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The Thrill of Victory and Agony of Defeat

Hebrews 11:32-40

In 1994, two different missionaries came to our church and asked us to pray for colleagues who had been taken hostage on the field. We began to pray for the release of Ray Rising with Wycliffe Translators and Mark Rich, Dave Mankins, and Rick Tennenoff with New Tribes Mission. After 810 days of captivity, Ray was set free and returned home to his family. On the other hand, we learned just this year that Mark, Dave, and Rick gave their lives for Christ in the jungle back in 1996. Why did things turn out so differently for these men when they were equally committed to serving Christ?

Our passage, the closing summary of the Hall of Faith chapter in Hebrews 11, helps us to answer that question. As the chapter closes, the writer is like a preacher who realizes that it's fifteen minutes to noon and he's only finished the first point of his sermon. Hebrews 11 reviews the great examples of faith from the Old Testament, but at the close of Hebrews 11:31, the author has only made it to the story of Joshua and the conquest. He has to hurry to finish the story, but in his hurry, the writer gives us an important perspective on faith. He reminds us that faith can have two very different outcomes in our lives.

He reminds us first of all that: Faith has enabled God's people to experience great victories (Hebrews 11:32-35).

Faith in God is what enables us to enjoy life's greatest victories. Faith has given God's people great victories by helping them to overcome overwhelming odds (Hebrews 11:32). Before the NCAA basketball tournament this spring, USA Today listed the odds of winning for every team in the tournament. The odds of the University of Hawaii winning were 5,000 to one; the University of Montana a billion to one; and poor Alcorn State, 10 trillion to one. The point here is that God's people have come out winners when the odds against them were of Alcorn State proportions.

Hebrews 11:32 gives us six names. Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, and Samson are representative of the judges, David the kings, and Samuel the prophets. One common denominator for these six is that they all overcame major odds at some point in their lives. Gideon destroyed the mighty Midianites with a fighting force of 300 men armed only with trumpets, torches, and clay pots. Samson pulled down the temple of Dagon when he was a has-been who had lost his strength. Jephthah became a leader in Israel even though his own family had disowned him. David defeated Goliath when he was a bigger underdog than Alcorn State. Faith overcomes overwhelming odds because God isn't limited by percentages and probabilities.

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