A police exam read: You are on patrol in outer London when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street. On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van lying nearby. Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants—a man and a woman—are injured. You recognise the woman as the wife of your Divisional Inspector, who is at present away in the USA. A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you realise that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery. Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent. Another man is crying for help, having been blown into an adjacent canal by the explosion, and he cannot swim.
Bearing in mind the provisions of the Mental Health Act, describe in a few words what actions you would take. The officer thought for a moment, picked up his pen, and wrote: ’I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.’
What would you do in the circumstances? This message is about what we do when we face the impossible. Let’s remind ourselves for the reasons behind this great chapter we have been considering. Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who like us had never seen or heard Jesus themselves. After initial progress it seems that they had stopped making progress and seemed to be slipping back into Judaism. Being a Christian in the Roman world was harder than being Jewish which enjoyed certain privileges. Since their conversion they had been exposed to persecution – public abuse, imprisonment, looting of their property – but as yet they had not been called upon to die for their faith. So their faith was being put to the test. Chapter 11 is an encouragement to keep trusting God in their difficult circumstances. In the next 3 examples we see the response of faith in impossible circumstances.
1. God allows his people to face impossible situations
How did the Israelites get to the Red Sea – God brought them there. How did they get to Jericho – God brought them there. Why? Because God had a great purpose in it. He wanted to show his power. God allows his people to face impossible situations ultimately for his glory and to work out his purpose. These Hebrew Christians were being reminded that they were not the first or the last to face difficult even impossible circumstances. That relates to us very clearly - Are there ‘impossible’ circumstances in my life God is allowing for His own purposes? Do we find ourselves hemmed in by circumstances/enemies, obstacles/barriers, and problems? Got any rivers you think are uncrossable, got any mountains you can’t tunnel through? In the end God is God, he does what he thinks is right, he doesn’t act according to our comfort or convenience. He acts in accordance with his own perfect purpose. We sometimes think that as Christians that the universe could be ordered for our convenience. It is ordered for our ultimate glory, and heaven I believe is a jolly nice place. But in the meantime God allows us to face the impossible. It may be an incurable disease, it may be a situation where it seems that there is not let-up, there is no way out.
But God specialises in things thought impossible. Look at what happens at the Red Sea and then at Jericho. People have suggested various natural phenomena to explain these, including earthquakes etc. That’s fine, but it was God who did it whatever it was! God may use natural or supernatural means to bring about his purpose. The point is that God can deal with the impossible we can’t. This is where faith comes in. When you face the impossible all that is left to you is faith… and panic – sometimes a bit of both!
2. Trust God’s purpose
Look at what the Israelites faced at the Red Sea. Moses assured them that God would act on their behalf even though they could not see how. They could have responded “come on Moses, give it up, it’s been a nice trip, we’ve had a holiday by the Red Sea, it’s over!” But they didn’t do that, they went forward as Moses said, they trusted God’s purpose, that it wasn’t all going to end for them at the Red Sea, even though it seemed impossible, now way out. What does that say to us? Trust God’s purpose in your life and in those that you love. Trust him with our fate, our destiny. Like the Israelites between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, let’s just do what God says. Look what God did! Sometimes we just have to trust him; things are beyond our ability or control, let God step in. Sometimes we just have to step back and be amazed at what God can do. If you are in the middle of one of those situations you may not know what God will do. He may heal, he may provide – but he will work out his purpose. I have been impressed again by the example of Joni Eareckson who in 1967 when 17 dived in Chesapeake Bay, breaking her neck and since has been a quadriplegic. She has said, “Today as I look back I am convinced that the whole ordeal of my paralysis was inspired by God’s love. I wasn’t the brunt of some cruel divine joke. God had reasons behind my suffering and learning some of them has made all the difference in the world”. It took time for there to come to that point, but she learned to trust God’s purpose. It’s far more than simply hoping for the best, it is a firm belief that the best will come in whatever shape or form God chooses to bring, but it will come. But what God is doing by giving the impossible to face is a great opportunity for his power and glory to shine through us. So trust his purpose, not just any purpose but his loving purpose.
3. Obey God’s instructions
The Israelites did this at the Red Sea but it is more obvious here at Jericho. God brought his people to an impregnable fortress, an impossible obstacle. Note that there is a gap of 40 years for after the Red Sea the wanderings are a time of unbelief. Even people who have once expressed faith can lapse into unbelief. Imagine how they felt at Jericho. They must have been sick to death of blowing trumpets – what a ridiculous thing to do. They may have thought, “Moses wouldn’t have had us doing something so stupid!” How they must have groaned at the instructions for the 7th day – march 7 times around the city! But key to the walls of Jericho falling was the obedience of the Israelites. Once again the author of Hebrews is saying that faith and obedience are the two sides of the same coin. The relevance of this is that we need to keep doing what God says, keep doing what you know is right, keep following and trusting. There may be times when that might seem futile. On days 2-6 the novelty of marching round the city must have worn off! But it is continuing to obey that is so often necessary. Continuing to pray, continuing to read the bible, continuing to witness, continuing to give, continuing to serve and be faithful. Keep on obeying, don’t give up, never give up. Because when God is ready the breakthrough will come. When we do that we will find that faith wins impossible victories
4. Believe in God’s ability
Rahab the prostitute, though she was a prostitute and pagan not only saw that God was with the Israelites but in her willingness to join them, to risk being a traitor to her own people – showed faith that made her famous. There was no human reason to believe that the Lord would give Jericho over to the Israelites. But Rahab did believe and risked her life to protect the Israelite spies. The message for the readers of Hebrews & for us is clear again. They & we have more reason to believe that God will fulfil his promise to us than Rahab had to believe God would give Jericho to Israel. She had risked her life on her confident trust in the Lord how much more should we be prepared to trust God with ours? What are we being challenged to believe even though there may be little evidence of it yet? We can be confident in God’s ability to deliver on what he has promised. Faith believes the impossible will happen, before it happens. God calls us to believe that the impossible will take place even though we see no current evidence for it. Rahab challenges us to trust in God’s ability now, not after the fact wishing that we had.
Got any rivers you think are uncrossable, any mountains you can’t tunnel through? Well God specializes in the impossible. We need to trust his purpose, obey his instructions and be faithful and believe in his ability.