Heb 11:13-16 What is Faith?
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 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. 4 By 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. 5 By 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. 6 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. 7 By 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. 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
Mt Everest is the highest mountain above sea level at approximately 29000 feet. There are many who desire to climb this mountain. However, this is no simple task, before the year 2000 the death rate for climbing to the top was 37%. Even today it is one of the deadliest mountains to climb to the top. It is estimated that about 6,000 people climbed Mt Everest to its peak. However, it is also estimated that about 310 people died while trying. It is estimated that each year there are 800 attempts to try to reach the top of this mountain. However, the death rate has remained almost the same throughout the years. I have no desire to climb Mt Everest, however, there are people that really want to do this. If this would be you, you would have to train for at least a year. Upon starting it will take 10 weeks to reach the peak. Furthermore, you will need at least 50k dollars to be able to purchase your permit and pay for all the costs associated with the trip. I’m sure that cost is higher today than when this website estimated the cost. The point is, if you want something you will work for it. If you desire something so desperately then you will go to any extreme in order to achieve it. The text we are going to study today talks about another desire. A desire for God, which is the heart of the faith of Abraham and Sarah. Last week we looked at Abraham and Sarah and their faith. We saw how God was faithful to them in the most unusual circumstances. Thus, allowing us to be encouraged by knowing we can fully trust God. We were reminded that we need God’s power, strength, and ability in order to live by faith like Abraham and Sarah. The author of Hebrews has given us a list of several people in this faithful hall of fame starting with Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah. He continues this list by focusing on Abraham in v 17, but there is a rather unusual interruption, even right between the first part of Abraham’s story and when it continues 4 verses after. The author of Hebrews chooses here to insert this description about faith.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Before we dive into these verses it might be helpful to step back a little and look at the context of these verses. The author started defining faith in Chapter 11 v1-3 where it says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 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.” In this definition, the author of Hebrews is saying that faith is the confidence, the assurance, the conviction that we have of the spiritual reality that God has revealed in Scripture. Then from v4-12 instead of trying to prove what faith is, the author of Hebrews shows example after example what this radical biblical faith looks like in practice by pointing to all the great men and women of faith that we already studied. After verses 13-16, the author of Hebrews continues listing examples of faith until the end the chapter 11. What we see in v13-16 is the author describing to us in more detail what the heart of this radical biblical faith is. If you only daydream about lunch or the long weekend plans the rest of this morning, I hope you will remember this: The heart, the center of the definition of faith is a greater desire. A desire for God that is greater than any other desire; a love that is greater than your love for your loved ones, than your country, greater than our own love for self. If you have this faith, you will be more hungry for God than you are hungry for anything else, including lunch today or plans for tomorrow’s cookout. I see the heart of these passages in v14, and 16. However, before we get into that we should start with v13, where it says:
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Who are “these” that the author is referring to in v13? The author of Hebrews just listed Abel, Enoch, Abraham, and Sarah as examples of faith. All of these, except Enoch, died in faith. In the more immediate context, it is Abraham and Sarah who died in faith not having received the things promised. In the previous verse, it just said this about Abraham and Sarah. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. We need to remember that Abraham and Sarah did not see the many descendants, they only had one son. If we were living in that time period, we would recognize that having one child was most unusual. We can have a glimpse of this even in our society, where having only one child is not taken by any means to have many descendants, even a bit unusual. For us today if a couple has 5 or 6 children that is considered a huge number, a big family. However, just a few generations ago 5 or 6 children were considered as a low number of descendants. From my family, my grandparents, each had 8 and 9 children. In that context and time period for them, they were not viewed as someone with many descendants. In Jewish culture, even today in more orthodox Jewish families, they view having children as a blessing. They understand and apply God’s commandment to Adam and Eve in Gen 1:28 “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”. We need to remember Jacob and his 12 sons. When we look at the context where Abraham and Sarah lived, their context was likely more similar to parts of the world where it is common for someone to literally have many descendants. I know someone from Sudan in Africa, and one time we were talking about children and families. He was telling me that in his context having 10 to 15 children is what most people would assume when you say that you are married and have children. Think about that for a second, if each couple here had 10 to 15 children, then we would understand this idea of many descendants. I was curious and I ask my friend from Sudan what was the most children someone he knew had, he said it was someone that he was related to that had 26 children. If you are woman, you are thinking this is physically impossible, but his first wife died, and he remarried to a younger one. Can you imagine yourself having 26 children calling you dad or mom? Put yourself in a context like that. Where everyone has 10 kids, after talking about 26 we might say 10 that’s not that many. In this context where the average is 10 kids, and you had no children for 100 or 90 years, and then you have one child. That is not a lot of descendants. What Abraham and Sarah saw with their physical eyes was not descendants as many as the stars of heaven, or as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. They had to hold this promise of many descendants by faith alone. They saw this promise and greeted them from afar, by faith alone, looking only at one child. Abraham and Sarah believed wholeheartedly in what God promised, what He had said, and because of that, they lived very differently than the world, so they acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. We explored this topic of being strangers and exiles on the earth last Sunday, so I’ll repeat some of the things I said before. If we are going to live by faith like the people that the author of Hebrews mentions in chapter 11, we will be like strangers and exiles on the earth. We are to see our life in this world like Abraham saw his, as strangers and foreigners. 1 Peter 2:11 calls us “sojourners and exiles” We are to remember that even though we don’t live in tents, we cannot settle down and be comfortable with this world. This is not our home, God created us and changed us so we long for the restoration and the coming of the New Jerusalem. Our identity often is related to our citizenship, where we are from, and where we belong, or where our home is. Paul says in Philippians 3:20-21 “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Our American citizenship is not as important as our Heavenly Citizenship. If we are united with Christ, then that’s where we are from, where we belong, and where our home is. Furthermore, our identity is rooted in our adoption as sons and daughters of God. John 1:12 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Eph 2:18-19“18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” We are sojourners and exiles in this world, but with God, we are no longer strangers and aliens. We are sons and daughters of the King of the Universe. We need to be reminded daily that we are strangers and exiles on the earth. We need to be reminded daily to whom we belong, to whom we serve. We need to remember that we are living for the King who is coming. To live as strangers and exiles means we need to live by faith like Abraham and Sarah. We know we cannot live by faith in our own strength, we need Jesus to live by faith. However, how do we define this radical biblical faith that Abraham and Sarah had? The author of Hebrews answers that question in the next verses.
14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. I would like you to highlight or circle a couple of words in these verses. In v 14 highlight the word seeking or looking for, then in v16 highlight the word desire or long for, or longing. I’m asking you to highlight these words because they are the heart of the definition of faith that the author of Hebrews has given us here. We need to remember that the author intentionally makes this strange stop and comment as he is giving examples of faith, and after these verses, he continues talking about Abraham. Therefore, the author of Hebrews is making the case by the odd positioning of these verse to tell us “Hey! this is really important, pay attention”. I think that this definition of faith is even more crucial than the definition in v1-3 of chapter 11. I believe so because it points to the force, the motivation, the heart of why Abel, Enoch, Abraham, and Sarah, live like strangers and exiles on the earth. What does it mean to live by faith like them? These verses v15-16, tell us plainly why, it is because they were seeking a homeland, they desired a better country. The author makes it clear that if what they desired was the land where they left, they could have returned or they could have settled down and built cities since they were at the promised land. There was a moment when Abraham sent his servant Eliezer back to his country and his kindred to find a wife for his son Isaac, that’s how Rebecca became Isaac’s wife. However, the task that was given to Eliezer was quite impossible. So, Eliezer asks Abraham what if the woman doesn’t want to come, leave her homeland and her relatives, should he take Isaac back to that land? Here was the perfect scenario where Abraham could have just said yes take him back, but that’s not what Abraham said, instead he said in. Gen 24:6 “See to it that you do not take my son back there” Abraham could have easily returned to his home country, himself or had his only descendent return and settle. But he didn’t because his desire was for a better country. He was seeking a homeland for him and his descendants that God had laid out. It was this desire that drove Abraham to live in the way he did. It was this desire that drove Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah to do their great acts that the author of Hebrews just described and to live in a manner that caused them to stand out in the world as strangers and foreigners. This desire was not only for a better country or a homeland. It was above all a desire for God. There is no better country or homeland than where God is. Heaven is heaven because of God, and His presence and glory. What should be our motivator to walk by faith? A greater desire for God. It is wanting to know God, to be in God’s presence more than anything else in the world. “What is faith? It is seeing the promises of God from afar and experiencing a change of values so that you desire the promises above what the world has to offer. It is a glad greeting of those promises from a distance and a heart- seeking to know them and cherish them and be satisfied by them so that a new kind of life emerges that is out of sync with the world - a life that builds an ark in the desert and leaves the securities of home and builds a crib when you are ninety, or lifts a knife over your most treasured earthly possession.” (Piper) “Faith desires the God of the promises and faith trusts the God of the promises to deliver. And so faith acts in ways that are out of sync with a world that does not desire or trust God.” (Piper) A desire is something that you cannot boast about, it is not work, it is something you want. It would be foolish to boast about really wanting to eat lunch. A desire takes the focus away from us to something else. If you know you are going to eat this delicious lunch, it would be futile to say “Look at me, I want lunch so badly that I can’t stop thinking about it” Rather, it is the lunch and your desire for it that is controlling you and your thinking; not the other way around. It is impossible for us to change someone’s desire. For example, I have this jar of homegrown and canned pickles. Just look at these amazing pickles! They were home-pickled, made from cucumber that grew in our garden, in the perfect conditions of an Ohio summer. It is low in salt, and with the perfect amount of dill and garlic. They are perfectly crisp and just thinking about it makes my mouth water. How many of you now desire to try some of my pickles, which were canned in the oven by the way? Some will say yes and others no. My wife will say no, because she does not like pickles or cucumbers, but my daughter would be screaming because she wants, or desires them. If you want, or desire to eat and taste and see that these pickles are what I described to you. They are free but you will have to act upon your desire. You will have to get up and come up front and do the chicken dance. Upon performance, you can taste them. In a similar manner, if you desire to have faith such as those we have studied, you will have to get up and put your trust in an unseen God. For many, this will look as foolish as you doing the chicken dance just to get a taste of home-canned pickles. But the author’s argument here is that a desire for God is what results in faith that moves mountains or begins numerous descendants with just one son when you are 90 or saves your family and all the animals from a flood that covers the entire earth. But we first must recognize that God alone should be enough. He is not only better than pickles, but He is better than life itself, He is far greater than anything in this whole world. God says come taste and see that the Lord is good. Christ's offer is free but you have to come to Him, to act upon your desire and walk towards Him, believe Him, and love Him, He is not only waiting for you, but He has been working in your heart so you would even want Him and have the courage and ability to pursue Him. And you don’t even have to do the chicken dance. There is nothing… no one more valuable than God, who created all. The following is from the book called Providence by Piper. “God’s name is a message. And the message is about how he intends to be known. Every time his name appears—all 6,800 times—he means to remind us of his utterly unique being. As I have pondered the meaning of the name Yahweh, built on the phrase “I am who I am” and pointing to God’s absolute being, I see at least ten dimensions to its meaning: 1. God’s absolute being means he never had a beginning. This staggers the mind. Every child asks, “Who made God?” And every wise parent says, “Nobody made God. God simply is and always was. No beginning.
1. God’s absolute being means he never had a beginning
2. God’s absolute being means God will never end. If he did not come into being, he cannot go out of being, because he is absolute being. He is what is. There is no place to go outside of being. There is only God. Before he creates, that’s all that is: God.
3. God’s absolute being means God is absolute reality. There is no reality before him. There is no reality outside of him unless he wills it and makes it. He is not one of many realities before he creates. He is simply there, as absolute reality. He is all that was, eternally. No space, no universe, no emptiness. Only God, absolutely there, absolutely all.
4. God’s absolute being means that God is utterly independent. He depends on nothing to bring him into being or support him or counsel him or make him what he is. That is what absolute being means.
5. God’s absolute being means that everything that is not God depends totally on God. All that is not God is secondary and dependent. The entire universe is utterly secondary—not primary. It came into being by God and stays in being moment by moment on God’s decision to keep it in being.
6. God’s absolute being means all the universe is by comparison to God as nothing. Contingent, dependent reality is to absolute, independent reality as a shadow to its substance, as an echo to a thunderclap, as a bubble to the ocean. All that we see, all that we are amazed by in the world and in the galaxies, is, compared to God, as nothing. “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness” (Isa. 40:17).
7. God’s absolute being means that God is constant. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He cannot be improved. He is not becoming anything. He is who he is. There is no development in God. No progress. Absolute perfection cannot be improved.
8. God’s absolute being means that he is the absolute standard of truth, goodness, and beauty. There is no law book to which he looks to know what is right. No almanac to establish facts. No guild to determine what is excellent or beautiful. He himself is the standard of what is right, what is true, what is beautiful.
9. God’s absolute being means God does whatever he pleases, and it is always right, always beautiful, and always in accord with truth. There are no constraints on him from outside him that could hinder him from doing anything he pleases. All reality that is outside of him he created and designed and governs. So he is utterly free from any constraints that don’t originate from the counsel of his own will.
10. God’s absolute being means that he is the most important and most valuable reality and the most important and most valuable person in the universe. He is more worthy of interest and attention and admiration and enjoyment than all other realities, including the entire universe. This is the message of his name. And in the exodus, he establishes a link forever between his name and his mighty rescue of Israel from bondage. The timing of the revelation of his name is not coincidental. God is coming to save. Israel will want to know who this saving God is. God says in effect, “Tell them that my name is Yahweh, and make clear what this means. I am absolutely free and independent. And I choose freely to save my people. The freedom of my being and the freedom of my love are one.” This is our God, the question now is do you want Him? Do you seek Him? Do you long for Him? Are you seeing Him? Do you understand how much valuable God is? Do you love Him? If you do then act upon your desire for God, and seek Him and live by faith like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah did. After prayer- And if you want to try some pickles, you can before going home…