11. Closing Thoughts: Running the Race

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Therefore, we having around us this cloud of witnesses, every weight let us cast aside and easily ensnaring sin, with endurance let us run the “set-before us” race looking to the author and perfecter of our faith Jesus, who for the “set before him” joy endured the cross disregarding the shame, on the right hand of the throne of God has sat down. For consider the one enduring much hostility by sinners so that you may not grow fatigued in your soul giving out.
~Hebrews 12:1-3 (translation mine)

The Cloud

The heavenly company surrounding us now that we have seen their faith is numerous as the stars of heaven, just as God promised Abraham. The visible World made by the unseen word of the real God is based in an unseen reality. Abel knew it, and offered an acceptable offering to this God by giving the best of his life. Enoch knew it, and walked with the Unseen God who ruled it all. Noah knew it and obeyed God and condemned the world by his faith. Abraham knew it, and went into exile on earth so that God might give him the Unseen Promise. He also knew it when he obeyed God to offer up Isaac his son, trusting that God could even raise the dead. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph knew it and carried this promise in their hearts. Moses knew it when he forsook his earthly pomp for persecution with God’s people. The nation of Israel knew it as they revered the God who fought for them. The servants of God have known it in their exaltation and humiliation that there was a glory that awaited them at the revelation of their Beloved’s face.

The Cross

Jesus was the beginner and the finisher of this faith, having showed us the whole path of maturity in faith from humble Birth through Ascension to God’s right hand. (see “To a Mature Man”) While Christ lived the life of faith, he also died the death of faith. He endured the cross disregarding the shame because he was aiming for what was on the other side. He has shown us that there can be no life of faith for us except through the cross– through the principle and practice of dying to self and to the world, submitting under the just judgment of God, so that other’s may know His forgiveness and love through us.

Cast aside everything that holds us back.

The Cross is how we do this. By the cross the world is crucified to us, and us to the world. (Galatians 6:14) The weight of the world represents the cares and investments we make for any reason other than the pleasure and glory of God. They are snares to us, and they strengthen our unbelief against God. That unbelief is the achilles heel to any runner. We run because we know that we are going somewhere we cannot see, and it is not too far for us to reach. Let us keep Jesus in mind so that any difficulties we face from the world or within us may not cause our breath to give out. We must have endurance to finish strong, and there is something at the end of the race that we can have right now in the midst of the race to keep us going.

“Set before”

The author of Hebrews wrote in Greek the same world for “set before” us about the race and “set before” Jesus the Joy. The Master of this race has hidden in the fabric of the race itself this secret: The Race that is set before us, the same race Jesus ran, is the Race of Joy. This is the invitation of faith: Leave the fruitless pursuits of this age and pursue the eternal promise with God, and through that pursuit enter into the Joy of your salvation.

This is the Invitation set before you right here on this screen. Will you accept it?

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10. The Servants of God–The Visible Reality (32-40)

– – “And what yet will I say? For time will let me down to describe concerning Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel and the Prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, extinguished the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong from weakness, became mighty in battle, put hostile camps to flight, women received their dead from resurrection.
– – “Others were tortured not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection, others received the experience of mocking and lashes, and in addition bonds and imprisonment, being stoned, sawn in two, in murder died by sword, wandering about in sheepskins, in goatskins, needy, oppressed, mistreated– of whom the world was not worthy, wandering about in the wilderness, mountains, and caves, and holes in the ground.
– – “And all these bearing witness by faith did not receive the promise, God foresaw to something better for us, that they not be made complete without us.”
~ Hebrews 11:32-40 (translation mine)

The author of Hebrews makes one final point about faith with these examples. The visible reality is a two-sided coin: Victory and Martyrdom.

Victory

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When someone lives the life of exile, walking with God, pleasing God, and obedient under judgment they will find themselves in the midst of God’s miraculous works. The power available to the believer in faith is all of God’s miraculous power to heal, to conquer, to restore, to gain, and even to extinguish mighty powers. Faith strengthens the weak, and makes mighty in battle, and makes entire fortified camps flee. Here are a list of stories in which we see each of these things happening.

  • Conquered Kingdoms (Deuteronomy 2:24-36)
  • Performed acts of Righteousness (2 Samuel 8:15)
  • Obtained promises (Genesis 21:1-3)
  • Shut the mouths of lions (Daniel 6:16-27)
  • Extinguished the power of fire (Daniel 3)
  • Escaped the edge of the sword (Psalm 144:9-11)
  • Were made strong from weakness (1 Samuel 30:1-18
  • Became mighty in battle (2 Samuel 8:1-6)
  • Put fortified camps to flight (2 Kings 6:24-7:20)
  • Women received their dead by resurrection (2 Kings 4:8-37)

The power of faith is attested in ways the author of Hebrews could only begin to paint with broad strokes to describe here. But while these strokes may indicate a striped pattern, the next section shows that it is more plaid.

Martyrdom

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Faith is not just the victory that happens through our exaltation, but also the victory achieved by our humiliation. That humiliation would ever be considered a victory is the offense of the Cross. It smacks the face of all human decency and dignity by being utterly stripped of its glory.

Still, anybody can tell you that there is a glory associated with martyrdom. The church has long been nourished by the glory of God seen in the faith of those recorded in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. But Martyrdom is only effective when it is the final step in living for God faithfully. Consider these examples:

  • Tortured (2 Corinthians 11:23)
  • Mocking and lashes (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
  • Bonds and imprisonment (Genesis 39)
  • Being stoned (Acts 7)
  • Sawn in two (Isaiah according to Babylonian Talmud)
  • Murdered by sword (1 Kings 19:10)
  • Wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins (2 Kings 1:8)
  • Needy (Isaiah 20)
  • Oppressed (Exodus 2:23)
  • Mistreated (Jeremiah 38:1-6)

“Not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.” Truly “The world was not worthy of them.” They lived out of a different reality entirely: one based on eternity rather than the transient and passing plays for power by humanity. This reality, to the world’s way of doing things, was not worthy to be compared to the glory that was and is opposed by the evil one, and the glory still to come in full strength through faith.

Us

Faith is a reality of the eternal past and eternal future shaping the momentary present. We who live right now are on a cosmic strand of faith beneath the beads of the kingdoms of this world clashing together like so many pearls. And one day those pearls will fall off and a new more glorious value will replace it. And our goal is not to cast off this reality entirely, but rather to bring it into alignment with the past and the future eternity of God’s rule. So simple: live now according to the eternity of God forever! That is what it means to live by faith. For some in the past it meant conquering kingdoms; for others in the past it meant being utterly humbled.

For us today, we are part of something better. Jesus has finished the work, and now we are His fruit. We are a part of the promise that is being fully grown from the seed of Jesus Christ. Apart from us, these faithful witnesses of God are not made complete. Now the work of Christ is made real in the body of Christ in the world. The Servants of God, those who walk by faith for the glory of His Kingdom now represent the Invisible Reality of God in the world now made visible for those who are blind. In short, our faith gives others eyes to see the invisible reality of God’s eternal rule in us.

Application

  1. Internally take stock of your inner life: purpose, fulfillment, thoughts, emotions, cares, self-identity, and align all of it with the gospel of God’s love that has transformed you into one who is like Jesus.
  2. Close to you, set your life in order according to the Word of God. Relationships, possessions, goals– let nothing go to waste or be a mockery of the Kingdom of God, but rather let the invisible reality of God at work in your heart manifest itself close to you.
  3. Stand in the community of faith– as people who will not live according to the world’s rules, or compromising with the world’s values, but as those who either in humiliation or exaltation give glory to God as the True King.
  4. Show God’s love to the world by serving and meeting the needs of others.
  5. Show God’s sacrificial justice by taking a stand to fight for the rights of the poor and afflicted against those who refuse to acknowledge God’s rule over them.
  6. Give glory to God and thank Him for the victory by which we overcome the world: our faith.

9. Israel–Obedience under Judgement

“By Faith he kept the passover and the application of blood in order that the destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as through dry land, the Egyptians taking their try were drowned. By faith Rahab, the harlot, who welcomed the spies with peace was not destroyed along with the unfaithful.” ~Hebrews 11:38– (translation mine)

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https://bibleartwork.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/crossing-the-red-sea/

Judgment

Sin deserves judgment. Humanity, yea the world, is inextricably and implicitly bound up with it. The Justice of God demands that He be feared, respected, and obeyed. Faith sees this reality plus one more. Faith sees that the same God who is Judge is Savior. He is also working to rescue those who are under his judgment if they will look to Him for their deliverance.

All three stories are astounding in that God was bringing about horrific judgment upon the world–Egyptian people, Egyptian army, and the people of Jericho. The Judgment of God upon the world being created by Him and refusing to worship Him is just.

And here we see the people of God showing us what faith is, and why it is so important. As Enoch knew, without faith it is impossible to please God. But Israel was the poster child to show the world that without faith it is impossible to appease God. Indeed, it is through the final gate of God’s Judgment that faith alone can carry a person to eternal life.

Salvation

All three times in this passage, God has come down hard upon the peoples of the world. God is not cruel to punish Egypt, who had refused to let his people Israel go. He is not cruel to slay the army who presume upon the goodwill of his miracles to soundly slaughter those who would without his hinderance end his people’s lives. He is not cruel to save only the one who believed in him when destroying the first city of the land of Canaan who had long ceased walking with Him or worshipping Him. Even so, God will not be unjust, cruel, vindictive to destroy all those who do not obey and believe. In fact, one might say that His work to save His people is a proof that he will not be unjust to do so. (See Romans 3:21-26 for some food for thought about this.)

Look at Israel. In Egypt, they cried out to God to deliver them. God starts fighting for them. The final plague and final test was a warhead of the most deeply devastating magnitude. He in essence told Israel, “Build a bunker.” They obeyed. They survived. Off they go to the promised land while everyone else who did not fear God lost their first-born son.

(For any people who think God was not just in what he did, please read the whole book of Genesis through Exodus 15, and then talk with me if you still feel that way.)

And then comes the Red Sea. The archetypal representation for Baptism and Salvation itself. By the miraculous mediation of God’s messenger the people are delivered through the water. And when the world tried it, they were utterly destroyed. God had to pass his people through the waters of Judgment. (See To a Mature Man: Stage 3–Baptism) It was the obedience of Faith which said, “He will fight for me. I will do the impossible, and He will deliver me.”

And then coming into the promised land, what should happen to those who are outside Israel. Those who fear God and have that faith are delivered, but those who are not (the “un-faith-ful” [those without faith]) are destroyed. Faith is the only means of Salvation.

New Testament

More than this, my seminary professor taught me that Paul in his ministry wrote to the Roman church to show what he was going for in his whole ministry for Jesus Christ. It’s in the beginning and the ending of Romans. “The Obedience of Faith” for all nations. There is One Judge of all the earth. All are under His judgment from our sinful birth. But faith alone is the way to Salvation, and faith without obedience does not deliver from Judgment. Therefore, because of Judgment, faith without obedience is not saving faith. As James said, “What good, brethren, does it do if someone claims to have faith but no works [of obedience]. Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14)

No.

Application

  1. Flee. Bestir yourself that judgment is coming against the whole world, and you are a part of that world.
  2. Trust. The same God who justly judges this world, will also save all who call upon His name for deliverance.
  3. Call upon the name of the Lord, for Him to save you, and do as He tells you.
  4. Obey. If you believe in him as your King, your Judge, your Savior, do as He says. It is through listening under Him and obeying His commands that you will know His salvation through and through.

8. Moses–Identifying with God

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a handsome child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had become great, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather co-suffering evil-treatment with the people of God than enjoying the pleasures of sin bound to time. He considered greater riches than the treasures of Egypt the reproach of Christ; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. Heb 11:23–27. NASB (italics my translation)

Victorious Faith–Hidden, Unbound, Fearless

Hidden

John wrote in his first letter that “This is our victory that overcomes the world. Our faith.” (1 John 5:4) The First work of a victorious faith is that it is hidden: protected, for the Lord, sacred and deeply rooted.

It is an act of faith to plant a seed. You are trusting that there is life in that dead seed that will sprout. But it has to stay hidden for it to sprout. A seed must be entombed if it is to have strong growth. Close enough to the soil, sun, and water for life to break the surface. Moses’ beginnings of faith was his being hidden, and indeed the work of faith is often begun in this humble way: the way of every living/life-giving plant.

From this tiny beginning, the child grew great, but his own deep-seeded hidden truth planted within his own heart of who he truly was came forth, and as he expanded, that central part of him never went away. The decision was already made, that no matter where his plant was grown, he would become a tree bearing fruit for God.

Unbound to Time

So, Moses had all the wealth of a glorious nation before him. That secret part of him which lived in light of the Unseen God could not abide by the here-and-now of His present situation. He saw something more valuable than the Seen world, He saw the Unseen Reality of the Reward of God, and that reward was suffering evil at the hands of his Seen World of Egypt.

The second work of a faith that is victorious is it is unbound to time. Moses looked and saw the riches of the treasure of Egypt within his grasp, but he saw something far more valuable, something that time could not touch: that eternal reward which belongs to all who suffer the reproach of faith.

Scholars will debate me on the significance of the phrase “of Christ” in this passage, but I believe the author meant the reproach that Christ suffered is the same reproach that Moses suffered, enduring evil treatment of God’s people. It is the price one pays for siding with God and identifying with him. And when Moses did this, he lost his whole share in the world. All who seek to enter into the victory of faith must not only be willing to lose their whole share in the world, but to embrace it along with the the reward of suffering reproach just as Christ did. Nothing of the world can compare with the inexpressible richness of knowing God in Christ Jesus, the Lord.

Not Fearing the King’s Wrath

When that time comes– when the tempter cannot snuff out the seed, when it cannot choke it out with thorny cares of this world, the evil one will have little recourse but to do battle against the irrepressible power of the seed of faith which overcomes the world. The third stage of victorious faith is no fear of the King’s wrath. One cannot be filled with fear, when one has nothing to lose in this world, and one is filled with the love and power of God. “No power of hell, no scheme of man,” as the song says, can destroy or stop such faith. All it can do then is try to destroy the man. This is why faith leads to the Cross. This is why identifying with God will ultimately end in death at the hands of sinners. Moses escaped and endured in only one way, “As seeing the Unseen One.” So must endure each one who seeks to walk the path of faith all the way to Him. This victory of faith belongs to God, for even as David said looking at a very see-able Giant, “The battle is the LORD’s” 1 Samuel. 17:47

God’s

Moses’ faith was seen in his refusal to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Rather, he identified as being God’s. This another the fundamental distinction of faith: One cannot be the world’s and God’s. One must be one or the other. As Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters.” ~ Matthew 6:24. To whom do you belong? Who requires things of you? To whom do you owe anything? Are you bound by Possessions? Banks? Family? Money? Success? Control? Which of these do you serve? because you cannot be God’s servant and bound to any one of these things. When a servant of God is unbound by these things, and binds himself to God, then the rest of Matthew 6 can come true in his life. “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the nations eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things, But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” ~ Matthew 6:31–33.

Application:

  1. Hide your faith so deeply in your heart that it becomes the deepest part of you. Self-examination, prayer, and the will to act granted by the power of God is all you need.
  2. Unbind yourself from the things that are bound to this time. Bind yourself to the unseen God, and endure the shame and evil treatment that God’s people achieve. Instead of having the ambition to succeed in this temporal world, rather do what Paul told the Thessalonians and make it your ambition to lead a quiet life. (1 Thes. 4:11)
  3. Do not fear the powerful ones who rise up against you. The power within you is greater than the power of those who oppose you. (1 John 4:4)
  4. Consider yourself bound to God, belonging to him, and living for His service.

7. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph: Keeping Our Eyes on the Promise

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By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones. ~Hebrews 11:20-22

Isaac

The God of the Living blessed Isaac according to his father’s blessing, and because of it, Isaac knew a fruitful life. He and Rebekah had heard the tale of What God had promised Abraham concerning his offspring. Isaac was the beginning of that offspring. Could you imagine being the first son among innumerable children? Isaac’s life had already been given back to him, and so now all he had to do was wait, and keep walking with God, enjoying His bounty and thanking him.

Now Isaac favored Esau, but with a little finagling according to the predetermined plan of God, at the end of Isaac’s life, Jacob got the greater portion of the blessing. And all Isaac needed to do was just keep living according to the promise. The nobly simple life of the first son of Abraham is an example of resting in the continuous stream of God’s faithfulness to His promise. God had chosen to bless Abraham forever, and there was nothing Isaac could do about it, except pass the blessing on to the next generation.

Jacob

Faith in the life of Jacob has been hard for some to find. After all, he got much of his wealth, blessing, and advantage by tricking other people out of theirs. Indeed, what wealth and advantage did he seek to gain from God?

At Bethel, after Jacob slept on a stone, and saw the angels and God in his dream, Jacob made a vow to God. “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” ~ Genesis 28:20–22.

I have often wondered why God wanted to “back this horse in the race” so to speak. I mean he had promised Abraham, and this was two generations, and already we’ve got a conniving swindler and deal-broker. Where is Faith in this? Why is God called the God of Abraham, Isaac, AND Jacob?

I think the answer lies in the encounter Jacob had with God, as a result of which he leaned on his staff in worship. When he wrestled with God in Genesis 32, he refused to let go of the Angel until He had blessed him. He laid hold of God until God gave him what he wanted. This is the kind of faith that is worth learning from. The story of Jacob is about God materially blessing him, and making good on the vow-deal Jacob had made in faith that God was faithful to do what He had promised. And once Jacob returns to the land of his father, he erects the altar to Yahweh as his own God, and takes on the name God has given him.

Joseph

The stories of Joseph are told in such a way as to inspire people with his faithfulness to God when going through extreme difficulty– how he faced his brothers and Potiphar’s wife, and prison, but got elevated to the second highest place in all the land! Surprisingly, this is not the lesson of faith this passage is seeking to teach. It’s rather about the bones being carried out of Egypt. What could be the purpose of this seemingly trivial thing in light of all Joseph went through?

Faith doesn’t just look back at the glory days, or consider the victories for the present only, but faith looks forward and gives direction to those about to walk the next league of the journey so they too can keep in line with the promise. This is the lesson of faith learned from Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Faith is a larger commitment than the short time we live on this earth. The real task for many of us is to nail our own faith down during this lifetime by grappling with God as Jacob did, and resting in it as Isaac did. And when it comes time to pass it on to the next generation, we must keep our eyes on the Promises of God, so that the generation to come may See Him who is Unseen by looking at our lives to help them understand the mystery of their own.

Application:

  1. Keep track of your story: how you got here, and where you’re headed.
  2. Rest in full assurance of faith and communicate that to all whom God has given you to continue your journey.
  3. Grapple with God to accomplish His desire. And you be fully assured of his presence with you, and power to work in you.
  4. Pass your faith on to the next generation. This can look like passing on inheritance to your children, or telling them how God has worked in your life to get you here. Specifics really help, because a lot of youngsters these days need to hear the hard-core details about how God got you through your own self-made nightmares, and still proved to be good. Remember it’s a story about Him, not you. It is the sober reality of our failures and God’s salvation that makes up the most profound heritage one can leave to one’s children. Then, they too will know what promises to keep their eyes on.

6. Abraham II: The Death of the Promise

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. ~ Hebrews 11:17–19.

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Faith cannot survive mortality. One of the truest signs of faith’s strength is its willingness to face even its own death. But Abraham has faced a test unlike any most people face. He was giving up his only son, in whom was his future, and all of the reasons he had followed God in the first place.

Or was it.

The Elephant in the Room

Many people can’t get past a father offering up his own son. Does allegiance to the God of all reality Seen and Unseen require child sacrifice? Of course if he truly is God, He is more important than anything else, even our own beloved family. Allegiance to God is one thing, but the murder of someone else seems like an insurmountable barrier to this kind of faith. Few English translations will show you what I will here, but the Rabbis who study the Torah will tell you that what I write coming up is true. Remember that we are talking about an extraordinary life because it is grappling with the Unseen Reality that is real. This may be challenge your own faith.

Please

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Genesis 22, the tale where Abraham offers Isaac, is a famous story in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic circles, though details are emphasized more some places than others. All three are largely in agreement that it was written by Moses, and also agree it was written in Hebrew. The text reveals something about God’s command which Abraham obeyed in offering up his son. The Hebrew word for “Now take your son . . . ” is better translated “Please take your son . . . ” The first thing any faith needs to acknowledge about God is the heart of a father; the heart of a friend. This faith of Abraham was based only on what God had revealed to him, and in Abraham, God found a friend with whom he could share one of his most intimate secrets. He already understands what it will cost Himself one day. He has already seen that it will be his own Son, whom He will be offering, but here, with the kindest of all invitations, He calls Abraham out of his entire past, present, and future to give up his one and only son whom he loved. Such is the friendship of God that He lets us experience alongside him the inexpressible joy of resurrection of an insurmountable promise undaunted by death itself. Such a faith and joy are given not in the harsh immediacy of command only, but also with the gentility of an inviting heart that says “Please.”

The Most Difficult Test of Faith

There is no room in real faith for “coming out ahead on the deal” with God. No self-gain, no added benefits that you can finagle or haggle or sneak past God. This is because Death is the gateway for everything in the new life. Only that which is for God and of God will last. Nothing for self or sin will be able to escape the penalty of Death. Death is therefore the truest test of something’s worth. Paul spoke of this a great deal in his epistles, though what he most often referred to it as was “the cross.” He closes the letter to the Galatians with these words.

“But as for me, may it never be that I should boast in anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified [as far as I’m concerned] and I [am crucified] to the world.” ~ (Galatians 6:14 translation mine)

There is no good thing that can pass from this world to the “new creation” spoken of in the next verse except that passes through the gate of the cross. Consider in Pilgrim’s Progress how Cristian the Pilgrim needed to cross the River of Death to reach the Celestial City. And God knows that because of sin’s all pervasive presence, the only way for the promise of faith to be fully realized, is for that very same promise to be laid down.

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One thought before Application: God really does know best how to realize the Promise. If Abraham had not had the faith to offer up his son, he would not have seen “day of his salvation” when the ram got caught in the thicket. (John 8:56) In this place where he laid down his very future on the altar, he came to know God by a new name. “Yahweh sees.” (Also known as Jehovah-Jireh– God will provide.) When your faith is tested, remember that even though You can’t see, in the Unseen Reality there is a God who sees and who is stronger than death.

Application:

  1. Let every good thing that you count dear to you be before the Lord on the Altar to live or let die. I am speaking figuratively primarily, because the sacrifice has been made for the Promise to be secured for all humanity. Still, even our family must come second to God. One thing this practically might look like is taking time away from your family to be with Him. We do it for work; why not do it for Him? The same one who demonstrated care for his family also showed us how to value time with just Him.
  2. Do not seek to get ahead on deals with God. It can only end in greater misery for yourself. If you have any selfish agenda for pursuing a walk with the Lord, abandon it now. Lay it down on the altar. Example: you may be following God because you want fame or prestige among God’s people. God will call you to do things which will be utterly frowned upon by the church so that you will be infamous and a shame in the midst of His people. His Joy is worth only the price or real faith, and the cost of real faith is the death of self. Surrender is the only way.
  3. Remember what Abraham remembered. “He considered that God is able to raise even from the dead . . .” Let it be God’s glory to vindicate the one who has trust in Him, and satisfy you with Himself, and in Him to give you all things.

5. Abraham I: The Way of Exile

Our passage today is longer than the previous, but teaches a unified lesson about this way of living according to the Unseen Reality. For the sake of easing references, I will emBolden portions upon which to expound.

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith 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; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. 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.

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 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 a city for them.~ Hebrews 11:8–16.

Photo found and altered from: elcmthoreb.org

Why would a good teacher skim over so much great stuff and even include two different paragraphs to talk about one lesson? In answer, it seems clear to me that the author of Hebrews 11 has taken a break from chronologically recounting the lessons of faith, to share a summative lesson about what has been said before. The lesson about Abraham is the same lesson about “All these” and so it is my aim to dig into both sections to see the lesson from two angles. The lesson being: Faith is the way of exile.

Abraham and Sarah

What could induce a man to leave his entire life– his family, his home, his inheritance–behind? Faith. God called Abraham to leave, and Abraham obeyed and left. He went out from everything else, and lived as a stranger in the land. His faith was so great that he did not waver even when God brought him to the land of promise, and he didn’t take full possession of it. He continued to trust in God whole-heartedly. This is because his faith was not based on the promise’s fulfillment, but on something else.

Sarah, going with Abraham, considered that this was alright, for only one reason: Faith. Sarah received the ability to conceive simply because she trusted that the One who promised–the Promiser– was trustworthy. Out of this womb of faith, the special nation of Israel was supernaturally born.

All these

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah all have faith in common, and this uncommon faith made them wanderers. They would have agreed together to say the same thing: “Our home is still to come.” Cast away from their home, their hope rested on the One who was leading them home. No lesser home would do. If they were looking back, they could go back to their comfortable, ordinary home, but here even in the land promised them, they who pursued what was guaranteed were unwelcome. The Seen World had completely cast off the ruler in the Unseen Reality. Because of this, all who seek to walk in faith, will find themselves current Exiles, if they wish to be future Heirs.

Such a God is unashamed to be called their God, because He has already settled in his heart that their home will be eternal, and they they will have a share in it.

No Turning Back

This is the crisis of faith: Will you leave the inheritance of the world your eyes can see for the glorious kingdom that awaits those who look to the unseen? Very few have this kind of faith. God would be ashamed to call himself the God of those who turn back and who, out of remembrance of their old way, seek to be rejoined with their old country. And so he will not be called their God. As Hebrews quotes:

“But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. ~ Heb 10:38. Hab 2:4.

Application:

  1. Take care that your heart doesn’t desire the Seen World, with it’s connections, wealth, and power. It will continuously draw you away from the One who is more real than the creation that you see corrupted before you. He is working a New Creation. But only those of faith can be a part of it.
  2. Consider yourself an exile, whose citizenship is now in heaven, and whose inheritance is God in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
  3. Endure without shrinking back so that you will actually gain what is promised. (Hebrews 10:39)

4. Noah: Obedience is a Two-Edged Sword

The gospel is a two-edged sword: - The two sides of the gospel
Photo credit: christiantruthcenter.com

Hebrews 11:7–By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

This hard lesson from Noah gets to the grittiness of a stark reality depicted in both Covenants: some will not be saved. Faith is more than a spiritual exercise: it is the vitality of obedience that prepares us for the day of God’s judgment.

The Warning

Who was Noah anyway? His name meant “rest” and he was named by his father with a hope that “This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed.” (Genesis 5:29) So he was a child born with destiny, but this is not why God warned him. God warned him because “Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9). God is a good friend. He doesn’t keep from sharing his secrets with those who walk with him. (See the previous post.)

God warned Noah by sharing with him what He saw (the corruption of the world) and what he was going to do about it. (flood the whole earth). He let Noah, who could only see with his two eyes, what God saw in the unseen. This warning is privileged to one who is seeking to know the Unseen God.

The Obedience

Noah’s internal response to God’s wrathful declaration, is not depicted as sarcasm, terror, doubt, or some vain imagination. Reverence is the word that Hebrews’ author uses. Reverence is submission of the heart to the obedience of God. Reverence is worship of God as the one who is worthy when your world is not yet but soon will be very literally falling apart around you. Obedience is the material offspring of a Reverent heart. As total as one is so total is the other. Obedience is only 100% if Reverence is 100%. And what are we told of Noah in Genesis 6:22: “Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.”

The implications for the believer today are staggering. Anything that draws the heart away from total reverence of God is also drawing the person’s body away from total obedience to God.

This is the life of Faith: Walking with God doing what He gives you to do.

The Sword

“By which he condemned the world.” This is not vindictive as a way of saying, “Noah was looking down with grim satisfaction at all the sinners floating away.” No. This means Noah’s obedient actions were Noah’s proof that the world needed to be judged. Another way of saying it, because he did right, by the same rule everyone else had done wrong. Obedience is the sword that swings both saving those with faith, and condemning those without it.

This is the burden of Faith. Faith is 100% for God, and brings salvation, and is the just condemnation of the world who refuses to be whole-heartedly for One whom they cannot see. The tragedy was world-wide in Noah’s day, and one day again the tragedy will be world-wide once again.

Application:

  1. Cultivate healthy reverence for God by examining your thoughts and affections toward him, and let every thing that is important to you be laid down on the altar of faith.
  2. Walk with God. Let your relationship with God be the basis for all else in your life.
  3. Obey him 100% in whatever he calls you to do. It is your salvation.
  4. Be real with believers and unbelievers about God: there is no middle road: there is only fully obedient and saved, and not fully obedient and condemned.
  5. Pray for those who are weak or lacking in faith that they may have a heart to trust in Him who is unseen.
  6. Establish relationships of trust with others and let them see your own faith in action.

We will talk more about “the righteousness which is according to faith” as we talk about Abraham.

3. Enoch: A Pleasing Walk with God.

Hebrews 11:5-6– By faith, Enoch was taken up not seeing death, and was not found because God took him, for before he was taken up he had been proven that he had been pleasing to God. Now without faith it is impossible to be pleasing, for the one coming after God must believe that He is, and He becomes the rewarder of those who seek Him out.

The notion that Faith can cause a person to escape death is not uncommon. Is it not the faith-healings which revive the terminally ill and set them on the path to wellness again? My father, a chaplain for Hospice has seen many a peaceful transition from this life to eternal life as people “fall asleep” when they die. The point of this post however is not faith’s power in the face of death, but rather what entails for the living.

Proven to be Pleasing

What kind of proof is this? We are not told, but we are given the application for what it means concerning faith in the life of the Believer. Without this faith it is impossible to be pleasing:

“The one coming after God must believe that He is and He becomes the rewarder of those who seek Him out.”

The 3 things in this phrase I want to note are:
1. Following God
2. Belief that God exists
3. The rewarder of those who seek Him out

Following God

Photo credit: quotemaster.org

Jesus said, “Follow me.” and when he picked his twelve disciples he picked them “that they might be with him.” The awesome privilege of faith is first and foremost getting to be with God, to walk with him, to be in His presence, to know the pleasantness of His company. But He keeps moving, and so you must keep moving to go with him, and let no care of the world slow you down or keep you back.

“Enoch walked with God.” (Genesis 5) That means He kept step with God, and God was with him. Both were glad to be with one another. Enoch did not have anything written about him except he had a son named Methuselah, and he walked with God. This walking with God, is seen in the Greek verb “to come after, to come toward, to go after.” This is less intense than a pursuit, but it is as complete as a living relationship in the world. This is the life of faith.

The Belief that God Exists

The agnostic and the atheist are really alike in this respect: they lack faith in God’s existence. One may say that God doesn’t exist and they’re sure, the other just says they are not sure that God is. Both are the lack of faith of one who does not trust God enough to go after him. Usually, it is in response to the way their world has been presented, or things in their world that seem too big or unthinkable to believe that an Unseen God could exist, and many still more believe that the God who is presented by those who claim to know Him is not a God worth believing in.

Now, if even demons believe God exists, (James 2:19) then I won’t belabor God’s existence with those who doubt, but I will say that what we learn about faith here in Hebrews is not merely a superfluous qualifier that God has to exist in order for you to look for him. It’s something far more personal than that. Faith maintains the belief that God is real despite all evidence or 
difficulty the visible tangilbe reality entails. This takes such a trust, such a surrender of one’s own right to judge God, such a willingness to obey the Good King against whom all of Humanity has set its rebellion and hold visible reality with an open hand for God to make clear.

He is the Rewarder of those Seeking Him out.

I have spoken to some who have said “I’ve looked for God and not found him.” Or others, “I’ve tried Jesus, and he didn’t work for me.” There are two wrong beliefs behind a search for God that ends up fruitless. 1. You have not yet accepted the reality that God is real. Any search for God starts with this. 2. You doubt your capacity or your worthiness to be rewarded by God if you seek him out. This one is harder to shake, because it is usually based in what other people have said to you, or things you have said to yourself that you have accepted about yourself as truth. If you remain in a state where you will choose to listen to yourself or other human beings before you will listen to God, then your present faith will not save you. You have already made your choice to listen to someone else, and have settled for your cell in Satan’s dungeon.

Furthermore, keep in mind if you want to seek God out, you must know what it will cost you. No one going after God can get there with an eye to get human recognition or reward. In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, this is written about the concept of Reward as far as following Jesus is concerned.

“The distinctiveness of the divine reward is so radical, however, that if a man seeks human recognition and earthly gain for his acts he thereby forfeits the acceptance which God wills to grant him in the [reward].” ~TDNT p 699.

The path to finding God is a glory-less one as far as the eyes of man are concerned. The only way to live a life of faith is free from the sought rewards of man: fame, wealth, achievement, power, self-actualization. The reward is God Himself, friendship with Him is the sweetest reward that God gives to the one who walks with him.

Application

  1. Ask for the privilege to walk with God.
  2. Wait for Him
  3. Make it your ambition to please Him.~ (See 2 Corinthians 5:9)
  4. Believe He is right next to you working, and ask Him to show you what He’s doing
  5. Join Him in His work.

2. Abel: A Better Offering

Hebrews 11:4–By faith, a better offering Abel offered to God than Cain, through which he gained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.

Image result for cain and abel
Photo credit: ancient-hebrew.org

Two sons were born to our first parents: Cain the firstborn, and Abel the second. We are told that they gave offerings to the Lord of which the Lord liked Abel’s better than Cain, but we are not told why God liked Abel’s offering better than Cain’s. I do believe the limited detail of Genesis 4 does offer a clue as to why God regarded Abel’s offering.

Genesis 4:3 It happened at the end of days, that Cain brought to God from the fruit of the ground his offering, but Abel brought to God from the first born of his flocks and their fat portions.

Some principles from this text is that Abel’s offering was better because he gave God the best of the best, because he believed God was the best of the best. Cain offered from the fruit of the ground, a common gift, an earthy gift. But Abel sought to give the best of what he had, and the best part of that thing.

This particular offering communicated something about God. What did Abel communicate about God through his offering that Cain did NOT communicate in his? Simply this: God is the best of the best, and deserves the best of the best.

A gift that a man gives God is a visible description of the invisible God. And when a man gives a gift that worthy of God, then God is able to attest to all witnesses that his gift is a right gift. If he had regarded Cain’s offering, he would have accepted a low rank of a common soldier from the gift of a man who did not master the corruption that was within him, but He regarded Abel’s offering and thereby he attested to all witnesses that Abel was righteous.

What does this look like today? Many treat God as a common household trophy: a glorious symbol of somebody to depend on when you need to reference the supernatural, but never more important than yourself, or your family, or everything in your own life. Such a view of God, such a treatment of God like drivel is like unto Cain’s offering.

However, there are others who see that the very best of their lives is the only thing that is close to worthy of God. To give it to themselves or to another would be simply ludicrous, because God is the One who deserves it. And while God has given us all things to enjoy, it is not the truest good for us to enjoy the best, because we are merely images of God, rather than the one who is truly good.

This offering of what is truly Good to God, is the better offering: and it is only possible by faith. Faith recognizes:

God alone is worthy of our greatest gifts, and the life of faith is lived
 where God truly is the most important person in the relationship.

This is what the blood of Abel still speaks, and also what moves Cain to jealousy today. Those who live spiritually mediocre lives envy the favor of God upon the ones who are regarded by Him as righteous. And all the while the answer is found in what God says to Cain, “If you do what is good, will not your face be lifted up, but if not, sin seeks to have you, but you must master it.

O the glory of having God Himself attest to your righteousness– that you actually serve Him rightly. Such a testimony is only the acquisition of faith which sees God for who he really is before it actually lays eyes on Him.

Application:

  1. Today, take stock of the most important things in your life: requirements, and enjoyments, and find a way to give God the best of each simply because He is worthy of it. Example: If TV is your greatest enjoyment, converse with God about a way you can use your TV time to please him: whether by spending time doing something else, or by watching a particular TV show He lead you to, or by moving something else up in the value chain.
  2. Repent of the areas where you have given God the crumbs instead of the main course. Areas where your love of God grows cold in comparison to what it once was. Example: You go to church, and while you’re there, you are thinking about what else you could be doing right now.
  3. Spend time earnestly trying to figure out what is actually pleasing to him: Is He pleased when you sing? Is he pleased when you work with your hands? Is he pleased when you are still and silent? Is he pleased when you read the Bible? What do you do that makes you feel his pleasure?