Please read Hebrews chapter 11 verses 1-6 twice; then pray: Almighty God, Creator of all things visible and invisible, grant us insight into the nature of true faith, and strengthen us to walk with faith, hope and love, through Jesus Christ who is the author and perfector of our faith. Amen!

Over the next few weeks, we are going to be immersing ourselves into one of the greatest chapters of the New Testament – Hebrews 11. This chapter is the famous chapter about faith, and it reveals how the Old Testament heroes embraced and persevered with a life of faith. Hebrews was written to a Jewish audience (author unknown), many of whom had received Jesus as Lord and Saviour and therefore tasted salvation. There may well have been other Jews in that audience who were seriously considering placing their faith and hope in Christ having heard the gospel. They faced a problem, a real dilemma. The problem was persecution and hardship for those who loved and followed Jesus. Christians were being persecuted, and the persecution looked set to get much worse in the future. (10: 32-36) There was a real cost to following Jesus, much as there is today in so many parts of our world, and even within our own so-called Christian country.

The writer of Hebrews stepped forward with this letter in order to encourage patient endurance amid this ongoing and increasing hardship. These Jewish Christians were being tempted to give up on their faith in Jesus, and to return to their old faith which was a safer option. This letter addressed that temptation to backslide. The message was basically “don’t give up or give in.” Keep walking with Jesus because, as the letter so powerfully shows, Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross is supremely important. Jesus and his sacrifice alone bring real salvation and a new eternal covenant with God. Jesus is utterly unique and glorious and must be enthroned in their/our lives. Keep your faith in Jesus burning brightly. This is the message and word of exhortation within this letter. (Hebrews 4:14, 10: 23-25, 35-39, 12:3)

Hebrews 11 presents a kind of rallying cry to patiently endure as the great heroes of the OT had done. These remarkable heroes all lived “by faith” – so must we! The oft repeated phrase in this chapter (more than 20 times) is “by faith.” Just as these Jewish Christians must learn to live by faith, so also must all who claim to know and love Jesus – who is the author and perfector of our faith. (12:2)

At the beginning of chapter 12 we will be asked to consider the faithful endurance of Jesus, but here in chapter 11, we are being asked to consider the faith of the OT heroes.  So, as we study the contents and characters of this chapter – our faith in Jesus should be strengthened, and if any of us are tempted to give up, this teaching should inspire us to remain faithful and loyal to Christ. To give up would prove disastrous, whereas to live “by faith” will lead us to glory and to “better city and country.” (11: 10,16)

And so, the chapter begins with a resounding statement concerning the nature of faith.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

This is not a definition of faith as such, but an introduction to the basic nature of faith, and the chapter will go on to illustrate this in the life of many individual OT saints. We are going to learn about the significant features of faith and the qualities of faith. Warren Wiersbe writes;

This is not a definition of faith but a description of what faith does and how it works.

What this opening verse stresses, and this will be highlighted again and again throughout the chapter, is that faith concerns a solid assurance, an inner certainty, a deep and abiding conviction about something we do not yet see. Faith is being certain of the existence of God, who we do not see, and placing of our whole trust in the promises of God concerning the future. Faith is about “banking everything” on God and his promises. I very much like the way The Street Bible written by Rob Lacey puts this;

What’s “taking God at his word” mean? Let me fill you in. It’s being dead sure of our prospects. It’s being sold on something we’ve no evidence for, convinced when there’s no proof. And it’s what the old heroes had truckloads of…

Faith does not place its reliance on what is only visible to our physical sight – and yet is does rest securely on a conviction that God exists and his revealed word in the bible is true and completely trustworthy. Faith is absolutely prepared to rest in God and his revealed word and promises. Take for example, the hope of heaven, the promise of eternal life. We cannot see it. It is not possible to see it now. Yet we firmly believe the truth about eternal life because God has promised it. When the apostle Paul was writing about the certainty of eternal life and an eternal home for believers in 2 Corinthians 5, he states emphatically that “we live by faith, not by sight.” He also writes that although we cannot presently “see it,” we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Cor: 5: 1-7)

Let me share with you some great quotes from Christian writers of the past in order to press home this truth about faith.

Walking by faith means being prepared to trust where we are not permitted to see.   Anon

Faith is the sight of an inward eye.  Alexander MacLaren

Seeing is not believing. Seeing is seeing. Believing is being confident without seeing.  G. Campbell Morgan

A believer sees invisible things.   Richard Sibbes

The property of faith is not be proud of what the eye sees, but to rely on what the Word reveals.  Martin Luther

To be a Christian is to be in the position that the believers were in who received the apostle Peter’s first letter. They were also being persecuted. This quote is from 1 Peter 1: 8-9

Though you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Let us read Hebrews 11:1 again;

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

We are then told that this is what “the ancients” were commended for. It was because of their faith that God blessed them, favoured them, empowered them, and used them. Faith was the key which enabled them to please God. How do we please God? By living the life of faith. Just a little later in the chapter, we read this;

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards (commends and blesses) those who earnestly seek him.” (11:6)

Now after introducing us to faith – its nature and focus – and after telling us that it was faith that motivated all these great heroes of the past, the writer then moves on to share what is a basic requirement of faith and the starting point of faith. He starts, as the whole bible does, with a belief in the Creator and in creation by his Word. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) This is the grand opening statement of the bible. Hebrews 11:3 re-iterates this.

By faith we understand that the universe (heavens and earth) was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

Faith gives us convictions about creation. As I have already said, faith rests entirely on God’s revealed Word and promises. God’s Word reveals clearly that God is the Creator of all things – the whole universe – and that He created all things through his own powerful Divine Word. He simply spoke and all things came into being. And God did not work with any existing material. God created all things from nothing – simply by Divine fiat or Divine command. “Let there be light – and there was light!”

This is the classic belief in creation ex nihilo – out of nothing. God’s Word brought all things into being, and God’s Word continues to hold all things together. (Hebrews 1:2-3) As the Nicene Creed puts it:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen….

This belief in God the Creator and his act of creation through his Word, acts as a foundation and substructure to all faith. This is the starting point for the journey of faith. Christians believe that the sovereign Almighty God created and controls all things. This then gives us great confidence to face the world and the future. This is a deep conviction that we hold because God’s Word reveals it and the world itself bears witness to a Creator of infinite power, wisdom, goodness, and grace. No-one can live a life of faith without this basic tenant of faith.

Believing that God created all things by His Word of command is an act of faith. We were not present when the universe came into being. No-one was. No-one knows the facts behind the origin of the heavens and earth. No-one witnessed it. No-one saw it. By faith we believe God did it – and God did it in the way that He tells us he did it – through speaking it into existence! His Word was enough! This is something that must be believed by faith. Do you believe it? If not, what is your explanation of the origin of all things?

This is what the Psalmist declares as well as the author of Genesis;

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm.  (Psalm 33: 6 & 9)

Now this is an act of faith – to believe in this act of Almighty God – because we did not, we could not have seen it. What God said to his suffering servant Job, He could say to anyone of us;

Where we you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.  (Job 38: 4-7)

Now although believing in God’s creation of the heavens and the earth by his Word is an act of faith, the bible goes on to teach – that the evidence (visual evidence) that this world and universe is created by God, is there for everyone to see. The order and the fine-tuning of our world speaks powerfully and clearly of a Great and Awesome Creator and Designer. If an aeroplane or a skyscraper or a bridge needs a designer and builder – the world with all its incredible order, beauty, laws of nature, physics, chemistry and mathematics must have a Creator/Designer. The bible speaks about this, but so does the creation itself. Creation, skies, oceans, rivers, mountains, sunsets, trees, flowers, fruits etc… shout at us! There is a Creator who is the God of glory and this spectacular creation! And it makes clear sense to believe in Him! Do we not recognise His stupendous handiwork? We should!

Read now PSALM 19 v 1-6

The tremendous glory and magnificence, the order, the beauty, and the wisdom of creation speak to us loud and clear about the existence and glory of its Creator God. The Psalmist states that only fools deny the existence of God (Psalm 14:1). The apostle Paul goes further and says that on the day of judgment, those who have not acknowledged, given thanks, sought after, and honoured God with their lives will be without excuse. The creation itself has spoken to all human life about the existence, attributes, and glory of God, but some have deliberately chosen to suppress this glorious and obvious truth. Paul writes;

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1: 18-20)

Lee Strobel was a top American lawyer and an avowed atheist for many years – but then he discovered the truth in Jesus Christ. He embraced faith and became a great Christian apologist. He writes;

To continue in atheism, I would need to believe that nothing produces everything, non-life produces life, randomness produces fine-tuning, chaos produces information, unconsciousness produces consciousness, and non-reason produces reason. I simply didn’t have that much faith.

Or as the Christian preacher and writer Peter Lewis puts it;

Whether we think in terms of evolutionary processes or not, the one thing precluded here is random chance as the reason for life. It has been said that the probability of life originating from an accident is comparable to the probability of a dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing works. However, the opening chapter of the Bible does not speculate about a probability but proclaims a Person. Here is purpose, intention, guidance, direction, achievement.

And so, to return to Hebrews 11: 3

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

This is indeed the starting point of faith and the life of faith. We as human beings are made “in the image and likeness of God.” (Genesis 1:27) We can have a unique and personal relationship with God built on His forgiving grace and through faith in His Son Jesus. Right at the outset of this letter to the Hebrews, the author writes about the fact that the world was “made through Jesus” (Hebrews 1:2) because Jesus is the Word of God. The apostle John starts his gospel with the first three words in Genesis and then proceeds to write about The Word who is Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1: 1-3) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14)

This is the great reason why these Hebrews, and why we must never give up on Jesus or give up on the life of faith. Jesus is our Creator. He is the Word – the Word of God. And he has become our personal Saviour. This is the reason why Jesus could command the violent winds and colossal waves to be still and calm. The storm ended immediately by His personal command. Do not abandon your faith and trust in Jesus. Persevere! Press on! Remain faithful! Look back and know that God created all things through Him, and look forward to spending eternity with Him as He has promised. We can confidently declare with the Psalmist;

I lift my eyes to the hills – (to the Cotwolds) – where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  (Psalm 121:1-2) What a supreme declaration of faith!

Faith concerns living and walking with sure and certain hope in God just as all these OT heroes did despite the costs, challenges, mockery, and possible suffering. But we walk with a God of immeasurable power and love – as demonstrated through his creative acts of power! Nothing is impossible for our God. Therefore, stick with Jesus; hold on to him and serve him faithfully. It will be worth it in the end when you eventually see Him face to face, and when the place He prepared for you in heaven is revealed. Live a life of faith in God and in His beloved Son Jesus. Declare the following with the apostle Paul – and stick to it – whatever you may have to face in this life or contend with:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live BY FAITH in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20)

May this word today, and may the starting point of this journey through Hebrews 11, bring fresh spiritual strength, resilience, and determination to your walk of faith with God.

And to this infinitely great and invisible God of all creation, be all glory, honour, and praise. Amen!


Revd Peter Clarkson (August 7th 2022)