Sunday, August 14, 2022

“Of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:30-40)

Although verses 30-31 belong to a different paragraph from 32-40, since the former deal with specific instances of faith in Joshua and Rahab, whereas the latter are a summary of the acts of faith from the history of God’s people in the Old Testament era, we will consider them together. One way to look at these verses is to think of 30-35a as showing us what faith can do, and verses 35b-40 showing us what faith can endure. To put it another way, verses 30-35a show us that there is no earthly obstacle that is worth giving up to, verses 35b-40 show us that there is no earthly opposition that is worth giving in to.

In verses 30-35, we see what faith can do. It brings city walls down and delivers from death. It subdues kingdoms and works righteousness and obtains promises (King David) and stops the mouth of lions (Daniel). It quenches the violence of fire (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), escapes the edge of the sword (e.g. the prophet Jeremiah), out of weakness is made strong (Samson), waxes valiant in fight and turns to flight foreign armies (many examples of this in the OT narrative). It receives the dead back to life (one thinks of instances in the lives of the prophets Elijah and Elisha).

On the other hand, in verses 35-38, we see what faith can endure. Faith endures torture, cruel mocking and scourging, imprisonment, stoning, and being sawn in two (Jewish tradition says that this is the way the prophet Isaiah was killed). It endures a multitude of temptations, the sword, exile into the wilderness and the mountains and dens and caves, “destitute, afflicted, tormented.” Many of these things happened to the faithful during the terrible persecutions in the reign of the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes. Whereas the folks in verses 30-35a achieved earthly victory, the folks in verses 35b-38 did not. And yet they did not give in to the opposition. They did not believe that it was worth it, even though in many cases the trials they were called to endure were brutally severe.

But the reality is that in both lists (if you divide them up in this way) you have people whose faith faced tremendous trial and difficulty. Yes, it is true that by faith Daniel stopped the mouths of lions, but there is no indication that he knew this going in. It is truth that his three friends quenched the violence of faith, but again, there is no indication that they knew that would happen either.

In other words, what you have in this Faith Hall of Fame are men and women whose thought that the kingdom of God was worth whatever difficulty or suffering or hardship they were called to endure. Their examples preach to us that the kingdom of God is not only worth living for, but also worth suffering for and even worth dying for.

And that’s what I want to consider with you this morning. How do we see the cause of God and truth in this way so that instead of becoming bitter for having to endure hardship, we become like those in verse 35 who “were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection”?

We all intuitively understand to some extent that it is a great honor to make a great sacrifice for a great cause. I think you see this illustrated especially in times of war. Those who sacrifice their lives for their country are universally honored. We recognize the value of valor; there is a certain charisma to courage. On the other hand, we despise the cowardly and the soft. The ancients in fact thought that courage was the noblest and highest of all the virtues because courage secured the rest of the virtues. But the thing is that you cannot have courage where there is not at least the possibility of suffering and loss and difficulty. Courage cannot be put on display on soft couches. Courage is on display on battlefields and hospital rooms and in a thousand other hard places.

We don’t sing songs about people who live in castles as much as we sing about those who storm castles. We don’t erect monuments to people who go through life on beds of ease; we do so for those who overcame tremendous difficulty to do something great.

This is the reason why Churchill was able to say, at one of the most difficult hours of the Second World War – in fact, as France was falling to Germany, and Britain was standing alone in the world against the Nazi regime – “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”Why would he call that the “finest hour” of the British nation? He did so because it was precisely at that point that the British people were being called upon to make the greatest sacrifices for a great cause and against a great evil, in order to prevent what Churchill called “the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

It was during this very difficult period that the Prime Minister’s old school, Harrow, decided to write a verse about his exploits. They would do this for former members of the school who had gone on to achieve greatness. The school kids would then sing about them and hopefully be stirred to greatness themselves. But one of the lines of the verse to Churchill talked about the times in which they lived as “these dark times.” Churchill wrote back and told them not to say “dark times” but – I can’t remember the exact word he substituted for “dark” – but something along the lines of great or tremendous times.

I was talking to someone about this the other day, and they had a hard time understanding that: why would Churchill say those were great times? Isn’t that glorying in war? No, not necessarily. Few knew better than Churchill how awful war could be – he had fought in the trenches in the First World War, after all. They were great times because they were times that presented a unique and unparalleled opportunity to make a courageous stand for good against evil.

But even if we can’t understand why times of war can be occasions for greatness, why can’t we see that this is the case for the Christian faith? Why can’t we see that it is the greatest honor to make the greatest sacrifices for the greatest cause in the universe, namely, the cause of God and truth? Or to put it in the language of Scripture, why are we not willing to rejoice to be counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41)? Why should we think that God is being unjust or unkind by giving us the opportunity to be courageous for him in difficult and hard times? Why should we think that the call to sacrifice and endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:3) is a bad thing? Why do we recoil at the notion that God is calling us to suffer for the sake of his kingdom, or to do without for him, or even perhaps to die for him? Why do we equate God’s blessing with success and ease and comfort and earthly peace and pleasure? Why do we not want to take our cross to follow the Lord?

The folks in Hebrews 11 clearly thought the prize was worth the price they had to pay. And here’s where verses 39-40 come in. They read, “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” I think sometimes people read this and think that the author of Hebrews is telling his audience that the OT believer didn’t receive the promise at all, and, in particular, wasn’t saved. That’s of course not what he was saying: I can think of nothing more depressing and defeating than that! Rather, what he is saying is that the promises of God were not fulfilled during their lifetime, and they would not be fulfilled until Christ came. That is one of the major points of this epistle. But Christ having come, he will give salvation to all who trust in him no matter when they lived – before or after his earthly ministry. Another way to put verse 40 is that the OT saints will be made perfect with us in the age to come as a direct result of what Christ has done for us in his redemptive work.

But here’s the point of these two verses. It is this: the fact that the OT saints were able to achieve all that they achieved and to endure all that they endured without having seen the fulfillment of God’s promises in the person and work of Jesus Christ is a great rebuke to us if we are unwilling to do and to die for God’s kingdom, we who live on the other side of the cross and resurrection and ascension of Jesus the Son of God. We have so much more reason to endure and to be faithful. The OT saints are there to remind us that they did it without the fulness of the revelation that we have in Christ. So what excuse do we have for faithlessness? None!

So, coming back to our question, how do we become like this? How do we so value the kingdom of God that we are willing to endure hardship without becoming bitter and losing our faith? How do we become courageous for Christ? That’s what I want to be like, and that’s what I want you to be like, too. Well, I think this wonderful parenthetical phrase in verse 38 helps us out. I don’t wonder that it is where it is. He didn’t put this phrase up there in describing the earthly victories of the OT believers but right here in the middle of those which describe the earthly sorrows of the OT believers: “of whom the world was not worthy.”

What is it that made these believers too good for this world? It is important for us to see that, for when we see it, we will understand why it is that the opportunity to show courage for Christ in the face of opposition is a privilege rather than a punishment. To see this, I would argue that world was not worthy of these precious believers for four reasons – in comparison to those who belong to this world, these believers had a greater Captain, a greater Cause, a greater Kingdom, and a greater Conquest. Let us consider these things in turn.

A Greater Captain

These folks weren’t serving the kings of this world. If they had, their lives would have been very different. Daniel would have stopped praying when the king told him to and avoided the lions. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would have bowed down to the image of Nebuchadnezzar and avoided the flames. But they weren’t worthy of this world because they weren’t ultimately serving earthly masters. Their ultimate allegiance was to the God of the Bible. And you see this in the fact that he is the one, not the world, who gives them this appellation in verse 38. The world didn’t think that – the world thought these people were menaces and obstacles to good order. It was God who said that the world was not worthy to have such people. It was God who gave them their good report (39). They served God, and in doing so they were serving Christ. Christ was their Captain.

Think about all the leaders in the history of the world that have inspired people to follow them. Some have been good and noble, like George Washington. Some have been great military leaders, like Napoleon Bonaparte. Some have been evil and wicked, like Adolph Hitler. It is amazing who people will follow, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. Of all the Germans who followed Hitler in WW2, I can’t imagine many of them thinking it was a good thing by May of 1945. But the reality is that no matter what man or woman we choose to follow, they all have feet of clay. They all have faults and character flaws. None of them are worthy of your uncritical or unreserved commitment.

Unless you are talking about Jesus Christ. It is amazing to me how Napoleon was able to get so many soldiers to die for him. But though Jesus calls upon his disciples to take the cross, it is only because he has taken it first, and the cross he carried bore all our sins upon it – infinitely more weighty and awful than any cross we will ever be called upon to bear. And though Jesus calls upon us to go into the world as sheep among wolves, he is only calling us to do what he has already done. The call for Christian discipleship is to follow Christ. I think one of the most moving things I have ever seen was a video of an infantry officer under fire in Afghanistan who needed to get his men to a better position, but the way he did this was not by just telling them where to go but by shouting, “Follow me!” and then jumping up and leading the way as bullets were spraying all around. You can be sure that whatever your Lord calls upon you to do, he has done something far more difficult.

Our Lord told his disciples, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20). You see that? He is not calling us to endure anything he has not already endured.

He is always the example. How are we to love one another? The way Christ loves us “and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savour” (Eph. 5:2). When we are told to put others before our own interests, again Jesus is the great example: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). How is the saint to endure suffering? Like Jesus: “...but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:20-23). We could go on enumerating such examples.

He is also a great Captain – the greatest Captain – in that he takes care of his own. I love the way this is described in the book of Ephesians: our Lord “gave himself for it [the church]; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Eph. 5:25-26). We are told that “in the ages to come” God will show “the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). He is always in the thickest part of the fight and when the victory is won, I cannot help but see him there, washing the feet of his disciples and tending to their wounds. And in the age to come he will wipe all tears from their eyes and give them ever-increasing and never-ending joy in his presence forever.

My friend, why serve anyone else? There is no Lord and Savior like the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Why not enlist under his banner? Why not take his name upon yourself and follow him with all your heart?

A Greater Cause

I think another reason why the faithful in Hebrews 11 did not give up, even in the face of all the hardships they were called to embrace, is because they recognized that the cause they represented was worth all the indignities and the sufferings they had to endure. For they were not simply seeking to advance their own cause and advantage, but they were standing in the army of the Lord and fighting for the cause of God and truth against true evil. One of the things soldiers have to struggle with is the morality of their cause. Are they on the right side? Who is waging the just war? Is the spilling of blood worth it? In many conflicts, this can be hard to discern. One of the things about World War 2 is that once the Allied soldiers discovered the Nazi extermination camps, they had no doubt that they were fighting a just war.

But the Christian need not wonder about the morality or the justice or the necessity of their cause. We are not just fighting evil; we are fighting against the blackest and darkest and most malevolent evil this world has ever known or ever will know. For we are fighting against Satan: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). As Paul will put it to the Corinthians, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

Since the beginning of human history (Jn. 8:44), humanity has been involved in this conflict between ultimate good and evil. It is not a conflict between nations and tribes, but a conflict between the followers of Christ and the servants of the devil. As Paul will write the Romans, “And the God of peace will bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20).

Here’s what this means. When you live out the Christian life, the life of faith, you are engaged in this most important of all conflicts. You are part of an army, and you are fighting in a war. You don’t do this by fighting with guns and bombs but with the weapons of righteousness, by being salt and light in this world, by living out and speaking the gospel to those around you. There will be pushback; there will be persecution. The enemy will fight back. And the question is, will you throw your weapons down? Will you withdraw from the fight? Or will you be so convinced of the justice of this cause that you will be willing to lay everything down for it?

I have always been moved when I've gone to the Alamo and seen the list of the names of the men who died there. They made a conscious decision to do so; they knew they were going to die. They believed in the cause of Texas independence enough that they were willing to give “the last full measure of devotion” for it. Will we be convinced of the goodness and the righteousness and the justice and the value of the cause of Christ that you will endure to the end for it? My friend, there is no greater cause for which to give your life. A life lived for Christ and a life given for Christ is never wasted. Let us be able to say with the apostle Paul, when we get to the end of the way, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

A Greater Kingdom

Not only is our cause greater, but the kingdom for which we live is greater than any earthly kingdom. The kingdom to which the Christian belongs is not an earthly kingdom. As our Lord told Pilate at his trial, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36).

One of the ways in which the kingdom of Christ differs from all earthly kingdoms is in its durability. All earthly kingdoms will eventually perish. The Roman Empire lasted over a thousand years, but now we can read Gibbon’s The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. Hitler proclaimed a thousand-year Reich, but it only

lasted about twelve years. Not so the kingdom of Christ. We read in Psalm 145:13, “Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.” In the book of Daniel, there is this prophesy of Christ, in which we find, “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). And in Peter’s second epistle we are told, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:10-11). And then, in the book of Revelation we see this: “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).

Another way the kingdom of Christ is better than the kingdoms of this world in that its character and nature is infinitely better than any earthly kingdom. When God showed Daniel the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and its interpretation, the kingdoms of men where likened to this statue of varying constituent parts, from the head of gold all the way down to the feet of clay. No kingdom of man is perfect. This is true of the US, and it is true of any country. Some may be better than others, but none is perfect – they are all defined in some respect by the fallenness of their inhabitants. There will never be a utopia this side of the Final Judgment. On the other hand, God’s kingdom is holy and good: as the apostle will tell the Roman Christians, “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. 14:17). Another way to see this is that the kingdom of God is the kingdom of heaven. All the goodness and joy of heaven is the goodness and joy of the kingdom of our Lord.

This motivated these OT saints. Why were they willing to be exiled into the deserts and caves and mountains? Why were they willing to even endure torture, not accepting deliverance? It was because they recognized that they belonged to a kingdom which cannot be moved (Heb. 12:28). And this should motivate us to “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”

A Greater Conquest

Though now the saints have to endure hardship, it will not always be the case. Those who were tortured rose to a better resurrection. The apostle Paul fought a good fight, but that was not the end of the story: “henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). There is a “better thing” that God has provided for them and for us (Heb. 11:40). The kingdom of God has not yet come in its fulness, but when it does, death will be done away and the people of God will rise to newness of life. They will enter into an “inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4).

One of the things that can be disheartening for any cause is the lack of hope that ultimate victory will be won. But here’s the thing: for the Christian ultimate victory is guaranteed. The unstoppable decree of God guarantees it. The finished work of Christ on the cross guarantees it. The powerful work of the Holy Spirit guarantees it. We are not fighting a resurgent enemy; we are fighting a defeated enemy. I love the way the apostle Paul described what happened on the cross to the Colossians: our Lord blotted out “the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:14-15).

How does it end? Well, it ends like this: “And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:1-5).

Conclusion

Now we must not think that our sufferings are only valuable insofar as they are the direct result of persecution. Remember who our enemy is: Satan. And he is too cunning to reserve all his energies in seeking to overthrow your faith for outright persecution. He attacks believers in a multitude of ways – not only through sinful men but also through sickness and illness, like Job. He not only attacks the body, but he attacks the mind. Anything that he can use to discourage you and to draw you away from a willing and joyful discipleship is an enemy to your faith and is part of the battle. In those moments or hours or years of discouragement, remember the believers of Hebrews 11. Remember why they endured and let that be an encouragement to you. We serve the very best Captain, we live for the most just of causes, are citizens of an heavenly kingdom, and will one day enjoy the fruits of eternal conquest in Jesus Christ our Lord.

https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/1940-the-finest-hour/their-finest-hour/

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Faith of Moses (Hebrews 11:23-29)

Moses is one of the most important figures in the Bible, if not in all of world history. Already in this epistle, we have learned that “Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after” (Heb. 3:5). He is the author of much of the material in the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, often called the Book of Moses (2 Chron. 25:4; 35:12; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 13:1; Mark 12:26). When we think of Moses, we think of the burning bush and the flaming Mount Sinai, the Ten Plagues and the Ten Commandments, the parting of the Red Sea and the giving of the Manna. It is of Moses that God himself said, when Aaron and Miriam complained of his leadership over Israel: “If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches: and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Num. 12:6-8). Later, in recording the death of Moses we read, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel” (Deut. 34:10-12). Moses was a man apart. He was a miracle-working man, a patient man, a courageous man, a faithful man, a meek man – a great man, a man of God. He was a prophet, statesman, warrior, judge, and leader.

It is therefore easy to over-romanticize the life of Moses. And while there were certainly triumphant moments, like that on the other side of the Red Sea as the waters came crashing down over their enemies, much of Moses’ life was very difficult. I’ll never forget a comment that the late Kentucky Baptist pastor Henry Mahan once made about Moses, to the effect that God had to kill half the Israelites just to keep them off Moses’ back. But it didn’t start in the wilderness. Like our Lord, his life almost didn’t even begin, as we are reminded in verse 23, with Pharaoh seeking to kill all the male children of the Jews. And then, even after he had been adopted into the royal family, he had to flee for his life into the desert and live in exile for many years after standing up for one of his brethren. Even when he came to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, it was not all fun and games. I would not have wanted to be Moses. Staring down Pharaoh must have been difficult, and we shouldn’t wonder why Moses begged God to send someone else. And then the treachery of the spies and the 38 further years of wandering in the wilderness could not have been terribly exciting. And yet that is where Moses spent the rest of his life, since God did not allow him to enter the Promised Land on account of his failing to honor the Lord at the waters of Meribah (Num. 20:12).

But though we are apt to overdramatize and over-romanticize his life, this is a mistake, because it keeps us from seeing very valuable and important lessons that there are in his life and story. More importantly, it keeps us from being encouraged by his life and walk of faith. If we think he is so different, we are apt to think there is nothing we can learn from him, which would defeat the very purpose for which this chapter was written. In this message, I want us to be guided by Moses and encouraged by Moses. To that end, I want us to see the good news in how Moses is like us as well as in how he is different from us. Most of all, I want you to see how Moses points us to Jesus who is also both like us and different from us in the most important ways possible. Moses points us to Jesus, in what he said and in what he taught and in

what he did. And in that way, his faith points us not to himself but away from himself to the God in whom he trusted and in whom we also are called to trust.

Moses is like us, and that is good news.

It is easy to look at the life of Moses and to think that there is just no way his life could be a model, let alone a source of encouragement for us. But as we have seen with all the saints listed so far in this chapter, they are just like us in many ways. And at this point in the chapter, one of the things we can really begin to see is the number of parallels between the men and women of faith whose lives we are called to look at. One of the things this teaches us is that these are things we should expect of anyone who aspires to a life of faith in Christ. It teaches us that we should look for these characteristics in ourselves.

Moses is like us in the sufferings he endured.

Moses and Abraham were both called to a life of sacrifice and faith. Abraham was called to a life of sacrifice in being called away from his homeland and to a pilgrim lifestyle and then later in being told to sacrifice his son. Moses was called to a life of sacrifice in being called to give up the treasures of Egypt, the temporary pleasures of sin, in order to suffer affliction with the people of God.

It is this way with so many of God’s servants. One of my heroes, John Calvin, was constantly surrounded by enemies near and far. He was sometimes saddled with unfaithful friends. Though his position as a Reformer and minister of Christ in those troublesome times required a great amount of boldness and fearlessness, Calvin was constitutionally timid – so it’s not like this work was naturally easy for him. He was poor – I mean, really poor – all his days. Pope Pius IV is reported to have said, after Calvin died, “The strength of that heretic came from the fact that money was nothing to him.”i

And if that wasn’t enough, he was plagued with terrible health for most of his days. One author speaks of severe hemorrhoids or “the knifing pains of kidney and gallstones” that “would torment him. If his hemorrhoids were bearable, he would take to his horse and gallop as fast as he could, hoping to jolt loose the stones for which his day knew no surgery. Headache – was he ever free from it? Sometimes he was blinded by the pain or kept awake all night. Many times Calvin ate only one meal a day. Cramps, indigestion, influenza were regular problems.”ii And yet it was out of this furnace that came spiritual renewal in Geneva and theological truths written down for the ages. To this day, five hundred years later, people are still reading and profiting from his sermons, letters, and above all his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Brothers and sisters, I am saying this because this is normal for the Christian life. Lots of faith and spiritual wisdom and kingdom energy doesn’t get you a Learjet. The most productive Christians have always been the most afflicted and tried Christians. In fact, the apostles told the early Christians that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The apostle Peter told the early Christians, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:12-13). It’s not strange, it’s normal that we suffer. It is the furnace through which the dross is melted off and a life is lived to the utmost for the glory and God and the advancement of his kingdom. Actually, we should be perhaps a little worried if nothing ever happened to us. If we were always grinning and never groaning, that would be a problem. The kingdom of Christ does not belong to his world and its gifts; neither do his people.

He is like us in his dependence upon the God of promise and grace.

Both Abraham and Moses endured the trials they faced by looking forward to the sure fulfillment of the promises of God and by seeing that what God promised was infinitely better than anything that this earth could give them.

We’ve noticed this already with respect to Abraham, but you see it again here in Moses. They endured because they didn’t think they were really making any kind of ultimate sacrifice. I think if you had pressed them about what they had to give up, they would have described them as short-term sacrifices for long term gain. Hence, we are told that Moses “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” and to “suffer affliction with the people of God” and to endure “the reproach of Christ” not just because it was the right thing to do (though it was), but because he understood that what the world could give was just “for a season.” In contrast, he had “respect unto the recompense of reward” (which was not just for a season) and even the reproach of Christ was seen to be “greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” He “endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” God was greater, more central, more glorious to Moses than was Pharaoh, and God’s grace more precious than the king’s gifts. In other words, we are again reminded of the central importance of faith in God’s word, his word of promise and reward and hope and grace. They were convinced that faithfulness to God was better than the best the world could give. That was the key to their endurance, and it is the key to ours as well.

Remember what the author of Hebrews had said to the saints to whom he was writing? “For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Heb. 10:34-36). It’s the same thing. They were to endure by “knowing . . . that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.” And it’s the same for us today as well. If you want to endure well and finish well, you have to have this perspective of faith. Will the words “by faith” be written over our lives, as it was the patriarchs and Moses and all the saints whose names grace the record of Hebrews 11? May it be so!

We need to remember that Moses wasn’t a great man because he was a great man. He was a great man because he fully followed and utterly depended upon God Almighty, the God who created the world, guides its every revolution and orbit, and who saves a people by sovereign and omnipotent grace.

He is like us in the mistakes that he made.

Another thing you will notice about Moses, as well as the rest of these saints, saints who persevered in faith and finished well, is that they nevertheless were not perfect. Abraham and Sarah both fell temporarily into unbelief. But they didn’t stay in that mindset; there was a pattern of true faith that characterized their lives. The same can be seen with respect to Moses. There is an illustration of this principle in the way our author describes the way Moses left Egypt in order to escape Pharaoh, and the way this is described in the book of Exodus. In Exodus, we are told that after Moses realized that others knew about his having killed the Egyptian, he “feared, and said, Surely this thing is known” (Exodus 2:14). But our author writes, “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). This has caused much consternation among the commentators. Which was it? Did he fear or did he not?

Some get around this difficulty by making Heb. 11:27 not about Moses leaving Egypt after killing the Egyptian but about Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. This is the solution for which even so great a Bible scholar as the puritan John Owen settles, for example. The problem with that is that it destroys the linearity of the passage: the author seems clearly to be tracing the history of Moses in a historically linear fashion, from his birth in verse 23 to the crossing of the Red Sea in verse 28. Since verse 27 comes before the Passover which came before the Exodus, it is best to see verse 27 about Moses fleeing from the wrath of Pharaoh when the king discovered that Moses had killed an Egyptian.

But what you have here is not a contradiction, but faith overcoming fear. It’s not that Moses was never afraid, but that he didn’t allow fear to paralyze him. He overcame his fear, and it was the courage of faith in God that led Moses to leave Egypt and the only life he had ever known to go into exile in a strange land. I believe this is very similar to what a lot of us experience – we are confronted with something fearful, and our first tendency is to be afraid. But then as the Lord reminds us of his promises and his faithfulness and his goodness and his sovereignty, our hearts are strengthened and we are made courageous – valiant for truth.

You see, my friends, the call to endurance, the call to perseverance, is not – as some of its detractors seem to make it out to be – a call or claim to perfectionism. None of the people here in Hebrews 11 were sinless or perfect. You cannot expect yourself to become perfect this side of heaven. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” the apostle John tells us, “and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8). And what that means is that we should not respond to our failures – whether it is the failure of faith or purity of heart or whatever – by thinking that God can no longer do anything with us. Rather, we should not respond to our failures by despondency but by repentance and faith. We must never forget that as sick and bad as the church of Laodicea was, our Lord issued this amazing and stirring invitation to them: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). Who is our Lord talking to here? He is talking to people he had just a few verses before described as “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (17)! So let us not let our mistakes discourage us from coming to Christ for new repentance and faith and grace and mercy. His throne, brothers and sisters, is a throne of mercy.

Moses is like us, and that is good news. It is good news because it means that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through comfort and patience of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). It means that we can learn from his life and example lessons that we can appropriately apply to ourselves. Above all, it means that the God of Moses is our God; that God’s power extended over the Red Sea is the same power that watches over us. It means that the God who glorified himself through Moses is still glorifying himself in the church today. God’s kingdom is advancing and will advance, and it advances through the lives of men and women who, like Moses, trust in the God who saves.

Moses is different from us, and that is also good news.

But there are also ways – obvious ones – in which Moses is not like us. This is also instructive. Even though we should expect there to be many similarities between the men and women of faith in every age, nevertheless, there will also always be plenty of differences. These differences will in some respects be the result of personality, the culture and the times in which they lived, as well as they part they were meant to play in God’s providential dealings. But above all, these differences are rooted in God’s different purposes for different people. So though it is true that saints like Moses are held up for us as example and as an encouragement to our faith, we shouldn’t think that God deals with his people in a one-size- fits-all approach. You see this clearly illustrated in this chapter.

Moses is different in the particular ways in which he experienced suffering.

Even though it is a fact that suffering is normal for the Christian life doesn’t mean that we all suffer the same way or to the same extent. Again, think about Joseph and Moses: Joseph started out as a slave and ended up in the palace with the Pharaohs. Moses started out in the palace with the Pharaohs and ended up in the desert with a bunch of ex-slaves who wanted to pin his hide to their tent walls. So whereas Joseph went from the furnace of affliction to the throne of Egypt, Moses’ life went in the opposite direction. After a bumpy start, he spent the better part of his youth in the courts of Pharaoh. But instead of staying there or getting better, Moses traded all that for a life of toil and care in order to serve Christ.

As a result of such differences, there is a danger, I think, to look at other Christians, either past or present, and to compare our lives with theirs in a way that is unhealthy and unproductive. The temptation is to evaluate these differences and to end up thinking that God is unfair in his dealings with men in general or with us in particular. For example, we may look at someone who is suffering in ways that we can’t even imagine. We don’t understand how they could be coping with such a trial. Why is God treating them like that, and me better than them? How is this possible or just or right? Or we may be on the end of suffering that others aren’t experiencing and wonder how it’s fair for God to be dealing out this kind of pain and difficulty to me when other believers seem to have it easier. What makes it harder sometimes is that it doesn’t seem to matter how faithful a person is. The providential dealing out of pain can seem arbitrary. And this can lead to bitterness and unbelief.

But what we learn from Joseph and Moses is that their particular sufferings served God’s purpose and the good of his people. Joseph’s sufferings would not have necessarily served the advance of God’s cause in Moses’ day, and vice versa. It would not have been right for Moses to consider Joseph’s sufferings and to fault God for treating him so differently, because what God was doing in Joseph’s day was different from what God was doing in his day. In Joseph’s day, it was for the good of God’s people that they come under the shelter of Egyptian protection. And that meant that Joseph needed to have some influence in the courts of Egypt (and it took his sufferings to get him there!). But in Moses’ day, it was for the good of God’s people that they leave Egypt, not only to rescue them from the slavery into which they had come, but also to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham. In other words, it isn’t right for us to look at others and think that our sufferings are somehow arbitrary. They may indeed look that way sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that they are that way. God doesn’t do things except in accordance with his wise and just and good and holy purpose, a purpose which is for his glory and our good and the good of his people.

Brothers and sisters, God is sovereign. And what that means is nothing happens that is apart from the purpose of God, and that includes our sufferings as well as our blessings. This is precisely what the apostle Paul says, for example, in Eph. 1:11, where we learn that the God who predestines his people to their inheritance is the God “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” In other words, whatever comes to pass (all things) does so because God brings it about (worketh) either directly or indirectly (and without in any way becoming the author of sin), and he does so in accordance with his own free and sovereign purpose (after the counsel of his own will). Practically, this means that the suffering you and I have to endure, whatever it is, comes to us in accordance with the will of God. It is planned suffering, planned so that it is working for our good (Rom. 8:28).

The apostle Peter put it this way: “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Pet. 4:19). I love that. How do we suffer? “According to the will of God.” I know that doesn’t make it easier. Suffering is still suffering and no amount of right knowledge about it is going to change that. But it does provide a context for understanding how our sufferings are meaningful. They are meaningful because God meant them. And that means that, as they come from the God who is holy, wise, and good, our sufferings will redound to his glory and good. There is no such thing as meaningless suffering. And remember that you are not the one who ascribes meaning to your hardship. God does. And that means that if we cannot see why, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason, or that the reason isn’t good and wise.

Moses was different in the particular ways in which he experienced God’s blessing.

Suffering can make people bitter and broken, but blessing can make people envious and jealous. We may not be suffering, but we can see how other people are being blessed and think that God is holding out on us. We may think that we have done more for God and his people and his kingdom, and yet there are so few returns for all our effort, whereas others seem to enjoy greater blessings without a fraction of the effort. We may wonder why some can be so successful in their businesses when we struggle to make ends meet. We may wonder why some can be so fruitful in ministry – especially those who don’t seem to have it all together on the truth or who employ unbiblical methods – when we labor and labor and there doesn’t seem to be any fruit at all. We look at Moses – what a life! As we are reminded in Scripture, there was not another prophet in the same category. And yet, Moses was just a man. So why him? Well, there is only one answer to that: because God chose him!

When we look at others, let us be careful that we do not compare ourselves in such a way that we begin to think that God is being unkind or unfair in withholding certain blessings or experiences from us. First of all, we don’t deserve any particular blessing, do we? Is this not the lesson of the Parable of Laborers? “Is it not lawful for me,” says the Lord to us, “to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Mt. 20:15). Or as Paul puts it, “For who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). We are sinners, who deserve nothing but wrath. Any blessing short of hell is infinite mercy. Second, whatever we do have is itself a gift of God. We must not think that God is holding out on us. When we begin to focus on others, this tends to make us forget that God has already been so good to us. What have we received? Every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3)! Exceeding great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4)! Brothers and sisters, we have nothing of which we have a right to complain.

Moses’ similarities and his differences point us to Jesus Christ, and that is the best news.

Moses, though he was the Lawgiver and is often contrasted, even in Scripture, with Jesus (e.g. Jn. 1:17), nevertheless, he is also a type of Christ and points us to him. When Peter preached the gospel in Acts 3, he said this about Moses and Jesus: “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you” (Acts 3:22). This quotation from Deut. 18:15, 19, was meant to substantiate his witness to Jesus from the previous verses. In other words, Jesus Christ is the ultimate prophet, the one to whom Moses pointed and of whom Moses spoke. Our Lord himself said, “. . . had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me” (Jn. 5:46).

Moses was different from all of us because we could never be a prophet like he was. But Moses himself said that the Messiah was a prophet different from and greater than himself. Our Lord is the ultimate Prophet, the one through whom God speaks, for he is the Son of God, the Word of God (Jn. 1:1, 14, 18). As we are reminded at the very beginning of Hebrews, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Heb. 1:1-2). Do you want to know the will of God for your salvation? Then look to Christ.

But Moses was similar to us in many ways. He was, in the end, just another man. In the same way, this points us to Christ as well, who as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:14). Again, as we are reminded in the book of Hebrews, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15). Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God became man by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary and born of her, yet without sin (cf. Shorter Catechism, Q. 22).

Of course, the great way in which Moses pointed to Christ was not so much even in himself but through the institution of the Passover. This is spoken of in verse 28: “Through faith he kept the Passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.” This was God’s answer to the last plague, the death of the firstborn. It is interesting that everyone was exposed to that terrible destroyer, Egyptian and Israelite. The only way you could be protected was through the sprinkling of blood, the blood of the Passover lamb. I don’t wonder if this is what John the Baptist was referring to when he pointed to Christ and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).

We recall that God told Moses that the angel of death would come to Egypt and take the life of every firstborn. Even so, we are all under sentence of death: “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Our sin makes us obnoxious to God. He is of purer eyes than to behold sin and iniquity. But there was, though God didn’t owe anyone this, a miraculous interposition of mercy. There was a way of deliverance. It was this: they were to kill a lamb and to take its blood and put it on the doorposts of every Israelite home. When the angel of destruction came through and saw the blood, he would pass over. This is all pointing to the death of Jesus on the cross, and when his blood is sprinkled and applied to you through faith in him (Rom. 3:25), the angel of death passes over. How do you escape the judgment of God? Not by looking to your good works, but by looking to the atoning work of Jesus Christ. When his blood of atonement is applied to you, the destroyer cannot touch you. You are safe in the arms of Jesus Christ.

At the end of the day, we don’t look to Moses or anyone else for salvation. Moses is in many ways a great example and a great encouragement. But he is not our Savior. For that, we look only to Jesus. I am always touched by the description given by John Bunyan in his The Pilgrim’s Progress of how Faithful – one of the characters in the allegory – came to meet Jesus. He met him after first meeting Moses and getting beat up by him. That’s what the law of God does – it beats us up mercilessly. Here is the exchange between him and Christian:

FAITH. So soon as the man [Moses] overtook me, he was but a word and a blow, for down he knocked me, and laid me for dead. . .. He had doubtless made an end of me, but that one came by, and bid him forbear.

CHR. Who was that that bid him forbear?

FAITH. I did not know him at first; but as he went by, I perceived the holes in his hands and in his side; then I concluded that he was our Lord.

That’s who Jesus Christ is: he is the one whose hands and sides were pierced for our transgressions. His body was broken so that ours would not have to be in the judgment. His blood was shed so that we might be saved from God’s eternal and just wrath. That’s what we celebrate every time we take the Lord’s Supper.

So brothers and sisters, be encouraged by the faith of Moses. But more than that, look to one to whom Moses himself looked – to Jesus Christ.

Van Halsema, Thea, This Was John Calvin (Baker, Grand Rapids: 1959), p. 164. 

ii Ibid., p. 184.

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Sunday, July 17, 2022

Faith and the Future (Heb. 11:20-22)

In these three verses, we are given what are essentially brief bullet points on the faith of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. But I want you to notice that there are a number of common themes to all three accounts. First, all three accounts are about what these patriarchs would say when they knew they were near death. For example, Isaac wanted to bless his first-born Esau because, as he put it, “I am old, I know not the day of my death.” He went on to say that he wanted to bless him before he died (Gen. 27:2-4). Of course, through the trickery of Rebekah and Jacob, he ended up blessing Jacob instead, which is why in the text it has Jacob before Esau.

And then both verses 21 and 22 explicitly mention the fact that Jacob and Joseph where dying when they pronounced their blessings.

Then there is the common theme of the future promise of God, which is also a major theme of this whole chapter. Isaac’s blessing was “concerning things to come” (20). Joseph talked about the future exodus and even left instructions that his bones were to be removed to Canaan when the exodus of Israel from Egypt did happen (22). And though we are not told the content of Jacob’s blessing in verse 21, we can read about it in Genesis 48:15-17, and there we discover that it too is a reference to the future blessing of God upon the descendants of Israel.

I think it is a remarkable thing that on their death beds, these men didn’t spend a whole lot of time dwelling on their past. It’s not because their past wasn’t worth talking about. And they did refer to it some: Jacob, for example, points Joseph to “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed [shepherded] me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads” (Gen. 48:15-16). So there is a pointing back to the past – but it is only to provide a context for the blessing which points to the future: “and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (16).

What exactly was the nature of these promises? Well, there was an element that pointed to the near future. There was this promise of the inheritance in the land of Canaan, which would be fulfilled, as we are told quite explicitly by Joshua, when the land of Canaan was conquered by the Israelites after the Exodus (cf. Josh. 21:43-45). This would not happen for another several hundred years, but it did happen. It was in this context that Joseph’s commandments concerning his bones were fulfilled. When Israel left Egypt 430 years later, we are told that “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you” (Exod. 13:19). Then in Joshua 24:32, we read, “And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.”

And then there was the element of the promises to Abraham that pointed to the coming of Christ and to the redemption that he would accomplish by his perfect life and atoning death, by which “the blessing of Abraham” would be given to the nations (Gal. 3:14). This is of course the linchpin of all the promises. Canaan was given to Israel in order to preserve a place for the family of Abraham from whom the Messiah would come. It was not an end in itself; it promoted a purpose, a purpose which was fulfilled in the person and work of our Lord. All the promises of God to the patriarchs ultimately point to Jesus Christ and the salvation from sin which he came to accomplish. All the promises of God find their yes and Amen in him (2 Cor. 1:20).

But there is another aspect to these promises which is still future. As we saw last time, the promise was that Abraham (and hence Isaac and Jacob and Joseph) would be the heir of the world (Rom. 4:13). This is more than a promise of a patch of land on the shores of the Mediterranean: it is a promise of a world renewed by the grace and power of God for his chosen people. This was not only future to the patriarchs, but it is also future to us as well.

So as these men neared their deathbeds, they were thinking about the future, not obsessing over the past. Not a totally unknown future, but a future defined and expected by the promise of God. And it is this God-given future to which they pointed their heirs. In particular, they pointed them to the word of God, given to Abraham and passed down through the generations.

And as I read this, it hit me that this is surely an important lesson for us as well. Now we are not in the same position as those men. But we are in a similar position, in this sense: as the people of God, we still possess the promises of God in Christ, promises like the one in Col. 3:4, founded on the realty of the redemption and resurrection of our Lord: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4). We are to live in light of these realities. And we are to die in light of these realities. But more than this, we are to be concerned to pass on these promises to the next generations, just like Isaac and Jacob and Joseph did. We are to orient our children to a future defined by the promises of God, promises given to us in Christ and authoritatively recorded in the Scriptures.

And just like the promises given to the patriarchs, there are various ways in which God’s promises come to us. In fact, as Paul tells us, if we believe in Christ, then we too are sons and daughters of Abraham by faith and heirs of the world with him (Rom. 4:11-16). There are promises for the forgiveness of sins in Christ, received by faith. There are promises for daily grace and strength. There are promises for the presence and provision of God. You might call these present and near future promises. There is the promise concerning the church, that the gates of hell will never prevail against it (Mt. 16:18), a promise that will reach all the way to the end of human history. (Do you want to be on the right side of history? Then be on the side of the church!). And then there is the promise that when we die, we immediately go to be with Christ. Finally, there is the promise that at the very end of the age, the people of God will be resurrected, their souls and bodies reunited in glory, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. We ought to be living in light of these realities and pointing our children and our friends to them as well.

So what should be the object and purpose of this sermon, in light of these verses? Well, it is this: the life of faith is not just about me and my times. It is also, and primarily so, about the future of the kingdom of God. The life of faith does not exist primarily for short term gains, but it plays the long game. This is because the life of faith lives in the refreshing shadow of the future-oriented promises of God in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and our Savior. And this should be shown, not only the life we live, but also in the words we speak, which is the focus of these three verses. What the patriarchs said to the next generation was meant to confer upon them a confidence in God’s Word so that they would faithfully endure in obedience to it. We should follow their example.

Will we do this? Will our lives and our words encourage the next generation to press into the future in faithfulness to Christ and his word? Will we teach them to orient themselves in light of the future fulfillment of the promises of God? Will we teach them to look outside of the box that defines the values and priorities of this present evil world? Will we show them how to not only look along the horizontal axis of this age but along the vertical toward heaven as well?

How do we do this? How do we bestow upon the next generation an eternal perspective, a perspective shaped neither by the demands of the present nor by the pressures of the world in its opposition to God? Well, I think we do what Isaac and Jacob and Joseph did. We point them to a future which is guaranteed to them by the promises of God.

But we will never do this unless we ourselves are convinced to play the long game in light of the faithfulness of God to his word. So I want to do two things this morning. First, I want to remind you of the terrible waste that results when we live entirely in response to the pressures of the present, a present which presses in upon us and wants to completely consume the horizons of our perspective. Second, I want to remind you of the benefits that inevitably result when we bequeath to our children and the next generation a future-oriented perspective defined by the promises of God in Christ.

The price we pay when we lock ourselves (and the next generation) into the present

Again, what do I mean by this? What does this look like? Let me present before you a few scenarios to illustrate what I am talking about.

It’s the man who is so consumed with pleasing his boss or getting ahead or making his business a success that he ignores the Bible and prayer and the fellowship of the saints and kingdom service. He may know that the Scriptures are important, but the Bible on his shelf is not going to pay the bills, and so he neglects the care of his soul for the sake of making a few more dollars. Over time, his soul shrivels as he spends more and more time on the pressing needs of the present and neglects his soul. Prayer falls off, and eventually he rarely darkens the door of the church. Or if he does continue to come, it is only in and out as quickly as possible. For he has more important and pressing obligations.

Do you see what is happening? He is living in the tyranny of the present. It is this world and its priorities, not God and his kingdom, that are defining this man’s decisions and the way he spends his time. He is not living in light of the future, but entirely in light of the present. He has become a slave to what the apostle Paul calls, “the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Eph. 6:12). And this has terrible consequences. It must inevitably lead to departing from the faith unless God in his sovereign mercy awakens this man to the tragic state of his soul.

Or it’s the parent who is so consumed with having successful children as the world judges success that everything, including the cultivation of the heart and soul with the truths of God’s word, is subordinated to that. And so sports and homework and extracurricular activities dominate to the neglect of the things of God. Church is an interruption in the course of life’s more important events. College is more important that conversion. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not for a moment against any of these things. They are all well and good in their place. The problem is, what is the priority? In the rearing of our children, are we seeking first the kingdom of God or the kingdom of men? Are we raising children who will be able to endure persecution or who will join the persecutors? Do they see that our homes have Christ and his glory and his person as the center around which everything orbits and turns, or do they see themselves and the worldly ambitions we have for them as the center?

Or it’s the church and church leaders who are so attuned to the culture that they end up mimicking the culture. They are so caught up in the thought patterns of the world that they end up, sometimes unconsciously, adopting them. This is sometimes obvious, as when denominations become overtly liberal and heterodox. When a denomination starts embracing not only sinners but also their sin. When it ordains homosexuals to the ministry or promotes the murder of innocent children under the banner of healthcare. Or doctrinally, when churches begin to deny orthodox doctrines like that of penal, substitutionary atonement, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and so on. Why does this happen? Well, it doesn’t happen overnight. Almost all of these denominations start out Biblically faithful and intended to stay that way. But they didn’t and the reason why they didn’t is because over time, the present and the world came to have more weight upon them that the word of God.

But listen, this can happen more easily than you think. And don’t think that just because this church doesn’t use musical instruments and is overall very conservative in its outlook and practice that it can’t happen to us. We are not immune from the siren song of the fallen world we inhabit. Do you remember what our Lord said to Peter, when Peter rebuked him for foretelling of his death? “Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Mt. 16:23). This is a tremendous statement because just a few verses earlier our Lord had praised Peter for his Great Confession (16-19). And here is my point: we can be perfectly orthodox on big and important doctrines. But that doesn’t mean we can’t become tools of Satan, and in so doing start to savor the things of men, the things of the world. I don’t doubt but that this attitude is partly what played into Peter’s denial of Christ later on – and if it hadn’t been for Christ interceding for him and the sovereign interposition of the grace of God in his life, he would have been lost forever.

What is the price we pay when we are captured by the spirit of the age, when the horizons of our perspective are limited to the present order of things? Well, it is always apostasy, whether that of individuals or that of groups. It inevitably means walking away from faithfulness to Christ. And so you see why the author of Hebrews is telling them these things. You need to have a future perspective, or you will drift away. But you not only need to have it for yourself, but like these three patriarchs, to pass it on to your children, the next generation. And that brings us to our next point.

Why we need to equip the next generation with a future-oriented, promised-based mindset

Here I want to answer the following questions, questions like, what is the point of teaching our children and others about the faithfulness of God to his word? How important is the role of the promises of God here? How does pointing to the future as it is revealed in God’s word help our families and our churches thrive?

First, it teaches them not to define success in terms that the world dictates. My friends, I’m not saying the world can’t give you success. It can, and that is what makes it so tempting to follow its advice. And the success it promises you is immediate and instantly gratifying. It plays also on our self-centeredness and our pride. It doesn’t prune you; it preens you. But that is also the problem. The success that the world gives does not go beyond the borders of the grave. You cannot carry its riches with you. In other words, for all the niceness and attractiveness of the world’s rewards, it comes with a significant cost. The cost is short-term gains in the place of eternal riches. Isn’t this the point of the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16? It is also the point of the examples and lessons the author of Hebrews wants us to learn. We will see this further illustrated in the example of Moses in the next few verses, who because of this eternal perspective left the treasures of Egypt in order to suffer with the people of God. Why? Because “he had respect unto the recompense of reward” (Heb. 11:26).

Don’t you want your children to be like this? Don’t we want the next generation to be like this? Don’t we want them to be like Daniel and not like Demas? Then teach them that success is not ultimately defined by the standards of broken image bearers and their books but by the God of heaven and his Book. Unless they are shaped by the promises of God, they will be molded according to the pattern of this world. Unless they can see a future sovereignly ruled over and guaranteed by Christ, they will bow to the dictates of the present.

Of course, brothers and sisters, they must see it in us first. They must see that we are men and women who live in light of God’s promises. This was true of these three men. Isaac and Jacob and Joseph lived this way, and their children could not have helped but to have seen it. I love the way Jacob refers to God to Laban: he calls him, “the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac” (Gen. 31:42). Can our children say that of us?

Second, it teaches them to have a heavenly perspective. The promises of God in Christ are not promises of health, wealth, and prosperity now. We remember what the apostle Paul said, that he had suffered the loss of all things and counted them as dung that he might win Christ (Phil. 3:8). For Paul, gaining Christ meant losing everything else. But he was able to do this in light of the future resurrection: “That I may know him [Christ], and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (10-11).

Nor are we to say to the next generation that if they just have enough faith in Christ, that they will be able to go through life without any worries or stresses, that they will always be happy, that they will never have to struggle with anxiety or depression. Rather, we are to “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).

In other words, the promises of God point us to our heavenly reward, and in doing so they steel us against the winds and waves and earthquakes that beat upon us in the present. It is only as we are able to look beyond the trials and temptations of the present and into heaven that we will be able to persevere and not give up. This is why our Lord says what he says in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake;” and if you stop there, that doesn’t make any sense. How do you put blessing and persecution together? It’s insane. But not if you keep reading: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Mt. 5:9-12).

Third, it teaches them to be patient and to play the long game. We don’t want the next generation to burn out and give up. But that of course is the temptation when things get hard. That’s the temptation when you are despised and rejected of men. That’s what you want to do when the fierce heat of persecution beats down upon you and wears you down. We will be tempted to give up when there isn’t the fruit that we wanted and expected. And look, you don’t have to be a prosperity preacher to fall into this trap, for even Elijah succumbed when the victory on Mount Carmel didn’t turn out the way he expected.

But how do you keep from doing that, and how do you instill this kind of endurance in the next generation? How do you teach them to value the little victories and become depressed when nothing big happens? Well, again, you do it by instilling in them a commitment to God’s promises. You tell them to hang their hopes on God, not on their own meager efforts. God is playing the long game. He took almost 2000 years from the promise to Abraham to the coming of Christ. Think about all that happened in the middle. Think about the ups and the downs, the terrible period of the Judges, the promising reigns of Kings David and Solomon followed by the rending of the kingdoms, the apostasy of Israel and its deportation, and so on. The entire Old Testament is a roller-coaster ride, and if you focus just on a particular moment, it might look as if God had completely forgotten about his promises (in fact, the psalmists say this very clearly). But he hadn’t, and we need to remember again and again what Peter reminds us: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not wiling that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

Fourth, it teaches them to have hope in God when all seems lost. By pointing ourselves and others to the promises of God, it forces us to look up. The events of this world are not to be understood in a merely this-worldly perspective. That is one of the reasons why I think Biblical books like Daniel and Revelation are so important. In those books the curtain is drawn back, and we are able to look into heaven, a heaven very concerned in the affairs of men. The Biblical reality of which we need to remind ourselves and our children is that future does not belong to Satan, it belongs to God. The promises of God remind us of that. The Biblical story reminds us of that. And it reminds us that the present is never the interpretive grid for the future. For when did Isaac come? When his father was 100 and his mother 90. Impossible! Yes, but not with God. And when did Jesus come? Not at the height of Israel’s power and influence, but at its nadir, when it was subservient to the pagan empire of Rome. We need to be like Abraham, and we need to teach our children to be like Abraham, “who against hope believed in hope” (Rom. 4:18).

Fifth, it teaches them to be willing to be unnoticed. How do holding onto God’s promises do this? In two ways. First, by helping us to see that we are really only a small part in a grand scheme. God’s promises pass from eternity past through the entirety of human history and into eternity future. I am but a dot on that continuum. Now it doesn’t mean that I don’t play a part – of course I do – but it is only a part, and I am really not that big of a deal. God doesn’t need me; I need him. The perspective of the Bible helps us to see that. And we need that. We need, each of us, as the apostle puts it in his letter to the Romans, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). We need to not take ourselves too seriously. It is when we do think we more than we really are that we start doing damage, and turn ourselves into modern equivalents of Diotrephes who loved to have the preeminence (3 Jn. 9-10). May God save us from that!

But the promises also help us to be willing to go unnoticed because they promise us something much better than human praise could ever give to us: they hold out for us the promise of the fellowship and friendship of God. Away with the praises of men! “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory” – and then notice the motivation here – “for thy mercy and for thy truth’s sake” (Ps. 115:1). Or, as the ESV translates it, “for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” Faithfulness to what? Faithfulness to his covenant, of which his steadfast love and mercy is a witness. Faithfulness to his promises. He gives himself to us in his promises to be our help and our shield and to bless us (10-15). It is when we have this perspective that we will “bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore” (18), not our own name.

Above all, it teaches us to have a Colossians 3 mindset and to set our minds on things above where Christ sits at the right hand of God. It is the only thing that makes the gospel make sense. The promises of God find their yes and amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Jesus Christ is the one to whom all God’s promises point. If you don’t see him in them, you are not looking at them correctly. The promises of God fuel our hope; but there is another name for hope: Jesus – the “Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1).

How is it that a single promise of God, promises for good and eternal blessing, can come to pass for creatures such as ourselves, not only tiny and insignificant, but traitors and rebels against God, dead in trespasses and in sins, foul and stinking and putrid in our iniquity? There is only one way. It is because Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). It is because in his office as Mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5), he did for us what we could not do. He kept God’s law perfectly so that his flawless obedience could be counted for those who are united to him by faith (Rom. 5:19). He suffered God’s just wrath against sinners in his own body on the cross so that we can have everlasting mercy instead of eternal misery.

In other words, the promises of God are not for people who have made themselves fit for him, but for sinners who believe in him. We are told in Gen. 15:6 that Abraham, as he heard the promise of God, “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” That is to say, Abraham was justified before God, and he didn’t create his own righteousness through good works but received God’s righteousness through faith. It is the same today: “the righteousness of God . . . is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:22-24). That is the gospel, the good news. Do you hear it as such? My friends, be not among those who do not receive Christ, but be among those who receive him, to whom God gives the right to become the children of God (Jn. 1:11-12).

Let us then, brothers and sisters, pass on to our children and the next generation a perspective shaped by God’s word of promise so that they will endure and persevere in the faith. Let us be like Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. Let us say with the psalmist, “We will not hide them from [our] children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born: who should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:4-7).

“Of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:30-40)

Although verses 30-31 belong to a different paragraph from 32-40, since the former deal with specific instances of faith in Joshua and Rahab...