This morning we will spend some time in the 11th chapter of Hebrews. We, as usual, may check a few other places in scripture to draw for our lesson. Before we begin, I share a story of a preacher who went on a trip to hold a revival series in another state. Somehow, part of his luggage was misplaced so he did not have his suits. He went to a second-hand store to look for “gently-used” suits that he could use. The clerk in the store showed him a rack of suits and he found a couple that would fit. He noticed they looked to be in excellent condition. The store clerk told him the had been sent over from a local funeral home. They had been used to dress a corpse until the family brought other cloths. They had been cleaned and pressed. He asked if that would cause a problem.
The preacher bought two suits and left the store. Later, when he dressed to go to the church for the first sermon, he realized the pockets of the suit were sewn closed. It was then that he realized; dead people don’t take anything in their pockets.
This is a truth that many of us still haven’t learned. We are still accumulating and the sad reality is that we will not be taking any of it with us.
Jesus told us, in His sermon on the Mount, that we cannot serve two masters. Just prior to this, He point to the fact that any treasures we store up should be the treasure that is in heaven. Listen to these words from Matthew 6 starting in verse 19.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NASB)
It is a truth spoken by Jesus that our hearts are where our treasure is. There is another truth, as the preacher previously mentioned learned, dead people don’t carry stuff.
Let’s open our Bibles to the 11th chapter of Hebrews and look at the perspective several men of faith had and what makes them an example for us.
We will start reading with the first verse of Hebrews.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. (Hebrews 11:1-2 NASB)
First off, we must understand that word-faith. In the King James Version, the first verse reads: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)
This is not a dictionary definition of the word faith. It is an idea that the writer wants us to understand. There are somethings that we must accept as true or real without tangible evidence. Here is a quote from Expositor’s Bible Commentary (2004 edition):
There are realities for which we have no material evidence, though they are not the less real for that. Faith enables us to know that they exist and, while we have no certainty apart from faith, faith does give us genuine certainty. Faith is the basis, the substructure of all that the Christian life means, all that the Christian hopes for.
So, faith is the key element through which the men of old gained approval. This approval is not only from God but from others who look at their life and see that their life was controlled by their faith.
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:3 NASB)
It is faith that tells us that in the beginning God created the world and all that is contained within our universe. This runs parallel John’s gospel where he tells us that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and all things came into being through the Word.
Once we understand the place of faith and the emphasis of faith when approaching God, we now enter what has been called the “Roll Call of the Faithful”.
We now move into the list of those faithful people who are held up as examples for us. The faith shown in the lives listed in the 11th chapter of Hebrews serves as both an example and an encouragement for us. Most of us will never face the persecutions and trials known by the people listed in this chapter.
In the interest of time, we will only consider four men from this list of faithful. We will cover only the first 16 verses. So far, we have read the first three verses. As we read on, we will look at four men and so that they are featured because each of them cared more about serving God than their current circumstance. For each, God was their first consideration. Their personal desires or comforts were secondary to their desire to please God. Let’s continue starting in verse 4.
By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4 NASB)
Now, most of us remember the incident when Cain killed Abel. It was over God accepting Abel’s sacrifice and not Cains’. How many ever stopped to considered what made the difference? Why was one acceptable to God and the other not? Let’s refresh our memory by reading a few verses from Genesis the 4th chapter.
So, it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So, Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:3-7 NASB)
As I re-read this passage, it strikes me that God is not angry at Cain. In fact, I see a benevolent father speaking to a son about sin waiting for the right time to take over.
We know that Cain allowed sin to come into his life and he killed his brother. In the account from Genesis, God uses similar phrasing as we find in Hebrews. Abel is testifying even after his death. The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. (Genesis 4:10 NASB)
Why was one sacrifice accepted and the other rejected? Abel wanted to please God while Cain was just going through the motions. Why do I say this? Look at the verses we just read. When God approached Cain, Cain never once asked God why his sacrifice was not acceptable. He did not care. His sacrifice was all about him. “I grew this and I will offer some of it to God.” Nowhere, in scripture, do we find anyone who was pleasing to God that was self-centered.
Next, as we continue reading in Hebrews, we meet Enoch.
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up, he was pleasing to God. And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:5-6 NASB)
We are not told very much about Enoch. In Genesis 5:24. We are told that Enoch walked with God. Maybe that’s all we need to know. His life was one that was unified with God. He was so close to God that God allowed him to pass from this world into the next without seeing death. The writer of Hebrews sees this as a life governed by faith in God. Enoch received his reward for seeking a close relationship with God.
Next, we find Noah in this list of the faithful. In reality, we don’t know that much about Noah. When we read in Genesis, we know that Noah lived in a time when most of the known world had given over to sinful behavior. We are told that Noah found favor with God (Genesis 5:8). He was commissioned, by God to build an ark large enough to collect species of all the animals to serve as the source to repopulate the earth following the flood. We are told that all mankind died during the flood with the exception of Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives. Noah spent a large amount of his life building the ark. In Genesis 6:3, we know that God issued 120 years notice before the flood. During that time, Noah and his three sons were busy building the ark. Noah never questioned God about the necessity to build the ark. He never questioned God about the destruction that was to come. Noah obeyed God’s instructions without doubting.
By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (Hebrews 11:7 NASB)
We now move to, perhaps the best-known person on our list. Abraham became the father of a nation. He was chosen by God to be the father of the nation and more importantly, the father of the lineage of the Messiah, the Christ.
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore, there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. (Hebrews 11:8-12 NASB)
When God told Abraham to go; he did not question God. He packed up and went as God directed. When God promised a son, God delivered. God promised a large family and an entire nation came to call Abraham their father. Abraham trusted God with all he had and never wavered in his faith.
There is one common denominator that may be found in all four of these people. Yes, they all trusted God. None of these people were attached to this world so strongly that they could not or would not abandon their current situation when God called them to act. They were looking toward what God has in store rather than what they can see in this present world.
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed, if they had been thinking of that country from which they went 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 a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16 NASB)
We live in a world where material goods are readily seen and held. It is easy to allow the trappings of this world to obscure our spiritual vision. This world is not our home. We are simply passing through. For some of us, the journey will soon be over for others the journey seems to have no end. If we are to live a life of faith, we must realize that our home is in the heavenly realm and not associated with this world.
Are you walking by faith?