Text: Hebrews 11:3-7
Faith means that we believe God created us.
Hebrews 11:3 — By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
Application: It is by well-founded faith that we believe that God created the universe.
Faith means that we believe God accepts us.
Hebrews 11:4 — By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.
Faith means that we believe God rewards us.
Hebrews 11:5-6 — By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Faith means that we believe God saves us.
Hebrews 11:7 — By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Application: Faith clings to what is promised (by God) and hoped for (by us) as something real and solid … though for now it remains unseen.
True faith in God is a lot like that first step. We don’t know for certain what’s going to happen, we just know that we need to take it is the only way to experience the fulfillment of God’s promises to us.
Opening: People matter. You believe that don’t you? As Christians we act like people matter, but what basis do we have for believing that sort of thing? The answer for us is simple: We believe every person has value regardless of age or gender, because each one bears the image of God. Now it would take a much longer discussion to figure out just what that means, but suffice it say that being in made in God’s image means that we are like Him in ways that the rest of creation is not, because the Bible doesn’t say that anything else is made in His image. We also believe that people have so much value to God that He sent His Son Jesus to die in their place for their sin. Think of it this way: If we were for sale and had a price tag on our lives, it would not say $100,000 or $1,000,000 or even $1,000,000,000. And that’s because we’re worth much more than that. Our price tag would read “the life of the Son of God.” That’s the price God paid for each one of us to redeem us from our sin. So, when Christians say that people matter to us, it’s because we recognize that they matter so much to God! Now how do we know that we’re made in the image of God and that Christ died in our place as the Son of God? We know it, because that’s what God says in His Word in places like Genesis 1:27 and 2 Corinthians 5:21, and we trust that what He says is true. In other words, we take it by faith. Now because we believe that people have value, Christians do more to help them than anyone else in the world. It was Christ-followers who were responsible for the establishment of countless hospitals and educational institutions and many charitable organizations like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, World Vision, Compassion International, Food for the Hungry and Samaritan’s Purse. They championed the rights of the disenfranchised, fought for child labor laws and freedom for those who were enslaved. And, of couse, these are but a few of the efforts that have been organized to serve the real needs of real people. All because Christians believe that God’s Word is true and people do have value and are worth our sacrifices to help them. Quite frankly, if we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t waste our time and resources trying to care for people. We would do what so many do — that is — look out for number one. But here’s the thing. Because we have faith in God and His Word, we order our priorities to align with His. And He says people matter. And so we take it by faith that they do.
This is the second message in a series I’m calling Unstoppable Faith. My hope is that I can help us understand that when God’s people trust Him and take Him at His Word, the power of the Holy Spirit is unleashed through Christians so that we can accomplish things that far exceed our natural and normal abilities, that make a difference not only in the present, but also for eternity. And the key to the whole thing is our faith!!! Last week we said this about faith from Hebrews 11:1 … it is the choice to cling to what is promised (by God) and hoped for (by us), because we know with certainty that it will come to pass, though for a time it remains yet unseen.
This morning, I want to continue on in Hebrews 11 and look at what faith means to those believers who have gone before and to all of us who have come after.
Faith means that we believe God created us. Hebrews 11:3 — By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. Now let me be clear, He didn’t just create us (humans) but everything else that exists as well! There’s a Latin phrase that describes what the writer of Hebrews is probably talking about. It is creatio ex nihilo. It means creation out of nothing. The idea is that God started with no raw materials and then created everything! A lot of people today dispute this idea. I know this will be a gross oversimplification of their ideas, but many believe that matter came into existence through a sudden and very powerful explosion (a big bang) that caused incredibly dense matter (referred to as a singularity) that contained all the mass and energy to form everything that exists. This matter expanded at a very high rate over vast amounts of time and created our expanding universe. Then evolution took over on our planet and life came into being. Now I’m not questioning the intelligence of the people who came up with this theory. I’m sure they are very brilliant, in fact much smarter than me. I just want us to acknowledge that this is only one possible explanation for how the universe came into being. And since no one was there to observe any of this, it is only a theory put together by men to attempt to explain our origins. I have a friend who is a research scientist at Princeton University named Benjamin Bratton. He graduate from the University of Wisconsin with a Phd in Physical Chemistry he earned somewhere around the age of 23. He’s the smartest person I’ve ever met. I asked him once if there was a little hypocrisy in the scientific community because they often state things as fact and then when more information comes along, alter their findings to create new facts. He smiled and said, “Yes — we do that.” I really appreciated his honesty and that’s all I’m asking for here as well. The Big Bang is one possible way to explain the origins of the universe, but it’s only one way. Most Christians, on the other hand, acknowledge what the Bible teaches about creation. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Again, we weren’t there to observe it, so we’re limited in our knowledge to what the Bible has to say about it. Six times in Genesis chapter one we read that God said, ‘Let there’ … and then later we read ‘there was’. This whole thing took about six days although some think otherwise. Because we believe God created our universe we shouldn’t be surprised that everything we see shows evidence of His intelligent design. This is the idea behind what is called the anthropic principle. It simply states that the universe was designed to sustain human life. This life is contingent on physical constants, laws, and properties that fall within certain narrow ranges. So narrow in fact, that in 2001 someone calculated the odds of this kind of thing happening as the result of chance to less than one in a number so large it might as well be infinity (10173). How big is that number? It is higher than the estimated number of atoms in the entire universe. Application: So it is by faith that we believe that God created the universe, but I would argue that it is well-founded faith. When we consider the evidence, it makes a lot sense to call Him our creator just as those who have gone before us said He was.
Faith means that we believe God accepts us. Hebrews 11:4 — By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Do you remember the story of Cain and Abel found in Genesis 4:3-7? They were the first two sons of Adam and Eve. The Bible says that in the course of time each brought to the Lord an offering. Since Cain, the older, was a gardener, he brought some of the fruit of the land. Abel, as a keeper of sheep, brought the firstborn of his flock. We’re told that God had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain’s he had no regard. People have speculated as to why God accepted the one over the other. Some hypothesize that Abel offered a blood sacrifice, while Cain did not. But the truth is that the text doesn’t give us the answer. We have to skip forward to Hebrews 11 to gain a little more incite. Here we’re given the reason why Abel’s offering was received by God and Cain’s was not. It says, “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice…” It doesn’t appear that Cain had presented the wrong sacrifice. His problem was that he lacked faith in God. He did not consider God worthy of his full trust and obedience. As a result, today it is Abel’s voice that still speaks to us because, though he died, he still lives. The same is not true of Cain. In Habakkuk 2:4 we’re told that “the just shall live by his faith.” It was because of his faith in God that Abel was declared to be righteous (Matthew 23:35 — the blood of righteous Abel). So the whole idea of being declared righteous is dependent on responding to God in faith. That’s why Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God. It wasn’t about what he offered, but his faith in the God to whom he made his offering that mattered. For the younger son of Adam and Eve it was the outward expression of his devoted and obedient heart to God. Today, Abel continues to speak to us through the Scriptures of the faith that is the basis for our acceptance by God. In Roman’s 8:1 we see that there is now no condemnation for those who have received God’s sacrifice for their sin by faith — that would be the death His son of the cross of Calvary. This is the basis for our acceptance by God — faith in His provision for our sin.
Faith means that we believe God rewards us. Hebrews 11:5-6 — By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Genesis 5:18, 21-24; Matthew 3:37; Micah 6:8; Psalm 43:4 — Enoch is listed in Genesis 5:1-31 as the 7th generation from Adam. Each prior name mentioned on this list is followed by the words “he died.” But when you get to Enoch, you discover that he did not die. It says, “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.” This is the writer of Genesis way of saying that Enoch didn’t have to go through the experience of dying to be with the Lord. In his case, God rewarded him for his faith by allowing Enoch to go directly to heaven. He is only one of two people in the Bible who were given this great blessing. The other was Elijah the prophet who was taken up in a whirlwind escorted by a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). Why did God reward Enoch in this way? The answer is given to us … He was commended as having pleased God. Now this isn’t a guarantee that everyone who pleases God will not taste death. It is however a statement about how God rewards those who demonstrate real faith in Him. This kind of faith involves believing in God’s existence (not just any God, but the God who created everything and revealed Himself to Abraham) and diligently seeking Him. I’m talking about believers who rely firmly on God, trust that His promises will be fulfilled and find in Him the source of their deepest satisfaction. The reward to those like Enoch who faithfully walk with God is to one day be able to see the unseen — God — and live in His presence for eternity. In other words, He is their reward. Illustration: Everybody loves a happy ending. In their recent book, The God Conversation, J. P. Moreland and Tim Muehlhoff illustrate the universal desire for a story to end well: “And they lived happily ever after” is a constant refrain in fairy tales, movies, and love songs. Our well-meaning friends tell us, “It’s going to be all right!” And we have proverbs that assure that behind every cloud is a silver lining. This desire for a happy ending seems deeply embedded within us. This desire is so strong that some artists and directors are forced to compromise in order to provide us with the ending we want. In the 2013 film August: Osage County, actress Meryl Streep plays the harsh matriarch of a dysfunctional family. The film unrelentingly shows the family ripping itself apart. Scene after scene is void of warmth, humor, or hope. The film fittingly ends with Streep weeping in the arms of the housekeeper as each of her daughters abandons her. As the credits roll, audiences are presented with the scene of the eldest daughter, Julia Roberts, standing in a field, smiling as she watches horses playfully run together as the sun goes down, casting everything in golden hues. In the background, a pop group sings an upbeat song: “Things are always better when we’re all together.” How was such an ending added to the troubling film? John Wells, who adapted the play, sheepishly admitted he was pressured into it. When the movie had been shown to test audiences, they had rebelled and demanded that producers provide a more hopeful ending. Thus, the movie ends with a classic Julia Roberts smile and a pop anthem playing during a glorious Sunset. Audiences got their happy ending, however forced. Hollywood has to create happy endings to make us feel better. But I want you to know that for those who walk by faith in God, like Enoch, God has already written into the script a happy ending — that we get to be in heaven with Him.
Faith means that we believe God saves us. Hebrews 11:7 — By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. When Noah was warned by God about things not yet seen, he responded obediently out of reverent fear and built the ark which rescued him and his family from God’s righteous judgment. His act of building the ark was a prophetic act by which he announced to the world the coming judgment of God. Noah’s escape from the flood is an essential link in God’s saving purposes for His people, His ‘household.’ God promises salvation to those who put their faith in Him. The word “heir” makes an important connection between those who lived by faith before the flood, and those who responded to God’s word after it (Abraham, Isaac etc). And just as God did at the time of Noah, make no mistake, He will again judge the unfaithful while saving the faithful. So says the Bible in Matthew 13:49-50: So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Only those who put their faith in Jesus will be saved from eternal death.
Application: Faith clings to what is promised (by God) and hoped for (by us) as something real and solid … though for now it remains unseen. What does this kind of faith do for us? It brings life and the power to obey to those who put their trust in God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Conclusion: Theologian Alister McGrath illustrates the kind of faith mentioned here in Hebrews 11 with a bottle of penicillin, the famous antibiotic identified by Alexander Fleming, and first produced for clinical use in [Great Britain]. The drug was responsible for saving the lives of countless individuals who would otherwise have died from various forms of blood poisoning. He challenges us to think of faith like this. A horribly sick person may accept that penicillin exists. He may even trust in its ability to cure what ails him. But nothing will change unless he takes a step of faith and allows the drug to enter his body and destroy the bacteria which is slowly killing him. Until then, he’s just a dying man in need of a cure. Alister E. McGrath, What Was God Doing on the Cross (Zondervan, 1992), pp. 99-100. A good illustration of this is found in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In it Harrison Ford plays the daring archeologist who along with his father is traveling the world in search of the Holy Grail, the cup reputed to have been used by Christ at the Last Supper that is believed to give eternal life to those who drink from it (bad theology, but a fun movie). Indiana’s father is shot just at the end of their quest. As he lay dying, his son’s search for the Grail takes on new intensity as it’s the only thing that can save the man. Forced to leave his mortally wounded father behind, Indiana walks ahead, following an ancient book that gives clues to guide him through a maze of obstacles to the place where the Grail is hidden. Finally, he comes to the brink of a chasm deeper than the eye can see. There is no visible way for him to cross the chasm. It seems that Indiana is faced with the impossible. All he sees is the sheer cliff edge and the vast gulf beneath him. Then, as he studies his guidebook, he comes to understand that he must take a leap of faith. With his father whispering, “You must believe, boy, you must believe,” Indiana looks straight ahead, gathers his faith, and slowly raises one foot into the empty air in front of him. With a thud, his foot lands on solid ground. The camera pans to show Indiana standing on a narrow rock bridge, deceptively carved to match the exact outline of the ravine beneath it. Overcome with relief, he quickly crosses the chasm and discovers the Grail on the other side. There’s more, but I’m not going to ruin the ending for you. Here’s the point: True faith in God is a lot like that first step. We don’t know for certain what’s going to happen, we just know that we need to take it is the only way to experience the fulfillment of God’s promises to us. Now the Bible provides us with the benefit of the testimony of those who have gone before, people like Abel, Enoch and Noah who clung to the promises of God by faith and were rewarded for their putting their trust in Him. But it is still a personal choice that each one of us must make.