Hebrews 11

Chapter 11 of Hebrews may well be one of the most well-known chapters in the New Testament. We call it “the faith chapter” because the word “faith” and the phrase “by faith” are repeated over and over again as the author discusses the nature and characteristics of faith as they are demonstrated in the lives of some of the greatest heroes of the Hebrew faith.

When the Spirit fell on the infant Church in that upper room on the Day of Pentecost, it was as though great vistas of the spirit world opened up before those who were filled with that Holy Spirit. They caught a vision of the greatness of God and the urgency of getting on with the work of spreading the Gospel. They were empowered and motivated from the inside out to do the great work of evangelism. Instead of being fearful, they became faithful. Instead of cowering behind locked doors, the were catapulted out into the world by the Spirit of God, taking the Word of salvation with them.

For some reason, the Hebrew believers reading this letter were not “on fire,” as the rest of the Church was. They lacked something. They lacked faith. They were double-minded and wavering in their new-found faith in Jesus Christ. In this state, they were easily tempted to doubt and question the Gospel. They were tempted to go back to their old religious ways because they were comfortable and all those religious regulations required only blind obedience, and no faith.

The writer of Hebrews is about to help his readers understand what real faith is all about.

1. Faith believes great things, Hebrews 11:1—16

Faith defined, verses 1, 2

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

The word translated “faith” here is the Greek work pistis, which means a variety of things, including: belief, trust, fidelity, firm persuasion, and firm conviction. In the New Testament, this word always has an object. In other words, in the New Testament, faith is not a philosophical idea or a nebulous, “way out there” metaphysical idea. New Testament writers always associate “faith” with its object, God. Faith is IN God. New Testament faith is not in words or deeds or things or in people; it is always in God.

Faith is not a magical power. Even when we read the phrase “by faith,” we cannot divorce faith from its Object, God. Faith in and of itself is nothing; it has no power apart from its Object. Faith is the means by which we receive from God what we need to serve Him.

Further, faith is forward looking, not backward looking. Faith looks ahead. Faith endures. Verse one is connected to something the writer dealt with back in 10:35—30:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:35—39)

New Testament faith is linked to endurance of the present with a focus on the future and of things “hoped for.” Obviously, since the future isn’t here yet, we must endure—that is, we can’t become lax and lazy in living out our faith—until the promises of God, which we hope for but don’t see yet, appear. He who has faith, will patiently endure, not getting depressed or discouraged on account of their circumstances because they are anticipating—hoping—to receive what God has promised.

This concept of faith is nothing new; that is, it’s not unique to the Christian faith, the “ancients” had it and were commended for it.

Faith required, verses 3—6

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Biblical faith doesn’t begin with the New Testament, but with the first sentence of the Old Testament. Faith begins with the proposition that God is the Creator of all there is. No human being was around when it took place, so faith is needed. Angels, we are told, witnessed creation, but they aren’t talking to us about it. No, it takes FAITH to believe that, at some point in the dateless past, God built the universe.

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? (Job 38:4)

It takes faith to believe that God did all this, and takes the exact same kind of faith to believe that God will create our victorious future. The Hebrews needed to know this. If they could believe in the past, then they should easily believe in the future! The same God creates both.

By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. (verse 4a)

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death…(verse 5a)

Two characters, Abel and Enoch, are given as examples of men who had the right kind of faith. Abel had the right kind of faith to approach God. Abel was not first human to express faith, his father, Adam was. Consider this statement of faith:

Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. (Genesis 3:20)

That’s an amazing statement of faith. Abel’s faith, though, was in the way he approached God. He approached God in a way that pleased God: by faith. Here we are told that Cain had no faith; his approach to God was out of obligation, not faith.

Similarly, Enoch is given as an example of a man whose faith pleased God. Most of us get hung up on the idea that Enoch never died; that God sort of “beamed him up” instead of letting him die. The real issue, though is WHY God did this:

…[God] rewards those who earnestly seek him. (verse 6b)

Enoch is given as an example of what God can do for those with faith, the idea being that God rewards those with faith who seek Him.

Faith exemplified, verses 7—12

In this group of verses, more heroes of the faith are given. Specifically Noah and Abraham. These two men both demonstrated faith that God would do what He promised He was going to do.

Noah persevered for a century, building a boat because God said it was going to rain, something that had never happened before. In spite of his circumstances, Noah kept on, hammering those nails. The promise was a long time in coming, but Noah “kept the faith” in spite of God’s timing.

Abraham’s faith was similar to Noah’s in that the promises God made to Abraham were a long, long time away from fulfillment. In fact, Abraham never lived to see them, but he lived as though he believed they could come at any time.

Both of these men by their actions, demonstrated their faith in God. It was in what they did that they exemplified their faith.

Faith anticipated, verses 13—16

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

All faithful people die in the faith. In other words, they never stop believing in a glorious future, regardless of what their present lives may be like. Biblical faith, then, looks ahead in anticipation of what is to come, even if what is to come is not for this world. A person of faith dies in faith; they believe in God and believe God to their last breath. A person of faith may occasionally glance back, but they are enamored with the future and what it holds for them. Even on their deathbeds, the faithful are looking forward to what is next.

2. Faith accomplishes great things, Hebrews 11:17—34

Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, verses 17—22

Faith attempts and accomplishes great things for God. However, those great things sometimes come with a price tag attached. In other words, the “great things” are not always easily done. In this group of verses we see that the faith of these men was first of all tested. We learn here that “faith tests” take different forms. Faith is tested when, for example, the sacrifices demanded from us seem unreasonable. Faith is tested when we don’t see the point or when we don’t understand exactly what it is God is doing. Yes, that’s why it’s called “faith!” Sometimes the mysteries of God remain just that: mysterious. Faith is tested when we realize the promises of God may not actually come to pass the way we think they should. But a person of faith perseveres anyway!

Faith, though tested, will triumph because it is in God, not in any other person, thing, or circumstance. God is totally dependable and unchangeable. One who has faith understands this. Faith overcomes because it knows that God is good and that He would never allow evil to touch us, in spite of appearances. And faith is always victorious because faith obeys God no matter what the consequences may be.

Moses, verses 23—28

In the life and times of Moses we see three stunning aspects of faith. First, we see that faith is courageous. It took courage for Moses’ parents to trust him to the Nile! But his parents exercised courageous faith in letting Moses go. Could you let your son go, floating toward an unknown future?

Second, faith involves making choices. Sitting around never making a choice or worse yet, endlessly praying about making a choice but never actually stepping out in faith and making the choice, is not faith. Moses made choices that seemed crazy to onlookers. But he stepped out in faith and made the choices he believed to be the ones God wanted him to make. By faith, Moses was able to discern the real issues of life. To him, it wasn’t a choice between an easy life in Egypt and a hard life in the desert. It was the choice to obey God or not to obey God. It wasn’t a choice between the riches of Egypt or the poverty of servitude. It was a choice between heaven and hell, and Moses knew that and he chose wisely in faith.

Finally, faith endures. Moses actually left Egypt twice. In his youth, he fled Egypt. He had some faith, but it had to mature, as did Moses. Moses’ faith grew in the desert and in the presence of the burning bush. Moses endured—he did what he had to do—before the ultimate manifestation of his faith: the Exodus. Sometimes faith keeps you in a holding pattern, but it does so for a purpose.

Those delivered from their foes, verses 29—34

True faith always leaves Egypt. That’s another way of saying true faith moves ahead. When one steps out in faith, it is as though dominoes fall. There could have been no Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets had Moses and the Hebrews not stepped out in faith to leave Egypt. That deliverance led to many more opportunities to exercise even more faith. However, it all started with the first step out of Egypt.

3. Faith endures great things, Hebrews 11:35—40

Persecuted yet victorious, verses 35—38

It’s difficult to understand how one being persecuted is exercising faith. Many times, we think that if we have enough faith God will “get us out” of trouble. This group of verses is like a hairpin curve. Up till now, the writer has been discussing the great achievements of faith but now he starts discussing suffering in the faith. If you think it’s sort of backward thinking to associate faith with persecution, that’s only because you don’t understand what the writer is getting at. The allusion in these powerful verses is to godly men and women who could have saved their lives by giving up on their faith. They chose instead to give up their lives to hold on to their precious faith in God and the future He had for them.

Far too often we equate “the good life” with faith. But true faith rests, as has been stated, in God and God’s integrity when we perceive things getting worse instead of getting better. Probably the greatest test of anybody’s faith is when we face the startling truth that God could deliver us but chooses not to. He could heal us, but He doesn’t. He could straighten out our lives, but won’t. If you can maintain your faith in God in the face of such circumstances, you have found Biblical faith.

Certain of something better, verses 39, 40

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

All these who suffered so much were commended by God because they held on to their faith. They never got what they had been promised—long life, health, prosperity, happiness—but they never lost their faith. They went to their deaths never grasping WHY. The writer to the Hebrews finally tells us WHY: because God had something better for them.

One time, John Wesley was walking along a country road with a young man who was faltering in his faith because he did what so many of us do: all he could see were his many trouble and worries. Wesley saw a cow looking over the stone wall beside them.

“Do you know why that cow is looking over the wall?” asked Wesley.

“I have no idea,” replied the troubled young man.

“It’s because she can’t see through it. That’s what you must do to your wall of trouble—look over it and above it.” answered Wesley.

That’s what faith is all about. Look over that wall and you’ll be amazed at what you see.

1 Response to “OVERCOMING FAITH”

  1. 1 Mary Waithe November 25, 2012 at 10:24 am

    It is True that without Faith and Trust we can do nothing.You must have Faith………

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