Pentecost 8C

Text: Hebrews 11:1-16

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.

It’s amazing what you believe in, even though you have not seen it. For instance, I believe there is a state called California, even though I have not seen it for myself. The reason why I believe in California is because it has been confirmed by a great number of witnesses, by those who live there and have visited there. I have seen pictures of it, I have seen it on a map; thus, it must exist, despite me never seeing it. We can and most certainly do believe in things which we have not seen.

While we believe in things which we have not seen, there is one thing that is far greater than anything else, far different than anything else: faith. We hear in our text, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

Faith is that wonderful gift that you and I have received from the Holy Spirit. By faith, we are made to believe the Word of God. By faith are we able to trust in the promises God has made, especially the promise of a Savior, one who would undo the damage sin has brought with it. But the incredible thing about faith is I don’t see. Because I have faith, it doesn’t make me glow brighter than the person without faith. Because I have faith, it doesn’t make me look any different than the person without faith. Faith is given so that we may believe. And while a change does occur, it is not one that is visible.

As the writer of Hebrews illustrates, he cites various Old Testament individuals who had faith. But as you read them, none of them have a faith that is found in themselves. Rather, their faith is founded on God and His promises. Each, through faith, exhibited a trust like no other in God. And because of their faith in God, that He would do what He said He would do, they were found to be righteous.

The resurrection to eternal life is something we have not seen. For “the people of old,” Christ Himself, His incarnation, humble service, sacrificial death and final victory were not seen.  Yet they believed, and they were commended for their faith. God spoke well of Abel’s sacrifice.  The Lord credited Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness as we see in the Old Testament reading for the day. Throughout the Old Testament period, believers counted on God’s promises concerning the woman’s Offspring, Abraham’s Descendant, David’s Son. In this faith they were attested as God’s own.

For the writer to the Hebrews, he writes with one purpose in mind: to persuade his readers to hold fast to their faith and not to give up their hope in the atoning death of Jesus Christ. He warns, threatens, pleads, encourages, and interprets Scripture, all in order to convince them that the promise made by God to Abraham has been fulfilled. It’s that faith, he would insist, that is so essential in the Christian’s life.

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.

You and I have not seen Jesus Christ in the flesh, yet He is present with us wherever we are, wherever we go. He is present in His Word and in His Sacrament in the bread and wine, body and blood. It is through faith that you and I believe this, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We, just the like the people of old, are called to trust the promise of God. Obviously, it’s easier said than done…or is it? When we look at our text for today, we hear about the faith that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah had. In looking at them, we see that their faith was centered solely on God and His Word which was spoken to them. A Christian knows that God’s Word is true. Still, he may have to contend with doubts. That’s when it is important to go to that Word for encouragement. This chapter was meant to strengthen the battle-weary Hebrew Christians, but they were written for us as well. They present the examples of believers who encountered great challenges and overcame by faith.

In many ways, one can view faith as a container of something priceless. When you don’t have it, you are lost. When you do have it, all you think about is what is inside of it. When a person does not have faith, we say, “They are lost. You can’t go to heaven without faith. Faith is necessary.” But when a person believes, you stop talking about faith and talk only about Jesus. When you confess your faith, you don’t talk about how important faith is. Instead you talk about Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Faith is not a condition that a person must meet in order to earn salvation. Faith receives. Faith simply receives all the gracious promises and blessings of God. Faith is passive. It does nothing. It contributes nothing.

So, what must we do to get this faith? That is the beauty of God’s plan of salvation. We do nothing. Remember when it comes to our salvation, God does all the work. That includes producing the gift of faith in us. It’s a good thing too because we do not have the ability to produce this faith in ourselves. We cannot decide to follow Jesus. We cannot put Jesus in our heart. It is solely the work of the Holy Spirit who works in us faith and calls us to our heavenly Father to be His beloved children.

Because of the faith given to us by the Holy Spirit, the same faith which the people of old had, we are sure of the promise of everlasting life, granted to all who believe and have faith. And because of your faith, “God is not ashamed to be called [your] God, for he has prepared for [you] a city.” In Jesus’ name, amen.  Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.