Summary: Definition of faith. Abel, Enoch and Noah.
The night when I first came to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the secret of my own room, I had been querying in prayer about the meaning of prayer, and about the meaning of faith. My Gideons Bible had a very helpful key by which I was directed on the first question to Luke 11:1-13 (see my sermon entitled ‘Persistent Petitionary Prayer’); and on the second to Hebrews 11. I suppose as a young man of my age, I had all sorts of questions and hang-ups: for instance, how could we know that it was God who created the world? Well, my Minister’s wife had already answered that one for me when she said, “By faith” - and here it was in the Bible (Hebrews 11:3) - and a whole chapter of “by faith” and “through faith” to follow.
The first thing that we learn about faith is that it is not nebulous: it is not cloudy, fuzzy, or hazy; not vague, indeterminate, or ill-defined. No, rather it is substantial, it is real, it is tangible. It anticipates the future: it is “the substance (or assurance) of things hoped for”; it is a conviction which stands as “evidence for things not (yet) seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith looks beyond the obvious to behold the hand of the invisible God behind it all (cf. Hebrews 11:27).
The second thing that we learn about faith is that “By it the elders obtained a good report” (Hebrews 11:2). Not only that, but that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Not that we are suddenly back in the realm of salvation by works, for “faith” is not a ‘work’ in that sense: but rather, as we launch out into ‘The Hall of Faith’ (as I entitled another sermon), we are encouraged to know that these men and women of old had a sense of God’s approval - indeed, His reward - through the exercise of the gift of faith.
The third thing we learn about faith, as I have already mentioned, is that “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3). Something - everything - in the cosmos was made out of “things that do not appear”: the visible emerged out of the invisible. It still blows my mind to think of this over 43 years after first reading it! God spoke, and there it was (e.g. Genesis 1:3).
The Hall of Faith begins with three heroes of the faith found in the early chapters of Genesis: Abel, Enoch and Noah.
After God had made coats of skin for Adam and Eve, having made the first ever animal sacrifice (cf. Genesis 3:21), it must have been apparent that ‘without shedding of blood is no remission’ (cf. Hebrews 9:22). So Abel, in faith, brought an offering of ‘the firstlings of his flock’; whilst Cain brought of the fruit of the ground, effectively the work of his own hands. Whether it was for content or attitude, God respected the offering of Abel, and not that of Cain (cf. Genesis 4:3-5).
Abel’s was a “more excellent” sacrifice, anticipating as it did the ultimate ‘Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world’ (cf. John 1:29). By faith “he obtained witness (assurance) that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts” (Hebrews 11:4). And by faith, this the first martyr (cf. Matthew 23:35) still speaks, ever pointing us to the blood of Jesus (cf. Hebrews 12:24).
The stark genealogy of Genesis 5 records that the men of old (“the elders” of Hebrews 11:2) were born, begat, and died. Not so Enoch: he was born; LIVED sixty-five years and begat Methusaleh; WALKED WITH GOD after he begat Methusaleh three hundred years; begat some more; and because he walked with God was TAKEN by God (Genesis 5:18-24). There is no record of Enoch’s death because he “DID NOT TASTE DEATH” (Hebrews 11:5a).
There was a beginning to Enoch’s walk with God, as there must be for ours. Enoch’s was after Methusaleh was born. And in continuing that walk Enoch received the blessed assurance that God was pleased with him (Hebrews 11:5b).
But what was so special about Enoch? Not only did he believe that God is, for even the devils believe in God, and tremble (cf. James 2:19). But, for our encouragement, Enoch believed that God “is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Now Noah also WALKED WITH GOD (cf. Genesis 6:9). “By faith Noah, being warned of things not seen as yet”, obeyed God, and built an ark (Hebrews 11:7a). Thus he “condemned the world” (Hebrews 11:7b; cf. 2 Peter 2:5) and became “heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Hebrews 11:7c).