This morning, we will begin our exposition of Hebrews, chapter 11. It is one of those most loved portions of Scripture. It has various names. The most famous of them are, “The Faith Chapter" and “The Hall of Faith.” It is an entire chapter of the Bible devoted to the topic of faith. Faith is mentioned 26 times in chapter 11. It will be the recurring theme in this chapter again and again and again and again.
In many ways, Hebrews 11 is a treatise upon faith. But, more than merely defining what faith is and talking about the characteristics of faith from an abstract perspective, primarily, this chapter is going to show us what faith looks like. The writer highlights for us the faith of a dozen individuals, whose lives are recorded for us in the Old Testament. He puts them on display and shows how through their faith they received the approval of God.
Now, as I have been thinking about faith for some time now in anticipation of this chapter, I’m thankful for the way that the writer to the Hebrews has brought out faith, because there is something stirring about seeing faith in action. Seeing it in action takes it out of the classroom and places it in the reality of life where we all live. Because faith is a bit like beauty. It is easy to spot, but it is difficult to describe. You know beauty when you see it, but it’s difficult to tell someone exactly what beauty is.
With faith, it’s the same way. You can easily spot someone with faith. You know what faith is. But, when you go to define faith, you find that it is a bit difficult to describe exactly. Oh, it can be done. Theologians down through the years have done an excellent job articulating exactly what faith is, and describing all of its nuances. But, that’s not what Hebrews 11 is. In Hebrews 11, we are going to see a bit of a description of what faith is. Like one verse. And then, we’ll see 39 verses showing faith in action.
And there is so much here in Hebrews 11. So much to see, and so many stories to tell, that I believe we are going to be in this chapter for several months. How good will this be for us! It is exactly what we need. When God calls us to come to Him, He doesn’t call us first to love Him. He doesn’t call us first to obey Him. He doesn’t call us first to serve Him. He calls us first to believe in Him.
Our eternal destiny is based upon our faith (or lack of faith). “Whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life” (John 3:16). It is by believing in Jesus Christ, the Son of God that you have life in His name (John 20:31). Jesus said, “He who believes in Him is not judged; He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Our future destiny is dependent upon our faith.
But, faith isn’t a mere one-time act. Faith is something that we continually ought to manifest in our lives every day. No, the call of God upon our lives is to believe Him and trust Him every moment of every day. And so, over the next few months as we see the examples of those who trusted in God, we will be called to a similar trust in God.
My message this morning is entitled, “A Call to Faith.” In great measure, this is the call of the book of Hebrews. It’s a call to believe. It’s a call to continue in your faith until the end. Now, since we have been away from this book for so long, I thought that it would be good to spend a good portion of time reviewing the book of Hebrews up until this point. Because, everything before chapter 11 is really a final application to what has gone on before. So, this morning, we are going to do more of an overview, then we are the details. We’ll first summarize the entire book of Hebrews up to this point. Then, we’ll spend a bit of time looking carefully at what faith actually is. Finally, we’ll finish up with an overview of chapter 11, itself, swinging over into chapter 12. So, that’s my plan. To review the book of Hebrews. To look at how faith is described in Hebrews 11:1. Then, we’ll overview chapter 11.
My first point is this
1. The Need for Faith (1-10)
Chapters 1 through 10 help to build the case that we need to believe in Jesus. The book of Hebrews is all about the supremacy of Jesus Christ. From beginning of this book to the end, we see Jesus being presented as better than any other Old Testament reality. He is better than angels. He is better than Moses. He gives a rest better than Joshua did. He is better than Aaron, the great high priest. He is better than Abraham and Melchizedek. His covenant is better than the Old Covenant. His sacrifice is better than all of the sacrifices of the Old Covenant. The obvious conclusion is this: We need to believe in Jesus. Jesus is our best hope. No, Jesus is our only hope. To be right with God, we must believe Him and follow Him all the days of our life.
But, the book of Hebrews is far more than a mere theological treatise on the greatness of Jesus Christ. There is a very practical element to it as well. The original hearers were in danger. They were in danger of turning their back on Jesus. The writer is warning them of their danger and giving them reason to stay the course. See, this book was originally written to Jewish people, who had heard about Jesus, had become intrigued and interested in hearing, had come into the church, had, in some ways, experienced Jesus, through the people of the church. But, over the weeks, months, and years, some of these Jewish people began to have their doubts.
Some of them may never left have their Jewish roots, still attending the worship at the synagogue, and fully engaging in all of the rituals and sacrifices at the temple. They never believe in Jesus at all, but were merely curious. Others may have experienced doubts as they remembered the ways that things used to be in the temple with the priests and the sacrifices and the smells. They had a sentimental attraction to the ways of the Old Covenant and were thinking of returning. Others may have come through conversations that they had with their friends and relatives who didn’t believe in Jesus at all. How easy it would have been for them to have compared the outward appearances of Christianity with the outward appearances of Judaism. Much was going on with the rituals and the sacrifices. The priests were tangible; you could touch them. But, Jesus was nowhere to be seen.
As a result of these things, those in the church were being tempted away. They were in real danger! Thus, the reasons for the warning sections in the book of Hebrews. There are 5 of them. Each of them give some compelling reasons to continue to trust in Jesus. In this way, the writer to the Hebrews is being a bit like a salesman. Think about the ways that a salesman makes his sale. He begins by showing you his own product. Then, he shows you the greatness of his product. He shows you why you need to use his product. He shows you what will happen if you choose not to use his product. It may be that you won’t be safe. It may be that it will cost you money. It may be that you will miss out on something in the future. All of these things are true of the book of Hebrews. Jesus Christ is put on display. In no uncertain terms, Jesus Christ is demonstrated to be the greatest.
The writer shows you why you need to believe in Him! The writer also shows you what will happen to you if you don’t believe. Your life is in danger. You will face the fierce wrath of God. You will not escape. The judgment that is coming upon you will be merciless. I don’t believe that any of you want this in your life. So, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31). That’s the only way that you will escape the judgment of God upon your life - to believe in Jesus Christ.
So, turn with me (in your Bibles) back to chapter 1. The book begins with a statement of the supremacy of Jesus over all Old Testament revelation. Look right there in chapter 1, verse 1, ...
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son,
Notice the contrast here. The contrast is between the manner of revelation in the Old Covenant with the manner of revelation in the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant, God spoke to many different people. But, in the New Covenant, God came to all of us in His Son.
The difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is similar to the difference between a phone call and a visit. It’s one thing to speak with someone on the phone. It’s nice. It’s personal. But, you can’t see the expression on their face. Furthermore, it cost them very little to make the call, the mere pushing of a few buttons. But, when someone comes to visit you, it’s entirely different. They are there, in your presence. You can see them. You can see their facial expressions. You can see their mannerisms. You can touch them. You can shake their hands. Furthermore, they have made an effort to be with you. And that’s what Jesus did. He made an effort to come and be with us. He showed us the Father, personally, which made His revelation better. Jesus is better than the Old Testament.
The greatness of Jesus is then put forth in verses 2 and 3.
whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
This is the one who came and presented Himself before us! He is the heir, the creator, the sustainer, the one who secured salvation for us! That’s who Jesus is. And the call, right from the beginning of this book (though not explicitly stated), is a call to believe in Him!
Beginning in verse 4, we see how Jesus is better. He is better than the angels, ...
having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
The rest of chapter 1 is devoted to explaining why Jesus is better than the angels. Jesus is the Son (1:5), unlike any angel. Jesus is Worshipped (1:6-7). Angels are called to worship Him. Jesus is Royalty (1:8-9), unlike angels, who are subjects. Jesus is the Eternal Creator (1:10-12), unlike angels, who were created. Jesus is the Sovereign One (1:13-14), unlike angels, who serve.
And then, we come to chapter 2, in which we see our first warning section. Look at chapter 2, verse 1, ...
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
We must pay attention to Jesus. We must not drift away from Him! If not, there is no escape, as verse 3 clearly implies. Such is the importance of the message of Hebrews! The fate our souls is at stake!
Chapter 2 is all about how Jesus is better than the angels. Chapter 3 continues the theme. This time, showing that Jesus is better than Moses.
For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.
And then comes another warning. The Jews didn’t listen to Moses, rather, they hardened their hearts (3:8). So, likewise, it’s necessary for us not to harden our hearts as well.
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.
Don’t harden your hearts against Jesus and His claims. Such is the call of Hebrews. It is a serious call to have a soft heart toward him.
Continuing on the Moses theme, the writer then turns his attention to Joshua, who brought the people of Israel into the land. And although Joshua gave him a measure of rest, the rest that Jesus provides is better.
There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.
The conclusion comes rightly in verse 11, ...
So let us be diligent to enter that rest.
This is the call of the book of Hebrews, a diligent pursuit of Jesus. A call to pursue the rest that He gives, a rest from our works, an assurance in Him, that He has accomplished the work for us.
From there, the writer begins to speak about high priests, like Aaron (5:4) and like Melchizedek (5:10). But, Jesus is the greatest of the high priests. “Therefore” (as it says in chapter 4, verse 14), “since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” The high priest is the one you go to when you need to approach God. And we have no greater high priest than Jesus Christ.
Yet, there is a danger for the original readers (and with us), that we might stop pursuing Jesus. That we might stagnate in our growth. But, the author here calls us to press on. He says, in chapter 6:1, “therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity.” And right here, we come to see the main application of the book of Hebrews. We are to press on. And we do so, because of the greatness of Jesus. Or, as I have put it, “Jesus is better, so press on!” We have need to persevere. We have need to endure.
Chapter 6:11 says, “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end.” There is the call of the book of Hebrews. It’s a call to a pursuit of Jesus. It’s a call to persevere until the end. There are many that begin the Christian life, hear the word of Jesus, confess a faith in Jesus, and find a measure of joy in obedience. But, as Jesus says in Matthew 13:21 with no firm root, they are only temporary. And “when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matt. 13:21). Now, it’s not that such people lose their salvation. Rather, they reveal that they are not good soil. Because, persevering faith is saving faith.
As we come in our review to chapter 7, we see a treatise on how Jesus is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. The writer points out that Melchizedek received tithes from Abraham and blessed Abraham. which makes Him greater than Abraham. Hebrews 7:7 says, “But without any dispute the lesser is blessed by the greater.” Abraham (the lesser) was blessed by Melchizedek (the greater). Furthermore, Jesus, being one on the line of Melchizedek, was a greater priest, who could bring perfection. Look at 7:11, ...
Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also.
And I love what the writer here is doing. He isn’t pulling Jesus as a trump card and saying that the apostles said that Jesus was better than all of the Levitical priests. Rather, he was quoting from Psalm 110:4, which said, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” And he’s just working out what it means, from the Old Testament Scripture. Before the law was given through Moses, God had already given His word by way of an oath, that there would be a priest forever. But, then, the Levitical priests came along to fill in the gap. But, Jesus, being along the lines of Melchizedek, has brought in the better priesthood, which is accompanied by a better covenant.
Hebrews 7:22 says, “So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant”. A better priest means a better covenant. Jesus brought in the New Covenant. Chapter 8 describes how much better the New is than the Old. Chapter 8, verse 6 gives a good summary, ...
But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
Then, the author quotes Jeremiah describing the New Covenant (and everything that comes with it). The result of this if found in verse 13, “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.”
The Old Covenant, with its rituals and sacrifices and priests and festivals and laws and regulations, has become obsolete. There is no reason to follow the ways of the Old Covenant. The priesthood of Jesus is better. The promises in Jesus are better. And as, chapter 9 and 10 describe, the sacrifice of Jesus is better.
Look at chapter 9, verses 13-14, ...
For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
See, the sacrifices of the Old Covenant were repeated often and were ultimately ineffective. Hebrews 10:1 tells us, "For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near." The Old Covenant sacrifices couldn’t make you perfect, But, the sacrifice of Jesus, on the other hand, can make you perfect.
For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
The sacrifice of Jesus never needs to be repeated. The first (and only time) was good enough.
Church family, do you realize what you have in Jesus Christ. You have the best that God could ever offer you. You have the best priest, who has offered the best sacrifice. You have the best covenant, the New Covenant. Don’t ever turn from Him! Now, some of the original hearers were turning away from Jesus. And thus, the reason for the fourth warning of the book. Chapter 10, verse 26, ...
For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
These are some of the most terrifying verses in all of the Bible. See, it’s one thing to set aside the Law of Moses. But, it’s another thing to set aside Jesus Christ, and go on unbelieving, especially after being exposed to so much light. Well, the great need of the original hearers was to endure in their faith. To never set Jesus aside. To never neglect His sacrifice. Look at verse 35, ...
Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
I trust that you see here the importance of enduring in faith. The writer says it plainly in verse 36, “You have need of endurance.” That is, the continuing on with Christ. You need to continue. If you don’t, according to verse 36, you will miss out You won’t “receive what was promised.” The idea of a promise at the end of your faith is a huge motivation in Hebrews. Chapter 10, verse 34 asks why people could allow their possession to be taken away? They knew that they had something else they were looking forward to possessing (Heb 11:6, 8, 10, 13-16, 26, 35, 39-40).
The key to endurance is faith.
For yet in a very little while, he who is coming will come, and will not delay. But my righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
Faith is how the righteous man lives (verse 38). Faith is key to the preserving of the soul (verse 39). We need faith.
In many ways, the chapter break here in chapter 11 is an
unfortunate one, because the text flows so nicely from what came before. Verses 38 and
39 speak about the need to live by faith. And now, verse 1 gives us a description of
faith, which is my second point, ...
2. The Description of Faith (verse 1)
Look at verse 1: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1). I’ve been careful with my point here. I could easily have said, “The Definition of Faith.” Now, in some regard, this is what we have here in verse 1. I mean, look at how the verse begins. “Faith is ...” This sure looks like the beginning of a definition. However, when you really look at it, it’s more like a description, than it is a definition. Rather, he describes what faith looks like.
A definition of faith might go something like this:
True faith -- Created in my by the Holy Spirit through the gospel--
Is not only a knowledge and conviction
That everything that God reveals in His Word is true,
But also a deep-rooted assurance
That not only others, but I too,
Have had my sins forgiven,
Have been made right with God,
And have been granted salvation.
These are gifts of sheer grace
Earned for us by Christ. 
There are a lot of helpful things in such a definition. Faith is something that God creates in us (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is a trust in the veracity of God’s word. Faith has a measure of assurance to it, particularly regarding our standing before God. And we could spend a long time talking about such a definition. But, I think it best to simply analyze the description that the writer to the Hebrews gives us.
He says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Analyzing this verse, we see two parallel statements. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” “[Faith is] the conviction of things not seen.” Both of these say the same thing. But, like much of Hebrew poetry, they say it in a slightly different way. Faith involves an assurance. Faith involves a conviction. Faith involves something that isn’t able to be fully seen or experienced. It’s the belief that such things hoped for will come to pass. No, it’s more than that. Faith is the confident assurance that the unseen things will come to pass.
Now, it’s right here that we see that this isn’t a full definition of the meaning of “faith.” Because, you can have faith in what you have seen. For instance, think about Thomas. When Thomas was doubting the resurrection of Christ, it was because he hadn’t seen Jesus risen from the dead with his own eyes. He said, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). “Unless I see, I will not believe.”
And later, upon seeing the imprint of the nails, and upon feeling the wound in the side of Jesus, Thomas believed. Now, we would not say that Thomas didn’t believe after seeing Jesus. No, rather, it was his seeing that gave Him the assurance and conviction that Jesus had really risen from the dead. And according to church tradition, Thomas gave his life to the cause of Christ, bringing the gospel to India, where he was eventually martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ. And yet, when we think of the faith of Thomas, there was much that he believed, that wasn’t physical and tangible and seeable. He believed that his sins were forgiven. He believed that Jesus would come again. He believed that he would spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. And in this way, even the faith of Thomas - who was able to see and touch and feel the Lord Jesus - even his faith was filled with many things that He never saw.
And that’s the element of faith that Hebrews 11:1 is getting at. It’s getting at the element of hope and expectation, that really can’t be entirely verified. In this way, faith is a bit like “hope,” in the sense of expecting events in the future. And as Paul says in Romans 8:24, “hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” So also, “faith that is seen is not faith; for who believes what he already sees?”
Now, to be sure, we believe what we see. But, the thrust of Hebrews 11:1 isn’t concerned about that element of faith. Rather, here we see the element of faith that places its hope upon the things not seen. Like Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:30). And that’s what Hebrews 11:1 is talking about - believing while not fully seeing.
And this believing is firm and secure. It is assurance and conviction. Faith will bank it’s life upon the unseen, as though it were seen. That’s a bit of what the King James (and New King James) is getting at in their translations. These translations read, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is grasping what is real and tangible. There is a substance to it. There is strong evidence for it. And we see these things in the life of the heroes of the faith.
Faith is the confidence expressed in the famous statement of Jim Elliot, who said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” And his conviction of the truthfulness of this statement was demonstrated in his life, as he was martyred on a beach in Ecuador in 1956, giving what he could not keep to gain what he could not lose. That’s faith.
Faith is the life of William Carey, who said, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” And Carey had a conviction about this, so he founded the Baptist Missionary Society and sailed off to India in 1792, giving his life to reach the people of India with the gospel. His legacy is amazing! That’s faith.
Faith is George Müller, the man of prayer. The story is often told about him, when he was taking a ship to Canada. The captain of the ship told the story this way, ...
We had George Müller of Bristol on board. We had been on the bridge for twenty-four hours and never left it and George Müller came to me and said, "Captain, I have come to tell you I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon."
"It is impossible," I said.
"Then very well, if your ship cannot take me, God will find some other way. I have never broken an engagement in fifty-seven years; let us go down into the chart room and pray."
I looked at that man of God an thought to myself, "What lunatic asylum can that man have come from, for I never heard of such a thing as this?"
"Mr. Müller," I said, "do you know how dense this fog is?"
"No," he replied, "my eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God who controls every circumstance of my life." He knelt down and he prayed one of the most simple prayers.
When he had finished I was going to pray, but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray.
"As you do not believe He will answer, and as I believe He has, there is no need whatever for you to pray about it."
I looked at him and George Müller said, "Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years and there has never been a single day when I have failed to get an audience with the King. Get up, Captain, and open the door and you will find the fog has gone."
I got up and the fog indeed was gone, and on that Saturday afternoon George Müller kept his promised engagement. 
There was faith in action. George Müller believed and trusted God for the things that he couldn’t entirely see. And God was faithful to answer his prayer.
Here, I’ve told you three stories of men who modeled faith:
Jim Elliot, William Carey, George Müller. That’s what Hebrews 11 does. It
will tell us stories of the men of old who believed God. We see that in verse 2, which
I am calling, ...
3. The Examples of Faith (verse 2)
For by it the men of old gained approval.
This verse really sets the stage for the rest of the chapter. It is a summary verse of the chapter. In Hebrews 11, we have the "men of old", the Old Testament saints - Abel, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Josiah, Moses, Rahab, and many others. All of them gained approval from God by faith. You can see how prominent the writer puts their faith in verses 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, and verse 31. Continuing on in verse 32, you see some more of the wondrous things that the people in the Old Testament did.
Now the good news for us is this: every one of these saints listed were not righteous people. Noah became drunk; Abraham lied; Sarah laughed at God; Jacob deceived; Moses was a murderer. But, they gained approval through their faith. Verse 39 says, "And all these, ... gained approval through their faith." This was and is the way to gain approval with God--not by works, but by faith.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
January 2, 2011 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.