Faith in God | Hebrews 11:1-16
Topic: New Testament Passage: Hebrews 11:1–11:16
HEBREWS 11:1-16 INTRO:
Good morning Damascus Road church. I hope you are all doing well this morning and have had a good Christmas. If you don't know me, my name is Curtis and I am an elder apprentice here at the church and am honored to get to bring God's word to you all this morning. How do you all feel about it being the end of a decade? When you look back what are your thoughts or emotions? I look back at this last decade and marvel at the kindness and grace of God in my life. In 2010, Jesus saved me at my local youth group. I was a rebellious son running away from God, when God sought me in tenderness and decided to welcome me into his fold like the prodigal son is welcomed home by his father. In 2012 I started an internship at a church in Bothell where I would eventually meet my bride Ruth and we started dating in 2015 and were married by 2017. Also in 2017, is when we started attending DR which leads us up to this point now. And I look back and it is a decade that is not void of pain and suffering and hurt but despite that, I can attest to God's faithfulness towards His people, specifically me. And as some of you look back at your decade, maybe some of you can attest to the same thing of God being faithful. Perhaps some of you, your decade is marked by lots of suffering, lots of sin. But regardless of our decade being good or bad it often comes to us this time of year with the year/decade ending and a new one beginning that our vision goes towards the future and we begin to look and plan for what's ahead. We plan accordingly to what we see, what our vision tells us. We plan accordingly to what we desire and long for in hopes that they will be fulfilled, but what often happens is when the new year/new decade comes the expectations that we set up are often met with disappointment, wether they are fulfilled or not. And we need to ask our selves the question why that is. Why are we met not with satisfaction but rather disappointment or left unsatisfied or empty when what we desire is fulfilled or not? This is a problem; this is something the whole world struggles with, and this is something the bible specifically has an answer to.
A DESCRIPTION OF FAITH (HEB. 11:1-2)
So today we are going to talk about how our faith in God meets our desires and longings but first what we need to do is describe what faith is, so if you have your bible you can open up to Hebrews 11. Let me give you some context for where the author is in his letter. The author is most likely writing to a group of Jewish Christians binding together two chords, the O.T. and how Jesus is the fulfillment of all the O.T. speaks of. And after the writer articulates in detail how Jesus is the fulfillment of all O.T. rituals and practices, the writer gives a call to the believer to persevere and it is in light of perseverance, that the that we learn what faith is. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. (Hebrews 11:1-2)
What the writer of Hebrews tells us is that there is two elements to faith. What are they? An assurance of things hoped for and yet the conviction of things not seen.
Assurance of things hoped for, means that we believe with confidence what God has said to be true. Some of your other translations instead of saying assurance may say substance, but all that it's trying to do is communicate that we believe in what God has promised us.
The conviction of things not seen, is saying although we have put our faith in what God has said, we don't see it. So defined here is two things; faith is the belief in future promises and yet it's not seen in the present.The two elements of faith are the future and things unseen.
Now what happens sadly, is as we define faith from this chapter we can get confused because it's language that's not common to our vernacular, and so faith itself becomes muddied and we don't fully grip it, but I don't want that to happen. Faith is just like you believing a spouse or a close friend/family member when they give you a promise for something to come, although you don't see it in the present, you believe it. And based on the conditions of that promise you may live life differently in the present. And faith in God is exactly that same thing. Where we believe in the promises that God has made to us and that changes how we live in the present situations/circumstances. And by such faith as this; a faith that not only believes but obeys is such a faith that the people of old (people in the OT) were praised for. Let's continue on and see some examples of what this faith in God, looks like lived out.
HOW FAITH FUNCTIONS (HEB. 11:4-7) 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
FAITH IS BELIEVING AND OBEYING
Do you see a pattern that's taking place with these characters. The repetitive 'By faith.' Another constant theme that rises up whether it was Abel, Enoch or Noah, is that they not only believed but they also obeyed. That their wasn't only a intellectual belief but their hands and feet got involved as well. They obeyed because of what they believed.
This is how faith functions. Think of Noah for a second. This is a guy, who was warned by God that He is going to flood the earth, an event that was in the future and unseen and so Noah in reverence constructed an ark. He not only believed, but he obeyed. I think this is a good place for us to ask the question, does our faith look like this? Do we only believe what God's word says and not obey it? This is one issue I see that's prevalent, not only in my life, but in others, that I am convicted of. Where I feel very comfortable affirming all the right doctrines and believing them, but when I am called to obey I become very uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable to share the gospel with someone, to talk to your neighbor, to serve your community, but if we're people of faith we must not only believe, but obey as well!
Now I recognize the flip side of this, might be some of you who are here today and you say 'yeah, I don't have faith but I am really involved in doing good around my neighborhood, community, in my home.' And rather than looking at how you feel about doing good things, the right question to ask is, what does God think of my good acts? What does God think of good works apart from faith?
FAITH IS PLEASING TO GOD
Verse 6 says 'And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.' Faith is something that is pleasing to God. I believe that God is sovereign and that He has appointed some of you this morning to be here specifically to here these words and that is that you don't have faith, however much good you may do, God is not pleased with you. That no matter how hard you try to earn God's pleasure, whether by walking on your knees for all your life in an act of devotion to God, or by giving of yourself to others so that your life is spent for the betterment of other people, good works apart from faith are not pleasing to God. You cannot earn God's pleasure and if you don't have faith, God does not look on you with pleasure but looks on you as an enemy to Him. His favor is not on you, but rather His wrath is awaiting you. And God is SO gracious and loving towards us, that He has made a way of escape for us from being hell-bound. A way that is unearned, that if we repent of our sinfulness/our rebellion towards God, our faithlessness and believe in Jesus that He is God, that He exists and rewards those who seek Him, than God looks upon us no longer as enemies, but as children reconciled to their father. We have ran from him, and He in tenderness has sought us. That we have spit in His face not wanting anything to do with Him, and yet Jesus pours out His blood for us, in great love. What kind of love is this that God would be mindful of man?
Faith is pleasing to God. Another thing it says though is that He rewards those who seek Him, and what I hope happens for us as a church is that this would embolden us to be more confident, more excited when we get together with God in prayer or reading His word to seek Him, that He rewards us. I have the bible app on my phone and it gives me a bible verse of the day and sometimes that's the only bible I get for the day. I'm not happy about that, I wish I would read more but somedays I don't and one morning on my commute to work, I was praying to God about the day ahead and told Him how sorry I was for not being better at reading my bible. I told Him, 'God, how can you not be disappointed in me, I'm disappointed in myself, I'm not holding up my end of our relationship.' And right when I finished that sentence my phone rang with the bible verse of the day showed up on my phone from Isaiah 54:10 "For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10) I really believe that God rewarded me when I sought Him genuinely, and my desire for us would be that we would all have this attitude when coming to God, that we would be excited about what God might have to say to us.
Faith is not only believing but obeying and faith pleases God. Now as continue on in this chapter, the narrative slows down. The first part was more of a rapid fire list of characters from the O.T. but now it slows down on two characters, Abraham and Sarah. And what the writer of Hebrews is doing, is he is wanting us to make sure that we pay attention to their story of their faith so we don't miss what they have learned.
FUTURE PROMISES MADE PRESENT REALITIES 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
FUTURE PROMISES MADE PRESENT REALITIES
It was by faith that Abraham and Sarah not only believed in the promises of God that they were to have a promised land given to them, but they were to have children in their old age that would be as many as the stars in the sky or the sand on the seashore. They believed this and therefore obeyed God, and this is interesting to me because what faith seems to do is that upon believing in a future promises of God, faith makes them present realities. Did you get that? That the future promises of God are made present realities because of faith. It's not something that we get one day, but impacts us here and now. And Abraham and Sarah become examples to us here of what that looks like.
God tell's Abraham 'leave your homeland and I'll make you a great nation and give you a land to dwell in.' So Abraham leaves at 75 years old going about living in foreign lands in tents. God tells Abraham and Sarah, 'You guys are going to have a child in old age and will have descendants as many as the stars in the sky.' And they end up having one child; Isaac. And what we learn from the example of Abraham and Sarah is what the Apostle Paul says to the church in Corinth that we as people who have placed their faith in God, we are a people who walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7) What did Abraham see? A bunch of foreign lands. In fact it says 'Abraham was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.' And he did not receive it. What about their offspring, what did they see? They were told they were going to be a nation and yet they had 1 child. And what becomes clear to us in light of this is that by faith we push past what we see in this world to what God says is true. Another way of putting it is we have faith not in what we see, but in what God sees.
EXAMPLE OF FAITH NOT SIGHT
We were given such a beautiful example of this around last easter. Some of you will remember during that time there were few things that happened in Christianity around the world. Here in the U.S., in Luisiana, there were churches that were set on fire. In Paris, Notre Dame Cathedral was on fire. And the most intense episode, was in Sri Lanka, where more than 200
people were murdered because of church bombings. And around the corner Easter Sunday came, and we didn't take a week off to mourn, we didn't cancel easter to be sympathetic to all that had taken place. Rather were gathered and joyfully celebrated the resurrection of Jesus from the grave despite a world that is full of death and decay, despite what we saw, and we did that because we live by faith not sight. There is a future promise of resurrection of new life, that had present realities for the way we live and behave.
A question we need to all ask, is do we live our lives this way? Do we live by faith rather than what we see? Do we not only believe in the unseen promises of God but do we also live our lives in light of them?
How would we live differently if we lived believing we have eternal life right now not only when we die? How would we live if we believed by faith when Jesus says 'You're the light of the world!' when we live in such a dark place physically and spiritually? When we look at our lives, how do we actually live 'by faith?'
We are a people who walk by faith and not by sight, we are a people who not only believe in what God has said, but we obey as well and the chapter takes a pause to look at how faith in God meets our longings and desires.
THE SATISFYING GOD (HEB. 11:13) 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
STRANGERS AND EXILES
For Abraham and Sarah, they died in faith not receiving the things promised to them. If I'm recruiting for Christianity and someone asks me why, I'm not leading with this. That first verse sounds morbid almost but it takes a turn quickly to say that they saw the promise and greeted it from a distance.
What were the promises again? It was making Abraham a great nation by giving him a promised land and descendants that would be as many as the stars in the sky and it says that both he and Sarah didn't receive these but greeted them from afar. What's so significant about these promises? The significance of these promises goes all the way back to Genesis, where Adam and Eve, our first parents sinned in the garden as they were deceived by the serpent, Satan. And the very first promise given to humanity was God saying to the Satan. 'I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.' (Gen. 3:15) There would be one who would come and would bruise the head of Satan but also Satan would bruise his heel, and this one who comes is going to be a descendant of Abraham, and from his nation. And what does Jesus do? When Jesus comes it's recorded that he is a descendant of Abraham of the nation of Israel and He is the one who will crush the head of the serpent by His death and resurrection and by doing so he will be bruised for our transgressions. That by Jesus crushing the serpents head by His resurrection, Jesus is also crushed on the cross by the serpent.
And somehow, it doesn't say, but Abraham and Sarah got a glimpse of this from a distance and the conclusion for them was they were strangers and exiles on this earth. They didn't care about worldly gains. It wasn't about becoming some great nation on this earth for them but once they got a glimpse of this redemption to come, they acknowledged that they were not of this world.
A HEAVENLY HOME (HEB. 11:14-16)
And the writer moves from Abraham and Sarah to speak directly to us, when he writes 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
You and me, when we speak, we speak in such a way where we are seeking a homeland which translates literally as 'Fatherland.' We are looking for a country that is better than the one we have now. In fact, the writer challenges us. He says 'You speak about a better country and if it's here on this earth you should go find it. You still have time to return.' And yet we don't and we need to ask why? This next year, there's going to be presidential debates, where President Trump and a Democratic nominee will go against each other and give their speech to the American people on how their going to make a better country and we never stop to ask why we want a better country. Some of you may say 'it's self evident.' I don't think it is. What does a better country look like, what's the one we're comparing it to? If it's the best, is the best not good enough? And whether it's presidential nominees or political talk shows the conversation always is how do we make a better country?
Perhaps this better country doesn't have suffering in it, perhaps it doesn't have pain or tear or death anymore. If that's what a better country is than the bible says you desire a heavenly one. C. S. Lewis says what we are discovering in this text, when he says 'If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.'
CONCLUSION If we've placed our faith in Jesus, what flows from belief is obedience towards Him, where we've bid this world goodbye acknowledging that it doesn't satisfy us. Where we don't live to gain from it anymore but recognize that all our longings that this world cannot satisfy have found their place of belonging and total satiation in Jesus, where God himself has prepared for us a city to dwell in. We are strangers in our own homes, exiles and aliens within our own nations as we await for either the coming of Jesus to take us home, or we die in Christ.
We're not going to have road group this next week, so what I want to do is give you all some questions to ponder this week in light of the text:
- Is our faith in Jesus only belief or do we also obey?
- Why do you desire a better country and how does it manifest itself in your life?
- Are the future promises of God present realities in your life?