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Faith in the Promises August 7, 2016

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Hebrews 11:1-16

Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost

August 7, 2016

 

Focus:  God keeps His promises to us.

Function:  That the hearers trust in the promises of God.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Faith in the Promises

 

What a wonderful text that we have today!  As we pour into the book of Hebrews, we learn what faith is all about.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

So with just enough faith, if you just believe it to be true, whatever you hope for will be yours.  If I just believe it, it will become true.

Now, just two weekends ago we talked about our need for discernment.  Hopefully you discerned that what I just said was a load of rubbish.  Garbage.  Seriously, that kind of belief about faith is exactly what will undermine your faith.

And you know it.  You’ve seen it.  Let’s consider just a couple of examples.  Illness and death.  How many of us have lost someone we cared about?  We surely hoped they would get better.  We hoped they would recover and everything in our life would go back to normal.  But they didn’t.  Things continued to go downhill.  And we started to question whether we were praying right, were we praying hard enough.  We start to question if we really have any faith.

That same thing can be said about failing relationships, of losing of a friend or even a family member.  It can be said of our jobs, our careers, our livelihoods.  It can be said of our goals and ambitions in life.  If we just have faith, we’ll achieve anything we want.

This isn’t Christianity.  It’s the heresy we call the prosperity gospel.  That idea that if you just have enough faith, if you just believe enough, or try hard enough, or give enough, your life will be blessed.  You will prosper in all you do.  It’s almost like that old legend of Midas, that everything he touched turned to gold.  This is heresy.  It’s not faith.  And yet, this is what most Americans believe.

No, the author of Hebrews tells us what faith looks like, if only we leave it in the context in which he wrote it.  He’s going to spend this entire chapter giving us examples of what this faith looked like.  And here it is.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

So he starts with Abel.  Abel, one of the first sons of Adam and Eve, all the way back in Genesis 4.  Abel brings an offering before the Lord.  As a shepherd, he brings the firstborn of his flock, that first little lamb.  And his brother Cain also brings an offering, as a farmer, he brings some of his crops to offer to the Lord.  God saw the offering of Abel as pleasing, but not Cain’s.  Why?  Does God hate corn, or whatever it was Cain was growing?  Not at all.

This is a matter of faith.  Abel brought the first of his flock.  Cain brought some of his crop.  The difference is in their faith.  And here’s where we need to define that.  Faith is the Latin word for “trust.”  The difference is in their trust.  Abel trusted in God and in His promises.  Abel trusted that if he gave God the firstborn of his flock, God would still provide for him.  Cain didn’t.  He gave an offering, but it was leftovers.

The trust of God’s provision wasn’t there.  And so Cain gets angry, and over the issue of tithing, kills his brother.  Did Abel’s faith, his trust in God, lead to a long and prosperous life?  Quite the opposite, it got him killed.

Then we see Enoch, who we really know next to nothing about.  Enoch appears in Genesis 5, in the genealogy of Adam leading us to Noah.  Enoch is in that line.  We learn he is the son of Jared, we learn he fathered Methuselah, and we learn that he lived 365 years.  We learn that he walked with the Lord, and that then the Lord just took him away.  Enoch is just one of two people in world history that we know of who never saw death.  Faith, trust in the promises of God.

Because even as early as Genesis 3, there’s already the promise of a Savior.  Even in the moments after the fall, in the moments after Adam and Eve sinned and broke this perfect creation of God, even then, God is already promising hope, life, and salvation.  He’s already promising a Savior, a champion over sin, death, and the devil himself.  That’s where the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen comes from.  That’s the source, it is the object of our faith.  A Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom Abel and Enoch placed their faith, their trust.  They had never seen Him, but they were convinced, they were sure.

We also get Noah, and not the cutesy version.  God tells Noah of a global destruction, a catastrophic event the likes of which the world had never seen.  It was a promise, and Noah believed it.  Noah went out, and as he was instructed, he built that ark, together with his sons.  And when the time came, and God sent the animals to board the ark, so did Noah, his sons, and their wives.  They hadn’t seen it, but they believed it.  They weren’t righteous, they weren’t good, but on account of their faith, their trust in God, they were saved.

Then we get Abraham, or Abram at this point still.  And as he’s living in the land of Ur, God calls out to him, makes great promises of innumerable offspring, a nation for himself, and wealth beyond compare.  Just imagine that call, and it was a unique call, but just imagine God saying that to you, calling you to leave behind everything you know, and to trust Him alone.  To go to a foreign land, with nothing but your wife and the clothes on your back.

And then the author is nice to Sarah as he looks back on her.  That God promised her a child, and that He delivered on that promise.  Now, we could quarrel over how strong her faith actually was, over just how much she actually trusted that promise from God, as she laughed at the very thought of it.  But nonetheless, God’s promises depend not on us.  He fulfills them.  And He gave her a son, and they named him “he laughs.”  Or Isaac, as you know him.

From our last paragraph of our text today, verse 13: “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.”  Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, none of these saw Jesus Christ.  None of them saw the Savior of promise, the Messiah to whom all of the Old Testament points.  But they trusted, they were waiting.  Verse 16 concludes in saying “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.”  Salvation is theirs in Christ.

So many people today ask that question.  “But if we have to believe in Jesus to be saved, what happened to all those people who lived before Jesus died on the cross?  Are they saved?”  It really is a common question, and the Scriptures answer it.  Right here, in this text.  They are saved, not by what they did, but on account of Christ.

And this verse, which we should all commit to memory, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  This verse about faith, this is true today, too.  This verse applies just as much to you and me as it did to them.

Think about it.  The Lord’s Supper.  How many of you can truly say you understand it?  That somehow, this bread becomes the flesh of Christ.  That somehow this wine becomes the blood of Christ.  And yet, at the same time, they’re still bread and wine.  This is what Luther meant when he described the sacrament as “in, with, and under.”  He meant, we have no clue how it works, we just trust that it’s true because God said it, because God promised it.

And baptism is the same.  When we baptize someone, can you see the forgiveness of sins?  Can you see the Holy Spirit create faith in their hearts?  Can you see that same forgiveness granted in the Lord’s Supper?  Can you see that same forgiveness in confession and absolution?  We can’t see it, but we trust it’s there.  We trust because God promised us.  And God is indeed faithful.

That’s faith, that we trust in His promises, even though we can’t see them, we can’t see the forgiveness, we can’t see the risen Jesus, but nonetheless we trust.  We don’t trust in the things of this world, our relationships, our wealth, our health.  We trust in God.  And we put our hope in His promises.  Your sins are forgiven in the blood of Christ.  And in His resurrection, you too have the newness of life.

 

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