32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:32-40)
Gideon looked out across the field and saw 135,000 Midianite soldiers camped against him. He looked behind him and saw only 32,000 Israelites. Do you like those odds? 135,000 vs. 32,000? God didn’t. Know what he told Gideon? “You have too many men for me” (Judges 7:2). “Too many man, God?” Yes! So God whittled Gideon’s army down to 300. 300 against 135,000. Just one more thing: Those 300 soldiers with Gideon didn’t have any weapons. Just trumpets, torches and clay jars. Sound good? Well, those 300 surrounded the 135,000 in the middle of the night. At Gideon’s command, they smashed their jars and blew their trumpets. God threw the Midianite army into confusion. They attacked each other. 120,000 died, and the rest fled. A huge victory! Today is All Saints Day, and Gideon was one of them. God does great things through his saints!
Like Barak. Heard of him? Even before the days of Gideon, a different army oppressed the Israelites. The Canaanites had 900 iron chariots. Can you imagine being a soldier with an iron chariot racing at you? Barak had a little army of 10,000 men against this huge army of tanks. What chance did he have? But God said, “Go!” As the battle started, God pulled a “Green Bay.” He made it rain a lot! The little Kishon River flooded the battlefield. How good are chariots in mud and muck? Useless. Barak’s army killed every single opposing soldier. A huge victory! It’s All Saints Day, and Barak was one of them. God does great things through his saints!
I bet many of you have heard of Samson. He had incredible strength, as long as he didn’t cut his hair. Samson once ripped a lion apart with his bare hands. Samson killed 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. How is that even possible? Once Samson was in an enemy city. So, in the middle of the night, he simply picked up the entire gate of the city and carried it away… It’s too bad Halloween is over, because these would be great costume ideas! In his final act, Samson pushed down a great stone temple filled with Philistine leaders. A huge victory! It’s All Saints Day, and Samson was one of them. Like a superhero. God does great things through his saints!
Isn’t this cool? The Bible is filled with so many heroes. We could go on and on… It’s easy as a Christian to feel alone or insignificant. That couldn’t be further from the truth! As a believer in God, you are connected to the greatest heroes ever! God’s people have “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.” God does great things through his saints. Like Christian superheroes!
Except they weren’t. Do you know what Gideon did when he got back from defeating those 135,000 Midianites? He took gold from the plunder and made an idol. That idol led his family and the Israelites away from God. Huh? With Barak, I skipped a lot of details. Barak was too scared to fight. He refused to lead. So God raised up a woman—Deborah—to lead as he should have. Deborah had to push Barak to do his job. Samson? He seemed to love sex way more than God. He committed adultery every chance he got. We hear that “saints” are super good people. That we should emulate them or pray to them. These guys weren’t. These saints were sinners!
So how can they be on this list of heroes? Because of one little phrase: “Through faith.” Their goodness didn’t come from them. That’s why it’s foolish to pray to or worship people. When the Bible describes the saints in heaven, it doesn’t say, “This guy won a big battle,” or “This woman converted the most people.” It says, “These are they who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14). It’s Jesus who takes sinners and makes them into saints. A saint is any sinner who’s been washed in the blood of Jesus. That’s why it says, “These were all commended for their faith.” Gideon. Barak. Samson. “Through faith.”
The truth is, for every believer in God who’s accomplished great things by faith, there are way more believers whose lives don’t seem special at all. Our lesson continues: “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated… They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” God’s saints—believers—have suffered great things.
That makes me think of the prophet Jeremiah. God had him write the longest book in the Bible—Jeremiah. He served for more than 40 years under five different kings of Judah. Over those 40 years, every time Jeremiah spoke, no one listened to him. The kings would call him to come and tell them messages from God. When Jeremiah would tell them the truth, they rejected him—over and over again. He was mocked and beaten and thrown in dry wells and put in prison and dragged here and dragged there. Even when his prophecies came true, everyone refused to believe. “Jeers and flogging…chains and imprisonment.” God’s saints suffer great things.
Do you know the story of the priest Zechariah? When he saw King Joash turn away from God, he said to him, “Why do you disobey the LORD’s commands? You will not prosper” (2 Chronicles 24:20). So they stoned Zechariah to death in the temple. I bet you’ve heard the name Isaiah. God gave Isaiah the clearest prophecies about Jesus. Great, right? Tradition says Isaiah was sawed in two. How about John the Baptist? Jesus once said, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). You’d expect great things! Except, John was beheaded. Those are the saints! “They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.” God’s saints suffer great things.
These saints looked nothing like God’s dearly loved people. Far from being heroes, it looked like they were the most God-forsaken people on earth! Can you imagine what temptations must have come their way when their lives were so difficult and troubling? If you were Jeremiah and faced constant rejection for 40 years, what would you be tempted to say? “What’s the point? Why bother? It isn’t worth it!” If you were John the Baptist, waiting to be beheaded, what would you be tempted to say? “God didn’t come through. It’s hopeless.” God’s saints suffer great things.
I bet you know that. How often don’t we struggle in life and wonder if this “Jesus stuff” is really worth it? Can you see how the devil tempts us on two sides? When we by faith accomplish something good, we praise ourselves, instead of giving the credit to God. When we by faith suffer, we despair of everything, instead of trusting in God. If the devil can’t get you to trust in yourself, he’ll convince you to trust in nobody. If the devil can’t get you to be proud, he’ll throw you into despair, which is just as much a sin as pride is. They were “destitute, persecuted and mistreated…” Those saints seemed like the most worthless people on earth. Ever feel that way?
Sometimes your feelings are wrong. Here’s what God says: “The world was not worthy of them…” Wow! As these faithful believers faced daily mistreatment and suffering, they must have been tempted to think they were worthless or unworthy. The opposite was true. The world wasn’t worthy of them. That’s why they were mistreated! The world wasn’t worthy of them. When the world rejected them and their faith in God, the problem wasn’t them. It was the world. The world wasn’t worthy of them. Can you believe that God could say that about people? He does!
God calls these people saints, even though they were sinful. God calls them worthy, even when they were rejected. How does that make sense? Only when you look at Jesus and his death for us on the cross. With our God, salvation and suffering are so intricately tied together. There is victory even in what looks like the greatest defeat. There is forgiveness for even the greatest sin. Your worth—your worthiness—comes from Jesus. Even if you’re as great as Gideon, your worth doesn’t come from your achievements. Even if you’re as ridiculed as Jeremiah, your worth isn’t limited by all your sufferings. Your worth—your worthiness—comes from Jesus. Remember who a saint is? A sinner who’s been washed and saved in the blood of Jesus. Through faith.
This is the paradox of the life of faith. God promises great blessings for those who believe. God promises great hardships for those who believe. In both, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). How do you conquer kingdoms? By faith in Jesus. How do you shut the mouths of lions? By faith in Jesus. How do you overcome your fears? By faith in Jesus. How do you stand up for what God says? By faith in Jesus. How do you make it to heaven? By faith in Jesus! God enables his people to do great things by faith!
But how do you overcome jeers and mocking? By faith in Jesus. How do you face persecution? By faith in Jesus. How do you keep speaking the truth, even when it’s constantly rejected? By faith in Jesus. How do you persevere? By faith in Jesus. Sometimes the great thing that God enables his people to do is to suffer great things. It takes God’s strength for saints to persevere. “The world was not worthy of them.” The world wasn’t their hope. “Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). The world was not worthy of them!
But there’s one thing all the saints—all the believers—of the past still need: You! The story of the “saints” isn’t complete without you. Listen: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” The Bible calls the Christian church a body. A body isn’t whole without all of its parts. The list of the heroes of faith isn’t complete without you. Heaven isn’t complete without you. Gideon and Barak and Samson are all up there, but it’s incomplete without you. Because just like with them, God’s taken a sinner and made you into a saint whom God is using to accomplish great things. Just don’t be surprised if the greatest thing God accomplishes in you is allowing you to persevere through suffering. That’s what saints do. Through faith. You’re not home yet, but one day you will be. The world is not worthy of you!