Winston Churchill once visited the Harrow School, his Alma Mater, at the request of the school’s headmaster. After hearing some of the traditional songs, Churchill addressed the boys who were in attendance. And it was in the midst of this speech that he uttered the famed words,
His speech went on for several more paragraphs, but these are certainly the words that would have stuck with them the most.
I do believe that Churchill’s words should reverberate in our hearts and minds too, especially as they summarize the things we’ve been studying in the book of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews has been telling us, “Never give up, never give in, never, never, never give up on Christ.”
Today’s passage resounds with that refrain as well. These two verses call us once again to persevere in faith. And it shows us the depth of faith that we must demonstrate. And I want to challenge you today to never, never, never give up. Not even when the odds seem impossible, or when the methods seem irrational, or the dangers seem incredible; never give up.
That’s what you are called to here. Do not give up; not even when the odds seem impossible.
I. Despite what seems to be impossible odds
Our passage starts out by reminding us of an impossible situation. It talks about Jericho and how the Lord brought about a great victory there. And it reminds us that this victory came by faith. And it was one that could only come by faith because Jericho was essentially an impregnable city. It was utterly impossible for them to take this city.
Excavations have found that there were likely two sets of walls to the city, built on a mound. So you’d have one wall at the base of the mound, probably measuring 30-40 feet in height. Then there would be a steep embankment leading up to another wall, which was probably another 10-20 feet high. So, you could think of it as comparable to a 3-4 story building.
So here come these Israelites marching out with absolutely no siege works or any sort of machinery that could possibly allow them to break into this fortress. You have to think that this looked pretty silly. What in the world could these people do to the city? Absolutely nothing! Humanly speaking, the people in the city of Jericho would have been safe and sound in the stronghold of Jericho.
For all practical purposes, taking the city of Jericho was impossible. There was no chance that they could have a successful campaign, if it were merely up to their military might or know-how.
But we know how the story turned out. Those walls came crashing down. The pride of Jericho ended up becoming a heap of nothing. And it was all because the Lord determined to intervene.
That was the lesson that these Hebrew Christians needed to hear. They needed to be reminded that their God was able to do the impossible.
And that’s what we need to hear too! When we look around us what do we see? Everywhere we turn it seems like the odds are stacked against us. This marriage, can it be fixed? It probably seems impossible. Walls have been built that are sky high. How can it possibly be repaired? I don’t know if I have any faith that reconciliation could happen!
Our God tells us that it’s not impossible. He is the God of the impossible.
What about Christianity in America? Can it be revived? What are the odds? Everywhere you turn it seems like there’s some obstacle that’s been erected. We are on the brink of seeing gay marriage being given lawful status across the board. 4 out of 5 kids who grow up in Christian homes are leaving the faith. More and more people are declaring themselves to not have any religious affiliation. Of those who do call themselves Christians, there are relatively few who really have any kind of biblical worldview or may be said to be true believers. Along with our liberal clergy who’ve given up the gospel, we have hipster evangelical pastors who are too busy being cool to worry about the gospel. We have the blood of 55-60 million babies that we’ve killed dripping on our hands. Morality has basically been flushed down the toilet. And on top of that, Hilary Clinton has announced her candidacy for president of the United States. How in the world can the kingdom of God possibly grow or advance in this kind of atmosphere?
The odds were against England too in the 18th century. Many people don’t know that England as a nation might not exist today if it had not been for the revivals of the great awakening. A lot of people say that England was on the verge of revolution, much like France. The blood flowed in France as that nation devolved into revolution. Scholars say the same would have happened in England if God had not spared it. Let me read you a little about what it was like in England.
England, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, was in a moral quagmire and a spiritual cesspool. Thomas Carlyle described the country's condition as "Stomach well alive, soul extinct." Deism was rampant, and a bland, philosophical morality was standard fare in the churches. Sir William Blackstone visited the church of every major clergyman in London, but "did not hear a single discourse which had more Christianity in it than the writings of Cicero." In most sermons he heard, it would have been impossible to tell just from listening whether the preacher was a follower of Confucius, Mohammed, or Christ!
Morally, the country was becoming increasingly decadent. Drunkenness was rampant; gambling was so extensive that one historian described England as "one vast casino." Newborns were exposed in the streets; 97% of the infant poor in the workhouses died as children. Bear baiting and cock fighting were accepted sports, and tickets were sold to public executions as to a theater. The slave trade brought material gain to many while further degrading their souls. Bishop Berkeley wrote that morality and religion in Britain had collapsed "to a degree that was never known in any Christian country."
But you know what happened? The impossible happened. Guys like John Wesley and George Whitfield marched out and started preaching the gospel and, what do you know, revival broke out. The whole course of the nation was completely changed.
Our God is the God of the impossible. And even though the situation in which we find ourselves looks pretty dismal. Even if it looks like there is no chance that good can come of it, we need to remember that our God is in the business of tearing down the strongholds of Satan. And all we need to do is trust him for it.
Which brings us to the next point. You’ll notice that this verse we read says that the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. Don’t miss this. Because this teaches us a very important lesson about faith and the means God uses to accomplish his purposes.
Faith must persevere not just when the odds seem impossible, but also when the methods seem irrational.
II. Despite what seems to be irrational means
I just said that the Israelites probably looked really silly marching out against Jericho. I can’t stress this enough. Do you remember what God told them to do? God told them to march around the city for 7 days. On the seventh day they were to march around 7 times. Then they were to blow their trumpets and shout.
That was their strategy. It sounds rather foolish, doesn’t it? You can imagine the looks Joshua would have received when he came back to the elders of Israel and said, “Okay, this is the plan!” There’s no doubt, it is one of the most irrational attack plans ever conceived. How in the world did they think that anything could possibly be achieved by marching and horn blowing?
Perhaps they didn’t even know how it was all going to play out. What they knew is that God had told them that’s what they were to do, so they did it. These were the means God had laid out—as foolish as they were, and they believed that God would bless it and use it to accomplish His purposes.
And that’s the lesson we need to take to heart. We must persevere even when what God says seems to be completely nutty.
This is the way God operates. God blesses the foolish things of the world to bring to nothing the things that are lofty.
I just asked if we can fix broken marriages. Are we able to see God’s kingdom restored in America? Absolutely not. There’s absolutely no possible way, if we are not praying.
Oh, but prayer is so silly. You bow your head and you mumble a few words and—do you really think that real change can come through that? If we want to see people come to Christ and start attending church, what we really need is a better band. We need better music; something with a little flare to it. We need some lights and a little glitz. Then people will really start coming and then they’ll be lining the parking lot in order to follow Jesus.
That’s the way we think, isn’t it? But that’s not the way God works. He works through simple, foolish looking things. Things like preaching; things like sacraments; things like little groups that get together for bible study and prayer.
You know the dumbest thing God uses? It’s a dad; a dad who will sit down with his family and read the Bible together.
Do you know what Bible time in the Timmons house looks like? I bet some of you think that it is the most sacred and revered hour in the Timmons’ house. It’s not. It’s basically a sacred 10 minutes—and I use the word sacred sacrilegiously. We could eat our whole dinner in silence, but as soon as we get that Bible out—its like a legion of demons converges on my dining room table. The doorbell rings, the kids go wild, someone has to go to the bathroom, someone passes gas. It becomes the most boisterous, unruly point of the day.
And almost every time I think, “How in the world can God bless this?” I truly believe in miracles because God says that it’s through these times of discipleship that kids are nurtured in faith. It seems pretty foolish. It’s probably downright irrational to think that any real kind of education is happening there. But we do our best to read God’s word together and talk about it and have a time of prayer together—because we trust that God will somehow build his kingdom though it.
I’m sure it looks just as foolish as a bunch of men marching around a fortified city. Handing out a tract probably feels as silly as blowing a horn at a 50 foot wall. But that’s what God tells us to do because that’s how God chooses to work. He’s chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. And we are simply called to live by faith, and trust that he will accomplish what he has purposed to do.
God’s calling us to persevering faith. We are to persevere in faith even when the odds seem impossible and even when the methods seem irrational. And don’t miss what is said in verse 31. Because it tells us that we must persevere in faith even when the dangers seem incredible.
III. Despite what seems to be incredible dangers
Verse 31 talks about Rahab. It says that she “did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.”
That was a dangerous thing, wasn’t it? Do you know what could have happened to her if the people of Jericho found out that she had housed and hidden the spies? They would have killed her on the spot. They would have charged her with treason and strangled her right there.
Rahab took a huge risk in taking those guys in and she literally put her life in jeopardy.
Now some of you might be wondering about the ethics surrounding Rahab’s story. Rahab’s commendation here brings up the question regarding what ethicists call “the lie of necessity.”
Those of you who are familiar with the story know that the Jericho police came to her door and demanded to know where the men were. And she lied to them. She told them that they had gone out of the city, when in fact they were hiding on her rooftop. Now-a-days we call this the lie of necessity because people will say that it was necessary to lie under these conditions.
Well, there are a variety of views on that. Some say that it was wrong and it is never right to lie. They’ll say that it was Rahab’s faith that is commended, and not her actions. And even though her faith wasn’t perfect, she still believed in the God of Israel.
There are others who would say that what she did was not wrong. They say that not all lying is forbidden, just like not all killing is forbidden. Scripture requires us to put certain criminals to death and when we are involved in a just war we can kill and not be culpable for it.
Similarly, some say that not all lying is forbidden. This view though deals specifically with the intent of lying. The commandment at its core deals with the protection and preservation of someone's reputation & good name. In other words, the lies that God forbids are ones that are malicious. And the lie that Rahab told was not malicious in its intent. It was intended to protect the person.
No matter what view you take though, there is one thing on which we all can agree: Rahab’s faith and her subsequent welcome of these men, was dangerous. It was unbelievably dangerous. She really stuck her neck out for these guys.
But Rahab was willing to run that risk. Why? It’s because she knew something about the God of Israel!
She was willing to risk her life for them because she feared the God more than the Jericho Gestapo. She put a higher value on the God of Israel than she did with her own life. She believed that the Lord was the true God and was willing to serve him in whatever capacity she could, no matter how risky it might be to do so.
And like Rahab, we must trust that God’s ways are the best ways, no matter how dangerous they may appear to be.
Listen to what Matthew Henry says on this verse, “Faith will venture all hazards in the cause of God and his people; a true believer will sooner expose his own person than God's interest and people.”
And what comes as a result of persevering faith? It’s deliverance. Rahab didn’t perish because of her faith. And the same is true for us. What does Jesus say? “Whoever denies me before me, I also will deny him before my Father in heaven. And whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my father.” What’s he talking about there? He’s talking about faith; a faith that will persevere; a faith that sees danger and remains strong; a faith that is rewarded with deliverance.
Jesus is teaching us the same lessons we learn from Rahab: Never give up, not even in the face of incredible danger. Believe in Christ and know that he can bring about the impossible. No matter how irrational it sounds, trust in Jesus and see the Lord’s salvation.
You know that we do not have Gladiatorial games anymore. But about 1500 years ago thousands upon thousands of people crowded into the Roman coliseum in order to watch people butcher each other right there before their eyes. That horrific event occurred almost on a daily basis. No sooner had one man’s blood was spilt, that another set of gladiators stepped into the arena.
And the people loved it. They yearned for it. 50-80,000 people packed into that stadium, demanding to see the next slaying. This vile thing was embedded in their culture and it would seem impossible to stop this kind of thing. But you understand, it did stop. And legend has it that it stopped by faith.
Historians say that one day a little monk named Telemicus traveled to Rome. Telemicus was a man who lived a quiet life in the country, but something brought him to Rome. And when he got there, he found himself swept along by the crowds who were heading off to the games. He followed them, wondering what was so utterly important that drew all these people.
Telemicus did not know that these people were on their way to the weekly bloodletting. When he got there, he was horrified at what he saw. The barbarity of the gladiators attacking one another shocked his senses. Man had been made in the image of God, and this vicious savagery had to stop.
Just then one of the gladiators fell to the ground. The other stood over him waiting for the crowd’s signal. They erupted in riotous cheers and gestured for the gladiator to finish him off.
Telemicus sprang from his seat, down the steps and into the arena. Despite the danger he thrust himself between the two gladiators and cried out, “In the name of Christ, forbear!” The gladiator threw him aside, but he scrambled back and cried out “In the name of Christ, forbear!” They cast him aside gain, and he returned a third time with the same words.
Finally, the commander’s order rang out. The gladiator’s sword flashed, and Telemicus’ body slumped to the sandy floor. At that a hush fell over the crowd, which had moments before been uproarious in their fanaticism. They now sat in complete silence. Then, one by one, the people began to leave the stadium. And remarkably, from that point on, there was never another gladiatorial contest held in Rome.
And it all happened because one country bumpkin monk believed in Christ and was willing to stand for him, even if it seemed completely irrational.
That is the faith to which God calls us. May we not shrink back from danger, but may we live by faith in the God of the impossible.
 Severance, Dianna. Evangelical Revival in America
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.