In the last couple of weeks Sibs has served us well travelling through the dream series and laying a foundation for the year. Then he went further to teach us so well on prayer and the grace of giving. I must say I was doubly reminded to review what my priorities were and some way influenced in what I will share today.
I would like to acknowledge Thomas G. Long, Kevin Smith and Grant Scott whose material on Hebrews from where my core texts will come, I used extensively.
Today I am hoping with the grace of God to touch on a subject often spoken about, which is Faith, but I would like to look at how our decisions are affected by what/whom we have faith in. Matty Angel is his poem ‘The choice we have to make’ says:
In life we have to make choices, sometimes these choices are hard…At times we must put ourselves first, our needs above our wants. This can bring us many tears, hurt us in the heart…But they are choices that must be made…Because that is how we survive
So it is with our walk with God, some decisions have to be made, choices taken hard as they might be. We are here today out of choice not cohesion; however, the choices we have to make are a lot harder than that. Realizing that our faith is a lot more than a proclamation but doing the good works that have been prepared for us beforehand, as we read in Ephesians 2:10:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
We’ll spend a considerable amount of time in Hebrews 11 for the best part of today’s sermon Hebrews 11 is a chapter in a sermon described by Thomas G. Long as ‘both strange and fascinating’. I would really like to zero in, in part off course, on a chapter whose beginning is well known but whose detail is lost to many, me included.
Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”
For many it would have been lovely if I had delivered a rip roaring sermon on faith and how, if only we believed all our troubles would leave us, sorry not today, and not ever. Our journey today would be to explore how some of the heroes of the faith responded to life, and how their faith shaped their decisions. However, before we get there I would like to share a story.
A few years ago, having recently lost a few kilograms of weight and enjoying the occasional 2km jog around the block, I and a few friends got ourselves into a spot of bother. After a glass of good wine at a dinner party. We accepted a challenge to do the Comrades, a race they call the Ultimate Human race! This was not bravado but shear madness. Full of excitement and nervous anticipation we had no clue what awaited us. Like we do when one gives his/her life to Christ, by quickly handing them a Bible, well I was given a book by the famous comrades coach Don Oliver titled “Make sure of your medal.” How about that for a title? The Bible should be retitled “make sure of your salvation?” Was this then the run/walk of faith? Well, we’ll get back to the story later.
In Hebrews 11:1 we read that faith is being sure of what we hope for. I would therefore like to look at the appearance or the nature of faith, how it manifests itself in the day to day. In Crossroads, which I implore you all to take up if you haven’t already, faith is defined as neither irrational, nor magical nor impersonal but as Dr Kevin Smith puts it in words that I have found helpful, ‘Faith is trust in the Character and competence of God’. John Stott says ‘Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God’. We see this kind of faith demonstrated in the following verses:
Luke 5: 12 -13
When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 13 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
When we have the kind of faith that is anchored in God’s character and a clear knowledge of his ability, it stands to reason that our decisions and their making will be affected greatly.
There are two things that clearly evidence faith:
Faith is known by its exploits
Faith is known by its endurance
Faith is known by its exploits
While we do not have to earn our salvation by our actions, our faith is surely evidenced by our actions. As James 2: 18, 22 puts it
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.
Oswald Chambers also puts it beautifully,
Beware of worshipping Jesus as the Son of God and professing your faith in him as the Saviour of the world, while you blaspheme him by the evidence of your daily life that he is powerless to do anything in and through you
Faith is seen by action. Like the wind, we see it not with the naked eye, but comprehend its effects. I would like to stretch it further and say faith is evidenced in the decisions that we make in our daily lives, and the way we make them
FAITH IS KNOWN BY ITS ENDURANCE
One of the greatest myths of our time is that suffering is a sign of deficient faith. There is nothing that is further from the truth. If you recall a while ago I said faith is not magical, so just having faith does not magically shield us from suffering. The biblical view of faith is that it trains us to endure as God walks with us. True faith is the continued trust in the belief in God in spite of the suffering. The Apostle Peter tells us that suffering strengthens our faith.
1 Peter 1:6-7 reads
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.
These characteristics are the common thread of heroes of faith which the preacher of Hebrews brings to our attention. All of them did mighty exploits for God but not without endurance and suffering. This brings me back to the story of the unlikely Comrades runners.
I think we left our story when we had picked up Don Oliver’s book and we read it, we read it quickly absorbing every detail for here was clear text showing us were the promised land was, a comrades medal which only a few could boast they had. What we were not ready for was the suffering that we told we were had to endure all of sudden the medals did not seem so certain. The daily grind, the sore feet, the early mornings, no more sleeping in on Saturday our life decisions were now about Comrades. This was indeed life changing and we believed every word of it. Let us return to more pressing matters.
In Hebrews 11 it may appear as if the writer is taking a stroll across Old Testament but far from it. This is no stroll there is a deliberate selection, and from this selection I would like to focus on the following heroes of faith: Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Christ
He starts with those who were righteous, followed by those who journeyed obediently and finally those tested by suffering. However, today I would like to look at Noah a righteous man whose story we have great affinity for here at City Hill, a story we never tire of telling as it played a vital role in some of the prophetic words we received earlier.
Hebrews 11: 6-7
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. 7 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.
Noah’s response to the word of God was stupendous. Here was a man told, by God, that there was going to be a flood and he was to build an ark to save all creatures. Imagine if he had a weather app on his iPhone and it said it would be clear for a long while. Imagine a weather lady also saying the same. Despite the reality of no rain and the signs that supported it, Noah chose to believe God. The extent of just how ridiculous this whole thing was, is dramatized in the comedy Evan Almighty, where Steve Carrel plays a modern day Noah told by God that they will be a flood and he responds to it. He was the punchline to many jokes, the local idiot, yet somehow that gave a picture of the burden we often encounter in making our decisions for God. It is never easy to choose God when the expected action is ridiculous. But we always ask who do you believe, where does your faith and hope lie?
Because of faith Noah built a vessel that saved humanity, one could say he was a type of the cross as it was the only way to salvation as the world was flooded the waters. Parallel this with a world flooded by sin where we see God’s judgment on Christ who was hung upon a cross. The same water that saved Noah, his family and animals by causing the ark to float, is the very same water that drowned others in judgment. Also, the same cross that is a means of salvation to those who would repent and believe, is an offence that sadly leads to the damnation of those who don’t believe. In fact the cross is a stumbling block to both Jew and Gentile, as Paul puts it in 1Cor 2. The question is are you in the Ark, or more pointedly are you in Christ? When God judges the living and the dead, on that great and final day, some will live eternally while others are damned? As Noah and his family believed that the ark would indeed save their lives we too repent and believe that through Christ’s substitutionary death on that cross, we have eternal life.
Hebrews 11: 24-26
24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.
The faith decisions around Moses start earlier than the preacher in Hebrews refers to. They start when his parents, after having disobeyed the edict of the ruler of the land, chose to expose their beautiful son to Pharaoh’s daughter in the faith that somehow their God would act on their behalf.
In his adult life Moses makes a decision that takes him away from privilege and power. The movie Exodus, while flawed in many respects, paints a picture of just how difficult the decision would have been without a deep trust in the competence of God. Believing that the Israelites would ever be free was probably as absurd as someone claiming a cure for obesity exciting but seemingly unattainable. The choice to side with God’s people was fraught with danger and pain and yet it had to be done.
The modern day Moses may have to leave the comforts of Bryanston to preach and live the less appealing places of this nation. What is our response to “Go out into the world and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the son and the holy spirit ……(Matt 28:18-20)?
We have faith in Christ, a Christ who says he came not for the well to do but the down trodden. (Mk 5:17; Lk 5:32
Do we honestly believe that Christ came to bring relief to those in Diepsloot or Kagiso if we do then this should affect our participation in preaching and demonstration of the gospel, through love evenbeyond our comfort zones Or, are our eyes on another treasure that is different to Christ?
Moses’s faith was peculiar in that it was active and operative. A faith which works for love, not just limited to belief of fact. His faith had a firm grip on his life and this was demonstrated by his choices both in what he turned away from; and that which he actively pursued. The exploits of Moses’ faith are well documented leading ultimately to the liberty of the children of God but this came not without endurance from his own birth, exile and ultimately wondering the desert for 40 years; with him dying without personally experiencing the very promise that God had made for Israel.
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house.
God through Moses saved Israel while the Father through the Son saves believers, Moses was only a foreshadow of the greatness of Jesus Christ. Many aspects of Moses’ life mirror those of Christ, from childhood right up to sacrifices he made for his people but with Christ being the greater; a prophet, high priest and King of the New Covenant of all people with God. Like Moses who led God people from captivity and the tyrannical rule of Pharaoh, Jesus leads those who repent and believe, from darkness to light, from death to eternal life.
In Hebrews 11:17-19, we see Abraham mentioned:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
I have found myself sometimes limiting Abraham to his great faith story. In this story we hear of him waiting for an heir for a very long time. The preacher to the Hebrews, however, brings to our attention the greater suffering and anguish that he had to endure taking his son to the top of the mountain to sacrifice him! Hiding the truth to the all trusting boy, and to the servants who were about to become accomplices to murder. Still his response can only be attributed to an unwavering trust in the sender and a clear belief in his competence. It reminds us of that song we sing blessed be the name:
You give and take away, you give and take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be Your name!
This has to be one of the great acts of faith when we surrender the very thing that has been promised to us. When we open fully our store house to the Lord, as Sibs put it last week, when we say have it all it’s yours in the first place That is the full response to faith. I am not in any way saying it is easy even our Lord when he faced death was in anguish. Sometimes the suffering seems so random and senseless.
God indeed did finally provide a lamb for Abraham on the mountain but more importantly he provided a more perfect sacrifice to end all sacrifices in Christ Jesus. Unlike in the case of Abraham were God used it as a test, our Lord followed through. Christ knew what was before him, it was absolute horror.
Matthew 26: 36
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch[a] with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Here we see Jesus agonizing over a decision he had to make. Yes he was sorrowful, yes he would have preferred the cup to pass without him partaking of it, but he still had ultimate faith in his Father. He had to believe that he would rise from the dead after 3 days. He had full knowledge of his Father’s love and trusted in his competence at this point when he was about to deliver a crushing blow to the evil one. But like a true prize fighter sometimes you set a trap which is painful but the rewards were salvation for all who believed. Christ’s decisions which are an example of trust in the Father’s love and competence are littered right across the Bible.
However, in this day and age it seems that Google, weather apps, talk radio and some such seem to be the things that we now believe are the bearers of ultimate truth.
Taking us back to my runner buddies, we believed every word that we read in the book we received and we trained we ate as prescribed. However as the race came closer we met another runner who said a few wise things to us and in him we kind of found God’s voice in all this. He said you can prepare physically for the first 60km, mentally for the next 10-15 but from 75km it is between you and your God. And suddenly we realized that in all our preparation we had left God out. You should have seen us literally sweating blood, brothers praying fervently and asking God to somehow have this impending suffering to pass us. And God in his infinite grace allowed me to stand here today and say not only did we finish the race well, we have managed to do it again and have helped others use this simple act as a way to reflect on the things that really matter in life. We learnt a lot about making faith decisions in this journey; it is I believe one of the best way to learn faith without the reality of true suffering. We were no heroes of faith, what we experienced pales in the shadows of the true heroes of faith.
Friends I leave you today with the words from Hebrews 11: 32 – 40
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, and [a] they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Having explored the lives of many men and women of faith, the author of Hebrews tells us that each one of their examples was intended to focus our attention in one single direction. The baton has been passed over the ages, and like a relay team the star of the show takes it over the line.
Hebrews 12 1-3
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
We have around us many people whose lives tell us what faith means. So let us run the Comrades of life, never giving up knowing that every step we take is a forward step. Never backward, shedding from our lives anything that hinders us from completing the race. Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and who makes it perfect. Not only did he suffer death on the cross but he accepted the humiliation in his stride because of the joy that God put before him. He now stands victorious sitting side by side with the Father. He held on while wicked people were doing evil things to him. So never tire and definitely stop trying. A luta contines à extremidadeWe are fortunate today we have experienced the promise, we have received that which is better and surely this should be our guide in our decisions. I can only be moved to action, spurred to join the long string of heroes who made faith decisions even when they did not know of the perfect gift. We are fortunate to be born in this age my friends. Our faith decisions should not be limited to making decisions to take up feel good physical challenges like running comrades, or applying for the job we think we cannot get, or putting in low offers when buying a house, our faith should be seen in making real hard decision for God, hearing him when he calls to be generous beyond our comfort, hearing him when he wants to extract us from our comfort zone and spread the word to those we feel uncomfortable with. Our faith decision should come when we seek forgiveness over revenge. Our faith should be seen in our response to prayer for there we get intimacy with the one to whom we pray to.
As we close I would like to call upon those among us who may be asking who this Jesus is or maybe wondering how you too can have a relationship with him. If that is you, iyou have to repent of your sins and to believe in his substitutionary on the cross for you, and trust him as Lord and Saviour from this day forth.
Secondly if you know Christ but are not walking by faith, if you are not trusting God’s character and his competence you need to repent of this and start afresh. Friends, faith is not magic wand stuff, it is real and we are clearly reminded by the preacher to the Hebrews that:
6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.