2010 09 12

Lessons of Faith from the Faithful

Reverend Anthony R. Locke

September 12th, 2010  www.FirstPresTucker.org

at the First Presbyterian Church of Tucker

This sermon was preached on the one year anniversary of the passing of Reverend John Little as a tribute to His life and ministry.

Hebrews 11:1 – 12:3 Communion of Faith English Standard Version

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.

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son,

18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”

19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.

21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.

22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.

24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,

25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.

26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.

28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.

31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

32 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—

33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

34 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.

35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.

36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.

37 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—

38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,

40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. [1]

We are united together into Jesus Christ by a common faith. We share in the sufferings and the victories of the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despised the shame, and is now glorified at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

Faith in Christ unites us into this brotherhood, or sisterhood, better yet the family of God. And the inner witness by the Spirit that our faith in Christ is rightly placed is more convincing than an archeologist who finds biblical places or a scientist who proves the Divine design within the Creation. Our faith is so real in our souls that it is the evidence of things unseen.

And if you witness publicly to this faith and allow your life to be transformed by the life of Jesus, then you will find yourself at odds with a world that is hostile to the claims of Christ.

As the passage in Hebrews explains, people who bear witness to the message of Jesus will not be embraced by the world, but they will be embraced by God and fellow believers.

Furthermore, God takes notice of those who with word and deed proclaim Jesus in this world. Jesus said in Matthew 10:32 that, everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.

Professing Jesus before the world is a mark of being a true believer. We should be nervous if we don’t confess Jesus before the world. Maybe our faith isn’t genuine. Too many people stay silent about their faith. They shield themselves from the wrath of the world by keeping their mouth shut at inconvenient moments, but do they shield themselves from God’s wrath?

It reminds me of the Columbine shooter who asked Cassie Bernall if she was a Christian. She answered, “Yes, I believe.” She died for her ill timed confession of faith.

How did she find the strength to stand for Christ in that moment? She considered him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that she did not grow weary or fainthearted. Jesus is our inspiration. Plus, eternal rewards await the believer who is willing to suffer for Jesus’ sake. Hebrews 11:2 says that there are commendations from God the Father Almighty if we give a faithful witness.

What witness does God expect? Simple things. Like verse 3. Now don’t blame ministers for making a big deal about this. This is not a rightwing conspiracy. God emphasizes this aspect of our confession. God knows it is hard to profess verse 3. It is hard for any generation to tell a secular world that there is a God at the center of all things. God places this truth at the front of His list.

A faithful witnesses for God will profess to a hostile world that God created all things.

God expects believers to profess that He made the whole creation out of nothing. There was nothing . . . God spoke . . . and there was something. Many Christians are not willing to suffer for their faith and confess that God started the sciences by designing and creating all things.

Let me be clear. We cannot claim to be believers and also claim to believe in evolution. God made Adam and Eve just like He said. God knows that saying this out loud as part of our confession will mark us as fools in the eyes of the world. We have to make a decision. Do we want a commendation from the world or God? Previous generations of believers chose to have their commendation from God. They suffered in this world because of their witness. We need to be willing to do the same.

This is the first lesson of faith that we need to learn. A faithful witness speaks God’s truth.

Second, we need to learn from Abel how to rightly approach God. Abel didn’t offer the fruit of his own works as an offering. Abel submitted to God’s design for worship and trusted in the substitutionary death of another to wash away his sins. He worshipped in holy reverence and fear. He trusted God, not himself.

Cain exposed his heart as hostile to God’s commands. Cain offered the fruit of his own hands. Cain trusted himself when approaching God. God rejected Cain’s worship.

Cain hated Abel for testifying that there is only one right way to approach God. The world feels the same toward us. Abel’s obedience testified that we can only approach God through faith in Christ’s vicarious death. We would say that “Jesus is the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus.”

And here’s the lesson we need to know, if we tell the world that there is only one right way to approach God, then the world will hate us. Our witness to the exclusivity of the Gospel message will not be appreciated. We will be called intolerant, bigoted, and stupid fundamentalists. Our testimony to the unique saving power of Jesus will be considered arrogant. Our words will be considered incendiary. The world will label our faith as a faith of hate because we don’t respect the other religions in the world. And we will be persecuted for being so dogmatic.

Abel was killed by his own brother. Abel’s righteous blood still speaks and reminds us that the world hates those who bear faithful witness that Jesus is the only path to God. But don’t feel sad for Abel. He entered into the sufferings of the Messiah and Abel will be commended by God.

The next lesson of faith comes from Enoch. He lived out of sync with the world, but in daily fellowship with God. The world didn’t embrace him, but God commended him even before he died. He drew near to God and God drew near to Him. If we will live in fellowship with God then God will bring us to Himself. We need to maintain daily fellowship with the Lord.

The next lesson of faith comes from Noah. He knew that he had to give an account to God. The people in Noah’s time didn’t live in fear of God. For 100 years Noah preached that they needed to get ready because God’s judgment was coming. The world treated Noah just like the world will treat us. They treated him like a lunatic and mocked his warnings. We will suffer the same fate if we tell the world that one day we must all give an account before the Lord.

There is a second lesson from Noah. You and God make a majority. Side with God. You will be happy you did in the end.

The next lesson of faith comes from Abraham. He obeyed God when it made him the laughing stock of his community. Abraham claimed he heard a voice tell him to do some radical things. He listened to that voice. He left his family, his home and his friends. He trusted God to bless him.

Abraham lived like a wandering homeless person. His decisions also affected his family. The life of Isaac and Jacob were significantly unsettled due to Abraham’s obedience.

And to make matters worse, they never saw the fulfillment of the promises. Abraham lived for something he never obtained. Living by faith will make you look foolish. You will become unsettled like an illegal alien. You will never feel at home. You will never quite belong.

His wife Sarah also looked foolish in her faith. God said she would have a child when she was way past menopause. Her response to this revelation was laughter. But even in the face of impossible circumstances, she trusted God.

Verse 11, by faith Sarah received the power to conceive since she considered God faithful to keep his promises. Our God does the impossible. That’s the lesson.

Abram believed the impossible was possible with God. God told Abraham to kill his only son in worship. Abraham figured that even if he obeyed and killed Isaac, that God would raise him from the dead so that the two of them could return back home after worshipping. These are the kinds of lessons the heroes of the faith can teach us.

Abraham and Sarah are our parents in the faith. We are their faith descendants. Noah is in our family tree. Enoch and Abel are our brothers in the Lord.

And without consideration to the consequences, they lived for God. They laid up treasures in heaven. They looked to Jesus. They took up their cross and followed Jesus.

Therefore, verses 16, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. We must not act ashamed to tell the world that we believe in the God of the Bible.

God is calling us to be like Moses who would rather be identified with the suffering people of God than live triumphant in the splendor of this world. Verse 24-26, By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

God is calling each one of us to rise up and be counted for Jesus. We must stand shoulder to shoulder within the communion of saints and give a faithful witness for the Lord, even when it makes the world angry.

Don’t be surprised. This world is hostile to the claims of Jesus. When we profess the faith of our fathers the world will hate us for it. When we live for heaven the world feels convicted for being so earthly minded. Abel, Noah, Enoch, Abraham, Sarah and Moses all felt this hostility.

We also will suffer for the name of Jesus if we live godly lives. Don’t be fearful of it. By our sufferings we enter into the sufferings of Christ. It is a great privilege. The saints in heaven would call us heroes.

And the saints of old are surrounding us even now. Saints from this church family and your immediate family watch God’s work with great interest. We are still connected even after death.

One year ago this week the Reverend John Little passed. He is one of our heroes in the faith. There are lessons still to be learned by his example. His influence is still felt in this congregation. Don’t feel disconnected. The saints are not lost to God. It is a temporary separation.

It is like God said, we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Brothers and Sisters in the family of God. Let’s join hands and shake the gates of Hell with our prayers, with our witness and with our work. Let’s walk were the saints have trod. Jesus is coming soon and His reward is with Him. Let’s be ready for His soon return. Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.