The Seventeenth in a Series of Sermons on the Epistle to the Hebrews
Three of the world’s great religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) trace their origins back to Abraham. Yet the Genesis account speaks of Abraham as one who believed God’s covenant promise. It is said of him, Abraham “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” This explains why the account of the life of Abraham in Genesis 11-25 fits perfectly within the “catalogue of believers in God’s covenant promise” in Hebrews 11. That Abraham was justified by faith is the reason why Christians are considered to be the true children of Abraham–much to the chagrin of Jews, and to the disdain of Muslims. Abraham is a man who pitched his tent in the land of promise, yet who also knew that dwelling in the land was not all that God had promised to him–God’s promise included eternal life as well. Therefore, Abraham is regarded as the man of faith, because he believed God’s covenant promise to make him the father of a great nation, and that he would have so many descendants that it would be impossible to count them all–despite the fact that this seemed to be a physical impossibility. It is to the story of Abraham as summarized in Hebrews 11, that we now turn.
We are continuing our series on the Book of Hebrews and we are working our way through Hebrews 11, the so-called “hall of faith” because so many important Old Testament heroes are mentioned here. As we saw last time, the primary point being made by the author of Hebrews in this chapter is not that the people mentioned here are setting examples for us to follow (as people who had faith), but that these Old Testament saints all believed the same gracious covenant promise which God made to his people, and which the author of Hebrews has spent ten chapters unpacking. Rather than speak of Hebrews 11 as the “hall of faith,” it is much better to understand this chapter as a catalogue of justified sinners, sinful people who believed God’s covenant promise to save them from the guilt and power of their sin.
If we read Hebrews 11 as is often done (as a series of examples for us to follow), then we must ignore the critical point which the author of Hebrews is trying to make–that Jesus is superior to angels, Moses, and the priests of Israel. If the “hall of faith” interpretation is the correct one, then the author of Hebrews is telling those in this church who may be considering returning to Judaism, to “believe” just like your forefathers did. But that doesn’t get to the heart of the issue–recent converts from Judaism to Christianity, were going back to Judaism when they came under persecution. That their forefathers believed God is not under dispute. The issue is “what did their forefathers believe?” Or better, “in whom did they believe?”
The author’s point then is that everyone mentioned in Hebrews 11 believed God’s gracious covenant promise to save them from their sins. Therefore, what matters is not the presence of faith–that these famous Old Testament saints believed. What matters is the object of faith–these people believed the same gracious covenant promise, first issued in Genesis 3:15 when God declared, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The nature and character of this promise unfolds throughout the balance of redemptive history in the form of the types and shadows we see in the history of Israel and the old covenant, a subject which the author addressed in Hebrews 7-10.
To read the rest of this sermon: Click Here