The World Was Not Worthy Of Them
Key Verse: 11:40
“God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
As we went through this chapter, the apostle showed us many things about the character of faith. He used the example of many a great men and women of faith. He also showed us the power of community faith. In this last section of the chapter, the apostle moves on to tells us something else about faith— mainly the “victory of faith”. What does God almighty consider to be truly a “victory of faith”? According to the Holy Spirit who inspired the writing of this chapter, the “victory of faith” is seen at times in a glorious outwardly visible triumph of the missions God entrusts to his servants. But the “victory of faith” isn’t always realized in outward triumphant glory. Another side of the “victory of faith” seems also to be in things that we, as human beings, usually despise, abhor and avoid at any cost. For example, in describing a decisive victory of faith, the apostle reminds us of the suffering and pain that have marked some great warriors of faith. From God’s perspective, these too have brought on invisible, inner victories of faith. The important thing is not what faith outwardly accomplishes, but the “victory of faith” itself. Why? Because it is not the result that matters as much as the faith of the person. That in itself is what pleases God. (6). When we know this truth in our hearts, we can experience the “victory of faith” in any way that God so chooses for us to experience it, whether it’s outward or inward, visible or invisible, huge or small.
Read verses 33-35a. “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.”
It seems that there were so many heroes of faith to consider that the apostle didn’t have time to tell about all of them. But he mentioned some by name and he refers us to some significant acts of faith performed by unnamed people. Gideon for example, hid in a winepress to survive the oppression of enemies. He was a fearful coward. But as the story goes, the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said: “The Lord is with you mighty warrior”. (Judges 6:12) He was a weakling. But all it took is the word of encouragement to lift his spirits. He believed that the Lord was with him. That was amazing faith in itself. God also challenged his faith. He challenged him to leave behind the entire army of 32,000 soldiers and to attack with only 300 men (Judges 7:5-6). It was a tremendous challenge of obedience and of faith. It seemed like a suicide mission rather than a call to victory. But Gideon accepted God’s challenge and trusted that 300 warriors were enough to fulfill God’s mission. And so, God gave him the victory. This reminds us of Jonathan— king Saul’s son’s faith and friend of David when he said: “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many of by few”. (1 Samuel 14:6) Indeed, as the Lord himself tells us: It is “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6). This was the faith of Gideon— a faith that rests not in one’s own strength and ability, but only in God. How great would our victories be if we would only abide this faith!
Then there’s Barak, the commander of Israel’s army who hesitated to do battle with a strong enemy. But when God spoke to him through the prophetess Deborah— a woman— he humbled himself, accepted the word of God and advanced on the enemy by faith. He too won the victory. There’s Samson also whom the Lord endowed with amazing strength to serve God’s purpose in his life. But when he was enticed by his desire for a woman, all the strength God had given him to honor and to serve God washed away. A man like this, who’s so easily smitten with a desire for a woman seems to be hindrance to Go’s workd and hopeless to change. But in his anguish, he engaged his faith through repentance, and the Lord blessed his faith and gave him victory over the enemy. A moment of sincere faith in a person’s life can change one’s whole life for victory. Then there’s also Jephthah whose people rejected him and drove him away because of his background— for he was the son of a prostitute. He was a bitter outcast from society. But a time came when his people needed his help to fight their enemies. He could have refused to help them. But it was his faith that overcame his fatalistic situation, and it was his faith that prompted him to serve God’s purpose above his own feelings. He overcame by faith and served God’s purpose by faith, in spite of his situation. How often do we lose opportunities to serve God’s purpose— to do the right thing— when we let our own bitterness or discomfort at something obscure our faith and hinder God’s work!
We do not have time to review all of David’s life in which he lived by faith. But we can certainly mention a few significant moments. When he was a small boy, he defeated the Giant Goliath with a stone. But it wasn’t the stone that defeated Goliath. but David’s faith. He later conquered many kingdoms, administered justice and gained what was promised in ruling the kingdom of Israel. One of David’s great expressions of faith was in his humility after receiving what God had promised him. The Bible describes David’s heart beautifully. “David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: ‘Who am I O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far.’” (2 Samuel 7:18) It was faith that helped David remember God’s grace in his life, and kept him humble before God and men. Another incident where David’s faith was expressed in humility was when he was rebuked by the prophet Nathan for violating the woman Bathsheba, and killing her husband in order to have her for himself. When David was rebuked, he confessed: “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13) How precious is the faith of those who humble themselves before the Lord in confession and repentance— who do not hold on to their pride— and who live in humility and submission to the Lord, even when it is embarrassing and painful. Christ takes away our sin when we repent. But if we do not live in humility before the Lord, our faith cannot bear fruit on account of our inner pride. David’s faith expressed in humility of heart bore the fruit of inspiration to countless souls who have crucified their pride.
The apostle mentions Samuel who, in faith, served the Lord as an itinerant Bible teacher and Shepherd for Israel. When he lived by faith, God blessed his ministry and brought spiritual revival to Israel. Samuel’s faith was exceptional in that he took up his responsibility as a Bible teacher and shepherd at a time when no one else would. He was indeed a man of faith and prayer since it takes great faith and sincere prayer to serve a wretchedly ungrateful and hopelessly lost people with the word of God. Such a man believes this to be the will of God, and also believes that “The word of God is living and active”. (Hebrews 4:12) May God raise up many Samuels in our generation, men and women who believe that teaching the word of God and praying for a hopelessly lost generation is still the will of God and God’s way to bring revival to a corrupt generation. There were other unnamed people who also performed acts of faith. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword, whose weakness was turned to strength, and who became powerful in battle and routed armies. (33b-34) We know Daniel’s story and that of his three friends. Daniel’s faith kept the lion’s mouth shut because he upheld his faith in God. His friends escaped the fire because they chose by faith to worship God rather than submit to false gods. How wonderful was their faith which chose imminent death over betraying their faith and God. These days, so many betray and abandon faith and God for a job, for a man or a woman, for pleasure, for the comfort and conveniences of this world. At times a man or woman have to pass through the fire in order to prove their faith. As Peter tells us: “While you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith— of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire— may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Look at verse 35a. The apostle also tells us that “Women received back their dead, raised to life again”. The story of these women is heartbreaking and yet their faith brought their children back from the dead. It was a glorious manifestation of faith and of the “victory of faith”. It was God’s sovereign will to honor their faith in this glorious way. All these people that the apostle mentioned thus far had faced impossible situations, but they didn’t shrink back in fear or in despair. Rather, by faith, they trusted God. By faith they overcame so many hindrances in their lives; they overcame the overwhelming sense of fatalism that usually captures the heart and makes it powerless. Many of them were humanly weak with many weaknesses; others faced unbearable sorrows, temptations, and the power of death. They were all different people in different circumstances living in different eras. But they all simply expressed faith in God in a critical moment in their lives and experienced a remarkable “victory of faith”. That’s the heart of the matter. Faith in God in desperate situations brings on the “victory of faith”. At times the victory is outward, visible, glorious and immediately fruitful. But that is not the full scope of faith or of the victory of faith.
Look at verse 35b-38. “Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” Here we begin to see the apostle’s transition from one kind of “victory of faith” to another— that is, from the faith that wins an outward, visible and tangible victory, to faith which although humanly unfavorable, still wins a glorious, inner and invisible victory. How important it is for us to understand this! These people suffered not because they deserved to suffer or because they had committed a sin, but because they confessed their faith in God. If only they had compromised a little bit, they would have escaped their misery. They would have avoided the persecution of their family, friends or state and would have been spared the suffering. But they didn’t compromise! They went through the “narrow door”, and walked the “narrow” road. (Luke 13:24; Matthew 7:13-14) And when they did that, they were insulted, beaten, imprisoned, tortured for their faith. Yet they didn’t shrink back because they loved the Lord more than they loved their own lives. (John 12:25) As the Lord says: “Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38) These people knew that the Lord wanted them to carry their cross of faith and mission even when it was difficult and painful. They didn’t sell their faith for physical comfort, nor did they sell the truth for the sake of earning more money or to gain some leverage. They didn’t compromise their faith just to get by and be accepted in society. As the apostle says: “the world was not worthy of them”. (38a)
Our first impression of these Christians is that outwardly they were defeated and looked like nothing more than victims of injustice and losers in the world. But the truth is different! From God’s point of view they were all truly champions of faith. Their hope of heaven and of eternal life which God promises gave them inner strength to endure all kinds of hardship and sufferings. Their lives seemed ironic: outwardly they were defeated, but inwardly they were more than conquerors. Listen to what Paul who lived by faith testified: He said, “As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-10) What he’s saying is this: “We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are ignored, even though we are well known. We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything” (2Co 6:8-10 NLT). Now does that testimony seem to be that of a loser? In fact, it’s the word of God encouraging us not to despair nor fall into unbelief every time we suffer for the Lord or his kingdom.
And now finally the apostle makes his point in all that he said in this chapter. Read verse 39: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” He’s talking about every one of these men and women of faith who lived by faith, and he tells us that they were commended by God for their faith. But then he also tells us that these very faithful ones never received what was promised them— yet! They didn’t receive the promise yet, but they also never complained, nor were they bitter and angry with God for it. How so? Because there’s something about faith that is constant in the heart of those who have faith— they don’t doubt God’s love or his faithful character. And that’s the glory of faith. Faith doesn’t doubt the love of God not his faithfulness! So these people trusted the Lord because they know the One in whom they put their faith. Actually they believed that God himself was their reward and that he would not disappoint them. (6; ref. Genesis 15:1) And God was pleased with them; Which teaches us something very important about our lives of faith! It teaches us something about the purpose of living by faith— why we live by faith. We live by faith not for the sake of gaining what is promised. We live by faith in order to please God. The problem is that some folk begin the life of faith expecting something tangible from the Lord. And when they don’t see any tangible fruit, they feel a sense of great loss— as if they’ve wasted their lives living by faith and honoring the Lord. They say, “I dedicated my life— the best years of my life to God and ministry, and I have nothing to show for it. Who will compensate me now?” They doubt God’s love and shrink back from faith. So the true heroes of faith are those who are more concerned with pleasing God with faith— from start to finish— even when they have nothing in their hand. Pleasing God and being commended by him is far more important than receiving what is promised.
It’s not that they didn’t receive what was promised them. It’s that they needed to wait. He had a special plan to reward them. Read verse 40. “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Or a better reading would be: “…Since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” We’ve come across the word “better” before many times in the study of this book. A better hope (7:19), a better covenant (7:22), better promises (8:6), better sacrifices (9:23), better and lasting possessions (10:34), a better country (11:16), a better resurrection (11:35), a better plan (11:40), a better word (12:24). All these refer to our Lord Jesus, and to the heavenly kingdom where the Lord Jesus rules, and to the eternal life in glory which the faithful of the Lord share with him. Our Lord Jesus is far better than anything else in heaven or on earth. As Paul said: “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” (Philippians 3:7-9a) It seems that the heroes of faith in the Old Testament were looking for something better— to Christ Jesus our Lord. And the Lord came just as God had promised and filled our lives with something far better than anything we can imagine. The victory of faith is great whether it is in outward things or inward things. No wonder the apostle John tells us that the greatest victory of faith is to be born again in Christ as a child of God. “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4) Christ and all that is of him and in him have always been God’s plan for them and for us. And it goes far beyond what we see or experience in our lives. Ultimately, God plans to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under Christ and his sovereign reign. We therefore need to live by faith from first to last as we live to please him. Amen.