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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:30am service, 2003-11-16

Text: Hebrews 11:1-4; 12:1,2

Thus far in our study of the book of Hebrews, we have seen many interesting points of contrast between the old and the new, and each point of contrast gives us a fresh appreciation of the supremacy of Christ. We have seen Christ to be a better deliverer than the Old Testament deliverers, Moses and Joshua. We have also seen Christ to be of a better priesthood than the Old Testament priesthood. We have seen Christ to be the mediator of a better Covenant than the Old Covenant. And last week we saw Christ to have made a better atonement than could ever be made by all the animal sacrifices that were offered in the Old Testament. 

What does all this mean for us? It means that if we have Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we have the very best of everything we need! God has made Him our Prophet, Priest and King. He is also our Righteousness, our Hope, our Joy, and our Crown. Dearly beloved, Jesus is truly our all in all, and we stand all complete in Him! How blessed we are to belong to Him, and that He belongs to us! When we are able to realize all that Jesus is to us, everything else in this world pales into nothingness. Let us never leave Him at any time nor forsake Him for anything or anyone in the world. To do that would be the greatest mistake anyone could ever make. Now that you have Christ in your life, love Him, be sure to always treasure Him and never let go of Him. Be like Mary Magdalene when she found the resurrected Christ at the Garden tomb - she clung to Him dearly and refused to let go of Him!

This morning we will discover yet another reason why Christ should be lovelier and dearer than all to us. This reason has to do with our need for faith. One thing that all of us as Christians always need is faith. No matter what your station in life may be - young Christian or old Christian, pastor, elder, deacon or church member - you will still need faith. In all my years as a Christian, I have never heard anyone say, 'I have all the faith that I need.' Instead, I have met many fellow believers who confessed that they lack faith, or that they desire to have more faith to trust in God. One good way to have more faith in God is to study the lives of great heroes of faith. 

These Old Testament heroes and the faith they had are all found in Hebrews chapter 11. Some describe it as a condensed register of the OT heroes of faith. But the purpose of this chapter is not to praise these heroes or to exalt them to be venerated by us (as the Catholic Church has done unbiblically for its many saints). Actually all of these heroes of faith of the Old Testament were sinners like us, with their weaknesses and faults recorded in the Scriptures. The purpose of Hebrews chapter 11 is to show that the Lord is the secure foundation of their faith, and that He is ever ready to reward those who have faith in Him. As we study the examples of faith, let us be convinced that the faith that worked for these people can also work for us.

A. The Necessity of Faith

The chapter begins with a definition of faith: 'Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.' Faith gives reality or substance to things hoped for. It leads us to feel and act about things we do not see, as though we can actually see them. To those who do not have faith, 'seeing is believing' but to those who have faith, 'believing is seeing.' 

For example, how do we know for sure that the world came into being by creation and not by evolution? No one was there to see what actually happened. No one except God. And since God has given us the account in Genesis 1 about how He created all things, we simply accept it and believe it on the basis of God's truthfulness, even though we have not seen it. To say 'I will not believe in creation until I have seen for myself solid scientific evidence for it' is to doubt God's Word, and to live not by faith but by sight.

And we all need faith all the time to live a life that pleases God. Hebrews 11:6 says, 'But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.' This was the way that many people have pleased God - by their faith in Him (v.2 'For by it the elders obtained a good report.') 

B. The Heroes of Faith

We shall proceed now to see how each of the heroes of faith pleased God by their faith in Him. The list of these heroes in chapter 11 proceeds in chronological order, beginning with those who lived before the Flood, 

A Men Before The Flood:

1. ABEL (v.4)

(Heb 11:4 'By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.') Some have assumed that the reason why Abel's offering was accepted God and Cain's offering was not was because only Abel's offering was a blood sacrifice. And if Cain had also offered a blood sacrifice like his brother did, God would also have accepted it.

However a look at the account in Genesis 4 will show that this was not the case. Genesis 4:2 tells us the reason why their sacrifices differed: 'Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.' Both brought a portion of what they had produced. Since Cain was a tiller of the ground he naturally offered the fruit of the ground to the Lord. There is nothing wrong with offering this to God. The fruit of the ground was in fact one of the kinds of offerings that could be offered to God in the OT Law (Leviticus 2). Why then did God accept Abel's offering and reject Cain's? Gen 4:7 gives us the answer, when God spoke to Cain: 'If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?' This means that difference between Cain and Abel was the attitude and manner in which they offered their sacrifices. And Hebrews 11:4 now explains that Cain did not offer his sacrifice by faith in God, but Abel did. May we also offer our sacrifices of praise, worship and gifts to the Lord in the right manner and attitude: by faith in Him! Without faith, our worship would be in vain. The next man of faith is:

2. ENOCH (v.5)

Heb 11:5 'By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.' All that we know about Enoch in the OT is given in Genesis 5:24 'Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him' Only a man of faith in God can enjoy such close communion with God And in the communion that Enoch enjoyed with God, God even showed him glimpses of future events, including the Second coming of Christ, as the book of Jude testifies 'And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds'. May we, like Enoch seek to walk with God and fervently warn others about the second coming of Christ - that they may flee from the wrath of God. The next hero of faith was the great-grandson of Enoch, who is:

3. NOAH (v.7)

Heb 11:7 'By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith'.

The nature of Noah's faith is seen in his good response to God's warning - immediate obedience to God's specific commands regarding the ark. The response of the rest of the world at that time was the very opposite. Instead of moving with fear and joining Noah to prepare the Ark, the people just scoffed at his preaching and refused all his pleas to be saved from God's judgment by entering the Ark (cf 1 Peter 3:19,20; 2 Peter 2:5). Thus by not having Noah's response of faith, they brought condemnation on themselves. Today there are many people who are doing the same thing: Refusing to be saved by entering into the Ark who is Christ. If you are such a person, please do not delay to enter, for God's judgment this time will not be by a great Flood by by fire! Having seen the heroes of faith who lived before the Flood we come to the next era in biblical history:

B. The Patriarchs

These include Abraham (v.8), Isaac (v.20), Jacob (v.21) and Joseph (v.22). These received the same covenant promises from God - one of these was that their descendants would become a great multitude of people who will possess the land of Canaan. But though they received these promises, they could see their fulfillment only afar off. And yet they lived and died with the fullest faith that God will fulfill all these promises. Heb 11:13 'These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.' 

You will notice that this verse states that the patriarchs were not only persuaded of the promises but they also embraced them. The word 'embrace' is the same word used to describe how one would greet a good old friend - with no hesitation at all, but with welcome, open arms. This makes it more personal, as if the fulfilment of the promises of God had become so real to them. And this is the reason why they never returned back to the comfort of living in the developed land of Mesopotamia where they had originated from (11:15), but chose instead to 'sojourn in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles' (11:9).

And no greater commendation can ever be given to any man than the one given to these patriarchs: that 'God is not ashamed to be called their God' (v.16). This was how God introduced of himself to Moses at the time of the Exodus (Ex 3:6 'I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'). How wonderful it would be if God is not ashamed to be called your God! May this motivate you to have the same faith in God that the patriarchs had. Now we look at the details given in this chapter of each of these patriarchs: The first is

1. ABRAHAM (vv.8-10,17-19)

The first aspect of his faith which is noted is his personal obedience to God's call to leave his homeland. (Heb 11:8 'By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.') The significant feature of Abraham's faith is that he accepted an inheritance on trust without even knowing where it was to be. This faith was further extended into the many unpleasant experiences that he endured as he sojourned in the land of promise. He lived there, not as the rightful possessor of the land, but as an alien. We too need to have the same faith as we sojourn in this world now as strangers and pilgrims.

The supreme demonstration of Abraham's faith was the offering up of Isaac. Heb 11:17,18 'By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called.' Abraham's faith is seen here in his obedience to God's specific command to offer up his son as a sacrifice to Him. The term 'only begotten son' must be understood in relation to the promises that God had made to Abraham earlier on. Ishmael, who was born earlier, was also Abraham's son, but only Isaac was the heir to the promises. It would be difficult for Abraham to offer any of his sons as a sacrifice, but doubly so for Isaac who was the child of promise. V.19 brings out the maturity of Abraham's faith when it says that he accounted 'that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.' Instead of choosing to doubt God's goodness or wisdom in commanding such a sacrifice, Abraham chose to trust in God's power to raise his dead son back to life! We too need the same kind of faith, when a loved one who is in Christ goes home to be with the Lord - by faith we know that God will raise him or her from the dead and we will be united again. Now we come to the first woman of faith mentioned in this chapter:

2. SARAH (v.11)

Heb 11:11 'Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.') Sarah is cited as an example of faith because of the important part that she played in the birth of Isaac. In view of her old age (90 years old), she was already unable to conceive and give birth a child. Although Sarah at first laughed when she heard that she was to have a child, her laughter turned into faith long before Isaac was born. The birth of Isaac was a great miracle. But an even greater miracle was the virgin birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we have Sarah's faith to believe it! Now we come to:

3. ISAAC (v.20)

Hebrew 11:20 'By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.' The blessing which passed from father to son was of great significance to the Jewish mind, because it was often prophetic. And when Isaac blessed his two sons, he believed all that God had revealed to him concerning their future, although Esau was the older son and would normally have the greater blessing. But God revealed that Jacob's line would have the greater blessings than Esau's. The elder would end up serving the younger.

4. JACOB (v.21)

A similar thing happened when it was Jacob's turn to bless the sons of Joseph. Manasseh and Ephraim. Hebrews 11:21 'By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.' When Joseph brought his two sons to be blessed by their ailing grandfather Jacob, he placed Manasseh, the elder son on his right and Ephraim, the younger son on his left. He expected Jacob to place his right hand on the elder son - which means that he would get the greater blessing. But because of faith in God's revelation to him, Jacob crossed his arms to bless the two boys and gave the greater blessing to Ephraim. These two examples (Isaac and Jacob) show us that when we have faith in God we will accept that His ways are always the best, even though they may run contrary to our own expectations (Isaiah 55:9 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.')

5. JOSEPH (v.22)

We come now to v.22 where we see the faith of Joseph described 'By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.' By divine revelation Joseph was informed of Israel's future exodus from Egypt. Joseph fully believed this and gave final instructions for his burial accordingly - that the Israelites would take his bones from Egypt and bury them in the Promised land. We now leave the time of the Patriarches and move on to the heroes of faith in the next era of biblical history:

C. The Exodus Generation

1. MOSES (vv. 23-28)

The description of Moses takes up 6 verses of this chapter because of his importance in Israel's history. The first evidence of faith was exercised by Moses' parents on his behalf. The parents of Moses disobeyed the king's command that all male children be cast into the river Nile at birth (Exodus 1:22) and they committed their newborn son to God, believing that in some way he would be preserved from death. They hid him for three months and after that, when they could no longer hide him, they floated him down the Nile in a basket, even though the river was known to have crocodiles. How abundantly God rewarded their faith. Not only was their child preserved from death but he was found by the princess of Egypt and given a royal upbringing as well, in the courts of the King of Egypt!

When Moses grew up he was able to exercise faith on his own behalf. V.24 tells us 'By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter'. This must have been one of the most difficult choices ever made by faith: The choice between enjoying all the manifold pleasures and treasures he could have enjoyed as the next king of Egypt, and suffering affliction with the people of God who happened to be the slaves of Egypt! The faith of Moses stands therefore as a real example of self-denying faith, since he chose to suffer affliction rather than to enjoy attractive pleasures. Like Moses, we Christians today need this kind of faith to discern the true value of all things as God sees them.

The next few verses (vv.27-29) relate the end results of this choice that Moses made - He left Egypt together with the rest of the Israelites after delivering God's command to the king 'Let My people go!' and bringing the ten awful plagues upon Egypt when the king tried to resist God's command. The mention of the Passover in v.28 relates to the last of these ten plagues (11:28) - the death of all the firstborn. It required faith for Moses to prescribe this measure for Israel, because it is hard to understand how the sprinkling of the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of a house can protect its occupants from the plague.

The crossing of the Red Sea also required great faith both on the part of Moses as well as the Israelites. In front of them was the formidable obstacle of the Red Sea. Behind them were the Egyptian armies in hot pursuit. This was a really great crisis, and there must have been many 'what if' questions in their minds - What if nothing happened when Moses stretched out his rod over the Red Sea following God's instructions? What if the Egyptians arrived at the time when the Israelites are crossing the Red Sea? What if the waters could not hold up long enough for everyone to get across? What if the Egyptians also got across? There was just one answer to all these questions - Faith in God. This is what Moses told the Israelites 'Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day' (Exodus 14:13). 

2. JOSHUA (v.30)

The power of God is not limited to parting the waters of the Red Sea. It can also bring down the walls of Jericho. This is mentioned in v.30- 'By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.' Although Joshua is not mentioned at all in this verse, anyone who knows the account as given in the Book of Joshua will recognize the key role that he played in the conquest of Jericho. To an experienced military commander like Joshua this strategy of taking a well-fortified city by just marching around the city several times and blowing trumpets would have seemed quite strange and futile. But through this Joshua learned an important lesson - Faith in God is a very formidable weapon! 

3. RAHAB (v.31)

While Joshua learned that faith in God can be a force for destruction, Rahab who lived in the city of Jericho learned that faith in God can be a help for deliverance. Heb 11:31 'By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.' This, by the way, is the second woman of faith in this chapter after Sarah. And besides that, Rahab was a harlot and not even an Israelite. She was a Gentile. Her inclusion in this list of heroes of faith shows us that anyone can exercise faith in God and receive the same rewards.

D. After the Conquest of Canaan (vv.32-40)

In the last 9 verses of this chapter, the writer of Hebrews very quickly lists the exploits of faith that come from the rest of biblical history, after the Promised Land had been conquered. This includes the times of the judges, kings, Israel's exile, return from exile and even the period of time between the Old and New Testaments. V.32 'And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets'

Their achievements of faith are arranged in 3 groups of 3: The first group are the attainments: The conquering of kingdoms, The establishment of justice; The inheriting of spiritual promises. The second group consists of feats of endurance: Stopped the mouths of lions (A clear allusion to Daniel in the lions den); Quenched the violence of fire (A reference to the ordeal of Daniel's 3 friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Dan 3); Escaped the edge of the sword

This is followed by the third group which are achievements: Out of weakness were made strong (eg. Samson's last act of destroying the Philistines when he was blind); Waxed valiant in fight; Turned to flight the armies of aliens. More remarkable feats of faith are described in vv.35-38: Women received their dead raised to life again - 2 such instances are recorded in the OT: Elijah's raising of the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17ff) and Elisha's raising of the Shunammite woman's son (2 Kings 4:18ff). 

Verse 35 mentioned those who were able to face painful torture - The primary reference here is generally held to be the torture and martyrdom of seven brethren during the Maccabean period of Israel's history. The 'Mockings, Scourgings, Bonds and Imprisonment' mentioned in v.36 may be a reference to the persecution that many prophets of God had to endure. E.g. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, who was imprisoned in a deep dungeon. As for the mention of being sawn asunder, this may be referring to Isaiah's death as recorded by some church fathers.

C. The Author and Finisher of Faith (12:1,2)

However, impressive as all these examples of faith may be, there is no greater example of faith than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is actually the climax of the whole list of heroes of faith - Hebrews 12:1,2 'Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.' It is important for us to note that for none of the heroes of faith in the previous chapter are we ever told to look unto them.

Why are we told to look only to Jesus, and not to the rest of the examples of faith that were cited earlier on? Because none of the Old Testament heroes of faith were perfect like Jesus. If we keep looking unto them alone, our faith would never rise above their imperfect faith. They all had their sins and weaknesses. And there were times when their faith was very weak. But Jesus had no sin at all, and He never wavered at any time in the path of faith. He has endured more by faith, accomplished more by faith and attained more by faith than anyone ever had. He endured even the shame and agony of the Cross. 

Therefore Jesus now stands as our supreme example of faith and we should look at all times to Him. This truth is echoed in 1 Peter 2:21 'For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps.' May the Lord help us to keep on looking to Jesus and following the example He has set for us.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11