Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.
We tend to be a rather insecure people. We are insecure in our personal relationships. We are insecure in our jobs. We are insecure in general. We may not be insecure all the time, but we are insecure a good amount of the time. Sadly, we are insecure when it comes to God. We are sinners and sometimes we wonder if God can really forgive the likes of us. That is something that Satan loves to tell you, that you are unforgiveable, that you are too far gone for God to save you. But when it comes to God, you do not need to feel insecure because God has promised you that you are forgiven all of your sins.
All of this makes sense if you possess a single thing – faith. That is the emphasis that the writer of Hebrews presents. Faith is our greatest virtue, for by it do we receive the blessings that God gives to us. And what is our faith founded in? The world would have you ground your faith in yourself, in the fleeting pleasures of this world, in some sappy gospel that isn’t really the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You can certainly ground your faith in any one of those things, but that faith will not save you. It never can and it never will. Instead, our faith is grounded in something beyond our imagination.
It’s written: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Because the benefits of Christ’s work are given to us in our Baptism, we draw near to God with the full assurance of faith and we hold fast to our confession, knowing that God is faithful. God’s righteous ones lives by faith. This means having a solid confidence in God. Faith brings the future into the present because it makes things hoped for as real as if we already had them.
Throughout our text today, we hear over and over two words: “by faith.” The author of our text recalls several Old Testament figures and the faith they had. Trusting in the Messiah who was to come, they endured many challenges, believing that God would fulfill His promises, and God commended them for their faith. Each of these figures could have easily given up on God’s promises of the Messiah. Each could have given into the false promises of the world that were immediate than to trust that God would keep His promises.
The first example of faith we see is Abel. Abel, son of Adam and Eve, offered a sacrifice to God from “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” He was commended as righteous and “God [commended] him by accepting his gifts.” Abel gave to God the best he had to give. And in the end, what happened to Abel? He died at the hands of his brother Cain. But as Hebrews tells us, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”
How does Abel speak to us today though he is dead? Why was Abel’s sacrifice acceptable? It was not because of what he brought, but because of why he brought it. It was not because of what he did or who he was; it was because of the faith that he had.
And what about a man like Noah? God had told Noah to build an ark because of what would happen. Imagine building a giant boat in the middle of dry land for 120 years that would be large enough for two of every animal and room for food and room for he and his family, a total of eight people. Almost alone in a totally corrupt world, he trusted God and His promises and became the possessor of the righteousness that comes only by faith. Noah was saved, not only from the waters of the flood but also from the fires of hell through faith in God’s promises.
Our text next speaks of Abraham, who was “called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.” He had a nice home in Ur, yet he believed the Lord’s promise that he would receive the land of Canaan; so he packed up his household and left all that he knew. The Lord kept His promise, and Abraham dwelt in the Promised Land; unfortunately, nobody else outside of his family believed it. Therefore, while all of Canaan belonged to Abraham, all who lived there viewed him as a stranger and foreigner.
With Abraham comes Sarah, childless throughout her life. At ninety years old, she heard God promise her a son—an absolutely laughable idea, since she was far past childbearing. But the Lord promised, Sarah believed, and Isaac was born to her and Abraham. Why? Because Sarah believed the promise by faith.
Throughout all these examples of old, they all share a single quality in common and that is faith. In each instance, their faith is not founded in themselves. Their faith is not founded in things of the world. Their faith is founded in one thing and one thing only – God. That is the way our faith is to be as well. Sure, your faith can be in the world, but it will let you down. Sure, your faith can be in people, but they will let you down. As we sing in our hymnody: We walk by faith and not by sight,/No gracious words we hear/From Him who spoke as none e’er spoke,/But we believe Him near.
With the saints of old, it says that they not only lived by faith, but also died in faith. They saw very few of God’s promises fulfilled, but they trusted that God would keep them; therefore, they died believing in what was yet to come. They willingly faced suffering, ridicule, hardship and death in this life because they believed they were just strangers here. They counted their lives and livelihood nothing because they had a different homeland—an eternal, heavenly country.
That is the joy that you have – that your faith in Christ has counted you righteous. It’s not your personality; it’s not all the good things you do in your life. You are made righteous because of Jesus. You are made righteous because the blood of the Lamb was shed and ran over you, washing you clean in that crimson flood.
In short, faith is nothing more than a gift given by God, as it was to the saints in our text. Faith clings to Jesus and His forgiveness, as did the saints in our text. Faith comes by hearing the Word—as you and the saints in our text have heard God’s Word.
If you believe that faith is something you’ve come up with in order to please God, repent. It is His gift to you for your salvation. If faith is something you do, then it is your work and it is never certain. If faith is God’s gift, then your salvation is sure.
Faith is your gift. Faith in Christ is what gives to you your salvation. Faith is your joy, for by that faith God calls you His beloved. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.