The Sermon for Sunday, August 7th, 2022, the Eighth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:10-21; Hebrews 11:1-16; Luke 12:32-40
The Text: Hebrews 11:1-16
The Topic: The necessity of faith for the Christian way of life
This piece was heard on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on November 2, 1988:
In 1958, America’s first commercial jet air service began with the flight of the Boeing 707. A month after that first flight, a traveler on a piston-engine, propeller-driven DC-6 airliner struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger. The passenger happened to be a Boeing engineer. The traveler asked the engineer about the new jet aircraft, whereupon the engineer began speaking at length about the extensive testing Boeing had done on the jet engine before bringing it into commercial service. He recounted Being’s experience with engines, from the B-17 to the B-52.
When his traveling companion asked him if he himself had yet flown on the new 707 jet airliner, the engineer replied, “I think I’ll wait until it’s been in service a while.”
Even enthusiastic talking about our faith means little unless we are willing to put our lives where our mouth is.
FAITH AND ITS EARLY HEROES
In his Epistle to the Hebrews, the author is contending for the necessity of faith as opposed to unbelief and disobedience. He is genuinely concerned that his readers do not fall away (Hebrews 3;12; 4:11; 6:6; 10:23) from faith or shrink back (Hebrews 10:39). It is helpful for us that the author defines faith at the beginning of his great chapter on faith:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
(Hebrews 11:1, KJV)
The word hypostasis in Greek is translated “substance” in the King James Version. Scholars dispute the meaning of hypostasis here. It had a range of meanings in classical and Hellenistic Greek. For example, it can also mean “title deed” or “assurance” or “conviction.” One scholar proposed “realization” as the best meaning here. There are realities which God has promised to all believers, but those realities become real to us when we view and receive them in faith. The passage about Elijah praying for rain is a good instance of this. In 1 Kings 18:41-46, Elijah prays to God on top of Mt. Carmel. He sends his servant seven times to look toward the sea for the cloud bringing rain. For the first six times, Elijah’s servant brings back the news, “There is nothing.” But the seventh time the servant reports that a little cloud has arisen out of the sea, and based on this, Elijah tells his servant to warn King Ahab to mount his chariot and go down the mountain before the rain stops him. Then heavy rains start to fall.
Similarly, though elenchos can be translated as “evidence,” it can also mean “inner conviction.” How, then, does faith bring the realization of things hoped for and the inner conviction of things not seen? If faith were only intellectual assent to the truths that God has revealed, it would not sufficiently impact our lives with realization and inner conviction.
To understand faith more, we must take a brief look at our First Lesson from Genesis 15 that tells of God’s conversation with Abram about both his immediate heir and the innumerable multitude of his descendants. God begins by assuring Abram that He is his “shield and exceeding great reward” (Genesis 15:1c, KJV). Abram immediately raises his concern that he is childless, and the manager or steward of his household will inherit everything he owns. God himself is Abram’s reward, and this is the key to understanding Abram’s faith. His faith is in God, and his relationship with God shows the element of trust in God. For God not only promises him an heir from his own seed but shows him the stars as a sign of the multitude of his descendants. Consequently, Abram believes God, and the Lord counts his faith as righteousness. Abram’s agreement with God’s promises and acceptance of them demonstrated not only an intellectual assent, but a trust in God based on the faithfulness of God to keep all his promises.
In the second verse of Hebrews 11, the author declares that by means of faith “the elders obtained a good report” (Hebrews 11:2b, KJV). This means that by means of their faith the heroes of the faith, the saints of the Old Testament, received God’s approval and the good report that enabled their deeds to be recorded in Holy Scripture.
In the third verse, faith, as taught by God’s word, brings understanding that the worlds, or ages, were created by God’s word, so that what is seen was made from things which do not appear. This is the nearest we get in this passage to the doctrine that God created the universe out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo).
The author proceeds to mention Abel, Enoch, and Noah as examples of men who showed faith in God. The faith of each one in God obtained the testimony of righteousness, and this righteousness resulted from their faith. The fact that each of them pleased God by their faith effected the testimony of their righteousness in God’s sight. In verse six, the author concludes that it is impossible to please God without faith. In this verse, the author emphasizes two aspects of faith as essential for the person who approaches God: firstly, he must believe that God exists, and, secondly, he must believe that God rewards those who diligently seek Him.
ASPECTS OF FAITH AND ITS ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE
From these examples we can identify four aspects of faith:
- Belief that God exists, and that all that he has revealed through his word is true
- Belief that God rewards all who seek him earnestly
- Trusting God
- Obeying God’s commands.
Really, faith in God includes committing oneself to Him in all things, and this leads to obedience to His commands. The faith of Noah was such that when God revealed he would destroy every living creature with a flood, and commanded Noah to make an ark in which he and his family, as well as pairs of all the animals, birds, and reptiles, would be saved, he obeyed out of reverence for God, believing the truth of all that God had said he would do. Noah’s faith resulted in obedience.
Abraham also, when called by God to leave his own country, and go to a land of which he had no knowledge, obeyed God by faith (Hebrews 11:8). By faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived in tents (the modern word for “tabernacles”), though they were heirs of God’s promises (Hebrews 11:9). Abraham, comments the author of this Epistle, looked for the city “whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10b, KJV). Sara also is mentioned as a hero of the faith because she conceived and bore a child, Isaac, though she was past the age of childbearing. Therefore from Abraham, though he was as good as dead, being so old, there came descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and as the sand on the seashore (Hebrews 11:12).
The conclusion of the writer about these heroes of the faith is that they died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them in the distance. They were convinced of the truth of these promises of God, leading to their obedient embracing of these promises, and they acknowledged themselves to be exiles and pilgrims on the earth (Hebrews 11:13). Those who behave in this way and say such things are showing that they are looking for a better country, a heavenly one. For this reason, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them, which we call the City of God, or the new Jerusalem.
What will your faith in God lead you to do in obedience to Him?
 p. 158, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers and Writers from Craig Larson and Leadership Journal, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2002. Second Printing, 2008.