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What kind of people does God use to accomplish His work?
Far from the children’s tales depicted in picture books and nursery rhymes, the men and women highlighted in the Bible were unnervingly real. They faltered. They struggled. And at times, they fell short. Yet God worked through them in surprising and incredible ways to accomplish His purposes. Scripture does not hide their weaknesses, caricature their strengths, or spin their stories as a display of human nobility. Instead,...
What kind of people does God use to accomplish His work?
Far from the children’s tales depicted in picture books and nursery rhymes, the men and women highlighted in the Bible were unnervingly real. They faltered. They struggled. And at times, they fell short. Yet God worked through them in surprising and incredible ways to accomplish His purposes. Scripture does not hide their weaknesses, caricature their strengths, or spin their stories as a display of human nobility. Instead, it describes these heroes of the faith with unflinching honesty and delivers an unexpected ending: “God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16).
In Twelve Unlikely Heroes, pastor and best-selling author John MacArthur uses his deep knowledge of the Bible and history to take us back to see these three-dimensional men and women in their own times and cultures. In doing so, it becomes clear how their dramatic stories apply to us today. People who might at first seem foreign quickly become familiar and unforgettable—particularly as they reveal the true Hero behind every witness, the power counterbalancing every weakness, “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1).
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Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. —Genesis 5:24
Some heroes are made in a moment. Others are defined by a lifetime. Such was certainly true of the fourth-century Christian leader, Athanasius, whose heroism was demonstrated over many decades by his unwavering refusal to compromise even when it seemed that all the world stood united against him.
Athanasius ministered in Alexandria, Egypt, during a time of epic transition within the Roman Empire. Emperor Constantine had recently put an end to the imperial policy of persecution against Christians. The church's newfound acceptance and rest, however, was short-lived. Danger and controversy soon threatened because of the subversive errors of a false teacher named Arius. At stake was no less than the biblical understanding of the deity of Christ and, consequently, the doctrine of the Trinity.
The truth about Christ's deity had always been an essential doctrine for the church, from the time of the apostles. But the heretic Arius arrogantly challenged that reality—brashly asserting that the Son of God was merely a created being who was inferior rather than equal to God the Father. To make a modern comparison, Arius was the original Jehovah's Witness. He denied the deity of Christ and consequently destroyed the true gospel, replacing it with a damning substitute. Though his views were overwhelmingly denounced at the Council of Nicaea in 325, they remained popular even after his death in 336.
As early as 321, Athanasius (then only twenty-three years old) began writing against the false teachings of Arius. Seven years later, in 328, he became the pastor of the church in Alexandria—one of the most influential cities in the Roman Empire. Appropriately known as "the saint of stubbornness," Athanasius tirelessly dedicated his life and ministry to defending the deity of Christ and defeating the Arian heresy. But that courageous stand proved costly. The Arians were not only popular, they also had powerful political allies. Even Satan was on their side. As a result, Athanasius's life was constantly in danger. He was banished from Alexandria five different times, spending a total of seventeen years in exile—all because he resolutely refused to compromise. The unswerving pastor died in 373, after diligently guarding sound doctrine for more than half a century. And the Lord rewarded his faithfulness, enabling Athanasius to keep his finger in the dike for all those years to hold back the floodwaters of heresy at a critical point in the history of the church.
In the centuries since, a famous saying has been attributed to Athanasius though it can't be proven that he ever said it himself. The phrase in Latin is Athanasius contra mundum. It means, "Athanasius against the world" and it accurately epitomizes his lifelong stand against the widespread errors of Arianism. Though, at times, it appeared as if false teaching had swayed the entire Roman Empire, Athanasius would not compromise. During those long years in exile, when he felt almost completely alone, he refused to give in. And that is what made him a hero.
Enoch is rightly regarded as a hero for the same reason: he stood strong over a long period of time. Like Athanasius, he boldly opposed the false teachers of his day, courageously confronting the popular opinions of the society in which he lived (cf. Jude 14-15). Even in the midst of a corrupt and perverse civilization (one so wicked the Lord determined to destroy it in the Flood), Enoch refused to compromise. At times, he undoubtedly felt alone—as if the entire world were against him. Yet he remained true to the Lord. The author of Hebrews summed up Enoch's legacy with these profound words, "he pleased God" (Hebrews 11:5). Amazingly, he did so, not just for several decades, but for three hundred years!
A MAN WHO NEVER DIED
Throughout past generations of human history, out of the billions who have lived on this earth, only two people have never died. Though these remarkable individuals were separated by many centuries, their lives share striking similarities. Both were prophets of God; both warned the wicked of coming judgment; both lived at a time when following the Lord was utterly unpopular; and both went to heaven without experiencing physical death.
The second of these men, the prophet Elijah, boldly confronted the idol worship of his day, calling and challenging Israel to return to the true God. At times, he too felt alone—as if the whole world was against him (1 Kings 19:10). Yet he remained faithful. Though he lived in constant danger (and would have been killed if he were captured), Elijah survived until God sent a fiery chariot to transport him to his eternal home. One day while the seasoned prophet was walking with his student Elisha, "suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings 2:11). As the startled Elisha stood watching dead in his tracks, his esteemed companion was whisked away by God. In a moment, with a rush of supernatural wind and a flash of blazing brilliance, he vanished, never to be seen on earth again—until he made a brief appearance in glorified form at the Transfiguration ofJesus (cf. Matthew 17:1–9).
Millennia earlier, another man was similarly taken by God from the earth. For three centuries, this godly preacher walked with the Lord in intimate fellowship and righteous obedience. His temporal journey ended one day while he was walking with God. Enoch, without dying, was suddenly snatched away to heaven.
The biblical account regarding Enoch consists of just a handful of verses found in Genesis, Hebrews, and Jude (along with mentions of his name in 1 Chronicles 1:3 and Luke 3:37). Even so, there is plenty of information given about him to include his amazing history in a book of heroes. In studying his life, we encounter an individual whose testimony was both extraordinary and exemplary. Though Enoch's experiences were remarkable and unique, he still sets a compelling example for us to follow: one of unwavering faith and uncompromising obedience.
A MAN WITH A NATURE LIKE OURS
Enoch's world was far different from ours. The earth had not yet been destroyed and rearranged into its present form by the Flood. Life expectancy was measured in centuries rather than in decades. Enoch himself was born only 622 years after creation, in the seventh generation from Adam. His son, Methuselah, lived longer than anyone else (at 969 years), and his great-grandson Noah, who famously built the ark, completed it at age 600.
The extended lifespans of this time were made possible by the ideal conditions on this pre-Flood planet. According to Genesis 1:6, a canopy of water completely encircled the atmosphere, thereby protecting earth's surface from the destructive effects of the sun's ultraviolet radiation. It also created a greenhouse-type environment that moderated climate and temperature, minimized winds and storms, and created the most favorable conditions for plant life. Additionally, in this lush tropical setting, rain was not necessary because the entire world was irrigated by a natural sprinkler system—a mist that came up from under the ground (Genesis 2:5–6).
Yet, in spite of its natural beauty and resources, the presence of sin in the pre-Flood world corrupted all who lived there. The effects of the Fall were felt immediately after Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Adam's oldest son, Cain, slaughtered his younger brother Abel in cold blood (Genesis 4:8). And the story gets worse. One of Cain's descendants—a man named Lamech—was, like Enoch, born in the seventh generation from Adam. Unlike Enoch, however, Lamech openly boasted of both murder and polygamy (Genesis 4:23). His flagrant lawlessness was characteristic of the civilization in which he lived. Three generations later, when the Lord "saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5), He determined to drown the whole world.
In terms of topography, Enoch's world looked very different than ours does today. But the culture in which he lived was much the same—being characterized by comprehensive corruption, moral decay in every way possible, and open rebellion against God. The fact that people lived for so long was both a blessing and a curse. Their longer lifespans enabled them to develop intellectually and culturally at a rapid rate—which at the outset of human civilization was an important key to inhabiting and cultivating the riches of the earth (Genesis 1:28). At the same time, however, such longevity also accelerated the degradation of society. In our own day, we know how difficult it can be to battle temptation for seventy or eighty years. But those who sought to live godly lives in the pre-Flood era had to struggle against sin and endure its impact over many hundreds of years. That is what makes the examples of righteous men like Enoch so compelling: he stood against the corruption of his culture and walked with God for three centuries!
The legacy of Enoch's faithfulness is not only a monumental example for all believers to follow, but also a penetrating and enduring influence on his own family. That impact is especially evident in the life of his great-grandson Noah. Though Noah was born sixty-nine years after Enoch went to heaven, Enoch's testimony would have been passed down to him through his father and grandfather. According to Genesis 6:9, "Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God," just as his great-grandfather Enoch had done. Second Peter 2:5 describes Noah as a "preacher of righteousness," a role he undoubtedly learned from the accounts he heard of his great-grandfather's ministry (cf. Jude 14–15). Like Enoch, Noah confronted the corruption of his culture, and, like Enoch, Noah was miraculously saved by God from his evil society.
Enoch's remarkable life may seem, like Elijah's, an impossible one for us to emulate. Not so. Writing about Elijah, the apostle James told his readers, "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours" (James 5:17a). The same could also be said about Enoch. As a member of the sinful human race, Enoch fought against the same temptations, fears, and weaknesses that have plagued all men and women since the Fall. Even so, he was able to demonstrate enduring righteousness—not because he was sinless but because he drew on divine resources. He was a sinner who was saved by grace and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live by obedient faith. Thus, Enoch's righteous walk should not intimidate us. Rather, as a witness to the life of faith (Hebrews 12:1), his example ought to motivate us to greater faithfulness and deeper resolve in our own walk with the Lord.
A MAN WHO WALKED WITH GOD
Let's back up to the beginning of Enoch's story. He is first mentioned in the genealogical record of Genesis 5—a chapter that traces the righteous descendants of Adam from Seth all the way to Noah. As we might expect from a genealogy, Enoch is introduced in a way that is purely matter-of-fact: "Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years, and begot Enoch" (Genesis 5:18). But Enoch's brief biography just a few verses later quickly makes it clear that his life was anything but ordinary. According to Genesis 5:21–24,
Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.
In fewer than fifty words, the entire Old Testament account of Enoch's life is complete. Even so, there is much more here than mere genealogical data.
The genealogy of Genesis 5 is very important for at least two reasons. First, it indicates that Genesis 1–9 is real history, and it gives an accurate chronology of that time period. It is the true record of mankind from Adam to Noah (from God's creation of the world out of water to His destruction of it by water). Second, the genealogy chronicles death, as each obituary ends with the words, "and he died." The curse is in full force (Genesis 2:17), and for all those listed in the family tree, the end is always the same—with one notable exception. Enoch is set apart because he "walked with God" and because "he was not, for God took him." Let's examine both of those terse, but loaded, features of his life.
Twice in just four verses we are told that Enoch walked with God. In fact, that succinct phrase is all Genesis 5 tells us about the character of this man. But that's enough. Enoch lived in such a way that, after 365 years in this world, his life could be accurately summarized with repeated, sublime brevity. Nearly seven centuries after the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve had walked with God in perfection (cf. Genesis 3:8), there is finally someone who is said to commune with God in intimate, daily fellowship. And he did that for three hundred years.
To walk with God is another way to say that Enoch pleased God. In fact, the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament—renders the phrase exactly that way: "Enoch pleased God." The writer of Hebrews seals this meaning when he describes Enoch's life: "He had this testimony, that he pleased God" (Hebrews 11:5b). Because Enoch sought to be pleasing to God, God was well pleased to be in fellowship with him.
What can we learn practically about walking with God so that we can follow Enoch's example? Scripture, where this theme is reiterated and expanded, reveals that walking with God includes at least three component parts. It begins with forgiveness from sin, consists of faith in the Lord, and results in fruits of righteousness. Understanding these three aspects opens the door to the rich spiritual treasure that lies behind the simple words of Genesis 5.
The Starting Point: Forgiveness from Sin
The Bible makes it clear that in order for sinful people to commune with a holy God, they must first be reconciled to Him from their alienated sinful condition.
In Amos 3:3, the prophet asked rhetorically, "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" The apostle Paul made a similar point in 2 Corinthians 6:14, "For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? " For sinners to be in agreement and harmony with the Lord whom they have rebelled against—and thereby to enjoy fellowship with Him—their sins must be forgiven and their hearts cleansed and made new. It may seem obvious, but it is important to state that Enoch was a saved man. He had, by divine grace, been forgiven for all his sin and transformed from God's enemy into His friend.
On what basis can a holy God forgive? How is that consistent with His perfect justice? For the answer, we go to Hebrews 11 where Enoch's example of saving faith is highlighted immediately after Abel's. The author of Hebrews says this about Adam's second-born son, "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous" (Hebrews 11:4a). As Abel's example demonstrates, sinners must come to God in the way that He requires. In Abel's case, God required an animal sacrifice (Genesis 4:4), which Abel offered in faith. Such sacrifices were necessary as a vivid reminder that sin brings death and that fellowship with God requires an atonement (or covering) for sin. Though the sinner ought to die, an animal was killed as a substitute in his or her place.
Abel's sacrifice, as all Old Testament sacrifices, pointed to the cross, where Jesus Christ died once for all to make the only full and satisfactory atonement for sin. Because of Christ's death in their place, sinners can be forgiven and declared righteous by God apart from any moral goodness in them. With their sins paid for by Jesus' sacrifice, they are covered with His own righteousness. That imputed righteousness establishes reconciliation, enabling fallen human beings to enjoy fellowship with a holy God.
Like Abel, Enoch was a man who understood his own unworthiness and the need for a proper sacrifice. As truth was passed down from generation to generation among the godly descendants of Seth, Enoch would have learned about Abel's sacrificial offering. Clearly, he embraced the truth behind it, understanding that he was an undeserving sinner who needed a God-ordained substitute to bear the punishment in his place. His personal relationship with the Lord began when his sins were forgiven and he was covered by the righteousness of the Savior who would carry Enoch's sins to the cross and pay the penalty for them in full. Like all believers throughout every epoch of history, Enoch's testimony was one of salvation by grace through faith.
Excerpted from Twelve Unlikely Heroes by John MacArthur Copyright © 2012 by John MacArthur. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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