Examples Of Our Potential

by Sean Foster on August 18, 2013

Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2 (NRSV)

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. 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; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Amen.

Good morning saints.

Good morning sinners.

As Protestants we are often uncomfortable with being called a saint. As Protestants, is seems to be engrained in our DNA that we are sinners.
• Even though our salvation is sure.
• Our home in heaven secure.
We know that we are sinners.

Even with Jesus in our hearts, we relate best to what Paul the Apostle wrote in his letter to the church in Rome: What I want to do (live for Christ), I do not do, and what I hate (the sin in my life) I end up doing. (Romans 7) In other words, I end up doing the things that I despise. I sin! I am a sinner.

You see, this was Paul’s struggle. He wanted to live for Christ. But his flesh continued to crave the sinful nature. And as Paul writes, I end up doing what I do not want to do. I end up doing what I hate.

Good morning sinners.

We relate to this because it is what we are. We are sinners, and yet we are saved by Grace.

That is why the Assurance of Pardon is so important to us. It reminds us that because of Christ, because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, we are saved by Grace. On the cross, Christ died for our sin, once and for all. Our salvation is secure not because of anything we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us. Through Christ, we know that our sins have been forgiven.

When God looks at us, he sees us through Christ.
• Forgiven
• Innocent
• Pure
• Righteous
• Saints

Good morning saints.

We are saints by God’s good Grace. But the reason that we as Protestants have such a discomfort with being called a saint is because as the Church was split into Catholics and Protestants, the Reformers who led the Protestants criticized our Catholic brothers and sisters for equating the Saints with God.

There is a long standing tradition in the Church of Sainting people who lived remarkable lives of faith. In fact, in many Catholic churches you will find statues of saints as a memorial to their lives. And of course, there is also a practice by the Catholic Church to pray to those saints. Jean Calvin, one of the great reformers criticized the church saying: this all smacks of idolatry. But this all contributes to why we as Protestants have such difficulty with being called a saint.

Good morning saints. That’s who we are. Not because of what we have done, but what Christ has done for us. He has made us saints.

When Paul writes in his letter to the church in Corinth: To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints through Achaia. This was a letter not just addressed to the leaders of the church, it was addressed to all the Christians in Corinth and throughout Achaia. And I mean, you read Paul’s letter to this church. They were sinners! But through Christ, they were also saints.

And so, when we come to the passage that we read from Hebrews chapter 11 and 12 selected verses, the author is reminding us about some of the heroes of the faith.

Heroes by definition are those who have achieved beyond the average. They have excelled beyond normal. And the reason we like heroes and in particular, heroes of faith is because they give us a glimpse of our potential. They give us a glimpse of what we might also achieve through faith.

And so our lesson in the book of Hebrews today shares some of the heroes of the faith. They lived their lives in relationship with God, and did extraordinary things by faith. We would easily call them saints, a term which they might also be uncomfortable with. For they were simply living their lives in obedience to God, whom they loved with all their heart, mind, soul and strength.

The author of the book of Hebrews begins the 11th chapter with a definition of faith as the assurance of things hoped for. Not things realized, but things hoped for. Faith is, as the author continues, the conviction of things not seen. The author of the book of Hebrews reminds of how ordinary people took great steps of faith believing that God would do the rest.

I suppose what I love about this list of people who did these great things by faith, is that we find those in this list that we expect to find, but we also find in this list, those who we do not expect to find.

It’s kind of like that old song about the first question that we will ask in heaven, why is so in so here and why are you here?

By faith, our lesson begins, the people, the Israelites, passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land.

Following Moses, the Hebrew people followed Moses while being pursued by their oppressors, the Egyptians. Before them is the Red Sea. It looks as though they are doomed to be captured, but God has promised their freedom. And so, with a great step of faith, they step into the waters of the Red Sea, which begin to part before their very eyes. They are able to run from the Egyptians pursuing them.

When the Egyptians attempt to go through the parted waters of the Sea, God lets the waters fall in on them, and they drown.

By faith, our passage reads in verse 30, the walls of Jericho fell. Do you remember this story of Joshua, leading the people of Israel to victory over the city of Jericho? It is such a bizarre story of Joshua receiving instructions from God to march around the city and the Priests blasting their horns. I mean, first of all, who takes Priests into battle? By faith they followed these bizarre instructions and God gives them the city.

By faith.

Verse 31, it is by faith that a prostitutes life is saved. See what I mean? There are some in this list of whom we do not expect to find in a list of heroes and greats.

Then the author moves on to the faith of 6 individuals who were part of the early years living in the land of Canaan. A time when judges and prophets led the people of Israel, not kings.

Motivated by faith, people like Gideon, Barak, Sampson, Jepthah, David and Samuel. And yet as I remember the stories of these great men of faith, it is hard for me to forget that they were also some pretty good sinners in this list.

Sampson? Yes, he accomplished God’s will for his life, but let’s face it, he also lived very much for himself. A vicious killer who abused the gifts that God had given him.

David too. A murderer. And adulterous murderer. And yet, also, a saint. A great man of faith, there is no doubt. Defeating giants against all odds.

Barak and Gideon – they both balked at entering into the battlefield.

Jepthah – the son of a prostitute. He makes an ill conceived and evil vow before the Lord, which he follows through on, which God honors: it is a most bizarre story of faith.

Of the six who are named in this section of great heroes of the faith, Samuel is the only one who lived an exemplary life and would be in book, deemed worthy of being included in this list. And yet, on reflection, it is both comforting and encouraging to see these sinners included as great men of faith.

Then the author remembers those great people of faith during the times of the Kings of Israel. There are no names mentioned in the list, but from the stories that are cited by the author, it is not hard for us to figure out who is being remembered.

Shutting the mouths of lions most certainly refers to Daniels faithfulness in the lions den.

Quenching the raging fire, it hardly needs to be said that this reminds us of the great faith of Shadrach, Meshack and Abendago.
• Their faithfulness…..
Their willingness to be barbecued rather than bowing down to worship false gods.

In verse 35, the women who are mentioned here, who received their dead by resurrection, they are the widows of Zaraphath. (I Kings 4:17-24) And, they are the wealthy women of Shunem. (II Kings 4:17-37) The widows of Zaraphath served as an example of the prophet Elijahs faith. The second, the wealthy women of Shunem – demonstrated the faithfulness of the prophet Elisha.

But the author of the Hebrews does not sugar coat the cost of being faithful to God. As the author writes in verse 36 of our reading.
• Some were mocked and flogged.
• Some were chained and imprisoned.
• Some were stoned to death.
o For their faith!!
• Some were sawn in two – which actually refers to the way that the prophet Isaiah was killed for his faithful life.

Those who live by faith can expect persecution.

I don’t recall, ore I cannot find the story that the author cites about those who went about in skins of sheep and goats. But nevertheless, the author continues to show that just because you are a person of faith. Just because you are in a relationship with God, does not insure for you a life of safety. Rather, the author shows that even in the face of danger, persecution and being tormented, these were people who lived by faith. They trusted God that they would obtain what they author writes, as a better resurrection.

The reward of their faith is better than suffering.

I love the comment in verse 38 of our reading. These people of faith who are tormented, tortured, defiled, and killed by the world; the irony is, the world was not worthy of them.

And then in verse 39, the author shows that even though these great people of faith lived under the time of the old covenant, they would be included in the new covenant established through Christ. So, here the author unites both past and present and even future generation and places them under the covenant established by Christ and His Grace. All are saved through the forgiveness and saving work of Christ on the cross.

And then in the next chapter of which the first two verses were included in our reading, the author reminds us: that we are surrounded by these great people of faith. They are examples of our potential.

• So throw off every weight that hinders you from living to your full potential if living in, and for and through Christ.
• Set aside the sin that clings to you preventing you from living the life that God is calling you to live out.
• Let us keep our eyes focused on Christ,
o who is the pioneer.
o He is the first to be resurrected from the dead to life and life eternal.
o He is the perfecter of our faith.
o He is the One, who helps us, to reach our potential, in the faith.

People generally struggle with faith, and yet our lives are filled with actions and steps of faith that we are living out on a daily basis. Things that we do, that we can’t see, that we don’t understand, that are just done by faith.

I was reading that on Orcas Island, the power company there is called Orcas Power and Light. However, because of the fierce winds that blow over the island, they are frequently without power. In fact, they are without power so often that the locals there have renamed the utility: Occasional Power and Light.
But during the power outages, the people there say that they still reach for a light switch and even put things in microwaves fully expecting them to work. They are steps of faith, believing that the light will come on, or the microwave will heat.

While I was away at a cottage with our girls this summer a storm went through knocking out the power where we were, and yet, I still found myself reaching for a light switch believing that when I flipped he switch, the light would appear. Faith is the conviction of things not seen.

Our daily lives are filled with steps of faith. Faith is part of life, it is a wonder to me that people have such difficulty having faith in God.

I deposit money a cheque into a bank machine … and I trust and believe by faith … that the money will be in my account. Steps of faith.

Let me try and give you another example.

How many of you use a GPS in your vehicle today?

Most vehicles today, it is an option that you can have included, and I assume that eventually, like heat and air-conditioning that it will simply be a standard feature.

On my travels this summer, not knowing where I was going, I would simply put the address in the GPS and by faith I would follow the instructions, the directions and arrive at the place I wanted to go.

Now, I do remember a few years ago when I was travelling in the US, and again, I didn’t know how to get to my destination, I simply put the address in the GPS and followed the directions by faith. Except, that time, I didn’t arrive at my destination.

And yet, for some reason, I didn’t lose faith in the GPS. You know why?

Well, because, there are literally millions of GPS’s being used by people, who follow them by faith. And 99.9% of the time they arrive at their destination with no trouble at all.

Millions of people use GPS’s and they are found to be effective helpful tools that useful in getting people where they want to go.

Therefore, since I am surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses who uses these GPS instruments, by faith and who witness and testify to their accuracy and helpfulness and dependability, I too will trust and use them to travel by faith.

Now listen one more time to the words that are written by the writer of the Hebrews.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Do you hear what the author is saying. I have just spent time showing you example after example of ordinary people who lived their lives by faith and did great things by faith.

These heroes. These saints. They are examples of our potential.

Good morning sinners.

Good morning saints.

Live by faith to God’s glory and praise.

A-men.

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