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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:A Living and Breathing Faith
Text:Hebrews 11:1-2 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 46:1,5

Ps 38:1,8,10

Reading – Hebrews 10:39 - 12:3

Ps 105:1,2,4

Sermon – Hebrews 11:1-2

Hy 43:1,2,3,4,5,6

Hy 71:1,2


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, a few minutes ago we read Hebrews 11 in full. It’s a familiar and well-loved chapter. We like to hear about all those "heroes of faith." It’s a wonderful chapter, but what’s it really about? Is it a review of Bible history? Is it some kind of Biblical "Hall of Fame?" What is it?

You know that to understand any passage of the Bible we need to see it as part of a larger whole. We need to see not just the trees, but the forest. So also Hebrews 11 doesn’t stand on its own. It’s part of a long book, even one of the book’s very last portions – which means the foundation for our chapter and text has already been set in place, much earlier.

This letter to the Hebrews takes its name from the very Jewish character of its content. It’s full of references to Old Testament sacrifices, Old Testament laws, Old Testament people and events. It’s a letter first meant for Jewish Christians. The author of this letter is unknown to us, but certainly he was known to the audience he writes to. For he writes to them, very aware of their situation and needs.

We learn from him that these Hebrews had been Christian for quite a while (5:12). Yet something was going wrong: These believers were becoming lukewarm and lazy (5:11, 6:12). After earnestly accepting the message of the promised Messiah, they were losing their enthusiasm and zeal (3:14). Indeed, they had become lacking in their spiritual knowledge (5:12-14), and some of them no longer attended public worship (10:25). After a good start in the journey of faith – as often is the case with us also – these Christians were tiring out; they were looking at their feet more than the goal before them; and some were even turning back.

And so the writer knows these Hebrew Christians need exhortation. They need to keep their faith strong and active, otherwise they’ll fall away. Yes, without faith, they’ll die, just like the Israelites did in the wilderness long ago.

They must believe. And not just with the old faith, the faith expressed in those Old Testament ceremonies and sacrifices. These Jewish people need to believe in Jesus Christ. Again and again, the writer to the Hebrews points to him as THE object of Christian faith. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" (12:2). For as the writer explains, Christ is better than the angels, better than Moses, better than all the prophets, better than Aaron. Christ is all, and in all!

The Hebrews were thinking about returning to the old, comfortable way of religion. But there can be no turning back! For what was true for them is true for us: Not to live by faith is then to depend on outward things. Not to live by faith is then to look for salvation elsewhere. Not to live by faith in Jesus Christ is to die.

What then, is faith? What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ? For us it can be hard to say what faith really is. During a time of trouble and uncertainty, we might serenely tell ourselves and one another, "Have faith!" "Have faith" – it’s as simple as that. But no sooner have we said it and the hard questions arise: "What does it mean to have faith? And how do I know that my faith is in God?"

The writer to the Hebrews puts it very shortly in our text. "You want to know what faith is? Well, this is faith: ‘Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’" (11:1).

Now, what the writer gives almost sounds like a definition you’d find in a dictionary. And dictionaries are fine, useful tools, but we don’t turn to the dictionary when we’re up against real-life troubles and concerns. Someone might ask: What good is a dry definition of faith like this, when our hearts are crying out for something real? What good is it, when our hearts are pleading for help?

But before we discard this definition, we need to keep reading. For the writer adds something in v 2. "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." And then… "This is what the ancients were commended for." It’s this line that introduces the rest of the chapter.

The writer then gives his readers dozens of lively examples of what faith is like. As Jews, the readers would’ve known these stories well. They were familiar with people like Enoch and Isaac and all the rest. But now they need to see what really was going on in the lives of these ancient saints. Now they need to see what it was that made these "heroes" tick. It wasn’t the spirit of adventure. It wasn’t an iron will in face of oppression. These saints were moved and shaped, established and encouraged, by that one thing: Faith.

We see in Heb 11 that for us Christians, faith can never be just a definition, theoretical and stale. Faith is real. Faith, by definition, is put into practice. And when we say that faith is put into practice, we’re not talking about the way James speaks in his letter, that faith must work, that faith must bear fruit. No, true faith is also – very simply – the act of believing. Faith is put into practice when our heart is full of confidence in God. Faith is put into practice when we have a steady assurance in God’s Word. Faith means that no matter what is happening, no matter what anxieties and fears are being experienced, in here there is calm. In here there is peace – peace rooted and founded in our faithful God.

That’s how the ancients did it; that’s how they made it through whatever God placed on their path – by faith. That’s how the Jewish Christians addressed by this letter could do it, too – by faith. And that’s how you and I will make it through – by faith. Not by dry, "textbook," dictionary-like faith. And not by faith that’s uninformed or underfed. But we’ll make it through this life with a faith that’s living and breathing, faith that’s given by God, and strengthened by God; faith built on who God is, and on what God has done.

In the chapter just before our text, the author has been busy showing how the one sacrifice of Christ is all that’s needed. To wrap up his point, he again drives home the dire need to put faith in this Saviour: "For we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved" (10:39).

And truly believing is so much more than a feeling. It has substance. On the bones of our faith there must be meat. For faith, says our text, is being sure of two things: Things future, and things not seen.

First, says the author, "Faith is being sure of what we hope for." Now, hope is a very human sentiment. There’s that saying, "Hope springs eternal," because humans so persistently look for a better day. There’s (almost) always hope – hope for improvement, hope for relief, hope for success, hope for health and wealth and long life. People want to look beyond themselves, to the good things that tomorrow or next year might possibly bring.

How then, does a Christian look at tomorrow and beyond? What do you pray for? Beloved, what you do hope for? A Christian must hope for the things that are promised but that he hasn’t yet received. For example, every day we’re being renewed by the Spirit of God; but we also long for that day when sin will never again infect our hearts. We hope for the day when God’s work in us will be complete!

Another example: The church is being gathered as we speak, but we long for the day when so many more will have accepted the good news. We hope for the day when the body of Christ will finally be finished.

And we hope also for the end. We long for the day of Christ’s return; we long for the day when our sinless and eternal fellowship with God will begin. That’s our future, our goal; and that’s our hope.

In short, we hope for God to fulfill every last one his promises. With this hope, we’re just like the saints of old. Consider how Abraham lived by faith; "When called to go to a place he would later receive… [he] obeyed and went, even though he didn’t know where he was going… For he was looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (vv 8,10). And how could he do this? How could he step out on a limb, never mind how foolish it looked? Abraham "considered him faithful who made the promise" (v 11). Abraham "was looking forward" – he knew God’s blessing was on the way!

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and so many more – all these "were… living by faith when they died. They didn’t receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance" (v 13). They had hope, for they kept looking to the future, far away on the horizon, a destination that came closer with each passing day.

And here’s where the Christian’s hope is so different than the hope an unbeliever might have. As we said, many people do have hope; they call it their wish, their desire, their dream. Whether realistic or not, whether it’ll ever be fulfilled or not, is beside the point – people want to have hope. But a Christian’s hope isn’t just a flaky feeling, a passing desire, an impossible pie-in-the-sky. Faith means we are sure of what we hope for.

For even though we hope for what’s yet to come, our hope is guaranteed. In the original, the author uses a word that indicates how certain our hope actually is; he says our hope is like an ownership document. That is, when you buy a car or a house, you get documents that prove you’re the real owner. It is legal, official proof that what you claim is actually yours. In a similar way, says the author, true faith is having the ownership papers of what you hope for. You can’t point to it in the garage, like you can point to your car. But if you have true faith, you possess already – in reality – the eternal things that God has promised. What God is holding out is so sure, so trustworthy, so real – it’s already yours, by faith.

That’s how we’ll make it through this life. We hold on to the hope of what God has promised; we know He’ll deliver on what He said. It’s true, our faith isn’t always so strong; sometimes we really wonder what God has in store. Yet when God gives us faith, He also works to give us assurance also. We are assured of our future. We know the dead will rise again. We know we will live forever. We know God will complete his work in us. We know that no matter what happens, no matter the trouble we face, we belong to Christ forever. That’s our present reality; and that’s our future hope. We cling to it, and we know it’s true!

Yes, we know what God has said about our future, and we’re sure it’ll come to pass. And the author says that faith is being sure of something else, as well: "Faith is being certain of what we do not see." Once again, the author uses a very strong Greek word to tell how secure faith really is. He says faith is being certain of what we don’t see. And this word "certain" suggests "evidence" or "proof," the kind given in the court of law. What can’t be physically seen is by faith shown, very clearly, to the eyes of our heart. It cannot be denied!

"Faith is being certain of what we do not see." If anything is unseen, it is God himself. He is invisible; no one can see him and live. Yet faith tells us that the invisible God is there. Faith tells us again and again, "Here is God – He is your Father, and you are his precious child."

Knowing this, we (again) understand how the saints could do what they did: they believed in the invisible God. For example, Moses left Egypt, "not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible" (v 27). With the eyes of faith Moses saw the living God, and Moses knew this God would preserve him to the very end, despite all that mighty Pharaoh or his hosts might try.

Beloved, faith brings the things of heaven to earth! Faith doesn’t ask to see, feel, taste or touch – for it accepts all that God says as true. For example, we don’t see the angels that God sends every day to protect us, but by faith we know they are there. We know they’ll guard us when we drive; they’ll keep us when we’re sick; they’ll defend us when Satan attacks.

We also don’t see the Father’s loving hand, but by faith we know it is there. We know He’ll hold us; we know He’ll guide us; we know He’ll open his hand in rich blessing. We’re sure of his Fatherly hand, even though we don’t see it resting on our shoulder.

We don’t see Christ our Saviour enthroned above, ruling on our behalf, but by faith we know He is there. We don’t see him on the clouds, but by faith we’re certain that this world is his; by faith we know that there’s nothing that can fall outside of his perfect power. By faith we fix our eyes on the ascended Christ!

We also don’t see the Holy Spirit in our hearts, but by faith we know He’s there. We don’t see heaven, but by faith we know it’s there. Because we’re only little humans, and sinful, and limited, there are things we cannot – we may not – see right now. Yet we believe, and we live in this faith.

For all of ch 11, we read how the saints lived by faith. With these saints, there was often a stark contrast. There was a contrast between those unseen realities they believed in, and the visible appearance of their lives. For them the human outlook was often dismal – oppression, disaster, burdens too heavy to bear. And still today, from a human perspective, it seems God’s people often have no reason to believe; Christians get sick, and suffer, and die; they go through intense anguish; they are ridiculed and killed. And yet in the lives of the ancients – and in our own lives – we can see how much is possible when we have faith!

No, we haven’t been told to build a boat for a coming worldwide flood. We haven’t been instructed to leave our homes for lands that we haven’t seen. We haven’t been promised children though we’re ninety or a hundred years old. We haven’t been commanded to step into the waters of the sea, trusting that they won’t wash over our heads. And yet, the need to live by faith hasn’t decreased at all. As it was then, so it is today, "Without faith it’s impossible to please God" (v 6).

The need for faith is still there, but then so is the power of faith. By faith we overcome the flood of our sins. By faith we continue and even complete the pilgrimage we’re on. By faith we step into the foaming waters of trouble, and we know that God will bring us to the other side.

As we said, our faith is so imperfect. We have our doubts. We wander and we wonder. Even after a while of intense faith, depending on God for everything – even then we so quickly slip back into relying on ourselves. But once again, we look to the saints of old. They were holy men and women, but they weren’t perfect. They sinned (even terribly), they strayed, their faith grew weak and frail, yet they were accepted by God – as the writer says, these all were commended for their faith.

God commends those who believe, but not because of their goodness as believers. God commends us, because He says that faith is the way to him. Like nothing else, faith brings God the glory, for true faith can only rest in who God is, and on what God has said. Again, faith is being sure of what we hope for – the promised things we know God will give. Faith is being certain of what we do not see – the invisible realities we know God has put in place.

When we look at Heb 11 then, we see not a "Hall of Fame" nor a "Wall of Heroes." We see people in whom God has shown much grace, and abundant faithfulness. And yet the saints of this chapter are also meant to inspire us; we’re called to follow in the steps of the ancients. As the author exhorts in Heb 6, "We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised" (v 12).

Already in this life, some of them reached the victories God promised. We read about how Israel was delivered from the Egyptians, by faith. We read about how the walls of Jericho fell, by faith. Rahab was spared, by faith. Through faith, says the author, these saints "conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; [they] shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; [their] weakness was turned to strength." By faith, we too, receive small portions of what God has promised. By faith, we have small glimpses of what is unseen.

But we also have to wait. Indeed, in Heb 11 the most outstanding witnesses are the martyrs, those who endured great suffering and who died for the faith:"[They] were tortured and refused to be released… [they] faced jeers and flogging… [they] were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two…" (vv 35-36).

These martyrs all kept the faith and were commended by God, yet in this life "none of them received what had been promised" (v 39). For in the end, sometimes that is the heavy demand of faith. That we live many years without relief from pain and illness. That we carry heavy burdens until the end. That we endure countless sorrows. That we even face persecution and death. But just as the saints of old, we must hold on.

The saints of old persevered, because -- and here’s that central theme of Hebrews -- they looked to Christ. Even though they didn’t know him, even though He hadn’t yet come, they kept their hope in a Messiah. With only a faint knowledge of what the Christ would be, by faith the saints of old "welcomed [him] from a distance" (v 13).

In this, these saints are examples to us; as the writer continues in ch 12, "Since we’re surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (v 1). This is a picture of an athletic contest in a great amphitheatre; a marathon in a vast stadium. We are running the race, and all around us are the saints of old. They aren’t spectators, but examples. They show us how it’s done.

Let us then make sacrifices like Abel. Let us stand apart from this world like Noah. Let us follow God, and trust God, and listen to God at all costs, like Abraham. Let us look to the future like Isaac and Joseph. Let us be like Moses and have no fear of men. Let us fight our battles even to the death and win, like all the saints of old.

For that’s how they lived without even knowing Jesus Christ. How much more then, ought we to live by faith in him! We have not seen the Christ, yet we know him. We know He was faithful to the end. We know He rose from the grave. We know He ascended into heaven for us. Yes, we know how dear we are to him – so dear that He even gave up his own life in our place. Knowing the Christ, let us believe in him with a faith that lives and breathes on each new day! Beloved, come what may, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith!" (Heb 12:2). Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2006, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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