November 4, 2018
I’m not going to wade into the current political climate in which we find ourselves. Record numbers of voters have already turned out in early voting – most will go to the polls this Tuesday to cast their votes. I encourage you to do so.
Here’s my question – why? I mean, besides the civic duty and all that – why are so many exercising their right to vote this election? Well, I suppose to make America great again – whatever great is. You see, therein lies the challenge – what is a great America? Is it the latest unemployment numbers released Friday – 3.7% ? Is it 250,000 new jobs created in October, beyond expectation? Is it a continued booming economy? Is it record stock market numbers? Is it is proper trade with Mexico and Canada and China? In other words, is it purely economic? Or, are there some non-economic indicators, even moral ones? Is it proper immigration and border control, whatever that is, or appropriate gun control, whatever that is? Does it have to do with racism, women’s rights, supreme court justices, or definitions of gender and sexual expression? I’ll let you decide – well, you will, this Tuesday.
But as you glue yourselves to cable news networks to watch returns in a most interesting mid-term election, can I encourage you not to get too focused on the stuff of this life. We are simply passing through. We are actually citizens of another country. Our focus in on city yet to come. Yes, I am an American, proudly and thankfully so. But our hope is not in a great America. In the book of Hebrews, we’ve seen that the Christian life is:
- A call to live in assurance of what’s hoped for, not what is already possessed.
- A call to live for things not seen, not for things merely seen.
- A call to live in the already and not yet, not purely in the already.
- A call to live in hope of the future, not in satisfaction of the present.
- A call to live for what we will receive, not for what we’ve already received.
- A call to embrace suffering, and not to pursue personal peace and prosperity.
- A call to believe the promises of God, not the empty guarantees of the world.
- A call to follow Christ, and not give in to the opposition of those who don’t.
- A call to live by faith, and not by sight.
How do we do that? Why would we do that? You see, to live by faith is to trust in a God we cannot see, a Christ we’ve never seen, a Holy Spirit who is immaterial Spirit, in the promise of what’s to come, not what is already seen, and endure ridicule, even persecution, along the way. How do we do that? By studying, further, living in the rock solid substance and evidence of the God of the Bible, who has proven Himself trustworthy. We are, after all, people of the book. And so, we study and learn truth, to include the faithful lives of those who have gone before, and find encouragement in our pursuit of faithful lives now. Who do you want to be? A Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, or a Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, James or John? The author has been encouraging faithfulness in the face of adversity. Now, he points to others who have done so – who have lived by enduring faith. Look at them for encouragement. And having seen them, we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who also faced opposition/hostility – but for the joy set before Him – a future hope and joy – endured.
We are a people of faith. And we hold on with everything we have – knowing that all along, He has and will hold onto us. Difficult, challenging, painful? You bet. Worth it? Altogether. The best is yet to come.
We have begun the very famous Hebrews 11 – the Hall of Faith – and we will find it is a long, glorious pep rally for believers. Yes, I know it’s tough, but you can do it. Others have. And beginning with a definition of faith, he takes us through an OT survey, beginning with creation – through to present day examples of those who have endured by faith. He uses the word faith 24 times in this chapter, 18 of those are the words, by faith. By faith, these great people serve as encouragements to us. Lets read Hebrews 11:3-7, some which will be our text.
We will spend several weeks studying the lives of people who, by faith, remained committed to God’s promises, promises ultimately fulfilled and to be fulfilled in Christ. My hope is to encourage us to look to what lies ahead, not necessarily what we have faced or are facing now, and faithfully press ahead. Let me outline the text I just read:
- By Faith We – The Belief of Faith.
- By Faith Abel – The Worship of Faith
- By Faith Enoch – The Walk of Faith
- By Faith Noah – the Work of Faith
But so you know, we’ll only get through those first two points today. But all this forms a section, so I wanted to read it all. Notice the end of verse 1, “the conviction of things not seen. Then, verse 7 says “By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not seen…” This goes together and sets the context of the rest of the chapter – people who live by faith live in confident trust of things not yet seen.
Now remember, as we look at these stories, we want to see what it was about their faith that landed them in this great chapter, the Hall of Faith. And notice again, our author takes us through time, starting with the beginning of time, to the present day, to encourage us. It’s interesting to note he begins each historical look with, “By faith,” followed by the name. By faith Abel. By faith Enoch. By faith Noah. By faith Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, etc.
But the very first one is, by faith we. He brings us, his readers into the company of faith. Welcome – we are in great company. We are those who believe. Believe what? Verse 3, “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.” Or seen. Don’t miss here this verse ties back to the definition of faith in verse 1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Now here, faith in things not seen relates to the creation of the universe. Now, this could be referring to how God created everything out of nothing, as Genesis 1 makes clear. In other words, God didn’t take existing matter and form it into what we see. That’ possible, and in fact, true. (Big Bang) But likely it also refers to the very word of God that created. We weren’t there. No one was. No one serves as an eyewitness to what he just said – by faith we believe God’s word – that’s what’s unseen – by faith we believe God by His unseen word, even unheard word, created the universe.
No one was there to hear it. But God said it, and it was. This is likely a reference to the number of time in Genesis 1, we read, God said, let there be, and there was. Let there be light, and there was light. Let there be an expanse – and there was. Let there be land, and there was. Let there be plants, and there was. Let there be birds and fish, and there was. Let there be animals, and there was. And let there be man, and there was – created in His own image.
But let’s go back to the very first verse. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning points to the beginning of everything, when there was only God. Notice, the Bible doesn’t try to prove God – He just is. In the beginning, before that was anything, there was God – the God who created. There is perhaps no verse that is more of a problem for modern people than this first verse of the Bible. It seemingly pits science against faith. I don’t believe that is necessarily so – I believe science, when properly understood and applied – the Bible, when properly understood and applied, are reconcilable.
But to be clear, I’m not a scientist. I’m not a geologist, a biologist, an archeologist, a physicist. I am a theologian. And I believe the Bible, such that when it says, by faith, we understand the worlds or the universe was prepared or created by the word of God, I believe it. It is true, no one was there – and it takes faith to believe God created everything that is. By the way, it also takes faith to believe everything was created by chance without a God – because no one was there either. I believe God created. Out of nothing, yes. From His mere spoken word, yes. The universe and all that it contains did not just happen – there was a cause, and that cause was God. Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth, all their host.”
One of my favorite preachers from the past was a guy named Dr. S.M. Lockridge. Speaking of God’s creative act, he said in a sermon, “God stood on nothing because there was nowhere to stand. He struck the hammer of His power against the anvil of His will, the sparks flew. He gathered them in His hands and flung them into space, and the stars were created. When He saw what He had done, He said, ‘It is good.’ The reason He said it, is because there was no one else there to say it.”
Don’t miss that – no one else was there. And so, it takes faith to believe God created the heavens and the earth. But that is not to say there is no evidence of His creative hand behind creation. Quite the contrary. Romans 1 says it this way:
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible [don’t miss that – invisible, that is, things not seen] attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
God created, and we’ve attempted to deny it – even though His creative acts are clearly seen. Remember, Psalm 19 says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” You have to close your eyes to the evidence of His handiwork – which people have done for a long time. Don’t for a minute think that denial came with Darwin in the 19th Century. Oh no – people have always wanted to deny the existence of the true God, or remake Him into a more palatable God – because they don’t want to be held accountable. But He will not be dismissed. And by faith, we understand, our God, that is, the God of Bible, is the Creator of all things. It’s not enough to believe a god, take your pick, created everything. You’ve got to believe in the God of the Bible. We’ll come back to this idea next week when we look at Enoch.
Which brings us to the first person on the list in verse 4. By faith Abel – stop right there. Who is this Abel? He’s only mentioned in the OT in Genesis chapter 4. Jesus refers to him as righteous Abel a couple of times in the gospels. Our author mentions him here in this verse, then again in chapter 12, which we’ll look at later. His story is rather brief. Let’s read it in Genesis 4:
1 Now the man [that’s Adam] had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD.”
2 Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
3 So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground.
4 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;
5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.
6 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?
7 “If you do well [and the implication is, you have not done 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.”
8 Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
The first human death – actually murder – in the Bible. So here we read Cain and Abel were brothers, Cain the older, Abel the younger. Abel was a shepherd – that is, he kept the flocks. Cain was a farmer – a tiller of the ground. In the course of time – literally, at the end of days – some suggest that refers to a specific time of offering, Cain, brought an offering to the Lord. Seems okay – it was the fruit of the ground – that is, the fruit of his labors. Abel also brought an offering – the firstlings of his flock and their fat portions. What that means is Abel brought the best of what he had to offer.
What’s interesting is the rest of verse 4 – God had regard for – that is, He accepted Abel’s offering, but He had no regard for Cain’s offering – that is, He did not accept Cain’s offering. Why? Well, through the centuries, there have been lots of discussions about that. First, how do we know God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s? Many suggest perhaps fire fell from heaven and consumed Abel’s offering – this happened a number of times in the OT as a physical sign the offering was accepted. In the end, it’s just a guess – but somehow, the men knew.
Second, and more importantly, why? Why did God accept Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s? Again, lots of discussion about that with the following two ideas perhaps making the most sense. Some suggest that Cain’s offering was the work of his hand, Abel’s was what God Himself provided. Perhaps, but later under the Mosaic Law, offerings of produce were acceptable.
Another often promoted idea is this. This was the time for a sacrificial offering for the forgiveness of sins. Remember, in the previous chapter, after Adam and Eve had sinned, they covered themselves with fig leaves. But then we see God covered them with animal skins – the first recorded death in the Bible. Where did the animal skins come from? Most agree they were from sacrificial offerings which demonstrated the necessity of death for the forgiveness of sins. We’ve seen, for example, in the book of Hebrews, that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. And so all those OT sacrifices for sin – before the Law, and during the Law under the Levitical system – were all blood sacrifices. So perhaps, it is suggested, Cain broke from God’s prescribed instructions of providing, at this prescribed time, a sacrifice of offering.
That’s all possible – I believe even likely. But to be clear, the text in Genesis doesn’t say. Sure, it’s a likely deduction, but the text doesn’t say. This is largely what Jewish scholars until Christ, and Christian scholars since Christ have held. But, we see something further from an inference in verse 5 – so Cain became angry and his countenance fell. At the very least, Cain’s response of anger rather than repentance and humility betrays his heart. I mean, really, you’re the third person on the planet, and you’re already angry…at God. 1 John 3 says it this way:
11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another;
12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.
Notice, the text does not say his deed of slaying his brother was evil – although it was – but that he slew his brother because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s righteous. In what way? Again, I believe it was a matter of his evil, unbelieving heart. So now let’s look at Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice.” Again, how was it better than Cain’s – because it was as prescribed? Perhaps. Because it was a blood sacrifice? Perhaps, in fact, likely. But don’t miss the first two words – by faith. Abel offered his sacrifice by faith – and Hebrews suggests that’s why his sacrifice was better – indeed accepted. Any offering must be given, and received by the way of faith. It was the worship prompted by, produced by faith. And we remember that important verse from Habakkuk quoted at the end of Hebrews 10, a few verses ago, “My righteous one shall live by faith.”
And by his faith, Abel received this testimony – that he was righteous. How – by the right sacrifice? Not necessarily. We see clearly through both Testaments that people are declared righteous, counted righteous, by faith. Throughout the OT, the people offered sacrifices with evil hearts – and they were not accepted. Remember Isaiah 1:
11 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.
12 “When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?
13 “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies– I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
14 “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.
15 “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.”
My goodness, that sounds like Cain. Here, the right sacrifice, offered by faith – faith that God would accept his offering – and as such, he received the testimony that he was righteous. Remember, Jesus called him righteous Abel. He didn’t become righteous by his sacrifice – he was counted righteous by his faith. God testified it so by his gifts – in other words, God accepted Abel’s gift offerings – perhaps because it was the right offering – but more, because it was by faith – the right worship of faith.
Do you see? And so, through faith – not by his deeds – but deeds demonstrating his faith – though he is dead, he still speaks to the way of faith. That’s the point. I do believe it was faith in the divinely prescribed sacrifice of blood – but it was faith that was necessary. Because, you see, we’ll see in verse 6 that without faith – which evil Cain apparently lacked – it is impossible to please God. And so, Abel’s life of faith still speaks today. Fourth man on the planet – however long ago – and here we are, 21st Century, being encouraged by his testimony of faith. Though dead, he still speaks.
So what does this communicate to us today? That true worship is by faith. It is not enough to do the right things. Come to church and be a good person. To offer right sacrifices of time and money and resources and stuff. To do the right things without the right heart – a heart of faith. We worship the true and the living God, by faith – believing, trusting, hoping, persevering, enduring. Because He is altogether worth it.
We are reminded in this first story – this first person as an example of faith – faith in the sacrifice prescribed by God is alone acceptable. In God’s progressive revelation, all those past sacrifices pointed to the future sacrifice of Christ. And we, post-cross – post death, burial and resurrection, look back to the cross. And by faith in the finished work of Christ, we are accepted.