PART 1 – FAITH
OVERVIEW OF THE SERIES
In Hebrews chapter 10, the writer (maybe Paul, maybe not) encourages disciples of Jesus to persevere in their faith – not to give up whatever is happening around them or to them – but to always trust in the LORD. He (cos it probably is a “he”) now goes on to look at God’s “heroes of the faith” – men and women who show that, with faith, all things are possible in the will of God; men and women who show that faith in God will enable them to risk all of themselves, resist all that the world demands of them outside of God, and rebuild the society in which they live.
A “hero” is someone whom you admire, whom you would like to be like. So, especially when you’re young, you seek to copy them, be like them, act out their lives – a girl plays a game in which she is her schoolteacher, a boy dresses up as Spider Man, a teenager looks and talks like the latest pop icon. Who was your hero when you were younger?
And so, chapter 11 of the Letter to the Hebrews introduces characters who we are meant to look up to as heroes, meant to strive to emulate. Do you recognise any of them from this description?
There is the lowly shepherd boy who became a king. There is a would-be king who gave it all away and became a shepherd. There is the despised brother, hated and sold into slavery… or the one who was, quite literally, left for dead at the hand of his own jealous brother. Then there is the reluctant hero, the one who was least in his family and whose family was least in their tribe that God used to save the nation of Israel; Or the preacher of righteousness who saved no one outside of his own family. And let’s not forget the harlot who put her life on the line to help God’s people and defy her own nation. (I Gordon: “Faith – move over Ironman”)
As such, when we look at this “hall of honour”, we see the example for us to fulfil our Vision 2022. Over the coming weeks we shall be looking at Abel and Enoch, Noah and Abraham, Moses and Rahab and many, many others. Their lives of faith are to spur us on to be everything that God has called us to be in a world that is increasingly turning away from God. And as we live out the lives that God has called us to, we will become aware that they are looking down on us from the “bleachers of the stadium of life” cheering us on, encouraging us, and challenging us to run our lives totally in the race of life for God – fixing our eyes on the “prize” of eternal life (see Hebrews 12: 1-13)
INTRODUCTION TO THIS FIRST SESSION
We are going to follow the thinking of the writer of Hebrews as he investigates what faith is by studying the first three verses – and so look at the meaning of faith before looking at the “heroes” themselves:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.
3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Hebrews 11: 1-3 KJV)
Now, we don’t usually use the King James Version in our studies – but today we will because of the way it translates verse 1. And don’t you just love the KJV translation of verse 2. It’s like God looks at the people of the Bible as a kind of divine, just, wise, school master – because of their faith He gives them a good report – He says, “well done”.
You may have heard, or possibly even feel, like the little girl who was asked to define faith and said “Well, faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” That may raise a smile but actually, faith isn’t believing what ‘you know ain’t so.’ But that is how the world often sees it. Faith isn’t positive thinking (‘everything is going to be alright, things are getting brighter, I’m feeling better’) or just a vague wishful hope that things will work out somehow. Here is what the Bible says about faith:
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11: 1 NIV)
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV)
“Now faith is the assurance (title deed, confirmation) of things hoped for (divinely guaranteed), and the evidence of things not seen [the conviction of their reality—faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses]” (Amp)
FAITH IS THE “STUFF OF CERTAINTY”.
Last Sunday I was one of those throughout the nation who jumped up and down, cheering the brave “Lionesses” who brought the Euro 2022 Cup home to England after a dearth of major national football trophies for 56 years. Well done girls! You “done us proud!”
Before the match happy, smiling, but nervous fans were asked for their predictions. All whom I heard declared with hope that the Lionesses would beat Germany (I even heard one lad predict a 2:1 win for England!)…yes, they spoke with “hope”.
“Hope” here is a “wish” a “longing” of “how I would love it to be”. It’s an “I hope it doesn’t rain today”. But it is a hope without certainty. England could have lost…
Hebrews 1: 1 makes a different declaration. The writer states that our faith is the “substance of things hoped for”. This is the “stuff of certainty”. It is not a “wishful hope”, it is a “certain hope”. It is a certainty – not yet realised, but it shall be – that when we die, we shall go to Heaven and live in Paradise forever because this is the sure and certain promise that has been given to us. Now, many sceptics would argue that this is a “blind hope” because “no one can be sure for certain that this will happen – what evidence have you got?” Ah! Well – here is where we can see it is NOT a “blind hope” – for the Resurrection of Jesus, witnessed by hundreds, is our evidence. He came back from the dead: He was dead and then He was alive – never to die again. And He proved by this that all His promises were true. We have not yet been there (apart from a significant few who have had the wonder of “near death experiences”) but our faith is the “stuff of certainty” that we have Paradise to look forward to – where:
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21: 4)
FAITH IS SEEING THINGS THAT CANNOT BE SEEN – IT’S “SPIRITUAL VISION”
Oh, we know what we can “see with our own eyes”.
In the words of Len Magee, we see…
“People crying, children dying”
…in a world where nothing SEEMS to make any sense.
We see Russia attacking Ukraine and the atrocities that seem to accompany war.
We see political turmoil in our nation and lies of politicians.
We see sexual scandal rocking the established church.
We see the march of Islam and sexual revolution.
We see the Church marginalised and free speech compromised.
That’s what we SEE – in the natural.
But what we see by faith is very different.
By faith we see the hand of God upon this world. By faith we see God in control. By faith we see God working out all things for good for those who love Him. By faith we see a time coming when Jesus shall return. By faith we see New Heavens and a New Earth.
By faith we trust in God to do all that needs to be done.
This is why we are not overwhelmed when everything is going wrong. This is why, by faith, we are not in despair through illness or poverty or war or hatred…because, by faith, we see a better place.
This, indeed, is the fact that our faith is the “evidence of things not seen” – for faith gives us “spiritual vision”.
Actually, as a related side issue, I read of an atheist who said to a Quaker, “Have you ever seen your God? Have you ever touched your God? Have you ever smelt your God? And you say you have a God!” The Quaker thought for quite a while and after a long pause, replied, “Hast thou ever seen thy brains? Hast thou ever touched thy brains? Hast thou ever smelt thy brains? And thou sayest thou hast brains!” I can’t easily “prove” spiritual vision…but that is where faith comes in I guess!
“BY FAITH WE SEE…”
So, let’s get straight into it. Having been told that faith is the evidence of what is not seen, the writer to the Hebrews says this ABOUT US…
“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” (Hebrews 11: 3)
Before we go any further, consider the wonderful implications of this simple verse. When we think of the “heroes of the faith” we call to mind Abraham, David, Noah – mighty men whom we can only hope to emulate. But, the writer of Hebrews cites as the very first “hero”….YOU! How marvellous! How humbling!
So, why start here? Why use Creation as the example of how WE, by faith, see what cannot naturally be seen?
We can SEE with our physical eyes the beauty and wonder of the universe. The new James Webb Telescope shows the awesome and unimaginable depth of the universe in which we live. Yes, we can SEE the universe…but we can’t physically see HOW it was made, WHY it was made, WHEN it was made and WHO made it.
Man without God wrestles with these questions and pronounces many different theories (which unfortunately are taught in our schools as facts) from “Big Bang”; to “billions of years” of natural, un-designed, development; to a “thick chemical soup” from which all life sprang on this earth.
But we, by faith, spiritually see how the universe was made. By faith we believe the truth of the Word of God – the Bible. And the Bible declares:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1: 1)
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible (Colossians 1: 16)
It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshalled their starry hosts. (Isaiah 45: 12)
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1: 3)
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’ (Revelation 4: 11)
Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm (Jeremiah 32: 17)
Etc, etc, etc. By faith we see that the universe was made by God, by His command, that He brought into being by His Word all things.
By faith we might not know the HOW He made it…and so should respect the views of those who believe in “theistic evolution” (ie that God used – what we call – natural physical laws to start the whole process) rather than a sudden, short, creation where stars and trees and animals and humans just happened at the “click of His divine fingers”); and we should also respect the spectrum of views on “how long” this creation process took – the 6 literal days of Genesis chapter 1 (and Exodus 31: 17), or the billions of years that 6 “time periods” could encompass.
But, by faith we know that He DID create it.
Again we ask “why start here”? Why not start a discourse on faith with our knowing with certainty that Jesus died for us to make atonement with God for our sins which He took on Himself at the Cross and that as such we have been redeemed and have the sure and certain hope of eternal life?
Well, maybe it is because everything starts at the beginning. Maybe it is because once we start with the premise of faith that God made everything, then we can continue with such arguments that “therefore everything belongs to God and God is in control of everything”.
I Gordon (op cit) says this:
But let’s look at verse three in a different way. Verse three, in a roundabout way, sums up what the rest of this chapter is all about. It speaks of a God who caused light to shine where there was darkness. It speaks of a God who created something out of nothing. There was just darkness and He spoke saying ‘Let there be light!’ And there was. Amazing! But that isn’t His greatest miracle. Yes, He can make something out of nothing but His greater work is making ‘a somebody out of a nobody’. That’s what the rest of this chapter and these stories of faith are all about. God’s first act of creation back in Genesis also points to what God would do in the New Creation which all true believers have become. Paul understood this and wrote:
2 Corinthians 4:6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
The first act of creation was a wonderful miracle, but it pales in comparison to the wonder of the new creation. We don’t see what God has done here very well yet. It is hidden in Christ. But we will.
SO…WHAT’S THE CHALLENGE HERE?
Maybe it is to accept that we should be more tolerant of the understanding that others have regarding how we interpret what is in the Bible. Our faith is that God created all that is seen. How He created it is seen in different ways by many. Let us beware of weakening the faith of many by telling them that they are wrong in their interpretations of the faith (Paul speaks himself of different viewpoints towards eating meat offered to idols and challenges the insistence that non-Jewish Christians had to be circumcised – a challenge for which I am eternally grateful!).
I Gordon (op cit) declares that the overall challenge of Hebrews 11 is this:
Martin Luther said “Faith sees the invisible, believes the incredible and receives the impossible. Then, it accepts the impossible, does without the indispensable and bears the intolerable.” Notice that this quote, like what we see in Hebrews 11, involves things we like to hear as well as some we may not.
‘Faith sees the invisible!’… Yay wonderful faith!
‘It does without the indispensible’… Ooooh, I’d rather not.
‘It receives the impossible!’… Hooray, give me more!
‘It bears the intolerable’… Hmmm, do we have to?
We see this in Hebrews 11 as mentioned. By faith some quenched the power of fire and shut the mouths of lions! Hooray! Others, by faith, were stoned and sawn in two not receiving what was promised. Ugh. By faith women received back their dead by resurrection (yippee!) while others, by faith, were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection. Eeeek.
But they did what they did ‘by faith’. How about you? Are you currently walking by faith? Ok, your current story may not be a lion-mouth-shutting, goliath-stone-slaying epic like some in Hebrews 11. But you have your story and so do I. Life throws us all enough curve-balls that require a daily entrusting of our life into the hands of the One who upholds all things and cares for us. We should also remember that faith thrives when living by normal sight fails. Those aren’t generally the times we look and pray for but they are the times that faith comes into its own. George Mueller said ‘God delights to increase the faith of His children…I say, and say it deliberately–trials, difficulties and sometimes defeat, are the very food of faith…We should take them out of His hands as evidences of His love and care for us in developing more and more that faith which He is seeking to strengthen in us.’
Finally, as we ask the Holy Spirit to increase our faith, we must remember that:
- Our faith WILL be tested – and like Peter we will start walking on the water and then see the waves and hear the wind and begin to sink. Thank God that He will be there to hold us up!
- Our faith is PRECIOUS – we are told that without faith no-one can please God. So be encouraged.
- Our faith will end in SIGHT – we will see the One in whom we have believed. So, let it be said of us that we were still living by faith when we died (Hebrews 11: 13) – what an accolade!
As we seek to “Risk, Resist and Rebuild” let us embrace the faith that will enable us to enjoy the good times and endure the bad times as we go forward in our life for God.