The great ones of faith. 11:4-12
The writer of Hebrews has called on his readers to endure for "the preservation of the soul." He now gives his readers a foundation for endurance, namely, the example of the great saints of old Israel who lived by faith.
v4. Abel, the Son of Adam and Eve, and brother of Cain, serves as the first example of a man who lived by faith. By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than his brother Cain. There are many suggestions as to why Cain's sacrifice was not accepted by God, but intention is most likely the issue, not the substance of the offering. Scripture declares that "without faith it is impossible to please God", so obviously, Abel's sacrifice was acceptable to God because he trusted God. It was by this faith that he was commended as a righteous man. Finally, the point is made that by faith Abel still speaks in that his life of faith is recorded in the scriptures for all to read.
v5-6. Enoch, who was the father of Methuselah, serves as another example of a man who lived by faith. Our writer tells us that by faith Enoch did two things: First, by faith he walked with God, or as the Septuagint puts it, he "lived well-pleasing to God." As scripture makes clear, "without faith it is impossible to please God." Second, by faith he was not for God took him - he was translated. Because he took God at his word, God took him to be with him in heaven.
v7. Our writer now tells us about Noah, another example of a man who lived by faith. By faith Noah did two things: First, by faith Noah built the ark; he took God at his word. Noah accepted God's promise at face value and acted on it. In so doing, he "became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" - he was accounted right in God's sight and so became an heir of those who similarly take God at his word. Second, by faith Noah condemned the world - "through his faith he put the whole world in the wrong", NEB. Noah believed and acted and was proved right, whereas his wider community did not believe, did not act and was proved wrong.
v8-12. The writer now comes to an Old Testament saint whom, it is explicitly said, "believed God and He reckoned it to him for righteousness", Gen.15:6. Stephen said of Abraham in Acts chapter 7, "God removed him into this land, wherein you now dwell: and he gave him none inheritance of it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: and he promised that he would give it to him in possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child."
Our author makes two points about Abraham: First, by faith Abraham possessed a land, although in his own lifetime he never possessed it. Abraham took God at his word, even expecting something more than a geographical and political entity. Second, by faith Abraham fathered a child, although he was as good as dead in the fertility department. Sarah was also past child bearing, yet the child was conceived. Abraham took God at his word, saw God as faithful, trusted him and thus, a child was born and so Abraham ended up with descendants as the stars in the sky.
A wrestle with faith
When I first came to consider the gospel, the good news about Jesus, I ended up with a false understanding of faith. In the end I wasn't sure what was expected of me. What does the word faith mean?
As a young seeker I had somehow come to understand faith as a completely doubt-free acceptance of Jesus, a doubt-free acceptance of all he did and said. Of course, I was never without doubts and so I finally concluded that I could never become a believer. Such faith was beyond me; such faith is beyond everyone. Years later, while attending a baptism interview for my first child, our local Pastor asked me whether I had faith in Jesus. I answered no, but thankfully he gave me John Stott's little book "Becoming a Christian" and somehow faith was no longer an impossible proposition.
We do well to remember that the faith which moves mountains in the Christian life is as small as a mustard seed. I have to admit that my faith remains small, but you see, moving mountains does not depend on the size of my faith, but on the size of my God. My Christian journey, with all its troubles and failures, will inevitably reach the eternal city because God honors faith in Jesus. This faith may be weak and fumbling, but even so, it still facilitates the realization of God's promises.
All the great ones of faith, Abel, Enoch, Noah, and particularly Abraham, all of them took God at his word and so stood approved before God. In Abraham's case, as in the case of believers today, he never saw God's promise realized, but he stood approved none the less. So, let us, like the saints of old, take God at his word, daily trusting his promised blessings in Christ.
Discuss the nature of a faith that moves mountains.
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