Hebrews - Part 12 - Ordinary Heroes
Ordinary Heroes Hebrews 11:1-16 July 5, 2020 Last week we had our first children's church over zoom. The teacher Sam invited the children to participate in a kind of scavenger hunt game where they would run and find various items in their house. When Sam said, "Find something green," the children came back with different green items like a sock and even a cucumber! When Sam asked them to find their favourite toy, Baraka came back and showed everyone a superhero toy that looked somewhat like this. Notice the bulging muscles, all ripped and ready to go? There's something we love about superheroes. Come Halloween, the kids want to dress up like superheroes! Every decade has had its superheroes with their stories, myths, movies and toys. 1951 brought us Captain Comet, with superhero powers including clairvoyance, telepathy and telekinesis. In 1967 Captain Marvel saved the day, defending the people of planet earth. In the 70's came the amazing Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Spider-woman, followed by Batman, Superman and Supergirl in the 80s, and onwards we go. What common characteristics do the good superheroes share? The list could be long, but certainly all of them were strong and courageous. They had integrity. They were selfless, and rescued others, usually at great personal cost and often with no reward. No doubt we as Christians would identify Jesus as the greatest superhero of all time. In fact, as we've been studying in the book of Hebrews, he's the ULTIMATE superhero. He was strong and powerful in a supernatural way. He was courageous and caring. He had absolute integrity. Indeed, he was PERFECT. He rescued us at great personal cost, the cost of his own blood, his life, in an act of ultimate selflessness. Jesus ripped down that heavy curtain, the veil of sin that separated us from our heavenly Father. In true superhero fashion, he offered his life to destroy death for each and every person who accepts the gift of grace, the precious salvation he offers. So here we are-forgiven, redeemed, restored-thanks to our superhero Jesus. What now? As Craig covered in his message last week, Hebrews 10 has just told the readers that God wants his people to "live by faith" (10:38). He wants them to persevere, to do his will and be blessed (verse 36). As verse 39 tells us, Christians are people "who believe and are saved". This brings us to Hebrews 11, which is sometimes referred to as the faith chapter. In it we can find the "Hall of Faith"-a list of ordinary heroes-sinners like you and me-who didn't just talk about their faith but lived it out, putting it into action. There's only one thing I want you to remember from this message today. Jesus is your superhero, but you can be an ordinary hero if you live by faith. Do you have a lifestyle of faith? Life after the Garden of Eden has been difficult for mankind. Persecution, oppression, injustice have been the hallmarks of humanity separated from God. But along the road of history, there were ordinary men and women, like you and me, whose faith made all the difference. Their lifestyle of faith made a huge impact not only on their own lives but also the lives of others. What an example for us. Chapter 11 starts by describing what faith is like, and I will be quoting extensively from an article by Dr. Michael Morrison which can be found on the gci.org website: Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. NIV Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. NKJV Ancient orators sometimes gave a brief definition of a word they wanted to talk about. This is not a complete definition, but it highlights one characteristic of faith. Commentators disagree about the precise meaning of the Greek words used here. Is faith the feeling of being sure (as the NIV has it), or is it the "substance" (NKV) or content of our hope? However, the author is not trying to provide a full and complete definition of faith, but rather he is describing one of the results faith has on our lives. His point is this: Faith means believing and acting on something we cannot see. It's a lifestyle, not a one-time event. It's a lifestyle, not a feeling. Dr. Tony Evans describes faith like this: "Faith is acting like something is so even when it is not so in order that it might be so simply because God said so." Dr. Tony Evans It's believing and acting like God is telling the truth, even when we cannot see. Notice verse 2: 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. Hebrews 11:2 The element of faith is like a thread that runs through the history of God's people, and the author brings it down to the present day by adding in verse 3, 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. Hebrews 11:3 From the very beginning to the present moment, faith is needed. Creation itself shows that just because something can't be seen, doesn't mean it won't happen. So here's the point: Our future is based not on what we see today, but on something we do not see: God God is so much bigger than our troubles, our circumstances, this messy life, this crazy world we live in. His amazing plans for us are better than we can possibly imagine. Our future is bright. Our victory in Jesus Christ is sure. Jesus will come again and establish the fullness of God's kingdom in all glory. Ordinary heroes are convinced of this, and they live their lives in faith, lifting their eyes above the muck to the God who promises something so much better. Abel With that brief introduction, the author of Hebrews starts to give examples: 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. Heb 11:4 Genesis 4 tells us very little about Abel. We know that he was a shepherd, and he brought God an offering, and God looked on him with favour. It doesn't tell us why his offering was better than his brother Cain's, since animal offerings were just as good as grain offerings in those times, and Genesis says nothing about faith. However, the author of Hebrews believes that if God was pleased, then Abel must have had faith. The next example is Enoch. Enoch 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. Heb 11:5 Again, Genesis says little about Enoch, but Jewish legends said that he was taken into heaven, and this is reflected in the author's comments-that Enoch did not die. God took him because he "walked with God," as it says in Genesis, and that presumably included faith. We do not know exactly what he believed, or what he did. The author is pointing out to his readers that both Abel and Enoch lived by faith, and it was a normal expectation. For Abel, faith meant an early death; for Enoch it meant the opposite. Either way, the people of God need faith. After these two introductory examples we come to the main point of the chapter as stated in v 6 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. Heb 11:6 God rewards the faithful-those who earnestly seek him. Although we can't see God, we have evidence that he exists. In addition to supernatural rewards, faith has natural rewards in the here and now. As we can attest, faith feels much better than fear. It's interesting to see how people are handling the COVID pandemic especially now that we're several months into it. For many people, the initial reaction was fear, and probably every one of us experienced some level of fear. My daughter works for Enterprise Car Rental and she brought home stories of nurses who told her to go home and quit her job. And then there were seniors who continued on, saying they've had a good life and if they get COVID, so be it. My son posted this interesting illustration: As I said, faith feels much better than fear. I'm not saying that we shouldn't take the proper precautions or blatantly defy health orders. We need to do our part, but lean hard on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith! Noah 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. Heb 11:7 The days of Noah were not all that different than the world we live in today, where evil was in every thought and inclination of the human heart. But Noah found favour because he was faithful. God warned him about a flood, told him to build an ark, and Noah obeyed and saved himself and his family. Noah didn't really condemn the world (God did that, based on their behavior), but his faithful example was a stark contrast to how evil the world had become - no one repented even after 120 years of warning. By his faith Noah became an heir of righteousness - he is the first person in the Bible to be called righteous (Genesis 7:1). He was considered right with God because he was faithful. His belief led to obedience, and both are needed. Noah did what God told him to do because he trusted God would do what he said. He believed that God would save him and his family if they built an ark. His faith was in action. Was Noah perfect? No. Check out Genesis 9. Was he faithful? Yes Abraham Next we come to Abraham, who is known as the father of the faithful. Like Noah and every person listed in this Hall of Faith, he was not perfect. Sin was always nipping at his heels and he had a bit of a problem with lying. Yet this ordinary hero lived a life of 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. Heb 11:8-9 Can you imagine God saying to you, "Get up, sell your house (if you have one), pack everything you own on a U-Haul, and move to the place I will show you. And by the way, take your family too." I know I would have a really hard time moving to Saskatchewan, let alone to an undisclosed location. What if it's the jungles of the Amazon? What if it's the Sahara desert? And then there's the small detail of convincing the family to come along. Can you begin to imagine what it would be like? Leave everything you know, all your comforts, all your friends, and just start driving. You can live in tents from now on. I love camping, but not indefinitely. Remember that in the book of Hebrews the author is telling the Jews about a new and better way through Jesus Christ. They were being called out of Judaism with all its rituals and sacrifice, and it felt like moving away from the comfort of home. It felt risky. It felt strange, just as it would feel for us if God asked US to pack up and move. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Heb 11:10 Abraham was looking forward to the city God designed and built. Like Abraham, we too should live with the future firmly in mind. We should look to the future reward, not to the circumstances we are in right now. 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. Heb 11:11 There are some differing opinions regarding the translation of this verse, but the main point is not in dispute. Both Abraham and Sarah thought they were too old to have children, and in fact they both laughed when God said it would happen. But God blessed them with a child anyway. God did what he had promised, so we should also consider God faithful and trust him to keep the promises of salvation he has made to us. 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. Heb 11:12 Just as God made the universe from something that could not be seen, he made the whole nation of Israel from something humanly impossible. Summary The author is not done with his list of ordinary heroes yet, and is not even done with Abraham. But he interrupts his list of faith-accomplishments to summarize some lessons from the story for the benefit of his readers, and this is where we'll end today. 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. Heb 11:13-14 These people listed are ordinary heroes. They were sinners, like us, yet they were counted by God as faithful. Like them, we do not receive all the promises of God in this life. Although we are given eternal life, we still die. But the gift is real, and the promise will be kept. We have to trust God on it. We look to God, not this world, for meaning and purpose in life. Our current life is a temporary training time. We do not "belong" in this society and culture; our permanent home and allegiance is the kingdom of God, and that is where our hopes should be. 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. Heb 11:15-16 As far as we know, Abraham never had a desire to go back to Mesopotamia, but he could have gone if he wanted to. He could have turned his back on God's promises, but he did not. In contrast, the readers of Hebrews were tempted to go back to where they had come from - back into Judaism. Don't do it, the author seems to say. There is a better country waiting for you through Christ. His kingdom is calling, and God will be pleased if you are faithful, and he is planning on your presence in his kingdom. Are you a superhero? Are you strong, courageous, and perfect in integrity and self-sacrifice? No, only Jesus can fit the bill. Can you be an ordinary hero? Absolutely! Like those who have gone before, you too can live by faith, putting your faith into action as you keep your focus and hope on the kingdom built by God, the kingdom with no end.