Don't be the hero
Living By Faith (Hebrews 11) • Sermon • Submitted
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big idea: Faith means costly action driven by sure hope. Jesus perfects this - yet calls his children to follow
What do you think of the advice to “follow your dreams”? I’m sure you’ve heard it - and if you haven’t heard it, it’s there behind the scenes in so many of the stories which shape our culture. “You can be whatever you want to be,” they whisper to us. “Follow your dreams, that’s where you’ll find life.” Whether you’re the baseball star who just wants to sing, the miner’s child enraptured by ballet, or the humble maid who feels the call to become a warrior, follow your dream.
Here’s one story I came across this week, of a guy called James, asking for advice:
Currently, I am training to be an accountant with a large accountancy firm. It’s a job with great prospects and it took me a long time and great effort to get here. All I can think about is leaving. Giving up the security for freedom. It’s a mere means to an end – good money and a stable career, but I realised it is not my passion. I feel my life is slipping by. I want to leave and find my passion.
I effectively left school early at 15, and spent the next two+ years unemployed, drinking, smoking weed, getting into trouble with the police, etc. I was even so depressed I self-harmed. At 18 I plucked up the courage to go to a community college in an attempt to avoid becoming a bum for the rest of my life and continue my education.
Thinking I would do awful, I found I excelled at my exams, eventually going onto university were I gained a 1st class honours in accounting. Within a couple of years of graduating, I got a job at a Big 4 accountancy firm, which is where I am now, thinking at long last I’ve achieved my goal of landing a successful and secure career.
You’d think I’d be happy after all that effort?
I always wanted to box. … I know it doesn’t sound noble; some people are born to change lives; to work with the poor and needy; to serve others. For that I feel bad, but I can’t deny myself that this is what I’ve really always wanted to do. It is my dream.
38 random citizens of the internet have responded to James, giving their expert advice. And what do you suppose they say? Of course it’s nearly unanimous. Give it all up. Let it all go. Throw it all away - it’ll be worth it. Start yesterday. Follow your dream.
… But what about when it’s not your dream that’s calling? ...
We’re working our way through just one chapter of a letter towards the backs of our bibles: the letter to the Hebrews, and chapter 11. It’s a famous chapter, listing of a series of heroes of faith, and the big message the author is trying to bang into our heads through it is persevere! Don’t give up - persevere in faith, it’s worth it. That’s a message that the original audience, some first century Jewish Christians, really needed - precisely because they were in danger of not persevering, of giving up.
We’re given example after example of living out this faith down through the history of God’s people, of acting out faith: Abel brings a better offering; Enoch walks with God; Noah Builds an ark; Abraham goes when he’s called. The big message from today’s text is the same: persevere in faith - it’s worth it. But each example shows us another aspect of faith, gives us another angle on why, and how, we persevere in faith.
Today we’re going to be thinking about faith that leads to truly costly action: throwing it all away; giving it all up. Let’s hear this week’s section - John’s going to read for us. John’s our new ministry apprentice by the way if you’ve not seen John before. He’s here from the US for two years to serve our church practically while studying theology. You’ll be seeing a lot more of him! So, Hebrews 11:23-28
By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
Thanks John. If you’re familiar with the second book of the bible, Exodus - or with the beautiful film “Prince of Egypt”, you’ll have some sense for the huge story we’re just given a tiny glimpse of here. We don’t have time to read it all this morning but it’s a real page-turner if you had some time this afternoon. Let me just give you a thirty-second fly-by:
The story starts with God’s people enslaved by Egypt, suffering but growing. To keep a lid on their numbers, Pharaoh, king of Egypt commands every male child born to them is killed - thrown into the Nile. But Moses’ parents see something special in him, and at great risk they save him, hide him. Almost unbelievably, through a remarkable turn of events, Moses ends up adopted by the daughter of Pharaoh, the king. Raised as Egyptian royalty, Moses’ life couldn’t be more different from his native slave-people. They toil, building the temples and palaces which make Egypt great - Moses lives the high life within those walls.
Then one day everything changes: Moses is watching his own people at their hard labour - he knows his identity: he is one of them. This can’t be the first time he has seen them work - or seen the Egyptian brutality which drives them - but something changes within him. An Egyptian is beating an Israelite. Moses, after checking the coast is clear, suddenly strikes the Egyptian down and hides the body in the sand.
Remember from our reading “when he had grown up, Moses refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter”? It’s not entirely clear this is the moment, or just the beginning of the path to that. But whatever, Moses’ charmed life starts to unravel. Pharaoh hears of it. Moses flees. No more palace. No more luxury. 40 years in the wilderness. Then, after an encounter with God where - it has to be said - Moses sounds pretty reluctant to go along with the plan, he finally returns to Egypt with the message and power of God, reassured that the Pharaoh who’d put a price on his head is dead and gone.
I wonder, as Moses walked the long path back to Egypt, when the sun finally came up with those pyramids in view again, whether Moses toyed with the idea of returning to the fold, returning to the palace. Could he once again be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter - now the prince of Egypt, since Pharaoh had died? Or was he going to throw it all away, side with the slaves, risk it all on a crazy God-plan? I wonder if it wasn’t then that he truly and finally made the choice, and refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
Remember where we started, the cult of “follow your dream”? The world applauding anyone with the guts to throw it all away in pursuit? Well, I very much doubt this was Moses opting for his dream-life … and there wasn’t much applause - but he certainly did throw it all away.
Moses chooses to let go of Egypt by faith - that’s what our passage tells us. He chooses. (slide w/ v25 choose highlight) There was a moment, a point, where he made that decision and jumped.
And it wasn’t a blind leap - it was a calculation. See in v26 he “regarded” disgrace as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt? That word “regarded” has this sense of thinking, considering, reckoning. Weighing things up. Counting the cost.
But how on earth can Moses come to that conclusion? I mean, think about what he’s giving up here:
In refusing to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter he’s giving up power. v24. He’s letting of his position, his significance. Moses could have ended up with his image preserved for millenia, 60 feet high in stone alongside the Nile.
In refusing to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter he’s giving up pleasures; v25. The easy life of the palace; everyone everywhere having to bow down; the human-powered fan through the heat of the day; the hot servant girls.
In refusing to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter he’s giving up treasures; v26. The treasure of Egypt - let me tell you, that was something! Serious quantities of wonga in Egypt, mostly in royal hands. Enough gold to make books out of it, to supersize all your jewellery.
How can you weigh things up, count the cost and then instead of power, pleasured and treasures, choose mistreatment and disgrace? How can you reach that conclusion? Because that’s what he was choosing.
v25 “he chose to be mistreated along with the people of God” - tormented, afflicted, injured - like that Israelite he saw being beaten right at the start of this journey.
v26 He chose disgrace. He chose shame, insult, abuse; to be the oppressed rather than the oppressor. To be the object of hatred, the despised foreigner, looked down on.
That’s crazy talk. I mean, it’s one thing to give up accounting for the joy of boxing. It’s quite another to give up all this for… for what?
He’s looking ahead to his reward, v26 tells us. What kind of reward isn’t spelt out for us here - and it wasn’t spelt out to Moses that clearly either - as you read his story in the book of Exodus, it’s not that God simply makes him a better offer than Egypt, laying out lots of juicy future incentives, heavenly stock options or the like. He is told he will lead Israel out of Egypt - which is at least something! In any event, it is the invisible future which Moses is looking ahead to, having encountered the invisible one who shapes it. When we’re told Moses was looking ahead to his reward, the sense of that word is the settling up at the end of a job. Moses knew there would be a reckoning for how he acted, for the choice he made.
Think back for a moment to where chapter 11 started:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Faith is acting now based on future certainty. He’s certain there’ll be a settling up. That’s what enables him to weigh up all these things and make the seemingly crazy choice to leave it all behind.
Let’s just press pause there for a moment ‘cause I want to ask if you feel God putting you on the spot right now, and pose the question: what’s your choice? Like Moses had to choose. Here at Hope City we love to welcome people who are just exploring faith and if you’re here, just looking, I hope you’ve felt really welcome. But sometimes what we’re looking at in the bible just prompts us to be a bit direct and this is one of those passages. Maybe you’ve been with us a while. Maybe you know stuff from when you were younger, or from somewhere else. Do you know enough to take a step of faith towards Jesus - but you’ve just never done it? Is the price what’s holding you back?
Choosing to follow Jesus - that’s a serious choice with some serious consequences. I doubt you’ll have as much on the line as Moses did - but it does have a cost. There’s many places around the globe where the price is extreme - not so much here. I doubt the world around would applaud you - more likely they’ll just quietly take a step back from you, thinking you’re a bit crazy. I doubt it’ll mean giving up all your riches - if you ever had any - but it is going to change your relationship with them. It’s definitely not going to mean the end of all pleasure for you - but Jesus does have a plan for how you should live your life, and I expect if he moves in, he’ll want to change some things.
There comes a time when you’ve got to make a choice. Are you going back? Or are you going forward? Are you ready to let it all go?
If you’re watching the livestream, in the chat window, you’ll see an opportunity to raise your hand, virtually, and to take that first step of faith, reaching out to God, entering into salvation in Jesus. You don’t have to understand everything to start the journey - you can click that button as a first step of faith, and then, if you like, you can ask our team to pray with you and help you get connected with God.
There aren’t many of us here in the building - but if you’re here and you want to respond, the bar is a bit higher. I’m going to ask you to raise your hand physically. Yes it’s scary - any significant choice is - but make your choice: are you going forwards? Take that step now - I would love to have an opportunity to connect with you and pray after our gathering.
If you have questions, if you still need to know more, or if you’re watching a recording and you want to respond, just email me and let’s chat. Take a step today. email@example.com
[live response? watch livestream 40s later]
Thank you - sometimes it’s right we make a clear opportunity for people to take a step towards Jesus.
But - here’s the thing - this passage isn’t primarily about taking that first step of faith. Remember the original audience, a first century church under pressure; believers struggling, thinking about giving up and throwing in the towel. That’s who it’s primarily written to. And if we were to dig through the details, we’d find so many connections between this telling of the story of Moses, and our author’s telling of the story of that struggling church. Here’s Hebrews 10:32-35, just before our chapter:
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
A church who’ve made their choice - and faced insult and persecution as a result. A church who’ve had treasures taken from them - and they’ve endured it for a lasting reward ahead. The church he’s writing to have already walked in these footsteps of Moses. Why is he telling them this story? Is he trying to say “well done - you’re like Moses”? Gold star, big pat on the back?
No. He is challenging them to keep on choosing like Moses - and like they already have. Following Jesus is a journey, not just one step; following Jesus means again and again acting out that faith which is certain of what is not yet seen. Following Jesus means again and again choosing to let it all go - looking back and seeing you have already taken steps like this.
If you’d call yourself a Christian, today’s passage has a challenge for you: choose, it says. choose again. It invites us to ask ourselves what has my choice been - this year? this month? this week? Am I choosing applause or disgrace? treasure or trouble? now or not yet?
But I don’t think that’s all it’s doing. See, Moses’ story is amazing. It’s extreme. It’s impressive. … It’s intimidating. Think for a moment: what would your choice have been in Moses’ shoes? Could you walk away from it all? Write me into this story, and I don’t know how I would do.
Hold my life, week to week, up next to this story of Moses and I can tell you straight, I look pretty lame. Let me be frank with you: I am not a winner like Moses. Actually, I love applause. I care deeply what people think of me, whether people like me or not. And it keeps my mouth shut more often than I’d like to say. I polish my treasures and enjoy my comforts. I don’t merrily give them up. I find it hard to really fix my eyes on the “not yet” because I’m so caught up in now.
So has our author missed the mark, and rather than inspiring us to more bold choices in faith, has he humbled and then crushed us instead? Set us a standard we can’t meet, a challenge we know we will fail? Is it just me that sometimes feels that way when I look at these heroes of faith?
We must be missing something here. We haven’t quite grasped what our author is trying to achieve yet.
When I read a novel, I start at the beginning and work forward. I love the suspense, not knowing where it’s going. When my wife reads a novel, if it get a bit too tense, she’s quite happy just to turn to that last page, see how it’s all resolved, and then, with the end in view, make her way through it. Let’s just do a bit of that, shall we?
This long line of faith heroes we are working through ends with Jesus. It describes him in Heb 12:2 as the pioneer and perfecter of faith. The founder and the finisher. The beginning and the end. The wonderful news of Christianity is that you and I don’t have to be the hero like Moses was - just as well ‘cause we’re not. Our lives don’t depend on it and neither does our standing with God. This long line of faith heroes isn’t leading up to us at the summit, it’s leading up to Jesus.
Jesus was the true and better Moses. A faith hero like Moses - but so much more - Moses just the tiniest shadow of the smallest corner of Jesus. Jesus let go of all the glory he had from eternity in heaven at the Father’s side, not just the shiny baubles of Egypt. Jesus endured rejection, mistreatment, reproach beyond anything Moses ever did - and from his own people, not another. Jesus faced the wrath of God, not just the anger of an earthly king. And as Moses keeps the Passover, delivering the children of Israel from Egypt, Jesus is the true and better Passover, delivering God’s people from everything forever.
Jesus has done it so we don’t have to. Jesus has won it so we can’t lose. Children of God is how this book of Hebrews will describe us - beloved family, like Peter shared last week. That’s our identity. That’s to be the ground underneath us when we’re called in faith to choose - again and again. When we know we’re a child of the king, we can choose to let all this stuff go - it’s trivial in comparison.
This talk of choosing, again and again, to let go of this world, of choosing now the hard path of following Jesus, in view of the not yet ... We have to understand this isn’t the call to be a hero of faith, it’s a call, in the wake of the hero of faith, to follow him as God’s children. So let’s turn our thoughts to our hero, celebrating what he’s won for us, before we even begin to respond to his challenge.