12th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Hebrews 11:1-3; 8-16 Sermon
August 21, 2004
HYMNS (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
426 "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name"
516 "Faith of our Fathers"
514 "Jesus and Shall It Ever Be"
230 "God that Madest Earth and Heaven"
“IT TAKES FAITH”
TEXT: (vs. 1-3) “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
A little over a decade ago, one of the big rages was bungee jumping. I think people are still doing it, but you don’t seem to hear about it quite as much.
As popular as bungee jumping has been, I have never done it. I made up my mind pretty much right away that I would never even try it.
It’s not like I’m not informed about it though. I have seen people go into great detail on TV as to what it is and how it works. When I was in Australia, I had a student intern (or vicar) who went and did it with a young member of the congregation. They loved it.
So I’ve heard testimony from people who have done it. I’ve heard about how safe it is. I’ve had people encourage me to try it. But I’ve always said “no.” I’ve never even been tempted to give it a go.
“Why?” you might ask. Well, I think it has something to do with faith. I guess I don’t have the faith in that giant rubber band that is supposed to save you from crashing into the ground. Somehow the thought of tying a huge rubber band around my ankles and jumping hundreds of feet in the air with nothing to keep me from becoming a grease spot on the ground except that big rubber band…I don’t know, somehow the appeal isn’t there. I just don’t have the faith it takes to do that. Admittedly some do, but I’m not one of them.
As we look at our text for today, it is from Hebrews 11, which is known as the great “faith” chapter of the Bible. It begins: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.”
Two words stand out there—“sure” and “certain.” Those are the operative words in “faith.” If you have faith in something, then it is something of which you are both sure and certain. If you have faith in something, it isn’t something that will let you down. It is 100 percent sure and accurate.
Like I said earlier, the 11th chapter of Hebrews is devoted entirely to faith. Why in the world did God cause these words to be recorded? What was happening that needed such a strong lesson in faith?
The letter to the Hebrews was written to Christian believers who were formerly Jews. They had come to know Jesus as the promised Messiah of old. They were a key element in the New Testament Church.
But they were having a problem. All of this Jesus stuff was so new, that they were having trouble believing it. And so there was this almost overwhelming temptation for them to return to the Old Testament Jewish religion. After all, it was centuries old, and it was a proven religion to them. The Old Testament practices and regulations were kind of like that “old comfortable pair of shoes.” And since God was active throughout the Old Testament, they felt that it would probably be safer to stick with what they knew, and forget all this new "Jesus stuff."
If we skip back one chapter, to Hebrews 10, we find all sorts of admonition and encouragement for people to remain faithful to their Saviour. In verse 32 of chapter 10 we read: “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.” And then continuing in verse 39 we read: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.”
And now, having heard this exhortation, the writer to the Hebrews begins his lesson on faith. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.”
And then, after we read about faith being the key ingredient in understanding creation, the writer reminds us about the Old Testament people and their faith—and the list is quite long. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’ parents, Moses himself, the people of Israel passing through the Red Sea, the people at the battle of Jericho, Rahab…..and then he goes on to mention the names of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.
And then the writer concludes in chapter 11 verses 39-40: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
Not all of those heroes received victory over their immediate circumstances, but all of them were blest by God. Even though things might not have turned out according to what they had planned, yet God was in charge. He had something better in mind for them.
The epistle writer gives this long list of Biblical figures because every good Jew would have known about them and what they did. These were great illustrations to use with these people, and great illustrations for us too. These people were Old Testament figures who demonstrated great faith in what they did, and the Bible shows that they were indeed blest by God because of it.
As we get further into our text for today, we are focusing upon two faith topics. The first one is in verse 3 where we read, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
God asks us to have faith in how he created the heavens and the earth. He created everything we know out of nothing, simply by the power of his Word. People on the earth like Charles Darwin will continue to spout unproven speculative theories, and call it “science.” People will continually call into question what God says, and say they have something better. But when everything is stripped away, all that is left is what God says. God simply asks us to believe what he has told us. In effect he says, “This is the way it happened. I’m not lying to you. Have faith in what I have told you.”
And then our text talks about the great faith of Abraham. In verses 11 and 12 we read, “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he [God] considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.”
Unfortunately this great man of faith wasn’t always as faithful as he should have been. He doubted God’s promises; and so he decides to have a child in a way that wasn’t so God-pleasing. In Genesis 16, we read about what happened. He sleeps with Sarah’s handmaid, a woman by the name of Hagar, and she becomes pregnant. The boy child is named “Ishmael.” Ishmael would not be Abraham’s heir however. He would only cause strife and division. There was trouble even during the pregnancy, and that trouble continued.
God had a plan in mind which didn’t include Ishmael. Sarah, Abraham’s wife who was 90 years old, and Abraham being over 100 would indeed have a son. Sarah thought this was so ridiculous that people their age could have children, she laughed at what God had said. So this child was named “Isaac” which means “laughter.”
The result was nothing to laugh at however. Because it was through Isaac and his family line that the promised Messiah would be born—the Saviour, Jesus Christ.
In our lives today, we can have a lot of trouble with this “faith” thing. Sometimes the Bible can seem like such a dusty old book, and we are so far removed from those Biblical figures, that we can lure ourselves into thinking that there is no relevance to our life today.
We need to always remember though, that our faith is the thing Satan likes to attack the most. He wants us to doubt, he wants us to forget, and he wants us to reject God and what he promises. Satan wants us to look at God in much the same way as I would look at that bungee cord tied around my ankles. He wants us to think that having faith in God is like free-falling in mid-air, not knowing whether you’ll be saved, or whether you’ll wind up splattered all over the ground.
But it’s not like that at all. Faith isn’t something we generate ourselves, rather it is a gift of God himself. This faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. We have example after example in the Bible about how true this is, how God has always delivered on his promises, and has never abandoned his people.
As we consider what God says in the Bible, and how faithful and true he is, this leads us to the most important object of our faith, which is our Saviour Jesus Christ. Jesus, who was promised from the beginning of creation, who would be born from Abraham’s ancestry, came to this earth and was born for us. He came to restore the relationship between God and man that had been destroyed by sin. He came so that we, that is you and I, might receive God’s heavenly reward.
And so we come to Jesus, weak and faltering in our faith, knowing that he will heal and strengthen it. We come to him full of sin and sorrow knowing he will forgive us and give us heavenly joy. Yes, we come to Jesus just as we are, knowing that he has something great and wonderful in store for us. Even though things might not work out as we might like them right now, we have faith that God will do what is best.
This is what the fathers of our faith believed. They did not look at life on this earth as the end goal; rather we read in verse 16: “Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” That is heaven, and he has prepared a place for us there. We can be sure of that. This is our hope.
As believers in Christ, we know we can have faith and will not be disappointed. Paul writes in Romans 5 verse 5, “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
The United States Marine Corps uses the slogan “Semper Fi” which is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “Semper Fidelis” meaning “ever faithful.” We can indeed see how God is “Semper Fi” amid everything else in the world, regardless of what Satan may throw at us.
God loves us and is not ashamed of us. He has saved us, he has prepared a heavenly mansion for us, and he wants to be the God of our lives. Likewise, as Christians we can’t ashamed of God either. We know he will never disappoint us or let us down.
And so, let us always be “Semper Fi”—ever faithful to our Saviour who has forgiven our sins, restored us to life, and who will lead us safely into the eternal glory of heaven.