Just because we use a word doesn’t mean we know what it means. Today we look at how Hebrews 11 explains faith more deeply. Preached at Good Shepherd, Taylor and St. Matthias, Cecil Lake August 11, 2019.
We as Christians say we are a people of faith. What then is faith? In our Hebrews reading today Paul gives us two simultaneous definitions:
- Faith is the confidence upon which our hope rests
- Faith is what we lean on instead of sight as assurance
Normally we trust what we see. I know its time to weed the garden when I see the weeds. I know that I am bleeding when I see the blood. I know you didn’t do the dishes by the dishes in the sink. We normally fumble our way through this world by what we see. Faith is an assurance of things we can’t see, and to expand on this Paul goes straight to creation.
By faith we perceive that in the beginning everything was formless and void, and ex nihilo, out of the nothing, out of what could not be seen he created everything that can be seen. Paul says that we see what is visible and by faith we know that it came from the invisible.
What is faith? Paul goes beyond defining it here to showing us what a living faith does.
Paul points to Abel. Abel offered to God a sacrifice of an animal’s life. Cain offered to God a sacrifice of vegetables he had grown. Both gave to God out of what God had supplied them. But by faith, Abel’s sacrifice was accounted righteous by God. Faith is what makes Abel’s works righteous to God. Faith is that which allows Abel’s voice to speak even though his brother killed him. (This is a reference to Genesis 4:10 when God confronts Cain after Abel’s death)
What else does faith do in us?
Paul picks this obscure character from scripture, Enoch, who appears in Genesis 5:18-24. Its this passing phrase, but it’s a phrase that bewilders Paul-Enoch was pleasing to God. Enoch did not die but was taken away to be with God and have fellowship with him, but what amazes Paul isn’t the lack of death, but the existence of pleasure. Without faith it is impossible to please God. By faith we receive in ourselves the one whom God called his Son, in whom he was well pleased. Faith makes our works righteous. Faith overcomes the silence of the grave in us. Faith makes us pleasing to God. By Faith we see.
Paul continues with Noah, who was able to perceive that which he could not see, the coming judgment of God. Faith worked in him a holy fear and made him an heir of righteousness.
Remember Paul had two definitions of faith, he seems to spend a lot of time in these primordial examples talking about how faith allows those who have it to perceive and be assured of things they cannot see. The first definition was that faith is that which makes us hope boldly. It is this bold hope that Paul looks to the patriarchs of ancient Israel to explain.
It is this bold hope that we see freeing Abraham and Isaac and Jacob to leave the land of their forefathers even though they don’t know where they are going. Why? Because they have hope in a place prepared for them by God. It is this bold hope that leads these men to dwell in tents and trust that they were going to a city whose foundation and architect and builder is God. They hoped. They hoped. They hoped. And they died. They died still longing for a better country.
This is the bold hope in which we live, it is by this confidence that we have any life at all. We like them look to what is promised in the distance; we like them admit we are strangers and foreigners on this earth. We are encouraged not to look back but to live in the longing they died in. It is a heavenly longing for a heavenly country that we get a foretaste of now in the body of Christ.
Faith is a bold confidence upon which rests our hope in a heavenly country prepared for us by God that we cannot now see. Faith works in us righteousness, it makes it possible for us to perceive the work of God in creation, it makes it possible for us to please God, it overcomes the silence of the grave, and makes it possible for us to walk forward in this longing. May God increase our faith, may he give it afresh to generations here in Fort St John, Taylor and Cecil Lake who have not yet tasted it. May he renew it in those who have grown weary. Amen.