Intro: What is in this for me?
- Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” – Matthew 19:27
- vs 28 Jesus assures Peter that there is a reward. He can be confident that God will not forsake him or despise his choice of faith. This is not a promise of physical prosperity, but Jesus’ assurance that He will not forsake them in their mission. Promise of apostolic authority.
- vs 29 – He adds the additional promise to those who will suffer persecution – left houses and family… God will provide – especially in the promise of eternal life
- vs 30 – But this is not a promise of physical prosperity and prestige as men anticipate it. The first shall be last – the last shall be first.
What is the dividend of faith?
I. The Victory of Faith: Hebrews 11 is a testimony to the value of faith in the lives of those who lived before us. God’s blessings far surpassed any expectation of those who lived faithfully.
A. Not only did they gain the approval of God, but they accomplished great things through the power of faith in their lives. Hebrews 11:32-34 – 32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 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. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. (NIV) This seems to be a picture of God’s people doing what they were supposed to do –walking by faith.
1. Sometimes, in response to their faith, God worked miracles and delivered them. The writer refers, for example, to the dividing of the Red Sea (verse 29) and the falling down of the walls of Jericho (verse 30) and the shutting of the mouths of lions when Daniel was in the lions’ den (verse 33), and the quenching of fire by Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego, when they walked through Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace (verse 34), and the resurrection of the son of the widow of Zarephath (verse 35a). And in every case here the people of God were helped or rescued from danger or death.
2. At other times, God providentially protected the faithful from harm (escaped the edge of the sword), and allowed them to win victories over their enemies (becoming powerful in battle).
a. After His disciples had failed in their attempt to cast out a particularly powerful demon, they asked Jesus, “Why could we not cast it out?” So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. 21 However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Mt. 17:20-21) Even a small, persistent faith can accomplish great things because of the power of God.
b. The promise ‘nothing shall be impossible to you” is conditional, valid only within the framework of God’s will. Mountain-moving faith is not faith in oneself, much less faith in faith, but faith in God. It is not faith itself, no matter how great, that moves mountains, but the God in whom the faith is grounded. Faith has only as much power as its object. (from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary)
II. The Suffering of Faith – But faith cannot be fully understood or appreciated without looking at the flip side. Consider the rest of the passage in Hebrews 11 – Hebrews 11:35-38… “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented — 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” Who are these “others” mentioned here? They are the faithful. Faith brought great accomplishments, but the other side of faith is suffering. Some who lived by faith suffered enormous losses. If we walk by faith we will suffer, sometimes greatly.
A. There is a modern interpretation of faith that is quite popular. It says that reward of faith is prosperity, wealth and good health. If these things are lacking it is because faith is lacking. This doctrine is deceptive and dangerous. But it is certainly popular in a carnally-minded and covetous society. A recent article in Time magazine cites a recent survey that found 61% of American Christians believe God wants them to be financially prosperous. The more shocking finding from the study is that 31% of Christians think that if you give God money now He will return it to you later, in spades.
B. Now it is absolutely crucial for us to understand that the sufferings sustained in verses 35-38 come by faith, not because of unbelief. See this in two ways.
1. First, in verse 33, notice that the list begins with “…who by faith conquered kingdoms…” and without a break continues into all the miseries of verses 35-38.
2. It is by faith that “others were tortured… and others experienced mockings and scourging.
3. The other way to see this is in verse 39 which looks back on all the sufferings of verses 35-38 and says, “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith,”. In other words the suffering and misery and destitution and torture of God’s people in verses 35-38 are not owing to God’s disapproval. Rather God’s approval is resting on them because of their faith. The miseries and sufferings were endured, not diminished, by faith.
C. God does not always rescue the faithful from physical suffering.This is true, even when their suffering is the direct result of being faithful to God.
1. “Others were tortured…”The word for tortured is from tumpanizo, from the same root as the English tympani, a kettledrum. The particular torture referred to involved stretching the victim over a large drum-like instrument and beating him with clubs, often until dead.
a. Although God could turn the hearts of torturers away from their torture of God’s people, sometimes He does not. The Bible frequently portrays God restraining and channeling the evil of men’s hearts. In Genesis 20 King Abimelech almost committed adultery with Abraham’s wife, but God told him, “I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.” (RSV) I believe that God restrained the evil intent of Abimelech’s will, but there were other times when God allowed his people to be tortured and mistreated. That fact does not mean that the suffering Christian does not have faith. Nor that God doesn’t love him.
2. Verse 37: “They were stoned, they were sawn in two.” What is mentioned here is almost too horrible to consider. Tradition says Isaiah was sawn in two. Why did this happen? Not from a lack of faith, but because he had great faith.
3. We can see this clearly by contrasting vs. 34 with vs. 37: In verse 34 the writer tells us some by faith “escaped the edge of the sword.” But then in verse 37 the fourth clause says, “They were killed with the sword.” There were times when God delivered His faithful from being killed, but not always.
a. Acts 12:1-2 – Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. But the next verses tell how he arrested Peter for the same purpose, but God intervened and miraculously delivered Peter. One died by faith. The other escaped by faith.
4. Go back to 35. There is another dimension to this suffering of faith that we cannot overlook – “…not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.”
a. Those who suffered because of their faith, had a choice. Although God does not always rescue His people from suffering, they could have delivered themselves. All they had to do was deny their faith and the suffering would go away.
b. This is how it works for us as well. But we do not really have to publicly recant our faith. Just laugh at the jokes, do not object to the choices others are making, and go with the crowd. They will let you alone. You can deliver yourself.
D. “…of whom the world was not worthy” (v. 38) –Notice how the writer describes these people who have suffered because of their faith. The world did not deserve them. The language seems to imply that these destitute, tormented, and afflicted people, who lived in caves and dens of the earth, were a gift to the world, and the world did not deserve to have them in their midst.
1. Once again God’s truth turns the value system of our world on its ear. Those whom the world tosses out in the trash, are God’s treasure. What would have been like to be an apostle? Jesus’ closet friends; Those who had the most mature faith; endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit above all others; the divinely appointed leaders of the early church.
a. Listen as Paul describes an apostle: 1 Cor 4:9-13 – For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! 11 To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. 12 And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; 13 being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.
2. Faith is a call to suffer with Christ. 2 Tim 3:12 – Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Listen again as Paul describes the other side of his faith: 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 – 23 Are they ministers of Christ? — I speak as a fool — I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness — 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? 30 If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.
3. Consider the final disposition of the apostles, the Lord’s best friends. Can you imagine a reunion 25 years later? Where are they now?
a. The martyrdom of James is recorded in Acts 12 – He was killed with a sword.
b. According to tradition:
• Peter was crucified upside down
• Paul was beheaded
• James the son of Alpheus was sawn in pieces
• Thomas was killed with a spear
• Bartholomew was flayed alive with knives
• Thaddeus was shot with arrows
• Philip was hung upside down until he died
• Matthew was soaked in oil & pitch and burned alive.
• All the apostles died as Martyrs except for John.
Conclusion: What does living by faith promise? What is in it for me?
There is no doubt that faith leads to victory. God does not abandon the faithful. In the end the suffering we experience here cannot compare to the glory we will inherit in the life to come.
But the dividend of our faith includes suffering. We are called to follow Jesus wherever He goes.
Luke 9:1-2 Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. 2 He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. The twelve were sent out with the prospect of doing great things through the exercise of their faith in God. They marvelled at Jesus ability to supply all their physical needs as he fed the 5,000. The disciples must have looked with great anticipation to following Jesus to the greatness of His kingdom. They could recognize the divine dividend of faith in Christ. But did they also see the other side of living by faith?
Luke 9:22-25 – 22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” 23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?
Where are you headed if you are carrying your cross? to die, but also to a glorious resurrection!
You must be buried with him that you might be raised to a new life.