether they were victorious (our subject this week) or whether they suffered (our subject next week, God willing) they acted through faith.

      1. The Holy Spirit in Hebrews 11 has given us many examples of individual children of God who lived by faith.

      2. Now He finishes with a general survey of faith’s exploits, that we might be moved to exclaim.

      3. What hath faith wrought! Or better, “What hath God wrought through faith!”

 

THE VICTORIOUS EXPLOITS OF FAITH” 

I. God’s Mighty Works

II. Beyond Retelling

III. Overcoming Great Difficulties

 

  1. GOD’S MIGHTY WORKS

    1. In inspiring Heb. 11, the HS does not describe for us a “hall of fame,” so that men’s heroic exploits can be praised.

      1. That is what men do in their history books.

        1. The annals of world history are filled with accounts of men and women of tremendous courage and skill.

          1. Think of Hannibal, the great military commander, who crossed the Alps with an army including several large elephants to fight the Romans.

          2. Think of Alexander the Great, who is reported to have wept when it was told him that there was no more world for him to conquer.

          3. Or think of eminent scientists, thinkers or artists, men like Albert Einstein, Plato or Mozart, or even of the present-day heroes, men and women admired by the masses.

        2. Several years ago, the BBC had a series of programs called “The Greatest Britons.”

          1. Its aim was to find outstanding Britons in British history and praise them for their contribution.

          2. Men like Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton and women like Queen Elizabeth the First appeared in the Top Ten.

          3. That was an example of men praising the achievements of men.

      2. But, the HS is not interested in praising the achievements of men, in lauding men & women to the skies; He is interested in praising and glorifying the Triune God.

        1. That is His goal with all Scripture and that is His goal with Heb. 11, and it is important that we see that.

          1. If we read the great acts of God’s people either in Biblical history or in church history, and all we do is engage in “hero worship,” we have missed the point and we have sinned.

          2. Hero worship, whether the worship of mighty soldiers, mighty sportsmen, mighty actors or mighty artists is idolatry.

          3. We need to be warned against such idolatry. Do we spend too much time admiring the heroes of this world? Young people especially are prone to it.

        2. God did not give these men and women, whom we are tempted to admire, talents and skills in every area of life so that we could worship them, or so that they could promote their own glory.

          1. God will be glorified in the athletic skill of a sportsman, in the musical ability of singer, in the brilliant intellect of a philosopher or in the military skill and strength of a soldier.

          2. Men and women who have achieved much but without acknowledging Jesus Christ have lived useless, wasted lives.

          3. They have been laden down with medals and awards by men but they did it all without faith, without aiming at the glory of God, and therefore they have achieved nothing. In fact, in everything they have done they have sinned.

          4. They did not and will not receive a good report from God. They perish.

      3. That is not the case with Heb. 11, and one way in which we see that is that God often chooses to highlight the most surprising examples.

        1. Perhaps you sensed that throughout this series on “The Great Cloud of Faithful Witnesses.”

          1. People appear in the list whose exploits seem quite unimpressive. Certainly, the world would not get excited by them. Abraham sojourns in the land.

          2. At other times the HS concentrates on one aspect of the life of a saint which we would not have thought worth mentioning. We saw that with Joseph. The HS bypasses Joseph’s entire life and records only the commandment he gave concerning his bones. We saw that with Jacob. Only the blessing of Joseph’s two sons is recorded.

        2. At other times the HS fails to mention men and women whom we would have considered worthy heroes, and still at other times mentions men whom we would have been almost embarrassed to mention, men whose lives are so stained by sin, you might think that they only scraped by to get on the list.

          1. Think of the Judges: was Barak not cowardly before the battle with the Canaanites, so that he would not go to war unless Deborah went with him? The HS graciously overlooks that fault and includes him here.

          2. Commentators who, wrongly in my view, say that Jephthah was guilty of child sacrifice, find it difficult to understand his inclusion.

          3. Samson’s sins with Delilah would seem to disqualify him, if not from heaven, at least from Heb. 11, yet there is in verse 32!

        3. The HS includes men and women who struggled with sin, and who even succumbed to sin, to give hope to us all, that we might be in the list, and to show that inclusion does not depend on works but is by grace.

          1. He includes sinful men and women to magnify His grace; we saw that last week with Rahab the harlot, and we see it here with Samson; we see it in David, we see it in Gideon.

          2. That’s the way it is with sacred Scripture, never hero worship, never an uncritical record, Scripture does not hide the flaws of God’s people; it is a record “warts and all.”

          3. It is a record, therefore, which magnifies God and shows God’s power at work through the weakest of men.

    2. We know that the victorious exploits recorded here are done in God’s power because the text says, “through faith.”

      1. You should attach those words “through faith” to every verb in the list from v. 33 to 38

        1. Read the text this way

          1. Who through faith subdued kingdoms, who through faith wrought righteousness, who through faith obtained promises …

          2. Who through faith stopped the mouths of lions, who through faith quenched the violence of fire …

        2. The Spirit wants to emphasize that

          1. If an unbeliever had written this, he would have said, “Because Samson was strong he did this or that …” or “Because David was a wise military man he did this or that …”

          2. But the Spirit writes, “through faith.”

          3. That should not come as any surprise. The whole chapter has repeated it, “by faith we understand, by faith Abel offered, by faith Noah prepared, by faith Abraham obeyed.

          4. Our text simply continues the refrain.

      2. Remember what faith is. And remember what “through faith” or “by faith” means.

        1. It does not mean that these men had a can-do attitude, the power of positive thinking so that they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps and got to work.

          1. It does not mean that they were naturally bold, courageous, wise or strong.

          2. Gideon was timid and weak; Barak was initially cowardly. Samson and David were weak. The text tells us that they were weak: “Out of weakness …” v. 34.

          3. They were weak men and women and they knew it. The power was not in them; it was in God. They could say, as we can say today, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).

        2. Faith is the vital, living spiritual union which the HS creates between the believer and God, specifically between the believer and Jesus Christ.

          1. God works faith in His people: God is the author of our faith, God is the strengthener of our faith, God is the increaser of our faith.

          2. Remember the disciples’ words, “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). God is the finisher of our faith, the one who makes our faith perfect.

          3. The source of faith is not found in us. The human heart does not have faith in it as a natural power. “All men,” says Paul, “have not faith” (II Thess. 3:2).

        3. Faith is the gift of God, worked supernaturally by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s elect.

          1. Faith is given to God’s elect on the behalf of Christ (Phil. 1:29). That means, faith is the gift of God purchased by Christ on the cross.

          2. And because that is what faith is, faith unites the believer to a source of power the world cannot know and see.

          3. Do not look at these great exploits of faith and say, “I could never do that.” Nor could they. Not in their own strength. Faith makes the power and virtue of Jesus Christ the possession of the believer.

        4. One who has faith exercises faith. Faith always comes to conscious expression. It never simply lies dormant in the heart.

          1. Yes, God plants it as a seed but God causes it to grow. We do not cause it to grow.

          2. True. God uses means, but even then, without the blessing of God, those means will accomplish nothing.

          3. There are many prayers on the lips of God’s people but top of the list must be this: “Lord, increase our faith. Lord, I sense that my faith is weak. It is but a weak, tentative and faltering hold of thy hand.”

          4. Faith looks away from itself, from difficulties, from weaknesses, from circumstances and looks to Christ. Faith lives in conscious dependence on God

      3. So close is the believer to Christ through the bond of faith that the believer lives the life of Christ.

        1. God plants into the child of God new, spiritual life. Which life? The life of Christ Himself, life derived from the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.

          1. That’s Paul’s confession, “I am crucified with Christ [….] yet not I, but Christ liveth in me …” (Gal. 2:20); “But I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (I Cor. 15:10); “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection …” (Phil. 3:10).

          2. To live by the power of Christ’s resurrection is to live as regenerated believers by the power of faith.

          3. That is what every one of the men and women mentioned in Hebrews 11 did and that is what every Christian in the history of the world has done and that is what we do.

        2. The Old Testament believers had Christ but only by promise.

          1. They lived through faith in the promise of God.

          2. They saw Christ from afar. They saw Him cast many shadows and they rejoiced in those shadows.

          3. And that promise, that thing that they hoped for, kept them going. It enabled them to subdue kingdoms and all the other feats described in these verses.

  2. BEYOND RETELLING

    1. Verse 32 begins with the words, “And what shall I more say?”

      1. It seems that we have hit a problem. Human language has reached its limit. There is more than can be possibly retold.

        1. If the Apostle were to recount all that God has wrought in His people by faith, he could never finish.

          1. Time itself would not be long enough. If the Apostle were given a thousand lifetimes he could not write it all. He has barely scratched the surface.

          2. He stretched back to Abel and he has reached the conquest of Canaan and now looks ahead through the OT and sees that there are too many examples.

        2. Even if he listed every man, woman and child mentioned in the Old Testament he would not have given an exhaustive account.

          1. What of the many unknown, unnamed, unremembered believers of bygone ages?

          2. What of the believers between the end of the Old and the beginning of the New?

          3. What of the believers in the NT, the Apostles, and even all the simple followers of Christ?

      2. And when the Apostle dies and someone else desires to pick up his pen:

        1. Who can record the believers of the early church, the medieval church, the Reformation period, the modern period, the present day?

        2. Impossible!

    2. Why is that? Why is such a task impossible? Why is it beyond retelling?

      1. First, the seed of Abraham, as verse 12 tells us, is innumerable.

        1. Only God knows those who are His. Only God has an exhaustive list.

        2. Only God can name all the elect, engrafted into Christ by a true faith.

        3. Only God has recorded everything they have done by the power of that faith.

      2. Second, the power of faith in Jesus Christ is the power for everything that God’s people do which pleases God.

        1. Verse 6 told us, “But without faith it is impossible to please God.”

          1. On the flip side, by faith it is possible to please God.

          2. We perform our sins by the power of our sinful nature, but the power of our good works, our prayers, our sighs of repentance, all that is by or through faith.

        2. Take one example. Noah.

          1. We know he prepared the Ark by faith.

          2. But everything else that Noah did – apart from his sins – he did by faith too. His walking with God. Through faith! His offering a sacrifice. Through faith! His living to the ripe old age of 950 years. Through faith! Every day of those 950 years he lived by faith. How long would that one book be?

          3. And then write another book for every other person in Hebrews 11.

          4. And then write a book for every other saint who ever lived!

          5. Now you are approaching what John wrote concerning Christ, John 21:25 (“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written”).

      3. Third, no saint is the same. No one saint can exhaust the power of faith.

        1. In God’s eternal decree of predestination God determined who His children would be and in His providence He works that out in their lives.

          1. He moulds and crafts each life so that a different aspect or facet of faith can be displayed in it.

          2. No one saint can show every aspect of God’s work of faith. Each saint is like a tile and the entire church is like a beautiful mosaic.

          3. Or, to use a more biblical figure, each saint is like a member of Christ’s body and the entire body when complete is beautiful.

          4. Or, use the figure of a crystal chandelier. Every piece of glass is beautiful but together as the light passes through the glass, the effect is splendid beyond words.

        2. So, it is with faith in Christ. Faith is multifaceted, varied.

          1. Abel displays one aspect of faith, Abraham another, David another, but the story would not be complete without Samson or Jephthah or Barak, and the story is still not complete, and the Apostle cannot write it all down.

          2. Perhaps you think. Well, my life is hardly very exciting. It does not exhibit much. Oh, but it has its place.

          3. And without you, beloved, the story would be incomplete. Live by faith, therefore, to the glory of God.

      4. Having declared the impossibility of his task, the Apostle gives a quick summary.

        1. He lists three different kinds of Old Testament believers not yet mentioned: judges (Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah), kings (David) and prophets (Samuel).

        2. He then lists no fewer than ten exploits done by such believers through faith.

        3. Ten verbs in the past tense, one after the other, in quick, rapid-fire succession have an effect upon the reader.

          1. It fills him with awe and wonder.

          2. One commentator wrote: it has a sledgehammer effect.

          3. Subdued! Wrought! Obtained! Stopped! Quenched! Escaped! All these verbs express great activity and effort. The cumulative effect is to say, “What hath God wrought through faith!”

  3. OVERCOMING GREAT DIFFICULTIES

    1. The difficulties which God’s people face and endure by faith are formidable. But the more formidable the challenge, the more glory God derives from enabling His people to triumph through faith.

      1. We cannot, of course, examine every clause in detail. But look at the nouns. We saw the verbs. Now the nouns.

        1. What did God’s people victoriously overcome by faith?

          1. Kingdoms, the mouths of lions, the violence of fire, the edge of the sword, fight (war), armies of the aliens.

          2. I omitted some: “wrought righteousness” implies overcoming iniquity and lawlessness; “obtained promises” implies overcoming unbelief, hopelessness and despair; “women received their dead raised to life again” means overcoming death itself. And some were literally made strong out of weakness!

          3. These are formidable challenges and how were they all overcome: through faith alone, by the power of Christ living in them!

      2. Notice the categories of obstacles here.

        1. Some of God’s children subdue kingdoms by faith.

          1. The idea is that they conquer or defeat such kingdoms through an agonizing struggle.

          2. The same are strong in warfare and cause the armies of hostile kingdoms to flee before them. David, Jephthah, Barak come to mind.

          3. By faith we engage in spiritual warfare with spiritual weapons. But remember Prov. 16:32, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”

        2. Others flee the sword by faith. That is the meaning of escaped. They fled. That is not cowardice, but wisdom.

        3. Moreover, the most terrible of enemies are mentioned here.

          1. The lion is the king of the beasts. Who does not fear the lion’s roar? We think of Daniel and Samson. We defy the devil by faith who roars at us like a lion.

          2. Fire is the most terrible of the elements. Who does not fear fire? But Daniel’s three friends quenched the violence of fire through faith. We quench the fiery darts of the devil with the shield of faith.

          3. But we have run out of time.

    2. What difficulties are in your life?

      1. We have trials too. We are weak too. But we have faith too, for we too are united to Jesus Christ.

        1. Is there disappointment? Is there sickness, bodily weakness, the difficulties of old age?

        2. Is there fear and uncertainty of the future? Is there the daily difficulty of work, or the lack of work?

        3. Is there the difficulty of marriage or the loneliness of singleness?

        4. Is there the difficulty of raising a family or the fear about the future raising of a family? Is there childlessness? Is there the pain of wayward children?

        5. Is there the pain of the suffering of loved ones? Is there bereavement?

      2. All these are trials which we can overcome through faith. Does that mean that they will go away?

        1. No! Not all escaped the edge of the sword. Some were slain by the sword.

        2. Not all stopped the mouths of lions. Some were eaten by lions.

        3. Not all quenched the violence of fire. Some were burned in the fire.

      3. But, whether we live or die, we live or die by faith.

        1. Let the examples in Heb. 11 inspire us as we lay hold on the same power by faith.

        2. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Through faith! Amen!