Monday, March 28, 2016
As we return to our series in Hebrews 11 on the Hall of Faith, we are again confronted by Old Testament figures that many refer to as “heroes.” To be sure, our culture is fascinated with the hero archetype. Stories as old as Homer’s Odyssey and the Iliad have celebrated heroic figures. More recently creative people came up with comic book characters full of various heroes, each with their own corresponding powers. These comics were then turned into TV shows and movies that gross record sales. Now, one hero is not enough; they are putting two, three, and four together in one motion picture (as witnessed in movies like the Avengers). Even now, Batman and Superman are sharing the big screen and soon Captain America and Iron Man will take their turn in front of audiences worldwide. There is something about heroes that resonates within us as human beings. We want to be like them and, I imagine, apply their saving powers to the situations we often face or see on our TV screens. If only, we might say, I could be like “so and so” or borrow “this or that” super power, I could fix “such and such.” However, is this really the right idea?
Today we are going to look at the next installment in the Hall of Faith and learn about what our role is when we face the problems of this world—problems that require a hero. In Hebrews 11:30-31 two members of a dynamic duo are mentioned that will teach us our place in the saving business.
The next story as retold by the preacher in Hebrews begins at the end when it says in verse 30, “by faith the walls of Jericho fell down” (11:30a). However, so much more than a bunch of barricades collapsed when Joshua faced this wicked city head on all those years ago. Here is how the original account reads:
Joshua 6:20-21-“So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city. They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.”
What is referenced here by the preacher in Hebrews is nothing short of total and complete destruction.
However this kind of destruction raises an issue or two when it comes to the nature of God. Many skeptics will ask, “How can a God that we claim is good command the kind of destruction witnessed here?” This, to be sure, is a compelling question; however, it is not unanswerable.
For starters, God had promised the Israelites this land and the citizens of Jericho were not about to give it up. Though some might have opted for a more “diplomatic solution,” the Bible makes it clear in a number of places that the kind of people that occupied this particular territory were exceedingly wicked, destructive, and not about to hand over things quietly. Second, God knows the bigger picture and is working things out for His glorious purposes. We know because of what the rest of Scripture reveals that eventually in order to bring His Son into the world through the Jewish people (the people promised to bless the world), there would have to be a Jewish people in the future. Therefore, allowing a substantial enemy—or even the threat of future generations of enemies—was counterproductive and risky. Therefore, in order to allow for the greater good—Jesus Christ who came to provide salvation to the world—threats like Jericho had to be dealt with soundly. It gave God no pleasure to command this; but it did pave the way for something truly glorious.
Led by Moses’ successor Joshua, the people of God were victorious over this formidable enemy in the Promised Land, thereby gaining a foothold in the long-awaited territory. However, the “battle of Jericho” was unlike any battle that had ever been waged.
Such a victory only came after the people of God, led by Joshua, obeyed the Lord in faith. In fact, extraordinary faith was required as the Lord wanted to destroy the Amorites in Jericho in a way never before accomplished. Here is how the instructions read in Joshua 6:1-5:
Joshua 6:1-5-“Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. The Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors. You shall march around the city, all the men of war circling the city once. You shall do so for six days. Also seven priests shall carry seven trumpets of rams' horns before the ark; then on the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall be that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people will go up every man straight ahead.’”
Without hesitation, Joshua led the people of God around the city, and around and around, and around, again and again, until every instruction of God was met with obedience. Then, and only then, would God bring the victory He promised. This is why verse 30 qualifies the victory with, “after they had been encircled for seven days.”
The obedience of God’s people as witnessed in this short verse is also what qualifies Joshua for the hall of faith. Imagine coming to your people in the briefing room in preparation for war in a foreign land and disclosing these kinds of instructions! Your generals would think you had lost it somewhere in the wilderness! Never had a battle been waged like that! However, this is exactly why God commanded it—God wanted to fight this battle for His people. Remember the definition of faith that has informed every story in this hall of Hebrews 11:
Hebrews 11:1-“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Surely the people of God hoped for victory in their new land and had to trust that the promise of this victory in spite of what they saw—Jericho—God was capable of bringing this victory to pass. Joshua knew this and believed it himself. In fact, his name—“Joshua”—means “God is salvation.” Given these peculiar instructions, God would have to come through and prove to be the Jews’ salvation in this episode.
In fact, while any other means of destroying Jericho may have made more sense, God’s way, though peculiar, was the only way that would result in victory and blessing. In this way, though some might have initially thought that Joshua is the hero in the dynamic duo mentioned in this passage, God ultimately is. It is His plan, provision, prompting, and power that brings this victory and every following victory to pass for the Israelites. The same is true for our lives.
As we look at the hero of this story we learn that God has not called people to be the heroes in their stories—He has called them to be obedient in His story. While any other way of living, striving, succeeding, etc. might seem more popular, more explainable, more comfortable, or easier, God’s way as found in His Word, though peculiar, is the only way that guarantees victory and blessing in the end. Though we kid ourselves into believing and our American culture goats us into striving to be our own hero, God is ultimately the only hero. It is His plan, provision, prompting, and power that brings us victory in anything.
Every hero has a sidekick…right? Superman had Lois Lane; Batman has Robin; even “the Lone Ranger” had Tanto! The same is true in this story. However, this sidekick is quite unexpected. Her name is Rahab and aside from the helpful and fruitful end of her life, she lived the majority of her existence in the same sinful cesspool that Go dintended to destroy—Jericho. She, herself, was a citizen of this God-forsaking city. If that wasn’t bad enough, three times over Rahab is referred to as “the harlot,” and the Hebrew term zoonah and the Greek word porne have at no time meant anything other than a woman who yields herself indiscriminately to every man approaching her. In the years leading up to her interaction with the people of God, Rahab indulged traveling merchants that came her way and were housed in her small apartment that was nestled in Jericho’s walls. However, the first thing that we are told about this sketchy character in Hebrews 11:31 is, “By faith, Rahab, the harlot did no perish…” (11:31). This much is clear from how the story is recorded in Joshua.
Joshua 6:22-23-“ Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, ‘Go into the harlot’s house and bring the woman and all she has out of there, as you have sworn to her.’ So the young men who were spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and her mother and her brothers and all she had; they also brought out all her relatives and placed them outside the camp of Israel.”
Therefore, one might say that the destruction of Jericho was not totally total. Though it mentions in Joshua 6:24 that,
Joshua 6:24-”They burned the city with fire, and all that was in it. Only the silver and gold, and articles of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord…”
Rahab escaped this fate because Rahab was not counted as “those who were disobedient” (11:31b).
Joshua 6:25-“However, Rahab the harlot and her father’s household and all she had, Joshua spared; and she has lived in the midst of Israel to this day,…”
Rahab proved to be an excellent sidekick of God’s in getting His will accomplished in Jericho. Earlier in the story as it is recorded in Joshua, she in her own special way contributed to the victory that God was bringing about.
Joshua 2:1-8- “Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there. It was told the king of Jericho, saying, ‘Behold, men from the sons of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.’ And the king of Jericho sent word to Rahab, saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.’ But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. It came about when it was time to shut the gate at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.’ But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them in the stalks of flax which she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued them on the road to the Jordan to the fords; and as soon as those who were pursuing them had gone out, they shut the gate.”
Many have speculated as to why Rahab behaved in this way. Given her background and profession, one wonders why she would give refuge to these foreigners. However, some have speculated that she had come to learn the facts of the Exodus of Israel, the miracle of the Red Sea, and other victories of the people of the one true God in her interactions with travelers. Her curiosity of this peculiar people was satisfied upon meeting a couple of their spies, Jewish spies, and in her interactions with them God confirmed what she already suspected. Here were two men that proved different from other men who came seeking her favors. These were men of God, not idolaters. These were men bent on one mission. Therefore, she planned their protection and escape. This is what the Hebrews text refers to when it says, “after she had welcomed the spies in peace” (11:31c).
Though a simple act, Rahab’s daring move was no small feat. She gave up her own people for a couple of strangers! Though her safety would have been assured if she had given these spies up, she instead takes a deadly risk in directing the king’s men elsewhere. Every moment she hid those spies was a moment the jig could have been up—a moment when the king’s men could have discovered her secret and killed them all! She wasn’t perfect, but she, in her own incomplete way understood that the God of these spies was special and that the people they represented were to be given claim over Jericho. Surprisingly and quite unexplainable, she had faith! Faith that risked it all so that God’s will could be accomplished.
In exchange for her daring act, she asks in the original account of the spies that she be spared upon the city’s destruction. In their response they guaranteed her safety.
Rahab’s life was spared because she proved an excellent sidekick! The most unlikely person in the world was used in the most wonderful way! God sure does know how to pick them doesn’t He? Here is a woman that the Bible cannot help but call a harlot, a woman whose whole life up to this point was lived in one of the most wicked cities in all of the world, a woman who had nothing to lose but her own life. And yet, because of her simple faith, she is not only spared here, she is praised throughout the rest of the Scriptures. Three times she is referenced in the New Testament and once in a most unlikely place—the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:5). Yes, Rahab was Boaz’s mother—the same Boaz who was the grandfather of king David! Talk about a life changed!
When we looked at the hero of the story we learned that God doesn’t want people to be the heroes of their own stories; He wants people to be obedient in His. Here, as we examine this unlikely sidekick, we learn that anyone, yes ANYONE who is obedient to God can join His cause and be used in incredible ways.
In this passage we have witnessed the awesome power of God that brings total victory when people obey Him and join His story in faith. Against every comfort and commonality, the people of God are those who follow HIs directions, no matter how peculiar, and, as a result, experience His blessings. When this is done right, God becomes the hero of one’s story. Can this be said of your life? Or, are you too busy trying to prove something to the world around you or to yourself? Anyone attempting to be the hero of his/her life story will soon be defeated by the very world or foe that he or she intends to conquer. Instead, our energy would be better spent enjoying our role as sidekicks. Truth be told, anyone, that is, ANYONE can join God on mission and be used in amazing ways. All it takes is fearing Him more than anything else. If He can use a harlot and is pleased to include her in Jesus’ genealogy, He can use you and me.
So, what is your Jericho? What is standing in front of you right now that needs to be destroyed or circumvented? Perhaps it’s a habit, a toxic relationship, secret, illness, or vocational obstacle. This passage instructs us that in the face of any difficulty we are not to try and save ourselves, but be saved by following the Lord’s direction and joining Him whenever He calls us to do whatever He asks. This is the kind of faith worthy of the Hall of Faith.
Monday, March 21, 2016
Over the last several weeks on Wednesday nights we have looked at what historians and skeptics say about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and have made a compelling case that A Man from Nazareth named Jesus died by crucifixion and was seen three days later for an extended period by multiple eye-witnesses. Early accounts report it, multiple sources corroborate it, historical analysis supports it, and supernatural explanations are best prepared to satisfy it. However, what connects the dots between this miracle and the implications thereof is the Word of God—the authoritative account of what took place early that first Easter morning. This is the account I am pleased to celebrate with you today from Matthew 28:5-7.
However, aside from the apologetic value of the resurrection, what I want to focus on today is the personal value it holds for today’s believer. Many times, even seasoned believers can find themselves in some sort of stupor or state of discouragement that they cannot seem to shake—the loss of a loved one or opportunity, the stress of a job or lack thereof, the strife between someone you have a relationship with, etc. When I experience these humble moments, I realize that the cause of my fatigue is often failing to remember the promises of God and His presence in my life. My failure is a result of me forgetting to trust God at His Word. In a far more difficult scenario than I have ever run across, Jesus’ mother and friends had run into the same problem. Failing to remember what God had said left these women sad and grieving. However, God through one of His glowing messengers would soon shake them from their own spiritual stupor in the wake of the greatest miracle ever—the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The angel of the Lord provides supernatural encouragement and comfort to these morose matrons by means of four proclamations that I believe will also encourage us this Resurrection Sunday. These statements kill worry and annihilate fear in the lives of those who will head them as the event they are attached to—Jesus rising from the dead—is in and of itself, God greatest promise and proof of eternal life with Him.
I. PROCLAMATION #1: FEAR NOT!-28:5b
At the outset of this passage, an angel confronts the most obvious problem that the women probably had at this point. Not only had they watched their King be slaughtered and buried in the ground, but now they could not even visit the body of their beloved Savior. All things point to despair and their lack of faith seems to begin obtaining justification. Anyone brought to this point would suffer great alarm and questions. Not to mention, the presence of an angel whose appearance “was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow,” would not do much to help calm things down. However, against all natural impulses and urges, the angel boldly proclaims, “Do not be afraid!”(28:5). One might assume from this clear call that the angel believes there is no good reason for fearing at this point and yet, the situation as far as the women could observe was undeniably bleak. It is to this situation that the angels then references.
The angel knew full well why the women were upset and now stricken with overwhelming grief—Jesus had been crucified. That was the simple fact. No one could deny the horror that must have taken place before these women who loved Jesus and devoted themselves to Him throughout His ministry on earth. It was this teacher, this Healer, this Leader, this King, who had been brutally executed. Watching a crucifixion went way beyond even some of the most gory movies or video games many are familiar with today. It was a spectacle of blood, excruciating pain, and unbelievable carnage that would have been forever imprinted on the mind of any witness. Such an act coupled with a weak faith would have driven anyone to fear. This would have been especially true of those who followed the victim, prescribed to His teachings, and believed in His saving power. However, it is in the midst of this despondency that the angel proclaims “FEAR NOT!” waking these women from their discouragement, readying them to receive the remainder of his message.
I’m not sure what you thought you would hear when you came in the door. I’m not sure what pain or trouble or confusion you are going through today. I’m not sure how bad things have become or how bleak the horizon is on your life, but I am confident that what you are traveling through now could not have been any worse than what these women at Jesus’ grave had witnessed. FEAR NOT! Allow these two simple words to awaken you to the message of hope that will follow.
The angel could prohibit the fear of these women, in part, because he was glowing and really cool-looking, but also because he recognized what they had failed to realize. This leads him to his second proclamation.
II. PROCLAMATION #2: WONDER NOT!-28:6
After describing the passion these women had witnessed and the death they had grieved, the angel calls their attention to the empty grave, stating the arrestingly obvious detail that Jesus was no longer in His assigned burial plot. However, was this not also a cause for their concern? Was this not one of the contributing factors of their fear and discouragement? Didn’t the lack of Jesus’ body cause their alarm that fateful morning?
What these women had grown accustomed to following Jesus’ death, due to their lack of faith, was a bad case of assuming the worst. Lack of faith in a job can cause a manager to assume the worst when the boss calls for a private meeting. Lack of faith in a loved one’s health can cause a son or a daughter to panic when they get a call late at night. In the same way, the lack of faith in what Jesus said of Himself caused these women to assume the worst when His body went missing. Maybe the body was stolen, or secretly disposed of, etc. However, instead of the worst possible scenario, the most wonderful miracle took place.
Jesus had been resurrected in the proper sense of the word. He was the first to be brought back to life in an eternal and glorified sense. While people like Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, had been resuscitated, only Jesus had received His eternal and glorified body upon being brought back to life. The verbal sense of the words “has risen” suggests the completion of an activity. The resurrection validated the entirety of Jesus’ ministry, completed His redemptive office, and finished the work He had come to perform as Savior. Through His resurrection, Jesus defeated death, sin, and the world system. This act implies that those who belong to Him can necessarily conquer these elements as well. Death no longer has sting, Hell has been defeated, sin no longer is binding, Jesus had been risen! However, this should not have come as a surprise to anyone, especially the women standing speechless.
Jesus had indeed made no secret that He would die. Similarly, He dropped plenty of hints that He would also be raised.
When did He say that?
Matt. 16:21-“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.”
Matt. 17:23-“and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day, and they were deeply grieved.”
Matt. 20:19-“and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up”
Matt. 26:32-“But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee”
Jesus time and time again desired to be taken at His Word. However, the fear and confusion of the women was constructed on weak faith—faith that believed the worst and forgot the best, faith that dwelt on the present situation and neglected to remember the hope they had for the future, faith that failed to take Jesus at His word and anticipate His resurrection.
Unfortunately, observing these women is a lot like looking in the mirror. When God does something we are astonished by or when things look bad around us we fear in large part because like these women we have failed to believe Jesus at His Word. However, in everything he said and did, in everything recorded for us in His word He gives evidence of His power over death, his love as witnessed in His death for humanity; and his saving ability as alluded to in His life and ministry. How can we trust His greatness? He IS ALIVE! The tomb is empty!!!! When the world scoffed at Jesus while on the earth and in the face of his claims yelled, like a child, PROVE IT! Jesus left a tomb empty and ignited a global movement!
When Jesus’ word was not enough for these women to believe ahead of time that Jesus would only remain in the tomb a few short days, the Angel aids their faith with a call to examine the evidence. He was not there! A guarded tomb with encased by a massive stone was unable to keep Jesus from leaving. Truly, while all should take Jesus at His Word concerning His life and ministry, Jesus left the tomb with plenty of evidence behind in order to prove that this crucial event actually took place.
“There is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ.”-Brooke Foss Wescott.
“No shred of evidence has yet been discovered in literary sources, epigraphy or archaeology that would disprove that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the 1st Easter.”-Dr. Paul L. Maier.
“According to the law of legal evidence used in courts of law, there is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ than for just about any other event in history.”-Dr. Simon Greenleaf, Harvard law professor.
The call of these women concerning the resurrection is the same call given to us. FEAR NOT! Why? Because we do not have to wonder where our Savior is? He is risen as He said and as can be proven without question! WONDER NOT! He has made good on what He said and proven to be the Savior He claimed of Himself. What now? What does one do with this knowledge.
III. PROCLAMATION #3: TARRY NOT!-28:7a-c
The angel assumed that these women would, having learned of Jesus’ resurrection, leave that place and head elsewhere with this new information. He assumes swift movement in response to such information. No doubt these women would have had quite a spring in their step after leaving the gravesite.
The theme of “going” is carried on throughout the rest of the final chapter in Matthew. The angel speaks of the going of these women to the disciples here in verse 7. Jesus speaks of “going” to the brethren in verse 10, “Do not be afraid; go…”. Finally, in the last verses of Scripture, Jesus assumes that His disciples would “go” into all of the world, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,…” (28:19).
It would appear that the natural and assumed response to Jesus’ completed work of redemption involves movement, not complacency, intentionality, not laziness, action, not inaction.
Throughout this series we have learned the value of true, persistent prayer, and real brokenness for the world. However, these don’t mean a thing if as a result we are not going into the world for Christ as He has commanded of us in light of His resurrection.
In their going, the angel desired that they would accompany their steps with a message, “Jesus has risen from the dead!” This was the very best part of the “good news.” Such a message would have brought comfort to the disciples mourning the loss of their Savior. This message continues to spread and bring similar comfort to believers today.
Going accompanies proclamation in all of the cases we perused throughout the remainder of Matthew’s book. Here, the women are charged to god and tell the disciples. In verse 10, Jesus calls them to go and take word to the brethren. In verse 19, Jesus calls His disciples to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,…” In each of these cases, the scope grows larger and larger.
FEAR NOT! Why? God is not dead! WONDER NOT! He has made good on His word and there are plenty of reasons to believe Him. TARRY NOT! There is message that needs to be taken to the world and unfortunately the church is treating the greatest news of all like it is old news.
IV. PROCLAMATION #4: WORRY NOT! -28:7c-e
In an effort to encourage these women further, the angel brings their attention to Jesus’ movement. Already, as they were encouraged to go and tell, Jesus was running ahead of them into Galilee where the disciples were. Suggesting that Jesus’ presence would precede their arrival would have brought much peace and excitement to these women as they made their way. This is the first time that Jesus’ present location is disclosed following the resurrection.
The angel then assures them that they will indeed look upon their Savior once again. Oh what a joy this would have been for Mary and her friends, who at the beginning of the day anticipated a corpse and now had learned that they would see their Savior and King alive and glorified!
Later in Matthew’s gospel Going and telling is shown to involve Jesus’ presence in much the same way. 28:10 says, “Go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see me.” Likewise, in the Great Commission, after calling them to Go and make disciples, Jesus comforts them with a promise of His presence.
Obedience to the call to go and proclaim assures God’s presence in one’s life in a special way. This is what the angel promises these women and what Jesus later promises to His disciples. In this way, neither had any cause for worry, He would be with them every step of the journey.
The angel ends his proclamations with an appeal to his own authority. He, no doubt, was a glowing messenger from heaven charged by God himself to give this message and because of that, the women should take him at His word (although earlier we learned they had failed to extend Jesus that same courtesy). However, this time they had learned their lesson and would obey whole heartedly.
Fear Not! Wonder Not! Tarry Not! Worry Not! This is the message of the resurrection: Because Jesus is alive and not dead, those who place their trust in Him can know a life free of fear, that no longer has to wonder about God, that is no longer stuck or immovable in sin, and is anxiety-free. I’m not sure about you, but that is the kind of life I would like to live. For those without Christ, the proclamations sound a lot different: “Fear everything because you are still of the world, keep wondering because you are still without any answers to the most difficult questions of life, tarry all you want because you are stuck in sin, and keep worrying things are very grim.” If you are living in fear, wonder, and worry, know that Jesus came, He died, and He rose, to save you from these.
However, if you are already a believer today, how well are you doing at the going and telling part of the Christian life? How great a gift we have been given through the cross! How great a Savior we have living within us because of His resurrection! What a message to proclaim and share with the whole world! If you and I want to experience God’s presence in a unique way today we need to be obedient to go and tell of Him. If we really believe our God was killed and then raised from the dead the way the Bible reveals, what are we doing sitting around quietly twiddling our fingers? Many believers do a satisfactory job at the faith, prayer and maybe even the brokenness part of the Christian life. However, it does the world no good if we are not going and telling others.
Allow this resurrection message to thrust you into the roads less traveled in your life and in the life of this church as we take what we have learned to this neighborhood, city and world. We have the resurrection power of God within us! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead! That alone is enough to do wonders we could never imagine. Be encouraged believer FEAR NOT! WONDER NOT! TARRY NOT! WORRY NOT! Do not be like those who forget the promises and God as witnessed in Jesus and become more impressed with the problems of this world than you are with Jesus’ greatest miracle. He is risen. He is risen indeed!
Monday, March 14, 2016
For as long as sin has been in the world, there has been idolatry. C.S. Lewis correctly acknowledges that our hearts, fallen as they are, are idol factories, for, we cannot help but worship something in our lives. Though in our culture idols may not take the form of a statue or third party personality like they once did, worship of the self, political success, money, influence, one’s family, pleasure, and the like are just as false and harmful. Thankfully, God in the person of Jesus Christ has given us every reason to choose Him over all others. However, before we reflect on the person of Christ in a special way this Palm Sunday morning, let’s take a close look at one epic battle that between two gods that illustrates the superiority of the Lord in no uncertain terms. In this story, a Pharaoh claims to be God on earth and the absolute ruler of the world. Under his reign he gives evidence of his power and influence by constructing an empire filled with lush palaces and incredible architectural feats. Not only that, but his authority over his subjects and slaves is absolute. He is no doubt an intimidating figure on the world’s stage, and yet, one person, with faith in the one true God, challenges the status quo, and leads the oppressed in victory. Let’s take a look at five accomplishments of faith found in this familiar story as it is retold in Hebrews 11:23-29 and learn how this Old Testament epic provides a glimpse of a much greater victory over a much larger foe.
Faith Saves a Baby-11:23
The next exhibition in the hall of faith celebrates what God accomplished through the life of Moses. Five accomplishments of faith in his story are identified in this short passage that successfully summarize Moses’ life from birth to the Red Sea. The first accomplishment of faith in the life of Moses came during a troubling time for the Hebrew slaves.
Exodus 1:15-22-“Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was names Shiphrah and the other was named Puah; and he said, ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth and see them upon the birthstool, if it is a son, then you shall put him to death; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this thing, and let the boys live?’ the midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them.’ So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied, and became very mighty. Because the midwives feared God, He established households for them. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, saying, ‘Every son who is born you are to cast into the Nile, and every daughter you are to keep alive.”
For this reason, “Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three month by his parents” (11:23a). Risking life and limb, the parents of young Moses accomplished the task of hiding a baby boy for an extended period of time.
Though the reasons for hiding this child may seem obvious, the text goes on to say that Moses’ parents did this “because they saw he was a beautiful child;” (11:23b). There was, according to this verse, something special about this young boy—something that goes well beyond looks. The only other time this word beautiful is used in the New Testament is in Acts 7:20 where it says that Moses was “beautiful before God.” It would seem that Moses’ parents had the spiritual acumen to discern Moses’ potential and were, because of this observation, motivated to protect him.
The text makes it plain that this motivating factor reigned supreme over and above any fear of the king’s edict, “and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (11:23b). Therefore, the expected answer to the question “why did Moses’ Parents keep him hidden?” is not the correct answer. They hid him away from the king so that God might have his way in this special boy’s life. This family feared God more than any king or law and for this reason, Moses’ life was spared.
Who/what one fears most reveals a lot about one’s faith even to this day!
Faith Embraces a Heritage-11:24-26
After this three month span, Moses’ family sent him down river.
Exodus 2:3-10-“but when she could hide him no longer, she got him a wicker basket and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. HIs sister stood at a distance to find out what would happen to him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the Nile, with her maidens walking alongside the Nile; and she saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid, and she brought it to her. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the boy was crying. And she had pity on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’ Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women that she may nurse the child for you?’ Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘God ahead.’ So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him. The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, ‘Because I drew him out of the water.’”
Not only did faith in God protect Moses at birth, it landed Moses in the palace where he grew up as a prince of Egypt. With the trappings of an Egyptian aristocrat, every comfort afforded him, and an education fit for a king, Moses was raised unlike any other Hebrew slave in his day.
However, “by faith, Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasure of sin…”(11:24)
Ultimately, Moses chose to identify with God’s people rather than with the godless. In spite of the luxury and affluence he grew up knowing, he instead identified with the slaves, why? Because though the slaves had no freedom, riches, or opportunities, they had one thing the Egyptians didn’t have—the one true God. This is what motivated Moses out of the palace and into the muck and mire. This is what led Moses to trade an audience of palace officials for an oppressed people.
The preacher in Hebrews reflects on Moses’ choice and connects it to another, far greater messiah figure--Jesus Christ, “considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (11:26). Both Moses and Christ experienced the same kind of reproach given the choices that each of them made. Both men stood on the side of God, proclaiming His truth and standing with His people against all kinds of oppressors. This, both did at great personal cost, giving up lofty positions (Moses: a prince, Jesus: the glory of heaven), and inviting intense mistreatment (Moses: at the hands of Pharaoh, Jesus: on the cross).
However, what is also true about each of these men is that they had their eyes firmly fixed on the future reward, “for he was looking to the reward” (11:26). “Looking” in the original language means “to keep thinking about, without having one’s attention distracted” (Louw Nida). The context in both Moses and Christ’s situation involves fixing one’s attention on something intently. Moses sought the reward of the Promised Land, not present pleasure. Jesus sought the glory of God and the salvation of mankind, not growing popularity.
In the first accomplishment of faith we learned that faith fears God over everything/everyone else, no matter how intimidating. Here we learn that faith chooses what is right, even when it is uncomfortable. How is this possible in our world that hails selfishness and personal preference? By doing what both Moses and Jesus did: by having a greater fascination with the reward to come than the pleasures of this world.
Faith Takes a Walk-11:27
The preacher next reveals that “by faith [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen” (11:27). Though, as the story in Exodus reveals, part of the motivation in leaving Egypt stemmed from embarrassment and other negative implications surrounding Moses’ killing of the Egyptian who was abusing a slave, this verse in Hebrews reveals the positive motivations surrounding his decision to flee: Moses was following what was unseen instead of what was seen.
Hebrews 11:1-“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Consider how difficult this must have been for Moses to leave Egypt. Few cultures were more visually stimulating, intimidating, and image-rich than Ancient Egypt. Everything from colorful hieroglyphics tattooed on the palace walls to the opulent quarters that Moses, no doubt occupied constantly surrounded this young man, inundating him with appearance of power and influence. If these images were not enough, the statues that decorated the city, massive pyramids, and scale of other construction projects echoed these intimidating overtures. However, on an even more intimate level, Moses must have known that, given his status, this killing of the Egyptians was of no legal consequence to him. Surely he could see his way out of his problem in Egypt. However, regardless of the beauty, power, and safety that surrounded him, Moses endured in his journey away from Egypt by focusing on what he could not see—the one true God.
So far we’ve learned in Moses’ life that faith fears God over everything/everyone else, no matter how intimidating. We also learned that faith chooses what is right, even when it is uncomfortable by having a greater fascination with the reward to come than the pleasures of this world. Here, it is abundantly clear that faith is convicted and thereby compelled by what is unseen over what is seen.
Faith Obeys Orders-11:28
Next, the preacher makes a comment on how Moses obeyed peculiar orders, “by faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood” (11:28).
Exodus 12:3ff-“…’On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their father’s households,…Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old;…then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it,…For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt…the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”
Blood on doorposts? Angel of death? I imagine that as the Hebrew slaves went through these motions, many wondered what they were doing. However, under Moses’ leadership, they did it in faith!
Why? “So that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them,…” (11:28).
I cannot leave this verse without commenting on how divinely appointed it is for us to be journeying through this passage on Palm Sunday of all Sundays. On this day nearly 2000 years ago a man from Nazareth called the “Lamb of God” was brought into Jerusalem after living an unblemished life. Hailed as a king and ushered in on a donkey, he was quickly rejected by the masses as the week progressed. There, on Thursday night, in an upper room, Jesus lead his disciples in celebrating the Passover feast—a festival commemorating what Moses is said to have done in this passage and in Exodus. In so doing, Jesus foreshadowed His own death as the spotless lamb, sacrificed in an effort to cover those who, in faith, follow Him. For these, the judgment of God is no concern. Instead, death passes these over because of Jesus’ spilled blood over the doorposts of their lives.
As demonstrated with Moses and his people, faith not only fears God over everything/everyone else, chooses what is right, even when it is uncomfortable, and is compelled by what is unseen over what is seen, faith also obeys the Lord.
Faith Follows the Lord-11:29
Those spared by this last plague because of their obedience to God were eventually allowed passage out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership and in faith, began their journey to the Promised Land. They were free—free, that is, except for one more obstacle—the Red Sea. Approaching this large body of water was one thing. However, what made things precarious was that Pharaoh had changed his mind about letting God’s people go and was now pursuing them from behind. People were now crying out against Moses saying, “Why have you dealt with us in this way…it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die” (Gen. 14:11-12).
However, in faith, Moses says to them, “do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today” (Gen. 14:13). Soon after, “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land” (Gen. 14:21). This is what the preacher in Hebrews references when he says, “by faith, they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land” (11:29a). Here, the faith of Moses and the people of God followed the Lord to victory. When they went into the sea they were slaves on the run. When they came out of the sea, they were free—all because they followed the Lord in Faith.
By contrast, “the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned” (11:29b). Why? Practically, these threatened the livelihood of God’s people. However, more fundamentally, these did not follow the Lord as their faith was in other Gods. They believed in Gods with statues, clever names, and followed a Pharaoh who, for them, was their version of God on earth! This landed them in the bottom of the sea.
Moses’ story reveals that faith not only fears God over everything/everyone else, chooses what is right, even when it is uncomfortable, is compelled by what is unseen over what is seen, obeys the Lord, and follows Him wherever he leads. Such faith is able to stand up to the powers of this world, no matter how intimidating, and ultimately escape their unyielding grip. In faith, Moses was a savior for his people, and yet, he is a foreshadowing of a far greater hero—Jesus Christ. Like Moses, Jesus left a glorious place to serve God. Like Moses, Jesus was obedient to God, even when it was uncomfortable. Like Moses, Jesus faced an intimidating enemy and won! Because Jesus won over sin and death, the greatest and most existential enemy of humanity, through his sacrifice and resurrection, He is deserving of our worship and our faith over all potential idols. He is superior to all other objects of worship! What other deity humiliated Himself on your behalf? What other monarch was willing to die for you? What other ruler is still left standing—no matter what the opposition? Because Jesus is so great, we can place our faith in Him as we face the pharaohs of this world today—and ultimately, in the end, win!
Monday, March 7, 2016
There is a picture that was taken recently upon my son’s first Christmas in Texas with our extended family. Because we do not get to go down to San Antonio often, I wanted to snag a picture of the four generations of Dickson boys that are alive today in our family. Pictures really do say 1000 words and perhaps many more, for in this picture are represented the lives of four different personalities that are each ripe with their own examples of faithfulness in the midst of a host of differing situations and circumstances. Today’s passage is no different. However, instead o f a photograph, we are given a word picture in Hebrews 11:17-22. In this short group of verses four generations of one family are represented that each teach something different about faithfulness to God. As the preacher closes the exhibit celebrating Abraham in the Hall of Faith, he makes reference to his son, grandson, and great grandson in an effort to draw attention to the lives each of these men lived and how each of them followed the Lord under unusual duress or difficulties. As I prepared for this message, I couldn’t help but pray that God would bless the generations after my family with the same kind of testimony of faithfulness that is witnessed here. That said, let us look at these four examples of faith and be inspired to take on the characteristics represented in this passage so that those who come behind us find us faithful and are inspired toward faithful living.
Abraham Passes a Test-11:17-19
As we conclude our journey through the installation in the hall of faith that showcases Abraham and his family, four examples of faithfulness are witnessed. The first is perhaps the most famous story attributed to Abraham—His willing sacrifice of Isaac—“By faith, Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac” (11:17a). Let’s read the original account of how this test was administered by God in Genesis 22:1-2.
Genesis 22:1-2-“Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.’”
Every Jew that had read this story knew what this test entailed and how difficult the dilemma was for Abraham at this point in his life. After obeying God by leaving everything he knew on a promise of things to come, after waiting and waiting for a son (even trying at one point to take things into his own hands to speed things up), and finally after receiving the child for which he hoped for years, God is asking him to offer him up as a sacrifice! Such a command ran contrary to the natural love a parent has for a child, let alone an only child, let alone a special child given at a late stage of life!
Having always respected the dilemma of this passage from afar in years past, I never truly apprehended the gravity of what is being asked here until I had children myself. Granted, I have two children, not the one, and didn’t have to wait especially long to receive them. Regardless, there is nothing in the world that I believe would be more difficult than what is being asked here.
However, what makes this even more outrageous/difficult/unprecedented etc. is the incredible contradiction between these two opposing ideas: the promises of God which were to be fulfilled through Isaac, and the command to sacrifice him as an offering, “and he who received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your descendants shall be called’…”(11:17b-18). It would seem from this verse that Isaac was Abraham’s last and greatest chance for the nation God had promised. And yet now God was telling Abraham to kill him! Seems a bit counterproductive and even illogical.
The acuity of this dilemma makes it one of the greatest examples of faith in all of Scripture. Against even emotional inclination and perceived logical correspondence pertaining the promises of God, Abraham was thrust into a radical posture of trusting the Lord. Following God to a foreign land was one thing, waiting on a son past the prime of life was another, but killing that son of promise as a sacrifice was something else entirely!
Somehow, Abraham was able to do exactly what God asked of him. In fact, the original account of this story in Genesis 12:3ff suggests that Abraham obeyed without hesitation. How? Why? Is this man faithful or just plain crazy?
The answer is found in Hebrews 11:19, “he considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.” What the author of Hebrews reveals about Abraham’s thought process is something that was not offered in the Genesis account. However, thanks to progressive revelation, New Testament readers are able to understand what took place all those years ago. Abraham believed that if God was calling him to offer his son as a sacrifice, he could and would raise this boy from the dead—after all, it was promised Abraham that Isaac would inherit the coming nation. If God was a good God, He would have to make good on His promises—anything less would make Him less than good.
Therefore, Abraham’s resolve to obey God in faith, even to this extent came from a place that believed God could reverse this sacrifice by bringing Isaac back from the dead. However, consider how radical this faith was. God had never brought anyone back from the dead at this point nor had God made explicit that a resurrection was going to happen for Isaac. Though Abraham may be reaching here, he does so because of his faith in the promises of God for him and his son, demonstrating that faith worthy of the Hall of Faith believes God no matter what!
Make no mistake, there is an explicit connection being made here between Isaac and Jesus Christ by the preacher. Phrases like “only begotten son” (11:17) and “God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type,…” (11:19) point to God’s only begotten Son who was sacrificed as an offering for sin, only to be raised from the dead shortly thereafter. Even here in this early story of faith, the Passion and resurrection are witnessed. The only difference is, God did what he didn’t make Abraham do—He followed through in sacrificing Jesus Christ for the world. However, even God knew that He would bring Him back from the dead. This renders God’s sacrifice perhaps the only act of faith that is greater than what we witness in Abraham’s story here.
Isaac Blesses his Sons-11:20-“by faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come,…”
The second example of faith involves Isaac and his two sons Jacob and Esau, “by faith” we are told, “Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come” (11:20). By now in the Genesis account, Abraham had died and Isaac was an old man. Even still, the promise of a great nation, just as it was for his father, resonated within Isaac and his faith kept allowed him to persevere. There on what he believed to be his deathbed, Isaac passed along a blessing to his son Jacob, and then to Esau that is recorded in Genesis.
Genesis 27: 28-29-“May God give to you—from the dew of the sky and from the richness of the land—an abundance of grain and new wine. May peoples serve you. Be master over your brothers; may your mother’s son bow down to you. Those who curse you will be cursed, and those who bless you will be blessed.”
Though this blessing was intended to go to Esau (the older of the two), Jacob lived up to his name, deceived his father Isaac, and stole this blessing from under the nose of his brother. Listen to what happens next.
Genesis 27:38-40-“Esau said to his father, ‘Do you only have one blessing, my father? Bless me—me too my father!’ And Esau wept loudly. Then his father Isaac answered him: Look, your dwelling place will be away from the richness of the land, away from the dew of the sky above. You will live by your sword, and you will serve your brother. But when you rebel, you will break his yoke from your neck.’”
Though this does not have the same ring to it that Jacob’s blessing did, Isaac does his best to give Esau the leftovers and even in these relatively flat phrases promise a future for his son (albeit not nearly as glorious as Jacob’s).
If in Abraham’s example we learned that faith obeys no matter what, in the saga of Jacob and Esau, we learn that faith triumphs even over deception and strife. Though Jacob received his blessing in a deceitful way, Esau had proved time and time again that he was not to inherit the blessings of God. He was a man driven by impulses and appetites. At one point it is even said that Esau and his wife “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Gen. 26:35). On the other hand, Jacob had highly valued the covenant blessing and had sought it eagerly, even though his methods were deceptive. God blessed him in spite of his sin, not because of it. The key actor in this story was God, not Jacob, Isaac or Esau. God was forging ahead with his redemptive plan. Since he was accomplishing his goals through real humans, his perfect plan was worked through sinful and error-ridden people. The long line of imperfect agents in God’s redemptive plan forms a stark contrast to the single and perfect consummation of that plan—Jesus Christ (Tyndale Concise Commentary).
Jacob Blesses his Grandsons-11:21
Moving now to Abraham’s grandson, the preacher in Hebrews 11 demonstrates how the legacy of faith moved to the third generation saying, “by faith, Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph” (11:21a). The blessing is recorded in Genesis 48:14-16.
Genesis 48:14-16-“ Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands knowingly, for Manasseh was the firstborn. And he blessed Joseph, and said: ‘God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has fed me all my life long to this day, The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them, And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.’”
As in Abraham and Isaac’s experience, Jacob, nearing the end of his life, relied entirely on God to see His promises fulfilled and here confers the blessing he received to those who would come after him.
This conference of a blessing was an act of worship to God inasmuch as it expressed faith in Him to continue what He started with Abraham—Jacob’s grandfather. The text makes this case when it continues and says, “and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff” (11:21b). In other words even when the promise was yet to be fulfilled following HIS lifetime, Jacob, requiring the support of a cane, continued the pattern of worship and faith that was modeled for him by his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. So far we’ve learned that faith obeys no matter what and triumphs over obstacles. Here we learn that faith leaves a legacy for those one leaves behind.
Joseph Makes a Prediction-11:22
Finally, as we near the end of Abraham’s exhibit in the Hall of Faith, the reader is brought face-to-face with Joseph. At the end of his life, Joseph, “when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel” (11:22a). To be sure, Joseph’s life was filled with faithfulness. His faith trusted God from the bottom of a well, while he was sold into slavery, in a jail cell (after being falsely accused), and as a leader in Egypt. However, the example of faithfulness the author of Hebrews is most concerned about here involves his prediction for the sons of Israel –a prediction made from his deathbed in Genesis 50:24
Genesis 50:24-“Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die, but God will certainly come to your aid and bring you up from this land to the land He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’”
At this point, the Israelites were being enslaved in a powerful nation—not occupying their own powerful nation. Everything seemed to point away from the promise that God had given Joseph’s great-grandfather. So much time had passed and so many obstacles had been put into place. The perception from the outside looking in was grim. However, the same promise that was passed down from Abraham to Isaac, from Isaac to Jacob, and from Jacob to Joseph, was now been passed down in faith to the people of God.
So convinced was Joseph that God was going to come through for His people to fulfill what had long been anticipated that he even gives instructions about how to handle his remains when things turn around –he “gave orders concerning his bones.”
Genesis 50:25-“So Joseph made the Israelites take an oath: ‘When God comes to your aid, you are to carry my bones up from here.’”
Notice Joseph says “when” not “if” God comes to your aid. So convinced of the promises of God, in spite of the patience it demanded and in spite of the plight of his people, Joseph says, “move my bones to where God leads you WHEN He leads to the Promised Land!” Another thing worth mentioning here is that this is now the fourth generation. It is not as though Joseph heard God’s promise himself. He heard it instead from the primary sources’ grandson!
Ultimately, in this final example of faith, we learn that faith believes even when things seem to be heading in the opposite direction. This was true for Joseph who as he died witnessed his people being more and more oppressed and less and less in control of their destiny. “Never mind,” Joseph says, “God will come through in a big way!”
The word picture painted of this incredible family has yielded several important lessons that continue to speak to this day, much as they did the original audience to which this was given. In it, we learn the following about persevering faith: it obeys no matter what, triumphs over obstacles, leaves a legacy for those one leaves behind, and believes even when things seem to be heading in the opposite direction. These are the hallmarks of the house of Abraham. Are they hallmarks in your family’s life or my family’s life? To be sure, each of us might struggle in different areas or are weakest in one particular issue. However, this is no cause for concern or forfeit. Abraham was impatient and tried to move around God’s will by impregnating Hagar. Isaac showed favoritism that led to a divided home. Jacob did the same, creating a hateful group of brothers bent against Joseph. Joseph made it exceedingly easy for his brother to sell him into slavery by coming across as a braggart. All of these were ordinary people (riddled with imperfections) with faith in an extraordinary God. Truly, God made up the difference in each one of these cases: He made it right in Abraham’s situation, mended a broken household in Isaac’s, came through and provided for Jacob’s family in the midst of a famine, and even awarded Joseph a seat of power in Egypt. This same God comes through for you and me in our weaknesses in order to do the incredible—that is, if we place our faith in Him. That’s what Abraham’s family’s story is all about and it is my prayer that a similar story would be seen in each of our lives and in our families’ lives today