Greater: Week 6
We’re nearing the end of our study on the NT letter of Hebrews. I’ve called this series, GREATER, in that the writer wants us to see that Jesus—the Son of God who is the exact representation of God’s nature, the radiance of his glory, and the one through whom God speaks—is GREATER than angels, than Moses and the Law, and even the old priestly covenant through whom the people of Israel received atonement for sin by the shedding of animals’ blood.
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness and Jesus—the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who shed his blood once for forgiveness of sins for all time, is also our High Priest, who intercedes on our behalf. Because of Jesus, we can enter the Holy of Holies. We can draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.
But, like the 1st century Christians, we too easily slip back into our old ways of doing things. We can become dull to God’s Word in our lives which can lead us down a path of outright defiance toward the things of God. We can begin to believe and behave in ways consistent with the culture around us. The writer of Hebrews is pleading for the Church—then and now—
to pay careful attention…
to not drift away…
to HOLD FAST to the hope and faith we profess in Christ…
to spur one another on to love and good deeds…
to continue meeting together in Christian community…
to encourage one another all the more as we see the Day of the Lord approaching.
Wow! The book of Hebrews is meaty and bold. Some may say it’s too much for us to digest. But I say that, if we intend to be the church of our Lord Jesus Christ and be the change agents in the culture, we must strengthen our spiritual muscles on such truths.
In our second-to-last message of this powerful sermonic letter, we are going to camp out in chapter 11, often referred to as the Hall of Faith. The chapter opens with these words :
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
In August of 2013 I gave a message on this passage, so if some of what we discuss today sounds familiar to some folks who were here then, that’s because it is. The writer is NOT giving us a “definition” of faith as much as he is giving a “description.” He’s giving us the ESSENCE of biblical faith. In other words, what biblical faith “does” and how biblical faith “works”.
Let’s start by clarifying what BIBLICAL faith is NOT:
It is NOT Blind optimism or “hope-so” feelings
It is NOT Intellectual assent to a doctrine (teaching)
It is NOT Believing “in spite” of evidence…that would be superstition!
DEFINITION: True Biblical Faith is CONFIDENT OBEDIENCE to God’s Word in spite of circumstances and consequences.
Here’s how faith operates:
God speaks and we hear His Word
We TRUST His Word and ACT on it no matter the consequences or circumstances.
For those who are walking through Isaiah on Wednesdays, we were asked to read one of the few narratives within the 66-chapter book of oracles—Isaiah 7. Ahaz is king of the Southern kingdom, Judah. He is being threatened by Pekah, king of the Northern Kingdom (Israel, a.k.a. Ephraim) and Rezin, king of Aram. This happened because Ahaz would not join forces with Israel and Aram against the mighty Assyrians.
King Ahaz and the people of Judah are terrified. So the Lord instructs Isaiah to speak to Ahaz, telling him to chill. “Be careful, keep calm, and don’t be afraid. Don’t lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood.” God is going to handle them if Ahaz will only walk by faith. 2 Kings 16:5-7 records what Ahaz does instead. He goes to a bigger bully, king Tiglath Pileser of Assyria and makes an alliance with them to defend Judah.
Ahaz heard the word of God, but did not ACT according to God’s word. Instead, he acted based on the circumstances around him. Dr. Richter (Epic of Eden: Isaiah) asks a poignant question: “How often do we let our fears dictate our behavior? In our heads we know that God is in control, but our circumstances are shouting so loudly we can’t always hear the voice of truth.”
What are you facing right now that seems so overwhelming, you can’t hear the voice of truth? Is it a diagnosis of disease for you or someone in your family? Is it an uncertain future at your job? Are there medical and other expenses that exceed your income? Is someone you love struggling with addiction? It’s destroying not only their lives but others around them? Is a marriage ended and the only thing left is a piece of paper that “says” you’re married?
In a world filled with doubt, anxiety, fear, worry, depression, desolation and isolation, it’s easy to lose hope and turn to other people or things for answers RATHER than trusting in the truth of God’s Word.
The psalmist says , “Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (20:7 NIV)”.
Our default is to trust in the things we can see and touch, or to do things in our own strength. But God may be saying, “Stand still, for this is the Lord’s battle.” Do we have the faith to let God fight our battles so that HE gets the glory?!
I confess that, at times, I want to get the glory so I want to do battle over my circumstances. But that’s not biblical. That is not to say that we don’t play a part in our own victory. I like how Mark Batterson puts it in his book, Draw the Circle, “Work like it depends on you, but pray like it depends on God.” In other words, we begin in prayer. We seek God’s direction through His Holy Word and through people who speak God’s Word. But we also work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Corporately, the denomination of which we are a part is in flux and its future is uncertain. This brings about fear in the hearts of many. But we are not given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7). We are called to be a people of One Book. We are called to follow the truth of God’s Word. And that’s exactly what we will do, God being our Help!
Let’s get back to our text this morning. Hebrews 11 begins with these words: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (ESV), and ends with these words: 39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
Who are the “these” mentioned in the previous 37 verses and why were they commended? Well, they were the WITNESSES of faith. They show us by their lives what genuine faith really is. Remember, biblical faith is CONFIDENT OBEDIENCE to God’s Word in spite of circumstances and consequences. God commends 15 biblical characters and scores of others for their ACTS of faith. The words “by faith” is spoken 23 times in 39 verses! For instance:
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did, and God commended him as a righteous man because of it.
By faith Enoch walked with God and never experienced death
By faith Abraham left his family and culture, traveled to a distant land and started a family in his old age
By faith Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, his only son through Sarah, because he reasoned that God could raise the dead. He knew the promise of God that Abraham would be the father of a great nation and acted on the promises of God. That’s faith!
The writer gives other examples of faith in action, including: Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, a prostitute named Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Sampson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. In their weakness they showed strength. They administered justice. They conquered kingdoms. They shut the mouths of lions and quenched the fury of the flames. There were even resurrections!
And through it all many were tortured, jeered, imprisoned, flogged, stoned, even sawed in two! Yet they were commended for their faith, even though none of them received what had been promised. Wow! I’m sorry to say that most of us—if we don’t get what we think is promised to us—abandon our faith at the drop of a hat. Maybe that’s why Jesus speaks of faith so many times in the Gospels.
In light of the faith exhibited by men and women of God, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to pursue our faith in the promises of God found in Christ Jesus. In the opening verses of Hebrews 12:1-2a (NLT), he says this , “1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
THAT’S the message I think we need to hear this morning. Because faith has been tested time and time again throughout history and has been found essential for life with God, WE must run this race of faith in God with endurance. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
The writer even gives us the “how” of our faith: BY KEEPING OUR EYES ON JESUS, the champion/ author and perfecter/finisher of our faith. We can keep our eyes on Jesus because Jesus dwells in us! As Paul puts it in his letter to the Colossians, “Christ IN you, the hope of glory (1:27).” Because Christ dwells in the life of every believer, we can endure hardships, doubters, scoffers, trials and temptations. We can live out our faith in times of doubt because we walk by faith and not by sight. Let me quickly mention FOUR things that Faith “does”:
1. Faith enables us to “understand” what God is doing around us
The great church father, St. Augustine once said, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”
2. Faith enables us to “see” what others around us cannot see.
2 Kings 6 records a story of Elisha and his servant held up in the city of Dothan when the King of Aram surrounded the city with a strong force to arrest Elisha. When the servant looked out at the vast army, he got scared.
But Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid. There are more of us than there are of them.” After praying for his servant to see, he sent him back to the window.
This time, the servant saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around the army of Aram. Faith enables us to SEE what others around us cannot see.
3. Faith enables us to “do” what others cannot or will not do.
Often times, Jesus would tell the ones coming for healing that it was their faith that made them well. The Israelites were told to march around the city of Jericho once every day for six days, then seven times on the seventh day, shouting as they marched. Because of their obedience, the walls came tumbling down!
4. Faith is absolutely essential in surrendering and serving the Lord Jesus Christ
Hebrews 11:6 says “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”
Question: Are you sincerely seeking Jesus, or are you playing it safe? Hedging your bets with other so-called godsàmoney, status, personal abilities, institutions, etc.
The opposite of faith is FEAR–> False Evidence Appearing Real
I love this illustration to contrast fear and faith: The African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of greater than 30 feet. Yet these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot wall. These animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will land.
Someone once said, “Faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see, and with faith we are freed from the flimsy enclosures of life that only fear allows to entrap us.” What are the flimsy enclosures that entrap you? What do you need to admit to God about your faith today?
There’s a famous Proverb that many of us can quote : 5Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (3:5-6). Do we REALLY trust with ALL our heart, or do we lean a bit on our OWN reasoning? If we’re truly honest with ourselves and with God, we would ADMIT those areas and SUBMIT to trusting God’s Word with those parts of our lives as well. We all have improvements to make here.
Biblical Faith is not blind optimism…not some Pollyanna, Rose-Colored glasses view of the world. No, in spite whatever grim situation we may face…despite what external forces are doing or saying…Biblical Faith is a certainty in the God of Scripture and His ability to perform and perfect that which He has decreed. Faith, not fear…peace, not panic.
True Biblical faith is a CONFIDENT OBEDIENCE to God’s Word in spite of circumstances and consequences. Are we living by faith and not by sight?
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”