Summary: Year C. The tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12th, 2001 Hebrew 11: 1-3, 8-16 Title: “Faith is the gift of gifts.”
Year C. The tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12th, 2001
Hebrew 11: 1-3, 8-16
Title: “Faith is the gift of gifts.”
The author has maintained and demonstrated the superiority of Jesus’ priesthood over that of the old covenant and of his sacrifice over that of the old animal sacrifices. Beginning in 10:19 he exhorts believers to avail themselves of the ministerial implications of the bloody self-sacrifice of Jesus and enter into the presence of God, the real Holy of Holies. He admonishes them not to lose their “first fervor,” the enthusiasm of their first days of conversion and Baptism. Faith needs endurance to last permanently. . In Chapter eleven he gives a catalogue of heroes from the past who endured in faith, a faith based on the old covenant, mind you. The implication is that if they could endure and last permanently, even though they did not live to see the realization of the promise, how much more so can present-day Christians who have seen the day of Christ.
In Chapter eleven we have the equivalent of a modern documentary TV program where an heir of a wealthy and famous family stops before the portrait of an ancestor, in this case an ancestor in faith, more a “Hall of Faith” than a “Hall of Fame,” and tells the story of a major exploit that contributed to the family’s strength and survival throughout the ages. These are godly people of faith to be imitated, who have much to teach us about faith, even though their faith was not consciously Christian. After making his famous statement about faith in verse one, the author observes that the visible world was created out of the invisible, implying the same is true of faith. He then says a word about three men of the age, faith ancestors, from creation to the flood- Abel, Enoch and Noah. Our text, beginning with verse eight, begins with the fourth and greatest example of faith- Abraham.
In verse one, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for,” this is not a definition of faith, but a description of how it works. Faith is vision of a different kind than physical vision. It does not abide by the rules of earth and so what earth would consider future, not yet, unreal, faith can make present, already, real. Faith is the eternal vision and version of reality, often at odds with earthbound perspective. The earthly, fleshly, time-bound person cannot see what the faith person can see. While the faith person knows, as Abraham, for instance, knew, what he or she “sees” is not physically or historically present, he or she also know that it is “more present,” more real than what is historically so because it is eternally so. Time and history will pass away; earth will pass away. Eternal truth, first glimpsed and finally grasped through faith, will never pass away. Faith gives the future a “present reality.”
Evidence of things not seen, the word translated as “realization” is the Greek hypostasis. It can mean “nature,” “essence,” or “assurance.” The word translated as “evidence” is the Greek elenchos. It means “proof, test.” It is, of course, not proof as earth would demand. It is proof of a different kind, dimension, realm, sphere, where the rules of proof are not so physical or temporal. Faith empowers one to “see,” but not physically see, the physically invisible. Faith has a timeless character as well as a “place-less character.” Yet, as the author will show by telling the stories of faithful ancients, we can see faith lived by real people even if we cannot see what faith’s object is.
In verse two, “because of it the ancients were well attested.” Because they lived by faith they had God’s approval. God approved of Abel’s attitude and manner of life, even though on earthly terms it looked like Cain had won. Enoch’s faith kept him above the corruption of his age. Noah believed in the flood, evidence of things not seen, and acted accordingly even before it happened, realization of what is not yet.
In verse eight, Abraham…went out, not knowing where he was to go. Unlike Noah, Abraham received very few details about the future. God dealt with him on a “need to know” basis. He obediently left behind the “seen” world of his familiar and familial environs and spontaneously embraced an “unseen” vision of an unrealized inheritance. Not until he reached Canaan did God tell him, “This is the place.”
In verse nine, “by faith…dwelling in tents.” He dwelt as a stranger, foreigner, nomad, traveler in tents. This is not evidence of one who possesses the land, but of an alien. Abraham was so tenacious in tenuous circumstances that he is both the father and the model of faith, faith that makes a reality of the “unreal,” the not yet.