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Hebrews 11

April 15th, 2012 by Vic

April 15, 2012

Hebrews 11

“Models of Faith and Hope”


This chapter reminds us that our lives should be lived and directed by our future and not our past.  Mom and Uncle Walt tell the story of Grandpa Schoenborn transplanting seedlings from the canyon to an upper pasture.  He carried buckets of water to them for a couple years.  He was asked why he was doing that.  He was too old to ever reap any profit from these trees.  He would never enjoy them.  His simple reply was, “Somebody will.”  Now Kevin is hoping to build a home and use some of those trees in the framing of his dream home.


The tragedy of our culture is reflected in the bumper sticker on the motor home that says, “We are spending our children’s inheritance.”


This chapter is a celebration of the faith and hope of those who oriented their lives to the future that God had promised them and their children.  Is your life oriented to the future that God has promised you or are you complaining about what happened to you in the past?  Are you complaining about something that someone said about you or did to you?  Are you focusing on your limitations, your health, or your mistakes rather than the faithfulness of God and His promises?  Maybe today you can think a little about your future.  What has God promised you?

The Greeks believed that faith was a characteristic of the uneducated person who believed in something without any real facts to support their belief.  The writer to the Hebrews says that each person in this chapter received a witness from God.  The word ‘witness’ (2, 5, 7, 39) is translated ‘commended’ in the NIV, and ‘received approval’ in the NRSV.  The root idea is martyr.  The passive verb form means these people of faith received a witness from God.  God confirmed their faith: sometimes without a word, sometimes with a command, sometimes with a promise.


So it is today.  Our western culture has a Greek understanding of reality and faith.  We talk about hard facts and empirical evidence forgetting that the unseen is also real.  Are we listening to the world or God’s Word?  These witnesses in this chapter are remembered here to encourage us to continue believing in the reality of God and the future He has promised.


11:1-2  The writer describes faith.  Faith in its simplest form is an act of trust.  Faith in God’s word celebrates now the certainty of future blessings and events that are as yet undisclosed.  Faith in God demonstrates the existence of a reality that cannot be perceived through objective sense perception.  Faith provides evidence for that which has not been seen with physical eyes.  Faith and hope are both oriented toward the future.


For the person who is pure in heart, faith adds insight to the mind and light to the world so he sees God in everything.  The writer does not try to define faith, but he describes faith and tells us what it does.


11:3  Those who doubt the evidence of faith must remember that reality existed before the visible universe was formed.  Creation is a witness to faith that believes the physical universe was formed in response to the personal word of God.  Faith confirms the reality of that which God has not made visible to our eyes.  The discernment of the unseen creative activity of God is seen by faith.  By faith we understand that the visible world was not made out of anything observable.  God did not use a visible chaotic mass or a previous earth to create this world.


11:4 Looking back through the OT the writer notes that Cain and Abel both knew that God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s.  By faith Abel received an attesting witness, a commendation from God because his heart was pure and righteous.  God spoke well of Abel’s offerings because his heart was right.  Cain got very angry.  God asks Cain in Gen 4:7, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”  Heb 11:6 also explains this event further.  “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  Abel’s faith in God lifted his perspective beyond the present.


It is by his faith (and not by a blood sacrifice) that Abel pleased God and continues to testify to the reality of God.  Abel responded to God without reference to the spoken word (as in the case of Noah) or the promise of God (as with Abram).  Abel found access to God and fellowship with God because his heart was right.  Abel continues to speak of the faith that wins approval from God.


11:5-6  By faith Enoch was translated by God so he did not experience death.  Enoch received God’s approval prior to his translation.  Enoch had an inner awareness that he was drawing near to the real, living God and so he regulated his conduct accordingly even when God had not spoken to him directly.  He believed that God exists and that He establishes a relationship with those who earnestly seek Him.  Enoch enjoyed pleasing God.  His life pleased God.


11:7  God warned Noah about events that had never occurred before.  Noah was convinced of the certainty of the flood without ever experiencing rain.  He reoriented his life to follow God’s instructions.  The flood was an objective hope that was real to Noah’s faith.  Faith alone made the flood real to Noah.  Noah’s faith became a sharp rebuke to his godless contemporaries.  Our world today is much like Noah’s day.  Does our future orientation condemn the world’s momentary consumerism?  Noah’s faithful obedience pleased God.


11:8-19  God called Abraham to move from the family farm.  He left immediately in faith, not knowing where he was going.  He was eager to obey God.  Faith for him was an active response to the spoken word of God.


It is common to think that Abraham’s inheritance was Canaan.  But as you read 9-10 it becomes clear that he lived in tents in the land of Canaan looking forward to the city coming down from heaven.  He was not on a pilgrimage to heaven or the city of God.  By faith he was expecting the promise because he knew it was not here yet.  This is written to encourage the readers.  We also are pilgrims and resident aliens living in a foreign country waiting for the city built by God.  Because of Easter we know that the kingdom of God has come.  Jesus is on the throne.  The final judgment is coming soon.


God’s promise is renewed to each successive generation (9).  We are tent-dwellers in the land where God wants us right now.  Our tent-encampment is without foundations.  The city with foundations has a King who is firmly established.  This is an obvious metaphor for the kingdom of God that was confirmed at Easter.


By faith Abraham was enabled to become a father (11-12).  Faith cooperated with his body to produce the strength to father a child.  He believed that God kept His promises.  Faith in God’s spoken word produced descendants as numerous as the stars.


Faith in the power of God overcomes death.  These people of faith did not let death call into question the validity of the promises.  Although they were promised ‘a place’ they remained resident aliens throughout their lives.  They were able to see events that were as yet unseen.


They were looking forward to a homeland (14), a better country (16), a city with foundations.  Their faith was oriented toward a future place that is superior to any other place.  Their faith was not misguided.  They had a divine discontent with this world.  The city they were looking forward to has already been prepared.


God tested Abraham (17-19) regarding his faith for the future.  When Abraham obeyed God’s command to leave the family farm he was giving up his past.  But was he willing to surrender his future as well?  The requirement to sacrifice his son did not make sense.  This son was part of God’s promise.  It seemed to contradict the character of God.  It was contrary to family affection.


The word ‘offered’ (17) is in the perfect tense which views the sacrifice as an accomplished and perfectly accepted event.  The intention of Abraham’s heart was to obey.  God saw his heart.  He placed his confidence in the power of God (19).  The writer is calling the reader to faith in the power of God.  God is faithful.


11:20  Even when dying Isaac looked forward to the fulfillment of the promise that was still unseen.


11:21  Jacob blessed his grandsons ‘while dying’.  The faith of the patriarch was oriented to the future.  The staff for the Hebrew was a sign for a pilgrim.


11:22  Before his death Joseph asked that his bones be buried in Canaan.  He recognized that death would not cancel the promises of God.


11:23-29  The courageous faith of Moses’ parents made them fearless of the Pharaoh.  They saw the favor of God in their child.  His unusual attractiveness was to them a visible sign that he enjoyed God’s favor and protection.  Faith in God will overcome fear.  Perfect love casts out fear.


Moses acted in faith when he had grown up.  He made a moral decision to be a Hebrew (24).  He chose to do what is right and suffer mistreatment rather than enjoy pleasure and power for the moment.  Like Christ, Moses exchanged the joy he could have had for hardship and suffering with the people of God.  His faith was oriented toward the future.


Like the readers of this letter, Moses suffered disgrace, insult, loss of wealth, and loss of home.  But he had no fear because he kept the One who is invisible (27) before his eyes.  He kept on persevering and seeing the unseen God.  He had a habit of spiritual perception.  He kept God continually in view.


Moses carefully followed God’s instructions (28).  He believed God would keep His promise to spare the first born of Israel.  In faith the people obeyed God’s word.  The people shared the faith of Moses and by faith (29) they walked through the sea.  They could only be delivered if they responded in faith.


11:30  The writer does not mention the 40 years of faithlessness in the wilderness, but remembers the faith of the people to obey God’s instructions at the walls of Jericho.  The people obeyed and their obedient faith was rewarded.  They had no weapons to fight with.  They had faith in God.


11:31  Rahab is the only woman set as an example of faith.  “The traditional description of Rahab as ‘the prostitute’ has its source in Scripture.  She was, nevertheless, a recognized member of her family group (Josh 2:12-13, 18; 6:23), and this was a status not normally enjoyed by a prostitute.”  The Hebrew word in Josh 2:1 denotes “to act in a friendly way to an enemy”.  Rahab was … a friend of those owing allegiance to an alien power.  She may have prostituted her allegiance to her country rather than her body.  In the OT story she professes her faith.  “I know that the Lord has given this land to you” (Josh 2:9-11).  The early conquests of Joshua had become common knowledge.  She recognized the hand of God in the events and displayed a faith oriented toward the future.  She was prepared to risk present danger for the sake of future blessing (Josh 2:12-16).


11:32-40  The writer expresses his intent to abbreviate his discussion.


Gideon exercised his faith by reducing his army from 32,000 to 300.  Barak at a critical moment acted in faith against a superior military.  Samson acknowledged his victories were the gift of God and displayed a powerful dependence on God in death.  Jephthah displayed a depth of devotion to God even in a rash vow.  David displayed a strong reliance on God even as a youth.  Samuel and the prophets were men who demonstrated faith to their own generations.


11:33-35a  Through faith many escaped the threat of death.  Kingdoms were conquered.  Through faith they did what was right.  Through faith they attained the promised blessings.  They shut the mouths of lions.  They extinguished the fury of the flames.  They escaped the edge of the sword.  Some were raised from the dead.  But others…


11:35b-38  Now we are reminded that many others exercised faith but were not delivered from humiliation, suffering, and death.  Their deliverance came through suffering and martyrdom.  Some were offered release if they would recant their belief in God.  They had faith in a better resurrection.  Faith in God’s faithfulness is not a lightly held commitment.


Many chose to endue severe hardships rather than compromise their convictions.  Many faithful men and women sought refuge in remote areas in preference to disloyalty to God.


“The world was not worthy of them” (11:38).  Although they were deprived of everything, they were worth more than the whole world.  Are we worth more to God than the world?  With God’s help I will remain faithful.


11:39-40  What is our motivation for being a Christian?  Do we live for God when it benefits us?  They believed in God and did not receive everything that had been promised.  Living in harmony with the promises of God without experiencing the eternal reward was characteristic of faith itself.  We call it living by faith.


The writer does not distinguish here between the achievement of Christ at his first coming and the full realizations of God’s promises at the second coming.  With His blood Christ provided redemption for man.  We’ve been set free from the power of sin.  His blood purified our hearts by faith so we have unrestricted access into God’s presence.  Christ initiated the new covenant and sent us the Holy Spirit to teach us God’s word.


The perfecting of faithful men and women under the old covenant depended on the sacrificial death of Jesus.  His high priestly ministry includes all the faithful in its blessing.  For the person of faith, the future is no longer insecure.  We wait expectantly for the return of Christ and the fulfillment of all the promises.  Peter says we should be pregnant with the word of God and have a growing faith within us.  Are we willing to remain faithful even when it hurts?  Let’s follow the examples of those who have lived by faith.  May Jesus find us living by faith.

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