By Simon ManchesterSunday 3 Jan 2021Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
Hebrews 11 is probably the most famous chapter in the book of Hebrews, telling us what life looks like if you have faith in God. If you are feeling this morning that your road is a very uphill, you’ve lost the incentive to be faithful or wondering if it’s worth it to be a Christian or perhaps Hebrews 11 will be a great benefit to you. We are going to ask three questions as we look at the chapter;
- What and
The “why” question is Why is the chapter in our Bibles? It is not just an inspired purple passage. It could be turned into a series. We could preach a very worthwhile series on Hebrews 11 but it shouldn’t be separated from the Book so why is it there? There’s our first question.
The second question is, what is the chapter saying? Because it says a lot more than if you become a person of faith all will go well. Some people were wonderfully blessed for their faith. Some people were sawn in half. So we need to work out what the chapter is saying to us about faith.
And the third question is how we might be people of faith? Especially given today we are in a culture which regards faith as unintelligent, foolishness and Hebrews chapter 11 says that to be a person of faith is eminently sensible and yet you may have to go through the world being considered accused, denigrated for having faith in Christ.
Why was Hebrews 11 written?
The people of the book of Hebrews were greatly tempted to under-estimate Christ because he couldn’t be seen. Whereas the temple around the corner could be seen and so they were under great pressure to give up on Christ and to over-estimate the temple and especially all the ritual which the temple had been providing for them for such a long time. And they felt a certain loyalty to the temple and they were struggling with this new loyalty to Christ.
We know that into the world of the Old Testament came the Jewish man, Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah. He announced himself to be the Son of God, and he proved himself to be the Son of God and then in his death he wrapped up all the ritual of the temple in one death and now the writer is appealing to his readers, and he is basically saying’
- Can you be a person of faith not sight?
- Can you go on the Promises?
- Can you live by the Promises?
Or do you have to live as somebody who sees a building, walks to the building, recognises the ritual and is dependant on the sights, sounds and smells? Or can you walk by the Promises? That’s what the writer is really saying.
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So the first great reason for Hebrews chapter 11 is challenging the readers to be people who believe. Who believe the promises. And the author does a masterly job of sweeping across some of the Old Testament believers to show that they lived by promises and didn’t have a lot to go on regarding what they saw or felt or experienced and so not everything fell into place for the Old Testament believers.
For example, Moses didn’t get into the Promised Land. Not everything was on a plate for the Old Testament believers. Many of them had no worldly success at all, and many of them faced considerable opposition and even martyrdom for believing the Promises.
We read in verse 13 of chapter 11, They didn’t receive the things promised. They lived their life with no earthly reward but verse 40 “God had planned something better” “a city to come”.
So do you see Hebrews 11 fits precisely into the argument of the Book of Hebrews because it’s an appeal not to fall for the secular voice or even the religious voice which ignores the word of God and says to people ‘only believe what you see.
If you miss what’s in front of you, you’re going to miss everything. And there’s nothing more to come so you might as well grab everything you can because that is all there is.
The message of the Scripture is that if you listen to the word of God who is a very faithful and a very able God and if you will trust him and go forward by his word, you will receive more than you can receive by ignoring him.
So, in the end, everybody has got to go through the world with either living by the voice of the world or by living by the voice of the God who made the world – that’s the choice we have to make.
The second reason that Hebrews 11 is written, and this is perhaps even more stimulating, is the great answer to the pressure which is being placed on these original converts in the 1st Century, these struggling believers, to be true to their Ancestors.
Imagine these converts who had a sense in which they have turned their back on the great Abraham and Moses by now following the Christ of Christianity and the pressure is on these converts, maybe from their families and neighbours who are basically saying to the ‘where is your loyalty, how can you give up on the great ones of the past – our Ancestors, our forefathers?’
So the writer of Hebrews is saying, OK let’s go back to the great forefathers, let’s go back to these ancestors, let’s take a reporter, and we’ll climb into a Time Machine and we’ll go back with a camera and a microphone and we’ll ask these great ancestors, these great forefathers, what they want you to do?
If they say “Stay with the temple and stay with the ritual”, then that’s what we’ll do.
So the writer of Hebrews goes back to the ancestors, the forefathers Abraham, Moses and others and the message from them loud and clear is “You are to go forward as a pilgrim trusting in the Promises of God”. You are not to go backwards.
They would say to the 1st Century believers “we also were looking for the Messiah, now he’s come, trust him. We are looking for the city beyond this world, don’t fall for this world”. And so the very forefathers and ancestors who were being presented as the epitome of loyalty would be saying to these 1st Century believers – “go forward, do not go backwards”.
That’s the context therefore of Hebrews chapter 11. It fits right into the argument. It’s not free-floating. It’s a very wonderful part of the argument, and God’s people we are being told in this chapter are people of faith in the word, and they go forward by faith in the word.
A doctor asked me at a conference once, “I am facing a huge amount of suffering, and I would be interested to know if you have anything to say to the people that I deal with and mix with who are looking for answers – is there just one thing to say?”
That’s a massive question, but I remembered the little phrase of David Cook at a Katoomba Men’s Convention who said that the reason the world is in a mess that it is in, is because we are not in the Garden anymore, we’ve left the Garden, the Garden is over.
We are now between the Garden and the City, and because we are outside the Garden and not yet in the City, we are in a very difficult and fallen world. But God is faithful, and he’s going to move his people from the Garden to the City, and therefore the worst thing to do is to settle down with what we’ve got or to take your eyes off what he has promised will come. And that’s very much what the writer here in Hebrews chapter 11 is saying “Don’t take your eyes off what God has promised – it’s around the corner”.
What is the book of Hebrew saying?
Hebrews 11 talks about the subject of faith. It says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”.
Faith means that you don’t always get to see. How can this make sense? Well because a huge amount of the way in which we live our lives and the decisions that we make is based on not what we see, but what we heard.
We have faith, says the writer, in the fact that God made the world, but we weren’t there to see it. We have reasonable faith that God did make the world because it’s a very very weird thing to think that the world made itself. And we also have faith that God made the world because he tells us in the Scriptures and we’ve learned to believe that the God of the Bible is a faithful God.
So we weren’t there to see the making of the world, and yet we believe the world was made by God. It makes good logical sense, and it makes good Biblical sense, and you’ll see the writer doesn’t begin with a hero at the beginning of the chapter.
He says “this is what we believe”. We are the sort of people who believe what we don’t see because there is a certain logic to what we are believing and there is a certain word that is standing under what we believe.
So, of course, the secular voice says that the visible world made itself but we have chosen to believe a different word which is ‘God made the world’, and we’ve got a good reason to believe that.
Let’s talk about the subject of faith. In the end, every single person in the world has faith, whether they have faith in themselves, somebody else or something. Everybody who has sat in a pew this morning has put faith in the pew.
The second thing is that every person’s faith does have an object. You can’t have faith free-floating. Faith is in an object. It could be the chair, it could be some authority, it could be the taxi that will take you home, whatever it is you have faith in an object.
The third thing is that faith is only as good as its object so that if you decide to skate out with huge faith on a pond with millimetre thin ice, you’ll almost certainly go through and if you skate out on a pond with very little faith, but it is one metre thick, you’ll almost certainly survive. Faith is as good as its object.
The fourth thing to say about faith is that Christian faith is in the person and the promises of Christ. He is historical, he makes well reasonable promises. It’s a very reasonable faith. The last thing that God asks us to do is to unscrew our heads and leap into the dark. He very carefully persuades us before he asks us to commit.
And the last thing about faith in a very general way is that it doesn’t need visible proof to be trustworthy because if the word is trustworthy and the one who speaks the word is trustworthy, then faith in the one who speaks the word is wise. So most of our life is run on messages, that’s the way the writer of Hebrews 11 is speaking.
But he’s got some examples of faith.
The first one is Abel (verse 4) Abel in the Old Testament who took God seriously because he offered a sacrifice which pleased God.
Then there is Enoch (Genesis 5), and we’re told that he pleased God because he also took God seriously.
And of course, most of us know of Noah (Genesis 7) he took God seriously because he built an ark. Why did he build an ark? Because he had a word from God to build an ark, and although the Bible never tells us that people laughed at Noah, they must have laughed at Noah because there he is building an ark on dry ground with no big storm on the way.
But he’s had a word from God that there is to be a storm and there is to be a flood, and he acts on the word of God. So he takes God seriously, somehow God persuaded him, Noah took him seriously and Noah was right to do it. Here are three men who pay the price of taking God at his word.
Now Abraham is the classic example (verses 8-16), and he was a man of faith in three areas. One is that he left his home for the Promised Land, although he couldn’t see it. The second is that he believed God could produce a son even though he and his wife were in their 90’s and the third is he was prepared eventually to sacrifice his son even though God had told him the son was going to be the key to the future.
And we ask ourselves the question ‘why did Abraham leave home?’ The answer is that he had a good word from God. If we ask ourselves the question ”why did he have a son”? The answer is that God said he would. If we ask the question “why was he prepared to sacrifice his son?” the very shocking and striking answer is that God told him to and he decided to be obedient.
F. F. Bruce says in his good commentary “Abraham saw that it was God’s responsibility to reconcile his promise – you will have descendants and his command ‘sacrifice your only son”
Now if we could interview Abraham this morning up the front of the building and if I could say to him.
“Abraham when you left for the Promised Land could you see it in the distance”? He would say “No”.
Could you see your wife’s pregnancy? No
Could you see the solution to sacrificing your son? No – but I did know that God had spoken clearly, says Abraham, and I knew that he was a faithful God and I knew that he was authoritative and so I decided to act on his word.
And all of these people say the writer looked forwards because they had the word behind them. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are all people the writers say that looked forward.
Part of looking forward is that you lose things in the present. You pay the price if you are going to follow Christ, certain things will go, will disappear.
Moses (verses 24-28) is an excellent example because Moses deciding to take God seriously said “No” to an Egyptian title. Imagine that would have been quite an offer. He also said “No” to opportunities to indulge himself like a pagan. I imagine with his power in Egypt, Moses could have had a tremendous time indulging all the different aspects of the flesh and Moses said “I’m taking the word of God seriously” which means I am saying “No” to all the opportunities to be a man of the flesh.
Moses also would have said “No” and turned his back on a huge amount of money. He also would have knocked back a lot of power but he trusted the word of God, and the writer of Hebrews 11 says “he escaped the destroyer and crossed the Red Sea” and as they went down the track towards the Promised Land those walls of Jericho, which were impenetrable fell because God had made a statement.
Even Rahab, the prostitute, was living in the city who had heard the word of God from a distance and believed the word of God decided to stand on the word of God, and she was protected.
The great thing about this is the word of God; whether you are a mighty one or you are a sinful one, it’s the word of God on which we stand. That’s where our security is found.
I don’t need to tell you that secular advertising is an absolute genius telling you that you ought to seek your comfort and you ought to seek your security. There are a thousand very gifted voices in our ears telling us that we ought to be as comfortable as possible. That we’re not meant to take risks for Christ, that we are not meant to take up our cross, we are meant to look after ourselves and be as secure as possible.
That’s why you and I have to work out whether we are going to take seriously the voice of Christ or we are going to take seriously the voice of the world.
If you do take the voice of God seriously the question is ‘will you be victorious, will you be successful, will you solve all your problems?’
The answer in Hebrews 11 is ‘yes sometimes’, and the writer gives ten examples of people like Daniel and Elijah whom God wonderfully vindicated in the immediate in the present. But the Bible also says that if you are going to take the word of God seriously, you are going to take up your cross and follow Christ, you also must expect some suffering and some loss.
The writer gives ten examples of people like Isaiah and Jeremiah who basically the world slaughtered and the point at the very end of the chapter if you look at verses 39-40 is these were commended for their faith yet none of them received what had been promised because God had planned something better so that only together with us they would be made perfect.
You can see why Hebrews chapter 11 is such a masterful chapter because these Jewish converts couldn’t possibly have read this chapter without being persuaded that their great heroes of the faith were people who walked by faith, not by sight and went forward not backwards looking for the Messiah and looking for the City to come which is exactly what the Gospel has called them to do.
And when we read of course in the New Testament that God is for us and that he who gave up his Son for us, how much more could he do for us, we discover that it is eminently wise thing to be a Christian.
How might we be people of faith?
We need to be aware that there is a God-given word which is called the Bible which is going to tell you the truth about God and yourself and your salvation and your priorities and about the future.
And there is a strong contradictory voice coming in my ears all the time from my sinfulness and the world, the devil and I have to choose on the hour, day by day basis which voice I am going to take seriously, and you have to do the same.
So maybe there is a particular sinful issue that you are wrestling with at the moment, and basically, it boils down to ‘what does God say?’ and what do you say?
Maybe there is a particular temptation that is facing you and in the end will boil down to what do you think and what does God say? And that’s the way we have to live our Christian lives and when we take the word of God seriously, costly it is, we discover that there is a loving God who is communicating.
Secondly, we need to recognise that if we heed the word of God that it will not impress worldly people. When you pay the price of taking the word of God seriously and rejecting certain pleasures which others are enjoying and when you decide to reject certain promotions which others are being offered and when you decide to turn your back on a certain pathway which is very available to you or maybe you are not doing this for yourself, but you are doing this for your children or your grandchildren, you can’t expect the world to look and say ‘that’s sensible’.
There will be those conversations where people will say to you ‘how are your children, how are your grandchildren and are they making lots of money?’
You’ll say they are not making lots of money as they are getting ready for Ministry, they are getting ready for Mission.
No, they are not making a lot of money and keeping it, but they are making a lot of money and giving it to Gospel work.’ And you’ll never really be able to expect the secular mind to grasp what the Bible is calling us to do.
The people of Hebrews 11 were not insane. They were sane, but they weren’t appreciated.
The third thing is that if there are people, and there are people in this church, who swap their house for maybe a tent in Mission or they swap their expensive holidays for advancing the Gospel, or they swap being famous for being anonymous. One of our Missionaries I suspect could be very famous in this city but is almost anonymous.
Or maybe you are the sort of person who decides that you won’t serve yourself, but you will serve others instead. Let me encourage you by saying that you will have all Eternity to reflect on that decision with great gratitude to God. You will be glad for Eternity that you made that choice and that you took the word of God seriously. You’ll never look back and say ‘I’m sorry I did that’.
You could look back and say ‘I’m sorry I didn’t do that’ but you’ll never look back and say ‘I’m sorry I took the word of God seriously’.
And the fourth and last thing is to say that people who seem to lose everything for Christ will one day (and this is a promise from God) be seen to have virtually lost nothing in the light of what they have gained. I’m not saying that you gain because you lose, you gain because Christ has won it for you. But when you lose in the light of what Christ has won for you, you’ll be seen one day to have virtually lost nothing and have gained so much at his expense.
I recently went for a doctor’s checkup and the lady got out a tape measure, measured my waist, and I’ve moved into the green warning zone for fatness. This is basically because physical fat creeps up and it creeps up the older you get faster.
There is no easy answer, is there to physical fat except to take some serious action and there is no real easy answer to spiritual fatness which creeps up much the same.
And if you are like me, it’s very very easy to get physically fatter, and it’s very easy to get spiritually fatter as well. I think the spiritual fatness creeps up because we hear things but we don’t act on them. They go in one ear and out the other, and a kind of spiritual fatness gathers around us where nothing seems to get exercised.
We need to exercise on the promises of God and the warnings of God and the commands of God, and that’s why these verses of Hebrews chapter 11 are not for us to look at this morning and say ‘how nice’, but to ask a very simple question and that is this:
Is the word of God shaping the way you think and live?
This is the sobering question, isn’t it? Is my lifestyle between this Sunday and next Sunday in any particular way a shock to the world because it’s been lived by the word of God and not by the word of the world? Is my life a little shadow of the world?
It’s worth you and me asking this question, whether we are just a little shadow of the world, basically living like the rest of the world with some information stored up here or whether that word of God is shaping the way we think and shaping the way we live. We know for certain that God has planned something better for us and he has planned it at great expense through his Son. We will be there one day – now is our opportunity to show that we are taking seriously what God says in his word – let’s ask Him to help us to do it.
Our Heavenly Father we thank you that you have spoken so plainly in Scripture. And we thank you again for giving us the Scriptures in our language so accessible, and there are certain things in the Word that you have said we know so well.
We pray that you would forgive us for listening more keenly to other voices and we pray that you would help us to have very sensitive and obedient ears to the Word which you have plainly set forward.
We ask that you would help us Heavenly Father even in these next hours to be conscious of what we know in the Scriptures and then to do it.
We pray that you would give us courage in the face of testing and the face of temptation and the face of scoffing and the face of cost.
We pray that as we put our trust in our great Saviour and Lord, that you would help us to walk in his steps with great joy and we ask that you would fill us with hope, fill us with faith, and fill us with love. We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.