Monday, February 29, 2016

Hall of Fame Inductee #4: Abraham (Pt. 2) Hebrews 11:13-16

In our increasingly volatile world, everyone in general and Christians in particular are confronting a very real tension in their personal lives either consciously or subconsciously. This tension is perhaps most clearly illustrated by how individuals answer this question: “What drives you?” Answers to this question are witnessed in how people spend their time, money, and their vote. Many, to be sure, are driven by success, the economy, status, and the like. Others, just want to win again and don’t care what it costs. Still others want pleasure and see discomfort as a cardinal sin. For various reasons all of these motivators prove unreliable, untenable, and ultimately unsatisfying, and yet many professed “believers” fall prey to these inferior incentives and as a result forsake the life that God intended them to live, capitulate on important issues, and compromise on particular fundamentals. This is not the way of perseverance.

Thankfully, this is not a new issue. In fact the preacher in Hebrews was facing a world very much like ours today. Not only that, but the preacher in Hebrews is encouraging a church with the same dilemmas we witness in our country. With this in mind, the example of Abraham is offered in Hebrews 11:13-16 as a model to follow so that believers might prove faithful to the end and beyond.  Let us look at three comparisons raised in this passage that will help up fall out of love with the world and more in love with the promise of God.

What they Did and Didn’t leave Earth with-11:13

Last week we saw Abraham in three different places: on the limb, in the holding pattern, and outside the delivery room. As a result, we learned how Abraham’s faith was obedient even when he did not have all of the details and even when it required incredible patience. This kind of faith was awarded with a miracle birth of a son whose life meant that God’s promise of a great nation was still alive.
However, in a moment of reflection, the preacher in Hebrews 11:13-16 recalls the following, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises,…”(11:13a). Who are “these”? “These” are most nearly the characters represented in vv. 8-12: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah. Surely, “these,” in spite of their incredible faithfulness, did not live to see the nation that God had promised them. Abraham had one son, Isaac had twin boys, and one of them, Jacob, did better with twelve. However, this could hardly be called a nation, let alone a nation that was as numerous as the stars and the sand. Instead, the culmination of this great nation would have to wait until much later.

That said, a case might be made that “these” in verse 13 refers to all of the examples mentioned in Hebrews 11. Abel, Enoch, Noah, etc. All of these in their own way anticipate the promise of God in the person of Jesus Christ, the redemption He made happen, and the subsequent reconciliation between mankind and God. However, none of the faithful men and women in this passage experienced the culmination of the promise of God in the person and work of Jesus. All died anticipating something that had yet to take place.

This demonstrates that God’s promises are bigger, much bigger, than the individual. In fact, god’s promises are not primarily intended for individual personalities. Instead, they are about a far greater picture and have as their aim the ultimate glory of God—irrespective of temporal prerogatives, worldly epochs, and human considerations.

Abraham did not leave the earth with everything fulfilled; but he did leave fulfilled by the promise of God and with the kind of faith that trusted what was promised was as good as done.  

Again, while Abraham and those after him did not receive the fulfillment of the promises themselves, what they did leave with were the promises themselves. This is what the text refers to when it says, “but having seen them,” (11:13).

Gen. 12:1-3-“Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Gen. 26:2-5-“Do not go down to Egypt. Live in the land that I tell you about; stay in this land as a foreigner, and I will be with you and bless you. For I will give all these lands to you and your offspring, and I will confirm the oath that I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky, I will give your offspring all these lands, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring, because Abraham listened to My voice and kept  My mandate, My commands, My statutes, and My instructions”

Gen. 35:10-12-“God said to him: Your name is Jacob; you will no longer be names Jacob, but Israel will be your name…I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation, indeed an assembly of nations, will come from you, and kings will descend from you. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you. And I will give the land to your descendants after you.”

Though some texts say that “these” have “seen” these promises, perhaps a better translation would read “having apprehended them [the promises]…”. To be sure, each of these individual’s lives were guided not by tangible results or concrete proof of God’s faithfulness, but by the promises given to each of them of things to come.

In response, “these” “welcomed them from a distance” (11:13c). In other words, these happily looked forward to the day when these things would be fulfilled, even though they did so from afar. The hope (confident expectation) they had in these things was in a future culmination of events. 

Therefore, Abraham and his children left the world not with the culmination of God’s promises, but with the promises themselves and the good-natured expectation that God would one day accomplish what He said He would. However, “these” also left the earth “having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (11:13d). What does this mean?

“In the Old Testament narratives the patriarchs and their descendants refer to themselves as ‘aliens and strangers’ in the land (e.g., 1 Chron. 29:15; cf. Gen. 23:$; Ps. 39:12). Both in Jewish theology during the New Testament era and in the New Testament itself, this concept developed to emphasize the disparaging of earthly desires and the longing for a heavenly home” (Guthrie, 379). Here, it is the preacher’s intent to highlight how Abraham’s faith relationship with God was his preeminent commitment—not the acquisition of earthly riches or a secure residence. These died in a state of trust in God and gladly conceded that they had not yet arrived.  

In this first comparison, we learn exactly what Abraham and his family did and did not leave earth with. While fulfillments remained to be seen, these warmly welcomed the promises of God as more than enough to inspire continued faithfulness. This message would have proven especially important for the early church to which this sermon was originally addressed. As the Lord tarried longer and longer, people, no doubt, began to wonder if the promise of the kingdom of God was still viable. Here, the preacher encourages them with the example of Abraham saying, “even if it doesn’t happen in your lifetime, know that the promise of God is as good as done and, as such, is something to pattern one’s life after.”

Where they Did and Didn’t desire to Go-11:14-16a

The second comparison drawn in this passage involves where Abraham did and didn’t desire to go. The preacher makes it clear in verse 14 that “those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.” However, what “things” are “these” to of said? The answer is found in the preceding verses, “and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (11:13). Only those holding fast to the promise of a superior land would be ready and willing to proudly claim the status of an exile or stranger. Their quiet expectation of a future nation rendered it a joy to suffer the plight of a refugee. After all, it was temporary!

For clarification, the preacher continues by saying, “and indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return” (11:15). In other words, if they even for a second entertained their old homeland, given their ongoing unsatisfactory living situation, they would have had no trouble returning back from whence they came. However, we are never led to believe that Abraham, upon leaving his homeland, ever gave it a second thought. Instead, he was singularly focused, it would seem, on where God had called him to go and on what God had called him to do. He understood that whatever he was going through, was only temporary, and therefore, endurable.

This demonstrates the completeness of not only Abraham’s obedience, but of his faith. Faith in God requires no plan B and is not riddled with regrets. So enamored was Abraham with the promise of God, that he never once wished he’d have his old life back. If he had allowed his past or doubt to grow bigger than his faith in God, he would have swung wide the door to the past and slammed closed the door on his intended future.

Therefore, instead of wishing for yesterday, Abraham was focused on tomorrow—“but, as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one…” (11:16a). This verse screams beyond Abraham’s story to the preacher’s intended audience of the first century. Inasmuch as they too desired a better country and kingdom—the kingdom of God—they needed to guard against wishing for the world when heaven was on its way. As soon as they entertained the thought of returning to their old lives (believing for a second that living according to the world sounded better than putting up with a life of faithfulness), the door would swing wide open for them to do so. The preacher wanted to prevent this at all costs and therefore is using the example of Abraham to this end. He was a man who was not distracted by what he left. Instead, he was a man solely focused on where God was leading him.

How God did and Didn’t respond-11:16

The preacher concludes this wing of Abraham’s installation in the “Hall of Faith” by saying, “Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God” (11:16). Why would He be ashamed of these who remained faithful to Him through thick and thin? It is one things to enjoy the support and loyalty of people when things are going exceedingly well; it is another thing to be able to point to followers who are there in the desert living in tents. That is faithfulness!

God was exceedingly proud to be associated with Abraham and knowing how Abraham would respond and live accordingly throughout his life, once called, ahead of time, no doubt made him a great candidate to be use of God in amazing ways. God is never ashamed to be associated with those who are faithful to him, especially, when they have yet to receive what has been promised to them.
Rather than be ashamed of Abraham and his family, God, the preacher continues, “has prepared a city for them” (11:16c). This, no doubt, is a type with several potential antitypes worth consideration, especially considering this text’s connection to its original and secondary audience. First, the “city” envisioned for Abraham was a city-state for his descendants—a seat of power and influence that would be used to bless the world (see Gen. 12:1-3). This would be fulfilled, in the Old Testament, in Jerusalem and see its greatest days under King David and Solomon. However, there is a second antitype that exists in the future, even for the preacher in Hebrews—the city of God, i.e. the New Jerusalem that is still expected in the future today in which Jesus will reign as king forever and ever. Therefore, the city promised to and prepared for Abraham and his progeny look forward to Jerusalem whose kings and temple looks forward to heaven!

How does God respond to the faith of Abraham? He does not respond in shame, somehow embarrassed by Abraham’s faith that was willing to live as a refugee. Instead, he responds by sharing a glorious destiny that would be realized first for his literal children in the Old Testament and then for all who have faith in God in the end.

So What?

When we remind ourselves why this pastor is recalling all of these examples of faithfulness the application of this passage becomes very clear. In our world of waiting on the Lord for the hope that we are promised in Christ, we must exercise the kind of faith demonstrated here. This kind of faith does three things. First it recognizes that this world is just a temporary dwelling. Look around you. Aren’t you glad to know that this life is merely a blip in the eternal scheme of things! When one is reminded of this, it becomes easier to live as a sojourner in this world that continues to spiral out of control.  Second, this kind of faith is inspired more by what is promised than by what is seen around them. This faith is not looking in the rearview mirror at days gone by, it is looking ahead at what God has in store. This faith is not willing to sacrifice what is important to win in the world’s eyes or compromise in order to gain a few points. Third, this kind of faith is awarded with divine favor from God who is not ashamed of the faithful, but goes to prepare a place for them.

These same sentiments that Jesus used to encourage His disciples in John 14 when He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.”  In the same way Jesus encouraged his disciples in John 14, the preacher here encourages his congregation in Hebrews 11 to remain strong in a brave new world by adopting the kind of faith Abraham demonstrates. However, while Abraham placed his faith in a promise, we as followers today place faith in a Person. Later in John 14 Thomas “said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’” With Jesus as the object of our faith, we have all that we need to persevere in this world as we anticipate the next one. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Hall of Fame Inductee #4: Abraham (Pt. 1) Hebrews 11:8-12

Five and a half years ago I was at this very moment contemplating the unknown—my life after my undergraduate degree. Knowing that I wanted to insert myself in the ministry as soon as possible, and after having already solidified a way to attend and pay for my masters of divinity at Liberty University, I began to pray perhaps the boldest prayer of my life—“God, give me a place to minister in while I attend graduate school.” After a lot of praying and waiting on the Lord’s timing as my graduation day inched closer,  I received a call to consider ministering in a remote place in a far-away land—Crystal Spring Baptist Church in Roanoke, VA. Up to this point in my life, the only other time I had ever been to Roanoke was to see the Star! However, after visiting this church and preaching a trial message, I received another call—this time to join the people here in a journey that is still underway to this day. One marriage and two kids later, my family is still on that journey of faith. To be sure, initially, this journey required for my then girlfriend and I to go out on a limb and, if I’m being perfectly honest, at times it requires plenty of patience. However, we are confident that God’s miracles are still at hand for this wonderful place as God builds His church.

While my journey of faith has taken me to some unforeseen places, today’s message is all about the next inductee in the “Hall of Faith” of Hebrews 11—Abraham. His faith journey took him to several pretty incredible places also and, in the preacher’s estimation, Abraham’s example deserves the kind of attention that cannot be contained in just a few verses. Therefore, let us take a close look at three places you would have found Abraham in the later part of his life and how he lived out his faith in Hebrews 11:8-12.

On a Limb-11:8

Our next inductee in the “Hall of Faith” of Hebrews 11 comes as no surprise. In fact, while Abel, Enoch, and Noah are called men of faith in Hebrews 11, even Abraham’s original account in Genesis refers to him as man of faith and that resulting in him being called “righteous.”

Genesis 15:6-“he believed Yahweh; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

So noteworthy is this candidate for the “Hall of Faith” of Hebrews 11 that he is given not just a couple of verses, but a couple of paragraphs that properly delineate the life he led and the trust he placed in the one true God. It is only proper for this installation to then begin where Abraham’s faith-journey began, when, as verse 8 says, “he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance” (11:8a). Here is how it reads from Genesis 12.

Genesis 12:1-3-“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

This invitation from the Lord was the bait that, if taken, would send Abraham on a trajectory he could have never before imagined. Not only that, but the Lord’s calling of Abraham satisfies perfectly the definition of faith outlined in the beginning of Hebrews 11.

Hebrews 11:1-“now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

It was every man’s hope in Abraham’s day to be the father of a great family, and here was the invitation to see that take place ten-thousand fold! However, this hope for Abraham required “conviction of things not seen”—i.e. a new land, new people, new blessings, etc. Not only that, but at least for Abraham, answering “yes” to this call would require a great deal of sacrifice. Saying “yes” to what God requested here involved leaving his family, friends, and familiar surroundings. Literally everything he knew would be abandoned in order to follow the Lord’s calling on his life.

However, this is exactly what Abraham did. The text of Hebrews 11 goes on to say that “he went out, not knowing where he was going” (11:8b).

Abraham’s faith in God was met with instantaneous obedience. In fact, as we continue to see this story unfold, faith is always met with obedience. One might call the two inseparable partners in the God-following enterprise.  To be sure, faith informs obedience by telling Abraham what to do. Obedience proves Abraham’s faith when he goes and does what has been requested. One ancient voice has said the following of Abraham’s faith, “this is a testimony to the faith which the soul placed in God, manifesting its gratitude not on the basis of accomplished facts but on the basis of expectation of things to come. For the soul, utterly dependent on good hope and considering those things which are not present to be indubitably present already because of the trustworthiness of him who has promised, has won as its guerdon [recompense] that perfect blessing, faith…” (Philo, Migration of Abraham).

Abraham’s faith propelled him out on a limb of obedience, even when he didn’t have the slightest clue where God was leading him! Abraham out on the limb reveals that knowing who sent you is far more important than knowing exactly where you are going.

In a Holding Pattern-11:9-10

The next scene we find Abraham in is flying overhead in a holding pattern.

After saying “yes” to the Lord and journeying out of town, he “lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise” (11:9). This was hardly the nation that I imagine Abraham believed he was going to experience firsthand! Instead of a prosperous nation of people, Abraham, even at the end of his life, experienced the plight of a refugee in a foreign land. Not only that, but even his son and grandson after him could hardly say that they lived the lives of kings. For all of these, it was the promise of God, not its realization, that kept them following after the Lord in faithfulness.

And where were they following the Lord? –they were looking for the great nation that God had promised in Genesis 12—“for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11:10). This verse spells out again the reason behind their endurance of faith in spite of the slow progress being made. One commentator has said, “the commonwealth on which his hopes were fixed was no transient commonwealth of this temporal order. He was looking for a city of a different kind: the city with the eternal foundations, planned and built by God” (Bruce, 292-93).  Abraham knew, even in his spiritual infancy, that the nation God had called him to father would be a different kind of place and because of this, he was patient to await its fruition, even if it meant this would not take place in his lifetime.

On the limb we learned that faith is obedient even when the details are unknown. In the holding pattern we learn that faith remains faithful even when one is required to wait.

Outside the Delivery Room-11:11-12

The last place we see Abraham in this passage is one of the most exciting places on earth—outside the delivery room (or delivery tent as it were). In verse 11 the text says, “by faith, even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life” (11:11a). Finally, the faith of Abraham and now even Sarah was awarded with a miracle! The birth of a long awaited child—the first step in the promised nation. Notice, that God alone is to blame for Sarah’s conception as it says “she received the ability to conceive.” The miracle is further emphasized by the timing as she was well beyond her child-bearing years. All of these work to demonstrate that faith that goes on a limb with obedience and patiently waits on the Lord is awarded with the miraculous. Here is how Genesis tells the story:

Genesis 21:1-7-“Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah born to him, Isaac…Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.’ And she said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’”

As Hebrews 11:11 continues, “she considered Him faithful who had promised.” Her faith along with Abraham’s rendered it pleasing to God to follow through on His promise.

Let us take a moment to remind ourselves how long this faith has been exercised. First, Sarah had to be willing to follow her husband to a foreign land. NO telling how long that journey took. Even after arriving, as the years progressed with no child, Sarah became anxious and encouraged her husband to have a child by another woman. This experience turns sour after the child—Ishmael—is born and God, as a result, presses Sarah’s due date back even further. Isaac is promised in Genesis 15, but he is not delivered until chapter 21! So much faith, even in the midst of a big failure, was required of Sarah and Abraham to see a miracle and it finally paid off in a big way. There, outside the delivery room, after years of waiting, the cries of an infant –the first cries of a promised of a nation!

As the preacher closes this wing of Abraham’s installation in the “Hall of Faith” he concludes by saying, “therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore” (11:12). In short, Isaac’s birth, at a most improbable time in Abraham’s life (when he was already counted out as dead without descendants), was the first inkling of the nation God was bringing into focus—a nation that would grow and prosper in number and in influence—a nation that would one day bless the world.

So What?

The faith witnessed by Abraham and his family (including his wife Sarah, his son Isaac, and grandson Jacob), was willing to obey, even when it meant going out on a limb, deciding God’s word was more important than knowing all the details. Not only that, but their faith was willing to endure the long holding pattern, patiently waiting to catch even a glimpse of the promise’s fulfillment. This kind of faith eventually saw the miraculous take place—Isaac was born and the promised nation began.

Abraham’s faith serves as an example worth following for believers both in Hebrews’ direct audience and for us today. Is your faith in God’s word or is it in what you can see now? Obedient faith doesn’t have to know it all, it just has to know the one who knows it all. Is your faith patient? Compelling faith is willing to wait on God’s timing to see what God has in store. Such faith will eventually see miracles take place.

In Abraham’s story, Sarah’s miracle birth of Isaac points to another miracle in the making. The birth of the nation of Israel, miraculous as it was, is a foreshadowing of another miraculous conception—Mary’s conception of Jesus Christ who, like Abraham, was sent to a distant land (from heaven to planet earth). While Abraham’s child marked the beginning of a new earthly nation, Jesus’ spiritual children were and still are populating the kingdom of God that will one day culminate in a very real heaven. Both men were men of obedient and patient faith that saw miracles take place—may it be said of us!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Hall of Faith Inductee #3: Noah Hebrews 11:7

Last week we looked at a lesser-known character in the Hall of Faith preserved for us in Hebrews 11—Enoch. This week we turn the corner in our tour of this passage and are confronted with one of the most popular characters in all of the Scriptures—Noah. In fact, so famous is this story that many even outside the believing community know about his fateful ship and the flood that he and his family escaped. Many other world religions even have their own legends involving an international flood of cataclysmic proportions. However, there is only on account that we are interested in today--the authoritative account of Scripture.

When we approach the account of Noah’s life as referenced in Hebrews 11:7, we find ourselves confronted with details that are not always as celebrated as they should be when we read this story to our children or grandchildren. These details involve the incredible faith of Noah that illustrates the kind of faith we ought to possess as believers today. Fasten your seatbelts and just sit right back as I tell you the tale, the tale of a fateful ship.

NOAH RECEIVES A WARNING-11:7a-“…by faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen…”

So far in our expedition through the “Hall of Faith” we have learned that the kind of faith that pleases God comes from the heart (as witnessed in Abel) and walks with the Lord consistently (as seen in Enoch). However, today we are going to learn from another example that faith acts in accordance with God’s will—even when it doesn’t make sense. This example is introduced in Hebrews 11:7 when the preacher says, “by faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household." Here is how the story plays out in Genesis 6.

5The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. This is the account of Noah and his family was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. 16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit[c] high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.’”

To be sure, what God told Noah was something that had never before been conceived—a flood was coming. Not only that, but a message of impending doom was no doubt unpopular and utterly nonsensical in the world's eyes. 

Imagine for me if you will what that conversation would have been like when Noah went home to tell his wife what he was up to outside their home. It is one thing for an old man to have a hobby, but building a ship takes it to a whole other level. Not only that, but when asked why he was soon keen on building what would have been one of the largest construction projects on record at this point, it would have no doubt been difficult to hear “a lot of rain is coming.” I’m sure Noah’s wife would have been tempted to call a shrink after she inquired how much rain was anticipated and she heard “enough to flood the entire planet."  

When the Bible says “things not seen” it is euphemistically referring to what mankind might deem totally outrageous! However, as Hebrews says in 11:1, believing in what the world can’t seem to swallow is part of what faith is all of about, “Now faith is the assurance of things hopes for, the conviction of things not seen.” God’s calling on Noah’s life—involving a prediction of something never-before seen and not yet present—was therefore an opportunity for him to exercise faith. But not just any faith—faith that works.

NOAH ACTS ACCORDINGLY-11:7b-“…in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of His household…”

As we continue reading the story from the account in Genesis 6:22-7:5, we can see what faith motivated in Noah’s life:

“Noah did everything just as God commanded him. The Lord then said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.’ 5And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.”

The second thing that Noah is said to have done (after receiving his instructions) is act according to his faith—faith that God’s weather prediction was 100% accurate—“in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of His household” (11:7c). He believed that this flood was as good as done and as a result did what was necessary to save his family.

In reading this we cannot afford to lose the sacrifice required of Noah to act on his faith in what God said. No doubt, as depicted in many retellings of this story, the people around him mocked him and few continued to take this man seriously. His building of the ark in reverent obedience to God was a defiant act witnessed by all who belonged to a wicked and idolatrous world around him. While they worshipped their idols to multiple other Gods, Noah built an ark in obedience to the one true God.

Noah’s active faith in God, witnessed in his obedience to build the ark, saved his family. Faith that obeys is saving faith.

The same was true for those first century believers to which this was originally written (and is true for today’s believers as well)—faith that believes in God (what is unseen) and is proven in obedience to Him (see James 1) results in salvation from the present flood of this world and a hope in a future free from eternal condemnation.


In fact, this condemnation that believers escape today is intimated in this story in no uncertain terms in Genesis 7:12-24:

“For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.24The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.’”

This unapologetic account reveals that Noah was a vessel used for the greater purposes of God—to condemn a wicked world, “by which he condemned the world” (11:7c). “Condemned” is an unusual word inasmuch as it is most often used of God Himself. Louw & Nida defines this word as follows: “to judge someone as definitely guilty and this subject to punishment.” Typically, this falls within God’s purview alone. Therefore, Noah was God’s vessel through which He executed His wrath upon the earth (pardon the pun).  Noah’s story serves as perhaps the largest concrete illustration of God’s holiness and wrath against sin that this world has ever witnessed--so far.

However, things were not all lost. In fact, in the treacherous waters of the flood, we catch a glimpse of God’s incredible grace that IN FAITH leads away from wickedness and into abundant righteousness.

As Noah’s story ends in Genesis 8:13-19, the Bible says,

“By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.15 Then God said to Noah, 16 ‘Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.’ 18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.”

While God would have been totally justified in condemning the entire world, as His wrath burned over “ALL mankind,” God saw fit to spare the human race by selecting one man—a man who, when called, responded in faith—the kind of faith that acts in obedience to the Lord’s command, no matter how outrageous. Because of this, Noah’s and his family were spared. Not only that, but the Bible continues in Hebrews 11:7 and says, “and [Noah] became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith,” thereby forever cementing his rightful place in God’s hall of faith.

So What?

As we pass this latest installation in the Hall of Faith found in Hebrews 11 we are compelled to examine whether or not our faith is the kind that, as referenced earlier, is assured of things hoped for and convicted of things not seen. Such was the case with the faith of Noah when he was told and then believed that something unusual would happen—a cataclysmic flood. However, the kind of faith that is championed in Noah’s story is not just a believing faith, it is a behaving faith. Noah’s faith was so real that it informed his decisions and changed the course of his life. As a result, Noah was saved from the flood—he and his family. Faith that obeys God is saving faith. Can these criteria be observed in the faith you claim? Are you keen on believing what God has promised you, though it may seem outrageous? Does your faith really do anything?

However, we are not to leave Noah’s installation impressed by Noah. Instead, we are to be even more impressed by God who, while the world deserved to die, spared humanity through this humble man and his family. What a beautiful foreshadowing of Jesus Christ who, after God made many predictions of His coming, came to this world and built an entirely new ark—an ark of grace through faith, not in the shape of a boat, but in the shape of a cross. When the world deserved death, God made this ark available not just to one man in his family, but to all men and women who exercise faith in what they have not seen themselves and in response, live accordingly.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hall of Faith Inductee #2: Enoch- Hebrews 11:5-6

There is a country song that I’ve heard many times on 94.9 that happens to be one of my father-in-law’s favorites called “Something to be Proud of” by Montgomery Gentry. This song closes with these lyrics:

That's something to be proud of
That's a life you can hang your hat on
You don't need to make a million
Just be thankful to be workin'
If you're doing what you're able
And putting food there on the table
And providing for the family that you love
That's something to be proud of
And if all you ever really do is the best you can
Well, you did it man

That's something to be proud of
That's a life you can hang your hat on
That's a chin held high as the tears fall down
A gut sucked in, a chest stuck out
Like a small town flag a-flyin'
Or a newborn baby cryin'
In the arms of the woman that you love
That's something to be proud of

 Although I’m not particularly fond of most country music, this song always puts a smile on my face and a warm feeling in my heart as I reflect on the simple and yet profound things of life. In so many ways, it is not the flashy or fantastic that instills one’s life with value; it is the simple things that you can hang your hat on at the end of the day.

We are going to come to learn the same about the Christian life this morning as we continue our tour through the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. However, we are going to learn about the kind of life that God is proud of as we examine a humble example of faith that is sandwiched in between more popular and dramatic figures. Let us take a close look at two statements made in just two verses (Hebrews 11:5-6) that will both encourage and convict us as we strive to life a life of faithfulness that is pleasing to God—a life that we can gladly hang our hat on—a life that God would be proud of.

I. An Inspiring Story-11:5

As we continue our journey in the Hall of Faith the next inductee we pass is a little known character in the Old Testament named Enoch. You may not know too much about this man’s life because the account of his earthly experience is not preserved in the context of a dramatic story, but in the kind of passage that many people gloss over to get to more fascinating things. Let us read everything that the original account it has to say about Enoch in Genesis 5:18-23.

Genesis 5:18-23-“Jared lived one hundred and sixty-two years, and became the father of Enoch. Then Jared lived eight hundred years after he became the father of Enoch, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years, and he died. Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years.”

At first glance, it does not appear that there is much to report about the life of Enoch from the Old Testament. However, if we read one verse further we witness something extraordinary.

Genesis 5:24-“Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.”

This final detail seems to be what strikes the preacher of Hebrews most when he offers his retelling of Enoch’s life in Hebrews 11:5—“ By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up.” The idea of being “taken up” means to be transported from one place to another very different place.

For Enoch, he was transported from earth to heaven itself! Now that is a pretty amazing way to go, something that lends a bit more credence to his induction into the hall of faith.

However, as incredible as it is for Enoch to be taken up to heaven, escaping death and immediately enjoying a blissful relationship with his Creator, the noteworthy thing about Enoch’s life, the real reason for his induction into this Hall of Faith, is iterated in the second part of verse 5, “for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up, he was pleasing to God.” This account of Enoch’s life seems celebrate what is mentioned in the first part of Genesis 5:24—that Enoch “walked with God.” His life was a life of fellowship with God—fellowship so sweet, that God desired Enoch’s presence in a special way and brought him to heaven before he body died.

Enoch’s life was a life of simple and yet consistent faith. This is the inverse of what the preacher in Hebrews and the prophet Habakkuk were trying to discourage among God’s people when they said, “For yet in a very little while,
He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (see Hab. 2:3-4; Heb. 10:37-38). In contrast to fickle faith, Enoch was consistently committed to His God. His humble adherence to God was awarded with a gloriously spectacular ending.

II. A Reflective Aside-11:6

This installment in the Hall of Faith (though it is short and simple) arrests the attention of the preacher so much so that he breaks the chain of stories in order to provide an important aside to everyone following him on this tour. This aside is found in verse 6 when he beings by saying, “and without faith, it is impossible to please Him…”. Who is “Him?” “Him” is God! God’s great pleasure in Enoch’s life is an excellent opportunity for the preacher to encourage simple and consistent faith among his readership. Though it may not seem like it, persevering faith, more than flashy accomplishments and accolades that the world deems significant, is pleasing to God—just ask Enoch! Faith, more than anything else arrests God special attention and motivates His special work. Why is this? Because faith pleases God! Faith is God’s love language!

The idea of faith pleasing God is applied at the end of verse 6 to the life of the believer, “for he who comes to God must believe that he is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek him…” (11:6). In this short grouping of words there are three components that are identified by the preacher as pertaining especially to a life of faith that begins in the context of salvation. First, a life of faith, and therefore a life that pleases God, involves a life of coming to God and seeking Him earnestly. In fact, this idea is a reiteration of what the preacher has already said earlier in the book.

Hebrews 4:16-“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 10:22-“let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

In these verses, coming to God is portrayed as something that believers are able to do with confidence to receive mercy and grace because of their full assurance of salvation made possible by the blood of Jesus. Because God has made access to Himself available, because He has gone to great lengths (sending His Son to die) to bestow grace and mercy, believers insult Him by not coming to Him as they are able. Nothing pleases God more than seeing His children enjoy what He has provided—access to Him through Faith.

Enoch’s life was a life that enjoyed coming to God, for, the account of his life mentions that he walked with God on a regular and consistent basis. This profound verse first instructs the church to which this preacher is writing that God’s people are called to live lives of “radical openness to and in conversation with God” (Guthrie, 376) and this by coming to Him.

Second, a life of faith (a life that pleases God), involves believing that God exists in the first place. This is perhaps the introductory step taken toward a life of faith prior to salvation. One cannot be saved, nor come to God in prayer, nor enjoy sweet communion with God, without first believing in His existence. People must first believe in God before this belief can inform a faithful life. Therefore, in this spirit, here are four arguments for the existence of God that I believe are compelling both individually and collectively.

Cosmological Argument:

(1) Everything that exists has a cause of its existence.
(2) The universe exists.
(3) The universe has a cause of its existence.
(4) If the universe has a cause of its existence, then that cause is God.
(5) God exists.

But wait? Does God have a cause? No, everything caused is contingent on something else—i.e. owes its existence to something else. This is not so for God who is an uncaused cause and therefore is not contingent on anything for His existence.

Teleological Argument: If the universe contains design (the anatomy of an eye, bacteria flagellum, positioning of the planets, etc.) then there must be some intelligent agent that designed it. Although a few dispute this, speaking of nature, or evolution, as our designers, this appears to be a simple linguistic truth. Just as if something is carried then there must be a carrier, so if there is design there must be a designer.

Ontological Argument: The argument in its earliest form rests on the identification of God as “that than which no greater can be conceived.” Once it is understood that God is that than which no greater can be conceived, Anselm suggests, it becomes evident that God must exist. More modern permutations of this state Very roughly, that perfection is a part of the concept of God, and that perfection entails existence, and so that the concept of God entails God’s existence. (This is a hard one to wrap one’s brain around).

Moral Argument: The formal moral argument is as follows: Morality is prescriptive, it tells us what to do; this, the moral argument suggests, entails that it is prescribed by someone. Morality is also ultimately authoritative, its authority is greater than any human institution; this, the argument suggests, entails that it was not prescribed by any human institution, but must rather have a supernatural source. Though there are other forms of this argument, generally speaking moral arguments take either the existence of morality or some specific feature of morality to imply the existence of God. It is only if God exists, the moral argument suggests, that the moral facts could be as they are, or even that there could be any moral facts at all. 

Do you believe in God yet? I HOPE SO, because it is impossible to please this God and come to Him for all He has to offer you (grace, mercy, etc.) without belief in Him! It is obvious by Enoch’s life that he believed in God’s existence. In fact, in Jude 14, it is said of Enoch that he prophesized about the Lord’s coming! This rendered his life especially pleasing to the Lord and introduces the third element involved in a life of faith.

Those who live a life of faith are those who come to God regularly in radical openness and conversation, believe that He exists, and finally, these are those who have the confident expectation that God will reward those who live this way, “that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (11:6). The greatest reward of faith/belief is salvation (see Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 16:31). However, the sweet benefits of salvation do not stop at forgiveness, there is an eternal heaven of wondrous bliss and perfection, all within the domain of God’s enduring presence, that await those who have this kind of faith. There is a lasting relationship with the Creator and Savior of the universe that results from this kind of life! Oh how satisfied Enoch must have been to receive his reward, earlier than expected and in a most unusual way.

So What?

I have rarely been more encouraged AND convicted than when I prepared for this message from Hebrews 11:5-6. On the encouraging side, we ought to take much delight in knowing that more than flashy accomplishments and accolades that the world deems significant, God is pleased with simple and consistent faith. Just ask Enoch! The best thing that was said of his life is found in Genesis 5:24—that he simply “walked with God.” I would wager to say that this is one of the best things that can be said of any believer’s life today—not that they accomplished this or that, that they saw this or that, or that they built this or that, but that they “walked with God.” We must again allow consistent faithfulness to God to impress us and take its rightful place of the greatest of all achievements in this life.

However, though this is an encouragement to me, that simple faithfulness to God really in and of itself is pleasing to the Lord, I am immediately convicted when I read verse 6. While I know that “without faith, it is impossible to please God,” I find myself second guessing, hesitating, and failing to exercise faith in any number of situations, decisions, and circumstances. Though I know God is always there to infuse His grace and mercy into anything I face, I am interrupted by the things of this world and kept so often from coming to Him the way I should in prayer and in His Word. While I know that God exists, so often I worry as if He doesn’t. Not only that, but while I celebrate the reward I can expect when I’m teaching Revelation or listening to a song about heaven, so often I forget to live with the end in mind.

Whenever I or any of us give in to these tendencies, we are not living the life of faith in which God takes pleasure—we are not walking with God as Enoch did. Therefore, allow this passage to encourage you and convict you by the same thing. Simple faith is, in fact, what God is impressed by, and this is something that we must give ourselves to as we consistently seek the Lord who will one day reward us. A life of faith is something we can hang our hat on at the end of the day—it is something God Himself is proud of.