Text: Hebrews 11:17-31; 12:1-3
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.
In a continuation of the theme of faith from the beginning of chapter 11 of Hebrews, our text for last week, the author of Hebrews impresses upon the hearer of his sermon Old Testament examples of faith and what that faith was able to accomplish. We hear of the faith of Abraham in offering his son Isaac to God and the trust that God would raise Isaac from the dead. There is the faith of Isaac towards Jacob and Esau, the faith of Jacob towards the son of Joseph. You have the faith of Moses and all that God used him through with regards to the slavery of Israel in Egypt. Again, when reading the faith of these Old Testament heroes, we find that their faith is never in themselves, but solely in God. And why would you expect to find their faith in anyone other than God?
This sermon on faith that is preached is a great sermon for us to hear, especially in those times where we feel far away from, where we feel that God has abandoned us. Abraham could have felt just like that. He finally received a son, an heir, and God had demanded that he be sacrificed. Abraham could have had that defeatist feeling about himself or about God, that God had granted him an heir, only to take him away. Instead, Abraham had faith that God would provide a sacrifice in the place of Isaac.
These words are by far the best know, most beloved, and most preached on passage in Hebrews, and rightly so. These words offer hope, comfort, and encouragement to God’s people at all times and in all places. It vividly depicts their common experience as people of faith who realize that, even though they enjoy this world as God’s good creation, they, nevertheless, are aliens and visitors here on earth. No matter how much they feel at home here, they know that they belong elsewhere; they know that what they experience here in this world is but a foretaste of the feast yet to come.
The catalog of the exemplary people of faith from the Old Testament teaches that faith is not based on visible phenomena but on God’s invisible Word, His call to receive an inheritance from Him, and His promises of its benefits for His chosen heirs. Faith is nothing more than confidence in God and His promises. It depends solely on God’s faithfulness in fulling His promises through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And yet while none of the people mentioned in our text from last week or today ever saw Jesus in the flesh, they maintained a faith and trust in God that He would make good on His promise of salvation, not only for them but for all of creation, just as He made to Adam and Eve. Faith provides the foundation for the hope that God’s people have in Him. It orients them not only to God’s present providence but also to His future provisions for them, the good that He has in store for them in this world and the world to come. Faith in God’s promises provides reliable evidence things that are unseen. It deals with what is hidden from human eyes but shown by God’s Word.
Hearing all about the faithful can easily make us feel down about our own faith, that we do not or cannot live up to the faith as described here. But it’s not about how much faith that you, or that someone has a greater faith than another person. Jesus Himself says, “For truly I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” This faith that you have, as little as it might be or as great as it might be, is still faith nonetheless. And so the sermon continues: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
This great cloud of witnesses is no less than the Church, both the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant. We gather with like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ as we worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But we also worship with all the saints who have gone before us, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven….” We see in the Divine Service the crucified and exalted Lord Jesus set before us. He is there for us to see with the eyes of faith. We look to Him as the author and finisher of faith, the be all and end all of faith, for our faith is founded upon Him. And yet, we have great difficulty, sometimes failing to run the race.
For us sinners, we have been given faith by the Holy Spirit in our Baptism. We who are sinners have been united with God forever as His beloved children through what Christ has done for us, through Baptism and through His life, death and resurrection. We have the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ.
So, what happens when our faith is weakened or when it seems that God has given up on us, that He has left us to our sinful vices? First, know that God has not given up on you, His beloved and baptized children. Even when Israel turned their backs on God over and over again, God did not utterly abandon them. Yes, He let evil befall them. They lost their land, their lives, even their identity, but God was still their God and would preserve them.
For you, God is still your God and will preserve you. He will lift you up when you are at your lowest point in your sinful lives. He has promised that in your Baptism, that you have His name placed upon you and that you are His forever. That promise is yours.
So, what sins do you cling to today? What weighs you down in the marathon of your life as a Christian? What sins trip you up? Whatever it is, the text is clear: lay it aside. Get rid of it. Be done with it. How do we do that? Confess it. Speak to God of your sins that He already knows: acknowledge them before Him. And rejoice: rejoice because the Lord has comfort upon comfort in our epistle to give you this day.
For one thing, this grueling race is already won. Every other religion tells you that the prize is yours if you run the race well enough. But this is not so. Jesus has already run the race. He has already become flesh to endure the cross for you. He has despised its shame—the shame of being found guilty of all the sins of all the world, for they were all heaped upon Him. Yet He has endured the cross so that you might be delivered from your sin.
For another, Jesus remains the victor. He sits at the right hand of the throne of God: He is His Father’s right-hand God-man for you. He does not grow weary or discouraged about your soul; rather, He continues to work all things for your good. He is actively preserving you in the one true faith throughout the race.
Your ultimate joy is this: knowing that you are not alone, for Christ is with you now. He is the author and finisher of your faith: it is He who is the source of the faith you have, and it is He who has completed the cross so that your faith and salvation might be fulfilled. He is the author and finisher, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. But He is not far away: He is with you. In your endurance run, who has given you the living, life-giving water of Holy Baptism? It is none other than Christ Himself. Who continues to feed and strengthen you for whatever race remains? It is your Savior, with His own body and blood.
It’s an endurance run, this life of a Christian. Christ has run His course from heaven to the cross and back again, enduring the judgment for sin so that you might be set free. Take heart, dear friends, for your race is run and won already, because you are forgiven for all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.