Sometimes when you hear something, you automatically associate a particular thing with it. For example, when we hear “Hefty, Hefty, Hefty”, we think trash bags. When we hear, “The quicker picker upper”, we think Bounty. “Be all you can be”, we think Army. “Just do it”, we think Nike.
Well the same can be true of the Bible. In Bible study or Confirmation class, we I ask what is the Gospel in a nutshell … the response is usually John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” When we talk about the great “love” chapter of the Bible, we are referring to 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy it does not boast, it is not proud” (13:4). When we talk about “faith” and the “heroes of the faith”, we usually turn to our second reading, do Hebrews 11.
Where John 3:16 clearly defines what the gospel is, 1 Corinthians 13 and Hebrews 11 do not provide us with an exhaustive or detailed definition of what love or faith is and that’s because it is pretty much impossible to simply define these two words.
What we find in Hebrews 11:1 is what most people use as the definition of what faith is. It’s what we use in confirmation class and in youth group when we talk about it. But what this verse give us is not really a detailed definition of faith but instead a working description of what faith is and the result which faith produces in the daily living of God’s people, all in light of the last day. Listen again to the opening verse of this chapter. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
There is basically two parts to faith which this author, which this preacher is directing us to. First, faith trusts in a reality which is not readily perceived. In our reading, the preacher points to creation. “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). So in other words, we don’t believe in a big bang theory of the creation of the universe unless that theory is that God spoke and “Bang!” it happened. God spoke and simply by His speaking, the universe was created. Created out of nothing but His words.
In terms of faith trusting in a reality which is not readily perceived, the preacher directs us to God himself. “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” (Hebrews 11:6). We cannot readily perceive God, we can’t physically see Him with our eyes nor can we reach out and touch God … but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. By faith, by trusting in what is not readily perceived, we are able to draw near to Him because we believe that He does exist. Jesus tells Thomas a week after He rose from the dead, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
So the first part of faith trusts in a reality which is not readily perceived … the second part of faith is that faith acts upon that trust with obedient faithfulness, through the daily living of God’s people. This faithful obedience, this daily living by faith is what enables someone to “please him” and “draw near to God”. In our reading, we see this with Abel and Enoch. By faith, Abel gave an offering to God not as a means of saying, “hey God, look at what I’m doing”, but as a means of simply drawing near to Him and pleasing Him. By faith, Enoch lived a God-pleasing life in the midst of an ever growing corrupted society, not to say, “Hey God, look at me and what I’m doing” but simply as a means of pleasing God.
The danger here is that too often we only look at one side this verse. We either look at faith as trusting in a reality that is not readily perceived or we look at it as a means of how faith leads to an obedient following of God. This isn’t an either/or kind of thing but a both/and kind of thing.
If we just have faith in what we can’t see, then when things go sour in life, when troubles and trials arise in life, we could easily think that I need to have more faith or that I need to have a more authentic, a more real kind of faith. But this thing is, this reading, this chapter is not encouraging you or me to have more faith, as if we can somehow trust more, but instead it is leading us to trust. And not with a measurable kind of trust but with any amount of trust. This trust then leads to action. This is similar to the way in which Jesus talks about faith in Matthew 17. Jesus says that faith, any faith will move mountains, even … even faith that is the size of a mustard seed. So the encouragement is not to somehow get more faith, but to allow the faith which you have, which is given to you as a gift by God, allow that faith to shape your life.
But what does that look like? They may have lived a super long time ago and some may think that makes them irrelevant, but look at Noah and Abraham and Sarah. Both aspects of faith, the trust in God’s reality and the righteous response are found in them.
Noah trusted God’s warning about a coming flood and the surface destruction which would wipe sinful humanity from the face of the earth. He trusted God’s warning about something coming in the future and by his faith in God’s word, Noah built a massive ark in a dry country just as God had directed him.
Abraham and Sarah, they trusted God’s promise when He told them to leave their homeland, a land in which they were thriving in and were comfortable in and to go to a place they didn’t know or had ever seen. Without asking questions, they packed up their some of their stuff and left for this unknown land.
Abraham and Sarah trusted God’s promise when He said they were going to have a son. Granted it was easier to believe this promise when they were younger and yes, they doubted at times. They even tried to make God’s promise come true on their own terms as Sarah sent Abraham to be with her maidservant. But the promise was for Abraham and Sarah to have descendants as numerous as the stars. So even in their advanced years, Abraham and Sarah trusted and God gave them a son.
As you read through the life of Abraham and Sarah, you’ll find that once they left their home, they never settled down permanently. They lived their lives in tents. They lived in temporary housing because they were always seeking as our reading says, “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” (Hebrews 11:16). Abraham and Sarah, the others listed throughout Hebrews 11, they lived in anticipation of something which has been “prepared”, something which has been “promised” and is “better” (Hebrews 11:40).
And we do to, do we not? We’re not wanders like Abraham and Sarah and others of the Old Testament, but looking around at what we are experiencing as a world, what it is that we are experiencing individually … aren’t we looking for something better?
You know, unlike those who were there to see and experience the work of Christ’s entire ministry, his excruciating death, his victorious resurrection from the dead and his glorious ascension into heaven, those events are “unseen” to us … but that doesn’t mean that we don’t believe they never happened. The future restoration of all things when Jesus comes back, that is currently “unseen” by us, but by faith we cling to that event. We cling to when Jesus will come back and all cancer, all diseases, all heartache, all the daily struggles of life and all sin will forever be gone. We cling to that unseen future event when we will get to physically stand before our Savior and with our own eyes look upon His face.
By faith we live in anticipation of that day. But we don’t anticipate it by just sitting back and dreaming of what it might be like. No, we should be living each and every day of our life trusting with obedient faithfulness. We should be living our lives in such a way which brings glory and honor to God alone. We should be living our lives, loving others, not so that we can say, “Hey God, look at what I’m doing!” but so that others can look to God and see what it is He is doing.
Sure, like Noah, Abraham and Sarah, we may wonder, “what in the world are you up to God?” And that’s okay. It’s okay to wonder. For we know that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. But in the midst of the wonder, in midst of the worry of what’s next … we continue to have faith in God knowing that He has a plan. We continue to live our lives for Him. In the midst of those wonders, those struggles where we just want to give up because we’re tired of battling … Jesus, this morning, says to you … “Come to me you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). By faith, we come to God’s altar and we lay our burdens down at foot of the cross. We come to God’s altar and receive not just bread and wine, but the body and blood of our crucified Savior. We come to God’s altar and with nailed scarred hands of our risen Savior, Jesus lifts you up and says that no one, no thing can ever snatch you from my hand, for you are mine (John 10:28).
You and I … we have been given a precious gift of faith. It is far more than wishful thinking … it’s a trust in the Words and actions of a Savior and it’s a hope in the promise of an eternal city, an eternal life in the presence of our eternal Savior. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.