Hebrews 11.1-3 (NIV)
11.1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 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.
A couple of summers ago, my family went for a hike in the Beaver Creek National Forest area (I would bet it has an official name) … there were a lot of people around, but none of them were particularly familiar or friendly. We would say, “high” but most of the people wouldn’t even look up at us, and if they did they looked up with a grimace. It threw me off, because usually people on that trail are friendly and happy to be there. I made a comment to Sarah about how weird it was to meet so many crabby people on such a beautiful day.
Later we realized the people on the trail weren’t really hikers, at least not the kind of hikers we thought they were … they were participating in the “Silverheels 100” endurance race … most of the people we were meeting had been on the trail for 36 hours!
No wonder they seemed so crabby!
I’m not all that great at endurance sports, usually 20 minutes into a long hike I start thinking about ice cream … maybe that’s why I respect endurance athletes so much.
It’s not just athletes … I admire friends who have pushed themselves to to meet a goal … like my friends and family who have pushed to recover and heal from joint replacements … they push so hard … they have so much discipline to keep going even when it is hard … even when it hurts … they have this hope of what life will be like … of skiing, hiking, maybe just doing necessary-everyday-life-things, without the pain they had been experiencing for so long.
Often when biblical writers talk about the life of faith they will use the metaphor of running a race … they draw on these pictures of endurance … of people pushing themselves.
In 1 Corinthians 9, the Apostle Paul, uses the metaphor of running in a race to encourage the church toward faithful living:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
In the first verses of Hebrews, chapter 12, the preacher uses a similar running/racing metaphor to encourage the church to keep living faithfully, even when they might be growing discouraged, and might even be considering turning away from the faith and back toward whatever their lives were like before they committed themselves to Jesus’ way of discipleship.
…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…
True, Christian, true Jesus inspired and shaped faith, is a lot like a long distance run, it is a lot like the Silverheels 100… it has to do with endurance … with pushing ourselves … seeking Christ with all we are and with all we have.
Chapter 11 of Hebrews is often called the “faith chapter.”
The preacher of Hebrews presents us with this brief, working definition, of faith and then shares examples of people from scripture who have lived faithful lives.
4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 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.
7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
13 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, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 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.
“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Often we talk about faith as the thing that comforts us and gets us through incredibly difficult experiences … and that is 100% true. There is another side to faith though, our faith in God can also be a great challenge to us … seeking to trust Jesus with faith, following Jesus with our lives can also get us into challenging experiences.
Maybe that is what was happening with the church the author of Hebrews was first addressing … maybe their faith was causing them to stick out in their communities … maybe they were starting to feel like those salmon struggling to swim upstream we see in pictures?
This challenging side of faith really comes out in the examples of faithful people the preacher of Hebrews shares with us.
Noah, Abraham, later on in chapter 11 the preacher talks about Moses’ parents, Moses himself, and Rahab – their faith led them into some incredibly challenging and risky situations. In all of these examples of faith, faith is an action!
Their faith challenged them to step out and put their lives on the line!
James Edwards, (the pastor who married my parents and) a really insightful Bible teacher, wrote,
We often think of faith as the intellectual content of belief. Chapter 11, however, defines faith in terms of trusting in the promises of God and growing in maturity by bearing witness to them in practical life choices. The roll call of Israelite heroes and heroines of faith portrays faith as a life of pilgrimage that is pleasing to God. Faith, in other words is something that is practiced, not simply believed (The Renovarè Spiritual Formation Bible, p. 2197).
Faith is something that is practiced, not simply believed (The Renovarè Spiritual Formation Bible, p. 2197).
Faith has to do with trusting God’s promises – faith isn’t just the mental process of believing something is true … Faith is more than what is going on inside our heads – faith is something that shapes what we do, faith is something we practice.
Faith is making decisions and taking action trusting that what God says is true and will happen.
Our Christian faith isn’t something we inherit, it isn’t just a culture, or just a tradition, faith is something we individually have to do. Sooner or later each one of us has to make some sort of commitment to trust in Jesus, to depend on him, to do what he says.
That doesn’t mean faith is a purely individual practice though – faith draws us into a community, into this “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us, who go beside us, and who will go after us.
The preacher of Hebrews shows us that as we seek to live faithful lives, as we seek to practice our faith, we are connected with the story of God’s work in the world throughout history and we are connected to the people who have practiced faith throughout all time.
The preacher of Hebrews does something I find incredibly encouraging in these verses. We are reminded of all these heroes of the faith – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham … we are reminded of the people who have gone before us … the ones who have paved the way … who have left us an example of faith … who have shown us what trusting God looks like … and then, we are included in that long line of faithful people.
What we are doing … our faithfulness … our seeking God is included as something that falls right in line with these heroes. Our faithfulness … the steps we take to move beyond ourselves … to trust God … are just as important … are just as faithful as Noah constructing that ark when it wasn’t raining and his neighbors must have thought he was the weirdest guy in their community … or when Abraham stepped out in faith trusting God … holding on to God’s promise that he would be the ancestor of a great nation who would be loved and blessed by God and who would carry that love and blessing out, into the world … even when it looked painfully impossible … or like Sheldon Jackson, the missionary pastor who founded this congregation and so many congregations across Colorado … or Corrie Ten Boom and the Christians who stood up to the Nazis’ hatred and the ways they were co-opting European congregations …
Your faith … your faithfulness … your seeking to trust and honor God … to love God and to love your neighbors … your desire to have the Spirit of God growing in you, reshaping your heart to be more like Jesus, matters … it is what faithful people who walked before us, who walk with us, and who will walk after us have been looking and longing for.
Your faith matters … your faith, along with Abraham, Moses, Paul’s, the preacher who wanted to encourage that ancient church we have come to call the “Hebrews”, and so many others faithful people thought out history matters, and your faith draws you into the good and important work God is doing to make God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven.
“… Let us run with perseverance the race that marked out for us … fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith …”