New Testament Believers: Something Better for Us

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Hebrews 11:39-40

INTRODUCTION: This is the last message in our series on “Growing in Faith” taken from Hebrews 11. I hope you have enjoyed working your way through this series as much as I have enjoyed preparing and presenting it.

But more than just enjoying it, I hope that you have truly benefited from it. In just another thirty minutes we will have completed an in-depth study on probably the most important chapter in the entire Bible dealing with the topic of faith. And my two-fold prayer as we’ve studied this chapter together has been 1) that each of us would better understand true Biblical faith, and 2) that we would all grow in our own personal faith as followers of Christ.

You will find an insert in your bulletin with the complete outline of the series. I would encourage you to tuck that away somewhere, or if you have a notebook in which you take notes, to put it there. I would also encourage you this week to take some time to re-read Hebrews 11, one section at a time with the outline by your side, and to reflect on these great truths of biblical faith that we have explored together in the past weeks. We have invested a lot of time in this chapter, and a little extra effort at the end to prayerfully review what God has taught you will be well worth it.

Let’s look at verses 39-40 now, the final verses in the chapter. (Read Hebrews 11:39-40 and pray.)

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There are some situations in life where the old is better than the new. For example, when it comes to a piece of finely crafted furniture or certain musical instruments, many times the older, handcrafted pieces are far superior in quality to the newer, cheaper pieces coming off the assembly line. And then there are other situations where the newer items are superior to the old. For example, most of you with computers would probably not want to trade in your newest model for the one you had ten or even twenty years ago. My first computer back in the 1980’s didn’t even have a hard drive. You had to switch back and forth between two floppy discs to make it work. When it comes to computers, newer is definitely better.

Hebrews 11 has been talking about faith and has gone back to the Old Testament for examples of true biblical faith. These have been wonderful examples, and we have learned much from the faith of Old Testament persons such as Abraham, Isaac and Moses. But these last two verses in the chapter move us from the faith experience of Old Testament believers to that of New Testament believers. And in doing so, Hebrews 11 emphatically states that, as wonderful and inspiring as Old Testament faith was, New Testament faith is even better.

This was important to the original readers of Hebrews because, as we have stated several times in our study on this chapter, many of them were tempted to abandon Christianity and return to Judaism. They were tempted to leave New Testament faith behind and return to Old Testament faith. And the writer of Hebrews 11 says that would be a huge mistake. Although there is much we can learn from Old Testament faith, New Testament faith is vastly superior in every way.

This is important for us to understand as well, seeing as we live in New Testament times. So, why is New Testament faith better than Old Testament faith? This morning we will look at three reasons why New Testament faith is better.

I. Old Testament believers were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive the promise (39)

The first reason is this: Old Testament believers were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive the promise. Let’s look at verse 39 together: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.” (Hebrews 11:39)

   A. Old Testament believers were commended for their faith
      – Hebrews 11:4-38

When Hebrews 11 says that these were all commended for their faith, that phrase, “these all,” refers to the whole list of Old Testament persons of faith that we have been studying over the past weeks: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, the judges, David, Samuel and the prophets. (Hebrews 11:4-38) At the beginning of the chapter Abel and Enoch were specifically mentioned as “commended.” Now verse 39 clarifies that all those listed in Hebrews 11 were commended for their faith. The author repeats here what he said at the very beginning of the chapter, that this is what the ancients were commended for, namely, their faith.

When we first looked at that word “commended” back in verse two, we saw that it means “to be given a good report.” Remember, none of these Old Testament believers were perfect. They all had many faults and failings in various subject areas, but they all got good grades when it came to their faith. God commended them. God gave them a good report for their faith, even to the point of including their names here in Hebrews 11, which is sort of a Dean’s List or Honor Roll of Faith.

There is a great variety in the list of persons found here in Hebrews 11. Some were wealthy, others poor. Most were Jewish, although Rahab was a Gentile. Men and women are both mentioned. As we saw last week some experienced great victories while others experienced great suffering. And yet, faith is the common bond that ties all these people together in one list. They all had faith, and they all were commended by God for their faith.

This is such an important principle for us to grasp here. Faith and love are what matter most to God. Other people in the world may judge you on the basis of your job, your clothes, your home or your car, but none of those things will last past this lifetime. Your faith has eternal value, and God will richly reward you for your faith throughout all of eternity. Hebrews 11:39 tells us: “These were all commended for their faith.” (Hebrews 11:39)

   B. Yet none of them lived to see the coming of Jesus the Messiah
      – Hebrews 11:13,33,39

Verse 39 goes on to say, however, that “none of them received what had been promised.” We peeked ahead at this phrase a couple weeks ago when we were studying verse 33 which speaks of the heroes of the faith who “gained what was promised.”

We learned then that there are actually three different verses in Hebrews 11 which speak of the Old Testament believers as either receiving or not receiving what was promised. Verse 13 says: “They did not receive the things promised.” Verse 33 says: “They gained what was promised.” And verse 39 here says: “None of them received what was promised.”

So why all the differences here? Did they receive the promises or didn’t they? What we need to understand is that these three verses are talking about three different things. We learned that verse 13 refers to the patriarchs who lived in the Promised Land as strangers while they waited for God’s promise of the land to be fulfilled. They died still waiting in faith because God had promised to give the land to their descendants, not to them personally.

In verse 33 the phrase translated “what was promised” is actually the word “promises,” in the plural. Verse 33 refers to the many promises that God fulfilled to his people which they gained through faith. Noah and his family were saved from the flood, Abraham received his promised son, Isaac, and so on.

In verse 33 the word promise was in the plural. But here in verse 39 the word promise is in the singular. Here in verse 39 it does not refer to the many Old Testament promises God made to his people along the way, but to the one promise, the main overarching promise of the whole Old Testament, the coming of the Messiah. The ultimate promise of the Old Testament was none other than the coming of Jesus Christ. And not one of these Old Testament heroes of faith lived to see that promise fulfilled. They all died before the coming of Christ.

So that’s the first reason why New Testament faith is better than Old Testament faith. Old Testament believers were commended for their faith, yet they did not receive the promise.

II. God planned something better for us in the New Testament (40a)

That brings us to the second reason why New Testament faith is better than Old Testament faith. God planned something better for us in the New Testament. Look at the beginning of verse 40 now, where it says exactly that: “God had planned something better for us.” (Hebrews 11:40) The word “they” back in verse 39 refers to Old Testament believers. The word “us” here in verse 40 refers to New Testament believers. God planned something better for us in the New Testament, and that something was the coming of Jesus into the world.

Verse 40 says that God “planned” this something better for us. The word translated “planned” here is a word which means “to foresee or to provide.” That tells us that when God “planned” something better for us, he foresaw our need for a Savior, and he provided that Savior through the giving of his own Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that God planned this long before the time of the Old Testament, even before the creation of the world. From before the beginning of time God planned and provided something better for us: the coming of his Son, Jesus, into the world to be a Savior for mankind.

   A. Things are better now that Jesus has come
      – Hebrews 1:4, 6:9, 7:19, 7:22, 8:6, 9:23, 10:34, 11:16, 11:35, 12:24

The word translated “better” here in verse 40 is used eighteen times in the New Testament. Fourteen of those eighteen times are right here in the book of Hebrews. This concept of “things being better in Christ” is one of the major themes of the whole book of Hebrews. Hebrews is full of examples of how things are better now that Jesus has come.

Here is a list of some of the “something betters” that you find in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 1:4 speaks of Christ as being better than the angels. Hebrews 6:9 speaks of a better salvation. Hebrews 7:19 speaks of a better hope. Hebrews 7:22 speaks of a better covenant. Hebrews 8:6 speaks of better promises. Hebrews 9:23 speaks of a better sacrifice. Hebrews 10:34 speaks of better and lasting possessions. Hebrews 11:16 speaks of a better country. Hebrews 11:35 speaks of a better resurrection. Hebrews 12:24 describes the sprinkled blood of Jesus “that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:24)

1:4 – better than the angels
6:9 – a better salvation
7:19 – a better hope
7:22 – a better covenant
8:6 – better promises
9:23 – a better sacrifice
10:34 – better and lasting possessions
11:16 – a better country
11:35 – a better resurrection
12:24 – a better word

The point is this. Things are better now that Jesus has come. Through Christ God has provided a better sacrifice, a better salvation, better promises and a better hope.

   B. The Old Testament believers longed for these better days
      – 1 Peter 1:10-12

The Bible tells us how the Old Testament believers longed for these better days of the New Testament. We read in 1 Peter about the prophets who searched intently to discern the time and circumstances of Christ’s coming and the salvation he would bring: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.” (1 Peter 1:10-12)

The entire Old Testament looks forward to the New Testament, and in Old Testament times prophets and angels alike searched longingly for the clues to Christ’s coming.

You know, we look back at this list of Old Testament heroes in Hebrews 11, and we marvel. These are the giants of the faith in the Old Testament. We look at what they did and accomplished through their faith, and we wonder if we could ever measure up. And yet as wonderful as their faith was, not one of them received what had been promised. Not one of them lived to see the coming of Christ into the world. And no matter how great their faith was, none of it mattered apart from the coming of Christ.

And so that’s the second reason why New Testament faith is better than Old Testament faith. We are privileged to live in New Testament times, because God planned something better for us in the coming of Jesus.

III. Old Testament believers are not complete without New Testament believers (40b)

And then, there is a third reason why New Testament faith is better than Old Testament faith. Old Testament believers are not complete without New Testament believers. Look at verse 40 with me again: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:40)

   A. Old Testament faith looked forward to the time of Christ
      – Hebrews 10:1

Old Testament believers are not complete without New Testament believers. The phrase translated “made perfect” in verse 40 is a word that means “to make perfect or complete; to accomplish the goal.” Old Testament faith – as wonderful and inspiring as it was, as much as we can learn from it concerning growing in our own faith – was still not complete in and of itself. It did not fully accomplish the goal. Old Testament faith looked forward to the time of Christ and would only be made perfect or complete in Christ.

Remember, the book of Hebrews was written to Jews who had become Christians who were being persecuted for their faith and thus were tempted to return to Judaism. But verse 40 tells us that Judaism is not complete by itself. The whole purpose of Judaism was to prepare the world for Christ. As Hebrews 10:1 says, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves.” (Hebrews 10:1)

The law was the shadow. The reality is found in Christ. Now that Christ has come, Judaism is obsolete. It only becomes complete in Christ. That’s why Jews who become Christians often refer to themselves as “completed” Jews rather than “converted” Jews. Together with us they have been completed or made perfect in Christ.

   B. New Testament faith rests on the finished work of Christ
      – Romans 3:24, 4:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21

Old Testament faith was wonderful, but New Testament faith is so much better. Old Testament faith laid the foundation, but New Testament faith built the house. Old Testament believers were credited with righteousness in advance (Romans 3:25; Romans 4:3), but New Testament believers have the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. That means we are given, we are actually infused with the righteousness of Christ. As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21 concerning Jesus: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Old Testament faith was forward looking. It looked forward to the time of Christ. New Testament faith is both backward and forward looking. We look back to the finished work of Christ on the cross which has accomplished our salvation, and we look forward to the second coming of Christ when God will establish his kingdom.

This third reason why New Testament faith is better than Old Testament faith is amazing. Think about it! Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses: they all needed us. We needed them to help point us to Christ, but they needed us before their faith could be made complete. We are part of their story, and they are part of ours.

Old Testament heroes of faith and New Testament believers in Christ are all one family together in Jesus Christ. New Testament faith is better than Old Testament faith, because Old Testament believers are not complete without New Testament believers.

CONCLUSION: So, what does this all mean? It means that because Christ has come, we who live in the time of the New Testament have certain privileges and blessings that the Old Testament believers never experienced. We looked at some of these already in the list of “betters” in the book of Hebrews: a better hope, better promises, a better salvation now that Christ has come. Why are all these things better? Let me give you two reasons in closing.

   1) We have a better revelation of God in Christ
      – John 14:8-9; Hebrews 1:1-2

One reason these things are better is because we have a better revelation of God in Christ. We read in Hebrews 1: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2) God revealed much about himself to those in the Old Testament, but we have a much fuller revelation of God given to us in Jesus.

When Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Lord, show us the Father,” Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8-9) When you look at Jesus in the gospels, you see God.

   2) We have a better relationship with God through Christ
      – John 14:23

And then, secondly, these things are better because we have a better relationship with God through Christ. Because of Jesus God has sent his Holy Spirit to live within us and to be with us forever. Jesus said in John 14:23: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23) What does it mean to love Christ and to obey his teaching? It means to place your faith in Jesus as Savior and to live that faith out in love for God and Christ.

Why does all this matter? We saw that it mattered to the original readers because they were tempted to go back to Judaism. But Christ has come, and Christianity is infinitely better than Judaism because Christ has come. Old Testament faith is incomplete without New Testament faith.

It matters to us because Jesus makes all the difference. If you have never placed your faith in Jesus Christ before, then God has something better for you. Nothing is better in life, nothing is more important in life than knowing God through Jesus Christ.

It also matters to us because to whom much has been given much is required. Those in the Old Testament were commended for their faith. They lived exemplary lives of faith before God even without the full revelation of Christ that we have. How much more should we live lives of faith that are pleasing to God now that Christ has come?

John Calvin put it this way: “If those on whom the great light of grace had not yet shone showed such surpassing constancy in bearing their ills, what effect ought the full glory of the gospel to have on us? A tiny spark of light led them to heaven; but now that the Sun of righteousness shines on us, what excuse shall we offer if we still cling to the earth?”

We who have the greater privilege, we who have something better, we who have Jesus – we have an even greater responsibility to live a life of faith than those of the Old Testament.

Of course, all of this is only possible because of the better sacrifice Jesus made for you and for me. Anyone here want to go back to the old days of sacrificing bulls and goats and lambs? Of course not! Jesus is the better sacrifice. He made one sacrifice of himself for all sins for all times at the cross.

The overall application for Hebrews chapter 11 is found in the very next words of Scripture, the first two verses of Hebrews chapter 12 which says this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We have learned a lot about faith from these Old Testament heroes. Now it is time to put it all into practice as we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

© Ray Fowler

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