Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hebrews 11: True Faith Pleases God



Heb 11:1-3, 6, 32-40 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible...And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him....

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two,  they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy— wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

The writer of Hebrews highlights in his chapter the critical importance of faith as a believer's mindset. He defines faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). Faith has a future and present orientation. With regard to the future, faith imparts an assurance that is based on our hope in God and with regard to the present, faith sees the invisible reality of spiritual world that is invisible to the physical senses. Faith defines how we live our lives and how we view ultimate reality--what is "really real". Some people cannot see beyond what their physical senses tell them. Such people are walking by sight. Others who can see beyond the visible world into the invisible realm of God experience His presence and power in their lives.

The one who walks by faith demonstrates a strong confidence in a God who is in control of our present and our future. This attitude of confidence in God is pleasing to God, for "without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb 11:6). It is not perfect theology that pleases God--it is faith. It's possible to have a doctorate in theology but with no living faith in God.

Those who say that Science has proved God doesn't exist don't know what they are talking about: Science focuses on investigating the physical world--what can be seen, heard, tasted, smelt, and touched. But the physical world is only the visible part of total reality. The really important things in life are often beyond science--like love and relationships; justice and mercy; character and integrity. It is like a man with only a hammer and says that there is only one way to hold things together: nails. He cannot imagine there is another way to hold things together using screws because he has never seen a screw-driver--only the hammer.

The ultimate reality of this Universe is the invisible world where God dwells. Heaven is not just another physical space-time dimension--"somewhere in outer space" (as the Sunday School song declares). Heaven is the ultimate invisible reality that is above and among us who are living in this physical space-time reality. The space-time reality is just a sub-set of the Ultimately Reality which is Heaven. Heaven is not "up there" or  "down here" but "everywhere": "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed,  nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (Luke 17:20-21). The spiritual realm of God co-exists with the physical world.  God, angels and spirits can intervene and interrupt the physical processes of our physical world anytime to produce supernatural effects (we call these effects "miracles").

So, the writer of Hebrews enumerates the supernatural exploits of Old Testament saints with this repeated expression: "By faith so-and-so did this..." He repeats this 21 times. He has made his point: everything of great spiritual worth done by the OT saints was a result of their faith. It was faith that empowers these OT saints to do exploits as a result of their confidence in God's presence and power: "who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection" (Heb 11:33-35).

But faith did not guarantee that they all lived "happily ever after." No, some faced deprivations and even death: "Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two,  they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb 11:35-38).

But they did not receive what they were promised. It has to await the coming of Christ: "And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (Heb 11:39-40). But now that Christ has come, all the promises of God made to them have become "Yes" and "Amen": "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory" (2 Cor 1:20).

Father, thank You for the faith of the OT saints who only had the promises. May we who have the Yes and Amen walk with greater faith. Amen.

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