Let me give you a bit of a background to the book of Hebrews as I did this morning just as a refresher, so that you can follow along with a greater comprehension of the context of what we are going to be considering together tonight.
The book of Hebrews consists of three parts, as I see it. It has to do with a Person, with a Priesthood and a Principal. And the person is a Superior Person, the priesthood is a Superior Priesthood and the principal is a Superior Principal. The Superior Person of course is the Lord Jesus Christ, and the writer sets Him out to us in the first six chapters of the book of Hebrews – the Superior Person to the people of the Old Testament, who is Jesus Christ. A Superior Priesthood in chapters 7 to 10, and that Superior priesthood of course is Christ and Melchizedek – the King Priest – the Priest King. And then from chapters 11 to 13, we learn about a Superior Principle to that of the principle of the Old Testament, and that Superior Principle is the principle of Faith – unlike works – keeping the Law and so on – Faith. And that’s what we’re going to be looking at this evening at this whole matter of this Superior principle of Faith. The superior person is Christ and He is compared to the Prophets, He’s compared to the angels and then we are exhorted: ‘Let us not drift from the Word.’ Then He is compared to Moses, and we have an exhortation to ‘not doubt the Word of God.’ Then we have Him compared to Aaron, again with an exhortation: ‘Do not grow dull toward the Word of God.’
In the second part on the Superior Priesthood of Christ and Melchizedek we have a better order: Melchizedek, not Aaron. We have a better Covenant: new not old. We have a better Sanctuary: Heavenly, not Earthly. We have a better Sacrifice: God’s Son, and not animals. And we have the exhortation: ‘Let us not despise the Word of God.’ And then in the final part – the Superior Principle of faith – we are going to see the Examples of Faith, the Endurance of Faith in chapter 12, followed by an exhortation, a warning against disobeying the Word of God. And then the evidences of Faith in chapter 13. That’s a broad outline of the book of Hebrews.
Now we’re in the third part in chapter 11, in fact the first chapter to the third part which speaks on the superior principle of faith, and we’re going to read together from the first verse.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
2For by it the people of old received their commendation.
3By 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.
4By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.
5By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.
6And 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.
7By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” (ESV)
We read only so far, because we’re going to look at Faith exemplified in only what people call by a fancy word the antediluvians – it’s the people who lived before the Flood. It sounds like some psychological disorder when we use that word ‘the antediluvians’, but they’re just the people who lived before the Flood and I want to look tonight at them as people who exemplify the Faith that we are called to by the Lord, and that we are given by Him. I want to speak this evening on ‘The Faith that Pleases God’.
Now that’s a broad topic and one can say a lot about the Faith that Pleases God, but we’ve seen that faith is a key concern in this letter. It’s a key concern that Christians remain strong in faith. There’s a danger he tells us in Chapter 3 of developing a heart of unbelief – it’s a danger. It was the lack of faith that destroyed Israel in the wilderness he tells us in verses 16 to 19 of chapter 3. And in chapter 10 we see him spurring us on to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. We looked at that this morning and we see an admonition to have that faith which will endure to the end – it won’t just be there for a season. That’s the kind of faith that we must have. But you and I may ask and people often ask ‘what is this faith which leads to the saving of the soul?’ Just the other day I had – not from this church, but a really senior Saint (if you could have senior and junior Saints) – it was a sister who has served the Lord for more than 50 years and she asked me this question: ‘What is faith really?’ After 50 years in the faith! And that made me aware that we need a grasp a better understanding of faith – of what it is. For many people it’s a concept like candy floss. Who of you have eaten candyfloss? All of you have – especially the ones with the bad teeth, they’ve all eaten candy floss haven’t they? You know for many people some of these theological concepts are like candy floss. It looks like a lot when you see it, and it’s so colourful and it looks so tasty and you think you’re going to eat on this until next week, and just a tiny bit a spittle and the whole thing dissolves into nothing but you being sticky with a bad taste in your mouth and a sense of deep disappointment. Often our understanding of the concepts of the faith is like that – it looks like a lot and it sounds like a lot, but you just touch it a little bit and it’s sort of dissolves into nothing and people don’t know what does this really mean, and it is sad that that’s true also with regard to something as fundamental to our faith as faith. And so we need to look at Faith this evening again. What is this Faith which leads to the saving of the soul, and how does it manifest itself in the lives of those who have it? We find the answer to that in chapter 11. We find a definition of Faith with a mention of how necessary it is to please God, and with examples of Old Testament Saints who clearly had this faith. And tonight we’re going to look at the first seven verses, as we examine the faith that pleases God, and I’m hoping for you to see it explained to see it exemplified and to see it emphasized.
- Faith Explained
We see from the writer “It’s a confidence of things hoped for.” It’s the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. The assurance of things hoped for says the ESV. That word that’s translated from the Greek, it literally means ‘to stand under’ – that’s what it means – to be a foundation. That means a firm trust – an assurance – a confidence – something you can put your weight down on. And other translations also show us that the main idea is an idea of confidence. The NIV says ‘faith is being sure of what we hope for.’ That’s confidence. The ESV says it’s ‘the assurance of things hoped for’ and so do the new Revised Standard Version and The New American Standard. The New King James calls it ‘the evidence of things not seen’ and that Greek word translated ‘evidence’ means ‘conviction’ as it’s translated in our ESV translations. Others translate it this way. The NIV: ‘it’s certain of what we do not see – it’s the conviction of things not seen.’ Now when we look at these things hoped for and not seen, faith is confidence about things that we hope for and that we cannot see or that we at least cannot yet see – such as the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ back to this planet – such as the resurrection of the dead. And it’s this kind of confidence that the Old Testament Saints had that pleased God – it pleased God. It’s a conviction about things we’ve not seen such as the existence of God – who no man can see and live anyway (1 Timothy 6:16). It’s conviction about things such as how the world began. It was framed by the Word of God Hebrews 11:3 tells us. And faith is that strong conviction that these things that we cannot see, are true. I want to read you some Scriptures in the Lord’s Word on faith and let it speak to us itself – let the Lord speak. Matthew 21:21-22: “And Jesus answered them, I say to you if you have faith and you don’t doubt you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, it will happen and whatever you ask in prayer you will receive if you have faith.” That’s the Lord Jesus Christ speaking. Do you know why we don’t pray so often anymore? We’ve developed this “what’s the use” mentality – “it’s not going to happen anyway – I’m not going to get what I’m asking – it’s asking the Lord too much. Now that’s a tall order you just placed with the Lord – that’s not going to come.” So we don’t pray! If we really believed that whatever you ask the Father in Jesus’ Name, you will receive – you’ll be on your knees more than you’ll be on your feet. I was hoping to get a couple of Amens to that. Amen!?
Matthew 17:20: “He said to them” – that’s Jesus – “because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Do you know why we don’t pray? It’s a lack of faith, because we don’t really believe that if we have faith we can move mountains. Mark 9:23: ‘And Jesus said to him, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” All things are possible!
Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God…” – that’s how he lives – “…who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Romans 12:3: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Do you know why we have such widespread narcissism – even among Christians these days? It’s because we don’t have faith, so we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. It’s a sign of a lack of faith.
2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Faith is to be still and know – be still, and know – that’s faith.
1 John 5:4: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” That’s the victory that overcomes the world – your faith!
1 Corinthians 13:13: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Galatians 2:16: “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Christ Jesus, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law…”
John 8:24: “I told you that you would die in your sins for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.” That’s how important faith is. In Hebrews 11:7 we’ve seen what these pre-flood Saints did.
In Mark 10:52 Jesus said: “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Mark 16:16: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”
1 Corinthians 16:13: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” That’s not for you sisters, to act like men, but you do need to be as strong as men – in the faith!
Romans 10:9: “…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Romans 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith.”
Habakkuk 2:4 that we saw earlier this year: “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
James 2:17: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” He tells you that faith has fruit.
Romans 4:20-21: “No distrust made him waiver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.”
James 1:6: “…let him ask in faith with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
And John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.”
I give you some quotes of faith from modern times.
Corrie Ten Boom said: “It’s like Radar that sees through the fog – the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.”
AW Tozer told us that “true faith rests upon the character of God and asks no further proof than the moral perfections of the One who cannot lie.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the Spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”
Do you know what Martin Luther said? “Faith is a living and unshakable confidence – a belief in God so assured that a man would die a thousand deaths for its sake.”
We need to be people of faith because very many times God shows us how faithful He is in our adversity and our struggles by providing for us what we need to survive that adversity and that struggle. He doesn’t change the circumstances – He doesn’t fix the problem immediately – He just gives you what you need to survive it, so that your soul can learn the lessons that God knows it needs to learn so that you can’t stay the way you are.
And so verse 2 tells us the people of old received their commendation because of their faith and the rest of the chapter is filled with illustrations of the faith of these people of old. We need that kind of faith. We live in a world where nothing is certain anymore. We live in what they call post-modernism. That’s not email, by the way. It’s an ideology that says ‘everything is true and nothing is true – everything is false and nothing is false.’ And in such a time we need faith – we need conviction – we need assurance – we need confidence.
So let’s look now that we’ve explained faith a little to you from Scripture – let’s see it exemplified in verses 4 to 5 and verse 7.
- Faith Exemplified
As I said, we’re only looking at the pre-flood Saints here. We see the testimony of Abel, which is Faith Worshiping, we see the testimony of Enoch, which is Faith Walking and we see the testimony of Noah, which is Faith Working.
a. The testimony of Abel: Faith that Worships
We read in verse 4 he offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain. It is referring of course to Genesis 4:3-5. Cain’s offering was of the fruit of the ground. Abel’s offering was the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. The Bible tells us that the Lord accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s. Why did God accept Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s? It may have been that God had specified an animal sacrifice by then. It may be the Cain offered some left-overs, while Abel offered his best – the firstborn. Cain’s attitude may have been wrong. There’s a great possibility of that, because he showed himself prone to display envy and hatred – even being capable of murder, but perhaps most likely Abel offered his offering with faith, while Cain did not. And through faith Abel obtained witness that he was righteous. He received his commendation that he was righteous, verse 4 tells us. And God certainly testified of his righteousness in showing respect to his offering. Even the Lord Jesus in Matthew 23:35 bore witness to the righteousness of Abel. And the Apostle John also in 1 John 3:12. And so through his faith, even though he’s dead now, he still speaks – he still tells us, you give your best to God as He gave His best to you, and you do it with faith.
b. The testimony of Enoch: Faith Walking
We’re told that by his faith Enoch was taken. Verse 5: “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him.” God said that it was pleased with him. It’s a wonderful thing to happen to a man or a woman when God can say that He is pleased with them. And you can do that only by faith.
c. The testimony of Noah: Faith Working
Noah was moved with Godly fear we’re told in verse 7. We see it in Genesis 6:1-22. God warned him about things that were not yet seen. Can you imagine what a fool he must have looked? Many preachers have tried to identify that. ‘Good old Noah – he’s still building – 40 years – he’s building away. What’s that sound in the background? That’s old Noah nailing away again. He thinks we’re going to wash away.’ Things are not seen, but he works away – he works, because he knows if God said He was going to do something, He was going to do it! And he worked and worked, and his confidence – his faith in what God said would happen, moved him to act with reverence and obedience toward God. And he prepared an ark for the saving of his household. His faith moved him to do according to all that God had commanded him, and through such faith working, Noah condemned the world. And we see that his example of faithfulness stands in stark contrast to others. His obedience magnified the lack of obedience in others, just as Nineveh will condemn those who didn’t listen to Jesus. And he became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith – you receive the standing of being right in God’s eyes. It was his faith that pleased God. It demonstrates to us that faith and works are not contrary to one another – the one goes with the other – the one is the fruit of the other. The works we do to the Lord’s glory is the fruit of our faith – it’s not the things that earn our salvation – our faith saves us. The works from the obedience to the Lord is just a proof that we have that faith. It’s more than the fruit – it’s the authentication of our faith. Works are the authentication of your faith which saves you.
- Faith Emphasized
Verse 6: “Without faith it is impossible to please God…” That’s how the writer emphasizes the importance of faith! It is so serious to be without it he says, because without it it’s impossible to please God. In other words you can be the most humanistic Pagan there is on the planet of the earth and due benevolence until it runs out your ears and runs out your bank accounts and you have nothing left – you’ve given everything to the poor. But if you don’t have this faith, none of that pleases God – none of that pleases him. Without faith, it’s impossible to please God. And of Enoch it is said that he pleased God. So whether we are worshiping, whether we are walking or whether we are working, faith must always be the driving Grace behind it all – whether you’re worshiping, working or walking – it has to be faith-driven. That’s the faith which pleases God – it includes conviction that God is – conviction! In other words you settled on it. We must believe that God exists and that He is the God of the Bible. And though we don’t see Him, we have conviction in the things not seen and that includes confidence that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. He will reward you if you diligently seek Him – He will! We must believe that God acts on the part of those who seek after Him. And it’s with regard to these things that we hope for, that we must have confidence. That’s the faith seen in the lives of Abel, Enoch and Noah. And we may ask ‘how do we develop such faith today?’ I’m sure that some of you are wondering ‘where do I get this faith?’ Well, it’s not the result of what we call credulity – easy Believism. There’s a common misconception that faith is blind – that there is no logic or reason to faith – one simply believes, like a kind of a wishful thinking. That’s not what faith is – not at all! Faith, as described in the Bible is the result of sure evidence. It’s evidence provided through creation. The heavens declare the glory of God the Psalmist tells us. In Romans 1:20 Paul tells us the same thing. You look at creation, and you tell me there is no God! You know what you need to do if you wanted to believe? Look at creation and not believe there’s a God and you wanted evidence for that. You would have had to wait until the 21st century to read Richard Dawkins. But before you read his book – if you believed what you saw with your own eyes, heard with your own ears, felt on your own skin, felt in your own heart, tasted with your own mouth – you would know that there is someone higher than we are. You would know that you know that the evidence is there. The only question that remains is who is this God whom I know is there does He have a name? What is He like? Where does He live? What does He do? Who is He? And to know that you need a turn to His Word. You need to turn to His Word and you’ll find out who He is. Faith in Jesus is a result of evidence provided through Revelation (see John 20:30-31). “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” Paul tells us in Romans 10:17. So you can read your Bibles and you can believe them because there are eyewitness reports in there. You will find nothing in it that is contrary to life – nothing! The Saints before the Flood had this evidence, including God speaking to them directly. Today it comes by hearing the Word of God. The Word of God presents evidence to believe in God and Jesus, such as fulfilled prophecy, eyewitness testimony, etc. And through God’s Word we can develop the kind of faith – the conviction which pleases God. And so the faith which leads to the saving of the soul is one that includes a strong conviction that God is – a strong confidence that He is the God of the Bible and He will reward those who diligently seek Him. It’s the same kind of faith that we see in Abel in how he worshipped God, in Enoch in how he walked with God, and in Noah in how he worked for God.
Let me ask you. Do you have that same kind of faith today, do you? You need it, you know that! We don’t know what the future holds for us in this country – we don’t know what’s going to happen. Just in this past week we heard rumours that there were people planning a coup d’état against the government. We were reduced to junk status before the pandemic. We’ve now gone through six months of a pandemic. We even have some of our pre-teens telling us they don’t want to live anymore with the despondency. And we wonder: what will we do! Here’s what we will do: We will be people of faith – we’ll be people of Faith! You know, what faith is? I have this little aspect of Hope, because you see our faith is tied to the things hoped for. Do you know how your faith is tied to your hope for the future for our children – for these young kiddies who come and get cookies in my study every Lord’s Day morning? They go for their cookies. The other day one little boy comes to me says, ‘Uncle Willem that other girl took a cookie and she took a bite and she put it back.’ How are we going to make sure that they have a lot of cookies to bite and put back in the future? What are we going to do? Here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to be people of faith. We’re going to believe that God is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. We’re going to believe that everything I read to you from Scripture on faith is true, and we’re going to believe it about the future too, living one day at a time. And here’s what I say about hope – do you know what hope is? It’s your faith flung into the future – faith flung into the future! That’s what hope is – the same confidence or conviction of things not seen that keeps you going through each day one day at a time now, will see you into the future. And you and I are going to be people of such faith. With the right kind of faith we can have the assurance that God is pleased. If we have that faith it will move the way in which we worship, in which we walk and in which we work. And with it God is pleased and we are heirs of the righteousness, which is according to faith and we too, each one of us, will one day receive our commendation. Don’t you long for that day?