Captured And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 11:36-40 – Faith That Leads Us Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares

Grace For The Journey

Today we are going to pick up in verse 36 of Chapter 11.  We read last time about great victories in the faith.  We talked about how so many Old Testament believers were by faith delivered through many trials, Daniel was delivered from the lions’ den, David was delivered from Goliath.  I was reading Adrian Rogers last week.  He said about Daniel being thrown in the lions’ den, “God gave the lions lockjaw.”  And he added this pun, he said, “Old Daniel just got his Bible and used a lion for a pillow and started to ‘read between the lions!’”  Then, when talking about Goliath, Adrian said, “You know, old Goliath was amazed.  And you know why he was so amazed?  It was the first time anything like that ever entered his head!”  

Well, you could divide verses 30 and following largely into two groups . . .

1) People who by faith saw great victories; people who received grace to escape suffering; and people who by faith were protected.

2) People who by faith suffered great tragedies; people of who received grace to endure suffering; and people who by faith were persecuted.

The writer seeks to encourage Christians undergoing persecution and suffering.  Just prior to Chapter 11, this great chapter on faith, the writer said back in Chapter 10, verses 32-34, “But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.”  Then the writer goes on to provide a number of examples of people from the Old Testament who lived by faith, people who also “accepted the plundering of their goods,” people who knew “they had a better and an enduring possession for themselves in heaven.”

The title of today’s blog is, “Through Many Dangers, Toils, And Snares.”  Many of you will recognize that phrase as a line from the popular hymn, “Amazing Grace.”  Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come, ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”  The verses of our passage today take us through many dangers, toils, and snares and show how God gives grace and faith to persevere, faith to go on believing, faith to go on enduring, and God’s gift of grace and faith will “lead us home.”

Yesterday we saw that verse 35 stated, “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.”  Some scholars believe this phrase may refer to the intense suffering that occurred between the Testaments, a time referred to as the “intertestamental period,” the period in-between the Old and New Testaments.  There was a span of roughly 400 years from the end of the Old Testament to the beginning of the New Testament, from the last prophet Malachi to the appearance of John the Baptist.  Many believers were persecuted during that time and, while not recorded in the inspired Word of God, their persecution is recorded elsewhere.  The word in verse 35, the word “tortured” used in verse 35 is a verb, derived from the Greek word, “tympanum,” a word from which we get our English, tympani, as in the tympani, the drum.  This word torture means “to beat as one beats a drum.” 

Verse 36 declares, “Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.”  Jeremiah was beaten and imprisoned (Jeremiah 20:2; 37:4; 15-21).  Micaiah (1 Kings 22:26-27) was imprisoned.  Hanani the prophet was imprisoned by King Asa (2 Chronicles 16:7-10).  These “others” are included here in the great roll call of faith.  They had faith even in the midst of persecution.   They did not suffer persecution because they did not have enough faith!  They had enough faith.  They had faith in the Lord yet, for reasons known only to God, they endured hostility, suffering, and persecution.

This is an important reminder given popular Christian culture’s frequent emphasis on “celebrity Christianity.”  We are grateful for all who come to Christ, but not everyone is going to be a celebrity.  Most will live in obscurity.  There are some Christians who are serving in missional contexts all over the world.  They are not Christians celebrities.  They are Christians of obscurity, unknown to most.  They do not have Facebook accounts with thousands of friends nor Twitter accounts with swelling numbers of followers who “retweet” their every utterance.  They are men and women of faith who love God more than anything.  They live by faith.  They look to the reward.

The folks mentioned in verse 36 had faith.   Yet, they were mocked, beaten, scourged, and imprisoned.  Many of our Christian brothers throughout the world are suffering for their faith in Christ.  They are our real heroes, those who often face persecution and suffering, but, continue on.

Most of us are very patriotic citizens, as well we should be.  God has “shed His grace” on America and we recognize our country’s exceptionalism is one of the reasons so many immigrants thrive here and flourish here.  We also believe that national security and a shrewd immigration policy is part and parcel of preserving the greatness of our nation.  At the same time, we must always remember that we are first citizens of heaven.  And our greater calling, indeed our greatest calling, is to get the Gospel into the heads and hearts of every single person of every tribe, tongue, and nation.  What a joy is our great commission!

While we recognize that the leadership of many Muslim countries is largely corrupt and evil, the people of each nation are not to be equated with their leaders.  We do not like people equating us with all of our political leaders, do we?  There are thousands of Christians in Middle Eastern countries like Iran and God is drawing still more image-bearers to Himself through the efforts of those who risk their lives to tell them about Christ.  There are people working to get the Good News of the Gospel into the lives of others. 

Verse 37 says, “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.”  Jewish and Christian literature from outside the Bible records the death of Isaiah.  The early church fathers of the second and third centuries, Justin and Origen for example, record the tradition of Isaiah’s being sawn in half.  Other prophets were persecuted as mentioned here in verse 37.  Zechariah, for example, was put to death by stoning (2 Chronicles 24:21).  Some were “slain with the sword.”  This is a contrast here with verse 34.  Some through faith “escaped the edge of the sword” (verse 34) and some did not escape, but, “were slain with the sword (verse 37).”  

The phrase, “They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins” speaks of the clothing of the prophets.  2 Kings 1:8 describes Elijah as wearing “a garment of hair, with a leather belt around his waist.”  And John the Baptist, you will recall, came preaching in the spirit of Elijah.  And John the Baptist dressed like Elijah.  The Bible says in Matthew 3:4, “Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  R. G. Lee used to say, “He ate honey, but he didn’t preach it!”  Jesus warns in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”

Speaking of false prophets, the word “destitute” in verse 37 is inconsistent with the teachings of the so-called prophets of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel.  These preachers and teachers wrongly teach that if you have enough faith you can fill your sinful self with all the money in the world, all the cars, boats, houses, and lands.  Their mantra is, “Just name it and claim it.  Name what you want, and you can claim if you only have faith to believe.”  Well, the Apostle James disagrees.  He says in James 4:3, “You don’t receive what you ask for because you ask for the wrong reasons, that you may consume it upon your lusts, or feed your selfish pleasures” (my paraphrase).”  No, it is not always God’s will that people prosper financially.

These folks in verse 37 had faith.  That is why they are listed here in the faith chapter.   They are in this chapter because they had faith.  Yet they are described as “destitute,” poor, penniless.  

Verse 38 states, “Of whom the world was not worthy.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”  The Old Testament records 100 prophets hiding in a cave in 1 Kings 18:4 and Elijah hid in a cave in 1Kings 19:9.  Like Noah, whose faithful actions “condemned the world” (verse 7).  To be approved by God is worth being despised by the world.

Then, these last two verses, verses 39 and 40, “And all these(all these Old Testament believers), having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.”  These Old Testament believers mentioned in Chapter 11 “did not receive the promise.”  What is that?  Before we talk about that, let’s acknowledge that these Old Testament believers did receive a number of other promises and blessings from God: the promise of His presence, the promise of His guidance, the promise of His power, and so on.  But the writer here is telling us that these Old Testament believers merely caught a glimpse of the future blessings of God.  They lived by faith in what they knew would come to pass in the future.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  It is seen through the eye of faith, the substance of things for which the heart yearns and knows will come to pass.

Abraham knew God would give him a son and that through Isaac all the nations should be blessed.  But Abraham did not live to see that day.  Nor did he live to see the fulness of the Promised Land, not just the land of Canaan, but the land beyond.  As the writer says in verse 10: “for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”  Or verse 16, he “desired a better, that is, a heavenly country.”

The Old Testament believers lived for a better hope to come, a future, greater hope. But they “did not receive the promise.”  They did not get to see the fulness of the promises fulfilled.  Not only did they not get to see the fulness of the promises concerning the heavenly country, but they also did not get to see the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies concerning Jesus Christ.  They did not get to experience the joys and wonders of the new covenant, a far more simpler way of worship than the old covenantal sacrificial system of priests, and bulls, and goats.  They did not receive that promise – nor do we even enjoy the fullest measure of that promise. 

Verse 40 declares, “God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”  God was planning something far greater for the Old Testament believers, far greater for all who believe, namely the giving of His superior Son Jesus Christ!  And Christ comes for all who believe in Him.  God has provided something better for us – Jesus Christ and all the promises of God that are fulfilled in Him.  God has provided something better for us, for us all, believers of the Old and New Testaments, Jesus Christ and all that is ours through faith in Him.

So they – the believers of the Old Testament – “should not be made perfect apart from us.”  That is, the believers of the Old Testament, along with all of us believers of this age, will together be made perfect.  To “be made perfect” is to receive the future and final blessings of the glorified state.  Once Christ returns, we receive perfect, complete, glorified bodies, and live forever in the sinless, perfect, glorified state of future heaven.

And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight!

Three Faith Principles…

1) Persecution Is Part Of Christian Living.

Passages like this one in Hebrews are clear and straightforward reminders that persecution is the norm for those who follow Jesus.  It Is the normal Christian experience.  The Apostle Paul is especially clear on this principle.  If I were to ask how many of you were interested in living godly lives in the Lord Jesus, I suppose the majority of us would respond that we would.  The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

Our Lord Jesus Himself on numerous occasions reminds His followers that persecution and suffering are part of Christian living.  Near the end of His Sermon on the Mount He says in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Strait is the gate.  “Strait” is a good word but it is often heard incorrectly because some assume it is straight, s-t-r-a-i-g-h-t.  But it is not.  It is the word strait, s-t-r-a-i-t, a phrase that means “great difficulty, danger, and fear-inducing trouble and turmoil.”  Strait as in “the Straits of Magellan,” the dangerously narrow passage for sailors near the Southernmost tip of South America, a very difficult route to navigate because of the narrowness and because of unpredictable winds and currents.  

Jesus taught that the Christian life is like that.  To follow Jesus means going through difficult times full of unpredictable winds and currents of persecution and suffering.  It is not always a comfortable route.  But it “leads unto life” for the few who go that way.  In contrast to the strait and narrow gate, Jesus says, “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.”   That is the default position, the wide gate, the broad way.  There is a lot of room for people going that way, the way that continues on to hell.  Thank God He rescues us from the wide gate and the broad path!  

Persecution is part of Christian living.  God’s will often includes suffering.  We may expect it.  People often reject Christ so we should expect them at times to reject us.  But God is with us.  And while He may not always deliver Christians from suffering, He will absolutely deliver Christians through suffering. 

In other words, He will be with us through the experience even if it leads to death when He simply delivers us through suffering and ushers into HIs very presence.

The pain of persecution and suffering is worth it because of what lies ahead.  Just as a mother endures the pain of childbirth, knowing that at the end of her suffering, she will see the beauty and blessing of a newborn baby.  It is the goal that lies ahead that makes her suffering worth it all.  She can endure in suffering for the joy that is set before her.  This takes us to the second faith principle.  First, persecution is part of Christian living.  Secondly:

 2) You Can Endure Suffering When Captured And Captivated By Christ.

Jesus comforts His followers in Matthew 10:22 when He says, “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.”  However bad the suffering, the payoff is great.  He who endures to the end is saved, saved in every sense and measure of the word.  For the Christian . . .

However great the tragedy,

It ends in triumph.

Remember that this is the writer’s greater point here.  He provides all these examples of the elders who obtained a good testimony, all these Old Testament witnesses who persevered in faith and endured the many challenges of faith.  He says then in the next chapter, Chapter 12, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (these Old Testament examples)…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (verse 2 now) looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross (what did He endure?  The cross), despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (verse 3 now) For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”

You can endure suffering when captured and captivated by Christ, when your eyes are fixed on Jesus, looking unto Jesus.  He endured hostility.  How?  Verse 2, “… for the joy that was set before Him.”  Jesus knew that His suffering was worth it.  However bad the suffering, the payoff was great.  The reward of His suffering was the accomplishing of the Father’s will to make possible the salvation of all who place their faith in Him.  And the writer says, “You can endure suffering when captured and captivated by Christ,” looking unto Jesus, remembering that just as He persevered so you too can persevere.  

In essence that’s precisely what Jesus teaches later in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  In other words, what is the worse-case scenario for Christians who suffer persecution?  Being killed.  That sounds bad, but Jesus says it is just the killing of a body.  A body that is breaking down anyway.  That is all they can do.  They cannot touch your soul.  So, fear Him who has control over both your body and your soul.  Fear God!  

But if you are a child of God by faith in Christ, you are His precious child and therefore have no reason to fear your persecutors.  You are God’s child, and He will be with you and remain with you.  And in the worse-case scenario of death to the body, He will usher you into the greatness of your eternal reward.

This was the faith of Justin Martyr, one of the early martyrs for Christ of the second century.  Justin Martyr was a philosopher in Ephesus who came to know Jesus one day when an elderly Christian shared the Gospel with him.  Justin then began to teach others the way and was instrumental in discipling a great number of Christians.  In his “First Apology,” his first “defense,” he writes these words to the Roman authorities who sought to persecute him and his students, “If you respond to these words with hostility, you can do no more than to kill us, which will do no harm to us …”  The reason he could say that is because they did not have authority over both body and soul.  

We can endure suffering when captured and captivated by Christ.  Keep our eyes on Jesus, knowing where we are ultimately headed as we run the race set before us. We can do this because we know that one day we will “be made perfect” when we receive the ultimate promise of the joy of heaven and the joy of salvation in its fullest measure.

Persecution is part of Christian living.  You can endure suffering when captured and captivated by Christ.  Finally, number three . . .

3) Delight In Christ More Than Your Life.

Since the payoff of knowing Christ and living forever in a perfect place free from sin and temptation is worth more than anything this present world offers, since the payoff is better than anything – including the preservation of your frail human body – we should delight in Christ more than your life.  Remember that you are headed towards “a better resurrection.”  Remember that from verse 35?  “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance (they loved Christ and delighted in Christ more than their lives; how?), that they might obtain a better resurrection.”  Better than what?  Better than the temporary resurrections that did not last forever.  Women received their dead raised to life again.  The widow’s son was raised to life again through the prayers of Elijah.  Raised to life again, but then dying again.  Believers in Christ have a better resurrection to look forward to!  It is better because it means not remaining in this fallen world!

Delight in Christ more than your life because God delights in you.  Christ endured the cross for you.  He loves you.  That is important to remember when we wonder why God often allows such persecution and suffering.  God’s ways are often mysterious.  We do not always understand why He delivers some from suffering and others through suffering, but God always does what is right.  And whatever your suffering, God loves you.  He accepts you and values you because of who you are in Christ Jesus, His son.

If I were to hold up a hundred dollar bill and said, “Who wants this?”  Everyone would want it.  If I crumpled the hundred dollar bill into a ball and said, “Now who wants this?”  Everyone would still want it.  And if I threw it on the ground and stepped on it and stomped it and said, “Do you still want it?”  Every one of us would still want it.  Why? Because we know that whatever happens to that hundred dollar bill, it is still worth a hundred dollars!  It does not lose its value and worth even if it is been crumpled up, stepped on, and stomped upon. And you Christian, even when you undergo immense suffering and persecution, and the world crumples you up, and you are stepped on and stomped upon, you are still worth everything to your Father.  You hold your value because you are in Christ, the perfect righteousness of Christ means you are always loved and accepted and approved of by your heavenly Father.  So . . .

Have faith in God when your pathway is lonely.
He sees and knows all the way you have trod;
Never alone are the least of His children;
Have faith in God, have faith in God.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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