David Jeremiah - Ordinary Heroes
Hello, I'm David Jeremiah, welcoming you to the last and probably most important message in my series from Hebrews chapter 11 called "Ordinary People, Extraordinary Faith". We've studied amazing examples of faith demonstrated by some of the heroes of the biblical story. But today's message contains a critical point for anyone who desires to have heroic faith. All of God's heroes are ordinary heroes. In fact, that's the title of today's message, just "Ordinary Heroes". By ordinary, I mean that faith is no respecter of persons. One of the greatest errors in our thinking is that we aren't special enough to have great faith. But today, you're going to see that you don't have to be a Bible character to have the kind of faith they did. You will see why, if you'll join me for today's edition of "Turning Point".
We have been looking together at the 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews, which you know of the Hall of Faith in the New Testament. Here, in this chapter, we meet people who have distinguished themselves because of their faith in Almighty God. Now, if you've read the chapter already, you know that there are 16 names listed in Hebrews 11. We began with Abel, and followed up Abel with the man Enoch, and then we studied Noah, and after Noah came Abraham, and after Abraham came Sarah, and after Sarah, Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, and then we studied Moses and Rahab. Of the 16 names in the book of Hebrews chapter 11, those are the first 10.
The last six are in our message today: Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel. In summarizing the lives of these people, the writer gathers his thoughts together and focuses on their accomplishments of faith. He begins, first of all, with the people of faith. He begins to reminisce by mentioning heroes from the Old Testament, and he goes into three different periods of Old Testament history to get his heroes. The first period of history is the period of the judges, heroes from the judges. This is what it says in verse 32 of Hebrews 11: "And what more shall I say"? Which, in the language of the New Testament, means I don't have enough time to say what I want to say.
I understand that, that's a preacher's problem. "What more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell you of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah". What do all four of those people have in common? They were all judges during the period of judges. The Bible says that during the period of the judges, every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Does that sound familiar? Kinda like, everybody had their own agenda. They did whatever they wanted to do. And God put judges in the midst of them to hold them and focus them. And he lists four of them.
The first one is the man named Gideon. Gideon is a man who was remembered for his dreams. God gave Gideon some wonderful visions and dreams, and Gideon was the most unlikely candidate for the Hall of Faith. I remember the first time I ever preached on Gideon and realized that when God called him to be a champion, Gideon was hiding behind a winepress. And God walked up to him through his emissary, and God said, "O mighty man of valor". And I'm thinking, Gideon probably said, "Who's he talking about? It's not me".
And I always have thought this, this is a wonderful thought for me, that God loves to take us where we are and make us what he knows we can become. Gideon wasn't much when God got ahold of him, but God turned him into a champion. Well, Gideon's followed in the list by a man named Barak, who doesn't bring a whole lot more to the table than Gideon did. Barak is obeying Deborah, and he goes forth to meet the great army of Cicero. Cicero was a general, and he had 900 chariots of iron and thousands of troops. And Barak went against him with 10,000 men that were chosen from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun, just 2 of Israel's tribes.
And then add to the list Samson, and you gotta ask yourself, how in the world did Samson get on a list of faith? I mean, Samson, he blew it every way you can blow it, didn't he? I mean, he destroyed his testimony. He finally had a woman who got ahold of him, by the name of Delilah, and she found out the secret of his strength, and you know the rest of the story. He lost his eyesight. He was relegated to an object of derision among the people of Israel until the last moment of his life.
If Gideon was remembered for his dreams and Barak for his daring, Samson's remembered for his defiance, because in the last moment of his life, the Bible says he had someone put him in a position where he could hold on to the pillars of the idolatry temple, and in one last moment of strength, his hair had unnoticeably grown back. He took hold of those two pillars and he pulled them together, and the Bible says that Samson killed more in his death than he did in his life. He brought this all down on them. He figured, "This is the one last thing I can do. I can destroy some more enemies of God, who hate God and are trying to destroy his people". And he went out in defiance. I have to believe that's why he got in the Hall of Faith.
And then there's one last person, by the name of Jephthah. Again, I gotta tell you, my impression when I go through these stories is how unlikely these people are to be included in God's list of faithful men and women. Do you remember the story of Jephthah? Most people remember Jephthah because of his vow, Jephthah's vow. Whenever you decide to make a vow, before you do it, go read this passage, 'cause you don't wanna make a vow unless you know what you're vowing. Judges 11:31 says, then it will be that whatever, this is his vow: "Then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up to him as a burnt offering". Fast forward. "When Jephthah came to his house, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him, and she was his only child. And besides her he had neither son nor daughter".
Can you imagine that moment? You say, "What happened"? It's in the book of Judges, you can go home and read it this afternoon, all right? Find out what happened. In spite of his foolish vow, God used Jephthah in a very special way to denote the power of God in Israel. Now, these four men served during a period of time when there was no king in Israel. They served demonstrating courage, courage that it takes to stand up for what is right when nobody else is standing up for what is right. And are we not getting a chance to experience some of that in this culture today? To stand up for what is right when everybody around us doesn't think that's important anymore? These judges are honored because when everybody else was going south, they kept going north. And God honored them for their faith and encourages us by their testimony. They were not perfect men, they were weak men that God made strong.
Now he goes to the second category from the judges. He gives us a representation of the kings. Hebrews 11:32 says, "And time would fail to tell of David," and David is a representation of the kings of Israel. He is chosen to represent this this period, and of course David was a champion from his boyhood. When he was just a kid, he was fighting with lions and bears. And then when he was a teenager, he took out Goliath, a 9 foot, 6 inch giant, and all he had to do it with was a slingshot. And you know that whole story, but let me read you the little speech that David gave to Goliath when he stood in front of him.
Here's what he said to the giant: "This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel". And David was good and he did what he said he would do. But still, a teenage boy going up against the giant that bellowed out his curses against Israel, and he took him out. Became so popular, as you know, that they even wrote a song about David, and it was on the hit parade for many years in Israel. "Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands". And then David was anointed king.
In fact, he was anointed king three times, did you know that? Before he finally ascended the throne, there were three ceremonies to anoint David. It seemed to David as if he would never become king. During all that time, while Saul was still reigning and David was the king-in-waiting. I learned this week something that I had never known before, a statistic that I had never ever seen before, that during the time that David was waiting to become the king of Israel, 24 different times, King Saul either sought to kill him himself or get somebody else to do it in his behalf.
Twenty-four attempts were made on David's life. He spent his whole time as a fugitive running from here to there, just trying to stay alive, waiting for the moment when God would allow him, finally, to become the king of Israel. David endured all these things and he continued. He rose from the judges and he rose from the kings. Notice, thirdly, he rose from the prophets. It says that "Time would fail me to tell you of Samuel and the prophets".
Now, let me tell you about Samuel. Samuel's really a key person in the Old Testament. Here's why: Samuel was the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. He was the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. And as the prophet, he was the one who anointed Israel's first king, so he is the cement that holds those periods of time together. The last of the judges, the first of the prophets, and the anointer of King David as the king of Israel. So the first thing that the writer of Hebrews wants us to know is that God used people from lots of different places and different time periods. He lists these for us in that one verse.
Now he's gonna make a change here in how he approaches this subject. He's gonna go from the people of faith, the ten people that we mentioned, to the performances of faith. And here's what the writer's gonna do now. He's going to go through a list of things that these men and women of faith, of the Old Testament, did. He's not gonna tell us their name, but he's going to assume that we know something about the Old Testament, so we'll be able to figure out who it is most of the time.
Apparently, back in those days, the people to whom the writer of Hebrews was writing knew the Old Testament. And in case you don't feel like you know the Old Testament, I'll tell you who they are as we go along. But I want you to just note how carefully this is laid out for us, one action after another. We've moved now from those who have taken the action. We're gonna look at the action that they took. Here, we notice, first of all, there were those who were victorious over their enemies, and by faith they defeated kingdoms. Says here they subdued kingdoms, that's the first word. By faith they defeated kingdoms. Notice the second one: by faith they did righteous works. By faith they subdued kingdoms and they worked righteousness. What works did they do? Oh, there's so many, I can just represent them by a few interesting things.
Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal (remember that on the mountain?) and defeated them. And Elijah healed Naaman, and that was an act of righteousness. And the prophets preached the Word. And Daniel refused to eat the king's meat and drink the king's wine so that he could be faithful to God. And Joseph in Egypt ruled in righteousness, and Esther in Persia ruled in righteousness, and Daniel in Babylon ruled in righteousness, and David in Israel ruled in righteousness.
2 Samuel 8:15 says, "David reigned over all Israel; and he administered justice and righteousness for all the people". They subdued kingdoms and they worked righteousness. The third thing we read is they discovered the promises of God. Notice again in your Bible, I'm just taking these phrases one at a time as they appear. They destroyed kingdoms, they did righteous works, and they discovered the promises of God. Now, watch this: whenever the people of the Old Testament were in trouble, whenever they got in a tough place, whenever they were in a corner or their back was against the wall, they would go grab hold of one of God's promises and hang onto it for dear life.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever said, "Lord, I don't know where this is going or what I'm supposed to do, but this is what I read in your book". And by the way, I don't know how God does this, I don't even know how to explain this, but if you're in a regular reading program of the Word of God, inevitably you will find that on the day when you need a promise, it's in your reading assignment. And you read that assignment and you read that promise and you think, "How did he know"? If you're just in no reading program at all, just sort of jumping around, you might find a promise here and there. But when you're in a reading program and you're reading through the Word of God, God has a way of just preparing your heart for whatever you need.
And the Bible says that whenever these Old Testament people got into difficulty, they would just grab hold of a promise. How many of you know we're unfaithful? He's not. We don't always keep our promises, do we? We make a lot of promises to God and hope in our heart he doesn't keep track of all of them. But he never ever fails to keep his promise to us. By faith they destroyed kingdoms, did righteous works, discovered the promises of God. Number four: they defeated lions. They stopped the mouths of lions. Daniel 6:22 says, "My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouth, so that they have not hurt me".
And I remember, as a little kid growing up in Sunday school, that was one of our favorite stories: Daniel in the lions' den. And have you seen the pictures of Daniel taking a nap with his head on the lion, you know, just kinda laying there in the den? The Bible says that when he was thrown into the lions' den because of his faithfulness to God, Almighty God moved in and shut the mouth of the lion. By faith they destroyed kingdoms, displayed righteousness, discovered promises, defeated lions. Then number five: by faith they defied fire. Daniel's three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, thrown into the fiery furnace because they wouldn't bow down before Nebuchadnezzar's statue.
And the Bible says, after they threw them into the furnace and it was heated seven times hotter than it had ever been heated, the king somehow looked into the fire and there were these three guys, and there was one other person. There were four, and the fourth was like unto the Son of God. And we were reminded when we studied that, were we not, that God doesn't promise to keep us out of the fire. He just says he'll go in there with us and be with us through whatever experience we're going through. And by faith they destroyed kingdoms, and displayed righteousness, and discovered promises, and defeated lions, and defied the fire, and they dodged the sword. It says they escaped the sword.
And this is in reference to an attack on Israel by the Amalekites, and the Bible tells us that Moses went up onto a mountain to intercede for them. And remember, when his arms got tired, they held his arms up. And whenever his arms were up, the Israelites were in control, and whenever his arms went down, they got defeated. And the Bible says that they dodged the sword. And by faith, they developed strength. I love this one: "Out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens". All three of those statements go together, and they remind us that all God's giants have been weak men who just did great things for God.
"Well, I'm not capable of being a giant for God". Nobody ever was and ever will be, because you don't get to be one of God's giants because you're something special. You get to be a giant of God when you recognize your own weakness and allow God to move into your weakness and make you strong. They destroyed kingdoms, they displayed righteousness, they discovered promises, they defeated lions, they defied fire, they dodged the sword, they developed strength, and they disabled death. It says here that, "Women received their dead raised to life again".
And there are only two occasions of that in the Old Testament that I'm aware of. First was Elijah, who brought back to life the child of the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings chapter 17. And the second was Elijah's successor, Elisha, who did the same thing for the son of the Shunammite woman, and that's in 2 Kings chapter 4. So all of these people who did all of these great things are listed for us in these first few verses. But I want you to just take a breath now, and I want you to join me for the most important part of this passage, because most of us don't consider ourselves to be in the first part of this.
You see, the first part of this chapter is about people who were victorious over their enemies. But the last part of it is about people who were victims of their enemies. And I want you to notice that we're about to learn that the faith that God gives us to be strong is the same faith that he gives us to persevere during difficult times. In fact, it's so interesting when you're reading the 11th chapter and you get to the 35th verse. It says, "Women received their dead raised to life again". And you need to draw a little line in that verse, because he's about to change the storyline. He says, "Others, others were tortured," and he goes through this whole list of things that happened.
Who are the others? They're the others that God didn't use to drive forward some triumphant victory. But who were the victims of... well, let's just read what happened to them. Some of them, we are told, were tortured because of their faith. "They would not accept deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection". In other words, some of the early Christians were given the option: if you will bow down to Caesar, if you will put some incense on his altar, you can walk away from persecution. And the Scripture says they chose to be tortured rather than to be giving up their faith in Almighty God. The Bible says not only were they tortured, but some of them went through trials because of their faith. "Still others had the trial of mockings and scourgings, and chains and imprisonment".
They weren't champions of faith because of what they did, they were champions because of what happened to them and how they honored God in the midst of their testing. The Bible says some of them were tortured, some had trials, and some were tormented. It says in Hebrews 11:37, "They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute and afflicted and tormented, of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth". God said they were the champions, not just the people who accomplished great things. Don't let anybody tell you that the Bible says that this is a walk in the park from the moment you get saved all the way to when you get to heaven. It ain't a walk in the park. Life is filled with difficulties and challenges.
But here's what you need to know: you are not out of the will of God when you're going through difficult things. You may be in the most important time in your life to show the strength of God in your life. The world looks around and they see prosperity and they say, "Well, yeah, if I had all that stuff I'd believe in God too". But when they see God's people walking through the difficult times, as described here, and many of you know what these words are about, and you still are honoring the Lord God with your life, the Bible says you can hold your hands up high too, 'cause you're a champion. You're one of God's champions.
What can we learn from this passage with all these names? Three things I want you to remember. First of all, faith enlists all kinds of servants. Did you know that? When I read this chapter and I went back over it, I was just amazed. God doesn't have any stereotype... what kind of people does God use? Well, what kind of person are you? God uses you. So the first thing you need to know is that faith enlists all kinds of servants.
And the second thing is that faith employs all kinds of strategies. Isn't it interesting that God did his work, and we've seen it in the 11th chapter, he did it in some of the strangest ways you've ever seen any work be done. I mean, how do you take out a city by marching around it 13 times? How do you take out a giant with a slingshot? How do you take down 2 armies and a coalition with 300 men? Everything God does, he does uniquely.
You know, people say God is boring. Are you kidding me? God is not boring. God has something different for everybody to do if you just let him do it. So God uses all kinds of servants, he uses all kinds of strategy, so that faith enjoys all kinds of success. Faith can do what nothing else can do. God has a place for all of us to serve him. And wherever you happen to be in your life at this present time, I wanna ask you to stop for a moment and think about this: What is it that God has given me to do, and am I doing it?