Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:1–16, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Hebrews Chapter 11 is known as the faith chapter. It's like that famous chapter in 1 Corinthians about love. You know, "love is patient, love is kind… And the greatest of these is love." Here we have a definition of faith and a litany of the faithful.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (11:1)
It is a wonderful description of faith. We indeed take God at his Word and believe in things unseen. For example, we believe God created the world in six days and that he spoke it into existence from nothing.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3, ESV)
And this reading ends talking about how we look forward to a "heavenly country" (16) that our Lord has gone to prepare for us. We take it to be true by faith, unseen.
The book of Hebrews begins also by speaking about God's Word.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV)
The Word of God is none other than his Son, Jesus Christ. The one who was the active force in creation and the one who lived, died, and rose again to save his creation from the corruption of human sin. Jesus Christ, the Word of God, did all of this to fulfill the promises he made to Adam and Eve to restore them to himself through the forgiveness of sins. There is no speaking of faith in Scripture without a connection to the one who is faithful. Faith must have an object. You can't have faith in nothing. People today try to speak about faith as if faith in faith is enough. If I hope hard enough, if I have a positive attitude, things will work out okay. Faith is not a power in itself to do anything. It is trust in the object of faith. The object of our faith is God, who works in Jesus Christ, who became man and died on the cross to save us from our enemies; sin, death, and the power of the devil. And he rose again from death and ascended into heaven and promises to return to bring us to a new and perfect homeland, and eternal home in a newly created, perfect world. Jesus, the object of our faith, is also unseen to us. And yet, we gather in this place to hear the Word about Jesus and to rejoice in all that God has done for us, unseen. And to cling in faith and trust to the Savior who ascended into heaven and promises to come again and restore to us a world without sin, without death, without pain, or suffering of any kind. This is the homeland that we, and the faithful, those listed here in Hebrews, and all those on our roles, that went before us, seek.
But, there is more to faith then trusting in the unseen. And in fact, the faith chapter goes into some detail to describe this second aspect of faith. That is, trust in the reality of God and his work for us in Jesus Christ, necessarily includes a faithful, righteous response. And that is precisely what we have listed by name. All of the faithful listed here, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and all the others listed after verse 16, had faith in things unseen, but also lived out that faith in action. The righteous response of Abel in giving his best to God cost him his life. Enoch lived his life faithfully and was taken to God without death. Noah faced ridicule and scorn building an ark for an unseen danger. And Abraham and Sarah left all they had and moved to a new country and land that God promised to give them. The list goes on and on. It is a list of the faithful, righteous response, lived out from faith, that is trust, in one who is unseen but shows himself to be faithful.
But by far, the most interesting verse in this whole reading is this one:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Hebrews 11:13, ESV)
It's the "not having received the things promised" that's so interesting. Not only did they live in faith in the unseen, but they lived in that faith without receiving what God had promised them. In other words they simply looked forward and trusted in God's promise to deliver them out of their life of sin. And all that they did was lived in the knowledge and trust of a future unseen. All that they did was lived in the knowledge and the trust of a Savior unseen. They had faith and trust in the God who promised to deliver them. Notice, the emphasis of this chapter is not the amount of their faith. There is either trust or there is not trust. This passage doesn't push us to ourselves or some power in us. We sinful human beings are so eager to justify ourselves that we often make faith something we do. And we say things like "if my faith were stronger I would not have…"; or "I don't know how I would've gotten through that without my faith." As if to make our ability to withstand contingent on some secret power within us that God has given us. These faithful witnesses show us differently. They encourage us to have faith in the object. Strong faith is not some internal, in the heart force or strength, but it is rather a realization that without Jesus Christ and his faithfulness we would be entirely lost. Strong faith is total dependence on the work of Jesus Christ to bring us forgiveness and deliver us to the unseen homeland.
In a way, faith is having the eyes to see what God says is true is true, unseen. Faith is having trust in God that even when things seem to go very badly, we know that God is in control. God does not promise that his faithful people will be free from trouble.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31–39, ESV)
So when trouble comes, look at it with the eyes of faith. If the church doesn't act like the church should act. See instead the promises of God that he works through word and sacrament to bring us the gifts of life and salvation. When death interrupts your life's plans and all seems lost in hopeless; see instead the promises of God in the resurrection of the dead and eternal happy reunion with those we love who died in faith. When your relationships with people are torn apart by conflict and anger; see instead a crucified Jesus who died on the cross for forgiveness, not just yours but also for your enemies. When the world around you pushes against you to accept its way of thinking; See instead trouble that God allows to push you closer to him and trust him all the more. When our Lord's return seems forever in the future; See instead his gracious patients to redeem all the lost.
Seeing with the eyes of faith isn't easy. Faith is not easy. In fact, for sinful human beings faith is so often turned inward instead of to the one true faithful object of faith. He hangs on the cross. He hangs on the cross for you. He bleeds and dies for you. He cries out to the Father, forsaken for you. His lifeless body is buried in the grave for you. He rises from the dead and ascends into heaven for you. And he is coming again for you. And all your trouble, and all your hardship, and all your pain will then be seen fully and completely. And all that he allowed in your life will be seen not with the eyes of faith but with the eyes of reality. You will then know that all was done for the sake of you sharing eternity with him. He is faithful. He keeps his promises. You can have faith in him. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.