IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT





Date: May. 21, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Hebrews 11:1-12:3

Key Verse: Hebrews 11:1

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

There are lots of things in life that we take for granted and we just trust. When we go to sleep at night, we have this innate thought that we will wake up the next morning. We trust that the sun will shine. We understand that winter gives way to spring. Plus, we firmly believe that we will not fly off this planet. Think about that for a moment. Because of gravity, we are firmly attached to the earth. We can jump up and be certain that we will come back down again. It’s amazing when considering the mechanics of what is going on. As you know, the earth spins on its axis. The relative motion of the surface of the earth is roughly 1000 mph. That means the right now ground is moving 1000 mph, and if you have ever spun something really fast, you know how amazing it is to have things still attached after the spin. Yet, here we are, not flying away. On top of the spin, the earth is also moving in space orbiting the sun at a rate of 18.5 mi/s or 66,600 mph and we haven’t been pulled over for speeding yet. On top of all this, our solar system orbits the center of the galaxy at 514,000 mph and our galaxy is whizzing through space at 1.34 million mph. With all this motion, you think that we might at least feel a little woozy, but we don’t even notice it and we go about our lives, trusting that we will remain on this little blue marble. Did you know that the trust that we have has a name: faith? We have faith that we will not fly off. We have faith that we will wake up. Today, we will talk about faith. What we have today is the most famous passage in all of Hebrews. It is the faith chapter and, in it, there is the most quintessential definition of faith. So, let’s go right on through it and find out about faith.

Since we started our study in Hebrews back in February, we’ve been hearing about how Jesus is greater than pretty much everything. He is greater than the angels, greater than Moses, greater than the priest, and greater than the sacrifices performed. Last week, the passage ended, “‘But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.’ But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” (Hebrews 10:38-39) It ended with some words on faith and how important it was to have faith. Our entire salvation is determined by faith. This, in turn, begs the question, “What is faith?” You know what, right at the beginning of the passage today we find out the answer to that question. Let’s begin: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (11:1) Let’s take a little time to unpack this statement. The definition of faith is two part. It involves confidence and assurance. We have confidence in what we hope for. What do we hope for? We hope for a good meal. We hope for a good life. We hope that our children will be good. We hope that we graduate. Now if you have confidence that that hope will happen, it is half of faith. If you absolutely know that what you hope for will happen, you are on your way to understand faith. The other part is assurance about what we do not see. This seems kind of tricky. We must be sure about something that we cannot see. There is the old saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but this is being sure even if you cannot see. It is not as far-fetched as it seems. The classic example is that we don’t see wind, but we can see its effects. We can see the wind pushing the air around, causing leaves to rustle. We can feel the force of the wind on our bodies and cars. We can know about the wind based on what it does to other things. When you put these two ideas together, confidence and assurance, you get the basis of faith.

Now, faith sometimes gets a bad rep. Some people think that having faith means that you must go through life blindly. Those people think that, by having faith, you are trusting in something with no basis. They think that faith means not seeing where you are going. That’s an erroneous thought. Having faith does not mean that you are blind. Having faith means having confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see. Like with the wind, we do not see it, but we can see its effects. With faith, we have assurance in what we cannot see, but we can see its effects. When we have faith, there is a basis for that faith. Think about this: I said a little while ago, we trust that the sun will come out each morning. We have faith the sun will rise. We don’t have this faith blindly. We have this faith because we have seen the sun rise day after day after day for years. We have a basis for our faith. The same holds for the chairs you are sitting in. You have seen chairs for years and you know that they will support your weight. You then can extrapolate that these chairs will hold your weight and you can sit. When we have faith in God, we have it based on the history of what God has done. We can read about and hear about everything that God has done and extrapolate what God will do. We can know certain things about God and from that, be certain of his promises, even if we cannot see them. That is faith, and you know what? This passage goes right down that path.

The passage continues, “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.” (11:2-3) The author of Hebrews goes all the way back to the beginning. He reminds us that it is by faith that we understand that God created the universe. The first lines in the entire Bible are, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) We can’t see that God created everything, but by faith we can understand that God created everything. It is a foundational faith to understand that God is the creator. Without that piece of faith, it is impossible to have faith in God for anything else. Furthermore, the passage gives us examples of people with faith. It starts with Abel, who gave God an offering. Both Cain and Abel gave offerings to God, but Abel gave an offering through faith. He brought the first fruits of his labor, while Cain just brought something. God accepted the offering given by faith and looked down on Cain’s, who gave out of compulsion.

The author goes on to talk about Enoch. Now Enoch was an interesting person. As the passage mentions, Enoch did not die, but was taken up by God. Enoch had faith the pleased God. I don’t know exactly what Enoch did, but the passage mentions, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (11:6) Faith is essential in pleasing God. In the gospels, there are two things that amaze Jesus. One is when people have little faith and the other is when they have exceptional faith. When people have strong faith, Jesus is happy to fulfill their request. There was a man who had a servant who became paralyzed. He went to Jesus to have him healed and he had faith that Jesus could heal him even without seeing him in person. It took faith to trust that and Jesus healed that servant immediately. We have to have faith, because, with faith, we have to trust that God even exists and that he created everything. It is foundational to believing in anything else that God says.

Here, we get to Noah. Noah was a man who trusted in what God told him. At the time, the rest of the world ignored God. They had no desire to even know about him, but Noah trusted God. God told Noah that he was going to destroy the world and gave instructions in building an ark so that a remnant could be saved. By faith, Noah obeyed and over the course of a hundred years, Noah built a large boat in the desert for the impending flood. That was one hundred years of facing scorn from other people, in order to obey God. By his act of faith, Noah became the heir of righteousness.

Next, we get to Abraham. The passage says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (11:8) Abraham was called to leave everything he had and to go where God would show him. God did not tell Abraham where he was going, but he did give a promise that wherever he would end up, it would become his inheritance. Abraham went by faith and made his home in the promises land like a stranger living in a foreign land. He lived nomadically in tents because his hope was not in his own home, but in God. “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (11:10) Abraham had his hope in heaven, which was the true inheritance. God also promised Abraham that he would have numerous descendants. He was old and so was his wife, but God promised that his wife Sarah would have a son, even when she was ninety years old. It took faith to trust in that. They trusted God and God was faithful to that promise. Abraham and Sarah were confident in this hope and assured that God would carry it out.

You can see this assurance because Abraham never saw what was promised. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” (11:13) Abraham never saw his descendants as numerous as sand on the seashore. Abraham never took ownership of the land he was in, but he held on to his hope. He was confident that what God said was true, because he was looking even further ahead. “People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 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.” (11:14-16) Abraham was looking heavenward. His faith was founded, not in the promises made to him in regard to this world, but the to the promise of heaven. The true promised land was heaven. It was in a better country that Abraham kept his hope.

Abraham trusted that promise even when God tested his faith. “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’” (11:17-18) God asked Abraham to sacrifice his own son: the son he had been waiting for, the son of the promise. Isaac was the one through whom God would carry out his promise, but now God was asking Abraham to kill the promise. Abraham was willing to carry out that request. “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (11:19) Now, that was a heavy request, but Abraham trusted God’s promise to him. Abraham knew that God keeps his promises and if Isaac was the son of the promise, then God would not allow Isaac to stay dead. There was never a resurrection before, but Abraham reasoned that God could and would bring Isaac back. He trusted God to keep his word. Even though he didn’t know how, Abraham was assured that God would keep his promises.

Abraham was the first person to whom God really promised something and that promise was carried down the line. The next names that the author of Hebrews mentions are all people who were trusting in that promise. Isaac and Jacob inherited the promise from Abraham, but they too did not see it fulfilled. Joseph understood the promise and even foretold the Israelites return to the land of Canaan and asked for his bones to be buried there. Moses became a part of that promise. During the time between Joseph and Moses, the Israelites had become enslaved, but because of the promise that Joseph talked about, the Lord raised up Moses to lead his people to freedom. The Pharaoh knew about this promise and had every boy killed, but Moses’ family hid him and placed him in a basket in the Nile. He was picked up by pharaoh’s daughter and raised in pharaoh’s household. And yet, Moses chose to identify himself with his people and not with those who raised him. “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (11:26) Again, Moses was looking ahead. His eyes were not on this world, but in the promised one to come.

Moses had faith that the angel of death would not kill the firstborn in the houses with the blood of the lamb on the doorframes. Moses had faith that the Israelites would escape the Egyptians. They were a formidable army, but they were destroyed. The Israelites trusted God. “By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.” (11:29) The Israelites and the Egyptians tried to do the exact same thing. One with faith and the other without. In the end, the deciding factor was faith. The Israelites had faith in God. They were confident in their hope and assured that they would make it through. The Egyptians did not have any of that and they were killed. This reminds me of when Jesus asked Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water with him. While Peter had faith, we walked, but as doubt entered his heart, he began to sink. Although the action was very important, the deciding factor was faith being put into action. Faith must be put into action because “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

As the Israelites approached the promised land, the came to the city of Jericho. It was an impenetrable city with a formidable wall. Even with the gate shut, the city could withstand a siege for a very long time. And yet, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.” (11:30) The army merely marched around the city for seven days and the walls fell. It seems absurd, but they had faith that God would be the one to conquer the city. They trusted his promise and his order and they found success. Rahab trusted that God would win. She was a prostitute in Jericho, but she helped God’s people by hiding the spies sent to scope out the city. She had faith and was saved. She was a prostitute and not worthy of salvation, but she was saved because of her faith. She identified herself with God and not with her people.

In all these examples that the author gives, faith is the central part, but there are so many more who lived by faith that the author had run out of space to write it all. So, he begins to show the power of faith. “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.” (11:32-35) When you go through the Old Testament, you find countless people acting on faith. The nation of Israel was founded by the conquering of the other nations in the land of Canaan. God was the one who led the people and routed the other nations. God fulfilled the promises.

You can look at the prophets and see mighty things performed because they had assurance in God. The prophet Daniel was a part of the group of Israelites that were taken in the exile. They were relocated to Babylon and became a part of the king’s household. When the king made an edict to worship him as god, Daniel refused and was thrown into a lion’s den. In the morning, he was found unharmed. Daniel had faith in God and the mouths of the lions were shut. They were like very large cats. Daniel had three companions who were thrown into a blazing furnace, but they were protected from the flames. It is amazing what faith can do. In Elijah’s time, even the dead came back to life because of faith. The power of faith has no limit. It can move mountains and resurrect life. It takes the weak and makes them strong. It takes the dead and makes them alive.

I’ve had a few opportunities to live by faith. My marriage is one example. I trusted God with my marriage and was confident that he would provide me with the perfect partner. And, I was not wrong. With time and patience, the Lord brought to me a breathtaking beauty with the voice of an angel, whom I am very thankful for. From our first date, I knew that I was going to marry her. It’s been nearly nine years since that first date and nearly eight years since we married. I also have faith that God will provide for my family. My faith keeps me here, despite a poorly operated school system, horrible commutes, and housing prices that are laughably high. Yet, I stay here because God led me here and I trust in him. My faith is in him. Because of that, I have faith that God will take care of my family. I changed career paths by faith to remain here by faith. I don’t want to build myself up. It is all God’s doing and I try to trust in him. Now, it’s not without hardship. It can be a struggle to maintain your faith and that is what the author of Hebrews is trying to get at.

Not all of these pillars of faith lived smooth lives. He writes, “There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.” (11:35-38) Most of the prophets were ridiculed for their faith. They shared the word of God with the people and many of them were imprisoned for it. Others were killed in gruesome manners and others still feared for their lives and lived in hiding. This has continued on into the time of Jesus, where most of the apostles were killed for their faith and their refusal to deny Jesus. As verse 35 says, they wanted to gain an even better resurrection, a new life in heaven. The world was not worthy of them. They were strangers in a foreign land. Our country is unusual in that it readily accepts foreigners, but historically and in other parts of the world, foreigners are treated as lesser people than citizens. They were foreigners to this earth and were seen as a threat to the kingdom of dirt, so they were mistreated and killed, but their hope lay in God’s kingdom.

It’s important to note that none of those people in the Old Testament received what they were promised. They lived their lives confident and assured and, yet, never received. “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (11:39-40) The promise of something better travels down to all of us and we will all receive that promise at the same time. We would all become perfect at once. This falls in line with what we heard from Jimmy on Easter. “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) In an instant, we will all be changed and made perfect. This is the hope that we can hold on to now.

It is encouraging to know that we are not alone in a life of faith. We have examples of many people who lived before us. We can see their trials and triumphs and know about our Lord. We are not blind in our belief. It is based on what the Lord has done. We close our passage today with, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (12:1-3) Because of those who came before us, we can toss aside what holds us back. We can leave our sin behind and run the life of faith. To do so, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus. Jesus is the one who perfected faith. He is the first to live a complete life of faith, all the way to his death on the cross. He had faith that he would bring salvation to all people and had faith the he would rise again. Even though he was shamed and beaten, Jesus had faith to sit down at the right hand of God. Jesus saw the most opposition from sinners, but he was the most victorious of all and the first to have God’s promise to be fulfilled.

When we live in a life of faith, we do not live a life of backsliding. We do not live a life of complacency. We live a life of surety in an unsure world. We can live confident in our hope of eternity. Without faith in Christ, we do not know what lies ahead, but with Jesus, we know that our home is in heaven and the rest does not matter. We cannot see heaven, but we are assured of it. It is by that very faith that we are saved. It is by that very faith that we have life. It is by faith that our weaknesses become strength. It is by faith that timidity becomes boldness. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, there is nothing that cannot be done.

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