St Michael & St Barnabas, Sunday November 1st, 2015
Readings – Hebrews 11:1-16; Mark 12:18-27
He is the God of the living (Mark 12:27)
What is faith? If anyone asks this question, our answer may well be to quote the first verse of our reading in Hebrews 11 as an answer …
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
But is that any help? Because for some it conjures up an image of blind faith … as Mark Twain once wrote, “Faith is believing something you know ain’t true.” (Following the Equator, Ch 12)
Now I hope that over the years, Revd Tim and I have given you sufficient reason to believe that the gospel stories of Jesus are true … we have looked at the eye witness accounts of the disciples in the Gospels, studied the evidence of the early church in Acts, toured the prophetic history of the Old Testament … but my task this morning isn’t to persuade you once again of the truths of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection … today I want to look at the effect of those truths in and on our lives.
You see, faith isn’t the same as simply believing something is true. Faith is a much bigger than that, it’s belief plus something else … and Hebrews 11 takes a long, detailed look at what that something else might be.
We didn’t have time to read the whole chapter this morning, and I don’t have time to go through all the characters and their stories in one sermon (you’ll be pleased to hear) … so I’m going to concentrate on what this chapter tells us about living a life shaped by faith. But I would love you to go home, read this chapter through – perhaps make it your devotional reading for the week – and to find out about all the people mentioned … if you don’t know their stories, look them up, read their stories, notice how many of them aren’t the super heroes of faith we imagine, but are real people, with faults and failings, yet the writer of Hebrews uses their stories to demonstrate the difference faith makes in our lives.
So back to this morning … I started by saying faith is belief plus something else. And we’re going to look at just three characteristics or effects of faith from our passage today – there are many more.
So, faith leads to action, faith is costly, and faith gives us hope.
I’m going to begin, not with the story of any of the individuals named in this chapter, but with the one foundational truth the writer gives us, v3,
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. (11:3)
Everything that follows, depends on this perspective … that God created the world in every detail and remained, remains, in control. The events that faced the heroes of faith were not random, nor were their actions – they too were shaped by this fundamental understanding, that God is in control of the world he made. Without that understanding, little of what follows makes sense. For example, read the beginning of Abraham’s story in v8,
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)
If it were not for Abraham’s faith in God, this would have been a senseless, even stupid thing to do, moving from a place where he was well known, had a home and family, food and security, to a place where he and those with him were unknown, unsafe, and unwanted. Faith is like that … it makes us do things that seem irresponsible to those without it. And those without it, can’t begin to understand those who act in accordance with their faith.
There’s one other thing our writer says about faith to help us understand this conundrum … in telling the story of Enoch, the author says of him that, v5,
… he was commended as one who pleased God. (11:5)
And then he tells us, v6,
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 then, seeks God … believing in God isn’t enough, faith urges us to seek him out, to spend time with him, to read his word, to be with his people, to pray and include him in every aspect of our daily lives, and to obey him. Faith is belief + action …
In the stories in this chapter, we read about many different kinds of action taken by those who had faith … from Abel offering the risky sacrifice of the first of his newborn livestock, to Moses leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. And even the writer to the Hebrews concedes that he doesn’t have enough space on his scroll to do his theme justice, v32,
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets … (11:32)
And then he runs out of space even to include their names … v33f,
… 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. (11:33-35)
It all sounds very exciting, doesn’t it? But read on with me, v35f,
Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated … (11:35-37)
Not such a rosy picture now, is it? But faith is costly … faith is belief that is willing to pay the price of trusting in God.
Abraham gave up his family home and security because God told him to go he knew not where. Joseph trusted God when he was taken to be a slave, not once but twice. Moses gave up riches and honour to fight for God’s people when it seemed hopeless. All of their many and varied stories have this same thing in common … belief leading to action leading to personal cost … and for some of them the cost was their lives.
But there’s something more … you see, the cost was worth it for the future that awaited them. Look at v39,
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. (11v39-40)
Not only did the saints of old look forward with hope to a life beyond this life, but we are part of that hope. In previous chapters of this letter, we’ve read that the priests ‘serve(d) at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven’ (8:5) … that is, that this life is merely preparation for eternity, that after death, there is something better waiting for us … and in chapter 10 we read,
… do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (10:35-36)
That is the hope that faith has. So faith is belief leading to action, faith has a cost, and faith gives us hope for the future.
#Faith leads to action. So let me ask you, what difference does it make to your life that you have faith in Christ?
#Faith has a cost. What has it cost you? How can we as a church support and pray for each other? For brothers and sisters around the world who suffer for their faith?
#Faith gives us hope. How can we encourage each other to ‘fix our eyes on Jesus’ (12:2) so that we do not grow weary or lose heart, but persevere for the sake of the joy that awaits us?
This week, take time to read the whole chapter, look up the stories of those mentioned and ask yourself how their story can encourage you or what it can teach you. And think about those three questions … perhaps even take the opportunity to share some of your answers with your small group, with friends or with Revd Tim.