Hebrews 11:39-40 — And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
- God is the One who made the promise.
- God is the One who fulfilled the promise.
- God is the One who completes the promise.
Opening: This is the twelfth and final message in our series, “Unstoppable Faith.” The Bible says that with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). And so when we put our trust and faith in God and His Word, we can do anything that He wants us to do. Now indulge me for a few minutes as I provide a brief summary of what we’ve learned by studying Hebrews 11, often called the Hall of Faith. Together, we discovered that the Bible defines it (faith) as the choice to cling to what is promised by God and hoped for by us, because we know with certainty that it will come to pass, though for a time it remains unseen (1-2). We saw in verses 3-7 that faith answers the question of our origin … we are created by God. It is also the basis by which we are made acceptable to God (Abel), rewarded by God (Enoch) and saved by God (Noah). In fact, we learned that without faith it is impossible to please Him and that what separates us as believers from unbelievers is that we diligently seek Him in faith. Then we looked at Abraham who trusted God and followed His plan not knowing where it would lead him and believed God’s promises not knowing when He would keep them (8-10). His wife Sarah is also mentioned as a woman who shared her husband’s faith, failures and future (11-12). Then we thought about the goal of our faith. In the same way that the people I just mentioned desired a better country, a heavenly one, so we belong to God and also look forward to being with Him in heaven (13-16). Together we saw that God tested Abraham’s faith by commanding him to offer his son Isaac, the heir of the promise, as a sacrifice. Abraham obeyed and God provided a substitute. In the same way He also tests our faith with the things we value the most to teach us to trust Him all the more (17-19). Leaving a legacy of faith was also important to the patriarchs as they passed down the promised blessing to each succeeding generation. And of course, we should as well … to our children, grandchildren and future generations (20-22). Moses’ parents (Amram and Jochebed — not two of the more popular names today) trusted God and refused to put their son to death. Moses is also commended for rejecting the status of being called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter when he could have enjoyed all the privileges that would have come with it. Rather, by faith, he preferred to identify with God’s people instead (23-28). it was also by faith that Moses and the Israelites were able to be saved from destruction at the hands of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army when God parted the Red Sea and allowed them to pass through on dry ground. A short time later, He drowned their enemies when they attempted to do the same (29). Forty years passed and Joshua and the people of Israel demonstrated faith again when they carried out God’s plan for taking Jericho even though it must have seemed foolish to the people living inside the walls. Only Rahab, a harlot, put her trust in the God of Israel so that she and her family were spared and her life was changed (30-31). And finally, two weeks ago we saw that faith enabled some to enjoy great triumphs and others, those of whom the world was not worthy, to endure horrible trials (32-28). Whew! That’s a lot, but every story serves as an example to us of the importance of living by faith so that we can honor and glorify the Lord with our lives just as these people did.
This morning, on Easter Sunday, I want to look at the final two verses of Hebrews 11. They tell us, “And all these (referring to the people I just mentioned), though commended through their faith (remember that without faith it is impossible to please God), did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” At first glance these verses seem to be a little bit of a contradiction. After all, if you look back at verse 33, you can read again that some of them “obtained promises.” God made a promise to save Noah and his family from the flood and He kept it. At least in part, He also fulfilled his promise to Abraham multiplying his descendants and bringing them to the Promised Land. The same goes for the Israelites, Rahab and others. So what does the author of Hebrews mean when he says, “though commended through their faith, (they) did not receive what was promised.” Before I attempt to answer this question, let me say something about promises in general. You and I both know that a promise is only as good as the one who makes it. People can make all sorts of promises (politicians do it all the time), but that doesn’t guarantee that they have the ability to make it them come true. Sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t. I’m sure that in your lifetime, as in mine, people have made promises to you, some of which were kept and others were broken. The only way to know with certainty was to wait it out until the end and see what really happened. I read this week of a businessman named Sam, who was driving home to Denver after long sales trip and saw a hitchhiker with a cow. It piqued his interest so he stopped. The man approached the window of his car and said, “I’m a poor farmer. I don’t own a car. Will you give me a ride to Denver?” Sam looked at the man and his cow and said, “I don’t mind, but you will have to leave your cow here.” “Oh, no sir, I can’t do that” the farmer said. “I will just tie her to the back of the car, and I promise you sir, you have my word, she will not slow you down.” Though he doubted the man’s word, Sam agreed to help the farmer out. He waited as the man tied the cow to the back bumper and then they were off. At first Sam started out cautiously taking the car up to 10 miles per hour. He looked in the mirror and the cow seemed to be trotting along. So he increased his speed to 20 mph, 30 mph, 40 mph, and it still did not phase the cow. The farmer looked over to Sam and assured him that he was a man of his word. He promised again that the cow would be fine. So Sam took the car up to 55 mph and still the animal was looking very comfortable. Slowly a smile came over his face as Sam hit the gas and the speedometer went to 65, 75 and finally to 90 mph. And that’s when he looked back and noticed the cow’s tongue sticking out of its mouth, “Now I got you,” he mumbled under his breath. “What’s the matter?” the farmer asked. “You lied to me. You are not a man of your word. Your cow is getting tired. See, her tongue is sticking out.” “Is it sticking out on the left, or the right?” the farmer asked. “On the left side, why?” Sam asked. “Oh,” the farmer said, “In that case, you’d better pull over. She’s trying to pass you.” NOW THERE’S A PROMISE THAT WAS KEPT!
In the Old Testament in Numbers 23:19, we read these words regarding the character of God: He is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill? Don’t miss the point of this verse. Men can and often do lie. At other times, they just change their minds altogether. As part of the human race, I include myself when I say that we are often untruthful and completely unpredictable. But not God. When He says He’s going to do something, when he makes a promise, He always keeps it. In fact, Hebrews 6:18 says it is impossible for God to lie. Even though they never saw during their lifetimes the final fulfillment of God’s promise to complete their salvation, the Old Testament saints mentioned in this chapter did not waver in their trust that God would keep His Word. And today, with the benefit of hindsight, we know that’s exactly what He did. Now in our time that remains I want to unpack a few thoughts about the promise itself with you that I believe will make your Easter celebration all the more special. Let’s start with this. As I’ve already mentioned …
God is the One who made the promise. It didn’t start with Abraham, but all the way back in the Garden of Eden. After Satan tempted Adam and Eve so that they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and everything in the world was corrupted by sin, God pronounced His judgment on the devil in Genesis 3:15 — I will put enmity between you and the woman (Eve), and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head and you will strike His heal. Though there is bit of mystery surrounding the identity of this person, we know at this point that God had already set in motion a plan to destroy the Devil (that’s what “He will crush your head” means) through the seed of the woman and redeem what had been taken away by the effects of sin. That’s the birth of the promise! Now fast forward to the time when God called Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 — “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God intended not only to bless Abraham’s descendants by making them into a great nation, but the entire world through One that would come from his family tree. This is a continuation of the promise! Again, let’s move to 2 Samuel 7:16 to learn more about how God intends to keep it. Israel’s second and greatest king, David, was told by God the following: Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before Me; your throne will be established forever. This was God’s way of saying that someone from the line of David would sit on the throne reigning as King over God’s people for all time. A few hundred years later, the prophet Isaiah provided even more insight into the fulfillment of God’s promise in Isaiah 7:14 — The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call Him Immanuel and again in 9:6-7 — For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. IT’S CLEAR THAT BY THE WORDS HE SPOKE TO SATAN, ABRAHAM, DAVID AND ISAIAH (AS WELL AS SEVERAL OTHER PROPHETS) GOD INTENDED TO KEEP HIS PROMISE AND UNDO THE DAMAGE DONE TO US AND OUR WORLD BY THE INTRODUCTION OF SIN. AND ALL ALONG, HE HAD IN MIND JUST THE RIGHT PERSON TO DO IT!
God is the One who fulfilled the promise. After about four hundred years of silence, God spoke to His people again, this time through His Son, Jesus Christ. The angels announced His birth (Born to you this day in the city of David is a Savior, Christ the Lord) and shepherds and wise men worshipped Him. Born of the seed of a woman (because God is His Father), Jesus became a human being in order to fulfill the promise made way back in Genesis 3:15 (crush the head of Satan). That’s what the Messianic believer who wrote Hebrews said in 2:14 — Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil. And how did Jesus accomplish this? He undid the works of Satan that started with Adam and Eve (See 1 John 3:8) by allowing Himself to be nailed to a cross at Calvary. He knew all along that this was His Father’s plan, the fulfillment of His promise — John 12:32-33 — I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Jesus said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. Our Lord died, not for any sins He had committed (Pilate said, “I find no fault in Him). No … he hung on the cross and gave up His life that He might purchase us from slavery to sin to become children of God (John 1:12). That’s when we (and all who believe) received unrestricted access to God as fellow citizens of heaven. Illustration: Mark Batterson, in his book Trip Around the Sun, mentions some famous epitaphs. You know what those are, don’t you? Epitaphs are statements written in memory of others, often found on tombstones. They provide us with a window into how people lived and what they believed was most important. Ludolph van Ceulen was a Dutch mathematician who was the first to calculate pi. He died at the age of seventy in 1610. He had engraved on his tombstone 3.14159265358979323846264338327950. He wanted his proudest achievement to be known to all as he entered eternity. Martin Luther King Jr. had the following epitaph: “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last.” Benjamin Franklin once wrote an epitaph for himself: “The Body of B. Franklin, Printer, like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. …” When Jesus died, Pilate, the Roman governor, had an epitaph prepared and fastened to the cross that read … Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews! While it was certainly true, it was incomplete. By His death on the cross, Jesus became the Savior for everyone who believes in Him (including those Old Testament saints mentioned here in Hebrews 11) and Lord over all! That’s what His epitaph should have said. (Review: God made the promise and fulfilled it through His Son.)
God is the One who completes the promise. He does this by taking up residence in our lives through the third person of the trinity … the Holy Spirit. As Christians we believe that there is one God who exists eternally as three persons … Father, Son and Spirit. At Pentecost, the words of the prophet Joel came true. He said, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” When Jesus ascended to heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit to permanently live in us for at least three reasons: (1) to bring about the experience of being born again in each of us (John 3); (2) as a guarantee of our inheritance until God completes our salvation by bringing us home to heaven (Ephesians 1:14).; and (3) to enable us to be holy and live in a manner worthy of our calling. Without the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit, the effects of the fall would not be completely reversed. Though our debt of sin would have been paid for by Christ, we would still be slaves to sin.
Application: God in His infinite wisdom waited to fulfill His promise of salvation until the right time … which turned out to be about two thousand years ago. Every now and again someone will ask me, “Pastor, How were people in the Old Testament saved from the penalty of their sin … eternal death?” My answer is, “The same way we are … by faith. Only they looked forward to what was promised just as we look back in time at its fulfillment in the person of Christ.” But it all comes down to the same thing for everyone of us. God made the promise, He fulfilled it in the person of Christ and He completes it in the presence of His Spirit, but we must BELIEVE. That is the message of Hebrews chapter eleven. Without faith it is impossible to please God, for He whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (11:6). So let me ask you, “Do you believe in Jesus as your Savior and Lord?” Have you come to the place where you have renounced any hope of eternal life in heaven apart from His death on the cross in payment for your sin? Let me attest to the fact that God is a promise keeper. When you truly trust in Him, He brings you life, real life that is both meaningful and eternal. The only thing He requires of us is to believe that Jesus’ death was enough to pay for our sin and that we, too, can receive the promise of His Holy Spirit to transform our lives.
Conclusion: Millions have seen Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc (pronounced “fuke”). On June 8, 1972, a napalm bomb was dropped on her village. Phuc, who was just nine-years-old at the time, ran crying from her hiding place in the village temple in Vietnam. Ut’s picture shows Phuc’s arms outstretched in terror and pain, skin flapping from her legs as she cried, “Nong qua! Nong qua!” (“Too hot! Too hot!”). Doctors said Kim would not survive, but after 14 months in the hospital—and 17 surgeries—she returned to her family. Despite the miraculous recovery, however, Kim was seldom free from pain and nightmares—and anger. “The anger inside me was like a hatred high as a mountain,” said Kim, “and my bitterness was black as old coffee. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal, because I was not normal. I wanted to die many times. Doctors helped heal my wounds, but they couldn’t heal my heart.” While spending time in a library, Kim found a Bible and began reading the New Testament. “The more I read, the more I felt confused,” said Kim. “I wondered which was true—my religion or the Bible.” Kim’s brother-in-law had a friend who was a Christian, so she arranged to see him with her list of questions. After they talked, the friend invited Kim to visit his church for a Christmas service. The end of the service was a turning point in Kim’s life. “I could not wait to trust the Lord,” Kim said. “[Jesus] helped me learn to forgive my enemies, and I finally had some peace in my heart. Now when I look at my scars or suffer pain, I’m thankful the Lord put his mark on my body to remind me that He is with me all the time.” That’s a great example of what happens when someone believes the promise made by God, fulfilled by Christ and completed by the Holy Spirit. He or she is never the same again.