Hebrews 11:32-38, Faith: Paradox and Promise.

[32]And what shall I say more?  For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jepthtah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets:  [33]who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, [34]quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  [35]Women received their dead raised to life again.
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.

Hebrews 11 has been called “the hall of heroes.”  Men and women who did great things for God and were themselves great saints.  Yet this portion starts with men that we might not put into that category.  Here are some men of whom we might say, “What?!  Wait!  Why are they included?”

Gideon did indeed bring a great deliverance to Israel, but then led her into idolatry, Judges 6-8.  Barak, probably the least known of the four, was a man who reluctantly obeyed God, Judges 4, 5.  Jephthah is a man about whom the world and even many Christians have nothing good to say, Judges 11.  I’ve done a post on him if you’re interested.  He certainly isn’t one who is thought to be a “hero.”  Samson, who did do some mighty things, yet is perhaps best remembered for his dalliance with Delilah and his eventual death while a prisoner of and serving to amuse the enemies of his people and his God, Judges 13-16.

Here’s the first paradox.

To have faith doesn’t mean to be perfect and without faults.

There’s only ever been One who was able to say, “I always do those things that please Him,” John 8:29, emphasis added.  All the rest of us fall way short.

God doesn’t deny the faults of His people.

But then, neither does He define His people by those faults….

The second paradox is found in the rest of our text.

Some of God’s people may indeed do great things, vs. 33-35a.  While it’s difficult to know exactly who, if anyone, the author had in mind on some of these things, still, it could be said of Joshua that he conquered kingdoms.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel, even David, received great and wonderful promises.  Daniel certainly is one who stopped the mouths of lions.  His three friends quenched the violence of fire.  More than once, a badly outnumbered Israel turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  At least one grieving woman saw her dead raised to life again.  There are a lot of people the author could have had in mind.

The paradox is this:

Some of God’s people may suffer great things, vs. 35b-38.

We live in a time when, at least in this country, folks on TV tell us that health and prosperity and all good things are the lot of the Christian.  Great ministries have been built on this premise.  The truth is that while these things may and do come to Christians, more often than not their history has been written in their own blood.  This is especially true of those times when “the church” has sat on the throne.  This was true both of Rome and of the Reformers.  And suffering Christians, of whom the world [is] not worthy, live today in a large part of the world, and always have.  We just don’t see it on the 6 o’clock news.

The Apostle Peter put it like this, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you, 1 Peter 4:12, emphasis added.  The word translated “strange” doesn’t mean “unusual,” but “foreign.”  Some folks seem to have the idea that any idea of “suffering,” whether personal or otherwise, should be “foreign” to them.  But you can’t really read the New Testament without seeing that this is not true.

But, if this world is all there is, as some think, or if we’re all headed to “a better place,” as others think, why would people endure such things?  The answer’s found in v. 35, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Now, that word “might” doesn’t mean “might or might not,” as if there’s some question about it.  It speaks to purpose, not just possibility.  Faith understands the paradox, but rests on the promise.  As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God.  Or Peter, We according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells [is at home], 2 Peter 3:13.

For the Christian, this world is neither our home, our heaven or our hope.

 

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“…on earth…”

This is a follow-up to my last post, in which I asked the question, “In praying ‘thy kingdom come,’ what are we praying for?”  In that post, I connected the request for the coming of the kingdom to the request that God’s will be done on earth in the same way that it is done in heaven.  In other words, isn’t praying for the kingdom praying for something that happens or will happen on the earth?

I understand that there is a lot of discussion about “the kingdom.”  Some simply cannot accept the idea of what they consider to be “an earthly, carnal, political” kingdom.  According to these folks, it’s a “spiritual kingdom,” that is, the rule of Christ in the hearts of His people.  It’s already happening, because He’s ruling in Heaven.  But that in itself is nothing new.  “Relationship with God,” as it’s called today, has always been about God’s rule in the lives of people.  Even under the Law, obedience was the prime requisite, and disobedience was severely punished.

As far as the “earthly, carnal, political” part is concerned:  I’ve never been able to understand why it’s alright for the Lord Jesus to sit on a throne in Heaven, but not for Him to sit on a throne in Jerusalem.  What difference does it make WHERE the throne is?  It’s about the Occupant, not what He’s sitting on, or where!  For my own part, I’d much rather have Him, say, in the White House than its current occupant – or any of its previous occupants.

It seems to me to be a great insult to our Lord to say that an “earthly” kingdom of His would be “carnal” and/or “political.”  Scripture says that His scepter, His royal insignia, is a scepter of righteousness, Psalm 45:6; Hebrews 1:8.

We just recently completed elections here in the US.  But when the Lord sets up His kingdom, there won’t be any campaigning.  There won’t be any signs out in the front yard or any TV commercials.  There won’t be any of the back room deals or the wheeling and dealing associated with current politics.  There won’t be a Democrat or Republican or Libertarian or Green or Prohibition party.  [Yes, there used to be a Prohibition Party candidate on the ballot in Colorado, long after Prohibition itself was gone.]   There won’t be any voting about it.  Daniel 2:44 says, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom….  And there won’t be any focus groups or polls about how He should do it!

Yes, but didn’t our Lord say that His kingdom was not of this world, John 18:36?  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that from the pulpit or read it as a “proof” that there will be no “earthly” kingdom.  But clearly, the Lord was talking about the source of the kingdom, not where it will be located or operate.  He said this Himself in a part of v. 36 that’s never quoted, “My kingdom is not from here.”  Otherwise, He said, His disciples would fight.  But the kingdom God will set up will not be set up in any manner remotely similar to other earthly kingdoms.

Furthermore, the Lord Jesus said that He Himself was not of this world, John 8:23.  He said that of His disciples, John 15:19.  Yet, clearly, He and they were located and functioned, physically and actually, in this world.

In the New Testament, there are a couple of clear references to the reign of our Lord as over more than just some ephemeral something that has no relationship to this world.  In Revelation 19:15, after a brief description of our Lord’s return to this earth in vs. 11-14, we read, Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations.  And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron.  If the kingdom is only related to believers, why then is “a rod of iron” necessary?  And who are the nations whom He will “strike” as well as “rule”?  Certainly not believers.  The word translated “rule” means “to shepherd,” i.e., John is saying that Jesus will shepherd the nations.  This seems to me to be a far cry from the idea that He will return, officiate at the final judgment and then usher in eternity.  For an idea of what His return and rule entails, read Zechariah 14.  We’ve done a couple of posts on that chapter.

Revelation 20, which continues ch. 19, indicates this “shepherding” will last for 1000 years.  And, yes, I’m aware of the uproar over that figure.  As one Reformed writer put it, the thousand years simply refer to the present Gospel age of 2000 years (!)  However, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit had a reason for inspiring John to write 1000 years six times in six verses.  Perhaps it was  to impress on us that He meant 1000 years, not just some indeterminate period of time.

He shall rule them with a rod of iron.

Psalm 110:2 says that Messiah will rule in the midst of His enemies.  Where is this happening today?  What kind of a king is it who rules “in the midst of His enemies,” and they don’t know it, but continue to reject, ridicule and rebel against Him? When our Lord sits on the throne of His glory, Matthew 19:28, that will not be possible.

There is so much more that we could say on this subject, but have decided to save it for other posts.  Also, we recognize that there are many good, earnest Christians who differ with us on these subjects.  Further, we recognize that the subject of “prophecy” is not considered “a fundamental of the faith” by many, not worth “fighting over” or causing controversy.  While we do believe that one’s view of prophecy doesn’t determine or deny their salvation, we also believe that it is important and not to be neglected or ignored.  After all, assuming we believe in divine inspiration and not that the Bible is just a miscellaneous collection of ancient writings, written long after the events they describe, the Holy Spirit saw fit to give it to us.  We should try to know as much about it as possible. 

Voices of Christmas: The Magi.

We’ve not dealt with these posts in a strictly “chronological” order.  The magi, or wise men, would have been the last to visit, perhaps as much as a year-and-a-half after the birth of Jesus.  He was likely a toddler when they were there, though it’s hard to picture the Lord of glory as having to learn how to walk.  Though they’re shown in nativity scenes at the manger with the shepherds and the animals , Matthew 2:11 tells us that they found the young child and His mother in a “house,” not in a stable.  This is the first of several reasons we believe they were there later.

A second reason is found in the offering Mary gave for her purification according to the law of Moses; she offered a couple of turtledoves or young pigeons, Luke 2:22-24; Leviticus 12:2, 8.  This was the offering for poor people.  If the wise men had already been there and given their gifts, Mary and Joseph would have been rich and would have had to offer a lamb for that sacrifice.  The wise men got there in time to finance the trip to Egypt and the family’s stay there.  This would have been at least 66 days after Jesus’ birth, for that’s how long the “purification” took.

A third reason is Herod’s order to slaughter all the male children two years old and younger, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men, Matthew 2:16.

Tradition tells us there were three wise men, this from the gifts they gave: gold, frankincense and myrrh.  However, one journey from from Babylon to Jerusalem, Ezra 7:9 took about five months.  Granted, there were hundreds of people on this journey, so it probably took longer than normal.  It was still a long trip.  We don’t know for certain where they started, but there would certainly have been more than three solitary men travelling all that way.  There would have been supplies for the trip, guards for protection, cf. Ezra 8:22, and servants to care for them and the animals, so that it was no doubt an impressive array of people and animals which came into Jerusalem, seeking One born King of the Jews.  Or perhaps they joined a trade caravan.  Either way, there were a lot more than three people involved, as well as an unknown number of wise men.

Why did they decide to make this arduous and  dangerous journey?  The wise men told Herod that they had seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him, Matthew 2:2.  There’s a lot of conjecture about all this.  We really don’t know what it was they saw, but they knew what it was.  This brings up the question, how did they know?

They knew because of the writings of Daniel, and because of him, they probably had at least some of the Old Testament as well.  Daniel had been very influential, Daniel 2:49. There’s no way of knowing for sure.  We’re not going to try to figure it out.  It’s enough that God saw to it they knew it was time, and they came to find and to worship the One around whom time revolves.

And they found Him.

And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.  And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Matthew 2:11.

The young child and His mother….

This phrase occurs several times in Matthew 2.  Even the Angel who told Joseph to flee to Egypt, and then later told him to come home, uses it.  The emphasis was on the Child, not the mother.  The one time Mary tried to influence her Son to do something, John 2:1-5, He rebuffed her.  That wasn’t her place.  How did she respond?  She told the servants, Whatever He says to you, do,”  Some versions add “it” to this statement, though it’s not really necessary. This is Mary’s last recorded statement, “Whatever He says to you….”  That’s still good advice.

What does the Son say?  “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” Matthew 11:28-30.  You don’t need Mary.  You don’t need the saints.  You don’t need some priest or preacher.  Jesus Himself says, “Come to Me.”  Almost the last verses in the Bible tell us to come.  And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let him take of the water of life freely,” Revelation 22:17.

Come.

As a commercial here on TV says, “It’s really that simple.”

Come.