I appreciate your kind comments these past few weeks as we have worked our way through the first major part of Hebrews.
It is sobering to think that we might be sitting in this auditorium with heads of households who might not be faithful to the cause of Christ in coming years…and it moves us to our knees to be prayerful that we can be of help to encourage any who might “lose heart” and fall away.
Those who might move toward this unfaithfulness can lose the spiritual resources they need to make progress in this life..and certainly could miss out on the reward that is waiting at the end of our short time on this earth
The best thing we can do – and the first things we can do – is to be faithful ourselves. To get our priorities straight for those in our households, both physically and spiritually!
To appreciate chapter 11, which we will begin studying soon, we need to see it in its setting in Hebrews. Hebrews 11 was written not just to give us a great chapter on faith, but because faith was what the readers needed.
God’s Prescription For Discouragement Hebrews 11 Introduction
Our world does not encourage us in the direction of God, or Christ, or the Word of God or a “called out body of believers…the church” does it? I hope today and in coming weeks we will be reminded of circumstances in our life (and people) that brought us to that point of conviction and belief that encouraged us to put Christ on in baptism and begin the most wonderful life in this world…and the one to come!
The readers were Jewish Christians who lived in a certain locale, possibly in a predominantly Gentile city. They had started their Christian life with a great deal of enthusiasm. (They were commended in Hebrews 6:10 and 10:32-34.) Then they had become discouraged.
Spiritually, their hands were hanging down and their legs were shaky (Hebrews 12:12). Things had not turned out as they thought they would. It was not easy to be a Christian week after week, month after month, year after year. They were even being persecuted.
On top of this, apparently their fellow Jews had made fun of them, perhaps saying, “Look at our magnificent temple . . . and our high priest in his priestly robes . . . and the smoke of our sacrifices wafting heavenward—and you, you have nothing as far as we can see.” As a result, these Jewish Christians were on the verge of giving up.
Hebrews 10:32-39 (NIV) 32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
In the third century A.D., Celsus, a pagan philosopher, carried on a lively debate with Origen, the Christian scholar. The pagan philosopher tried to show that Christianity was untrue. He said that Christianity served only the superstitious and the simple-minded.
If there was anything of substance to the Christian faith, Celsus argued, certainly it would have attracted a greater following. He was one of many educated people offended by Christian beliefs. (Do we often feel the same way today? We know only a remnant will be true to the principles set forth by Jesus Christ…but we often wonder…)
If numbers decided who is right before God, who has the largest crowds on the weekends…and on Sundays? I know of some groups that begin meeting on Saturday nights and have 2-3 meetings on Sunday…yet brag that they rarely discuss sin in their assemblies…never talk about hell…and worship in ways contrary to the New Testament pattern.
Before we went to China I heard that there was some 150,000 that followed the teachings of a man who did not believe in God, Christ, or the Bible. I never heard of this person, and I am thankful there are many thousands in the country that have a firm belief in God, are studying the Bible, and are coming to understand the message of Jesus Christ.
I am personally aware of a baptism in the Ukraine, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and China during the past two weeks.
One characteristic which particularly offended ancient people was the Christian demand that people have faith in realities that no one could see or experience. The educated Greek required his students to examine all things using reason. They said “faith could too easily become a crutch for the simple-minded who dared not face reality. Christianity called for faith in its followers, so the pagans disdained this reliance on faith.
The old pagan argument seems modern. For many people, the church includes people who believe in a story and in a God who is far removed from the real world of their experience.
Scientific advances have made God seem more and more remote from the world. Today’s secularism concludes that the real world consists of our homes, our land, and those other material items that give us a sense of security. Indeed, we speak of papers that are locked away in a safe deposit box as our “securities.”
How has that kind of thinking served us during the past .com meltdown? Housing collapse? Stocks and other investments losing 65-90% of their value?
I read a few years back of one of our secular politicians who had earned with his wife in excess of 1 million $$…yet his income tax records of the previous 4 years showed he had given only $507 to charities. Where do you think his priorities were?
Sigmund Freud believed Christianity “was an invention on the part of people who ‘needed’ something in the midst of ‘our uncertainty in our future on this earth.”’
Ted Turner (of CNN, TNT and TBS fame) said “religion was for weak-kneed” or “weak-willed” or “weak-minded” people. He apparently never heard the stories of those we read about in those latter verses of Hebrews 10. Christianity was not a ‘crutch’…it was a firm conviction: because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
Faith in the ‘unseen’ was a great difficulty of scholars of the past…this view affects the life of the church today.
1 Corinthians 1:17ff (NIV)
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel–not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.
30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 2:1-16 (NIV)
1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.
4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.
7 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.
Our apathy toward the life of the church is probably the result of the unspoken belief that the real world is somewhere else. If it comes to a choice between our commitment to the church and the world we see, we easily demonstrate which of the two is the real world.
What was the conclusion given, as we finish the verses from Hebrews 10: 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.
38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”
39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
We can imagine, however, an objection: We do believe, and we still are having all these problems. So the writer of Hebrews begins to talk about what real faith is in chapter 11.
- The sluggishness of the original readers of Hebrews was probably the result of a conviction that faith was impossible because they could not see or touch its reality. Frustration set in when the promises were not immediately fulfilled.
- Perhaps the fact that Christianity had turned out to be a long pilgrimage or a distance run had unsettled their convictions and left them with the feeling that faith had brought no security. Persecution and imprisonment (10:32-34) had left them at the point of “falling away” and “shrinking back” (10:39).
- Like Esau, they seemed ready to sell their birthright for a single meal from the real world (12:16, 17). The only world apparent to them was the world they could see and touch. The realities of faith had become nothing more than a mirage.
The Faith Chapter
The first part of chapter 11 is on the description of faith, and the last part of the chapter is on the demonstration of faith, as the writer uses great examples of faith from the Old Testament.
Notice I said the chapter begins with a description of faith. The chapter does not define faith in the full sense of the word. For instance, verse 1 does not mention the object of our faith, and verse 6 does not mention faith in Jesus. To get a complete definition of faith, we have to supplement this chapter with Paul’s discussion of faith in Romans and other books.
What the writer is striving to do is show what real faith is, the faith that will enable his readers to take whatever comes—persecutions, ridicule, whatever—and to remain faithful to the end.
As we shall see in the series, this involves several things, but the point I want to stress in this lesson is that real faith has the ability to see the unseeable.
Hebrews 11 stresses that God’s children can see the unseeable but goes a step further as it stresses that what enables us to see the unseeable is our faith. Note these verses:
Faith is . . . the evidence of things not seen (v. 1).
Through faith we understand . . . that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear (v. 3).
By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark. . . . (v. 7).
By faith [Abraham] . . . looked for a city [which was spiritual, eternal, invisible] (vv. 9, 10).
[The patriarchs] died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off (v. 13).
By faith [Moses] . . . endured, as seeing him who is invisible (v. 27). (Emphasis mine.)
From these passages, we conclude that “seeing the unseeable” involves several things:
First is the ability to see the reality of things spiritual and eternal; thus, to see these are of far greater importance than the physical and temporal.
Second is the ability to see the truthfulness of the God-given account of events which occurred when we were not present, and to learn from those events.
Third is the ability to see the certainty of God’s promises, though the fulfillment of those promises may be far in the future.
We also learn that it is by this ability to see the unseeable that we can live the triumphant Christian life. If we can see the invisible, we can do the impossible. To put it another way, if we can see what others cannot see, we can do what others cannot do.
Perhaps most important, however, we learn from these verses what it is that enables us to see the unseeable by the eye of faith: the Word of God, the Word of Him who knows all things and who cannot lie!
The emphasis in this chapter is the same as that of Paul in Romans 10:17: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
It is God who tells us about the things unseeable—and you can, without reservation, totally trust in God and His Word!