Sermon preached on Hebrews 11 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/12/2015 in Novato, CA.
By faith. So much of the Christian life comes down to that. By faith. At our annual Open House and Outreach BBQ I like to bring a message that presents something central to our church. And faith is certainly such a thing. We promote faith at our church. And not just any faith, but the Christian faith. And so our church is all about faith. And this passage is all about faith. In fact, this phrase “by faith” appears 21 times in this chapter.
And so today we will talk about the Christian faith as described in this passage, in three points then. First, we’ll start with a general description of faith. Second, we’ll think about the faith of these Old Testament saints. And third, we’ll think about our faith, and how this passage says that God has provided something better for us. In the end, we’ll see that the believers of the Old Testament and the Christians who have believed ever since the New Testament all have a common faith together. And it’s that faith I want to proclaim to you again today.
So then, let’s begin with a basic description of faith. We see this in the first few verses of this chapter. Now certainly this is not an exhaustive or systematic definition of faith. I’m sure if you look up the word in a dictionary you’ll find a more fuller definition. But what these verses choose to highlight in general about faith are very important. Start at verse 1. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Or, several translations also translate it like this, ” Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Notice the overall contrast there. Faith is contrasted with unseen things; and things you hope for, but which you don’t yet possess. And so faith is that thing within us that believes and trusts in some promise or some thing that we don’t yet physically see or have. But we are convinced of its truth, and certain of its reality.
This is sometimes the hard part for people when they think about the Christian faith. Maybe you are a visitor today whose been wrestling with this idea? You find some of the claims of Christianity attractive, but just have found it hard to have faith. Maybe you’ve said something like, “If only God would just appear right in front of me and tell me what to believe.” Or maybe in a similar way, you instead say something like “I just need more rational or scientific proof that God really exists.” Now let me say, that yes, sure, those things would be nice. And let me also say that I do believe that the Christian faith is a rational and reasonable faith, and that there are many good reasons to rightly conclude that you should believe. But when you ask for something more than that, you are essentially asking for “sight.” You want to “see” with some kind of absolute certainty, and then you will believe. And yet I would point out that as soon as you start to “see” like that, then you would no longer need to have faith. In other words, it wouldn’t be faith once you had the sight. You see, that’s the contrast given in this first verse. The faith a Christian has is the faith when there isn’t yet the sight. That’s what makes it faith.
Now if a non-Christian should be bothered by that, I would respond that I’m sure you have many things in your life that you have reasonably placed your faith. For example, unless you have some good reason to doubt it, surely none of you have demanded from your parents a paternity test in order to believe that they are your biological parents. You don’t have rationalistic certainty then, but surely in most circumstances you have great faith and conviction that your parents really are your parents. That’s one example of an everyday, normal kind of faith people have. Another kind of common faith people have, one that I don’t share, is how some believe in the claims of some scientists that there is no God and that everything can be explained by naturalistic causes. Now, make no mistake, that requires faith. You can’t prove that claim with rationalistic certainty. And I would challenge such faith that it takes a lot more faith to believe in that, than that your parents are really your parents. And I would challenge that such faith also requires a lot more faith than to believe in the God of the Bible and the other claims of Christianity.
My point is that you are never going to get away from the fact that many things in this life will require some degree of faith. The same is true with Christianity. And yet just because it’s about faith, doesn’t make it fanciful or like you are believing in some myth. Because Christianity is ultimately a matter of faith, doesn’t put it in the category of fairies and leprechauns and unicorns. No, The Christian faith has many reasons to commend itself as a reasonable thing to believe in. This book of Hebrews even started out by describing how we’ve received so much divine revelation down through the ages from various prophets, and the witness of such by the holy apostles, and how Jesus himself came as the Son of God teaching us about God. And chapter 2 talked about all the signs and wonders and gifts of the Holy Spirit that have accompanied this revelation from God. It described how so many people have been eye witnesses to these confirmations. In fact it’s the wonderful record by so many authors of the Bible written over such a long span of time that consistently affirms the same truths that further confirms the reasonableness to believe in what is recorded here. I won’t take more time now to delve into this further, but there is more than sufficient reason to believe that which we are called to put our faith in. And when you actually compare those claims of say atheistic scientists, what is clear is that time and again their claims don’t fully match up with how we know the world around us to be. But time and again the Bible’s claims do adequately explain the world around us. And that’s because what the Bible teaches is true!
And so as we are thinking about faith in general, we recognize another important aspect of faith. Faith is not just about some concept of believing. But it’s faith in something. And that means that not all faith is equally valid. If I believe that I can flap my arms and make myself fly, then that faith is foolish, no matter how much I believe it. Likewise, the faith of the atheist that there is no God is also a misplaced faith. So then what does the Christian put their faith in? Well, we see some of that here. In verse 3, it says that we believe there is a God who created all things. The invisible, unseen, God created all that which we do see! Praise God. But not only that, as we read on in this chapter we see that this God has reached out to various humans in history to establish a relationship with them, and in that to give them various promises. In the words of verse 6, these promises are essentially the rewards that he gives to those who seek him. And so the biblical faith is one that believes in God, that he’s the creator, and also believes in his good promises that he gives to his people. Of course, those are promises that involve God bringing salvation to his people through faith.
This is a good place then to move into our second point, to think about this faith of the Old Testament believers. Their faith, it says in verses 2 and 39 brought them a good testimony. In other words, they are to be commended for their faith.
And so what’s clear in this chapter is that this God who created everything had given them some specific promises. And they believed in these promises. And they believed in them even when it wasn’t convenient to believe in them; even when they experienced trial and persecution for believing in them.
And so when we think about the promises that they were believing in, a few things stand out. On the one hand, they were promised some things that might have seemed to be largely of earthly matters. For example, Abraham was promised the Promised Land. On the surface, this was presented as being in Canaan. They were also promised a King who would be a Messiah, a Christ, who would bring them into a great kingdom. Now, in some sense, they did already receive many such promises. Look even at verse 33. It mentions there that they did obtain many promises. When we hear that, we can think of how the people in the Old Testament did settle into an earthly promised land. They had an earthly king; also an earthly temple with a wonderful priesthood. They were part of a covenant that had initially been mediated through Moses. In other words, they received many good things that were a result of God’s good promises to them. And yet, verse 39 still concludes saying that all these people of faith of old all died without receiving the promise. In other words, there was something yet promised by God, that they had not yet fully come into.
Well, as we read about their faith in this chapter, we see what that involved. Two things to mention. First, there remained the promise of a heavenly promised land. And second, there remained the coming of the promised Messiah Christ as king over the people. We see references to this here. At the end of the day, these aren’t really two different things, though. It’s the promise of a heavenly kingdom that will come with a Christ from heaven to be king over this kingdom. But we can think of the specific components of this in terms of the land and the king. As for the heavenly promised land, we see this for example in the reference to Abraham in verses 8-16. There we see that Abraham lived in tents while he lived in the earthly promised land of Canaan. Verse 10 says he did this because he was ultimately looking for a city build by God. In case it’s not clear what that was, we’re told in verse 16. It’s a land better than the earthly promised land. It’s a heavenly country! Abraham, and all these saints died before they received that heavenly promised inheritance. But they died in faith believing they would yet receive it.
As for their awaiting the coming of the Christ, we see a subtle reference to that in verse 26. In talking about Moses and his faith, it says that Moses “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” There you see the idea of Christ being connected to the reward, to the promise that was held out. Moses knew that what Christ would bring him was better than earthly treasure. And so again, it’s what I mentioned a moment ago. The Old Testament saints received many rewards, and obtained many fulfilled promises. But there was a promise or a reward that was not yet received by them. It was the promise of a heavenly kingdom and inheritance that the Christ would bring. They waited patiently for this. And not only did they wait patiently, but they waited amidst trial and tribulation. We just read it with that reference in verse 16. Moses acts of faith brought reproach upon him. And there are so many other references here to such troubles that were endured because of their faith. Like in verse 35, “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.” That’s just one reference here in this chapter, but what I love about that reference is that it explicitly connects their willingness to suffer with this future reward that they still hadn’t received. But they believed. They had faith in it all. Faith in the one true God who created everything. And faith in God who would reward them through the promise of a coming kingdom and a coming king. But they all died not having yet received this promise.
Well, that leads us to our third point, and it leads this passage to where we find our connection with it under the New Testament. And so look at verse 39. It says, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” And so we have something better than these Old Testament heroes of faith. What is it? Well, think in terms of the promise. They looked for that coming kingdom and that coming king. In part, that has come. Yes, not in the fullness of the glory that will yet be revealed. But this whole book of Hebrews is about how much better we have it now than these Old Testament saints. Jesus the Christ has come. He came bringing the kingdom of heaven. Those who are connected with him have a real experience of the kingdom, spiritually speaking. All of this is greater than the experience of the Old Testament saint.
Just think through the content of this book. This is exactly the point. It compares the promises they received with what they had not received, but we have received. Let’s walk through it. The book begins in the first two chapters saying that in the Old Testament they received revelation from prophets and angels. But now we have received divine revelation from Jesus Christ, who though he came as a man who is a little lower than the angels, he is actually the Son of God who is higher than them. And as a prophet, he comes not simply as faithful servant of God like Moses, but as the Son over God’s house. And so we have this greater revelation of God that has been mediated through Jesus. And so Hebrews then develops this point in chapters 3-4 of how Jesus is better than Moses.
Well, then in chapter 7, the book shows how Jesus comes as a better Great High Priest than the priesthood that they had in the Old Covenant. He says that since Jesus lives forever, his is an eternal priesthood; and since he is sinless, as a priest he didn’t have to atone for his own sin too. And then in chapters 8-10, it describes how Jesus is the mediator of a new and better covenant, that brings to us better things, because they are heavenly and eternal. And so in chapter 9 we see that this new covenant includes a better sanctuary, a heavenly one. And it includes a better sacrifice, Jesus himself, and its superiority is seen in that it only had to be offered one time, unlike the many repeated sacrifices of the Old Testament.
And so with only a quick review of this book, we see the point. We see how we have something better than these Old Testament saints. Yes, they had faith in this coming king and coming kingdom. They believed it would come. They acted in faith in light of its coming. And they did receive types and shadows that prefigured these better things to come. But they didn’t receive them like we now have received them in Christ. As we believe in trust in Christ, we have already received these good things. And so here’s our connection with the Old Testament saints. They believed in these things that were yet to come. We believe in these things that have now come in Christ. In this way we have the same faith as these Old Testament saints, but we are in a better place than them. Because we get to experience already in this life things that they longed for. And so it’s as it says here in the final verse. Ultimately, we are connected with the believers of old. Their faith and our faith then come together, and together we are all completed in Christ. Even before they were called Christians, they had the Christian faith. And all the more know, we boldly trust in the Christian faith.
Now let me offer an important clarification here. There is something wonderful that we have received that the Old Testament believer had not yet. However, let us make it clear. There yet remains a final installment of God’s promises for God’s people. Already now, Christ has come. Already we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life by faith in his name. Already we have been brought into his heavenly kingdom, and into his heavenly sanctuary. And yet, in glory of glories the Bible shows us that there yet remains a final manifestation of these promises. We are told that Jesus Christ is coming again. And when he does, all the people of faith, from Old and New Testaments will come together into an eternal state of bliss. Then those heavenly realities of his kingdom which we already have, will come down out of heaven and be manifested here on some new earth. It will be awesome! But this also then reminds us another way in which we can relate to the faith of these saints of old.
You see, what I mean is that if you put your faith today in Christ, there will be aspect of your final reward that you won’t receive in this life. Spiritually, we have it. At the point of faith in Christ we become eternally secure and partakers of so many wonderful heavenly blessings. And yet we still live here in earth, full of people who are opposed to our faith, still ourselves even struggling with living our lives in a way that’s consistent with our new identity, and Satan himself looks to afflict us. And so like the faithful of old who had to endure many trials while they waited to receive the promises, so will we. But then let us not be surprised when this happens. Remember instead this great cloud of witnesses who stand before us. By faith they pressed on amidst it all. And we know that by faith we will as well. And we thank God for what it says in the next chapter. 12:2, Jesus Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith. When you see your faith, take heart that Christ is at work in you, and will be with you to grow and perfect your faith.
And so today’s passage calls you to faith. Verse 6 says it’s impossible to please God without faith. On the other hand, if you have this faith, then you can be assured of a reward. And so if you came here today as an unbeliever, I urge you to not leave as one. Leave as one who has come to believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. And then I say to all believers. This passage reminds us of the patience that our faith must have. Patience that acts in faith and finds victory in faith amidst all the tribulations of this world. Yes, in this world you will have troubles, but by faith, you too can be sure of your ultimate reward. And by faith, you find God’s commendation — a good testimony. And so by faith, we will join together with all the believers on the last day to finally to enter into that promised eternal reward.
This is what we do here at Trinity Orthodox Presbyterian Church. We preach about faith! We preach it to ourselves, and to visitors; to those who have the faith already, and to those who don’t. If we are studying a New Testament passage, we preach about faith in Christ. And if we are studying an Old Testament passage, we preach about this same faith as well. And not only do we preach about this faith, but we celebrate together this faith in our worship. And not only do we celebrate it, but since we know the tribulations that can come while we wait for God in faith, then we also become a sort of support group. We are a sort of support group of people who have this faith, to support each other in the Lord as we live in a world that is opposed to that.
This is a support and a ministry that we all need. The book of Hebrews actually says this explicitly in the previous chapter, 10:25. It says that as we see the day of Christ’s return getting closer and closer, that we all the more need to not give up meeting together regularly. And so on this Open House Sunday, I especially encourage you that if you are a Christian who has not been a part of a Bible believing church that you seek to remedy that. We need this fellowship to spur on our faith. And it’s a blessing by God to have such fellowship as we wait in faith for Christ’s return. Praise the Lord. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.