Is God Faithful?
How do we determine if someone is faithful? Is there a set of rules that determine this or is it more subjective to our interpretation and opinion?
If you look up the word faithful in a dictionary, you’ll see that a definition can be, true to one’s promises, reliable, trusted and steady. Do we agree with the statement that God is faithful? I certainly hope that you can say “yes” to that declaration because we see throughout Scripture that God is in fact faithful.
How do we define God being faithful in our lives, though? Some people define this as God healing them, blessing them with finances, delivering them from a difficult time or helping them avoid tragedy altogether. In fact, there are some people who believe this so strongly that they “claim” victory over opposition before the battle even begins! How many of you have heard of Kenneth Copeland? Kenneth Copeland, a prosperity Gospel preacher whose net worth is upwards of $750 million, made a very interesting declaration regarding COVID-19 several months ago. Copeland, who makes millions from people who donate to him in hopes of receiving physical and financial blessings from God, pronounced COVID-19 powerless and defeated back in March. He said that it had to bow the knee to Jesus Christ because Christ bore all of our sin and sickness on the cross 2000 years ago. Because of this, if you are truly a Christian, you have no reason to worry about sickness, much less COVID-19 because it’s impossible for you to get it as a Christian because you’re covered and protected, you have a shield around you and you’ll be just fine. This is Copeland’s mantra and people buy it, friends. Copeland, and many other pastors in our nation are selling a bill of goods that are garbage. After all, if what they said is true, why are people still perishing from this awful virus? Why do they do this and why do people believe this? Because they don’t understand what it means that God is faithful.
Some people think that because God is faithful, they will never undergo difficult times or adversity. Some people believe that because God is faithful, they will never get sick. Others believe that because God is faithful, it’s always God’s will for us to prosper. Is this what it means that God is faithful? No. Consider the people mentioned thus far in the Hall of Faith - did they experience a cushy life or did they experience opposition, persecution and even illness? Yes on all 3 fronts. Is God still faithful? You’d better believe He is! So what does it mean that God is faithful? That’s what we will study today as we see that God can bring about miraculous deliverance and other times His plan for us is to suffer - this doesn’t mean that He’s not faithful, it means that He has a plan for us and His plan is for our ultimate good and for His glory even if it doesn’t exactly make sense.
God is faithful to His promises. God never promises us an easy, sickness free, persecution-less life. If that is what you’re looking for, go and follow whatever Oprah and Copeland are selling people but it isn’t what this book shares with us. Instead, let’s strive today to examine how God provides, sustains, and delivers even when it might not seem that way here and now.
32 And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36 Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. 38 The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. 39 All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.
Biblical Faith can lead to victory (32-35a)
Biblical Faith can lead to victory (32-35a)
The preacher of Hebrews concludes the hall of faith with a history lesson of the entire Old Testament in the final 9 verses. How many of you like history? If so, this is right up your alley! If you don’t, hang on tight because the individuals found in these verses are far more applicable to your situation than you might think.
Did you know that God uses crooked sticks to hit straight shots? Aren’t you thankful for that truth today? As we have seen thus far in the Hall of Faith, these people are by no means perfect. They struggle with various things and we will look more at that idea in depth in a few minutes, but it can be discouraging sometimes to read Hebrews 11 or a passage in the Bible and think that someone has it all figured out and they please God with their faith and here I am over here as a failure with much work to do. The fact of the matter is that we all fall short on a daily basis! I mentioned this back when we started Hebrews 11 but there is a temptation to compare ourselves with the people found in this chapter - friends, we must avoid that temptation at all costs! The Christian life is not one of comparing ourselves to one another, rather we are to look to Christ and run after Him. Now we certainly encourage one another in that regard and Paul told the Corinthian church in
1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
This is the model for us as well. We should imitate Christ and encourage others to do the same. As we continue looking at these heroes of Scripture, may we not be upset that we aren’t as strong as they are, rather let us be encouraged by their astonishing faith in God in the good and the bad. Let’s leave today motivated to be people who are characterized by their faith in God at all times.
The first 4 verses of our passage talk about positive results of faith. Again, the preacher could bring up negative things about each of these figures but that is not the goal, the purpose is to demonstrate the fact that they trusted in God. Look at the names found in verse 32, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel and prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and others! Goodness, think of how long this chapter would be if the preacher of Hebrews talked about how each of these people demonstrated Biblical Faith in God! This chapter would rival Psalm 119 and its 176 verses!
Think about how these people had faith in God. Gideon was called by God in Judges 6 and told that he was going to be used by God to deliver the people of Israel from the hands of Midian and he will strike them down. Gideon objects initially and says, “How can I deliver Israel?” He says that he is the youngest and his family is the weakest in all his tribe. Yet, God chooses to use Gideon. As the story continues in Judges 7 and 8, we see that Gideon had incredible faith in God as God calls him to gather up his soldiers in order to defeat the Midianites and 32,000 showed up to fight the 135,000 Midianites. At this point, the Israelites were outnumbered roughly 4 to 1, but God is not done yet. God says that Gideon has too many troops and 22,000 leave because they are afraid. God says that 10,000 is still too many and Gideon trims the number to 300 after taking the men to the river to drink and most of them knelt down and drank straight from the river and were sent home. Finally, Gideon had faith in God while being outnumbered 450 to 1, with 300 fighting men, God said that they were ready. This would have required great faith on the part of Gideon, wouldn’t it have? You’re going up against 135,000 Midianites with 300 soldiers with clay jars and trumpets… You don’t have to be a West Point graduate to figure out that this doesn’t make much sense, but whenever God tells you to do something, you’d better do it!
We could spend hours going through the other people mentioned here in verse 32 and how they demonstrated faith in God by trusting in God’s plan even though it didn’t always make sense. Instead of doing that, let’s continue to 33-35 and see what can happen whenever we place our trust in God.
Whenever you trust in God, the miraculous can happen. Think of the things found in verse 33. Conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of the lions. That’s a whole lot to unpack, isn’t it? We know that the Israelites, under Joshua’s leadership, conquered kingdoms and the nation of Israel reached its highest point of power under David. They administered justice on the nations around them because they were God’s chosen people. They obtained promises that were specifically given to them. David was promised to be king and that promise was fulfilled. These people obtained promises of wealth, power, and family Finally, we see that through faith in God, the mouths of lions were shut.
How many of you have ever seen an actual lion close up in person at a zoo or something like that? Lions are huge and I cannot imagine being next to one because it could kill you in a matter of seconds. Can you imagine not just being next to 1 or 2 lions but being tossed into a den of lions who are hungry like Daniel was in Daniel 6? The incredible news for those of us who are Christians is that our God is more than capable of shutting the mouths of hungry lions. He is the sovereign king of the universe and He has a plan for each one of us. Sometimes that plan is victory, success, and survival.
The preacher continues in verse 34 to mention how some quenched the raging fire, a clear reference to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in Daniel 3. We remember this story well as they knew what it meant to disobey the king and not worship his statue, but they also knew that they couldn’t do this as followers of God. They had faith in God as verse 18 shares with us
17 If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”
I love what F.F. Bruce says about this passage and how we see it show up in Hebrews 11, “Had they received a special revelation that their lives would be preserved, it would have called for considerable faith to act upon it in face of the burning fiery furnace; but to behave as they did without any revelation of the kind called for much greater faith.”
These people had incredible faith. Likewise, others like Elijah and Elisha escaped the sword and they gained strength in times of weakness. Gideon is an example of this as he was used in a mighty way by God yet he himself was very weak and from a weak family. Whenever you trust in God and realize that the battle belongs to the Lord, you are able to then have faith that He will provide and put foreign armies to flight just as the Israelites did to the Midianites.
Verse 35 finalizes the positive portion of this section by noting that women received their dead raised to life. Again we see that Elijah and Elisha have faith in God as do the women and we read about this in 1 Kings 17:21 and 2 Kings 4:17-37 and their children came back.
So, whenever you have faith in God, God can and does work miracles and bring about deliverance today. He is still in the business of rescuing us and we have faith that He is able. God uses our faith, just as He used the faith of those mentioned in these verses in positive ways to showcase His power over the natural things of this world like hungry lions, blazing hot fires and even the mighty sea. God is able to do whatever He wants, however He wants, whenever He wants. He can do that because He and He alone is God and we are called to have faith in Him and trust in His plan.
Biblical Faith can lead to suffering (35b-38)
Biblical Faith can lead to suffering (35b-38)
There are times, though, where having faith in God leads to consequences. In such times, what will you do? We’ve talked about this theme often in Hebrews 11, but consider it a final time today. Do you have enough faith in God to suffer for God or are you only in it for the benefits? What we see in our text is that many people in Scripture had incredibly strong faith in God but they suffered as a result of their faith. Yet, God sustains us in times of suffering. Have you experienced that personally? Have you been in a situation where things are awful and you are struggling, but some how you can’t explain it, but you are being sustained by God despite everything going on? You are able to walk through even the worst of moments because God is the one giving you strength to take that next step. I pray that you’ve experienced that in your life because that is the power of almighty God in our lives. I’m reminded of the movie “I Still Believe” that came out back in March that was based on the true story of Christian artist Jeremy Camp and his wife. His wife passed away a few short months after they were married due to ovarian cancer. She was a strong Christian and in the film, she said, “If one person’s life is changed because of what I’m going through, it will all be worth it.” What a testimony from a 21 year old newlywed who is undergoing some of the most painful suffering imaginable that would eventually take her life.
Friends, sometimes we will suffer in this life. For those of us who have faith in God, we must continue to have faith in Him even in the suffering. Not because it’s easy, but because it is our command as followers of Christ!
In our text we see that while some people experienced victory, others were tortured and did not accept release. What does the second part of verse 35 mean? There were people in the ancient world who were genuinely tortured for their faith in God. Just because some experienced positive results and others were tortured, it doesn’t mean that one had more faith than the other, contrary to what some pastors might tell you today about living a persecution-less life. Rather, we see that they trusted in God even in the suffering. Justin Martyr, an early church father, talked about this reality of there being a hope of resurrection even in the face of torture and death. Whenever Justin and his congregation was about to be killed, he said, “Remember brothers and sisters, they can kill us, but they can’t hurt us.” From an earthly perspective Justin is dead wrong. Killing involves hurting! What did he mean by that statement, though? As Christians, we have it made because our eternal hope is secured. Even if people kill us, they can’t hurt us or shake our faith. Do you have such a faith in God that would stand firm even in the midst of torture or persecution? Torture is such a gruesome thing and we hear stories of Christians being tortured around the world for their faith and sometimes we wonder why on earth does that happen? It all comes back to God’s plan. And to some people that blows our mind and it turns some people against God. How on earth could God’s plan for my life include suffering or torture? Others say that it’s not God’s plan at all, instead it’s just our free will that randomly leads to that happening.
Why can’t God intervene in such situations? God does, sometimes. Look with me in Genesis 20:6 to see God intervene and restraining evil from happening from King Abimelech
6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her.
Abimelech was kept from committing adultery because God kept him from sin and didn’t let him touch Abraham’s wife, Sarah. See there are times in which God restricts evil and torture and persecution but there are other times He does not. What must our response be in either situation? We remain faithful to God and know that His plan is perfect and for our ultimate good.
Others were mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawed in two, died by the sword, wandered, afflicted and mistreated. We like to think of faith in God leading to the Red Sea parting and Jericho’s walls falling down! We don’t like thinking of faith in God leading to death! What a difficult passage of Scripture for us to digest in 2020 because we don’t like the idea of suffering and we definitely don’t like the idea of our faith in God leading to suffering, yet we know that this is going on in our world right now! There are sufferings and tragedies now just as there were back then. As Jesus said in Matthew 23:37
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
These people killed the prophets and there is extrabiblical tradition that tells us that Isaiah was sawn in half. Some of them escaped the sword but others were killed by it. Think of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was able to escape the evil king Jehoiakim whereas his fellow prophet, Uriah, was slain by the sword. Likewise in the book of Acts, Luke documents the fact that
1 About that time King Herod violently attacked some who belonged to the church, 2 and he executed James, John’s brother, with the sword.
On down in verse 6 and following in Acts 12 we learn that Peter was miraculously delivered from prison and did not meet the same fate as James. Both had faith in God, yet both had different results. How can this happen? This doesn’t seem fair! Again, Biblical Faith notes that God can and does deliver us from sufferings but Biblical Faith also notes that God can and does sustain us through sufferings. Some people don’t like that idea, but it’s what we see throughout God’s Word. To quote F.F. Bruce, “Faith in God carries with it no guarantee of comfort in this world: this was no doubt one of the lessons which our author wished his readers to learn. But it does carry with it great reward in the only world that ultimately matters.”
Is God Faithful? (39-40)
Is God Faithful? (39-40)
So, if some people have faith in God and are met with victory, success, and prosperity while others are met with death, suffering, and persecution, is God still faithful? This seems to be a cosmic injustice, doesn’t it? 2 people have the same faith in the same God and do the same action yet one is met with death while the other is praised. How is this “fair?”
Consider your life, if God’s plan for your life is for you to suffer like the people mentioned above, would you say that God is still faithful or would you say that God is a jerk? I’m reminded of many Godly people I know and the deep struggles that they endure with health issues and financial complications. They don’t go back on their faith in God, rather they trust in His plan even though that might involve suffering. If God’s promises don’t come true in your life, is God still faithful?
Sadly many people in our world view God as being unfair because some people don’t get “what they deserve” because of free will and the fact that they’re a good person. Consider the final few verses, these people were approved through their prosperity, right? Through their victory, wealth, happiness and success? No. Through their faith! So they must’ve had life pretty easy since they had faith, right? Not necessarily. They did not receive what was promised. They didn’t get the blessing and then place their faith in God. They had faith in God and didn’t even receive the promise in their lifetime. What is the promise talked about here? The promise of eternal inheritance. Eternity spent with God thanks to what Christ did for us on the cross of Calvary. These people didn’t receive this promise in their life time because God had something better in store. They lived by faith and Jesus Christ, who brings in the New Covenant, won for them the victory just as He has won that for us as well.
We have it pretty easy, don’t we? We have already been perfected by Christ’s death on the cross as Hebrews 10:14 tells us. We can look back with confidence and see that God is in fact faithful to keep His promises! He was faithful before and He will be again. He sent His Son to die in our place and He promises that Jesus will return once again.
Is God only faithful when He brings about our physical healing and happiness or when He brings about our eternal spiritual healing? God is faithful to His promises in His Word, nothing more but certainly nothing less.
Do you believe that Jesus is Greater? Do you believe that He is better than what life can give to you now and better than what death can take from you later? As Christians, we firmly believe that Jesus is Greater and that He and He alone satisfies our souls.
Maybe you’re longing for some hope today because of the situations that you find yourself in right now. If that is you, look no further than our text this morning as we see that there is hope of perfection and fellowship through Jesus Christ and through Him alone. We have the benefit of hindsight because we can look to what Jesus did on the cross and see His great love for us. Have you responded to that love today?
When we started Hebrews 11 4 weeks ago, I asked a question, “Is Faith blind?” We see throughout this chapter that Biblical Faith is not blind or random, it is based upon the evidence in God’s Word. How are you choosing to live today? Are you living in faith or are you living for yourself?
Our world doesn’t always make sense. It doesn’t make sense as to why God allows His children to undergo various sufferings while other people live in opposition to God and never suffer, or so it seems. The next time you find yourself suffering, especially for your faith in God, don’t look at it as a bad thing, rather leverage it as an opportunity to share the Christian hope with those around you. To quote John Piper, “Those who love God more than life and suffer willingly awaiting something better than what this earth can offer, are God's great gifts to the world.” Our world doesn’t understand having faith in God in the midst of persecution. Persecution is coming, though. What will you do? Will you remain faithful or will you bend the knee to our culture at every turn? Remind yourself of the promises of God today.
Look to the cross, God is faithful to His promises and to His children.