Text: Hebrews 11:8-19
Introduction: At the end of a worship service, an old preacher announced that he was going to teach on Noah and the Ark the following Sunday. He then gave everyone the scripture reference so they could read it ahead of time. As a couple of young boys looked it over they noticed something about the placement of the story on the pages of the Bible. With that they slipped into the sanctuary and strategically glued two pages of the pulpit Bible together. The next Sunday the preacher rose to read the text. “Noah took himself a wife,” he read, “and she was…”With that he turned the pages that had been glued together and continued…”300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high.” The old man paused, scratched his head, turned back to the beginning of the story and read the words again, this time to himself silently. Finally, he looked up at the congregation and said, “I’ve been reading this Bible for more than fifty years, but I have to admit there are some things in it that even I have a hard time believing.” How about you? Do you sometimes have a difficult time believing some of the stuff written in God’s Word? I’m not merely talking about the stories, but also the promises contained in the Scriptures, such as Hebrews 13:5 – I will never leave you or forsake you andRomans 8:28 – And we know that God works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. I’m sure there have been times in all our lives when these promises seemed to be only words on a page rather than the basis for our confidence and hope as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet we can ill afford to waffle when it comes to our trust in God. In fact, the Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God. That’s how important it is that we grow in our trust in the Lord.
This is the second message in the series 7 Habits of a Healthy and Holy Christian. If you happened to be here last week we talked about the role of prayer — not only the kind that effects change in our lives and in those we love, but that which can bring spiritual revival to a church and spiritual awakening to a community or even a country. I want to thank you for your response to my challenge to pray once a week for your church, community and country. Forty-three people committed to praying weekly for each. Now this morning, I want to talk about another healthy habit that every Christian should embrace … the importance of putting your trust in (i.e. having faith) in God and His Word.”
Of course, there is a lot of untruth floating around today when it comes to the meaning of faith. Here are four misconceptions that we should clear up before we talk about the central role faith plays in our lives.
- Faith is not about at a life of ease and affluence. Though some teach otherwise (the Health and Prosperity Gospel people), the Bible makes it clear that we shouldn’t put our faith in Christ so that we can be wealthy and worry-free.Granted God is the giver of good gifts (See James 1:17), yet those gifts sometimes come wrapped in unusual packages that often include hardship (See James 1:2-4).
- Faith is not real if it doesn’t result in obedience. Many people claim to have faith, but saving faith leads us into a trust relationship with God that transforms the way we live (See James 2:14, 17). Christianity was never meant to be only head knowledge that leaves our hearts and wills unaffected.
- Faith is not a blind leap into the unknown. In other words, ignore the facts and choose to believe anyway. Rather than a leap into the dark, Christianity is a leap into the light. We are not asking people to close their minds to the truth, but to open their minds to it (See Isaiah 1:18). Remember we are to love God with all of our heart, soul and mind!
- Faith is not a synonym for any kind of “spirituality”. Some people believe that all faiths point to the one true God, but this is contrary to the teachings of Scripture. Jesus challenged the notion that all spiritual roads lead to God. In fact, He claimed there was only one way and that was through Him(John 14:6 – I am the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by Me).So as much as some would like to argue that sincere people can meet God through the practice of their own man-made religions, it can never happen.I like what the late Harry Emerson Fosdick,pastor of New York’s Riverside Churchsaid to a student he was counseling from nearby Columbia University. When the young man stormed into his office one day and proclaimed, “I have decided that I cannot and do not believe in God,” the pastor asked the fellow to describe the god he didn’t believe in. When the young man was done, Dr. Fosdick, said, “Well, we’re in the same boat. I don’t believe in that god either.” No…Christian faith is founded in what the Bible reveals about God, His plan and His promises. NOW HERE’S A DEFINITION OF FAITH THAT WE CAN ALL AGREE WITH.
Faith– (Hebrews 11:1 — Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen). Faith is the ability to trust in the Lord so that your actions demonstrate the utmost confidence that what He has promised will come to pass. That’s what real faith is and no believer can come to the Lord without it. Now, In the time we have remaining, let’s look at a passage from Hebrews 11 and see what we can learn about faith from a man who was known as much for his ability to trust God as anyone. That would be Abraham. Here are five observations about his faith.
By Faith, Abraham Obeyed the Word of the Lord (Hebrews 11:8 — By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going). At seventy-five, Abraham left his home in Haran at the Word of the Lord, and set out for the land of Canaan. It took some time, but eventually he made it. His response is remarkable when we consider that, having been raised in a pagan home and taught to follow other gods (Joshua 24:2 — Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods), Abraham heeded the voice of the Lord and left everything familiar to him in obedience to God’s call. In effect, he was forsaking his old way of life for a brand new one that no longer included pagan worship, but allegiance to the one, true God. Though the text doesn’t mention any kind of emotional struggle, it’s difficult to imagine that this was an easy choice for Abraham. Yet he realized that for God to lead him to a new life, he had to leave behind his old one.
By Faith, Abraham Waited Patiently on the Lord(Hebrews 11:9-10 — By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God). The interesting thing to note about Abraham is that despite God’s promise in Genesis 12:1-3 (the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed) and right up until the end of his life, the Father of Faith was never more than a sojourner(a permanent resident who did not own property— See Genesis 21:23). In fact, the only piece of land he ever owned was the burial place of Sarah which he purchased from Ephron the Hittite (See Genesis 23:12-16). Nor was it any different for Isaac or Jacob his son and grandson. They were aliens and strangers as well (See Exodus 6:4). Also, Abraham lived in a tent rather than a permanent residence. Though the land was promised to him, he never possessed it in his lifetime. How was he able to endure? This passage tells us that he was looking forward to a more permanent residence in heaven that Abraham knew with absolute certainty he would eventually inherit. ONLY THOSE WHO LOOK TO HEAVEN ARE CAPABLE OF ENDURING HARDSHIP AS THEY PATIENTLY DO GOD’S WORK ON EARTH. Illustration: The American missionary Adoniram Judson arrived in Burma, or today Myanmar, in 1812, and died there thirty-eight years later in 1850. During that time, he suffered much for the cause of the gospel. He was imprisoned, tortured, and kept in shackles. After the death of his first wife, Ann, to whom he was devoted, for several months he was so depressed that he sat daily beside her tomb. Three years later, he wrote: God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I cannot find him. But Adoniram’s faith sustained him, and he threw himself into the tasks to which he believed God had called him. He worked feverishly on his translation of the Bible, competing both the Old and New Testaments by early 1834. Statistics are unclear, but there were only somewhere between twelve and twenty-five professing Christiansin the country when he died, and there were no churches to speak of. At the 150th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into the Burmese language, Paul Borthwickwas addressing a group that was celebrating Judson’s work. Just before he got up to speak, he noticed in small print on the first page of His Bible these words: “Translated by Rev. A. Judson.” So Borthwick turned to his interpreter, a Burmese man named Matthew Hia Win, and asked him, “Matthew, what do you know of this man?” Matthew began to weep as he said, “We know him—we know how he loved the Burmese people, how he suffered for the gospel because of us, out of love for us. He died a pauper, but left the Bible for us. When he died, there were few believers, but today there are over 600,000 of us, and every single one of us traces our spiritual heritage to one man: the Rev. Adoniram Judson.” Still, like Abraham, Adoniram Judson never saw it come to pass and yet he persevered. That’s faith!
By Faith, Abraham Experienced the Power of the Lord(Hebrews 11:11-12 — By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore).Though the Greek excludes the mention of Abraham in these verses in favor of Sarah (as the ESV notes), he cannot be ignored, since the phrase actually describes the process of conception. That’s why the NIV translation says, “By faith, Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was able to become a father because he had considered him faithful who had made the promise”. God had declared that He would give Abraham a son and multiply his descendants like the stars in the sky and the sand on the shore. Children, after all, come from Lord (SeePsalm 127:3). Though well beyond the years of child-bearing, God blessed Abraham and Sarah with a son as a demonstration of His power. And from that boy, Isaac, He multiplied Abraham’s descendants until they numbered in the millions.
By Faith, Abraham Anticipated Being with the Lord(Hebrews 11:13-16 — These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city). Those listed in here in Hebrews 11 never saw God’s promises fulfilled, yet they died knowing that each one would come to pass. Five hundred years after Jacob, Israel first began to possess the Promised Land. For Abraham, it was enough to live there as strangers and aliens, to call God his Godand to await a heavenly city prepared for His people. And as Christians, you and I both understand the feeling of living in this world as aliens and strangers who enjoy a personal relationship with God now, but look forward to being in His presence when He calls us home.
By Faith, Abraham Proved Himself to the Lord(Hebrews 11:17-19 — By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back). It’s hard to judge which action of Abraham was his greatest demonstration of faith, but this one has to rank high. Isaac was the son of the promise, through whom Abraham would become a great nation and all the world would be blessed. When God called him to offer the boy on an altar built for worship, he did so believing that the Lord would raise him from the dead. Though he didn’t die, Isaac’s “resurrection” according to the author of Hebrews preconfigured the resurrection of Christ.
- Faith involves confident action in response to God’s Promises. According to Hebrews 11:6, any human activity that is not done in faith can never please our Lord. That’s why all the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 are included in the Hall of Faith. They operated based on a deep and personal trust in the God they followed. By faith, Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than his brother; by faith, Noah built an ark and rescued his family from a great flood; by faith, Moses lead the people out of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; by faith, Joshua led the armies of Israel into battle so that the walls of Jericho felland on and on. You get the picture. If you really have faith in the Lord, then you act in obedience to his word and believe his promises.
- Faith is the means by which God works in extraordinary ways in the lives of ordinary people. Many of those included in the Hall of Faith here in Hebrews were people not that much different from you and me. They all had their struggles with sin (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all caught in lies, Gideon was a doubter and David an adulterer), yet God did mighty things in and through them because they were willing to trust Him. Of course, He can and often does the same through us as well when we exercise faith.
- Faith involves trusting God in every circumstance and with every outcome. Again in Hebrews 11 we have examples of those who trusted God with a place to call home, the ability to have a child, the choice to suffer mistreatment above pleasure, the conquering of the Promised Land; and suffering persecution in the name of Christ to name a few. In addition, not all saw the outcome they hoped for in this life yet they continued to trust in the Lord. So how about you? Are you willing just like the saints of old to put your faith in God in every circumstance and with every outcome?
Conclusion: Do you believe that as well? No matter what has happened or will happen, God is worthy of our complete and utter faith. We know that if we put our trust in Him we’ll always land right where He wants us to. The African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of greater than 30 feet. Yet these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3 foot high wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. Faith is the ability to trust God when we cannot see the outcome. HE IS NOT A MAN THAT HE SHOULD LIE, OR A SON OF MAN THAT HE SHOULD CHANGE HIS MIND (Numbers 23:19). May we pattern ourselves after Abraham and all those who choose to walk by faith in our Lord.