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Hebrews 11:35b-40 - A Commendable Faith In The Hope Of The Resurrection In Life And In Death

As I have contemplated our text today I have thought of Paul in Acts 21:13. In that text the LORD had made it clear to Paul that he go to Jerusalem where he would suffer. From that point on Paul would be tempted to reject this calling by well meaning believers who begged him not to go to Jerusalem (21:12). In Acts 21 even his ministry partners even began to beg him not to go to Jerusalem. Therefore,Paul says to them, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the LORD Jesus.” Then we read, “Since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, ‘Let the will of the LORD be done.’

By these things Paul’s obedience was being tested. We also see that the church had an important lesson to learn too. God calls some of His people to suffer and this brings Him glory.

One thing is clear from Acts 21. When God calls someone to suffer for Him they will be made ready by Him. Paul said, “I am ready…”. Paul may not have chosen this path for himself but he was made ready by God to obey His will.

Thomas Manton told a story that speaks of God making a man ready to die a martyrs death, “When Hooper, the blessed martyr, was at the stake, and the officers came to fasten him to it, he cried, ‘Let me alone; God who has called me here will keep me from stirring; and yet’, said he, upon second thought, ‘because I am but flesh and blood, I am willing. Bind me fast, lest I stir.’

Hebrews 11:35b-40says, “...Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

I am on a local Board of Trustees and we are reading a book that is called ‘A Failure of Nerve’ by Edwin H. Friedman. Friedman argues that fundamental changes in families, institutions and entire cultures happens through leaders who possess great courage during fearful times. Friedman calls this type of courage- ‘nerve’.He writes, “I believe that the catalyst for great change is in the ‘nerve’ of the great navigators who lead the way.” He argues that for great change to occur there must be ‘a system that produces leaders who can both take the first step and maintain the stamina to follow through in the face of predictable resistance and sabotage.

Our text this morning is all about this type of faithful leaders who display great ‘nerve’ in the face of persecution and suffering.

What type of ‘system produces such leaders’? Faith in God and the gospel produces this type of leaders.

The scriptures teach that God takes ordinary men and women and uses them for His purposes in this world (1 Cor. 1:26-29). He strengthens weak people by His grace and they will obey Him. When they bear this type fruit change comes to their families, their churches, their communities, and the world. Faith must produce boldness, courage and perseverance because every faithful disciple will fight against inner fears, outward pressures and the schemes and devices of Satan (1 Thess. 2:13-20).

These three great foes of the Christian can cause us to experience great fear and apprehension (Ps. 64:1) Therefore, we need to pray like David, “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from dread of the enemy.” David describes this enemy as a throng of evildoers and wicked people who devise secret plots against the righteous and the blameless (64:2-6). David says, “Theysearch out injustice, saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search.’

This means that these evil foes search out new ways to attack and harm God’s people. We see this in our passage today. Wicked people invent new means to cause suffering and harm against God’s people to tempt them to deny the faith.

In light of these things, what hope do we have to stand strong and faithful when we face such injustice? The author of Hebrews encourages these believers that this is done by our faith in God and His promises (2 Peter 1:3-11; 1 Peter 5:12).

We see in Hebrews 11 thatGod raises up faithful men and women that who He has called out and they are given His Spirit, His Word, and His grace to do His will faithfully under difficult circumstances (Acts 21:13-14).

We have seen in Hebrews 11 that by faith people will be used by God to achieve great exploits. We also see that it is by faith that some saints will remain faithful while enduring suffering, trials and persecution.

The saints who were used to do amazing exploits displayed great ‘nerve’. (Gideon, Barak, Samuel, David, Samson, Jephthah, etc.)

There are other saints, however, who are called to suffer faithfully under increasing persecution and humiliation. To do this their faith will have to produce in them a much needed ‘nerve’, boldness and courage. The saints who received this letter were called by God to face these sort of things and only faith could produce this type of ‘nerve’ that would remain steadfast under these trials.

Initially these Christians had received the Good News by faith and the Gospel radically changed their lives. We were told that the Gospel came to them from God with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts by the Holy Spirit (2:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6).

However, as they faced continual hardships their faith began to waiver. As this happened they may have asked, ‘Where is God’s powerful signs and wonders right now when we need it most?’ They may have asked, ‘What happened to all those miracles and gifts that were given by the Holy Spirit when we first believed?

(Could it be that these circumstances, when approached with faith, would reveal the countless miracles of grace that are given to a believer? Our faith in such times would reveal the graces which came into our hearts at salvation {2 Peter 1:3-11})

During this time God’s face may have seemed hidden, Jesus may have seemed distant and uncaring, and the message of the gospel only seemed to stir up chaos and trouble. Therefore, these Christians began to experience a crisis of faith. They stopped ‘paying attention’ to the gospel and they began to loosen their grip upon Christ and neglect the faith (2:1, 3). They began to slowly drifting away from Jesus and they began to forget that He could help them when they were tempted (2:18).

The author of Hebrews exhorts them to, “Take care lest there be in any of them an evil heart, leading them to fall away from the living God”. They needed to hold onto their original confidence to the very end (2:14). The author of Hebrews encouraged them to strive to enter into the rest that has been promised to God’s people (4:11). They are encouraged to draw near to the throne of grace, to receive grace and mercy and find help in their time of need (4:16).

Even though their faith was wavering the author of Hebrews says to them, “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – things that belong to salvation...We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (6:9-12) The present circumstances were hard but ‘the end’ was worth hoping for because saints are promised that ‘after we have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called us to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us once again.’ (1 Peter 5:10)

These believers knew that Jesus was in heaven mediating a better covenant on their behalf. They knew that He was presently interceding for the saints before the throne of God (7&8), but because of persecution they had begun to look away from these heavenly things and looked more at earthly and temporal things.

The author of Hebrews reminds them that they ought to continue to look to Jesus and eagerly wait for His second coming. This is when Jesus would return to save His people and judge the faithless (9:28). The author of Hebrews exhorted them that they were not to neglect to meet together...all the more as the day of Christ’s return approaches (10:25).

Finally, he says to them, “Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God (Acts 21:13-14) you may receive what is promised.” (10:32-36) Then the author of Hebrews says, “‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (10:37-39)

In Hebrews 11:35-38 the author of Hebrews shows us that it was by faith that these Old Testament saints endured great trials without shrinking back to the displeasure of God. Their faith looked forward to Christ and they strained, like Paul, to experience the resurrection (Philippians 3:10-14;Hebrews 12:1). Therefore, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.” (35)

These faithful saints believed God’s Word and by faith they saw that there would be a resurrection. This allowed them to display the ‘nerve’ to faithful even unto death.

There has always been a faithful remnant who has believed in the resurrection and it gave them uncommon ‘nerve’. According to F.F. Bruce this faithful remnant went against the culture of their day. He argues that many Jews did not believe in the resurrection. In the gospels even Jesus’ own disciples could not fully understand His teaching that He would suffer, die and be resurrected (Lk. 9:21-22, 9:43-45, 18:31-34).

How did God bring about such a radical change in His peoples understanding regarding the resurrection? How would God turn His peoples attention from the temporal world to His eternal kingdom?

Obviously Jesus’ teaching and His own resurrection is at the center of what God would do to overcome this (John 11:17-27); however, one way God provides this for His people is by allowing His church to suffer in this world. Again, to quote Friedman, “The catalyst for great change was the ‘nerve’ of the great navigators (the martyrs)who led the way.” Throughout redemptive history God has raised up individuals who were made willing to suffer and die for Him. The LORD ‘produces leaders who would take this step of courage and then maintain the stamina to follow through in the face of persecution.’ (Hebrews 12:1)

Bruce says, “It (a better understanding of the hope of the resurrection) did not receive general acceptance among the Jews until the age of persecution, from then on it became a cardinal doctrine in Judaism (except among the Sadducees…). Bruce writes, “When the persecution broke out under Antiochus Epiphanes, the fear of the LORD was more likely to lead to an early and painful death than to length of days. The martyrs had the faith to perceive that death and the gloom of Sheol could not be the final issue of loyalty to God. The hope of the resurrection blazed up and burned brightly before their eyes, giving them added courage to endure their torments.

Persecution helped God’s people clarify and grow in these great biblical doctrine. Then this clarity led to practical application in every area of their lives. When suffering clarified this doctrine the Church became healthier even as they faced suffering and death!

Job says, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:25-27a)

Many have questioned how Job could have spoken so clearly on the doctrine of the resurrection when so little had been revealed about this at this point in redemption history?Surly, it can be no accident that a man who suffered such a severe test of his faith would have expressed one of the clearest doctrines concerning the resurrection in the Old Testament.

The LORD is always encouraging His people with the hope of this doctrine. Believers find themselves surrounded by such a great cloud of faithful witnesses who often testify of these things in the visible and universal church. Yet, Satan is continually attempting to destroy our understanding and confidence of the hope of this doctrine.

1 Corinthians 15 is an entire chapter devoted to the importance of this doctrine and its centrality to the gospel. Paul says, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you-unless you believed in vain. For I delivered of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”. (1 Cor. 1:15:3)

In Corinth there were some who preached against this doctrine (15:12). Paul says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (19) Paul, a man who was called to suffer for Christ (Acts 9:16), says that he died every day as a faithful servant of Christ. To do thisPaul had to have a proper view of the biblical doctrine concerning the resurrection (31).

Paul knew the importance of the hope of the resurrection and says, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (32) Then he says, “Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some of you have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.” (34)

Apparently, some of the problems we see in the Corinthian church could be traced back to their failure to know and apply this foundational doctrine to their lives each day. Paul says this caused them to act like drunk people and associated with the wrong people (33).

Similarly, the author of Hebrews writes to these HebrewChristians because they had stopped growing in their understanding of the great doctrines of the Christian faith. Therefore, he says to them, “You have become dull of hearing.” (5:11) You ought to be teachers of these things but you need milk (5:13). He says, “Therefore, let us leave (build upon) the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith in God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (6:12)

Their immaturity in these doctrines was greatly effecting them in adverse ways! This was causing their faith to be anemic and sickly. When they ignored these doctrines they were prone to live only with the pleasures of this world in view and not eternity.

Then the author says, “And this we will do if God permits.” (3) One way God will permit them to grow in their understanding of these things is through their trials and through discipline.

My friends, no discipline seems pleasant at the time (12:11). Discipline seems painful and unpleasant but God’s grace is sufficient to those who rely upon Him and they will not be shaken! (Psalm 62). Your trial, your painful season of suffering, is not intended to destroy your hope; rather, it is to make your hope become more real and sure (2 Cor. 1:8-11). Our trials and sufferings can be experienced with joy because they are intended to be for our good that we may share in His holiness and so that we can rest in His steadfast love (12:6-10; James 1:2).

Community Church, are we a healthy church?

Are we holding on to the truths of God’s Word even as it pertains to suffering unto death? Or are we neglecting these things and we display little hope and confidence in God. If so, we will desire to eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. We will be in love with the things of this world and intoxicated by its pleasures.

Community Church, we will never be more healthy than when we look to Jesus each day for His resurrection power. We will never be as healthy as when we look at Him on the day of our death and draw our last breath in faith (Acts 7:54-60).


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