Hebrews 11:1-16 Heroes of the Faith (1)

Hebrews 11:1-3,8-16

This is a great chapter. 
It is a hymn to all the men and women of faith in the Old Testament, and an encouragement to faith.
But not just faith in itself

Yes, the chapter does begin with a general definition of faith:
‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’.

We all live by faith, even atheists – whether that is sitting down on a chair or agreeing to meet someone for coffee.

But faith in itself is not enough.

There is the song: ‘any dream will do’. Actually, it won’t!
Some dreams are disastrous.
And in the same way, there is the assumption that what is important is that you have faith: and ‘any faith will do’.

But faith can be in good things and bad things, in true things or false things.
The story is told of a young man who was climbing a skyscraper. He sees something that looks solid and has to let go of his hold in order to reach and grasp it. But he falls to his death. And they found him clasping in his hand a spiders web. What he thought was something solid turned out to be a fantasy.

Make sure you know in what you are putting your trust, your faith.
Faith can make a person strap a bomb around their waist and walk into an airport and blow themselves up
Faith can make a person like Maximilian Kolbe go into the starvation chamber and sacrifice himself in place of someone else.

The question that underlies this passage is not whether we have faith.
Of course, you have faith. And faith is always going to be in something invisible.
The question is, who do you put your faith in?

And we are introduced in verses 8-12 to Abraham.

The bible later calls him the father of faith, not because he had faith, but because he put his faith, his trust in God, in God who created this universe out of nothing, and in the word that God spoke to him.
It is that which makes him so special.
And it is that which is our inspiration.

Because of faith, Abraham leaves the old place where he lived, to set out to go to a new place.
‘By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out not knowing where he was going’ (v8).

You can read about it in Genesis 12.
God tells Abraham to leave the country that he has settled in, to leave his people and his father’s house, and to go to a land that he will show him. And God tells him that he will bless him, and that through him all people will be blessed.
And Abraham obeys. And although he doesn’t know where he is to go, he sets out.

I don’t know how Abraham knew that it was God speaking to him, and not his own desires or fears, or even some deceiving Spirit.
There have been many times when people have told me that they think that God is telling them to do something, and I’ve had serious reservations.

But sometimes God does tell a person to simply get up and go.
You may have heard of Jackie Pullinger. She was a music student who believed that God was calling her to go to the far east as a missionary, but she didn’t know where to go. She approached a number of mission agencies, but none wanted her. They didn’t have much use for a music student. So she went to talk with a vicar, and he suggested something that was totally crazy but it just seemed right. He suggested that she get on a slow boat going to China, and that she get off when she thought it was right. And she did, and she got off in Hong Kong, and God used her in astonishing ways. You can read about it in Chasing the Dragon. And she is still working in Hong Kong, 40 or so years later.
I suspect that several people are here because they believe that God has called them to this country. You have heard the call to go, and you are here.

But even if we are not called to go and live and work overseas or in another place, and most of us will not be, the journey of faith for all of us begins with the call to leave: to leave our old way of life, with its goals and ambitions and habits. We are called to stop relying on the people or the things who we have always relied on for our identity and purpose – often our family or our local community. That is not saying that we should ever abandon them. We continue to have a responsibility for them; but we are called to put our hope and our identity and our sense of purpose in something else. And we are called to never get too comfortable with where we are or think that it is our ultimate home. We are called to become part of something new.

That is what happens in marriage. In Genesis 2 we are told that the man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife. He ceases to be part of them, to become part of her.
And that happens to the people of Israel, when they were slaves in Egypt and exiles in Babylon. The call from God was a call for them – in their case – to leave Egypt, the place of slavery, and to leave Babylon, the place of captivity. And they were called to make the journey to the promised land.

I think that quite often, when people really are enslaved in their old way of life, then the call to leave is often literal.
I remember Kenny who was addicted to heroin. He wanted to be free and he wanted to be able to follow Jesus. We used to take him to Christian meeting after meeting where people would pray for him. On one occasion he said he wanted to come, but he was so stoned that we literally had to carry him there. It didn’t make any difference. But there was a breakthrough for Kenny. It came when he moved away from the part of London where he had been living, when he moved away from those people who were part of the drugs community, and he went to live as a member of a Christian community in a different part of the country.

And if you think about our baptism. That is about a leaving. We symbolically die to ourselves, to our old nature, and we come alive to Jesus.

And Paul writes elsewhere: ‘Beloved .. forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.’ (Phil 3:13-14)

But I also notice that because of Abraham’s faith, because of his trust in God and in the promise of God, he stays.
‘By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised’ (v9).

Sometimes, especially when we have begun to move around, it is very easy to get into the habit of moving from one place to the next.
I remember another member of our congregation in London. She was amazing, had a heart of gold and a deep faith in God. But whenever things got difficult for her or for her daughter, she would simply up sticks and move on to another place.
Abraham – and you can read this in Genesis – didn’t have an easy life where he was. And
I guess that as he sat in his tent, in a strange land, surrounded by people who treated him as a foreigner, as an alien, he might have been tempted to move on.
But he knew that God has said that this was the land which one day his descendants, the people who came to be known as the people of Israel, would live in. This would become their home.
And so he stayed.

It can get quite easy to move on: when things get difficult or inconvenient or boring - to move on to another church, town, another country.
And it is easy to move on in our faith. To give up when it becomes difficult or uncomfortable.
There is the story told of the man who visited a convent. He joined the sisters at their prayers and noticed that they constantly read the psalms. So he said to one of them, ‘Why do you do that? Isn’t it boring?’ To which she replied, ‘Of course it is boring, but why stop doing something just because it is boring?’

Jesus tells the story of a widow who keeps pestering a judge for justice. She won’t give up, even though he won’t see her. In the end he gives her justice because she wears him out with her constant asking.  Jesus tells the story, not because God is like that judge, but to encourage us to continue to ask and not to give up. And after he has told the story, he asks a question: at the end, will there be any faith on earth? Will there be people who are keeping on keeping on?

Abraham persevered because he believed the promise of God that this land will one day belong to his descendants – even though he never saw any solid evidence that that was actually going to be the case. He was, we are told, looking for a city ‘that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God’ (v10)  

And we can keep carrying on – even in the times when God seems absent - because we have the promise of God that he is with us, that we have the Holy Spirit, that all things work for good for those who love him, that it is worth it, and that we have a true home – which is not here, but there. Like Abraham we are looking forward to a city, a city which the book of Revelation describes as the heavenly Jerusalem. And at the centre of this city we will see God.

And the third thing that we are told about Abraham is that because of faith he became a father, when both he and Sarah were in their 90s!
“By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old because he considered him faithful who had promised” (v11).

God promised Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son. But as the years go by and nothing happens, and as it becomes biologically impossible, he must have been tempted to think that it would never happen. But he goes on believing. And, ‘when he was as good as dead’ (v12), it finally happens.

Please do not take this as a promise that you will have children.
It was a specific promise to a specific couple at a specific time.

But what the Word of God does promise is that if we ‘remain in him’, if we are faithful and persevere despite all the difficulties, opposition and discouragements, then we – even though we are spiritually dead (that is why the writer of Hebrews puts that line in about Abraham being ‘as good as dead’) – we ‘will bear fruit’.

We will bear fruit of the Spirit: the fruit of love, joy, peace.
The fruit of lips that praise his name.
The fruit of a legacy that will last. That might be something material, but I think it is really speaking not of physical children, but spiritual children. Of children, people who God has given us the privilege of loving and bringing to and nurturing and growing in the faith. Children, who also happen to be our brothers and sisters.

That is why Jesus can say – and I’m quoting from Hebrews 2.12-13:
‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters ..’  
And again, ‘’I will put my trust in him”
And again, “Here am I and the children who God has given me”

Jesus had no physical children, whatever Dan Brown may say. But because of his faith, we are his children – and we are his brothers and sisters.

And Abraham is held up as our example in the New Testament, not because he was the physical father of the people of Israel, but because he was a man who put his faith in God and in the promises of God.  
Because of his faith he was prepared to obey God and to go.
Because of his faith he was prepared to trust the promises of God and to stay
Because of his faith, even though he was as good as dead, he was able to bear fruit.

And so he becomes the father of all who have faith, who have faith in God and his word. 

Some of you may know the song: ‘Father Abraham has many sons … And I am one of them, and so are you ..’

And he becomes the inspiration for all who have faith.


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