The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
September 1, 2019
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
What is Faith?
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
A long time ago I came to the personal conclusion that everyone has faith— everyone. Whenever I am talking with someone I never wonder whether or not they have faith. My question and my concern is who or what are they putting their faith in and where is that faith leading them. For example, there are people today who still put their faith in idols. Today, however, the idols no longer have names such as Baal or Asherah. Today the idols have names such as Buddha or Allah. There are people today who put their faith in themselves and in their own works. There are people today who put their faith in some other mortal human being and what that person can do for them. There are people who put their faith in the hollow hope that there is no God and there is nothing waiting for them beyond the grave. There are people today who put their faith in the misguided notion that as long as they at least try to live a somewhat decent and respectable life, God has to accept their efforts and allow them into His heavenly Home. Tragically, there are billions of people who do indeed have “faith,” but they will experience a rude awakening when they die and instantly find themselves standing before the judgment throne of the Triune God.
Today you and I have the opportunity to study what the Bible teaches about faith. This morning then let’s study our text under the theme: What is Faith? There are three things we want to look at this morning. First we will look at the definition of faith that the Bible itself gives to us. Then we will look at two very practical answers to the question which serves as our theme for today. Let’s see how this portion of God’s holy Word reveals to us that faith is the God-given ability to believe the unbelievable. Then let’s see that faith is the God-given ability to trust the promises of our God.
What is the definition of faith that the Bible itself gives to us? Look at the very familiar words which open our text for today. We are told, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Since I considered this verse to be one of the key verses in this text, I spent some time researching the Greek words that are translated here as “sure” and as “certain.” Let me share with you what I learned.
The Greek word which the NIV translates as “sure” very literally means, “confidence, assurance, conviction.” In the Greek mind this words refers to “what stands under” something, or what serves as the “basis” of something. When this Greek word is describing a human attitude it includes the picture of someone “holding their ground.” Therefore, when God the Holy Spirit led the writer to the Hebrew Christians to use this particular word here in our text He is reminding us that the gift of faith which He Himself has created in our hearts is what gives us “confidence, assurance and conviction” concerning the things we “hope for” as Christians. He is reminding us that “faith” is what “stands under” and serves as the “basis” of who we are and what we believe. He is reminding us that faith is what enables us to “hold our ground” when confronted by false teachings or when we are facing persecution for our faith.
The Greek word that is translated as “certain” in our text very literally refers to “proof” or “evidence.” Even if we do not have physical tangible evidence of “what we do not see,” our God-given gift of faith enables us to look at what God says to us here in His Word and say, “This is all the evidence, this is all the proof I need!” That’s the biblical definition of “faith.”
With that insight into the Bible’s definition of “faith” let’s see how this portion of Scripture reminds us that faith is the God-given ability to believe the unbelievable. Look at what we are told in verse three, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
We believe, teach and confess that the Lord God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing in six consecutive 24 hour days. Why do we believe this? Because that is what our Creator-God tells us here in His Word! In Genesis chapter one God gives us a record of how He created the heavens and the earth. He used the power of His creative Word— “Let there be….and there was.” In Genesis chapter two God gives us a record of why He created the heavens and the earth. He wanted to bring the “crown” of His creation, human beings, into existence. Humanly speaking God’s account of Creation recorded here in the Bible is impossible. Humanly speaking God’s account of Creation recorded here in the Bible is unbelievable. That is precisely why the Holy Spirit says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” Yes, my friends, faith is the God-given ability to believe the unbelievable!
I would like to take a moment here to point out to you that this example of how faith enables us to believe the unbelievable was not given to us “by accident.” It is not just a random example. God the Holy Spirit knew that in our day and age Satan would level a very subtle— and unfortunately a very successful— attack against both the foundation of God’s church as well as the foundation of our faith with a weapon known as the theory of Evolution. Satan learned that an all out frontal attack against Christ’s Church, an all out frontal attack against God’s people doesn’t automatically achieve his goal. When God’s people are openly attacked what do we do? We turn to the Lord for protection! (Pointing to the cross) We turn to His Word for guidance and for strength!
So, my friends, what Satan did was to come up with a plan to whittle away at the foundation of our faith with the goal of eventually causing our faith to falter and hopefully fail. Satan’s plan was to get God’s people to first doubt and then to deny that Genesis chapters one and two are a trustworthy and true account of how and why the heavens and the earth came into existence. Satan knew that if he could get God’s people to doubt or deny what the Bible says about the Creation of the world because it seems “unbelievable”— eventually he could get God’s people to doubt or deny other parts of the Bible that are equally “unbelievable”!
What other parts of the Bible seem “unbelievable” to our limited logical minds? Think about it. Humanly speaking Christmas is unbelievable. We know and science has shown that virgins do not give birth to children— much less the eternal Son of God Himself! Humanly speaking Easter is “unbelievable.” Science has shown and we have all been to enough funerals to know that dead people do not physically rise from their graves! Why do we believe that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary? Why do we believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead on the third day? We believe this for the very same reason we believe that God created the heavens and the earth in six ordinary days! Not only is this what God tells us in His Word, but His gift of faith enables us to believe the unbelievable!
Now let’s turn to the second answer that this text gives us to the question, “What is faith?” Faith is the God-given ability to trust the promises of our God. As I was studying verses 8-16 of our text I saw two promises being highlighted here. The first promise is found in verses eight through ten. The Lord God called father Abraham to leave the land where he was born and raised, to leave his family and friends behind and go to a new land, a land that God promised He would one day give to Abraham’s descendants as their “inheritance.” So what did Abraham do? He did exactly as God told him to do! The gift of faith which God Himself had created in Abraham’s heart enabled him to trust that one day God would indeed fulfill His promise and give Abraham’s descendants the land that became known as the “Promised Land.”
What I found especially insightful is verse ten of our text. It says, “For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Abraham’s faith enabled him to look above and beyond the earthly “Promised Land” that God would one day give to Abraham’s descendants and with the eyes of faith see the “Promised Land” of heaven! Verses thirteen to sixteen of our text remind us that all the true descendants of Abraham, that is, everyone who had the faith of Abraham living in their heart (See Romans 9:6-9) were able to see and believe and trust that God’s promise of a land flowing with milk and honey is ultimately fulfilled when God’s children inherit their heavenly Father’s Kingdom.
We still hold tightly to this very same promise today, don’t we. By faith we are “sure,” by faith we are “certain” that we are but strangers here and that heaven is our home. By faith we are “sure,” by faith we are “certain” that when someone dies believing and trusting in Jesus as their Savior from sin that their soul is immediately welcomed into the glory and the perfection of our heavenly Father’s home. Yes, my friends, our God-given gift of faith enables us to trust the promises that God has given to us.
The second promise that is highlighted here in our text is found in verses eleven and twelve. Not only did God promise Abraham that he and his wife Sarah would have a biological son of their own, not only did God promise Abraham that his descendants would become “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore,” but God also promised Abraham that one of his direct descendants would be the Messiah, the Christ, this world’s only Savior from sin. The gift of faith which God Himself had created in Abraham’s heart enabled him to trust that one day God would most certainly fulfill this glorious promise and send the Savior into this world. (On the fulfillment of this promise see Matthew 1:1-17 and Revelation 7:9)
Because of the gift of faith which God has created in our hearts we trust that God has most certainly fulfilled this promise to father Abraham and sent His own Son into this world to be our Savior. We have never seen Jesus with our physical eyes, but by faith we believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God who came into this world to live a perfect life in our place, innocently suffer and die on the cross to pay for our sins and then physically rise from the dead— on the third day just as He promised— to secure our salvation. By faith we believe that right now Jesus is fulfilling His promise to prepare a place for us in heaven and that one day He will fulfill His promise to come back and take us Home to heaven. By faith we believe Jesus’ promise that when you combine ordinary water with the creative power of God’s Word in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, our sins are washed away and we are adopted by the heavenly Father. By faith we believe Jesus’ promise what when we approach His altar to receive His holy Supper, together with the bread and the wine we receive His true body and His true blood as His personal guarantee to us that all of our sins are completely forgiven. Yes, my friends, our God-given gift of faith is what enables us to trust all the promises God has made to us!
I honestly do believe that everyone has faith. My question and my concern always centers on who or what are they putting their faith in and where that faith is leading them. By the grace and power of God you have been given the gift of the one true saving faith in your heart. Guard that gift carefully, my friends! Guard it carefully and you will always be able to believe the unbelievable. Guard it carefully and you will always be able to trust the promises that your God has made to you.
To God be the glory!