Summary: Sometimes God's plans are so much greater than our plans that all we can do is keep hoping, keep putting our faith in the One who always works for our good and his glory. As we cultivate a relationship with Christ, we build our faith muscles.
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Have you ever come down with a case of PCS-itis? You know what that is, right? PCS-itis is when every two or three years you start itching for a move. It’s in your blood. You’re not content to stay put. It may be simply moving down the block, or moving to a different unit in the Village, but you just have to move. It’s a sure way to clean out those things you no longer want or need, as we talked about last week. However, moving can be a lot more expensive than having a garage sale or giving to the White Elephant store!
Our Old Testament patriarch and matriarch, Abraham and Sarah, had the ultimate move. They received a set of orders directly from Headquarters that basically said, “Get moving, and I’ll tell you when you get there.” Of course like any good soldier, Abraham said, “Where am I headed?” And God said, “Don’t worry about that right now. Just start off and I’ll fill you in on the details as you need them.” Sounds like a set of open-ended orders to me. No compass, no GPS, not even a set of Atlas road maps.
Abraham and Sarah’s mission was not just a place but a people. They were to give birth to a nation. You’ll find the original orders in Genesis 12, where God promised, “Abraham, I’m going to give you more descendants than the sands on the seashore or the stars in the sky” (Genesis 12:1-4; Genesis 13:16; Genesis 15:5). The only problem? Abraham was 75 years old and Sarah was 65 and they had no kids. They had long been buying senior coffee at McDonald’s and enjoying Tuesday discounts at Ross. There was no way they were going to birth a nation in their golden years.
This is where faith comes in. Our first verse today (Hebrews 11:1) defines biblical faith for us: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” “Confidence in what we hope for.” Biblical hope is not just a wish that something might come true, like, “I sure hope I win the lottery!” No, it is a certainty that God will keep his promise. So faith builds on that kind of hope to say I am confident because God always comes through.”
And then the second half of the verse adds, “Assurance about what we do not see.” Faith believes without seeing. Someday we won’t need faith anymore. We will be face-to-face with our Creator and Sustainer. Our eyes will be fully opened. We will worship Jesus in his very presence. But for now, we worship him without seeing him, we obey without fully understanding, much like Abraham and Sarah were asked to start off on a journey to an unknown destination.
The very next verse (Hebrews 11:2) says that the ancients were commended for this kind of faith. The rest of the chapter is a list of various “ancients” or “elders” who are examples for us. This chapter is nicknamed the “Hall of Faith” of the Bible. We have a few ancients around here, don’t we? And I’m not talking about age. Years help because they bring experience, but I’m talking about people who have walked with God long enough to get to know God’s character, to come to trust in God, to know that God’s word is true, that God will come through, that God always has a plan, even when we don’t understand it, and that God’s plan is for our good and God’s glory. Those kind of people are ancients who help us—like the ancients of old—to grow stronger in our faith.
Before we get more into Abraham and Sarah’s story, scripture gives us another picture of their faith in verse 3. It reads, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” In other words, everything we see in this beautiful world came from nothing other than God’s command. Theologians call this concept “ex nihilo,” which means, “out of nothing.” God made the universe out of nothing. Perhaps there was a big bang behind the creative acts of Genesis 1 and 2, but where did that initial matter come from? Many scientists say there had to be a master designer beyond the universe to set it all in motion.
Technically, then, God is the only real creator. Sometimes we describe human activity as “creation,” like, “What an incredible masterpiece you created!” Our son is dabbling in creative modern art. Yet, at his best, all he is doing is manipulating various paints and acrylics onto paper. He is not really “creating” anything in the sense of bringing something out of complete nothingness. Only God is an “ex nihilo” creator.