Robert Jeffress - Against All Odds
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. When hard times come our way, we often ask God to remove those burdens from our lives, and while sometimes he does, other times he doesn't. Gratefully, God has given us the faith to handle either situation. In the conclusion of Hebrews 11, the writer reminds us that faith both enables us to conquer problems and to endure problems, and those who persevere will be rewarded greatly. My message is titled "Against All Odds" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Dr. John Pemberton wasn't really a doctor. But after all, who would buy a product called Mr. Pemberton's liver pills? No one. And so this local pharmacist who lived during the civil war came up with concoctions like Dr. Pemberton's globe flower cough syrup and other names. But his real dream was to create a medicine that would cure headaches and hangovers. He experimented with extracts of fruits and nuts and leaves, but that was for taste. What he really needed was some kind of stimulant like caffeine, and so he came up with a formula that pleased him, but now he needed some financial backing. By this time, Dr. Pemberton had moved to Atlanta.
During the summer of 1886, Dr. Pemberton took a jug of this reddish-brown syrup to Jacob's pharmacy which bought a couple of jugs of the potion. Just mix with water and drink were the instructions. But sales were slow that summer. The residents of Atlanta didn't suffer from too many headaches. But one day a customer stumbled in to Jacob's pharmacy with a hangover and the clerk suddenly remembered Dr. Pemberton's syrup and he went back to mix some up. He was new on the job and he accidentally used carbonated water, and the results were so tasteful that the word of this new potion began to spread. Unfortunately, Dr. Pemberton couldn't heal himself. He died when his little headache remedy business could have been bought for $2.000. In spite of his hard work and persistence, he never lived to see what that business would become. It's a business that's known today as the Coca-Cola Corporation.
History is filled with people who never saw the full results of their hard work. That's true by the way not only in the realm of business but in the realm of faith. Although God occasionally allows us to experience just a taste of the rewards for our faith in him, most people end up dying without ever fully seeing the results of their faith in this life at least. But the kind of faith that pleases God is a faith that obeys God in spite of any visible results and in spite of adverse circumstances. And that's the kind of faith described in Hebrews 11. If you have your Bibles, turn to Hebrews 11 as we look at men and women who obeyed God against all odds.
You'll remember in verse one the writer defines what faith is. Contrary to popular thinking, faith is not a wish, it's not a hope, it's not a desire. Instead, faith is the assurance that God will do what he has promised to do, and then acting accordingly. You see that on your outline, let me say it one more time. Faith is not a hope, wish, or desire. It is the assurance, it is the conviction that God will do what he's promised to do and acting accordingly. After giving us that definition then we see in Hebrews 11 the example of what faith is, and these men and women from the Old Testament demonstrated different aspects of faith. And now when we come to the concluding section of Hebrews 11 beginning with verse 30, the writer is going to explain what real faith does. And really he's going to talk about two different kind of believers who exercise two different kinds of faith with two very different results.
Beginning in verse 30 you find a list of believers who conquered problems. But in verses 35 to 40, this is a record of believers who endured problems. In verses 30 to 34, this is an illustration of faith in God's ability to deliver them out of their problems, but in verses 35 through 40, these are men and women who demonstrate the faith in God's ability to sustain them through their problems. In verses 30 through 34, this is a demonstration of promises of God that were fulfilled. Verses 35 to 40 describe the promises of God that were delayed. Two very different categories of faith. First of all, some people exercise a faith that actually conquers problems, and sometimes that will be true in your life. There'll be occasions when faith absolutely allows you to conquer once and for all whatever problem you're facing.
I want you to notice that in this first section, verses 30 to 35, there were two characteristics that were common of these men and women. First of all, they obeyed God's instructions in spite of reason. A faith that conquers problems obeys God's instructions even when they don't make sense, in spite of reason. And here's a good illustration in verse 30. "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days". Many times when God promises something, he expects us to have some participation in the fulfillment of that promise. The only thing, the only promise of God we have absolutely no hand in is the gift of salvation. That is completely God's work by grace. But many other times God tells us we're going to have a part in the fulfillment of that promise.
That was true for Joshua. The angel said to Joshua, remember in chapter six, "This is what I want you to do. I want you to take your men and I want you to march around the walls of Jericho once a day for six days. And then on the seventh day you and your men are to march around the city wall seven times, and on that seventh time, which plus six, the other days before, on the 13th time you're to blow the trumpet and shout at the top of your lungs, and the wall will come crashing down". Now can you think how illogical that must have seemed to Joshua? You want us to do what? Just march, just march once a day for six days, the last day for seven days.
Many times God's commands just don't seem to make sense to us. You see, that's the kind of faith that pleases God, a faith that conquers, obeys God's instructions when they don't make any sense. Not only that, but I want you to notice the second characteristic of conquering faith. Each of these men and women received God's blessing in spite of themselves. They received God's blessing in spite of themselves.
Look at verse 31. "By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace". This is a part of the Joshua and Jericho story but it occurs a few chapters before Joshua 6, it's back in Joshua 2. While Joshua was still overlooking the city of Jericho trying to figure out what he was going to do, he sent two spies into the city itself on a reconnaissance mission to see what kind of obstacles they were going to face. These two spies were risking their lives. And there was a city prostitute who lived between the two walls I talked about, her name was Rahab. And she risked her life to hide these spies. Why did she do such a thing? Because Joshua 2 says she believed in the God of Israel. I don't know how she came to know about the God of Israel but she did, she believed, and because of that she spared these spies and they spared her life when they invaded the city. By faith God used this harlot named Rahab to preserve the lives of the spies.
Now Rahab is not somebody you would normally think of that God would use, but when you follow her genealogy what is fascinating is this city prostitute became the mother of Boaz who married Ruth in the Old Testament. She became the great-great-grandmother of the great king David. And when you turn to Matthew 1, the genealogy of Jesus, you look at his family tree, it goes all the way through Rahab the harlot. Rahab the harlot was an ancestor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Don't ever think, ladies and gentlemen, that God could never use because of some sin in your past. God used Rahab the harlot, why? Because she was a forgiven harlot. The grace, the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to cleanse you not just of some unrighteousness but of all unrighteousness.
In fact, when you read through this list of people in verses 30 to 35, all of them, Jephthah, David, Samson, they all had tremendous character flaws. They had made humongous mistakes in their life. But God used them not because of their sinlessness, but because of their faithfulness. And the same is true for you and me. But there is another kind of faith, and you find it in verse 35. And what you find beginning in that section and all the way to verse 40 is a different kind of faith, a faith that doesn't conquer problems but a faith that allows you to endure problems. And that's where most of us are. Most of us don't experience once-for-all conquering of problems.
So what good is faith? Faith allows you to endure problems. That's the norm for most people. Look at verse 35. "Women received back their dead by resurrection, and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection". Underline that word torture. "And others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned". This is probably a reference to Jeremiah and Stephen and other saints. "They were sawn in two". This is a reference to what happened to Isaiah when Isaiah refused to quit speaking out against the idolatry of the Israelites. Others, the writer says, were put into "Sheepskins and in goatskins". Verse 38, "Men of whom the world was not worthy," they went about in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, and ill treated, "Wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground".
Most scholars agree that this particular phrase refers to a specific time in history of intense persecution of God's people. It occurred in 168 BC when Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of Syria, ruled the world. He was a type of the antichrist that is yet to come. And anyone who dared follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph suffered horrible consequences for doing so. Let's be honest. Most of us aren't willing to suffer any discomfort, any inconvenience to follow God. Give 10% of my income to the Lord? Oh I can't do that, that's too hard. I can't live on 90% of what God's given me. No, I can't do that. Stay in an unhappy marriage when I'm not 100% fulfilled? No, I'm not going to do that. God wants me happy, he's more concerned with my happiness than my faithfulness. Serve in a place of ministry in the church? Tie up my weekends? No, I want to be free to travel and do with my time what I want to do.
God had a word about that kind of lukewarm commitment. Remember what he said in Revelation 3:15? "Because you are neither hot nor cold I will vomit you out of my mouth". God hates that kind of lukewarm commitment. You understand why it is that God rewarded these people, not immediately, but ultimately, because of their faith. What allowed them to endure their faith and their problems in spite of their circumstances? I want you to notice two characteristics here. First of all, they were focused on future rewards instead of the present results. They were focused on future rewards instead of present results. Look again at verse 35. Yes, "Women received back their dead by resurrection, but others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection".
One thing all of these men and women in Hebrews 11 had in common was they died without seeing the full results of their faithfulness to God. They died without seeing the results of their faithfulness to God. That is true about every one of these men and women. And you know that's been God's pattern throughout history. The people God has blessed most are people who have died without seeing the full results of their faithfulness to God.
I think about the great colonial pastor Cotton Mather. He prayed for years and years and years for a revival in America, and yet the great awakening began the day that he died. Or I think about William Wilberforce, the Christian abolitionist who prayed and worked and worked and worked for 50 years to remove slavery from great Britain, and again it was only on his deathbed that the British people decided to rid their continent of that terrible practice of human slavery. I think about Hudson Taylor, a missionary to China. He spent decades witnessing, sharing his faith to the Chinese with only a handful of converts, and yet today millions of Chinese embrace the Christian faith because of the faithful witness of Hudson Taylor. That's what true faith is. You will never exercise obedience to God until you are focused on future rewards rather than present results.
Remember Hebrews 11:6. "Those who come to God must believe that God is and he is a rewarder of those who diligently follow after him". You will never consistently obey God in your life until you are absolutely convinced that God will reward you, not immediately but ultimately for your faithfulness to him. A second characteristic these Christians have in verses 35 to 40 is that they were more concerned with God's approval than they were their own comfort. They were absolutely focused on God's approval, not their own comfort. Look at verse 39. "And all of these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised". Remember the words I read in Matthew 10:28 last week? Jesus said, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul. Instead fear him who is able to destroy both the body and the soul in hell".
Listen to me. You will never consistently obey God until you start to live your life for an audience of one, remembering that it's really in the end only what God thinks of you that really matters. That's the kind of faith that endures problems. When I think of somebody who lived their life and died without seeing the results of their obedience to God I think about the story of William Borden. You may remember his name from history. William Borden grew up an heir to the great Borden fortune in the last century. By the time he was in high school he was a millionaire, which in the early 1900s was a lot a lot of money. He and his family assumed that he would become an heir and a worker in the family business, he would take it over after he graduated from college.
So after he graduated from high school, before he was to enroll in Yale University, his family sent him on an around-the-world trip as a graduation present. And he went to Africa, he went to the Middle East, he went to China. And while he was in China God began to speak to him and called him distinctly to spend the rest of his life sharing the Gospel with Muslims in China. In fact, he was so certain that that was God's call in his life, in the back of his Bible he wrote these words. "No reserves," and he dated it. He came back and he told his parents what God had said to them. They weren't very encouraging. They said, "You must be mistaken. You're supposed to take over the family business". He said, "No, God has spoken to me".
And so he went to Yale, graduated in 1909, and once again was faced with what he was going to do, and instead of taking over the family business he enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary to train as a minister of the Gospel. His family threatened him and said, "If you do this, we're going to disinherit you". He wasn't going to be deterred by that and in the back of his Bible, under the words "No reserves," he wrote two more words and dated them. "No retreat. No retreat". He went to Princeton Seminary, graduated in 1913, said goodbye to his family and friends, and set sail for China. On the way to China he stopped in Egypt in order to learn the muslim language and to learn about their habits and customs so he could minister to them more effectively. And while in Egypt he contracted cerebral meningitis. They put him in the hospital and within 30 days he died at the age of 25 without ever making it to China.
The headlines around the world captured the story. "Heir to Borden fortune dies at age 25". Unbelievers said, "What a tragedy. Somebody gives up all of their wealth in order to go and do that"? Even Christians said, "What a shame that somebody would give up so much, died even before they got to the mission field in China. What a waste, what a waste". What is it that was the secret of William Borden's life? After he died, they found his Bible. And in the back of the Bible, underneath those phrases, "No reserves" and "No retreat," they found two more words. As he laid dying in that Cairo hospital, William Borden had written the words "No regrets, no regrets". The kind of faith that endures problems is a faith that is without reserve, without retreat and without regrets.