A pastor had been diagnosed with a rare cancer. The congregation went to great lengths to pray. After a time he fell into a coma and died. There was a woman in that congregation who later said, “As far as I’m concerned I’m never going to ask God for anything again. Why should I bother? I don’t want to be hurt again.” Have you ever felt that as a Christian? Christians have prayed for all sorts of things that haven’t happened. Sometimes in the quietness of our own soul, though we would admit to no one else, we secretly give up on God because we don’t want to be hurt again.
Turn to Hebrews 11. Let us make four observations that might help us solve this perplexing problem of not being hurt again.
1. Faith Sometimes Changes Our Circumstance
Time and again the writer in Hebrews keeps reiterating and listing all of the things that God did in the Old Testament as a result of faith. We could begin with v.23 “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents…” and when he had grown up he, v. 24 “refused to becalled the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,” and v. 27 it says, “he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, forhe endured as seeing him who is invisible.” We could begin to recount all the miracles that God did in Moses’ life and ministry, such as themanna that was supplied as God miraculously took care of the people after He miraculously paved the way for them to go though the Red Sea.
In v. 30 “By faith the wall of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.” Today you can go to Israel and see the ruins of ancient Jericho – several acres – and we’re reminded of the great miracle that God did there in taking the walls down. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace v. 31.
The writer becomes very excited and knows he can’t include everyone, so in v. 32 he says, “What more shall I say?” …. Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthae, David, Samuel and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, and much more.
And today, just like back then sometimes faith changes our circumstances, and there are times when God heals people with cancer. There are times when we cry out to God and say “O God, this situation is too much for me. I would ask for Your intervention.” And God intervenes, He does miracles, and straightens out all sorts of situations because God responds to people’s faith in prayer.
2. Sometimes Faith Does Not Change Our Circumstances
But there is a second observation. In the middle of verse 35 the tone changes. Notice what it says: “... Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise againt o a better life: Others suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated..." and there was no word from heaven to deliver them.
Where was God when all those things were happening? Where was the deliverance? Where was the God who could speak the word, and those tormenters and those captors could be put to death and smitten down? Was He indifferent? Didn’t He care about His people? Where was He? Oh yes, sometimes faith changes our circumstances, but sometimes faith does NOT change our circumstances. Sometimes God allows some people to be delivered, and others are not delivered, and both groups make the 11th chapter of Hebrews.
We read in chptr. 12 of Acts that James was killed – Herod put him to death – and a few verses later it says Peter was delivered. Sometimes faith changes circumstance, sometimes faith does NOT change our circumstances and God allows us to keep our circumstances and we have to go through the fire rather being delivered from it.
The reason that these people made the 11th chapter of Hebrews, even though they did not experience deliverance, was because they kept on believing God to the very end, and didn’t implicate God or judge Him. Remember what the Bible teaches us? If there’s anything clear in the Bible it is simply this: Oh friends, don’t ever get your theology from circumstances. If we were to get our theology from circumstances we would not necessarily conclude that God loves the work, would we? Ten thousand people a day are starving in different countries of the world. And little bit of rain would go a long way to help them, but God has witholden the rain. Does God love them? If you were to go by circumstances you would conclude that God doesn’t, but God does love the world, and we cannot go by what it appears to be. We must ultimately go by the Word of God. We can’t go by appearances.
3. Faith Never Judges God By Circumstances
I love that 11th chapter of the Book of John. The Bible says that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. A few verses later it says Lazarus died. When a Christian dies, does that mean that God doesn’t love him? Is suffering or an early death an improper reflection on the love of God? The answer is NO, because it says explicitly that God loved Lazarus, and then it goes on to say that Lazarus, the one whom Jesus loved, died. Sometimes God’s choicest servants die young, but it is never a reflection on God’s love, because as Paul says, “Who shall separate us fro the love of Christ? Paul is saying you cannot judge God by what is happening.
Faith is not merely getting from God the things that we want. Faith is the ability to accept whatever God gives us. It is the ability to go on believing God regardless of the circumstances. Ultimately it is believing His Word and not what is happening.
There was a woman whose son was killed in a truck accident. She was angry at God and came to her pastor and asked, “Where was your God when my son was killed?” And that pastor said to her, “He was in the same place where He was when His Son was killed.” Faith has the ability to believe that God knows what He is doing, even when what He is doing seems to be so contrary to what we think He ought to be doing. If you believe God that way you can make the 11th chapter of Hebrews and be a hero of faith, even if you don’t see that miracle for which you have been praying. God may give it to you and He may not give it to you, but blessed are those who go on believing and who say, “We will not swerve in our allegiance to the Lord God; we will not become bitter whether God answers or whether He does not.”
Sometimes when we pray we pray rather selfishly – we pray for things that God doesn’t want to give us. James 4:3 says that “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” Sometimes we say, “Lord, be my good-luck charm: Give me this job. Solve this problem. Take care of this difficulty Lord.” And all the while God may be saying, “I am interested in something much deeper than simply solving superficial problems.” God is often times wanting to get at our hearts. That’s why there are times when people of faith are not delivered, even when we might expect them to be.
I think this is the whole key: Remember the story of Shadrach, Mesach, and Abed-nego – they said ot the king: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.But if not, be it known unto you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up.”
There are times inour life that we look at circumstances and all we can say is “O God, I belive thatr you are able to ….., but if you don’t let it be known to veryone who lsitinge,knows me, that I will not swerce in my allegieance, belief, and conficens in thelving and tru God. If yo live that way, yu belong in the 11th chapter of Hebrews, even if yo don’t see that deliverance, even when god doesn’t do the ghings that yo thin He ought to do. We belong there because we go on believing despite appearances.
4. Faith Always Leads to Victory
Notice what it says in v. 39 “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised”. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t fulfill His promises, it’s just that He doesn’t’ necessarily fulfill them every weekend. The life of faith is the life that believes that beyond the grave there are promises that will be fulfilled, because all the promises of God are yes and amen in Jesus Christ. We sometimes live without the fulfillment of those promises, but some day we will have them.
Hebrews 12:3-4 “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." If you had seen Jesus Christ die on that cross, and if you had been there to hear Him cry out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani, that is, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'” (Matthew 27:46) youwould have concluded that God didn’t care. Maybe after all God wasn’t worried about His son. But appearances to the contrary, Jesus Christ kept believing, trusting and knowing that eventually His commitment to the father’s will would be vindicated. That’s why the Bible says in Hebrews. 12:2, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured thecorss, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Now if you’ve ever seen someone die of cancer, as you look at them you may say to yourself, “I can’t believe that God loves them.” Appearances to the contrary – those who go on believing God like Jesus Christ will be honored and exalted because they kept on believing despite the fact that there are times when the promises of the Word of God seem to go contrary to what appears to be the case. Isn’t it wonderful to know that we can be people of faith no matter where we are. Isn’t in wonderful that you can belong in the 11th chapter of Hebrews even when God doesn’t do the things that you think He ought to do. I think one of the easiest prayers to pray, and we’ve all done this, is to say, “Oh God, solve this problem, or God take care of this difficulty,” but sometimes God wants to withhold that answer to try our faith.
Remember John the Baptist? He was there in prison and began to doubt whether Jesus was the Messiah. There are times we are told that we never should have doubts and I suppose to some extend that’s true, but there are times you really begin to wonder: Is it really the way it seems to be? Is it the way the Bible teaches? Then Jesus answered John’s disciples when they came to ask him about his Messiahship – “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me." (Matthew 11:2-6).
I’d like to give that a real contemporary translation. Blessed is the person who is not upset with the way I run My business.
I believe there are times when we have to pray like Jesus did in Gethsemane when He was agonizing before the Father, and it seemed in His humanity almost that He was going to capitulate. Remember He says, “Father, if this cup will not pass except I drink it, not my will but Thine be done.” There are times we have to say, “Oh God, if it be possible, let this cup pass form me, but if not, Thy will be done.” When you live like that you belong in the 11th chapter of Hebrews even when God doesn’t do the things that you’re convinced He should.
My Jesus, as Thou wilt! O may Thy will be mine;
Into Thy hand of love I would my all resign.
Thro’ sorrow, or thro’ joy, Conduct me as Thy own;’
And help me still to say, My Lord, Thy will be done.
You’ll never experience revival if you get upset with the way God runs His business.