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Sermon March 31, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1391

March 31, 2019 Hebrews 11.1-3, 29-40; 12.1-2

Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

Faith That Looks to Jesus”

 

 

  • Faith Heb 11.1

 

We talk about faith a lot! Faith, trust, confidence, that which we place in God, faith. Hebrews 11 has been called the faith chapter because of this first verse and the roll call of the faithful that follows. What is faith? It is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith has a deep connection to hope. Hope is trusting that something is coming that we have yet to know or see or experience. It is a sure hope. But there is still something elusive about it precisely because it is a hope, that is, it is not yet known or completed. When we are asked if we are going to the game we might respond, I hope so. That means if everything works out as it should, but we still are unsure in the hope. Something might go wrong or something might simply prevent our being able to go. “I hope so” in this context is nowhere close to the hope we have in Jesus Christ. Hope for the game is not an assurance. Hope in Christ is assured! We know it, and thus, it is our hope in the sense of the hope of the whole world, our only hope.

Faith is the expression of the hope we have so that our lives are built around this hope and faith and both are grounded in love. It is not expressed here directly but in other places in Scripture. Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13). Above all these, put on love (Col 3.14). I believe that God’s love fuels our faith and hope. It generates more faith as we come to realize more of God’s love. Yet the more faith we have, the more we realized how much we are loved. The deeper roots of hope enable us to trust and love as well. I one sense all three are intertwined in ways that without any one of them our lives are diminished.

When I did a search of faith in the Bible I saw a lot of times when people were faithless. They did not trust God or they had no hope or they were not loving. Israel was accused of a breach of faith when they would turn away from following God (Joshua 22.16) or they would break faith by turning to other God. Faith in the Lord allows us to keep the first Commandment to have no other gods. Israel had broken commandment with their lack of faith.

The New Testament is also filled with those who were faithless. The disciples in particular and many who heard Jesus speak. He used the phrase, “O you of little faith.” To the disciples he seemed frustrated that they had been with Him all this time and yet they struggled to believe what He was saying. After all they had seen and heard and been empowered to do themselves, they still struggled with faith. We are often in that same boat, like the disciples who could not weather the storm in faith until Jesus stood up and said be calm. We sometimes struggle with faith in the face of our stormy lives.

 

But there is one who is always faithful, always, and that is God Himself. Hebrews speaks of this in 10.23, he who promised is faithful. Maybe that is how we can press on in life with faith, because we know the One who is faithful. We can trust God. If people are to have faith in something or someone there has to be a level of trust. Do we put our faith that someone will do something when they have failed over and over in the past to do that very thing? No. It’s why we are suspicious of certain people and even certain professions. But we do trust God and therefore we have tremendous faith in God.

 

 

  • By Faith… Heb 11.2-40

 

How is faith lived? How do we know faith in our lives and the lives of others? Hebrews gives a ton of examples. The first is faith in God the Creator.

 

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.

 

None of us were there! So we trust that God’s Word is true and trustworthy to reveal that God created everything by His Word. Let there be...light, sky, heaven, plants, all created by a word. It takes a measure of faith to believe in the creation which is why those who do not have faith look for other explanations.

Then Hebrews makes the roll call of the faithful. By faith Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham… and the list goes on. I read the last part of the roll beginning at verse 29 where the author indicates that it would just take too much time to tell of all the faithful witnesses. It is an amazing summary of the faithful...

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.

 

But see, this roll is all about the Jewish history and tradition and Hebrews seeks to tie it all to faith in Jesus Christ. It is a Jewish testimony to salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. Back in Hebrews 9.15 we read,

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

 

The assurance to the Jews is that all those who lived by faith have been redeemed in Christ. By His blood even those faithful under the first covenant have been saved. Under the new covenant we are saved by faith, and that faith is a gift from God, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Eph 2.8).

 

 

  • A Great Cloud of Faithful Witnesses Heb 12.1

 

We are now called to look to this great cloud of witnesses, to study them, to tell their stories, and to live out the faith as they did. Their faith was lived by trusting God and shown in obedience to God’s commands. They did all they could to live righteously. How then shall we live by faith? The same way! To trust God. To put our faith in God. And Hebrews 12.1 gives us something else they all did, “let us also lay aside every weight and sin”. The “also” indicates we are doing the same things the faithful of the Old Testament did, to lay aside every weight and sin. This is how we demonstrate and live in faith, but doing what they did, by fighting the battle against sin. That means we do not live in deliberate sinfulness. This is the constant warning of Hebrews, do not keep on sinning (Heb 10.26ff).

Jesus said it this way, “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9.23). In taking up our cross daily we are declaring that we are dead to sin and alive to God (Rom 6.11). To follow Jesus is to seek to live in holiness and obedience. It is to live in love and hope and faith. It is to live as a witness to faith and to the faithful who have come before us.

Paul said it this way, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Col 3.5-6). Put off the old nature and put on the new nature given in Christ. In Christ we have been made new creatures (2 Cor 5.17). There has been a transformation and in that transformation there is within each of us the ability to now choose the right, to discern the will of God, to know the love of God, and to live it out daily.

This great cloud of witnesses goes with us every day, but the roll call of witnesses does not even end with Hebrews 11, for it has continued on through the New Testament and through the entire history of the church and through today for all who have remained faithful. The people in our lives who strengthen our resolve through their faith. The people who have taught us and inspired us to be faithful, they are all a part of the great cloud. And we are to them a part of this same cloud, a beautifyul white fluffy cloud of witnesses!

 

 

  • Faith That Looks to Jesus Heb 12.2

 

It is not just about laying aside burdens and sins, but faith is also about looking beyond the cloud of witnesses to the One who is faithful...

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 (Heb 12.2).

 

Jesus is the faithful One. He is the better of the cloud of witnesses. We talked about how everything is better with Jesus. Hebrews speaks of a better covenant, better sacrifice, better hope, better promises and so forth. Now we see Jesus, the better faithful witness. Look to Him because He is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He is the base, the foundation, the founder upon which we are able to be faithful. He has perfected faith by coming to the earth and living the perfect sinless life. He was and is perfectly faithful by keeping commandment, by trusting in the Father, by living in obedience to His mission. He is our high priest and lifts faith to new heights! He lived faithfully for us, died faithful for us, and lives again faithfully for us. How shall we respond to such a faithful savior? In faith. Looking to Him alone. Keeping Jesus always before us (Ps 16.8). We trust in Jesus and look to Jesus because Jesus is our life (Col 3.3), He is life (John 14.6), and in Him is life (John 1.4).

Jesus demonstrated His faith by enduring the cross. He died for us. He gave His live that we might be forgiven and might receive a faith like His.

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, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2.20).

We have been crucified with Christ and so we live by faith. This is the one verse you will hear me favor the KJV which reads this way,

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

You might not see or hear the difference right away. Our modern translators say “I live by faith in the Son of God,” while the KJV says, “I live by the faith of the Son of God”. The Greek grammar is flexible here to say either one and most of the passages like this do speak of our having faith in Jesus. But I like to think too about having the faith of Jesus, for I would rather have His faith than my own. This is one reason we look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, that our faith may be as great and trusting as His. Let’s hope that is possible.

Faith keeps us obedient to God’s commandments. Faith keeps us worshiping God. Faith keeps our hope alive no matter what happens. Faith feeds on love and hope as love and hope feed on faith, and they all feed off one another. Faith looks to the company of the witnesses who kept the faith. Faith looks to Jesus. He is our focus, our testimony, our life, our hope and love and the faithful One to whom we place all our faith and prayers and glory and honor. Look to Jesus with a trusting eye. Look to Jesus with a faithful heart. Look to Jesus as the hope that is certain. Look to Jesus and he will perfect within each of us a great faith, not one of little faith, but ones who live in the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.