05 Sep Mid-Week Msg. – Hebrews 11, The 6th Study
- Hebrews 11
- Date: 03 September 2012
Hebrews 11 • Chapter Study
Throughout history, groups of people we call cultures, or societies, or civilizations have set up special people called heroes.
These heroes are nearly always people who embody some great virtue that society wants to enshrine & encourage.
So their stories are told from generation to generation, usually from parent to child, in the hope the young will also take on those virtues.
Leaders & politicians mention them in their speeches as a kind of verbal shorthand, knowing just mention the heroes’ name will evoke a feeling of patriotism in the crowd he / she is talking to.
So today, a politician will drop the name of George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln & people know, just by the mention of the name what’s being referred to.
Of course there are anti-heroes as well; people who don’t demonstrate virtue by their lifestyle but some vice, some fatal moral flaw a society wants to avoid – and so we have Benedict Arnold; the traitor. Judas Iscariot, the betrayer.
One of the great heroes of Rome was Cincinnatus who lived in the 5th Century BC.
He’d served as a general in the Roman army then retired to his small farm not far from Rome.
Rome went to war against another Italian city-state and was taking a beating.
So the Roman Senate asked Cincinnatus to take over.
The Roman constitution made provision for a temporary dictator; someone who would have absolute control for 6 months – and they asked him to step into the role.
He reluctantly did, and led Rome to a sterling victory over their enemy.
Then he returned to Rome, installed a couple of badly needed reforms, then resigned his office as dictator, and went back to his plow on his little farm.
For ever after, Cincinnatus was one of the greatest of Roman heroes because he embodied the virtues they honored; strength, courage, & a disdain for luxury & position – virtues Romans honored, but in truth rarely kept.
Cincinnatus’ example extended beyond the Romans though. Our own George Washington purposely sought to model himself after him, & the Ohio city of Cincinnati was so named for Washington by that title.
Here in ch. 11, the writer catalogs the heroic standouts of Israel’s past because of a single quality they all shared.
It’s a spiritual virtue he wants to encourage in the readers.
That virtue is Faith.
And specifically, Faith in God when it’s difficult; when life is tough and things are hard.
The reason for this list of heroes of the Faith is because the readers were being called to hang on to their faith in the midst of great pressure to give it up.
Heb. 11 is known as the Bible’s Hall of Faith & Fame.
It begins with a definition of what faith is . . .
1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
There’s enough just there that we could unpack for weeks.
Countless sermons & studies have been drawn from this 1 verse.
Since we looked at vs. 1-6 2 Sundays ago, I’ll just summarize tonight.
Faith, that is, genuine Biblical faith, is a reasoned response to the revelation of God.
It is our Apprehension of what God has said with Application of it to our daily lives.
A good analogy is this – Faith is our “sense” of the Spirit.
We have 5 natural or bodily senses . . .
Thru these we perceived & interact w/the physical realm.
Think about how the senses work; take for instance, sight.
We see that guitar – there it is.
But what is really taking place in us that allows us to SEE the guitar?
The light is reflecting off the guitar & entering our eyeball.
The image is inverted & focused onto the back of our retina via the lens.
The various colors & shades cause chemical reactions to take place in the rods & cones that are translated into electrical stimuli transferred via the optic nerve to the rear of our brains where the signals are translated into something that looks like that.
But what is that?
That information is then sent over to the language center of our brain where there’s a quick search done on objects until one fits & the label “guitar” is attached to it.
All of this takes place instantaneously; we’re unaware of the process.
But make no mistake, the process is going on.
The point is this: That guitar is an objective reality, whether or not any of us ever see it.
But how it becomes real TO US, is via our sense of sight, sound. touch.
Our perception of it is something that takes place where? IN US, in our brains.
Faith is the sense of the spirit.
It’s our perception of the spiritual realm, which transcends the physical realm.
Physical senses aren’t capable of perceiving the spiritual realm; just as they’re not capable of perceiving some parts of the physical realm.
There are wavelengths of light the eye can’t see; ultraviolet &infrared.
There are sounds the ear can’t hear – above 20,000 hertz & below 20 hertz.
Just as our eyes need light to see & our ears need sound to hear, faith, the sense of the spirit, needs spiritual light & sound in order to be active.
Spiritual light & sound come thru the Revelation of God – His Word.
When He speaks, our spirit is illuminated.
And just as we perceive the guitar via our eye, we perceive the reality of the spiritual realm via faith.
Because our eyes see the guitar, we can interact with it. We go over & pick it up & put it to use.
Faith allows us to interact with the spiritual realm.
That’s what the author means when he says that . . .
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Faith allows us to not only perceive spiritual reality but to interact with it.
Imagine a young child who grew up being told that [the guitar] was an elephant.
It was never played as a musical instrument, but was kept in a zoo.
People attached a different label to it & told her stories consistent with it being an elephant.
In her mind, every time she saw that, she would think of it as an elephant.
Question – Would it be an elephant? // No; it’s a guitar.
Her perception of it is faulty because she’s been deceived.
It’s the same thing w/spiritual perception.
Until we’re born again, our fallen nature & the world system we’re born into have been cleverly designed by the devil to keep us in darkness.
Truth has been redefined w/deceptive labels for things like God, Faith, Love, Holiness, Sin.
Jesus said satan is a liar & the father of deception.
When someone is born again, the Spirit of God opens their spiritual eyes to see the truth about their spiritual condition.
They’re spiritually dead in sin & need the remedy found in Christ alone.
Then, when they are born again, God’s Word & Spirit begin to renew their mind, exposing all the lies the world taught; and replacing those lies w/Truth.
2For by it [faith] the elders obtained a good testimony.
By “elders” he means those the readers held in high esteem; their heroes.
Faith, spiritual sense, is what enabled them to rise to the place of such high esteem.
3By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
As the author now launches into a long section charting the examples of faith from the dawn of creation up to the present day, he starts at the beginning.
How do we KNOW God created all things? By faith. // Is that faith a blind leap in the dark?
Do we just take that as a given just because the Bible says so even though it’s contrary to all the real evidence?
That’s the modern, popular & predominant definition of faith today for our secular society.
Colleges & universities have officially defined faith as belief divorced from evidence; in spite of evidence.
It’s said that if there’s ANY evidence, it’s not faith; it’s reason.
So really, according to the secularism that dominates the public school system & higher education, faith is irrational.
And that’s why so many Christian young people get eaten alive when they go off to college.
Because that’s the standard, orthodox view of faith in every realm of study.
Faith isn’t an irrational, blind leap into the unknown dark.
It’s is a REASONED RESPONSE to the evidence.
No one was there at the beginning except God.
And as we saw a couple Sundays ago, Reason & Logic DEMAND the existence of an eternal & all-powerful Creator who exists in a realm both higher & essentially different from the physical realm.
Because the material universe is ruled by the Law of cause & effect; so it couldn’t have created itself.
To do so, it would have to be BEFORE IT WAS – and that’s absurd.
So there must be something in a realm of existence fundamentally DIFFERENT from the physical realm.
That realm is the spiritual realm – the realm of God, Who by His very nature is eternal & all-powerful.
This is the Apostle Paul says so clearly in Romans 1:20.
By the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, that is His eternal power and Godhead, so that [people] are without excuse,
Paul is pointing to a basic philosophical point.
When it comes to the question of origins, there simply CAN NOT be an infinite regression.
Remember the proverbial child’s question – “Where did that come from?”
It ultimately ends up with, “Where did God come from?”
And that’s where we have to stop & say that what we mean by that word God the question “Where did He come from?” doesn’t apply = God has no beginning.
If He did, He’d owe his existence to something prior & that would be God.
Logic demands something that owns its own existence.
Here’s the point of all this: Believing this isn’t a blind leap in the dark.
To have faith in God as Creator is A, even better-it’s THE reasonable thing to think.
Christian – don’t allow skeptics to redefine faith as divorced from reason.
Now the author gives several examples of faith in the heroes of Scripture.
4By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.
In Gen. 4 we read both Cain & Abel, the first sons of Adam & Eve, brought an offering to God.
Abel brought his by faith while Cain brought his for some other reason that isn’t spelled out.
It didn’t need to be – the point was it wasn’t by faith.
God showed His acceptance of Abel’s offering, probably by sending fire from heaven to consume it, while Cain’s offering just sat there.
Cain was jealous of his brother & killed him. / The murder proving Cain’s heart was way wrong.
Cain’s behavior reveals how the merely religious hate genuine believers.
God is looking for is faith & what’s done by faith He accepts.
The merely religious are into works, what they do so they can boast about it.
So when they see God’s favor poured out on faith, it makes them angry.
That’s exactly what Jesus faced from His fiercest opponents, the Pharisees.
They hated & wanted to get rid of him because they were jealous of Him.
It was also the opposition the readers of this letter faced from fellow Jews.
They were like Abel being hassled by jealous Cain.
5By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
Enoch had such vibrant faith in God he didn’t die; God translated him to heaven.
His example prompted the writer to say . . .
6But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Since we covered that in depth 2 Sundays ago, we’ll soldier on . . .
7By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.
And that was last Sunday’s text.
For now, we’ll sum it up by saying Noah spent 120 years building the ark; announcing throughout the time God’s judgment was coming.
Yet the world had never seen rain, a flood, & probably had no concept what a boat was for.
Noah alone of his entire generation believed God.
Think of the ridicule & scorn he faced. The butt of endless jokes.
Talk about bearing up for a long time in the face of massive pressure.
He did so because he believed God & God had said the flood was coming.
He kept his eyes on the goal & KNEW one day his faith would be vindicated.
What the writer wanted to emphasize for his readers was that Noah’s faith moved him to specific, concrete action – building the ark.
So, our faith will move us to action.
Now he turns to the preeminent example of faith – Abraham.
8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
When God first appeared to Abraham, he was living in the rich, cosmopolitan center of Ur in Mesopotamia.
Archaeology tells us that it was a sophisticated city where the standard of living was the highest of the age.
And when God first spoke to Abraham, he was an idol-worshipper like all the other Chaldeans of Ur.
But when God told him to pack up & move to a frontier called Canaan, the ancient Wild West – he went.
Though God promised to give Abraham all of Canaan, the only thing Abraham ever owned was a small plot of land he bought as the family burial plot.
But he travelled the length of the land in the confidence it would 1 day belong to his descendants.
He waited on the timing and providence of God to make it his.
V. 10 says the real place Abraham looked forward to living in wasn’t on Earth; it was in Heaven.
His life here was temporary & lived in anticipation for an eternal destiny.
Abraham was a nomadic shepherd who lived in tents, roaming from place to place.
He wouldn’t cease his nomadic lifestyle till he entered the glory & rest of heaven.
11By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.
The lesson the writer wanted them to draw from Abe & Sarah was their patience; how their faith in God was born out over the long haul.
Though God promised Abraham many descendants way back when he first appeared to him, decades passed without a son or daughter. // Sarah was barren.
What I find remarkable about this account of Abe & Sarah is that it omits their mistakes & the times their faith faltered.
Yes – Abe showed amazing faith when he packed up & left Ur to go live in the Wild West of Canaan.
But he also muffed badly when he went to Egypt & told the Pharaoh Sarah was his sister so they wouldn’t kill him to get her.
Then, not learning his lesson form that, he did it again a few years later with the Philistine king.
Then, in a major blunder, Sarah & Abe came up with the idea of helping God out with the – let’s have a kid thing and Sarah lent Abe her maid as a surrogate.
But all these lapses are edited out here because faith opens the door to God’s grace that rewrites our story.
My life, your life has lots of uh-oh’s boo-boos, errors, mistakes, muffs, blunders, splats, stains, & wipe-outs.
But God’s grace is bigger than them all.
Faith is the hand that reaches out to lay hold of that grace – that lifts us into the glory & forgiveness of Heaven.
When our story is told in glory, it will be like Abraham’s here – w/o shame or blame.
13These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
What he says here is a crucial aspect of real faith.
Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac & Jacob were all given specific promises about earthly things.
Whether it was judgment, safety, land, wealth – whatever, they were promises that saw fulfillment in the temporal & material realm.
But what happened for all these people was that after God made the promise, they believed & ordered their lives according to those promises, they began to look to God for something more & better than just earthly stuff.
God’s promises to them elevated their view of Him! And they began to yearn more for the promise making God than those promises.
I use yet another Hawaii illustration. // Maui is indescribably beautiful.
But sitting there on the bow of the catamaran headed to Honolua Bay to snorkel with the dolphins, I found my heart yearning – not for Maui but for the One who’s mind & heart would make such a gorgeous place.
How much BETTER to go to Him who’d think of something as incredible as Maui?
God promised Abe a land, lots of descendants & great wealth & honor.
Abe believed & moved to where God said it would all take place.
But when he got there, he realized no matter how blessed he might be on earth, that could not compare to the infinitely better blessing of being WITH the One who made all those promises.
This is something every maturing, faith-walking believer discovers.
God is GOOD! And we get to taste bits & pieces of that here.
But at its best this world is fallen & sin sucks.
We yearn to leave all this behind & enter the realm of undisturbed, uninterrupted fellowship with Jesus!
The writer mentions this aspect of genuine faith because he wanted to remind his readers they weren’t to expect things in this life to be perfect.
Remember their heroes! They never really settled down & found a home here because this world is fallen & in rebellion against God.
So they longed for heaven – just as we all should.
That longing for heaven, that longing for God doesn’t turn us into wierdos who walk around in a daze talking spiritual gibberish all day.
It’s those who live most for heaven who do the most earthly good – as all these prove.
17By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” 19concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
The supreme example of faith in the Bible was when God told Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.
What made it especially difficult is that it was contrary to everything Abe knew about God.
But there was no misunderstanding the command, so he set out on the path of obedience, even though it made no sense.
Earlier I said that faith isn’t irrational; that’s is a reasonable response to the evidence.
The point is that for faith, the evidence is God’s Word.
Since God is all-good, all wise, all-knowing it’s right & proper to believe & obey.
After decades of walking with God & seeing how faithful & good He is even when it seems impossible, he came to realize that when God said something that didn’t make sense to Abe, it was still right to obey – trusting God to work it out –as He always had.
The writer here clues us into to what Abraham was thinking when he set out to obey the command to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.
God had already said Isaac was the son of promise & that he would be the father of many descendants.
Isaac was single & w/o any children.
So – if he DID die, that meant God would have to raise him back up because a promise had been made & God always keeps His promises.
Though God stayed Abraham’s hand so that he didn’t sacrifice his son, in Abraham’s thinking, Isaac was as good as dead as soon as the command came.
So when God told him to stop – it was like receiving Isaac back from the dead.
The point here is that sometimes God calls us into things that don’t make sense & we can’t see the way out.
The best path, the safest course is to trust God & obey Him.
The writer now gives a several examples of faith . . .
20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. 21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones. 23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden 3 months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s command. 24 By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
When we read Exodus, we find no direct mention of the Messiah, so what does this mean à Moses considered identification with Christ greater than worldly position & power?
The writer means that real faith, even that of the OT saints, puts us on the path toward Christ.
In whatever way someone turns to the true & living God, He turns that their focus to Jesus, because all the plans & purposes of God are IN CHRIST.
In John 5:22–23 we read Jesus saying this –
22 The Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
Listen! Get this: It’s all about Jesus!
Faith is the sense of the spirit that allows us to interact meaningfully w/the spiritual realm.
And once faith is activated, the One we interact w/is Jesus!
People who claim to be spiritual but aren’t interested in Jesus are totally missing it.
They may be into crystals, meditation, focusing their chi or think that as long as they chant some mystical sound they’re spiritual.
But if the focus & goal isn’t Jesus; they’re fooling themselves.
Real faith has a single object – Jesus!
27 By faith he [Moses] forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, lest he who destroyed the firstborn should touch them. 29 By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for 7 days. 31By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.
All of these examples, from v. 20 on speak of people who took God at His word & made specific decisions that marked obedience.
32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah,
Judges of Israel who all demonstrated varying degrees of faith.
also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again.
The faith of all these was tried & came out victorious; it accomplished great wonders & miracles.
But not all faith leads to such encouraging results.
Sometimes faith is proven even more powerfully in that the result seems like defeat . . .
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in 2, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
In vs. 32 thru 35, faith overcame obstacles in earthly deliverance.
But in vs. 35 thru 38, faith overcame earth itself.
In this world we’ll know trouble & the trying of our faith.
Our task is to remain faithful & leave the end to God.
In John 16:33 Jesus said,
In the world you shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.
39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect [complete] apart from us.
I say to you, “Michael Phelps is an amazing swimmer. But until he swims with you, he doesn’t really know what swimming is.” // Huh???
That’s a bit like the way this hit the original readers.
The people listed here were heroes! Standouts! Champions!
Yet the writer says as great as their faith was, God gave the readers of this something BETTER!
That something better was Jesus!
From Abel right down to prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, & Zechariah – their faith was incomplete because they waited for the revelation of God in JC.
The original readers of this letter, along with you & I, are the ones to whom that revelation came because of the Gospel.
We live AD – they lived BC; Anno Domini, the Year of our Lord as opposed to Before Christ.
This is how the writer meant to urge us on – by pointing up the fact that if Moses & David could live by such heroic faith w/o the Gospel, how much more ought we who have it go beyond the example of Moses & David?
God said to Enoch – “Walk w/Me.” He did.
God told Noah – “Build an ark.” He spent 120 years at it.
God said to Abraham – “Move to the Wild West.” He packed up & left.
God told Moses – “Lead My people out of bondage.” He did.
God says to us – “Live by faith in My Son.”
In the plan & purpose of God, what we, as followers of Christ do in faith surpasses what the OT saints did!
Get a vision for what faith means in your life & home.
Get a vision for your mission; you are on mission w/Jesus.
This ch. was written to encourage everyday believers like you & I that the faith we’re called to is the consummation & realization of all that the heroes of the Bible yearned for.
If they could hold on to God w/the partial revelation they had, how much more can we w/the consummate revelation of Christ we have in the Gospel?
If they could accomplish so much for the glory of God, what’s stopping us from totally blowing the lid off this world & going for it with God?
Nothing à but a lack of faith.