Sermon Transcript: Jesus and Our Ancestors (Part 9) – Hebrews 11:36-38
Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. – Hebrews 11:36
Some listed in this Hall of Faith were put on trial. They were condemned as criminals for their faith. They also saw their faith tried by these circumstances. They were mocked, tortured, beaten, chained up and thrown in jail. Can you imagine losing your freedom and being taken by force away from your family, thrown in a cell and mistreated just because you would not deny the truth or the Messiah, Jesus Christ? And yet many more than we can imagine have suffered this and more because of their faith.
The prophet Jeremiah (who was also a priest), was appointed by God to remain unmarried as an object lesson for the people of Judah. Judgment for sin was coming and the toll would be terrible indeed. In fact, in light of the numerous references to barrenness in this hall of faith, it is significant that there are times that barrenness, and even singleness, are to be seen as blessings in light of the dark providences that accompany the judgment of God upon a people. We read about Jeremiah’s singleness in Jer 16:1-4:
The word of the LORD also came to me, saying, 2 “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.” 3 For thus says the LORD concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning their mothers who bore them and their fathers who begot them in this land: 4 “They shall die gruesome deaths; they shall not be lamented nor shall they be buried, but they shall be like refuse on the face of the earth. They shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, and their corpses shall be meat for the birds of heaven and for the beasts of the earth.”
This “weeping prophet” warned the people over and over of the coming judgment of God at the hands of the Babylonians, but they would not listen. They threatened him, put him in stocks and beat him, mocked him, and threw him in a muddy pit that was so difficult to escape that it took the help of another man to be pulled out. He eventually fled with a surviving remnant to Egypt after the fall of Judah to Babylon.
While in Egypt, he wrote the Book of Lamentations, presenting a case for the judgment of God, revealing the compassion of God, and a prayer for hope in the midst of what seemed a never ending calamity for the people of God. He closed the book with a warning. If God would so judge His own people, what would He do to the wicked world?
Shortly after penning this tearful plea and while continuing to proclaim the truth that the nation must repent in order to be restored, tradition tells us that a group of those same Jews with whom he fled stoned him to death.
The priest Ezekiel, twenty years younger than Jeremiah and the same age as Daniel, was taken in the Babylonian captivity when he was 25 years old. Five years later while still in captivity he was called to be a prophet. Along with 10,000 others taken in the captivity, he often proclaimed the truth of God in opposition to the false prophets who promised a quick end to the Babylonian captivity and a return to peace and prosperity in Jerusalem.
Ezekiel was married but his wife died while there were in exile. When this happened, he was told not to mourn. We read in Ezekiel chapter 24:
15 Also the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 16 “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead; bind your turban on your head, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your lips, and do not eat man’s bread of sorrow.” 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded. 19 And the people said to me, “Will you not tell us what these things signify to us, that you behave so?” 20 Then I answered them, “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 21 ‘Speak to the house of Israel, “Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will profane My sanctuary, your arrogant boast, the desire of your eyes, the delight of your soul; and your sons and daughters whom you left behind shall fall by the sword. 22 And you shall do as I have done; you shall not cover your lips nor eat man’s bread of sorrow. 23 Your turbans shall be on your heads and your sandals on your feet; you shall neither mourn nor weep, but you shall pine away in your iniquities and mourn with one another. 24 Thus Ezekiel is a sign to you; according to all that he has done you shall do; and when this comes, you shall know that I am the Lord God.’” 25 ‘And you, son of man—will it not be in the day when I take from them their stronghold, their joy and their glory, the desire of their eyes, and that on which they set their minds, their sons and their daughters: 26 that on that day one who escapes will come to you to let you hear it with your ears? 27 On that day your mouth will be opened to him who has escaped; you shall speak and no longer be mute. Thus you will be a sign to them, and they shall know that I am the Lord.’”
Apostles in Acts
Peter and John
These two were imprisoned for preaching on several occasions. On one, the gospel was boldly proclaimed as a result of their spending a night in jail.
Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
5 And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6 as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: 9 If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, 10 let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ 12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. 15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, 16 saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”
18 So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” 21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.
Paul and Silas
When Paul and Silas interrupted the business of a slave girl who was selling idols and telling fortunes, her master complained and these two were dragged before the town magistrates and thrown into prison. After being beaten they were put into the inner prison with their feet in stocks. And what did they do? They sang and prayed for all to hear!
When the earth began to shake and their chains fell off and the doors flew open, the jailor at this prison in Philippi ran in, saw the doors open, and fearing the prisoners had fled drew his sword to kill himself. Paul called out to him and in the exchange that followed the jailor asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul’s reply was simply this, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
Let us never forget that God has us right where He wants us – and even in unpleasant circumstances, we are where we need to be to live and proclaim the gospel to the world that is dying in their sins all around us!
II. They Died – vs. 37a
They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword.
The priest and prophet Zechariah, a member of the Great Synagogue, a council of 120 established by Nehemiah and overseen by Ezra during the return after exile, was born under the reign of Darius and the Persians. He prophesied along side Haggai. He challenged the people and preached to rouse them out of their apathy with the promise of future blessing during the return and rebuilding of the Temple. According to Matthew 23:35 he was stoned to death between the Temple and the altar. Jesus proclaims that he was a righteous man who was murdered for his faith.
One of the first seven chosen to serve in the church in order to free the Apostles and elders for the ministry of the Word and prayer, was Stephen. He was a man “full of faith and power” who “did great wonders and signs among the people.” He was falsely accused of blasphemy and called before the High Priest.
He preached a message very similar to what we have studied here in this great chapter of Hebrews 11, and in that message he masterfully demonstrated to the Jewish leaders that the Old Testament was indeed the Christian faith which they had rejected when they rejected Jesus as the prophesied Messiah. He preached about the Patriarchs, Moses, the Exodus, the Tabernacle, and concluded with this condemnation:
51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”
The religious leaders gnashed at him with their teeth, condemned him to death, and under the watchful eye of one Saul of Tarsus, had Stephen executed illegally by stoning. Directly following this we are told that Saul “made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.”
Perhaps thought to be the greatest of the prophets, Isaiah is quoted more than any other prophet in the writings of the authors of the New Testament. He served during the reign of 4 kings – Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He was married, had 2 sons, and ministered as a contemporary of Hosea and Micah. He was a profound writer, preacher, and prophet.
Ministering primarily in and to Judah, Isaiah made pronouncements against false religion, empty ritualism, idolatry, and warned of the coming Babylonian captivity. Several of his prophesies were fulfilled in his lifetime, some even shortly after he prophesied. He spent a good deal of time warning the Gentile nations about the judgment of God and went into great detail in his warnings and predictions to God’s people.
Tradition tells us that during the reign of Hezekiah’s wicked son Manasseh, Isaiah was cut in two with a wooden saw.
In Jeremiah 26 we read about the prophet Uriah after he prophesied the doom of Jerusalem along with Jeremiah.
20 Now there was also a man who prophesied in the name of the LORD, Urijah the son of Shemaiah of Kirjath Jearim, who prophesied against this city and against this land according to all the words of Jeremiah. 21 And when Jehoiakim the king, with all his mighty men and all the princes, heard his words, the king sought to put him to death; but when Urijah heard it, he was afraid and fled, and went to Egypt. 22 Then Jehoiakim the king sent men to Egypt: Elnathan the son of Achbor, and other men who went with him to Egypt. 23 And they brought Urijah from Egypt and brought him to Jehoiakim the king, who killed him with the sword and cast his dead body into the graves of the common people.24 Nevertheless the hand of Ahikam the son of Shaphan was with Jeremiah, so that they should not give him into the hand of the people to put him to death.
James the Brother of John
In the New Testament we also know that there was persecution that the church would have been familiar with as it was part of their recent past. In one example, King Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, seeking to gain a favorable reputation among the Jews actively sought to persecute the Christians under his puppet rule. In Acts 12 we read that he imprisoned James the brother of John and killed him with the sword.
The people were so pleased that Herod then went on to arrest Peter and planned to kill him after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. However, we know that an angel came and woke Peter up and walked him out of the prison, delivering him to a house where the church had gathered to pray for his release…though they at first did not believe it was him, in answer to their prayers that very hour!
The list could go on and on as we are familiar with so many stories about so many throughout history and throughout the Scriptures who suffered for their faith. But too often they are just that, stories. We forget that these were real people who paid a real and painful price for their obedience and faithfulness. They sometimes lost everything and then their lives. And to hear about the way they had to live at times, we must wonder what kind of faith we have here and now.
III. They were Destitute – vs. 37b
They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented — Hebrews 11:37
Hebrews 11 is widely proclaimed by preachers and theologians from many different backgrounds and denominations as a spectacular collection and record of those who the Spirit of God inspired the writer of the Book of Hebrews to name and identify as those who are to be remembered in the church for their faith. So in order to leave no doubt about this, these people are heroes and role models for us – they are the faithful.
Now I want to show you in very plain and simple terms what the Bible says about those throughout church history who have been examples of mature, deep, and abiding faith. The Holy Spirit declares to us in inspired, inerrant, and infallible words that those who “obtained a good testimony by faith” were the same ones who were put on trial, mocked, scourged, chained, imprisoned, destitute, afflicted, and tormented. Why have I worked so hard to make this point?
Because there is a false gospel out there, presenting a false christ and a false hope and a false faith and we need to call it what it is – it is a lie! This false gospel sounds nice and pretty. It looks good on the television. It smiles with big white teeth. It looks professional. Those who preach this gospel (and their spouses) try to look like celebrities. They exude signs of worldly success. They doom their listeners to everlasting damnation. Why? What false gospel is this?
It is a gospel that tells a person that if they just trust in Jesus and pray a prayer and give their money to God via their ministry then they will not have any trouble, suffering, sickness, distress, or problems. They preach that if you will just have faith then all your problems will go away. They preach that if your problems do not go away, then you just do not have enough faith.
Wait a minute. The Bible says that those who have faith of the highest caliber are often suffering, are destitute, are afflicted, and are tormented. Throughout the Scriptures we learn that most of the prophets, apostles, early church leaders, missionaries, and even Christ Himself would simply not be considered good Christian people. They would be rejected as their faith is obviously, by Word-Faith standards, too weak and too pitiful.
The fact is that the leaders of this movement are teaching the doctrines of demons. They are full of lies. They smile at us and placate us and lull us into a false assurance that if unhindered, will lead straight to hell. Harsh words? You bet. Why should we be soft and easy on those who prey on men’s souls and make their living misleading the masses?
In the Scripture and throughout history we see where faithful believers are stoned (Zechariah, Stephen, Paul), sawn in two (Isaiah), tempted and tried (Joseph, David, Peter), slain with the sword (Urijah, James the brother of John), they wandered around with no home, poorly clothed, destitute, afflicted, and tormented. This is surely not the picture one gains reading many of the best-selling books lining the shelves in our so-called Christian bookstores. Oh, no. That picture focuses the eye firmly upon self and makes an idol out of fleshly desires. What we want, what we desire, this has become our chief concern – never mind what God commands.
This one verse today debunks every false teacher and every ministry that preaches a self-help prosperity gospel. It really is that simple to refute them and their heresy. The church today cares more about looks and status than truth and holiness. It is a concern that many are being misled while those who claim to want truth in reality have itching ears, cannot abide sound doctrine, and run after the latest fad as if the fate of their eternal soul rested upon knowing what the latest celebrity preacher has to say about anything.
Those preachers and theologians who abide these false teachers and toy with their bad theology as if it were something to be pondered and examined in order to pick out the good and leave the bad are playing with hellfire and teetering on the brink of deception and destruction. There are too many good books to read instead of wasting our time trying to drudge through a pit of spiritual poison in order to find one or two crumbs that might faintly resemble the truth.
The faithful we read about in Scripture knew that God was with them through suffering. The “faithful” today are taught how to get and stay out of suffering by the use of superstitious mantras disguised as prayers and best selling books masquerading as truth.
The church has been granted the great and precious gift and privilege of suffering for Christ’s sake, and sadly we are being taught to view that honor as something to be scorned, avoided, and detested. Why are we ashamed to suffer?
IV. They were Displaced – vs. 38
…of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. – Hebrews 11:38
We have read about persecution and affliction, about the faithful and what they have suffered and will continue to endure for the sake of Christ. This verse lists more sufferings, addressing those who like John the Baptizer wandered in the wilderness and also those like Elijah and other prophets who hid in caves. But I want to focus on the very first phrase in this verse, “Of whom the world was not worthy.”
These, our heroes, were faithful to Christ even unto death. They stood firm and never wavered. They were steadfast. They trusted the Father, they leaned on Christ, they depended upon the Holy Spirit. They are heroes of the faith.
Often when it comes to heroes we are prone to think of them more highly than we ought to think, but here the Holy Scripture tell us that these faithful are to be highly revered. They followed Christ just as we should, and by their faith we learn that the world was not worthy of them.
This cursed, fallen world, sick and dying, waiting for redemption, this marred creation was trod upon by those who were freed from sin and the curse by their faith in Christ. The creation, earth, people, human kind – all of this is contained in the word “world” and to all of these and in relation to all of these, when it comes to those who are the beloved bride of Christ, the world simply cannot hold them in the high esteem of which they are worthy. This worth is not inherent by the way, but imputed as we trade our sin for Christ’s righteousness. It is because of what He has done that these are so honored.
It is truly hard to put this into words. This rag-tag band of believers who wandered the earth hiding in caves, destitute, afflicted, these were not the affluent that the world worships, they were not the movers and shakers that are the center of attention, they were not those thronged by adoring crowds. No. They seemed in fact unworthy of any attention. They were viewed as religious fanatics, nuts, strangers. The world truly believes that this would be a better place without the followers of Jesus Christ.
They found no place among men. Jesus Himself had no place to lay His head. Matthew 8:20 Jesus reminds us, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
The disciples were a band of travelers who gave their very lives for the Christ they knew and loved. Some died in Israel. Some in Rome. Some as far away as India and Spain. All but one died as a martyr, and even then, John the beloved was exiled to the prison island of Patmos.
Yet while the world hates and despises disciples of Jesus Christ, we see the blessings that go with them everywhere they go. Hebrews 11:16 reminds us, “16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” And as John Calvin points out in his commentary on Hebrews 11:38:
Wherever God’s servants come, they bring with them his blessing like the fragrance of a sweet odor. Thus the house of Potiphar was blessed for Joseph’s sake, (Genesis 39:5;) and Sodom would have been spared had ten righteous men been found in it. (Genesis 18:32.) Though then the world may cast out God’s servants as offscourings, it is yet to be regarded as one of its judgments that it cannot bear them; for there is ever accompanying them some blessing from God. Whenever the righteous are taken away from us, let us know that such events are presages of evil to us; for we are unworthy of having them with us, lest they should perish together with us.
Matthew Henry brings home the point that in truth we as believers, as members of this ever growing family of faith, we do not belong to this world! Here is what he said:
The world did not deserve such blessings; they did not know how to value them, nor how to use them. Wicked men! The righteous are not worthy to live in the world, and God declares the world is not worthy of them; and, though they widely differ in their judgment, they agree in this, that it is not fit that good men should have their rest in this world; and therefore God receives them out of it, to that world that is suitable to them, and yet far beyond the merit of all their services and sufferings.
We, as God’s elect, were made for heaven, and this world is not our home. We are but pilgrims here, passing through. Let us not ever become so attached to the things of this world that we lay up for ourselves treasures on earth to the neglect of laying up treasures in heaven. This world is passing away. Why, oh why do we chase after it with such vigor and lust? Why? What is so alluring about this fallen world? We, as God’s children, should know from the example here given that the world is not worthy of those who follow Christ.
Do not cling so tightly to the temporal things of this world that you miss the true blessing of being unfit to stay here. I read a few relevant comments borrowed from my friends and fellow ministers of Christ, Dustin and Jamie Butts, and want to share them. Here is what they wrote. Jamie asked on her blog, “What are your thoughts on The American Dream?” She answered the question by writing:
It depends on your perspective and definition, but the definition I hold in my head of the American dream haunts me. I’m terrified of buying into the American Dream. The things I’m about to say are not intrinsically wrong, but the package as a whole and the lie that you need these things.. that they will satisfy you and complete you scares me. It scares me because as a human, I know I must guard myself from falling in to this trap. This idea that I haven’t “arrived” unless I have a 2 car garage, 2.5 kids (?), and live in a neighborhood that’s “safe and white”. Middle-class, comfortable, everything I desire at my fingertips. Our definitions of success should be different than those who do not know the Pearl of Great Price, Jesus Christ.
In follow up comments for this blog post, Dustin stated:
What is the American Dream? Comfort and Self Satisfaction. Not only having more than you need, but desiring even more than that. It is materialism at its finest. The desire to make much of yourself at the expense of others. The hope of retiring at 40 and spending the rest of your life in a house that has far more rooms than you will ever use. Always wanting more.
My thoughts? It goes against all that Christ calls us to be. Example: The rich young ruler. We, as Christians should be comfortable being uncomfortable. We should be content with having nothing more than what we need. Is that mindset an excuse not to work hard and to shun promotion? No. It is a reason to work even harder, not for promotion or ego’s sake, but in order that you might bless others out of your abundance.
To me the American Dream is just that, a dream. There is no joy in materialism, it only leads to want. It also leads to loving the gifts more than the giver, something that Christians should never do.
I think that is well said. Very well said indeed. That tells us what motivates those “of whom the world is not worthy.”
Faith that doesn’t cost you anything isn’t worth anything. Faith that is worth anything will cost you everything!