Summary: A call to copy the faith of our team-mates in the cross-country relay race of life... looking to God and trusting Him through the mud and the pain... because we have another city and different treasure... a prize that is worth the struggle.
The title I’ve got for you today is, “What is faith?” Hopefully by the end of what I’ve got to say, we’ll not only know what faith is, but we will be able to live it. And to help us along the road we’re going to have assistance from two old pros who we’re going to meet shortly.
The writer to the Hebrews has finished his case proving that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament hope & covenant. In amongst the thrilling theology he’s challenged his readers to hold firm to their faith in God through Jesus Christ. These last three chapters are a kind of summing up, one final massive encouragement and exhortation to the readers to carry on with the race ahead.
And here in chapter 11, the writer turns from the theology of the Old Testament, and all the spiritual parallels, to the human stories that are in its pages. You see, one thing you and I need to get our heads round is not so much the facts of the bible, and the theories of the bible… we need to be practitioners of the bible: seeking to discover what it means to run the race with God as our Master and Companion. And that takes humility and prayer, to learn from the failures of those in the past, and to follow where their example truly reflects Christ. It’s not about ram-raiding the past, to steal some verses for our own situation, but it’s discerning truth and applying it correctly. We don’t take verses willy-nilly for our own purposes, and we don’t blindly copy the things written in here.
So here we are in chapter 11, which forms one large block… v.1 and 2 are about God commending the ancients for their faith… and v.39 is about God commending them for their faith. So that kind of bracketing is a hint to you and I, that this is about the examples of faith in the Old Testament that God commends. And it’s my hunch that the writer wants these examples to be commended to his readers; that they too will learn from them.
Winter is the season for cross-country running. Places like Heaton Park suddenly become a muddy melee of runners on the day of the race. In cross-country running there are occasionally relay events, where a team of four take turns to negotiate a 4-mile course. I want you to imagine that we are at one such a race. You’ve looked at the course, and you’re straining to see the runners before you… to learn from how they negotiate the different sections. Your coach is standing by you as you wait for your turn, he’s got his binoculars out and he’s focussing in on the first runner from your team… a famous runner… your coach gives a detailed account on how your famous team-mate gets on. The next lap he just mentions your team-mate’s name… another top athlete. The third lap he just briefly skims over a few details of what’s happening, it’s not about who’s running, it’s about what’s happening, and what’ll be happening to you soon.
That picture is hopefully helpful to us as we hit chapter 11. In this relay race of running with the gospel, we’re part of the same team as the Old Testament guys. The writer, our coach, starts by focussing in detail on the famous first-leg runners… Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham & Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses & Rahab. Then at v.32 the writer lists just a bunch of famous names, those who were in the second-leg. v.33 is a catalogue of brief details some linked with the second-leg guys, some linked with un-named third-leg racers. And in this way, the writer, our coach, includes the whole team in his instructions, bringing it right up to date from famous front-runners to recent no-namers. It’s clear that we’re up next.
What faith is not…
There are a lot of authors of Christian books out there at the moment, and in fact a lot of preachers and TV programmes, who will tell you that, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (v.1)
This seems fair enough; it’s what verse one says, so surely they must be right. This set of people then go on to say, that faith is down to you believing that God WILL definitely do something. Healing is there if you are determined enough, plenty is there if you are determined enough, success & long life are there if you are determined enough. If you speak it, you shall receive it. If you believe it, you shall possess it.
Sadly, they have ram-raided the Scriptures and stolen verses for their own cause.