Summary: This is the first sermon in a series on the Heores of Faith from Hebrews 11. This one deals with what faith is and what to expect from the series.
You’ve probably heard it a hundred times. It’s one of the oldest preacher stories around. But it still provides a powerful illustration of the personal nature of faith. One day long ago, a world-renowned tightrope walker came to Niagara Falls and stretched his rope across the thunderous currents from the United States to Canada. Right before the eyes of the breathless crowds, he walked, ran, even tiptoed across the chasm. He did the same blindfold. Then, still blindfolded, he pushed a wheelbarrow across the falls.
The crowd went wild when the aerialist shouted, “Who believes I can push a man in this wheelbarrow across these falls?”
One rather enthusiastic gentleman in the front of the crowd waved his hand in the air, shouting, “I do! I believe!”
“Then,” said the tightrope walker, “climb on in!” Needless to say, the once eager spectator dropped his hand and slinked back into the crowd. His intellectual assent didn’t quite translate into personal faith.
Faith. What is faith really? Ask five different people and you’ll probably get five different answers. Critics claim that faith is simply believing in something you know in your heart isn’t true. Skeptics suggest that faith means believing in something despite the lack of any real evidence. The dictionary defines faith as “belief and trust in and loyalty to God; belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion; or firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Quite honestly, none of these provide an absolutely adequate answer as to what faith really is.
Still, the Bible says, “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV). So, for that reason—because faith is so very essential to a personal relationship with God—it’s vital for us to have a good handle on the full meaning of biblical faith. So, let me invite you to explore this all-important concept with me.
1. First, the Bible tells us that faith means believing in God. The writer of Hebrews says, “Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely look for him” (vs. 6 TLB). Let me assure you, though—faith in the existence of God is not blind faith! It’s not belief in something for which there is no proof. All throughout the world, and even the universe, we see the fingerprints of God—the evidence of his omniscient mind at work. Take for instance the planet on which we live.
There is no other planet in the universe that is anything like the planet earth. Our planet is privileged; it’s designed specifically to support human life. For example, the earth revolves around the sun at a distance of 93 million miles. If it were as close as Venus or Mercury, then it would be several hundred degrees too hot to sustain life. Mars, our closest neighbor, has an atmosphere that is too thin, with no liquid water, and an average temperature of 40 degrees below zero. The other five planets are hundreds of degrees below zero. If the earth deviated from its course around the sun by even a fraction of an inch the development of life on earth would progress from simply improbable to statistically impossible.
The rest of the universe is no less a witness to God’s existence. Take gravity for instance. Gravity is just one of many attractive forces in the cosmos and, in a universe governed purely by random chance, it would be reasonable to assume that the pull of gravity could have been more or less powerful than it actually is. “Imagine a ruler, or one of those old-fashioned linear radio dials, that goes all the way across the universe,” says physicist and author Robin Collins. “The entire dial represents the range of force strengths in nature, with gravity being the weakest force and the strong nuclear force that binds protons and neutron together...being the strongest, a whopping ten thousand billion billion billion billion times stronger than gravity.” To move that dial just one inch would increase the pull of gravity a billion fold—causing complete solar systems and galaxies to collapse in on themselves. To increase the force of gravity just a thousand fold would cause life on any planet to be completely impossible. Yet, gravity, like many other physical laws governing our universe, is precisely set so as to produce life—to make life possible. That kind of “fine-tuning” is not accidental. A universe so specifically suited for life, implies a heavenly hand at work! Such intelligent design necessitates an intelligent Designer.
Sir Isaac Newton was a very famous mathematician and scientist who strongly believed in God. The story is told that he had an atheist friend who did not believe in God, so Sir Isaac devised a plan to try to convince his friend that God did exist and had created the Universe. One day, he went to a carpentry shop and asked the owner to make a model of our solar system. This model was to be made to scale, intricately painted, and designed to resemble, as closely as possible, the actual solar system.