Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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. 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. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 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. 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.
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. 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.
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones. By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
(New International Version)
You do understand, don’t you, that “the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (verse 3)? Even science bears that out! Ever try to get a glimpse of a quark?
In contemplating this chapter, I am impressed with example after example of men and women who were no more perfect, righteous, or holy in and of themselves than any of the rest of us. However, they’ve been named in this incredible passage of scripture, that I like to refer to as “God’s Great Hall of Faith,” because of one common and essential characteristic—they were so totally assured of God’s existence, and convicted concerning His promises to them, that they were physically moved to life changing actions and behavior—even, in many cases, to what some would call “radical” behavior.
I think this is the very definition of “faith.” Verse 1 says that it is, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV), or “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASV), or “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (NIV), or “the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (NLT), or “of things hoped for a confidence, of matters not seen a conviction” (Youngs Literal Translation). Wow! Are we starting to get the picture here?
The Hebrew writer then goes on to give us example after example of just what he’s talking about: Noah, building an ark; Abraham, leaving his homeland and, later, being willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac; Sarah, believing and receiving the power of conceiving (hey, that rhymed); Moses, leading the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage; Israel, marching around the city of Jericho; Rahab, receiving and caring for the spies; and people like Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, and Samuel, along with all the rest of the prophets, who “by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (verses 33-34).
Then there were those people who, for the sake of the Lord, were willing to put their faith on the line by living sacrificially. They Bible says they “…experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground…” (verses 36-38). We might call that today, a “cross-centered” way of life!
The point being, faith is not passive; FAITH WORKS! In fact, in view of verse 6, which says, “without faith it is impossible to please God,” it appears to me that faith, if it really is faith, cannot help but work. One will not be moved to action, sometimes even radical, life altering action, if there is no faith present to motivate, educate, and instigate. People who do not believe, or people who only believe in God, but have no living faith, no conviction, no commitment, no surrender within them, will simply not respond to the will of God, nor will they risk themselves for His cause – why should they?
This kind of makes the whole “faith vs. works” issue, that some folks sometimes fuss over, a bit of a moot point, doesn’t it? Because, this passage, and others like it, helps us realize that the two—faith & works—simply cannot be separated. In fact, faith, works, love, obedience—it’s all just one big ball of wax. To try to separate it all out and make distinctions is so symptomatic of our modern, psychotic, maladjusted society, which is forever trying to compartmentalize every aspect of the human psyche to the point that people simply cannot seem to live holistically!
Heavenly Father, my Lord, my God, I come to you in Jesus’ name thanking You and praising You for the wonders of Your creation. I am amazed not only at how You have created everything that is visible out of that which is not visible… but I am equally amazed at the fact that the writer of the book of Hebrews, and many others, thoroughly understood that fact thousands of years ago; and that the writer, by way of the Spirit’s inspiration, saw fit to so state that fact for the people of his day, and all people of all time, to read and understand. How beautiful! Lord, I am more than impressed with my heritage as a child of God. Because I, by faith, have become a descendant of Abraham, through the covenant You made with him, I now share in the lineage of Abraham and of all the children of Israel. By faith, their heritage is my heritage, their history is my history, and their story is my story. So when read of all these wonderful men and women of God that the Hebrew writer saw fit to include in this “Great Hall or Faith” I am greatly encouraged. And knowing that these men and women were, like me, just feeble, frail, and often fearful human beings in whom and through whom You worked to accomplish Your purposes, well, Lord I am convicted. The fact that, though we often fail You, we are still loved by You, and You still work with us to accomplish Your will is almost mind boggling. Yet, I know You do! And I also know that, while I may never accomplish much of anything for the record books, still, You are working with me, in me, and through me to do meaningful things that You intend to work together for my good and to continually promote the cause of Christ and His work among humanity. And, Father, I know You know, and I want to express the fact that I, too, know that it doesn’t have to be anything grand and glorious; if even my smallest acts of service or slightest influence for good can in any way meaningfully contribute to Your wonderful plan for the eternal redemption of precious men, women, boys, and girls for whom Christ died, then my life has meaning, purpose, and is a success. Please Lord, despite my frailties and failures, of which I repent and seek to do better, I pray that You use me as You have used the ancients of old to be a living and active demonstration of authentic faith; and, thereby, to make some meaningful difference in this world. By Your grace and love poured out for me on the cross through the gift of Your only begotten Son, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I offer these thoughts up to You today… Amen, and amen!
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