Exhibit Your Faith

Explore the bible Series

November 12, 2006

 

Background Passage: Hebrews 11:1-40

Lesson Passage: Hebrews 11:1-3, 6-8, 13-19, 24-26

 

Introduction: For ten chapters the writer of Hebrews has laid out a comprehensive and coherent argument concerning the need for perseverance in the Christian faith.  Saving faith has several essential qualities, and perseverance stands as one of the most critical of these characteristics. The doctrinal foundation for perseverance, to this point in the epistle, has served as the author’s priority.  Doctrine, however, must be fleshed out in the believer’s experience, and the Book of Hebrews now turns to an impressive list of Old Testament characters to demonstrate how the saints of old have persisted in the faith despite great trials and hardships. 

 

Several years ago I heard Ernest Reisinger speak to a group of young preachers about the books that had most helped him in his growth in grace.  Of course, the Scriptures stood at the top of his list, but he went on to identify two other works that influenced him greatly: The Westminster Confession and The Pilgrim’s Progress.  He told us that the confession of faith helped him identify and recognize the foundational issues of the faith, but it suffered from one flaw.  It had no people in it.  This, Ernie thought, was the strength of The Pilgrim’s Progress: that is, it revealed how these wonderful doctrines manifest themselves in the real-life experiences of believers. 

 

The writer of the Book of Hebrews proved a masterful teacher.  Perhaps his readers agreed, in principle, with his theological observations about the relation between the Old and New Covenants, and one hopes they found persuasive his arguments about the need for continence in the faith.  Nevertheless, they may have reeled under the stress of wondering how any person could hold up under the unrelenting pressure of real-life hardships.  Can anyone really do this?  Hebrews points out that this has ever been the case with God’s people.  They must, with God’s sustaining aid, press on to faithful maturity.  Hardships and trials come, but God never fails to keep his promises and his people.  Like the saints of the Old Testament, these first-century Hebrew believers could make it too.  In addition to the splendid theological arguments that buttressed their faith, they could look to their steadfast determination (aided, of course, by the gracious preserving work of the Lord) to remain faithful to their calling.  In fact, if I understand the thrust of the passage, New Testament believers have some significant advantages over those who came before us.  Ultimately, they died without receiving the promise (that is, the fulfillment of God’s redemptive promises), and, in some sense, the ancient saints are bound up in the privileges of New Testament believers (See 11:39-40). 

 

Perhaps many of you read this outline material with the weight of the world crushing you.  You live where doubts arise and fears dismay, and you wonder if you can continue to follow Christ.  Your soul recoils from the prospect of continued trial, and you have secretly contemplated finding an “easier way.”  The doctrinal section of Hebrews has, no doubt, helped you, but you still wonder if these wonderful truths apply to your particular experience.  Take heart, dear reader, you have not encountered anything that bygone saints have experienced.  They persevered, and so can you.  Look, as they did, to Christ, and take encouragement that he will not lose one entrusted to his gracious care (John 17:11)

 

 

 

Outline of the Background Passage:

 

I.                    An Invaluable Principle Stated (11:1-3): “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

A.     The nature of saving faith (v.1)

1.      “the substance of things hoped for”:  The word translated “substance” carries the idea of “essence, basis, substructure.”  In this particular instance it has the idea of “assurance.”  In Hebrews 1:3 the text uses the same word to describe the “express image” of God in the person of Christ.

2.      “the evidence of things not seen”: “evidence” translates a word take from the legal system. It denotes a proof of something that satisfies the demands of a court of law. 

B.     God’s testimony concerning the faithfulness of the Old Testament elders (vv. 2-3):  The imagery of the courtroom continues in verse two.  These saints passed muster as genuine people of faith.  Verse three asserts God’s work in history.  Some translations render the term “aionas” as “worlds”, but this does not get at the meaning of the term.  It refers, rather, to the eons of time.  The phrase indicates that God controls the currents of history, and these ancient believers demonstrated the genuineness of their faith by trusting the sovereign of history to govern their lives.

 

II.                 Faith Among the Patriarchs (11:4-22)

A.     Abel (v. 4): Abel, the Bible’s first martyr, demonstrated his faith by offering a more acceptable sacrifice than his wicked brother Cain.  His faith made his offering acceptable to God, and he remained faithful to the point of a violent death (See Genesis 4:3-5).

B.     Enoch (vv. 5-6): This laudable man remained faithful until God translated him to heaven, without experiencing the pangs of death.  Enoch, as you will recall, walked with God.  The concept of “walking” denotes the progress and consistency of Enoch’s faith in God (See Genesis 5:21-24).

C.     Noah (v. 7): This man serves as an excellent example of persevering faith.  He labored to build the ark for 120 years.  If he had failed to continue in his faithful obedience to God, he and his family would have perished in the flood (See Genesis 6-8).

D.     Abraham (vv. 8-10 and 17-19): Abraham, of course, is remembered as the man of faith.  He left his family and ancestral home in Chaldea and went to place he knew not.  Though God promised him a land to call his own, Abraham lived, throughout his sojourn in Canaan, as a nomad. Later in the chapter (vv 17-19) our author reminds us of Abraham’s great faith in God as evidenced in the “sacrifice” of Isaac (See Genesis 22).

E.      Sarah (vv. 11-12): This faithful woman, severely tested by her barrenness, received a son of promise though she was well beyond her childbearing years.  There is brief reference to Sarah is followed by a momentary interlude that highlights the faith of the patriarchs.  They understood, our text points out, that the fulfillment of God’s promises did not culminate on mundane issues; rather, God prepared an eternal dwelling place for them (See vv. 13-16).

F.      Isaac (v. 20): Isaac continued the legacy of faith by blessing Jacob.  The Book of Genesis reveals that Jacob conspired with his mother to “steal” the blessing that God had already pronounced as his; nevertheless, the providence of God still won out in these circumstances.

G.     Jacob (v. 21): Jacob’s blessing of his sons and grandsons (Joseph’s boys) demonstrated the patriarch’s confidence in the providential leading of the Lord.

H.     Joseph (v. 22): This great man demonstrated his confidence in the providence of God by insisting that his family not bury him in Egypt.  In doing so, he demonstrated that the place of his long-time sojourn was not his home.

 

III.               The Example of Other Old Testament Saints (11:23-40)

A.     Moses (vv. 23-29): Moses’ life, from his very birth, demonstrated this wonderful faith in God.  Though he suffered greatly, Moses voluntarily chose to identify himself with God’s people.  Our author points out that the Passover and the trial at the red Sea gave particular evidence of Moses’ confidence in God.

B.     Rahab (vv. 30-31): We should not overlook inclusion of this Gentile woman in this list of heroes of the faith.  First Century people would have, by social convention, downplayed the role of women in history; nevertheless, Hebrews includes this woman in this remarkable chapter.  Furthermore, we should note that she had been a prostitute before she came to faith.  The glorious mercies of God transformed this woman’s life.

C.     (vv. 32-34) Gideon (See Judges 6-8), Barak (See Judges 4:1-24), Samson (See Judges 13-31), Jephthah (See Judges 11-12:7), David (See I Samuel 17-II Samuel 24 and I Kings 1-2:9), and Samuel (I Samuel 1-25): Briefly, our account rehearses the trials and triumphs of these faithful men.

D.     A final summary of the trials of the faith of God’s people (vv. 35-40): These persons endured, for the sake of their faith, a broad spectrum of severe hardships; nonetheless, they remained secure in their faith. Remarkably, our text asserts that none of these Old Testament believers did not live to see the fulfillment of the ultimate redemptive promise of God (See v. 39).  All of these people remained faithful despite the fact that they lived under the shadows and types of the Old Covenant.  We, however, have a grater privilege than they.  New Testament Christians have fuller revelation of God in Christ, and thus have access to a better covenant.