In our study of Hebrews chapter eleven, we go along with Paul as he shows the Jewish believers that faith is based on evidence. There are many people who look at faith like it is a leap into the dark unknown but, here, Paul shows us that it is based on what God has done in the past.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
Paul begins with a simple definition of faith. In chapter ten, we saw that our hope is that we will live with Jesus forever. Now, he tells us that it is not a maybe thing but we know that it is true both in our hearts and in our minds. How do we know that something is true? Usually, we know because of past experiences and it is the same for our faith in Jesus Christ. We have the experiences of men and women of God who have gone before us so that we do not have to take a "leap in the dark". We can also build others up by telling them our stories of faith which we call testimonies.
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.
There are those that say it is a giant leap of faith to believe that everything was created by God. These people find it easier to believe in a cosmic accident than a Creator.
By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
Paul begins to make the case for faith based on the evidence of Cain and Abel. Cain presented grain that he had grown as an offering to God while Abel presented the firstborn of his flock of sheep. Cain's offering was based on his work in planting and tending the crop while Abel's was based on God's work of creating the life of a lamb. Abel's offering was acceptable while Cain's was not (see Genesis 4). When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we must come based on His finished work on our behalf.
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. 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.
The next case is that of Enoch who demonstrated walking in faith. He simply believed God and sought His will. Because of that, he did not see death and we can be assured that we will not die spiritually (be separated from God) if we walk in faith.
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 comes by faith.
In the case of Noah, we see that our faith delivers us from the judgment that is coming on this earth. Even though he had never seen rain, he believed God and followed His instructions for preserving his life and the lives of his family. It is the same for us, as Christians, as we believe that God made a way for our salvation and we simply follow His instructions to grab hold of that life.
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. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
The first three examples concerned people before the flood of judgment. Now, we shift to faith in the post-flood era and it begins with Abraham. Through Abraham, we see that true faith leads to obedience as he heard God tell him to go to an unknown place and he did so. There, he lived like a stranger in the land but held onto the promise that God was going to give him the land. This is much like our walk of faith as Christians where we are called to live as strangers on this earth. We are looking forward to the new heaven and the new earth that is to come just as Abraham was looking forward to ownership of the promised land.
By faith Abraham, even though he was past age - and Sarah herself was barren - was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. 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.
The case for faith is based on the character of God. God is faithful meaning He does not go back on promises that He makes. Abraham believed that and was enabled to have children in his old age.
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. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
This is hard for us to accept today as we are so used to instant gratification. These people waited on the Lord to fulfill His promises in His time. They were able to do this because they looked at things from an eternal perspective instead of our here and now way. The only way that it is possible to have an eternal perspective is through faith in God.
People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 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.
Those that are looking forward to the new heaven and the new earth, do not spend all of their time and energy on getting things in this world. When Abraham was called to leave his home and head to the promised land, he was not forced. He had a choice to make and he chose to believe that what was ahead was better than what was behind. We have that same choice to make when we are presented with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can choose to accept it and shift our focus to the "promised land" or we can choose to reject it and stay with our old way of life.
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.'
As we see here, God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son. He did so even though it did not make sense to him. Why would God test his faith (or ours)? The simple fact is that, at the end of the test, our faith will be stronger than before. Imagine how strong his faith was after he saw God provide the sacrifice in Isaac's place.
Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
Abraham just thought that God would raise Issac from the dead even though he had never seen that done before. This reminds us that, as our faith grows, we will trust God to do things that we have never seen or even imagined.
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
Even while he was on his deathbed, Isaac held onto the promises of God and spoke of what He was going to do through Isaac's sons. This reminds us of the fact that sometimes we must just trust in God's promises knowing that we will not be around to see them fulfilled.
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
In Genesis 15, God had promised Abraham that his children would inherit the land of Canaan. Now, we see that this faith in God continues in the family line as both Jacob and Joseph held to this promise even while they were ready to die. Not, only did they hold on and wait to die but they also made plans for the day that it would happen even though they knew that they would not see its fulfillment with their own eyes. This is a picture of the believer, today, that trusts in the fact that Jesus said He would come back to get us even if it is from a temporary grave.
By faith Moses' parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king's edict.
By faith, Moses' parents disobeyed the king of Egypt by keeping their son hidden. Even though they could have paid with their own lives, they trusted God as they knew that they were doing the right thing.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.
The young Moses made a choice to be identified as a child of God rather than a child of an earthly queen. He could have taken the easy way and enjoyed the good life in the palace while waiting for God to fulfill His promise of delivering His people. Instead, he put his faith in action. As Christians, we all have that same kind of choice. We can rest in our faith and enjoy the things of this world while waiting on Jesus' return or we can have an active faith.
He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.
As the heir to the throne in Egypt, Moses would have inherited a vast earthly wealth but he gave that up to be identified as one of God's people. Looking back, we can see that it was a pretty easy choice but we have all the history of Israel at our fingertips with our Bibles. Moses did not have a Bible and Israel did not have a long history yet.
By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.
We continue with the example of Moses as he fled Egypt and went to Midian. It would have been a grave insult to the king for Moses to give up his position in the palace. He left for Midian and lived there for forty years as God prepared him for his mission.
By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
When instructed, Moses and all of Israel trusted God. They demonstrated this trust by placing the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their homes. It is easy for us to see this but they had no prior knowledge of the redeeming power of blood.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
It is hard to imagine the parting of the sea and the great walls of water on each side. It had to be scary to take that long walk through but the people did and were witnesses of the fact that God protected them from the Egyptians that tried to follow. God had their back and He has ours as well.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
The next example of faith is the army of Israel and the attack on Jericho. Instead of the traditional military attack, the men simply had to march around the city walls on a daily basis and trust in God to handle it. God could have simply caused the walls to fall when the Israelites first approached the city but He did not. This is a reminder that God desires a demonstration of faith over time and not just a little profession of belief. During this conquest, Rahab was preserved even though she was a Gentile but she had believed that God had given the land to the Israelites.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
Paul explains that he is just giving us a brief look into this hall of faith. Books and, in fact, a whole library could be written about the long list of people who have walked in faith. The main thing that they all had in common was the fact that it was only through the power of God that they were made strong. They are winners because of the power of God! We must also remember that, throughout the Bible, it was mostly misfits and the weak that God has used for His purposes.
Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated - the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and holes in the ground.
As we see here, with this faith and wonders came persecution. Many times it was out of jealousy and greed. Men and women of faith did not live the charmed life in luxury. For the most part, they suffered for their faith and were rejected by the world just as Jesus was rejected. That brings up questions about the modern prosperity preachers and the ministers living in mansions here on the earth. Although we are free in Christ to enjoy the things of this world, it still comes back to the old catchphrase: What would Jesus do? We can see the answer in the way that He walked here on the earth. He even explained that He had no place to rest His head (Matthew 8:20).
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
The promise that is spoken of is eternal life in a resurrected body without the struggles of the flesh and sin. Even these great heroes of faith struggled while they were here on the earth but they were looking forward to the time when the struggle would end and they would be reunited with the Father. Only when all of God's chosen are gathered in will any of us be complete.