The Eighteenth in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Hebrews
We’ve all heard people complain that the Bible is boring. But when we take a look at the events of redemptive history, we find what has to be the most interesting and compelling story in all of human history. In Genesis 12, God calls a man named Abraham and his wife Sarah to leave their home and move to a new country as yet unseen. Abraham goes. God then tells Abraham that he will become the father of a great nation, and will have so many descendants that only God can count them all. What makes this promise so remarkable is the fact that Abraham and his wife were by now nearly one hundred years old, and it seemed virtually impossible that they would be able to conceive a child. Yet, despite their physical limitations, Abraham and Sarah believed that God would make good on his promise. And then when Sarah gives birth to a son (Isaac) through whom the promise would be fulfilled, and after the boy grew to manhood, God appears to Abraham yet again, and this time commands Abraham to take this only son and kill him . . . How could God command such a thing? How could God’s promise be fulfilled if the heir is killed? And what would Abraham do in light of such a command? This is not only a compelling story and a startling turn of events, it raises a number of questions about the mysterious redemptive purposes of God, one of several questions about the patriarchs addressed in the 11th chapter of Hebrews.
We are working our way through Hebrews 11, the so-called “hall of faith” – that list of Old Testament luminaries who are considered to be examples of people who had great faith under the most trying of times. As we have seen in previous weeks while covering this chapter, the author of Hebrews’ focus in chapter 11 falls not so much upon the examples these people set for us (although this is certainly a part of what is in view), but on the fact that these people all placed their trust in the same thing–the unshakable and gracious promise of God to provide his people with a Messiah who will redeem them from their sin.
Because this chapter is quite long and refers to so many remarkable and important events in the Old Testament, I have decided to approach Hebrews 11 by dividing it into sections corresponding to the particular period in redemptive history in which the individuals who are mentioned lived. We have already covered the first three sections. In the first section (vv. 1-3, in which the author defines faith) we took note of the fact that in verse 1, the author defines of faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith (the noun, and the verb “to believe”) is a technical term in the New Testament, in which someone’s trust is directed toward a particular object–usually the person and work of Jesus Christ. This means that faith–as it is biblically understood–cannot exist apart from the gospel.
We also saw that in some cases (as here in Hebrews 11), “faith” can mean taking God at his word when God makes promises to his people. Each of the people mentioned here make the catalogue of those who believed God’s promise, because they did exactly that–they trusted in God’s covenant promise to send a redeemer who would save his people from their sins. Therefore, instead of seeing this chapter as a list of Old Testament heroes we are to emulate, it is better to see this chapter as a catalogue of those who believed God’s covenant promise throughout the various twists and turns of redemptive history.
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