Hello Bethel family & friends, Mark Wasemiller here again and I am so glad that you are joining me today as we dive into the first half of possibly one of the most well know chapters of the New Testament, Hebrews chapter 11. This chapter often goes by the nickname “THE HALL OF FAITH”. But before we start parsing the list of Hall of Faithers … exactly what is Faith?? I mean we often hear people say, “Just have a little faith.” But what exactly is faith?
How does the Bible define faith? The Greek work is pis'-tis (πίστις pístis) and it appears 247 times in the King James translation. “Pistis” can also be translated “assurance, belief, believe, fidelity” and is derived from the Greek root pi'-tho (πείθω peíthō), which means to convince or persuade, or as Strong’s Concordance puts it “Divine Persuasion”. So, if you haven’t read Hebrews 11 in a while, I would encourage you to pause this podcast and read today’s verses, Hebrews 11: 1-16 …. The Jewish Hall of Faith.
OK …. When our two youngest were about to graduate from high school several years ago, for their senior trip we took them to Southern California where we enjoyed Disneyland, Universal Studios, and also went to Hollywood Blvd and Vine where there are more than 2,700 five-pointed brass stars embedded in the sidewalk --- famously known as the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Or for you sports fans out there, how many of you have been to Cooperstown New York, home of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame? Or to Canton Ohio, home of the National Football League Hall of Fame? As you walk through the halls, there is memorabilia around every corner that commemorate the great feats of the GREATS and yes, even some of the not so greats. There are bronze busts of the members of the hall. Only the best of the best of the best makes it into the hall of fame. But alongside the busts of the greats, there are also items collected from history making moments that have been put on display for visitors to see and read about. And while not just any ordinary “Joe” makes it into these mausoleums of immortality, it is possible to have a shining moment that gets memorialized, even if you yourself don’t end up with a bronze bust on display.
Similarly, Hebrews 11 covers the stories of some of the best faith-keepers ever… at least some of the best faith-keepers of the Old Testament! If you’re looking to answer the question, “What is faith?” these stories are a great place to start. We get to see faith in action. Let’s take a look at these Hall of Faith-ers that the writer of Hebrews points out to us. Some on this list make very brief appearances in scripture, like Abel and Enoch, and some have multiple chapters dedicated to them, like Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah.
Hebrews 11 provides us with some insight into what it means to have faith. Those with true faith accept God’s word. They focus on the assurance that they do not see, looking beyond the situation and the circumstances that don’t seem to align with what is perceived by natural vision. By exercising this kind of faith, the Old Testament saints gained the warm commendation of God.
Hebrews 11 shows that faith is important because God's people are beset with weakness, poverty, and difficulty. This is why Hebrews 11:1 tells us, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." The context for faith is a life in which things are hoped for but not yet seen or possessed. Faith grasps things that are promised by God but are yet unfulfilled. We hope for:
power in the midst of weakness.
peace in the midst of conflict.
and for joy in the presence of sorrow.
For all these reasons, God's people require faith to persevere in a difficult world.
Faith is believing God's Word so that we may lay hold of things that are promised and make them real in our lives. Faith is the vehicle by which we possess heavenly things here on earth. The point is not that faith creates the things that we hope for—this is the false teaching of many today who use this verse to ascribe creative powers to our faith. Instead, faith receives from God the blessings that He gives. God gives forgiveness. He gives peace. And He gives spiritual provision. He promises a "city with foundations," in which we will live forever as stated in Hebrews 11:10. Faith is the evidence of these things in our lives, the conviction that draws strength from them so that we can moment by moment, day by day …… follow and live for God.
This Hall of Faith lists for us three pre-flood heroes, pointed out to us by God through his author:
The largest section of Hebrews 11 is given to Abraham. Scripture informs us of four things that Abraham did by faith:
He obeyed God's call
He lived as a pilgrim in a strange land
in his old age, he and Sarah gave birth to God's promised child
and by faith he offered up that son, Isaac, in obedience to God's command.
That is quite a life, and all by faith!
Something to notice about these heroes is not their personality traits, or their training, or their upbringing. We are not told that Abraham was a resourceful individual. The only thing that we are told that made him different from others was his faith. Because of Abraham’s faith, he made a difference for the whole world. By faith, the heroes of chapter 11 lived with a power the world knows nothing about. And they realized a salvation the world has ignored. Because of their faith, verse 16 says, "God is not ashamed to be called their God."
Faith can do great things in anyone's life. When you live by faith in God, no matter who you are and whatever else is true of you, you can make a difference for God's kingdom. What really matters is not your strengths or your weaknesses, not your training or lack of it. By faith you and I can be spiritual heroes. Why? Faith can do great things through you as verse six tells us, because God "rewards those who seek him." Faith gains its power from its object. And for those who hear, listen to, and respond to the call of God through the Holy Spirit, the object of our faith is the saving God of scripture who lavishes mercy and grace on those who trust in Him.
If you look for these heroes of faith in the secular historical records of the ancient world, there is not much recorded about them. Why is that? Because there is something faith will not do. Faith will not give you worldly fame and fortune. These heroes of faith were worldly nobodies. As a general rule, their faith earned them the world's contempt. So be aware that the same is true today about you and your faith.
But wait, there’s more! Take a look at verse 2: "For by it [by faith] the people of old received their commendation." And it just doesn't get any better than that. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for," begins Hebrews 11. What better to hope for than commendation from God—not just to be forgiven and received by faith, essential as that is, but to really please God with your life. By faith you may be assured of this and one day receive the commendation that ALL believers long to hear from their Heavenly Father …. “Well done good and FAITHFUL servant”.
What is it, then, that really matters in your life? Hebrews 11 says that what matters most about you, about every Christian, is your faith. And if that is true, nothing is more important than feeding and exercising and growing your faith. When you believe God's Word and trust His promises in the challenges of your own life, you enter into the tapestry in which faith's tale is still being woven today. By faith, you, just like Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Sarah, and Abel and Enoch, can do great things by God's power, and for His glory. Let’s pray:
Dear heavenly Father, thank you that in your omniscience you knew that as we walk through this life that we would need examples to look back on to be able to grow and bolster our faith. Like those you provided for us here in Hebrews. May we like Abel, offer to you a sacrifice that comes from the best of our life and possessions, because it already truly belongs to You. May we, like Enoch, live a life marked by deep fellowship with you. Like Noah, may we live a life of obedience despite the mocking world around us. May we like Isaac trust that our Father knows more than we do when we are asked to willingly be a living sacrifice. Like Jacob, may we speak blessing into the lives our children, blessings that have their origins in You and Your purposes. May we like Abraham listen to your call and be faithful to strike out and go to where, and when you lead us, even though we do not know where that it is or what awaits us there. But we do know that You the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, are already there, waiting for us. Thank You for the great cloud of witnesses in your Word and throughout the ages who finished their journey, having run the race that was set before them, looking to Jesus the author and finisher of their faith in whose mighty and precious name we pray. AMEN