Good morning, today we take a look at Hebrews chapter 11 which is all about faith. We’ll look at what faith is, how we are to grasp hold of it, and what its effects are.
Now, before we go any further, its always a good idea to ask what the author’s purpose was for writing something in the Bible. Why was Hebrews written at all? Well, at the end of the letter we read the following: “Brothers and sisters, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation.” (Hebrews 13:22) This letter is an urgent plea for Christian church to remain faithful to Christ. This was particularly important because this church in Hebrews was one that had suffered persecution (Hebrews 10:32-35) was currently suffering persecution (Hebrews 13:3) and was in danger of even more persecution (Hebrews 12:4). Remaining faithful to Christ was becoming very difficult.
In the face of all this hardship, many members of the church were tempted to give up being a Christian. Earlier in the letter (Chapter 6) the author spends time encouraging those who were in danger of falling away.
So the church was endangered by past, present and future persecution for their faith and many were considering ditching being Christians. Things seemed dark, and there didn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel. That is, until the author of Hebrews came to show them the way out. In our reading today we see that the way out is to have faith. By presenting them with the example of the heroes of the Old Testament the church was exhorted to keep trusting in God and his promises.
Likewise, in our situations, whatever they may be, we can also take heart and keep trusting in God and his promises. We may not under the terrible threats of violence, imprisonment and death that our brothers and sisters in other countries have to suffer, but this doesn’t mean being a Christian all plain-sailing: Perhaps you’re ridiculed by others for being old-fashioned, irrelevant or irrational. Maybe you’re simply ignored. In the workplace, perhaps you’re discriminated against in some way. Maybe the pain doesn’t come from human hands. Maybe you, or someone you care about, is struggling with illness or disability. The list goes on.
The value of faith
In all these things and more, it can be quite a struggle to keep following Jesus. So what are we to do? The author of Hebrews tells us; we must have faith. Faith appears no fewer than 13 times in our reading today and fortunately we are told in a pithy sentence exactly what faith is. Verse 1 says faith is “confidence of what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see“.
So what do we hope for? For our Old Testament Heroes they would have had trusted in God and his promises, as they had been revealed at the time. However, as New Testament people, we have already received some promises and are privy to more details on is still to come. We are in a more privileged position to those mentioned in our reading. In verse 13 we are told that these people did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. Well, thanks to what we learn about Jesus in the New Testament, we not only know God’s promises in more detail but we also are recipients of some of God’s promises already.
For example, we have the spirit living within us – literally part of God in our hearts, changing our attitudes and making us more like Christ. The spirit that prays on our behalf when we don’t know what to say. The Spirit that cries out “Abba, Father” and confirms our status as sons and heirs of the living God. The Spirit that was promised in the Old Testament, and was fulfilled in the New. We have the Holy Spirit within us as a taster and a guarantee of the future glory to come. On top of this, by faith we are given eternal life and saved from the coming judgement of God. And we can look forward to the promise of the new heavens and the new earth. The “better country” (v16) where the heroes of the Old Testament now reside, and where we are headed by faith in Christ.
So we are promised eternal life as God’s people, in God’s presence. But how are we eligible to receive these promises? The answer is to have faith. This leads to the first of three main points about faith.
1) Faith is necessary to receive God’s blessings
Without faith it is impossible to please God. In verse 6 we are told that even the slightest step towards God requires that you must have an idea of his existence and that he will receive you. You must know who he is and what he is like. And we know that God is most revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. We must have faith before we have anything else from God.
2) Faith is a gift, not something we can create ourselves
Our goal for faith, set out in verse one, is to be confident of what we hope for. To be sure of what we do not see. This is tough goal to sustain 100% of the time in our lives. Not even the Old Testament heroes of the faith trusted God 100% of the time. For example, in Genesis 18:12 The elderly Sarah laughs out loud when the Lord tells Abraham that she will have children. Faith is not something that comes naturally to our flesh. It is given to us by God. If we feel our faith is weak or simply non-existent, we can ask the person who gives it. We can pray to God, confident in the knowledge that he delights to give us faith. As Jesus himself instructed us, we are to ask, seek, and knock. Then we will receive.
3) Faith leads to action
In all the examples of our Old Testament heroes, we see that faith wasnt just an intellectual assent to the existence of God. It was always accompanied by action. For instance: Abel’s offered his best stuff. Noah built an ark. And Abraham travelled, even though he was unaware of where God was leading him. In our reading the action the author was primarily urging the church in Hebrews to do was to keep living out their faith. To continue to meet together and not give up on Jesus. In our case there is plenty of ways we can live out or faith. Principally we are commanded to love our neighbours as our selves, but we are also encouraged to particularly love those in the church. Those who are becoming more like the God we worship. Perhaps we could serve our church in a new way. Perhaps God is calling you to put your faith into practice in a particular way such as being a sidesperson, creche helper, coffee server, sacrificial giver, or careful listener.
So to sum up we have heard three things about faith in Christ. Firstly that faith is necessary to receive God’s blessings. Secondly, that it is a gracious gift from God and thirdly that faith ought to be the motivation for action.
Now, some people may be thinking: “If faith is necessary for God’s blessings and I cannot summon it myself. What am I to do?” Perhaps this question is symptomatic of a inner feeling of being distant from God. So, what can we do if faith in Christ isn’t something we can produce on our own? It would be easy here to fall into fatalism; to adopt a posture of passivity, but that’s not what Christ tells us to do. He tells us to pray to God, our Father, who actively wants; positively desires; to answer our prayers. In Luke chapter 11 verses 11 to 13 we hear Jesus telling his disciples: “Which of you fathers, if you son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
You see, God is stupendously generous. He does not withhold his spirit, and therefore faith, from those who eagerly desire it. So if circumstances are causing your faith to wobble. If its getting increasingly difficult to follow Jesus. Pray. Think about what Jesus has already done for you on the cross. Think about the promises he was secured for us. He doesn’t wish for you, or any of us, to drift away. Don’t give up. Pray. And take heart! One day our faith will be replaced with sight when Christ returns and puts things right once again.