Monday, May 05, 2003

Hebrews and the Gospel

This marks the third division of a series that introduces the Book of Hebrews. To start at the beginning, click here.

The Hall of Faith

For all its warnings, faith in Hebrews is always saving and permanent. Like the faith in James' letter, there is an expectation of a changed and growing life. Like the good soil in Jesus' parable, fruit is its natural and expected byproduct. And so we come to take a glimpse at Hebrews 11--The Hall of Faith. It has a familiar beginning:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. (Hebrews 11:1-2, NASB)

Here is the concept of assurance, again. Our faith is living and is, itself, evidence of the eternal life with God that we hope for. It is our inner conviction that we have the truth and that it is worth giving up everything to walk in it. Faith has always been the way that men and women have gained access to God. In this light, Hebrews 11 tells of the accomplishments, by faith, of saint after Old Testament saint. Since this blog series is only a brief summary of Hebrews to whet your appetite for the book and provide tools for its understanding, I will not be going through these stories in any detail. Rather I have chosen to hilight the author's conclusions.

First, faith is the means by which we get to know God:

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Faith is the beginning of pleasing God. It is the basis for our coming to Him in prayer and expecting a response from Him. It lets us know that in our seeking, we will not come up empty handed.

Second, faith provides a proper perspective of the world around us:

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

By faith we know that we are just passing through this world and its systems. What will the troubles and pain we experience today really matter after the first 10,000 years or so in the new heavens and new earth. Beyond these few steps and short path is an eternity to live with One who is eternally worth knowing.

Third, by faith we can see the substance of impossible realities:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11:17-19)

Abraham knew that God's promises rested in Isaac, but God had asked him to kill that son. Abraham, therefore, concluded that God would raise his son from the dead: at some point. The situation was impossible, except the assurance that faith brought to it of a good ending.

Fourth, faith and not obedience to the Law brings favor:

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)

Not one mention is made here of Moses and the Law. Hebrews 11 only mentions what Moses accomplished by faith.

Fifth, faith conquers in victory and defeat:

By faith, people of God have:

Conquered kingdoms Accepted torture
Performed acts of righteousness Been mocked, scourged, and jailed
Obtained promises Been executed, tempted, impoverished, and afflicted for the same of His name.
Closed lion's mouths  
Quenched fire  
Saw resurrections  
Put armies to flight  

Sixth, by faith the Old Covenant and New Covenant saints are perfected together:

And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 11:39-12:2)

We who are alive today are running our races before a stadium of those who have run before us. By faith we can break their records and know that they will cheer our success and encourage us in our momentary failures. The finish line for us all is Jesus. At the crossing of the tape, we will be like Him.

Tuesday: Final Meditations

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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