June 8, 1997
Hebrews 11 chronicles moments in the life of God’s people that, Alistair Begg explains, are incomprehensible save for faith. At the Red Sea, for instance, Moses and the people journeyed through the waters by faith. Faith also enabled Joshua and his army to conquer Jericho, even as it protected Rahab through the city’s siege. These actions only make sense because of the trustworthiness of God and His purposes—objects of faith that remain just as reliable today.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Father, we thank you that we live our lives in the last days, in between the arrival of your Son as a baby in Bethlehem and the return of your Son as the great King of Glory and Lord of all the earth. And we pray that we might walk the path of faith, and that as we open our Bibles and consider the truth that’s contained in it this morning, may the Spirit of God be our teacher, and that in hearing his voice we might obey his Word. And to this end we pledge ourselves. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Can I invite you to turn, then, to the verses in Hebrews chapter 11 which we read some moments ago? We’re resuming our studies at the twenty-ninth verse. And as we’ve been going through this great chapter, there is one recurring question that we have faced. It’s a personal question, a vital question. It is not to be answered by the person next to us, for us, but by ourselves and for ourselves. And it is simply this: Am I a man or a woman of faith? Am I a man or a woman of faith as faith is unfolded for us here in the pages of Scripture? For whatever else the book of Hebrews records for us, it describes the battle between faith and unbelief. All the way through the letter, the writer has been reminding his readers of those who on account of their unbelief fail to enter into God’s promises. And for example, in 3:12, he encourages them, “See to it … that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” And indeed, the eleventh chapter has opened, in the first few verses, with the striking truth that if we’re going to please God, faith is a necessity; it is not an optional extra.
And as we’ve gone through the chapter, we’ve been discovering faith in action—that faith is not something passive, it is not something private, it is not an esoteric interest kept in a corner, brought down, as it were, to be put on display every so often, but that biblical faith is a decisive decision, and it is a sustained attitude . And it begins as a man or a woman gives up all dependence upon himself or herself to make themselves acceptable before God, depends entirely on the provision of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then, having begun the life of faith, exercises faith on a daily basis in order that, like a muscle, it may grow to maturity rather than atrophy and be a sad and sorry display.
And so, we have been going through the portrait gallery of faith, and last time paying particular attention to a number of these individuals who find their pictures hanging in the gallery. And we noted last time that every picture tells a story. We have been looking at individual portraits, and when we come now to the twenty-ninth verse, we actually find that the scene described for us involves people—large numbers of people rather than simply an individual. And what I’d like to do is to suggest to you, like the Bayeux Tapestry, what we have here is a tapestry which chronicles a particular moment in the history of God’s people. And if you would like to understand what it is that is woven into this unfolding tapestry, you can do so by turning to Exodus chapter 14.
And in Exodus chapter 14, you will discover the historical record of Moses leading the people of Israel out of Egypt and of God speaking to him concerning this peculiar hurdle that they found themselves confronting―namely, the Red Sea. And when you read in Exodus 13 and 14, you discover this dramatic scene which unfolds. The people of God have left Egypt; they have begun their trek. The Egyptian armies, some of the crack troops, are in pursuit. And they find themselves being guided by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And at one particular point in the proceedings—you can imagine it in your mind’s eye—we’re told that the angel of the Lord moves around in front of the people of God―moves around, I should say, behind the people of God. And this great cloud forms in between God’s people and the Egyptians who are pursuing. And when you read Exodus 14 at your leisure, you will discover that the cloud brought deep darkness to the Egyptian armies, and yet, on the other side of the cloud, there was a beautiful lightness and splendor—in much the same way as, when you’re flying, you come on certain occasions where there is a bank of cloud into which we may fly or over which we may fly, and on the one side of it is just gloom and darkness, but as soon as you penetrate it or go beyond it, you’re amazed, because it has been shielding the light of the sun on the one side, but it’s a lovely day on the other side. Actually, this happens in between Glasgow and Edinburgh, if you’ve ever visited Scotland. There can be a pillar of cloud which has Glasgow under some of the worst gloom you’ve ever seen in your life, but if you’ll drive for forty miles, you’ll drive into the east coast of Scotland, and it may be as beautiful a day as you could imagine. It’s just one big bank of cloud separating darkness from light. That’s the picture here. And the Egyptians are under darkness, and the people of God are in the light.
And God is moving them on, and he is doing so as a result of asking Moses to stand up and to stretch his staff out over the sea. And as he does so, we’re told that the sea formed up in two walls. So we have this dramatic picture of the Egyptians pursuing, the people confronted by the hurdle of the sea, the leader of God’s people standing with his arms outstretched over the sea, and then the sea forming up in two walls, and then the people of God being able to walk through the sea on dry land.
Now, as you go further along the canvas, you discover that the scene then changes. Through the hours of the darkness and into the dawn of the new day come the Egyptians in pursuit. They come flying up to the sea, they recognize what has happened with the Israelites going through, they look at one another and say to themselves, “If they can do it, we can do it,” and into the dry sea bed they go, only to discover that they’re thrown into total confusion. The wheels begin to come off their chariots, and as they find themselves in the middle of it all, the water begins to engulf them, and they are lost sight of as the sea, no longer walled in safety, pours over them and brings them to a dreadful end.
Now, that’s the picture which is recorded here. Time forbids me doing a great deal with it, except to highlight a couple of things. If your Bible is open in Exodus 14, please notice in verse 8 that while the Egyptians were pursuing the Israelites, the Israelites “were marching out boldly.” That’s what we’re told at the end of verse 8. They “were marching out boldly.” Terrific start. And a good start is a good thing. If you don’t make a good start, you make a poor start. So it isn’t that we want to call in question the beginning that they made. They made a good beginning. They marched out boldly.
But if you look at verse 10: “As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord” and then began to criticize Moses. “Oh, God, how did we get here?” they say. And then, “Moses, what do you think you’re doing? Don’t you realize that we were in great shape in Egypt?” Not true. “Was it because there weren’t enough graves in Egypt that you brought us out so that we could die in the wilderness?” You say to yourself, “How can this possibly be?” Only a matter of moments ago, as it were, they were marching out boldly: “We’re going to the promised land.” As soon as they hit the first little obstacle, what happens? They cry out to God, and they criticize the leadership.
Nothing much has changed. You can go from church to church to church. When people take bold initiatives in faith under God and say, “Let us go under God’s command, let us do this,” the people may march out boldly. As soon as it gets a little difficult, soon as there’s a little terror on the air, as soon as the possibility for failure breeds itself over the horizon, the people look around, said, “Whose bright idea was this?” So what does leadership do? Takes a survey. No, it doesn’t! Checks to see how everybody’s feeling? No, it doesn’t! Runs around and said, “Well, do you really want to back to Egypt? Maybe we can do that. I can give you your reservations back. We don’t have to get on the plane. I can give you your thing back. We can just shut it down.” No! It doesn’t do that. Look at what Moses says, verse 13: “Moses answered the people, ‘Do[n’t] be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’”
Now what a dramatic expression of faith on the part of Moses! What does Moses got going for him? He’s got complaining, criticizing, argumentative rascals all around him, he’s got the Red Sea in front of him, he’s got a stick, and he’s got the command and promise of God. He’s on a hiding to nothing.
Anybody looking at this situation says, “Woohoo! I wouldn’t like to be in Moses’s shoes. How’d you get yourself in that position? You got the Egyptians; they’re gonna get you. You got the people who can’t stand you. You got a big sea in front of you, and you got a stick, and you’re standing up there saying, ‘Don’t worry. It’s all gonna be okay.’ Where did you get that from, Moses? Are you nuts?”
“Well, it would appear so.”
“What are you going on? What are you basing this on?”
“I am basing this on the fact that God said we would never see the faces of these Egyptians again. And if God said it, I believe it. And therefore, if he told me to put the thing out here over the sea, out over the sea it goes, and he’ll take care of it from that point on.”
You see, we don’t have to worry about how he’s gonna part the sea. We just have to worry about whether we’re prepared to stand with the staff stretched out over the water. And some of us never have the joy of standing, as it were, and seeing the deliverance of God because we’re so worried about how God is gonna manage to take care of it. God says, “Don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of it. You just do what I told you.” “By faith.” By faith! Nothing but persevering faith could enable Moses to do what he did, and then in turn the people to follow him as they did.
Interestingly enough, when the Egyptians try it, it doesn’t work. Can you imagine how staggered they must have been? Pharaoh and the army said, “Okay, those boys made it through, we’ll do it as well,” and off they go. And what happened to them? They were engulfed. They drowned. They were never seen again. Why? Because faith and presumption are two different things. Faith and presumption are two different things. They were not operating on the word of God. They were not going on account of the fact that God had made a promise and he would fulfill it. They were just presuming that they could know what the people of God knew if they just essentially went along with the program. And it’ll never happen. That’s why some of you are here in church, and you don’t know what the people of God know, even though you’re going along with the program. You come, you sing the same songs, you engage in the same sort of materials, but there’s a missing link. I’ll tell you what the missing link is: personal, believing faith.
For example, Romans 5:1: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” How do we have peace with God? Being justified by faith. The pagan says, “Hey, I can have peace. I don’t need that justification stuff. I have my own way to peace. I’ll find it here, I’ll make it happen there,” and so on. And so we have these people who hold out the notion of peace, but they don’t know peace. “By faith,” these trusting, faltering, stumbling, argumentative “people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.”
How gracious of God, wouldn’t you say? If God was the kind of God who, the first time that we shook in our boots, the first time we became terrified before the advance of the enemy, the first time we became faltering and dispirited and discouraged with leadership, the first time we found ourselves critical of these things―if God was the kind of God who said, “Okay, one strike and you’re out,” none of us would be able to continue . Because many a day we’ve started out marching boldly. We got up at six, five forty-five. We said, “This is the day the Lord has made.” Great start! We had a little bit of our Bible, we had a little bit of cereal, little bit of orange juice, and on our way. This would be the day when we would share our faith. This would be the day when we made a dent in the office. We’d been building up to this day. And within an hour, within half an hour, within fifteen minutes, we’re hardly in the door, we’re shaking in our shoes, we say, “No, I don’t think I’ll tell anybody I’m a Christian today. I don’t think I’ll get too dramatic today.” Why? ’Cause we’re just like these folks. And God understands, and he loves his children with an everlasting love , and he looked down on them, and he saw them, and nevertheless, he led them out.
Now, we must move on. Let’s go to the next picture, equally dramatic, in verse 30: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.” How many of you know the story of the falling of the walls of Jericho? Just put up your hands. Okay, most of you. How many of you have never heard the story of the walls of Jericho? You put up your hands. Now, put ’em up, and don’t be embarrassed. It’s great! I’m glad. Actually, I want to tell these stories to people who don’t know them, ’cause they’re far better if you’ve never heard them. They’re not as good if you know them off by heart. And you must always come to the stories like you don’t know them. Okay? Always listen like you don’t know it. ’Cause if you always listen to the stories like you know the end, the way you read children’s books, then the stories are no fun. So you have to read, then you listen, say, “Maybe I never noticed that before,” and so on.
Anyway. The story of the walls of Jericho. Really good. Joshua chapter 6. I can’t read it all, but if you turn there at your leisure later in the day—the three of you who were honest enough to admit that you don’t know the story, and a significant number others of you cowardly rascals who weren’t prepared to admit you’d never heard of it in your life, that you thought the walls of Jericho was an ice cream factory or something, you can also read this story when you get home. And what we read is that Jericho, verse 1, “was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.” So Jericho is an impregnable city. Verse 2: “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.’” Okay? Now, you put yourself in Joshua’s position for just a moment. Here we have an impregnable city. No one’s going in and no one’s coming out. And God comes to Joshua and says, “I’ve delivered this city into your hands.” Now, he’s speaking prophetically. It’s a done deal as far as God’s concerned. It isn’t the present experience of Joshua and the people, but it’s about to become so. So Joshua would be saying, “Well, I wonder how God is going to accomplish this?” And so he says, “Let me tell you what we’re going to do. You may wanna take this down, Joshua, and make sure you do it correctly.” Verse 3: “March around the city once with all the armed men.”
“Do this for six days.”
“Okay, got it.”
“Make seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark.”
“Seven priests, front of the ark, trumpets.”
“On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.”
“Seventh day, seven times, blowing the trumpets. Okay.”
“When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, [make] all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse, … the people will go up, [and] every man straight in.”
Okay, now let’s be honest here. No smart stuff ’cause you’ve known this Sunday school story since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. Let’s imagine that you’re Joshua and this is the word from God to you: “I have given the city into your hand. Here’s how we’re gonna do it. Walk round the city in total silence with the armed men. Then do it again and again and again and again and again and again, and on the seventh day, do it seven times. I don’t want anyone shouting. I don’t want any blowing of the trumpets. No aggravation at all. Just walk around the city.” Why would anybody do that? Why would anybody in their right mind do that? The answer is in the first two words of the verse: “By faith.” “By faith.”
You see, there isn’t a plausible explanation for this kind of activity except that God has spoken, made his word clear, Joshua believes the word of God, and then he acts on the basis of the word that he professes to believe. Imagine the scene. Consider these priests with their trumpets. They’re not even blowing them. They’re just holding them. There’s a group of armed men in front of them, then the priests holding the trumpets, then the ark of the covenant, then the rear guard bringing up the rear, which is what rear guards usually do. And this procession simply goes around the city. Can you imagine the people in the city looking over the walls? “Hey, something’s going on down there! Looks like they’re putting together the armed men. They are putting together the armed men. The priests are there, seven of them. Trumpets. They’ve got that ark again. They take that ark with them everywhere,” they’re saying to one another. “And there’s a few guys coming up the rear. Wonder what they’re gonna do?” And they come out, and they’re watching, and they go once around, all the way round, they come back to the beginning again, and they get back to Joshua, and Joshua says, “Okay, fellows, that’s enough for today. See you tomorrow morning, same time. Be here nice and sharp.” The guys are going, “That was it? I mean, that’s it?” “That’s it! Tomorrow.” They go home, they’re saying to one another, “Well, maybe we’re just sort of practicing a reconnaissance mission. Tomorrow we’ll hot it up.” They come back the next morning, says, “Okay, guys, same as yesterday, once round the walls.” Off they go, all the way around. The people are watching. “Maybe today’ll be the day. These people are accomplishing nothing.” “Okay, fellows, thanks a lot. It’s been a great day. See you tomorrow, bright and early, same time, same place.” Third day, these people are accomplishing nothing. Fourth day, nothing’s going on. The people who are marching haven’t a clue what’s going on, the guys in the city haven’t a clue what’s going on, but God knows what’s going on. See? When the world looks at the people of God, it concludes all the time there’s nothing going on. But there’s stuff going on! Because God is working his purpose out.
Goodness gracious, as we prayed at our staff meeting—this Thursday, was it? Wednesday, Thursday, who knows? A day this week. And we prayed that God would bring people to himself, and bring unlikely people to himself. Within an hour and a half there’s a young man wandering in the hallway like a lost soul. And I said, “What do you want?” He says, “I want to see the pastor, the youth pastor.” “Well, fine!” I give him to Dave. He leads him to faith in Christ! He was wandering the halls. Didn’t know what he was looking for. Didn’t know that God was looking for him. He met him! But the world looks on, says, “There’s nothing happening in there.”
Now, there is also something that we need to see very, very clearly here: that the people absent the word of God, or absent a belief in the word of God, would never have done what they did. They would’ve been tempted to do everything else. If you had put the people together and said, “Now, we’re going to take the city of Jericho, and I want you to get a group together and sort of work up a strategy for it,” what do you think they would have done? They would have done what the church is doing today. They would have decided on political intrigue. They would have decided that they wouldn’t march in silence, but they would shout up on the walls, and they would terrorize the people. They would have put together battering rams so that they could bring the wall down, because after all, you can’t bring walls down except the way walls come down, and walls come down as a result of a dramatic force hitting them from the outside, or from underneath, and bringing them down; therefore, this is the only possible way we can go. God says, “I don’t want you to go that way. I want you to walk in total silence around here. And the walls are coming down.”
One of the reasons that we do not see fortresses fall, one of the reasons that we do not see the gates of hell unhinged and laid in the dirt, one of the reasons that we do not see the crumbling of pagan philosophy and New Age mysticism and the rampages of so much that is heinous in our world is because we are unprepared to be men and women of faith . You see, the one thing that these Hebrew believers had to go on was the word of God. They were being buffeted from the pagans. They were being buffeted by the Jews. They were confronted by superstition. There was all kinds of worldly wisdom. They were being sawn in half. They were being beaten. They were being pummeled. And what did they have to do? All they had to do was to stand up and proclaim the message of a Galilean carpenter. In the message of the Lord Jesus Christ there is forgiveness of sins. In the prayers of God’s people there is power. In the living of the Christian life, in the persevering under trial, God says, “I’ll bring the walls down.”
But I’m not sure we believe that. Are we sending missionaries into the Islamic world? Largely no. Do you know that in Iran today, pastors are dragged from their homes? Their families never see them again. They’re killed. Today. What are we doing?
At Stanford University, they did a survey in the last twelve months asking the question “What is Christianity?” And the overwhelming response of the Stanford students was “It is a political organization. That is Christianity.” Now, why would they ever conclude that? Because in large measure, it is. It’s a bunch of rabid, right-wing, fanatical, political crazies with agendas rather than a bunch of radical crazies who are prepared to proclaim the message of a Galilean carpenter to a world that thinks it’s absolutely nuts. The only time you’ll do that is by faith.
Do you believe that the answer lies in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you believe in the absolute power and sufficiency of the Bible? Or do you think it’s just a good start, and you add a little bit of human wisdom to it? Do you believe that in the death of Jesus Christ is the only answer for the sins of men and women? Do you believe that there is only one way to heaven, in the person of Christ? Do you believe that Allah, do you believe that Muhammad and Krishna and Buddha and Gaia, they will all bow before Christ and declare him Lord to the glory of God the Father? Do you believe that? Then we must proclaim it.
Are you prepared to lose yourself? Am I? Let’s talk to me. Forget anybody else. There isn’t a closed country in the world to the message of the gospel. The only thing that makes it closed is the door out. You can get in any country if you want. You prepared to bury yourself in obscurity for the rest of your life, believing that in the message of a Galilean carpenter who is the very Messiah God there is the answer to the deep needs of men and women? Are you prepared to march round the walls in silence and let the world say, “They’re crazy”? Are you prepared to sell out for the cause of the gospel? Are we gonna be prepared to do that in northeastern Ohio? Or are we just gonna play at church? That’s the question.
You see, the world is not put off when we use their methodology. They expect that! That’s why Paul says in Corinthians, he says, “We don’t wage war the way the world wages war. No,” he says, “we have divine power that brings down strongholds.” What is the divine power? It is the power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the power of the prayers of God’s people. It is the power of your life lived before your friends and neighbors. It is the power of perseverance under trial. And all of that hinges on the word of Jesus: “Lo, I’m with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Well, that’s more than enough on that. Let’s go to this other picture in verse 31 for the last one. You can read about this in Joshua chapter 2. This picture has no people in it. It’s simply the sight of a house. It’s a wall, a gable end. It has a window, and from the window there is hanging a scarlet cord. This is the window of the home of Rahab the prostitute. Because, dramatically, we discover that when the spies were sent out by Joshua to check out the enemy territory, and particularly to check out Jericho, they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab, and they stayed there. That in itself is quite remarkable, is it not? You say to yourself, “Of all the places that they might have stayed, why did they choose to stay in the house of somebody like this?” Well, we don’t know the answer to that, except it’s possible that since there’d be a lot of guys hanging out there and they wanted… They were spies. You’re not supposed to go around with a baseball hat on that says, “I am a spy from Israel.” So you would go somewhere that you would be least expected. So they would least expect the Israelites, who serve the living God, to be in a house of disrepute. And that’s exactly where they were.
Now, don’t let’s just miss this in passing. How in the world did Rahab get in this list? I mean, we go through the list, we go, “Well, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Noah,” say, “So far, so good.” Then it goes, “Rahab, the prostitute.” “That’s embarrassing!” No, it’s not. It’s fantastic! How did you get your name of the list? Huh? ’Cause you were such a righteous person? You think God looked down and said, “Now there’s a beauty. I’d like him on the team. Wow! There’s a fine girl. Come on, honey. Just the kind I’m looking for.” No, he looked down and found mean, wretched, rebellious scumbags. And you see, the reason that some of us are never going to get our names on the team is because we’re not prepared to admit that we are mean, wretched scumbags. And if you don’t like the name “scumbag,” I apologize. Why don’t I change it to “bag of dirt?” Because the fact of the matter is, the very agenda of the late twentieth century that reinforces how wonderful I am and how I am this and I am that is the very thing that stands against me discovering the wonder of God having made me in his image.
And Rahab the harlot is there. Goodness gracious, if you read Matthew chapter 1, you’ll find out that she was an ancestress of Jesus Christ! If you read the genealogy, Rahab is… You go through his granny and his great grandmother and so on, and you come to Rahab. “God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.” Oh, we need some Rahabs in here. Maybe we have some. And if so, may I be the first to welcome you? And may I be the first to tell you that God delights to grant forgiveness to the likes of us?
Just a wall, just a window, just a scarlet cord, just a sign that when the invasion came her house would be saved. Many of the commentators say here is a wonderful anticipation of that blood-red cord which is provided for us in the atoning death of Jesus Christ. And certainly, that is true. Whether it is here in Joshua is a matter of debate. But there’s no explanation for what Rahab did, except that she believed in God, she believed his word was true, and then she was prepared to run the risk of going against her family and her friends and her kindred and her nation for the sake of Jesus Christ.
And the reason he writes to the Hebrews is because that’s exactly what they needed to do. He said, “You’re gonna have to live on the edge. You’re gonna have to hazard it for the gospel. The people are all around you. They’re gonna try and put you down to death. Unless you’re prepared to be like Rahab, who did this, unless you’re prepared to be like the people who crossed the sea, unless you will live in your weakness and discover this strength, then you’re not going to make it.”
And that’s why he then says in verse 32 and following, “And I’ve got a big long list,” he says, “and I don’t have time tell you about them.” And some of the kids are sitting out there saying, “I hope that’s exactly how Pastor Begg feels.” Well, I got good news for you: it is. I don’t have time to tell you about them. But if you want a Bible study for the summer, you take verses 32–38, and then you go with a concordance and look up all these names, and fill in all the historical background, and you will unleash great vistas on the story of God’s redemptive purposes throughout all of the Bible—fabulous stories about David and Goliath, Gideon and his armies, Daniel and the lions’ den, and so on. Great, great stuff. People who “were stoned,” sawn “in two,” “put to death by the sword,” “went about in sheepskins … goatskins, destitute, persecuted … [ill-]treated.” Doesn’t sound like Parkside Church, does it? The only goatskin we’ve got in here was picked up at the Coach store at Beachwood Mall, you know? The only sheepskins we’ve got are to make the seat a little more comfortable and to stop the leather from going on fire in the summer, you know?
But in Scotland this happened, for the cause of the gospel. It’s the story of Richard Cameron, imprisoned in the Toll Booth Prison. I tell it in Made for His Pleasure. Remember the story? His father is imprisoned. Richard Cameron is captured in the Ayreshire hills as a Covenanter for the truth of the gospel. They order him to recant. He won’t recant of his faith in Jesus Christ. They chop off his head. They chop off his hands. They take his head and his hands on a broadsword and two daggers, and on their way to put them on the railings down by Holyrood Palace, some bright spark from the army says, “Why don’t we take this in and show it to his dad?” And so, with his father in the jail for his faith in Christ, the door clangs open, and in come these soldiers carrying his son’s head and his son’s hands on the end of daggers. Why? Because he named the name of Jesus Christ. And today we worship here in freedom because those in an earlier generation were prepared to make that sacrifice.
Who knows what another generation will bring for us? The erosion of the church in America is faster every day. The intrusion of the state is more dramatic at every turn. It is not inconceivable that in the twenty-first century things could have changed so dramatically that we move from observing Hebrews chapter 11 to, in some of its most dastardly dimensions, living it. Who will stand in that day? I don’t know.
“The world,” it says, “was not worthy of them.” They weren’t getting their name in Who’s Who, but they had their name in Who’s Who of eternity. They were “commended for their faith,” but they didn’t see it all completed. Why? Because they were waiting for a completion that was yet to come. They lived in faith and they died in faith. That’s what we do. We live in faith and we die in faith. We take God at his word. He says that he will forgive us; we take him at his word. He says that he will take us to heaven; we take him at his word. And one day, soon, maybe very soon, we’ll be united with all these saints who from their labors rest. And Paul says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for those who love him.”
Do you love him? If you love him, you’ll please him. And you can’t please him without faith. Are you a man or a woman of faith? I don’t mean faith which is simply an assent to facts, an intellectualism that says, “Well, I believe there was a Jesus of Nazareth.” That’s good. It’s a start. But it’s not biblical faith. I don’t even believe that what we’re encountering there is the notion that says, “Not only do I assent to the existence of this truth, but I believe that he is the very person that he claimed to be.” That’s not biblical faith either. That’s a bit like seeing a girl and looking at her and saying, “You know, she’s lovely. She’s kind. She’s the kind of person that I think would be fabulous spending your life with. I actually believe that it would be terrific to spend the rest of my life with her”—and you live all the rest of your days as a single young man. Because assent plus belief stops short of “I do.” “Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of marriage? Will you love her, honor her, keep her in sickness and health, and forsaking all other, keep yourself only unto her?” “I do!” Fine. It’s a whole new deal from this point on.
Some of you are here, and I want to speak to you with passion, with kindness, and with clarity, and these are my concluding words of the morning. Listen: You wonder why it is that you do not have a desire in your heart to witness. It’s because you have nothing to witness to. You wonder why it is that you have no sense of the forgiveness of your sins. It is because your sins are not forgiven. You wonder why it is that when others sing and enjoy it, you have no real interest in it. It is because there has not been brought about a change within your heart. You’re at the level of assent or believing, but you’ve never come and cast yourself wholly upon God and discovered that he gave to you wholly his Son. And that is the decisive act which then leads to the sustained attitude. Some of us are trying to sustain an attitude, but we never had a decisive act.
What about you? Are you a man of faith? A boy of faith? A girl of faith? And if not, why not today?
Let us pray together:
O God, thank you for these people that we have read about. Thank you for the clarity of their lives, for the wonder of your love. Thank you for the reminder that although we’re made in your image and therefore possess a dignity as your creation, that that image has been marred by our sin, by our dirtiness, by our rebellion, by our indifference, by our unbelief. And there is no beauty in us that you would desire us. You wouldn’t pick us up because we’re peculiarly attractive. But you would pick us up out of the miry clay and set our feet upon a rock and establish our going and give us a song on our lips, because you are the God who loves the unlovely. Your grace extends to the sinner. Your mercies are new every morning.
Come, then, to our waiting hearts, we pray, and grant that we might cry out to you for mercy and for grace. Some of us, Lord, need to take time before we even leave the building to come to our prayer room and talk with someone, and pray with someone, and get these matters sorted out. So grant that we will not allow the seed, as it were, to be snatched away at our very feet, but that we will find our lives like the good soil that receives the Word and puts it into practice and brings forth fruit.
And may the grace and mercy and peace of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be the portion of all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.
 Exodus 14:11 (paraphrased).
 Romans 5:1 (KJV).
 Psalm 118:24 (NIV 1984).
 See Jeremiah 31:3.
 See Joshua 6:3–5.
 See Philippians 2:11.
 2 Corinthians 10:3‒4 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 28:20 (paraphrased).
 William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).
 Hebrews 11:32 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 11:37 (NIV 1984).
 Alexander Smellie, Men of the Covenant: The Story of the Scottish Church in the Years of Persecution (London: Andrew Melrose, 1903), 275.
 1 Corinthians 2:9 (paraphrased).
 See Psalm 40:2–3.
 See Lamentations 3:22–23.
 See Matthew 13:8; Mark 4:8; Luke 8:8.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.