Expository Sermon on Hebrews 11
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 11/7/2020
©2020 by Maylan Schurch
To watch or listen to the YouTube worship service, click the link just below. The sermon starts at the 57:25 mark.
Please open your Bibles to Hebrews chapter 11.
While you’re turning there, here are some things I would like to mention.
We are planning a special worship service for next Sabbath, November 14. Some of you have asked if we could have a virtual communion service, because with this pandemic stretching out so long it has been many months since we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper.
We have been working on how best to do this in a reverent, joyful way. It seems that the Thanksgiving season is an excellent time to pause and focus on the sacrifice Jesus made for our salvation.
Please watch for an email early this week with details of our plans for this communion service. Again, this service will be a week from today on this coming Sabbath. If you are not yet on our church email list, you can sign up for that by just sending me an email with that request to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another thing I’d like to mention is that our closing song today will be presented by the Fountainview Academy choir and orchestra. Fountainview Academy is a Seventh-day Adventist secondary school in British Columbia, and in addition to the usual high school subjects, it specializes in music education for the glory of God.
Fountainview Academy students create great music, and among those students are our own Eric and Brian Rojas, which makes this group two times more special. At the end of today’s sermon you’ll hear academy students sing the song “Redeemed,” and you’ll see Eric as one of the violinists, and Brian in the front row of the group of singers.
Also, I would like to again thank the Robinson family for putting together that slide tribute to our local Bellevue church military veterans. Thank you, veterans – whether you were pictured on that tribute or not – for your service to our country.
By the way, if you voted this week – and I hope you did – by doing so you honored our military veterans. They fought and stood guard so that you would continue to have that privilege. So if you voted, thank you for voting. By voting, rather than skipping voting, you too stand guard over our democracy, just as our veterans did.
Every veteran – and for the matter that every Pathfinder – knows the command “Forward – March!” The word “forward” gets you ready, and on the word “March!” you step firmly out with your left foot.
Today’s sermon is about some of the veterans in the Bible. Not all of them were literal war veterans, but every single one was a combatant in the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Hebrews chapter 11 has often been called the Bible’s “faith Hall of Fame,” and that hall is filled with Bible veterans whose names we know well – either from Bible stories are from having known people who were named in honor of these veterans.
Now, these Bible veterans may never have heard the actual phrase “Forward, March.” But if you read their bios in this chapter, you discover that each of them possessed “forward faith.” In the military, when you hear “forward, march,” it’s not a command to scuttle backwards in confused retreat. It’s a command to move forward in unison.
And in the same way, these Bible veterans’ faith wasn’t the kind that only looks nostalgically backward. Their faith gazed resolutely forward, past any difficulty or trial or even worse which they were going through in the present, forward to some wonderful promises God had made to them.
This morning I’d like to focus on Hebrews 11, so that you and I can learn to have the same kind of “forward faith” these Bible veterans did. I can find at least three “forward faith” principles in this chapter. Let’s learn how to use them in the days and weeks ahead.
Hebrews 11:1, 2 [NKJV]: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
And these “elders,” or believers back in ancient times, are the ones we will meet in this chapter.
However, the first of these faith heroes is not named. I was glancing at the footnotes in the Andrews Study Bible, and I was very surprised to see that I was included as the first of these faith heroes. And you are, too—both of us—if we qualify.
So let’s read about us, in verse three.
Verse 3: By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
How do I know that you and I could be just as much Bible veterans, Bible faith heroes, as the famous names which fill the rest of this chapter?
Well, we are introduced exactly as the others are. The Greek for “by faith” is pistei, in this same word introduces all the other people. “By faith we . . . .
Let’s zero in on this verse really closely, because I believe it is the foundation for our faith. I hadn’t thought about this before, but I believe it’s true. Let’s take it little by little.
“By faith we understand . . . .” Don’t ever believe anybody who tries to tell you that faith has nothing to do with the mind. Sometimes we think of faith and understanding, or faith and thinking, as separate things. Here, the Bible links them together. By faith we understand something. In the Greek, that word “understand” means “perceive in the mind.” For example, in Matthew 24:15, Jesus tells us to study the book of Daniel, and He says, “He who reads, let him understand.” That’s that same Greek word, right here.
And notice what it is we understand through faith:
Verse 3: By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
Two interesting truths here. First, God created the materials for everything we see simply by speaking. All of the wonderful equipment, handled so expertly by Patrick Phelps and Greg Reiswig and Dave Meythaler, which allows all of you to see and hear what’s happening on your screen this morning, God made the raw materials.
Second—and verse 1 seems to think this is equally important–God made this material out of nothing.
And these two truths, that God created through His spoken word, and that He created something from nothing—these two truths that you and I, Bible Veteran Number One in this chapter, we need to understand them with our minds, through faith.
But somebody says, “Wait. How can you understand something through faith?” Well, that’s what the Bible says can happen right here. By exercising our faith, we can truly come to understand some amazing things.
But how is that possible? Aren’t we supposed to understand first, and then that understanding will deepen our faith? That’s not what the Bible says. Because if we have adopted God’s way of thinking – if we really believe that God did create the materials of everything we see out of nothing and by His word – if we start with that belief, we will be able to come to conclusions other people don’t, who don’t start with that belief.
Now, this is a very interesting topic, and we could talk all day about it. But what does it have to do with the rest of Hebrews 11? Well, each of these Bible faith heroes believed that God created everything with His word, and out of nothing. And this gave them confidence that, no matter what they were going through, the God who created nature has total and ultimate power over it.
Again, we need to keep it firmly in our mind that God is not an alien. God is not someone who, once upon a time over in a far distant galaxy, happened to notice that we were in trouble, and said, “Oh, no, what shall we do? Let’s cobble together some resources and go help that tiny planet.”
No, God created us personally, and loves us deeply. And that provided the faith for each of the Bible heroes we’ll be looking at. But first we need to lay down Sermon Point One.
What’s the first thing we need to know about the kind of “forward faith” that the Bible veterans had?
“Forward faith” understands origins.
In other words, these Bible veterans knew exactly who had created them, and their environment, and the stars in the sky, and the moon, and the sun. And that understanding gave them their “forward faith.”
Okay, what should you and I do, now that we know this? Well, one thing I do is to look at nature with a deeper and deeper appreciation. Sometimes, my heart almost stops in amazement at the natural things I see around me. Have you ever studied the difference between a maple leaf and a ginkgo leaf? Totally different leaf designs, and only maple trees produce maple leaves, and only ginkgo trees produce ginkgo leaves.
Studying the wonders of nature is a marvelous faith builder. By studying the designs, we can learn a lot about the Designer. Not everything, but a lot.
But we need to move on in this chapter – go “forward” – to find what else we can learn about “forward faith.” Let’s start with verse four.
Verses 4 – 6: By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, “and was not found, because God had taken him”; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But 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 diligently seek Him.
That last part used to scare me a little bit when I was younger. “Wow,” I used to think, “I sure hope I have enough faith to please God.” But also it says “he who comes to God must believe that he is,” which I have all along, from childhood up. And we must believe that “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” And I can believe that.
And so could Abel, and so could Enoch. Now let’s lay down Sermon Point Two. What’s something else we need to know about the kind of “forward faith” the Bible veterans had?
“Forward faith” not only understands origins, but “forward faith” acts.
When you shout “Forward, March!” to a platoon of soldiers, or a troop of Pathfinders, you’re sending them into action. And that’s exactly what happened to these Bible veterans in this chapter. Abel didn’t just sit around and meditate about God – he went into action and offered the specific sacrifice God required. Cain was careless, but Abel was committed. Abel had “forward faith” but Cain did not.
And when it comes to Enoch, even though Hebrews 11 does not specifically say that Enoch “walked with God,” Genesis 5:24 says he did. Enoch didn’t simply sit and think about God – Enoch walked with God. Enoch went into action. We don’t know whether this was a literal stroll with a literal heavenly being, but we know that Enoch stepped out every day in some way, and accompanied God on some kind of journey. And finally, God welcomed him into eternity.
“Forward faith” acts. It does things. The Greek title of the book of Acts is Praxeis Apostolon, literally “the deeds (or acts) of the apostles.” The title is not “devotional thoughts of the apostles” or “meditations of the apostles,” but Acts of the Apostles.
Let’s look at some of the other “acts” or “deeds” these Hebrews 11 Bible veterans performed.
Verses 7 – 10: By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Again, “forward faith” acts. Enoch walked. Noah built. Abraham went out. And notice how Sarah responded:
Verses 11: By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.
This verse passes tactfully over Sarah’s giggling fit which Genesis 17 talks about, when God suggested to her that she could still have a baby. Here in Hebrews 11, it says that Sarah believed God. I would imagine that Sarah’s faith grew within her mind as Isaac was growing within her womb.
And the roll call of Bible veterans continues in Hebrews 11. Isaac blessed. Jacob blessed. Joseph planned his postmorten travel to the promised land. Moses’ parents hid him. When he grew up, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but chose to be mistreated with the people of God. Moses kept the Passover.
Israel marched through the Red Sea. Later they marched around Jericho and the walls fell. But Rahab, a Jericho prostitute was saved, because her “forward faith” acted on what she had learned about how God had led the Israelites in the wilderness forty years before.
So what should I do, now that I know this?
What I’m about to tell you has nothing to do with spiritual matters, but I am going to show you a diploma. This isn’t a high school or college diploma—it’s a diploma I received over 20 years ago from the Fred Maher Home Course of Ventriloquism. I had purchased a ventriloquist dummy, and I decided to take a correspondence course from a place in Colorado. They sent me a large set of lessons, and I read them, filled out the quizzes at the end, and sent the quizzes back to Colorado. Eventually these quizzes were graded and sent back to me.
But then, in the final lesson, I learned that I would not receive my diploma unless I actually performed a ventriloquist dialogue in front of real people, and had them sign a sheet saying I had done this!
This put everything in a whole new light. I had acquired the “book learning” (actually “lesson-pamphlet learning,”) but I hadn’t put it into practice in a “real” setting.
I desperately wanted that diploma, so I got a string of jokes together, and practiced them with Zach the dummy, and then asked Kirkland SDA School if I could come and perform for the kids. They said yes. And even though I hadn’t had stage fright for years, I had severe stage fright that day. But I put Zach on my knee, and perspired freely, and told the jokes, and got almost no laughs. But one of the teachers signed the sheet, and I got this diploma.
I’ve gotten other diplomas along the way, but this is the only one I’ve had framed! I responded to their challenge, I went into action, and though it wasn’t pleasant, I got that diploma. (In the years afterward I got more comfortable with performing with Zach, and did it often, to school groups, and SAGE retreats and so on, and it became very enjoyable.)
Again, what should I do, now that I know from Hebrews 11 that “forward faith” acts? Well, I think it would be a good idea to review this list of Bible veterans and see what they did.
Abel sacrificed what God wanted him to sacrifice—maybe God is calling you to be sacrificial in a specific way. Because “forward faith” acts.
Enoch walked with God—could God be calling you to walk with Him in a deeper and more intimate way than you ever have before? Noah built—does God want you to be a builder for Him? This reminds me of the SAGE group– (SAGE stands for Seniors in Action for God with Excellence. This group was founded by our own Bob Grady decades ago, and since then, hundreds of retired men and women have gone all over the world, building and painting and preaching, and spreading the love of God in down-to-earth ways, to thousands of people. Forward faith acts.
So right here in this chapter you have a whole salad-bar of ways you can join the troop and become a modern-day Bible veteran with “forward faith.”
This “faith chapter” takes a darker turn toward the end, but it’s something we need to look at. Let’s pick up the story with some brief synopses of some familiar Bible names.
Verses 32 – 35: And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again . . . .
Again, these Bible veterans knew their “origin story” – that God had created everything by His word, from nothing.
And these veterans also knew that their “forward faith” called them forward, called them to act, called them to do things – often dramatic and heroic things – to stand strong for the Lord.
But watch what happens now:
Verses 35 – 38: . . . Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
You see what’s happening here? Here are some Bible faith veterans whose stories didn’t turn out as well as the others. But they were just as heroic, just as faithful. And their experiences show how absolutely necessary is the third principle we need to know about “forward faith.”
“Forward faith” understands origins, and “forward faith” acts. And “forward faith” also endures.
You see, since there is a great controversy going on between Christ and Satan, and since that controversy is over the character and love and trustworthiness of God, then Satan is desperately trying to harass people who are doing God’s will.
And that means that if you and I have discovered the truth about our origins—how we came from the thought and the word of God, created out of nothing but His love for us—then Satan is our very persistent enemy.
And if our faith is forward-looking enough to draw us into action for God’s cause, then we will get pushback. Human nature will cause unconverted people to become uncomfortable with us and with the faith we’re trying to live by.
However, the Holy Spirit will often use us in very powerful ways to reach the hearts of the uncomfortable. Think of King Nebuchadnezzar, King Darius, King Manasseh, the Pharisee Nicodemus, the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus, the corrupt chief tax collector Zacchaeus, and on and on.
“Forward faith” endures. Forward faith looks beyond the challenges, beyond the intimidation, beyond the temptation to Laodecian lukewarmth, and keeps us steady in the power of the Spirit.
In fact, as Hebrews 12 begins, we hear some specific and priceless advice about how to allow this to happen in our lives.
Hebrews 12:1: Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . .
And if we stopped there, this advice would be challenging and stimulating, but might also be intimidating., How can I possibly keep up high level of energy?
That’s why we need to hurry on to verse 2:
Verse 2: looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus is the author of our faith—that “forward faith” of all these Bible veterans. And Jesus is the “finisher,” or “perfector” of our faith.
Which means that we need to turn our hearts over to our Savior, our Creator, our faith-author and faith-perfector, and ask Him to have His way with us. Because we have been redeemed. He has redeemed us—by the blood He shed on the cross for us.