H E R O E S

SAVE THE SINNER, SAVE THE WORLD

The THEME for this VBS is Bible Heroes. Each lesson will be a study of Bible characters to whom God granted extraordinary powers in order to enable them to be able to play a part in the scheme of redemption.

Our goals in this series of studies will be as follows:

  1. To present these Bible Heroes as real life characters who are truly worthy of awe, in contrast to the modern heroes of cartoons and comic books.

  2. To observe how God empowered and used these heroes in His master plan to save mankind.

"The God of Israel is He who gives strength and power to His people. Blessed be God!" -Psalm 68:35

 "Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men."   - Psalm 66:5

 

Lesson 1 -- Heroes who Could See the Future

   Someone who can predict the future is called a prophet.  But Biblical prophets were not merely foretellers of the future; their work actually focused more on revealing God's word, reminding God's people of His law, directing them to keep it, and warning of the consequences of disobedience (cf. Jeremiah 25:4-7; 35:15).  A prophet is actually a spokesman for God, as Aaron was a spokesman for Moses (Exodus 7:1-2).

  Nevertheless, God's hero prophets typically possessed the amazing ability to foretell the future.  In fact, the terms "prophet" and "seer" are used interchangeably in 1 Samuel 9:9.  A prophet also was designated as a "man of God" (2 Kings 4:9), a "servant of the Lord" (Ezekiel 38:17), and a "messenger of Jehovah" (Malachi 3:1).

God gave men prophetic ability for at least two reasons: 

  Bible prophecies can be categorized many different ways.  They can be grouped according to the subject of the prophecy (e.g. prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, the nation of Israel, foreign nations, individuals).  We can also look at prophecies in terms of the length of time between the prophecy and the fulfillment.  While some prophecies came true within a few days, others took decades, and still others took centuries.  The longer the length of time between the prophecy and the fulfillment, the more astounding it is, and the more it builds our faith.  Yet another way of categorizing prophecy is simply by grouping prophetic statements according to the individual prophets who spoke them. 

  The Bible records hundreds of prophecies, the fulfillment of which can be verified either in Scripture or secular history.  In this lesson, we will study just a few prophecies of two extraordinary prophets of the Old Testament - Isaiah and Daniel.  These men are representative of many more prophets whom God used in His plan to save sinners and save the world.

Isaiah's Insights into the Future
  Isaiah prophesied in Judah and Jerusalem from about 740 to 701 BC, perhaps longer.  He spoke often to Kings and high officials, foretelling both events on the near horizon as well as those in the distant future.  Many of Isaiah's prophecies relate to Judah and the nations that interacted with her.  In the latter chapters of his Book of prophecy, Isaiah also reveals a considerable amount of information concerning the coming of Christ, His atoning sacrifice, and the establishment of His kingdom. Here are some examples of his prophecies:

Daniel's Declarations of Destiny
  Daniel lived roughly 100 years after Isaiah.  He also prophesied to Kings and foretold of the future Kingdom of the Messiah, but His prophecies were delivered while a captive with his countrymen in Babylon.  Some of his notable prophecies include the following:

Conclusion: These prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel are merely samples of hundreds of prophecies found in Scripture.  The ability these men had to foretell the future goes far beyond even the abilities of the fictional characters of comic books, movies and television.  We stand in awe of their heroic prophetic work, and of the God who empowered them with these magnificent abilities.

 

 

Lesson 2: A Hero with Supernatural Strength (Samson)

  Imagine having the strength to kill a lion with your bare hands, or defeat 1,000 men in combat by yourself.  God gave Samson that kind of power and used him to preserve His chosen people and defend them from their enemies. 

Historical Backdrop
  God had promised Abraham that he would make a nation of his descendents, give to them the land of Canaan (Genesis 17:8), and that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 22:18).  These nation, land and seed promises bound God to establishing the Israelites in Canaan and preserving them as a people until Christ would come - the One in whom the Lord would bless all nations (Galatians 3:16).

  God gave Israel possession of the Promised Land under Joshua's leadership, empowering the Israelites to defeat the nations that dwelt in Canaan.  However, the Lord allowed some of the peoples who had previously inhabited the land to remain -- among them the Philistines. "They were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses" (Judges 3:4).  When Israel followed after the gods of these nations and was not faithful to the Lord, God would allow the other nations to rise up and oppress Israel for a period of time.

Samson's Early Life
  Samson was born during one of these times; Israel had done evil in the sight of the Lord, and had been delivered by the Lord "into the hand of the Philistines for forty years" (Judges 13:1).  An angel announced to Samson's mother that she was to have a child and that "no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines" (Judges 13:5).   This angelic announcement of Samson's birth, his Nazirite sanctification, and God's stated purpose for him marks Samson as one of many heroes whom God used to work his plan to save the world.  Hebrews 11:33-34 speaks of Samson as one of several "who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, {34} quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens." 

 
Samson's Exhibitions of Strength
  It must always be remembered that Samson's strength was not his own, but was given to Him by God.  The Bible text repeatedly states that the "Spirit of the Lord" enabled Samson to perform his amazing feats (Judges 14:6, 19; 15:14; 16:28).  Consider the following examples of Samson's strength and compare the descriptions of Samson's feats with the capabilities of normal humans.

  You may have noticed that Samson's heroic deeds are tied very closely to his tortured personal life.  He often harmed the Philistines in retaliation for something they had done to him.  But it would be a grave mistake to conclude that Samson's feats were merely acts of personal vengeance.  His run-ins with Philistines were providentially scripted by God Almighty in order to accomplish His purpose (cf. Judges 14:4).  Whatever Samson's personal motivations, his mighty deeds resulted in thousands of Philistines being slain, and the oppression of Israel greatly diminished.

Samson's Weakness
  As an important footnote to our study of Samson, we should observe that, although Samson was a man of unparalleled physical strength, he was also a man with substantial moral weakness.  His primary weakness involved his desire for Philistine women.  We are reminded of the warning in Proverbs 7:26 concerning the immoral woman: "she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men." 
  No man (or woman) is insulated from temptation merely because they have been given great talents by God and use them in His work.  We must all guard against temptation, and make ourselves do right in our personal lives.  As the apostle Paul wrote, "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27

 

Lesson 3: Heroes who Could Walk Through Fire (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego

   Many people have a morbid fear of being burned alive (perhaps this is one reason that many find the Bible's descriptions of hell so disturbing).  This fear of perishing in a fire motivates us to take measures to prevent it - smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, etc. Yet sadly, more than 4,000 people die in the United States each year in house fires. But suppose that you had the power to walk through fire unscathed and unharmed; the three heroes of our lesson today were given such power.

Historical Backdrop
  In about 606 BC, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and took King Jehoiakim and some of the finest young noblemen back to Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar determined that some of these young nobles should be trained to stand before him and serve.  Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, to whom the King's chief eunuch gave the names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego (Daniel 1:1-7).

  The events of Daniel chapter three unfold some time after Daniel and his friends first come to Babylon (some commentators suggest up to 18 years later, e.g. Barnes Notes).  This lesson will examine the courage and character of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and learn from their example the importance of trusting God at all times and relying on Him for salvation.  But our main focus is on an incredible ability that God gave our three heroes - that on their bodies "fire had no power" (Daniel 3:27).

  As we noted in the previous lesson, the Lord had determined to preserve Israel so that through them He might bring His Son into the world to save the world.  During the days of Shadrach, Meshach and Agednego, God was in the process of punishing Israel by allowing the Babylonians to destroy their cities and lead them off into 70 years of captivity.  Yet, the Lord would not and could not allow His people to be destroyed utterly; that would not have been according to His plan to save mankind.  As we will see, the amazing power that He granted Shadrach, Meshach and Agednego had the effect of preserving the Jewish people during their time in captivity.  In this way, these heroes played their part in carrying forward God's plan to save the world.

 

The Events of Daniel 3

  King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold sixty cubits high and six cubits wide (90 feet high x 9 feet wide) and set it up on the plain of Dura in Babylon.  All of the officials of Babylon were called together for the dedication of the image.  They were commanded to bow down and worship the image any time they heard music playing, and they were warned that if they failed to do so they would be "cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace" (Daniel 3:6). 

  Virtually everyone there complied with this ordinance.  But some of the native Chaldeans came forward with an accusation against the Jews - specifically against Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - charging them with failing to respect the King, serve his gods or worship the image that he had set up (3:8-12).

  Nebuchadnezzar was furious and called for the three Jews to be brought before him.  He informed them of the charges that had been made against them and gave them the opportunity to worship the image.  Nebuchadnezzar warned them, "But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?" (3:15).

  The answer given by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is worthy of note.  In essence they say that "our God is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace," but even if he doesn't, "we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image." (3:17-18)

  The King was now "full of fury".  He ordered that the furnace be heated seven times more than usual, and he commanded that the three Jews be bound and thrown into the furnace.  When this was done, the flame was so hot that it killed the men who cast them in (3:19-23).

  Nebuchadnezzar was astonished to see FOUR men "walking in the midst of the fire and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God" (3:25).  Nebuchadnezzar called the three friends out of the fire and the Babylonian officials all saw "these men on whose bodies fire had no power" - their hair was not singed and they did not even have the smell of smoke on them (3:27).  Then the King "blessed God" and observed that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had "yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!"  Servants of God today should still "present their bodies a living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:6)

  As a result of this event, Nebuchadnezzar decreed that if any of the people spoke anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they would be "cut in pieces".  The faith of these three friends and the power God gave them to walk through fire resulted in God being glorified and the Jewish religion preserved in a land far from home - just one small piece in God's unfolding plan to save the sinner and save the world.

  

Lesson 4: Heroes Who Could Heal the Sick and Raise the Dead (The Apostles)

  This lesson will focus on the God-given healing powers of the apostles demonstrated in the book of Acts. The objective will be to show how these abilities proved that the words of the apostles contained God's power to save the sinner, and save the world (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:2-4; Romans 15:19). 

The Nature of Apostolic Miracles
  The powers demonstrated by the apostles, and Bible miracles generally, are much different from those of modern fake healers, or even those of comic book science fiction characters.  Biblical miracles of healing typically (although not always) have the following unique characteristics:

1) They are performed on someone whose illness is obviously genuine.  Often the illness is known and confirmed by longtime acquaintances.

2) The healing is unexpected.

3) The healing is instantaneous, not gradual.

4) The healing is undeniable. 

5) The healing is witnessed by many who are not supporters of the healer.

  These characteristics provide strong evidence that the healing powers of the apostles were authentic.  Once that point is accepted, honesty demands that one also accept the divine origin of the apostle's words.  Take note of how these characteristics typify the following miracles.

Peter heals a lame man (Acts 3 & 4)
  Peter and John are entering the temple at the hour of prayer when they encounter a lame man at the Beautiful temple gate.  This man had been lame from the day he was born, and he was carried to this very public spot in the temple on a daily basis to beg for alms.  There could be no doubt of his identity nor of his disabled condition. 

  He asks Peter and John for alms; he was expecting money not a miracle.  

  Peter responds, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."   Immediately, the man was healed; he leaped up, stood, and walked into the temple with the apostles.

  The people in the temple saw him and "knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple."  They crowded together and listened as Peter preached the word.  He declares to them that the name of Jesus "through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know."  Then Peter proceeds preaching the message of salvation in the name of Jesus.

  As Peter and John are speaking, temple officials happen upon them and are disturbed about what they hear.  They arrest the apostles and hold them for trial the next day.  At the trial, Peter again has the opportunity to preach salvation in Jesus.  The Jewish leaders could say nothing against the miracle that had been performed, and little against the message of Peter,  because "the man who had been healed [was] standing with them" (4:14).  The members of the Jewish court wonder "What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it." (4:16).

Peter heals Aeneas, a Paralytic (Acts 9:32-35)
  In the town of Lydda, Peter finds a man named Aeneas who was paralyzed and bedridden for eight years.  Again, here is someone whose serious disability is long term and undeniable.  "Peter said to him, 'Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed.'  Then he arose immediately" (9:34).  The consequence of this miracle was that "all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord." Note that the effect that "seeing" Aeneas had.  If people had not known him, and if he had not indeed been ill, it is unlikely that all who saw him would have turned to the Lord.

 
Peter raises Dorcas (Acts 9:36-42)
  While Peter is at Lydda, a disciple named Tabitha or Dorcas dies in the nearby town of Joppa.  Disciples from Joppa send for Peter to come quickly.  It is apparent that these disciples have much faith, and may have expected Peter to bring Dorcas back to life.  This differs from the two healings we've examined previously in which no miracle was expected.  Be that as it may, it can hardly be supposed that Dorcas expected a miracle, as she was surely dead, laid out in an upper room and being eulogized when Peter arrived.  Peter raises her with the simple words, "Tabitha arise".  The miracle "became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord." Again, the effect this miracle had on so many people attests to both its authenticity and purpose.

Paul heals a cripple in Lystra (Acts 14:8-18)
  Entering the city of Lystra, Paul and Barnabas find a man who had been crippled since birth and never walked.  The man listens to Paul's preaching. Paul perceives that the man has "faith to be healed", although we are not told if the two had discussed the possibility of healing.  When Paul said to him with a loud voice, "Stand up straight on your feet" the man "leaped and walked."  The healing is instantaneous.  Its effect on the pagan citizens of Lystra, who knew nothing of the true God, is somewhat understandable.  They suppose that "the gods have come down to us in the likeness of men."  While they mistake the source of Paul's power, it is abundantly clear that they accept the reality of the miracle performed on one of their own whose identity and condition was well known to them. The miracle enables Paul to introduce them to the God of heaven and His Son Jesus Christ.  Some accepted Paul's words, and a church was established in Lystra as a result (cf. 18:21-23).

Paul's "unusual miracles" in Ephesus (Acts 19:11-20)
  Acts 19:11-12 records that, "God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them."  Paul's powers were so impressive that the fake healers of the day attempted to appropriate his methods.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  When the seven sons of Sceva tried to exorcise an evil spirit "by the Jesus whom Paul preaches" they tacitly admitted the authentic nature of Paul's God-given power.  But "the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded" (19:16).  Their failure proved all the more that Paul's power was genuine.  Consequently, "This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified" (19:17).   As in the other cases we've examined, the healings done here by Paul verified the word of God that he preached -- "So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed." (19:20)

 

 

Lesson 5: A Hero with ALL the Powers (Jesus)

  Jesus possesses all power. His miraculous works prove Him to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world (Acts 2:22; John 10:25; 14:11).  And unlike some comic super hero, Jesus didn't absorb all of His powers from others.  His powers flowed from His identity as God's Son (John 10:37-38).

  Jesus worked many miracles in the course of his earthly ministry which may be categorized as follows: Cures, exorcisms, dominion over nature, raising the dead, and predicting the future. There are dozens of miracles of Jesus recorded in the gospels, yet He may have performed many more.  In John 20:30-31, John declares that, "Truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name."  And in the last verse of his gospel he notes that "there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written."(John 21:25).  Obviously, it would be impossible to review all of the recorded miracles of Jesus in one lesson.  So our objective will be to note examples from each category of miraculous power.  

 
Jesus' Power to Heal
  Jesus exhibited the power to heal (Matthew 4:24; Luke 4:40).  He didn't specialize in certain illnesses or maladies, and there was no case too tough for Him.  Many of the diseases that Jesus healed instantaneously could not have been helped even with long term modern medical treatment.  Some whom He healed had been seeking relief for years (cf. Luke 8:43; 13:11; John 5:5).  A few of the specific things Jesus healed are as follows:

 
Exorcisms
  Although God does not allow evil spirits to possess people today (cf. Zechariah 13:2), He did in the time of Jesus.  It was very important for Jesus to show the ability to overcome and cast out these powerful spirit beings; in so doing, He demonstrated that there is none more powerful than  He, either in the physical or spiritual realms (cf. Ephesians 1:21).   Luke 4:33-37 contains a typical account of one of Jesus' exorcisms.  The demon recognized Jesus as the Holy One of God, Who had power over him.  He begs Jesus not to destroy him, so Jesus casts him out.  The people who witnessed this miracle were all amazed and observed that "with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out."

Dominion over Nature
  As strong as Samson was, we see even greater power in Jesus' amazing ability to control the elements.  While Samson could move matter that he could get his hands on, Jesus could control a storm with just a word.  While Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked through fire, Jesus walked on water.  The following miracles vividly convey Jesus' ability to manipulate the elements in whatever way He desired.

Predicting the Future
  Like the prophets of old, Jesus had the amazing power to predict future events with complete accuracy.  Among other things, He foretold His own crucifixion and resurrection (Luke 18:32-33; Mark 10:33-34), the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Matthew 24:2) and the manner of Peter's death (John 21:18-19).

Raising the Dead
  Perhaps the most amazing of Jesus' powers is the power He demonstrated over death.  He raised the twelve year old daughter of Jairus as easily as we might rouse someone out of sleep (Mark 5:35-42).  He stopped a funeral procession to bring a widow's son back to life (Luke 7:11-16).  And He called Lazarus from a tomb in which he'd laid for four days (John 11:17-45). Ultimately, Jesus' own resurrection declares Him "to be the Son of God with power" (Romans 1:4). 

Conclusion:  Before the foundation of the world, God had a plan to save man.  Throughout ancient history, the Lord empowered many heroes to work His plan. The culmination of God's eternal plan brought Christ into the world, to save the sinner and save the world. "He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you" (1 Peter 1:20).

 
 

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