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Living by Faith (8)

Faith: victorious, embattled and seemingly defeated

Scripture Readings:

  • 1 Kings 18:30-46
  • Hebrews 11:32-12:3

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in the Lord,

Faith is to be sure of what we hope for and to be certain of what we do not see.  But, this faith is not something mystical, a feeling, a sort of thrill one gets when you stand on the verge of something daring or adventurous, where one just do it because of the energy rush it might produce.  I know of Christians like that: they always live on the peak of their emotions and everything that smells of the mundane which lacks “excitement” to them is to not trust God.  The problem is, they sometimes fashion their own god who has to constantly satisfy their need for adventure; and if this does not happen, they sometimes find themselves very deep in doubt:  God becomes a distant “something” and they themselves need another spurt of spiritual adrenaline to get going again.

The problem is their definition of faith; it differs from the Biblical definition:  Everyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrew 11:6)

The present day manifestation of the so-called prosperity gospel, or the name-and-claim faith, is that those involved in it does not understand that although God never fails, He might send some difficult circumstances with the good times: when faith seemingly sees defeat, they walk away, or blame the sinner for a lack of faith.  They always want to see victory; while poverty, oppression, persecution, battles and failure do not exist in their vocabulary.

This “theology” is summarised in these words:

The supporters of this movement believe that faith works like a mighty power or force.  Through faith we can obtain anything we want — health, wealth, success, or whatever we please.  However, this force is released only through the spoken word.  As we speak words of faith, power is discharged to accomplish our desires.

Kenneth Hagin claims that while he was “in the Spirit,” Jesus told him to get a pencil and a piece of paper.  He then instructed him to “write down: 1, 2, 3, 4.”  Jesus then allegedly told Hagin that “if anybody, anywhere, will take these four steps or put these four principles into operation, he will always receive whatever he wants from Me or from God the Father.”  That includes whatever you want financially.  The formula is simply: “Say it, Do it, Receive it, and Tell it.”

  • Step number one is “Say it.” “Positive or negative, it is up to the individual.  According to what the individual says, that shall he receive.”
  • Step number two is “Do it.”  “Your action defeats you or puts you over.  According to your action, you receive or you are kept from receiving.”
  • Step number three is “Receive it.”  We are to plug into the “powerhouse of heaven.”  “Faith is the plug, praise God!  Just plug in.”
  • Step number four is, “Tell it so others may believe.”  This final step might be considered the Faith movement’s outreach program

The heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11, as we saw it over the last seven weeks, knew nothing of this sort of faith.  What they did believe in was that God exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Their faith life tells us a few things.  In the first instance:

Faith at times can indeed be victorious

Gideon

Gideon was no professional soldier.  When God called him to service he doubted God:

Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:13, NIV)

He was timid:

Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (Judges 6:15, NIV)

Like most of us he wanted a sign that God indeed called him:

If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.” (Judges 6:17, NIV)

When he had gathered thirty-two thousand men to face the Midianites who had been terrorising the people of God, God ordered him to sent home those who “trembled and feared” – twenty-two thousand walked away.  Of the ten thousand that remained God only used three hundred.  This was a lesson in faith.

God granted him to hear the Midianites interpret a dream of a barley loaf which tumbled in to their camp and crushed the tent in which the soldiers sat.  “This is the sword do Gideon!”, he heard them say.  Gideon went back to his soldiers and said, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianites in your hands.”  God caused the enemy to be confused, they ran into one another and killed one another with their swords.  The Israelites routed the Medianites that day under the leadership of Gideon. They,

through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised. (Hebrews 11:33, NIV)

Elijah

The people were gathered on Mount Carmel.  Also present was Ahab, the godless king of Israel, four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal as well as four hundred prophets of Asherah, his wife.
Elijah challenged the people of God:

How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. (1 Kings 18:21, NIV)

He ordered the prophets of Baal to get two bulls and sacrifice them.  If their god is God, then there would be fire from heaven.  But if the God of heaven answers with fire, He would be God.
What followed seems a bit comical:

So they took the bull given them and prepared it. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. (1 Kings 18:26, NIV)

Elijah taunted them:

Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27, NIV)

Nothing happened.  I think by then the people just stood in silence with guilt burning in their hearts:  they have forsaken the living God for and idol who cant speak, hear, who can’t even sleep, of go on a journey:  He is dead! A nothing.

When it was time for the evening sacrifice Elijah took the wood, cut the meat into pieces and laid it on the wood.  Just to make sure that he believed that God exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him, he for three times ordered for water to fill the ditch around the altar.  Then he prayed:

Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:36–37, NIV)

God answered and the prophets of Baal and Asherah were killed as the people were restored to the Lord:

When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39, NIV)

Then, God sent rain as Elijah stood on his knees before God.  Elijah,

through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised. (Hebrews 11:33, NIV)

Daniel and his friends

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He issued a command:

As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” (Daniel 3:5–6, NIV)

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, being God-fearing young men, did not bow to this idol.  They were brought to the king and charged.  Nebuchadnezzar then said to them:

Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? (Daniel 3:14, NIV)

They were given another chance, but they replied:

King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. (Daniel 3:16–17, NIV)

We know the story how they were thrown in to the furnace, which was that hot that the soldiers who put them into it died of the heat.  They were not alone.  Even the king saw it:

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:25, NIV)

When they were released their clothes did not even smell of fire. They,

through faith quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength. (Hebrews 11:34, NIV)

Daniel was a man of prayer.  Nebuchadnezzar’s officials wanted to get rid of him and made the king pass this decree:

that anyone who prays to any god or human being during the next thirty days, except to you, Your Majesty, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. (Daniel 6:7, NIV)

Daniel was then thrown into the lions den, sure to die at the fury of the hungry lions. The den was shut and the king sealed the entrance to it with his signet ring.  Nebuchadnezzar could not sleep that night and early, at down the next morning he went to the den only to find Daniel alive:

My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.” (Daniel 6:22, NIV)

Daniel, by faith in God, “shut the mouths of lions.” (Hebrews 11:33)

The list can go on about those “whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Hebrews 11:34, NIV)

They were granted victory, because in God’s plan they were needed to be there at that specific time in the unfolding mercy of God towards his people to make them look up to God as the only God and turn away from idols.  In the hands of God they were the instruments needed then – just as God still uses specific people to act in his Name to call people to repentance as He determined from all eternity to do.  Their success is not their faith, but their faith in God, or better put:  their success was God’s success as He used those who faithfully served Him whatever the circumstances.

Faith sometimes finds itself embattled

Jeremiah

Jeremiah dearly loved his people and his country.  But he loved God more, and had no choice but to preach only what God commanded him.  It was God’s intention to call the people to repentance:

Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done. (Jeremiah 26:3, NIV)

What happened when they heard the words of God?

But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die!” (Jeremiah 26:8, NIV)

This man of God stood his ground, because he believed that God exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.  He kept preaching God’s word uncompromised.

“As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.” (Jeremiah 26:14–15, NIV)

At that time they came to their senses and did not do harm to him, unlike they did to Uriah, another prophet before him who was struck down with a sword and his body thrown into the burial place of the common people (Jeremiah 26:23).

But only a few years down the track it was the same story with Jeremiah:  they wanted him dead (Jeremiah 38:4).  They chucked him into a cistern full of mud and left him to die.  God was merciful to him and he was rescued before he died.  It took thirty men to pull him out of the mud.  They first almost tore his arms off his shoulders, but they worked out a plan with old rags of clothes to pad the ropes and so rescued him (Jeremiah 38:12-13).

He was “tortured”, like so many other prophets.  Even our Lord said of Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37, NIV)

Maccabees

There was a time between 164 and 167 B.C., there was a push between some of the religious and political leaders of Israel and the leaders of the Greek Empire to dispense with Jewish law and to adopt a Greek lifestyle. It was during this time that a Jewish mother and her seven sons were arrested. The king was having them beaten to force them to eat pork.

Then one of the young men said, “What do you hope to gain by doing this? We would rather die than abandon the traditions of our ancestors.”

This made the king so furious that he gave orders for huge pans and kettles to be heated red hot, and it was done immediately. Then he told his men to cut off the tongue of the one who had spoken and to scalp him and chop off his hands and feet, while his mother and six brothers looked on. After the young man had been reduced to a helpless mass of breathing flesh, the king gave orders for him to be carried over and thrown into one of the pans. As a cloud of smoke streamed up from the pan, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die bravely, saying,

The Lord God is looking on and understands our suffering. Moses made this clear when he wrote a song condemning those who had abandoned the Lord. He said, The Lord will have mercy on those who serve him.

It was probably episodes like this which is remembered by the words of our text in Hebrews 11:35.

There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. (Hebrews 11:35, NIV)

Faith finds itself sometimes embattled.  “Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.” (Hebrews 11:36, NIV)

Not everyone is granted victory, because in God’s plan they are needed to suffer at that specific time in the unfolding plan of God towards this world to make them understand that through suffering their faith is refined; their suffering in is some cases what makes the unbeliever look up and worship God.  In the hands of God they are the instruments needed then – just as God still uses specific people to act in his Name to call people suffer as He determined from all eternity to do.  Their suffering is not the result of faltering faith, but their unwavering faith points to God’s faithfulness:  their suffering is God’s success as He used those who faithfully served Him whatever the circumstances.

They believe God exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrew 11:6)

Faith sometimes seemingly defeated

Tradition has it that Isaiah was sawed in two, and history’s page is littered with examples of Christians who were chained and put in to prison.

Almost naked and forgotten like John the Baptist, they go about in this world despised, desuetude, persecuted and mistreated – and beheaded.  They find no home other than caves and holes in the ground.  Yes, this is still happening today.  They are applauded and commended for their faith – by God!  This world is not worthy of them.

Graham Stains, secretary of the New Delhi based Evangelical Missionary Society, and his sons, Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8, died after a crowd of more than 30 people doused their vehicle with kerosene and set it ablaze outside a makeshift church in the town of Manoharpur in the eastern state of Orissa.  Defeated?  No, they are not dead; they are victorious with their Master.  The work continues in the life of his wife – and many others who saw this horror and committed their lives to God.

since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:40, NIV)

They believed in Christ, so do we.  He is coming again to take us to our eternal home to be with Him and all happiness.  Those who rejected Him and those He sent to them will experience his wrath – forever!

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartzon Sunday 11 November 2012

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