One of the places that I’d like to go someday is the Pro Football Players Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. I would very much enjoy looking back over the years and reflecting upon those players, coaches, and others who have made lasting impressions and contributions to the game. I think it would be a fun and fascinating trip. Did you know that there is a “Hall of Fame” in the Bible? Well, sort of...
This morning we will begin a 2-part message through chapter 11 of Hebrews. This great chapter of Scripture is often called “The Hall of Faith” or “The Heroes of Faith”. It specifically names several Old Testament men and women who exhibited remarkable faith in God. Though they lived and died thousands of years ago, these incredible people continue to be wonderful examples for Christians today.
Besides just providing a list of faithful believers, the broader message of this chapter further confirms one of the main and recurring teachings of Hebrews. Throughout all of history salvation was never granted on the basis of obedience to the Law, but always on the basis of God’s grace as received by faith. This is the central point of the “better covenant” and “better way” that we’ve been discussing in this series. Legalism or trying to merit God’s favor by doing good works according to some religious framework is foolhardy and always has been.
Just because we call something new doesn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t exist before. Did North America come into existence when Columbus discovered it? After all, everyone called it “The New World”. Of course not. The land itself was not new, but rather the knowledge of its presence was new. The same can be said of the New Covenant. Jesus revealed something “new” that had, in fact, always been in place. But now, in Him, people could finally understand this mystery more readily - salvation comes through faith, not by works. This was God’s redemptive plan since the creation of mankind.
I. WHAT IS FAITH? (v1-2)
At the beginning of this chapter, the writer of Hebrews provides a Biblical definition of faith using 2 separate statements. The first of these describes faith as the “assurance of things hoped for”. The word for assurance used in this verse is also translated as “confidence in”, “substance of”, and “reality of”. Faith is a present certainty that future hopes will come to fruition. Believers trust that God will keep His promises because He has a perfect record of doing so in the past.
Secondly, faith is the “conviction of things not seen”. The word conviction is rendered in other Bible translations as “evidence”, “proof”, and “certainty”. Faith is a steadfast belief that certain things exist though they cannot be physically seen. Though God is not presently visible to the human eye, there is ample evidence of His existence. These proofs contribute to and undergird the believer’s conviction that God is real and true.
Thus, faith involves both an assurance that the unseen Lord exists and that His promises will be fulfilled. By having such faith, the “men of old” gained God’s approval. This phrase is referring to the saints of God who lived during the Old Testament era, prior to the coming of Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant. For centuries before the Law as given to Moses during the exodus, there were numerous men and women who exercised saving faith in God Almighty.
II. FAITH BEFORE THE FLOOD (v3-7)
Faith enables mankind to understand how God created the heavens and the earth. His spoken word formed that which is seen from that which isn’t seen. God made something out of nothing! By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice to the LORD than his brother did, thereby obtaining a testimony of righteousness that still speaks to this day. Because of his exceptional faith, Enoch did not experience physical death but was translated by God directly to heaven. By faith, Noah built an ark because he had been warned that God was about to destroy the earth with a flood. In so doing, he saved his family and became an “heir” of “righteousness”.
“Without faith it is impossible to please” God. Since the time of creation, God has always desired that his people be faithful. Those who come to God “must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him”. Notice that these 2 expressions are in exact alignment with the definition of faith given in verse 1. People who doubt in God’s existence and/or the reliability and truthfulness of His word are dissatisfying to Him.
III. FAITH BEFORE THE CAPTIVITY (v8-12, 17-22)
By faith Abraham followed the Lord’s direction to an unknown and foreign land. He settled there among pagans, awaiting God’s promise of a better inheritance. By faith Sarah conceived and bore a son in her old age. By faith Abraham willingly offered up this cherished boy Isaac, believing that God would raise him from the dead if necessary in order to fulfill His promise. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph. By faith Joseph prophesied of the coming exodus and expressed his earnest desire to someday be buried in Israel.
All of these patriarchs exercised faith in God. Despite their many weaknesses and failures, it was their faith that was pleasing to the LORD. Not long after Joseph’s death, the Hebrew children were enslaved by the Egyptians and remained in captivity for the next 400 years. Even then, God found pleasure and took delight in those who had faith in Him.
IV. FAITH FINDS FAVOR (v13-16)
God instituted a covenant with Abraham in which He promised to make Abraham’s descendants a great nation, to give them a land as their possession, and to use them as a blessing to the entire world. This covenant continued through the line of Isaac and Jacob. All of these men died prior to this promise actually coming true. Yet all 3 faithfully believed that God would honor His word and bring it into reality someday. Thus, their strong faith was demonstrated by their “assurance of things hoped for”.
These men also realized that they were “strangers and exiles on the earth”. They were seeking a better country - that is, a heavenly one. They wanted an inheritance far greater than this world has to offer. As such, God was not ashamed to call them His own. In fact, He has prepared a city for them just as He has for all who place their faith and trust in Him. Without question, it is faith that finds favor with God.
Faith is more than mere belief. Faith is belief that is put into action. The classic example of this is the story of a man and a chair. A man might look at a chair and, based on his observation, believe that the chair will support his weight. However, until he actually goes and sits in the chair he has not exhibited faith. Faith requires the confidence to live by and act upon one’s beliefs - not just have them. Many people believe that God exists, but are unwilling to trust Him with their lives.
Most world religions falsely teach that people must do things to earn God’s favor. By attaining some level of goodness or morality, they merit salvation and the blessings of God. These heresies leave followers constantly working in efforts to appease God, and always wondering if they’ve done enough to receive His affections. But Christianity teaches us that only faith pleases God. If lost sinners will simply repent of their sins and place their faith in Jesus for forgiveness they will be saved. No stress, no pressure, no uncertainty… faith is better.