“And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith 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.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
After nearly a month working our way through Hebrews 12, today we finally land on the author’s big finish. The next natural section here is big enough, though, I’m going to break it up into two parts. Knowing that his time on this matter is short (why it is short we don’t know), the author of Hebrews launches into a sort of lightning round in which he covers a whole bunch of final examples of faith. But then, instead of naming names any longer, he starts mentioning stories by what happened to them. These stories fall into two different categories into which we can really divide all the responses to our faith. Today, let’s talk about all the good things that might happen to us because of our faith in God.
I remember preaching a sermon one time that was going really poorly. I don’t mean that was the only bad sermon I’ve ever preached. With well over 600 sermons preached so far in my ministry career, I’m certain there have been several that were not good, but there’s one I remember in particular. I was talking about the ways modern science can be harmonized nicely with the Scriptures. Along the way I was offering a whole bunch of examples to make my point. Too many examples, in fact. I could see the congregation was all checking out and even I was getting bored preaching it. So, I took the radical (for me) step of cutting out big sections of my manuscript on the fly and landing the thing much earlier than I had planned. It was the one time having a manuscript pre-printed for the congregation to use to follow along with me worked against me because everyone who had a copy of the manuscript immediately knew what I had done.
The author of Hebrews’ message here through chapter 11 was not going poorly. In fact, it is fascinating reading that opens the doors for many more questions than we have taken time to address together. The sum total of the thing, though, is to give us a remarkable picture of what it means and looks like to have faith in God. The whole thing is a great deal more oriented toward action than belief. Belief lies at the core of it all, but it is the action of living lives of obedience to God’s command in spite of what our circumstances or culture advise us is the right and proper thing to do that reveals the genuineness of our belief. As I said a few weeks ago, faith is living out a belief in something we can’t see on the word of someone we trust. In this case, that someone is God, the thing we can’t see is His promise to restore all things on the day of Christ’s return, and the living it out part is our willingness to behave now like we were already living in that day even though it has not yet arrived in full. This whole thing is a far cry from the generic belief or blind trust our culture envisions when it thinks about faith.
In any event, when the author wanted to give his audience some examples of what this all looks like, he turned to the Scriptures. His approach seems to have been to turn to the first page and to start flipping through stories, highlighting one “good guy” after another until he ran out of time. Well, at this point, whether he’s running out of scroll to write on or ink to write with or some other reason, once he gets through the story of Joshua, he moves to cut things short. He cites a handful of folks from Judges, mentions David and Samuel, and then lumps “the prophets” in as a group to cover the rest of the Scriptures. Then he goes on to offer snapshots of a variety of their stories as a kind of “and etc.”
Let me note one interesting thing to me about this closing list of names, and then we’ll reflect briefly on the stories he mentions here. What’s interesting is that, personally speaking, I would be hard-pressed to lump any of the judges into this group of stories of faith. Barak was a coward who refused to do what God was explicitly calling him to go and do without the comfort of his security blanket in the form of the prophetess, Deborah. Why she isn’t mentioned here I am not at all sure. She’s the real hero of that story. Gideon was also a coward and wound up leaving a terrible legacy that caused far more harm than good to the people. Yes, he ultimately went with God’s plan to end the tyranny of Midian, but he mostly had to be dragged along kicking and screaming. As for Jephthah and Samson, they were both terrible people in general. Jephthah was a scoundrel who was hired by the leaders of Gibeah without ever even consulting the Lord. He totally misunderstood the character of God, and didn’t evidently follow Him in any meaningful way. And Samson was a serial womanizer whose addiction finally got him in trouble. God still used him to kill a bunch of Philistines and bring some political relief to Israel, but there’s almost nothing about him worth commending to a modern follower of Jesus.
David and Samuel are a bit better than these guys, but they weren’t without their own faults. If nothing else, what this final list offers is a way to encourage folks that no matter how meager their faith may be, God can take a little bit and accomplish a whole lot with it. There’s a reason Jesus said that faith the size of a mustard seed can move entire mountains. God moves the mountain, we simply come along for the ride. The key, though, is that God wants to move the mountain in the first place. If He doesn’t want it moved, no amount of faith will make it happen. When God is going somewhere, if we are willing to come along, even the smallest amount of faith will still keep our lives hitched to His wagon.
And when we are hitched to His wagon, a whole lot of good can come of it. Think back over this list. There are a lot of impressive things on this list. There are things impressive both from a worldly perspective and a heavenly one. Conquered kingdoms and justice administered, promises obtained and lions tamed, fire fought and battles survived, and even the dead raised to new life. These are all objectively good things. Sometimes when we stand with faith in God, things go really well for us. We win what by all worldly accounts are incredible victories. God comes through in the ways we want Him to come through and we wind up with stories that make for great movies. And these kinds of story outcomes don’t come with lottery odds either. There is every reason to think that God will reward your faithfulness with incredible victory in this life. He’s done it time and time again. You should trust in Him for this very reason. You should live a life of faithful obedience to the command of Christ to love your neighbor after the pattern of His own love for you because things are likely to go really well when you do.
But sometimes they don’t. We’ll talk about that more tomorrow, Lord willing.