FAITH, from Weakness Hebrews 11:29-40

a sermon at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Kingston, August 26, 2001

by Robert Brow (

We have already seen in Hebrews 11 that faith is a direction of faith. If we compare it to focusing a satellite dish, faith is getting the direction right. We focus on God the Creator. Then we can make a decision to exercise faith when necessary for the particular need at hand. Now in this final section I will briefly pick out a further seven examples of what faith can be. And in each case I will give that aspect of faith a name.

11:29 "By faith the people passed through the Red Sea.," which I will call the faith not to turn back. It is expressed in the words of the hymn "No turning back. The world behind me, the cross before me. No turning back." It was the experience of the slaves coming to the Red Sea with the armies of Pharaoh coming hard after them. They could have surrendered and turned back into slavery. But they went forward in faith. Many of us have had the experience of knowing that there was no way back, only forward trusting God to open the impossible way ahead of us.

11:30 "By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled seven days." I tend to be impatient. I want immediate action, but the faith to wait for God requires quietly circling around the insurmountable obstacle. In due course the huge walls of the city fell (probably in an earthquake). God could easily have toppled the walls as soon as they prayed, or even before they crossed the river Jordan, but they had to circle the city for seven days. We too have insurmountable obstacles which may take seven days or months of prayer. These days I hear of people who go on faith walks around a neighborhood, believing that God will topple the opposition to the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven.

11:31 The next example I will call faith to see God's hand in our situation. "By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish because she received the spies in peace." Jesus complained that the religious leaders of his day did not see the signs of the times (Matthew 16:3) in the approaching destruction of Jerusalem. But Rahab saw that the invading army was God's judgment on her Canaanite nation, and she collaborated with the spies. She got married to a man from the tribe of Judah, and as a result of her faith she was listed in the genealogy of the Messiah at the beginning of the New Testament (Matthew 1:5)

11:32 Next we have four men who are mentioned as having faith to deliver their people in difficult times. Gideon tried to avoid leading the fight against the Midianites (Judges 6:12-22). Like Gideon, Barak also was timorous and doubting till he was strengthened by Deborah the prophet (read Judges 4:6-8). Samson let himself be deceived again and again by Delilah, but finally he called on the Lord as he died to gain a great victory over the Philistines (read Judges 16:28-30). Jephtah was a man of faith and empowered by the Spirit, but he was rash and impetuous resulting in the death of his only daughter (Judges 11:29-32, 11:39).

11:32 David certainly sinned abominably in committing adultery and having the woman's husband killed at the front in battle. But he is best remembered as having faith to compose psalms and sing God's praise. In our services we depend on the music created for us by men and women whose faith empowered them to write and compose the hymns that we sing, and those who lead us by choir singing and musical instruments.

11:33 The person who had faith to administer justice is not mentioned by name, but this was obviously Samuel. "Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. He went on a circuit year by year to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah; and he judged Israel in all these places. Then he would come back to Ramah, for his home was there; he administered justice there to Israel" (1 Samuel 7:15-17).. In our day we certainly need those who will look to God in the difficult task of administering justice in our law courts and the government of our country. The problem is that in many countries those who are appointed to positions of responsibility take bribes and deprive people of their right. Some of you have responsibility in your home, an institution, and looking to God in faith is very important.

11:33b-34, 36-38 Daniel and his friends in Babylon are given as examples of faith to face persecution. Daniel refused to stop praying to God the Creator, and was thrown to the lions, and his friends were thrown into a burning furnace and came out unharmed. But many others in the Old Testament and right up to our day are included among those "who were tortured, refusing to accept release . . . others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword."

11:34 It is important that none of these were particularly good or strong or saintly people. Rahab was a prostitute. Sampson had a fatal weakness of women. David sinned very grievously. Like us they faced problems and temptations and bitter failures. What was common to all of them was that by faith they won strength out of weakness. When Paul cried out on three separate occasions concerning the thorn in his flesh the Lord said to him "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Some of you have a terrible thorn in the flesh, which has not been healed by prayer. But Paul added "Therefore I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of the Messiah; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong." Obviously a sense of weakness and unworthiness is no handicap, but rather an asset in Christian faith.

11:39-40 Finally note how this great chapter on Old Testament faith ends: "All these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised." They all died and descended to await the resurrection in sheol (Hades), the abode of the dead. "God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect."  The "something better" was when Jesus descended into Hades (1 Peter 3:19). As Jesus himself explained, "the hour is coming when all who are in their graves (in sheol) will hear the voice of the Son of Man, and will come out, some to the resurrection of life and some to the resurrection of judgment" (Greek krisis, John 5:28-29).

This means that Jesus' very first act after his resurrection was to clear sheol (Hades) of its contents. Some went out into the darkness of eternal death. But the amazing fact is that the Old Testament people of faith came out with their resurrection bodies and appeared in Jerusalem immediately after Jesus said "It is finished" and his corpse was still hanging on the cross (Matthew 27:52-53).

The Old Testament people of faith listed in Hebrew 11 had only a vague assurance of a future resurrection from the abode of the dead. But we have the absolute certainty that Jesus rose from the dead, and whatever persecution or sickness or disasters might do to us, the Messiah is waiting to welcome us into the place he has prepared for us the very moment we breathe our last breath. That means we can afford to take the risk of faith.

In a moment, instead of using the ordinary prayers in the book, I am going to ask you to think of each of the various kinds of faith which I have listed and pray for one or two persons you know who are facing these kinds of faith struggle:

faith not to turn back

faith to wait for God

faith to see God's hand in our situation

faith to deliver our people in difficult times

faith to compose psalms and sing God's praise

faith to administer justice

faith to face persecution

And remember that in every faith situation a sense of your own weakness and unworthiness is a very great asset.

model theology home | essays and articles | books | sermons | letters to surfers | comments