August 07, 2016

Rev. Mark F. Bartels

Old Testament Lesson; Genesis 15:1-6

Gospel Lesson; Luke 12:32-40

Sermon Text; Hebrews 11:1-3

                       Hebrews 11:8-16

The text we will look at today is taken from the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 11. We will look at verses 1 through three and then verses 8 through 16. This reads as follows in our Savior's name.

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...

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Issac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a Heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.

These are your words. Heavenly Father, lead us in the way of truth. Your Word is truth.


This morning I got up bright, and early. On my way to church, I stopped at PDQ. There were a couple of guys there. One of the guys was talking to the cashier. He said, “I stayed up pretty late last night.”

Guess what he was watching last night? He was watching the induction of Brett Favre into the Football Hall of Fame, and they were talking about the induction of Brett Favre into the Football Hall of Fame. Now, I think there are a little over three hundred people who have been inducted into the Football Hall of Fame, so Brett Favre is one of a few people. He is one of the greatest, and he is kind of like a hero, now. So, for generations people are going to read his statistics, and read about his great feats. It is great to have heroes like that.

Did you know, as Christians, we need heroes, too. We need people we can look up to, that serve as examples on how to get through certain things in life. When we go through certain things in life, we wish we had an example, someone we can look up to, who would show us how to get through it.

For example, let's say there is some young girl in college, and her professor has started to tell her there are lot of smart people who do not really believe everything in the Bible is true. Now, all of a sudden, her faith is challenged. She wishes, “I wish there was somebody I could look up to, some hero, who I could ask, 'How did you deal with challenges to the faith, like that?'”

Or, maybe there is some young guy who has been married for five years. He had an affair a couple of years ago. He has been forgiven by his wife, and they have patched things up. They have seen a Christian councilor, but in his heart, he still struggles with, “Am I really forgiven? Does Jesus really forgive me for this?” He wishes he had some hero he could look up to that had to deal with that, who could show him how to deal with that.

Or, maybe there is somebody who has lost a spouse that they had been married to for many years. Now he or she thinks, “Man, it feels like God isn't with me. It feels like He is not watching over me. It feels like He is not taking care of me. I wish I had someone I could look up to who had to deal with things like that.”

Well, the amazing thing is we have what we call “A Hall of Fame of Faith”. We find it in the scriptures. We find it in Hebrews, chapter 11. In Hebrews, chapter 11 the Lord presents us with a group of people from The Old Testament, (Old Testament believers), how they dealt with all of the challenges we go through in life, and how they dealt with them from a perspective of faith. These people believed God. And so, they are held up, as “The Heroes of Faith”. I would encourage you to read through Hebrews, chapter 11, someday, with a Bible Commentary, and just read about all of these different heroes.

Today we are going to focus particularly on one of “The Heroes of Faith”. He is a man we are all probably pretty familiar with. His name is Abraham. He is mentioned repeatedly in Hebrews chapter 11. As we start to look at Hebrews chapter 11 the first thing the book of Hebrews does in chapter 11 is it is going to define,

       -“What is faith, in the first place?” You will discover faith deals with two issues.

               -It either deals with things you cannot see,

               -or it deals with things that are in the future,

               -or it deals with both of those, things you can't see that are in the future.

Let me give you an example. What if I told you there is a $100.00 bill in a grocery bag. You can't see it, can you? Is it there? I see a lot of blank looks. There is no way to know if it is there, unless you actually walk up here, look down in the bag, and see if it is really there. You can't see it, but I am telling you it is there.

In addition to that, let's suppose you are in a really tough situation in life. You don't have food, or a place to live. I tell you, “This $100.00 in here is yours. After church, you can come up here and grab it.” Now, I am dealing with future things. When the church service is over, (and this is what we call, 'hope'), you have hope that you can walk up the aisle, look in the bag, and there is that $100.00 bill. You can reach in, take it out, and it is yours. Then, you can go buy some food, and get a motel room with it.

However, when you walk up this aisle, and look in the bag, your hopes could be what? They could be dashed, because that $100.00 bill might not really be in the bag.

The Bible tells us Christian faith is similar to that, and yet different. Christian faith deals with things you cannot see. It deals with things that are in the future. Or, it deals with things that you cannot see that are in the future. But, there is no uncertainty with the Christian faith. Here is what our scripture readings says, as it defines faith.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,

and the conviction of things not seen.”

God, in His Word, makes promises. It is like He puts them in a bag. They are future promises. The promise is that some day those promises, they are all going to be yours.

Even though the Bible says my sins are forgiven, “I sure don't feel that way. I still have a guilty conscious. I still feel icky. I still feel like maybe God doesn't forgive me.”

Faith is

“the conviction of things not seen”.

Faith, Christian faith, even though it can't see those promises happening in this life says, “I don't care how I feel. If God says my sins are forgiven, they are forgiven.”

Faith is

“the conviction of things not seen.”

So what if my professor tells me a lot of people don't believe everything in the Bible is true. It doesn't matter what reason may tell me.

Faith is

“the conviction of things not seen.”

If God says it in the Bible, it is true. Faith is this conviction of things not seen, even though I may not experience it.

       -If it looks like God is not with me,

       -if my life is hard, and things are falling apart,

       -if I am being persecuted

faith is the conviction that God is with me,

because His Word says He is.

He promises that.

It is the conviction of things not seen.

And it says,

“faith is the assurance of things hoped for.”

That means there are promises God gives me in the future that are going to be mine. Faith says, “If God says I am going to be in Heaven, some day, by faith in Jesus, then I am going to be in Heaven some day, by faith in Jesus.” There is no 'ifs', 'ands', or 'buts' about that.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.”

It is off in the future, but the One who made the promise is true. When I die, I am not going to open my eyes and say, “Oh man. Am I bummed out. I was wrong. I believed the wrong thing.”

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.

Wow! Wouldn't it be great to have a faith like that? The Bible gives us an example, a 'Hero of Faith', somebody who had to deal with all of those struggles, just like you and I do. It is a man by the name of Abraham. Abraham received some very specific promises from God, promises that were unique to him.

Abraham lived, roughly speaking, about 2,000 BC. Before Abraham, the LORD dealt with the world, basically, in general. But now, beginning with Abraham, Abraham is the father of the chosen race.

       -It is through the line of Abraham, scripture is going to come.

       -It is through the line of Abraham, the Savior is going to be born, eventually.

       -It is through the line of Abraham, the Gospel is going to be spread, ultimately, to the world.

So now, the LORD, in grace, and mercy, chooses this man named Abraham.

He lived in a place called The Ur of the Chaldees. The LORD simply gave Abraham this promise. “Abraham you are going to have a land. You and your descendents are going to inherit a land. It is going to be yours. It is going to be your descendents, for generations, and generations to come.” That was a promise the LORD gave Abraham.
He also promised Abraham, (even though Abraham was really old, ninety-nine years old, and his wife was eighty-nine years old, and logically it was impossible for them to have children), “You are going to have a son”. That was a promise. “From that one son, you are going to have more descendents than you could ever count. You can count all of the stars in the sky, and the sand on the seashore, but you will have countless descendents. Ultimately, all nations will be blessed through one of your descendents.” That was the promise of the coming Savior.

Those were promises that were given to Abraham. But, you know what? He couldn't see them with his eyes. The Bible tells us God just gave him that promise.

And, God said, “I will show you where the land is.”

The Bible says Abraham didn't even know where he was going. The LORD didn't give him a map, or a GPS. Abraham, even though he never saw it, and couldn't see that land, he simply, by faith trusted, “If God says He is going to give me land, then I am going to go where the LORD leads me.”

Finally, he made it to the Land of Canaan. Did you know Abraham never, ever, (even though he was in that Land of Canaan for almost one hundred years), he never owned land in the Land of Canaan? Nor, did his son, nor did his grandson. They never owned it.

And, when the LORD said he would have a child, well, that seemed impossible. How could he have a child? He was ninety-nine years old, and his wife was eighty-nine years old. They were beyond the age of child bearing. But finally, they did have a child, because God kept His promise. The LORD said his descendents would be as countless as the stars in the sky. But, Abraham never saw those countless descendents.

So, he had these promises from God, but he never really saw them come to fruition. But, it says he welcomed them from afar. He believed, “If God promised my descendents are going to have this land, then we are going to have this land someday”.

Faith is the certainty of things not seen.

He believed that even though,

       -maybe everybody laughed at him, and said he was crazy,

       -maybe his own reasoning thought he was crazy to believe it,

       -maybe he struggled with all kinds of doubts and everything else, he believed that if God said he was going to have descendents as countless as the stars in the sky, and the world would be blessed through one of his descendents, even though he never saw that happen, if God promised that was coming in the future, he was absolutely assured it was going to happen.

He died never having personally held on to those, and gotten those promises, as his own.

But, let me ask you this. Was Abraham crazy? Did God keep His promises to Abraham? We know the rest of the story. We can look back, way, way back, and we see that hundreds of years after Abraham died, the LORD kept His promise. The Children of Israel did inherit the Land of Canaan. It became their possession.

Do you know how many Hebrew people there are? How many Jewish people there are? They are countless. We can't count them.

The LORD kept His promise.

Has the world been blessed through one of Abraham's descendents? Yes, it has. You have been blessed, through Jesus, who is one of Abraham's descendents. Even though Abraham never saw those promises come to fruition, he knew it was going to happen, and it did.

The One who made those promises is faithful.

Wow! What a faith Abraham had.

But ultimately, Abraham was longing for something even beyond that. He knew in this life he was going through struggles, trouble, and trials. And, it may appear as if God wasn't keeping His promises. People might laugh at him for what he believed. And, he was a sinner, just like we are. But, His greatest hope was that he knew someday he had an abiding city. He was not going to have to live in this tent, anymore. He was going to have a city whose foundations are built by God. He was going to be in Heaven, someday, because of the coming Savior. That was ultimately the assurance Abraham had. He trusted that.

Faith is being certain of what we hope for

and convinced of what we don't see.

Do you have that kind of faith?

I was reading the other day about a pastor. He was talking to an atheist friend of his. (An atheist is somebody who doesn't believe there is a God.) This pastor was explaining he believed that when we die, as believers in Jesus, we are going to go to Heaven. We will have eternal life.

This atheist, this man who didn't believe in God, was thinking, “Well, you can't see that. It is off in the future”. So he asked the pastor, “Do you think you are going to be in Heaven, when you die? Tell me what Heaven is like.”

The pastor said, “The streets are made of gold. Every gate is like one, big, giant pearl. We will be able to be with all of our believing relatives, and friends who went before us. We will get to be with them, forever. It is going to be awesome! We are never going to be sad. We are never going to be lonely. We are not going to do anything bad anymore, ever. It is going to be amazing, and we will never die.”

The atheist friend listened to that, and said, “You know, now that you describe it that way, maybe I want to be there, too.”

The pastor asked, “What changed your mind?”

The atheist said, “Well, you never mentioned Jesus being in Heaven, and you never mentioned God being in Heaven. If they are not there, then I would like to be there.”

All of a sudden the pastor realized, “I left out the most important thing. Here God has given me this promise of Heaven. Why would I want to be there in the first place?”
Why do you want to be in Heaven?

There is a hymn verse we sing that says,

“Heaven itself were void and bare,

Lord Jesus Christ,

if you were not there.”

Do you want to be in Heaven first, and foremost, because that is where Jesus is? Jesus said,

“Where your treasure is,

that is where your heart will be also.”

Our biggest treasure, our biggest treasure as Christians, as believers in Jesus, is Jesus.

There is no greater treasure than Jesus.

If it were not for Jesus, we wouldn't be going to Heaven, or looking forward to Heaven, in the first place.

       -Jesus is the One who saves us.

       -Jesus is the One who died for all of our sins.

       -Jesus is the One who forgives us.

That pastor, who left out Jesus in his description of Heaven, he started to think about the weakness of his own faith. Sometimes, maybe we question the weakness of our own faith, too. We may wonder, “Is my faith strong enough to get me to Heaven?”

Here is the awesome thing about scripture. Faith is the hand that holds on to God’s promises. The Bible doesn't say, “God so loved the world He gave His one and only Son. Whoever believes in Jesus, with a really strong faith will be saved.” God doesn't say that. The Bible says,

“God so loved the world

that He gave His one and only Son,

that whoever believes in Him,

shall not perish,

but have everlasting life.”

So, we believe faith saves. Faith saves, whether it is a strong faith, hanging on to all of those promises, or a weak faith that is barely hanging on. All the contents are still mine, even though I am barely hanging on.

Faith saves.

So, how do you know if you have faith? I had a young person come up to me, and say, “I am going through so many struggles. I am trying to get rid of these sins, but I keep committing them. I wish I wasn't committing them, but I keep falling in to them. I keep asking Jesus to forgive me, but I still keep tripping, and falling. I am starting to wonder, if I am even a Christian. I am starting to wonder, if I even have faith. I wish I could be like the other people at church. They seem to have a firm conviction, and Christian faith seems to change their lives. Do I have faith?”

I love this one section in the Catechism, where it asks a question. To me this is one of the most important questions our Catechism asks.

“How does even weak faith show itself to be saving faith?”
Here is the answer our Catechism gives.

       -Number one, weak faith shows itself to be saving faith by its hatred of sin.

       -Number two, weak faith shows itself to be saving faith by its desire for grace in Christ.

       -Number three, weak faith shows itself to be saving faith by its love for the brethren.

Weak faith shows itself, even weak faith, shows itself to be saving faith by its hatred of sin. Do you wish you weren't doing the things you do? Do you wish you didn't fall into some of those sins you keep falling into over, and over, again? Do you say with St. Paul,

“The good I want to do,

I don't do.

The evil I don't want to do,

I keep on doing.

Wretched man that I am.”

Well, then the Holy Spirit has given you the gift of faith. He has brought you to repentance over your sin.

Do you have a desire for grace in Christ? Do you, in your heart say, “I wish Jesus would forgive all of my sins, wretched person that I am. I wish He would wash them all away.”? If you have that desire in your heart, the Holy Spirit has given you the gift of faith. He has given you the gift to believe, “Yes, Jesus is the only way to be saved.” He has given you that longing in your heart.

Thirdly, weak faith shows itself to be saving faith by its love for the brothers. The Bible says,

“This is how we know we have crossed over

from death to life,

because we love the brothers.”

Do you long to have a faith like Abraham, a strong faith? That shows a love for the brothers. I wish I were like other Christians. I want to be like other Christians.

So, how do you go from having a weak faith, like maybe ours is, to having a faith like Abraham, this strong faith?

“Faith comes from hearing the message.”

“Faith comes from hearing the message

and the message is heard through the Word of Christ.”

Thank God the Holy Spirit has given you the same faith He gave Abraham.

       -You believe in Jesus. That is a gift. The same gift Abraham had.

       -You believe Heaven is yours. That is a gift. The same gift Abraham had.

God has given you the Holy Scriptures. Let's use those Scriptures, because through them the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Christ.