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Hebrews 11:1-22: The Examples of Enduring Faith, Part 1 Print E-mail
Sunday, 29 January 2017

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I try to regularly read good biographies of faithful pastors who have gone before me. In the past few years I have read about George Whitefield and Martin Lloyd Jones and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, all men who were faithful ministers of the Word in different ways. As with other biographies I have read, they have each encouraged my faith. Perhaps you have been encouraged by the faith of others as well. Why does this often happen? John Piper writes in his book on John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce, which he entitled The Roots of Endurance: ďGod-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated saints who have endured to the end are one of the roots of our own endurance.Ē1 In other words, God uses the enduring faith of those who have gone before us to encourage us in our own faith.

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Biography is part of the Bible. We are told of the men and women of faith in the pages of Scripture to spur us on to faith in our day. The author of Hebrews does this in his book, most directly in what we often refer to as the faith chapter, namely Hebrews 11. Of course, this chapter should not be pulled out of the context of the rest of the book. The author has written to encourage his readers to persevere in the faith. He has repeatedly shown them how Jesus is greater than anyone or anything. And he has pointed them to the necessity of enduring faith. Look at 10:36, 39. He knows that they are in need of endurance and he is calling them to that type of faith. In order to encourage them, he goes on to give them a list of examples of men and women who had such faith. He begins with a description/definition of faith in 11:1-2. Look at those with me. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. It is belief in what you cannot see. As we will see in the examples, it is believing in Godís promises even though you cannot see how they will be brought about. Such faith is the foundation for our belief in God as Creator. Look at verse 3. God made what is seen out of what is unseen. He brought from nothing all that is, simply by the Word of His power. True faith is believing in God and His promises even when we cannot see Him or exactly how they will be realized. This is the kind of faith that is exemplified in these brief biographical sketches in Hebrews 11. Letís look at some of these together this morning and draw some conclusions about the nature of enduring faith.

The faith of Abel, Enoch, and Noah (v. 4-7)

The author begins with the first family and the faith of Abel, one of the sons of Adam and Eve. Look at verse 4. Abel offered God an acceptable sacrifice while Cain did not. Many believe that the reason for this rests in what they offered: Abel offered an animal sacrifice and Cain offered a sacrifice of fruit. Yet, according to the author of Hebrews, the issue was faith. Abelís offering flowed from faith while Cainís did not. And even though he was killed by his jealous brother, the author notes that his example of faith still speaks. Next the author lists the faith of Enoch. Look at verses 5-6. Enochís story is found in the first genealogy of the Bible, which lists the descendents of Adam and when they died. All except Enoch. Moses writes of him: Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. Enoch did not die like the others. Why? As the author of Hebrews notes, Enoch pleased God and walked with Him. This can only happen through faith. In fact, without faith it is impossible to please (God). We cannot please the Lord without faith. As the author has told us, we need such enduring faith.

The author tells us of the faith of Noah next. Look at verse 7. The Lord told Noah that He was going to judge the world by flooding it with water. Nothing like that had ever happened. But Noah believed the Lord and built the ark. And through his faith he saved his family from Godís judgment. In this way, Noah condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Noah was saved because of his faith in God. Such faith condemns those who refuse to believe. Through his faith he was counted righteous like Abraham and all those who believe in God, even us, who now believe in the work of Jesus at the cross on our behalf.

The faith of Abraham and Sarah (v. 8-16)

After Noah, the author moves to the faith of Abraham. Look at verses 8-10. God called Abraham to leave his home and move to a land that he did not know. Can you imagine how hard that would be. Abraham went out, not knowing where he was going. What if God told you to pile your family in the car, load up as much stuff as you can, and start driving? Destination unknown. Throw out the GPS and the iPhone and just drive. What kind of faith would that take? It would take the kind that is looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. God promised Abraham that he was going to give him a great inheritance, including lands (Promised Land) and descendents (Israel). And Abraham believed. Without seeing he believed. And even though she struggled, Sarah believed as well. Look at verses 11-12. Abraham and Sarah battled with doubt and impatience, but they believed. Why did they believe? They believed because they considered him faithful who had promised. They trusted in God and His character. This is not blind faith, it is faith in God and His faithfulness to His promises. What they hoped for was unseen, but the character of God was plain. Their faith was in Him. And God came through on His promise and gave them Isaac, whose descendents would become the nation of Israel. And we know that from these descendents would eventually come Christ our Savior.

The author comments more on the faith of Abraham and Sarah in verses 13-16. Look at those with me. When Abraham died, they did not have the Promised Land and his descendents were not as numerous as the stars. Even more, the promise the bless the nations through his offspring had not been realized either. Yet, they could see the fulfillment of these promises from afar. God was moving and working and bringing about His plans and their faith continued to the end. After all, the great reward is not found in mere earthly blessings. Those who believe in God are looking for the greater reward, a better country, that is, a heavenly one. We have hope and joy in this life, but it is our faith in the life to come that sustains us. And ultimately, it is in the promise that the life to come will bring us to God, to dwell with Him forever. Our hope is that through faith in Christ, God will not be ashamed to be called our God. So with all the saints who have gone before us, we long for that better country where we will dwell with God forever.

The faith of four generations (v. 17-22)

The author goes on to tell us more about the faith of Abraham, his son, his grandson, and his great-grandson. Four generations of men who believed in the promise of God. Look at 17-19. The author is reminding us of the story in Genesis 22, where God tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice Isaac. Can you imagine how difficult that test would have been? I donít think I can imagine a harder test. But Abraham believed that God would come through. He told his young men before he went over to the mountain with Isaac: ĎStay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.í God had told Abraham that the promise would come through Isaac, so Abraham believed that God would raise him from the dead. And even though Isaac did not die, it is as if Abraham did receive him back from the dead.

Next the author mentions the faith of Abrahamís son. Look at verse 20. Isaac believe that God would keep His promise to his father, so he blessed his sons. And his son believed. Look at verse 21. Jacob believed that God would keep His promise to his grandfather, so he blessed Josephís sons. And Joseph believed as well. Look at verse 22. All of these men, at the end of their lives, still believed that God was going to keep His promises to their family. They blessed the next generation believing in the faithfulness of God to build a nation from Abrahamís descendants and give them land for their inheritance. They could not see exactly how these promises would be fulfilled, but they believed in the God who made them.

So what can we learn about enduring faith from these examples? Let me close with a few thoughts on the nature of enduring faith. First, the evidence of faith is when you believe in what you cannot see. Noah could not see the judgment that was to come. Abraham had no idea where he was going when he left his home. But they had faith in God even though they could not see how it would all play out. They had conviction of things not seen (v. 1) and this is the evidence of enduring faith. Second, the effect of faith is obedience. Did you notice that in every example, the personís faith in God lead them to act. Faith leads to action. Abel believed, so he offered. Enoch believed, so he walked. Noah believed so he built. Abraham believed so he left and later he offered his son. The generations believed and they were blessed.

True faith leads to action. Anyone can claim to believe in Jesus, but only true, enduring faith will take up the cross and follow Him, wherever He might lead. Third, the focus of enduring faith is always on God and His promises. Sarah believed she could have a child because she considered him faithful who had promised. Abraham was willing to obey Godís command to sacrifice Isaac because he believed that God was able to raise Him from the dead. Enduring faith will not focus on circumstances or feelings, it focuses on the faithfulness of God. He will keep His promises. How do I know? Maybe you are here this morning and you still have doubts? Let me encourage you to doubt your unbelief. Let me encourage you to believe in this God. Why? Because the Word is full of examples of Him keeping His promises. The biographies of these faithful men and women should encourage us to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the God who chose this line to send us His Son Jesus to pay for our sins. And He is the God who has promised us that Jesus will return to take us home to be with Him forever. Do you believe in this God? Will you trust Him with your future? Will you fight for enduring faith? I pray you will. Amen.

1 John Piper, The Roots of Endurance (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002), p. 11.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 10 February 2017 )

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