What Faith Helps Us Do

Posted: August 16, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 11:23-40, “What Faith Helps Us Do”

We’ve been looking at a museum of sorts in Hebrews 11: the famous Hall of Faith. After a brief definition of what faith is, we launched into a description of how faith works in the lives of believers. All the way through the OT, God provided example after example of men & women living in faith: from Abel to Abraham… All of them looked forward beyond their circumstances to something better… They relied on the promises of God at the time – but they also looked forward to the hope of God in the future.

We’ve covered the patriarchs & now Ch 11 finishes out by looking at the prophets (beginning with Moses). If the patriarchs only had the promises of God, the prophets (and judges & kings) saw the beginning of the fulfillment, but they still looked forward to something else as well. They experienced mighty victories – they went through terrible affliction, yet they endured. How so? By faith!

Hebrews 11:23-40 (NKJV)
23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command.

A. Obviously this is about Moses, but this isn’t a reference to Moses’ faith; it’s a reference to his parents’ faith. The Hebrews were under an edict from Pharaoh to have all the male children killed & Moses’ parents refused to do so upon Moses’ birth. Why? Because he was “beautiful” & they had faith in God. Did they just save him cuz he was cute? No – thinking your baby is beautiful isn’t faith; it’s bias.  Besides – Scripture consistently tells us God looks at the heart as opposed to our physique. Most likely, Moses’ parents looked at him & just knew that God had something more in store for him…so they saved him from death.

B. Question: did Moses’ parents break the law by keeping his birth a secret? Yes…no doubt. Was it right for them to do, knowing that we’re expected to honor those in authority over us (Rom 13..)? Yes…without question. When we’re put into a position of obeying God vs. obeying man, we ought to obey God every time…

24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.

A. Moses chose identification with God. Keep in mind (unlike movies you may have seen) Moses knew his Hebrew heritage from an early age. His mother Jochebed was hired by Pharaoh’s daughter to nurse the baby. Jochebed would have surely told Moses of his background for the 1st several years of his life. Tradition suggests that as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses was actually in line for the throne of Egypt. The point of the writer of Hebrews is that Moses actually renounced the claim to the throne because of his faith in God.

B. Moses chose affliction over sinful pleasure. As Egyptian royalty, Moses would have had access to everything that the most powerful empire at the time had to offer. Instead of choosing to indulge in those things as an Egyptian, he chose to suffer affliction along with his Hebrew brothers and sisters. This led to Moses murdering an Egyptian… Moses obviously didn’t handle it well, but it was faith that led him to suffer affliction with Israel.

C. Moses chose reproach over treasure. Again, Moses had it all. Stephen affirmed that Moses “was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was mighty in words and deeds,” (Acts 7:22). He had wealth, power, & pleasure all at his fingertips. Instead, he chose the reproach (insult, abuse) that came with being a servant of God.
__a. Note: his reproach was “the reproach of Christ” – 1500 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The sufferings Moses endured belonged to Christ – and ultimately found their fulfillment in Jesus at the Cross. Just as we can know the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings (Phil 3:10) 2000 years after the cross, Moses joined in the same fellowship millennia prior.

D. WHY? What would cause Moses to choose affliction over pleasure & prestige? Moses “looked to the reward.” Jumping ahead a bit to Ch 12. Moses was looking forward to the author & finisher of our faith. He looked around at Egypt, compared it with the promises of God, and Egypt came up severely lacking! Nothing compares to the glory & goodness of God!
__a. When we look to Jesus in faith, it becomes incredibly easy to choose Him over sin…there’s simply no comparison. I suggest that in those times when we do slip & choose sin for a season that we’ve taken our eyes of Christ & forgotten Who He is. During those times that we shake our fist in rebellion, we haven’t for a moment thought logically about Who God is & what He did for us in Jesus Christ & what we’ve been offered & given in grace. There’s simply no other response than to choose Him in faith!

27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.

A. Usually we think of acts of faith as being huge & heroic, but notice a key difference here. “By faith he forsook Egypt…” IOW, Moses fled in faith. Remember the context: Moses had just killed a man & Exodus 2:14 makes it clear that Moses was afraid. “So how is THAT faith?” Moses may not have acted in faith in Exodus 2:14, but he did in 2:15. Exodus 2:14-15 (14) Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” So Moses feared and said, “Surely this thing is known!” (15) When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well. [] Moses didn’t sit around in Egypt waiting to see what would happen to him. He didn’t try to use his influence with Pharaoh or try to find someone else to blame for his crime. Instead, he chose to leave Egypt (Greek implies he “abandoned” Egypt – he left it behind for good), and according to Heb 11:27 this was an act of faith as Moses put himself completely in the hands of God.
__a. Sometimes the most least likely actions turn out to be tremendous acts of faith. Joseph had faith enough to flee Potiphar’s wife, knowing the likely consequences. Moses fled Pharaoh. Maybe to hold fast to Christ in faith you need to flee a job that’s tempting you to sin. Maybe you need to abandon people who would tempt you with sinful pleasure in order that you can remain pure to your family. To deny these things is foolishness to the world; but it’s a solid proclamation of your faith in Christ Jesus!
__b. BTW – there is some debate whether or not this is a reference to Moses fleeing Egypt or the Exodus itself. With all due respect to those who claim this is the Exodus, the context makes it absolutely certain this is a reference to fleeing Egypt. Chronology of events… “forsook” = “abandon”… “wrath of the king” vs. the command of God… etc.

B. How could he make this choice in faith? Moses feared God more than he feared Pharaoh. He saw God in faith as “Him who is invisible.” This is the very definition of faith from Heb 11:1! … [READ]
__a. ‘Wait a second. Moses did see God – or at least an appearance of Him in the burning bush. How can we say Moses saw the one who is invisible? His faith must not have been that great.’ On the contrary. When Moses fled Egypt, this was before he got to Midian…the burning bush didn’t come until 40 years later! Moses had faith in the God of Israel before he ever met the God of Israel…

28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them.

A. Keeping Passover was an act of faith… Not just a ritual; it took faith to put the blood on the doorposts… Keep in mind that even though God had performed many miracles & given 9 plagues to this point, that nothing like Passover had ever been experienced by the Hebrews before. Why was faith necessary? Because if they didn’t keep the Passover the way God commanded it, even the Hebrew firstborn children would have been destroyed…

B. Faith was necessary for that original Passover especially for what it represented. Passover looks forward to the Cross of Calvary! We don’t come to Jesus except through faith. No religious ritual can bestow faith upon someone…

29 By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.

A. Does it take faith to walk through the Red Sea when God has already piled up the waters as a heap (Ex 15:8)? You bet! If we were walking through, there’s no doubt we’d wonder when the waters would come crashing down – how long would the miracle last? Would the Egyptian soldiers catch up to them? The whole event took faith – even in the middle of God’s active miracle…

B. Note the primary reason that the Egyptian army drowned: the Hebrews had faith; the Egyptians didn’t. Their bloodline didn’t matter when it same to the miracle – there was a mixed multitude among the Hebrews. Their presence didn’t matter when it came to the miracle – the army saw the exact same thing Moses & the Hebrews did. What made the difference was that the Hebrews trusted God’s person, power, promise, and provision; the Egyptian army just saw slaves running away under the power of “just another” God. When it comes to God, there is NO other! They didn’t have faith in the One True God & they drowned in the Red Sea as a result.
__a. Red Sea vs. Reed Sea…

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. 31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.

A. Moves from Moses to Joshua… 1st major battle after crossing the Jordan River was Jericho… God’s battle plan was absolutely ridiculous from a military standpoint… But it was GOD’s plan (and He’s a better strategist than Gen. MacArthur any day)! 🙂 By faith, Joshua followed through with it…

B. Can’t look at Jericho without looking at Rahab the harlot… … Even her act of hiding the Hebrew spies was an act of faith in the one true God…

32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:
__A. The interesting thing about this partial listing is who we’d normally think should NOT be included. Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David are one thing. Their exploits of faith are what fill our children’s Bible storybooks & Sunday Schools. It’s the judges that surprise us. These guys weren’t exactly profiles in godly character:
__a. Gideon: He was hiding out in the threshing floor when God called him to be a warrior… And even then he wouldn’t go to battle until God performed the miracle of the fleece…
__b. Barak: He wasn’t even the hero of the battle…or the reigning judge at the time. The prophetess Deborah was the judge; Barak was just the general. And he was too scared to go to battle unless the woman went with him.
__c. Samson: He had courage, but he was a scoundrel. He constantly broke his Nazirite vows – he lusted after numerous women – he went looking for troubles & fights.
__d. Jephthah: This guy experienced a huge military victory, made a rash vow & (most likely) ended up sacrificing his own daughter. Doesn’t sound a like a man of faith!

B. So why ARE these judges included in the hall of faith? We wouldn’t judge them faithful at all! But that’s the problem. It’s not up to us to judge whether or not they were faithful; that’s left up to God. And God in His grace and mercy sees them as faithful even where we do not. Even what little faith they had is commended by God because it was faith in Him.
__a. That’s the power of the cross! That’s exactly what happens to us through Jesus Christ. Because NONE of us are faithful on our own! NONE of us deserve to be found worthy of God’s blessing! But because of what JESUS has done on our behalf, God can look at us & call us “faithful!” … That’s how much we have been washed & cleansed by Christ. We, who were once stained by sin have been declared by God to be white as pure snow…

33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again.

A. Huge overview of the prophets & kings here. Touches everything from military victory to miraculous interference by God. With Daniel, God stopped the mouths of the lions. With Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego, God quenched the violence of fires. With Samson, God made him who was weak in the captivity of the Philistines strong again to bring down an entire stadium. With Gideon & Jonathan (on different occasions), God used a handful of men to set whole armies to flight… With Elijah & Elisha, God raised people back from the dead (in anticipation of the greatest resurrection to come in Jesus!)… God healed the sick, destroyed armies, and showed His righteousness throughout the OT! (Not just a NT thing…)

B. These were all things seen because of faith – which emphasizes that these were all things done by the power of God. Faith shows us God’s power! Luke 17:5-6 (5) And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” (6) So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. [] That’s not something that we can get cocky about… Faith is a gift from God (1 Cor 12:9), the power we see is the power of God – all we did was apply what God gave us to apply & saw what God wanted to do. But we don’t see these things without faith. Peter never would have walked on water if he didn’t have faith – even if it was just a little.

C. Not only does faith help show us the power of God through victories; it also shows us the power of God to endure during suffering and tribulation. See the rest of vs. 35…

…Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.

A. Which prophets were tortured? Possible reference to martyrs during the Maccabean time. (“tortured” describes being stretched & distended over a rack to be beaten) Certainly many prophets were mocked & jailed – Jeremiah being a prime example. Jesus made a point of chastising Jerusalem as being the city that killed the prophets & stoned those who were sent to her (Matt 23:37). Experiencing persecution as a prophet wasn’t the exception; it was the norm!

B. Could those who were being tortured found relief? Apparently, yes – if they recanted. But they chose to stay faithful “that they might obtain a better resurrection.” Which resurrection is the better resurrection? The one provided by the Lord Jesus! The one in which we’ll all be transformed in the twinkling of an eye…

37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

A. Horrendous executions for some of these saints! Zechariah was stoned to death (2 Chr 24:21) – as was the NT deacon Stephen (Acts 7:58). Isaiah is thought to have been sawn in two… James was killed by the sword (Acts 12:2), as was the OT prophet Urijah (Jer 26:23). Others wandered about destitute with no place to live & only animal skins to keep them warm (Elijah & John the Baptist).
__a. Of course martyrdom didn’t stop there. Animal skins were used for something worse under Emperor Nero. (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) “Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them.”

B. Key point: having faith in God does not guarantee an easy life. Having abundant faith in God does not mean we experience what many would label as “victory.” Sometimes people think that to “live in victory” means to never have a bad day, to command away illnesses, and to have a full bank account no matter how much money is spent (like the widow of Zarephath & her oil)… As long as everything is fine, they’re in victory, but the minute a trial comes along, they’re no longer blessed by God. Not true! Many of God’s faithful prophets suffered immensely. Does this mean they were not victorious? On the contrary! These people were sawn in two, yet held tightly to their faith in God! They certainly were victorious in the sight of God!

C. Does the fact that these men were demonstrating faith mean that what they experienced was right judgment? Of course not…they were sinned against. They (like us) serve the only righteous & just God. The “world was not worthy” of them; but God obviously commends them as His saints. The ironic thing here is that the world didn’t think the prophets were worthy to be received (otherwise they wouldn’t have been persecuted); according to Scripture, it is the world that wasn’t worthy to receive them!

39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise,

A. What did the patriarchs & prophets receive through all their sufferings and victories through faith? “A good testimony.” No medal…no Academy Award statue…not even a winning lottery ticket. But I submit to you that a good testimony in the sight of God is worth far more than anything the world has to offer! The Holy Spirit thinks well of these people (even people like Samson & Jephthah) – and He records their actions here for us as a good testimony of what God does through people via their faith in Him.
__a. How good is a good testimony? If you’re a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, what’s the 1st thing you want to hear from your Lord & Master when you see Him face to face? “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” !!

B. For everything that these people endured, we’d naturally think, “Well surely they would at least see the fruit of their suffering.” No…apparently that wasn’t the case. They “did not receive the promise.” Or we’d think, “But they did receive many promises from God. God promised to bring them through the wilderness & He did. God promised to give them the land, and more.” True – God was faithful to many of His promises throughout the entire Old Covenant (per vs. 33)…but those promises aren’t what the author is looking at here. Note the singular number: “the promise…” There’s one particular promise in view here. There’s one event that God had been leading up to throughout history. What was the promise? See vs. 40…

40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

A. WE received the promise because we saw the incarnation of Jesus Christ! HE IS THE PROMISE!! …

B. We’re only made perfect through Him. Their sufferings didn’t make them perfect in the sight of God. Their victories didn’t make them perfect. Their choice to follow God over pleasure didn’t even make them perfect. ONLY Jesus Christ!

So many examples here! No wonder it’s called the “Hall of Faith!” But just like any museum exhibit, there’s a great diversity in what’s being shown, even if there’s an overarching theme that groups them all together. There aren’t too many listings that would name men like Abraham and Moses along with guys like Barak and Jephthah. That alone underlines and demonstrates the grace of God. Even a little faith is commended, because even a little faith has us relying on Jesus.
A. Faith helps us choose the things of God…
B. Faith helps us to experience the power of God…
C. Faith helps us to endure sufferings with God…

So which is God going to equip you to face with faith? The victory or the sufferings? From a temporary perspective, that’s all left up to God…no doubt God will be faithful to equip you for whatever you face at the time that you’ll go through it. But from an eternal perspective, every single born-again Christian has been equipped to experience victory!

That’s the whole point of the author of Hebrews. These great men & women in the past had (sometimes) huge expressions of faith & saw miracles took place – yet even the greatest of those miracles didn’t make them perfect. They received a good testimony, but they didn’t receive the promise. The promise wasn’t fulfilled until Jesus came in the flesh, died on the cross, and rose from the grave! But that’s often what we forget. We look for the temporary miracles: we want mountains to be moved & oceans to be parted for us & miraculous healings to be commonplace. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things – and we should be faithful to ask for them. But ALL of those things are only temporary! Yet in our salvation, faith in Christ Jesus accomplishes the eternal. Thus it’s not the temporary miracles we need to be fixated upon; it’s Jesus. He’s the ultimate promise of God & we’re to have our faith in Him. For our temporary circumstance and the eternal ones.


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