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FAITH THAT PLEASES GOD

Hebrews 11:1-11:7
Key Verse: 11:6

We thank God that in this past year we could live a life of faith in the world, which is uncertain and ever-changing into godlessness and amorality and violence. Thank God for giving us his precious words, through which we could sustain our life and mission. We also thank God that in his love we could love Jesus our Saviour and Lord and feed his flock of sheep as the expression of our love for him, although we need to grow all the more in loving him and his flock of sheep on campus. We desire for his kingdom to be enlarged in our hearts and in the hearts of God’s sheep and in the world around us. Now we are ending this year and expecting for a new year 2015. As there seems to be a new year every year, it is easy to take it for granted. But for some people, 2014 was the last year in their lives. In the same way to some, 2015 will be the final year, against their wishes. We all need to know the preciousness of time and have consciousness especially facing a new year so that we may not wander aimlessly with no direction but live with a clear direction and focus. Direction comes from the word of God. We want to study Hebrews 11 in 4 lessons as our preparation for 2015. Our ministry direction to please God with faith, based on Hebrews 11:6. We want to learn faith and bear fruit of faith and please God with faith. May God richly bless the study of today’s passage.

First, what is faith? (1). Look at verse 1. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The opening word of this chapter, “now” connects what the author has been talking about thus far (i.e. until chapter 10), and what he is going to say in this chapter. The main point of what the author wrote about up to now is that Jesus is the Son of God and he is our high priest, merciful, faithful, great, and perfect forever (2:17; 4:14; 6:20; 7:28). He entered the inner sanctuary of heaven through his own sacrifice, his own blood (6:19; 8:2; 9:12,14). Those who believe in this Jesus are saved (10:39). That faith is most important. In the realm of faith the object of faith matters, that is, the question, “What do you believe?” Christians say, “I believe in Christ Jesus.” “Believe in” means relationship. We can say that faith connects us to God through Jesus, the Son of God and our high priest. So faith makes our relationship with God possible.

Look at verse 1 again. At the beginning of this chapter, called the “faith chapter” in the Bible, the author defines what faith is--although he has already mentioned faith repeatedly until now in this book. He says, “…faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” “What is faith?” seems to be an odd question. Jesus once asked his disciples who were alarmed at the stormy sea, “Where is your faith?” But here the author seems to raise the question, “What is faith?” and answers it. Why? There seem to be many who say, “I believe” or “I have faith,” but are not sure of what they believe. And their practical life seems to be different from their confession of faith. After saying that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” the author introduces those who had faith and lived their practical lives by faith. The names of 15 people are written, along with other people whose names are not specified. So it will be good to think of this definition and character of faith.

When we think over the words, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” we perceive that faith is related to what we hope for and to what we do not see. In this world, what matters most people is what they have now and what they see at the present. In other words, what is real, reality, counts. So most people live in the present sensible real domain. In school, those who got low grades cannot realistically think that they will get high grades, although they hope for it. Those who have no permanent job now have a hard time thinking that they will have a secure permanent job, though they wish to have such a job. Nowadays the Raptors are doing very well and are first in the eastern conference. Yet it is not easy for Torontonians to imagine that the Raptors will win the NBA for the Raptors haven't won the NBA since 1995, when the team was founded, even though we might hope for it. Most people live on this level. But those who have faith are different. For faith is being sure of what we hope for. Concerning our salvation, there are evidences of salvation in our hearts and lives. Yet the completion of our salvation has not yet come. We hope for it, the redemption of our bodies (Ro 8:23-24). How can we be sure of our salvation in Jesus? It is through faith. With faith, particularly faith in God’s promise, we are sure of being sanctified and glorified and of entering the glorious kingdom of God. In this world, nothing is sure. But faith makes our lives sure. We have sureness in life through faith in God, who is absolutely good and in control of all things. Faith and hope are interrelated. Those who faith have hope even in a most unlikely situation, and their hope becomes sure through their faith.

In our lives what we see is really just a small part, and what we do not see is really big--like an iceberg (over 90% of an iceberg is below the surface and thus not visible). What we see and experience is so limited. We cannot see the future, and we cannot see the past. We do not see what has happened, what God has done in history. We cannot see what is going to happen, So in our limited life so many things are uncertain: whom I will marry, what kind of family I will have, what will happen to me in 10 years, or even after death. In fact we are living in an uncertain world. Some people cannot be certain of even what they see, their present job and health. So they become anxious. But faith is being certain of what we do not see. Apostle Peter was so thankful for the early Christians who kept their faith even in fiery persecution, and said, “You have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Pe 1:8). After his resurrection, Jesus visited Tomas so that Thomas could see the risen Jesus. At this Thomas confessed, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen him, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:28-29). Indeed faith is being certain of what we do not see. This is the reason Jesus said to Peter and the other disciples, “Have faith in God. If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mk 11:22-24). Jesus wants us to have faith in God, who calls things that are not as if they were (Ro 4:17). Jesus wants us to live in the realm of faith and be certain of what we do not see with faith and challenge impossible things with faith and bear fruit of faith in life. At this point it is good to know that faith comes through hearing the word of God (Ro 10:17-18).

What do you hope for in the new year? What do you want to see in 2015 which you have not yet seen? We have been hoping for Jemmie’s marriage and have not seen it. But we can be sure through faith that our hope becomes reality, and be certain with faith that we will see it with our own eyes, particularly in 2015. For she accepted marriage by faith and God has a clear purpose of life for her. We have been hoping and praying for 12 shepherds’ families by 2020 as an expression of the enlargement of God’s kingdom and to serve world mission and want see it indeed. I want to see with faith, 40 faithful people of God worshipping God in this congregation, hearing the very word of God through the work of the Holy Spirit. More personally, I want to see by faith 12 1:1 Bible students studying the Bible with me. May we see many good things with faith in 2015 which we cannot see now.

There was a son of a poor local business man. He followed his father about on his business travels throughout USA. He realized that in travelling, finding comfortable sleeping quarters was most difficult. From that time on the boy began to dream of having a hotel business. He had no money but firmly believed the words of the Bible, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for” and kept his dream. At last in 1924 he built a big hotel in Dallas, and his hotel business grew, and now consists of 3600 hotels worldwide. He is Conrad Hilton (1897 – 1979), the founder of Hilton Hotel. Even in doing business he believed the words of the Bible. Then how much are we to believe the words of God in doing God’s work? May the words, “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do see” be planted in our hearts and bear fruit.

Second, please God with faith. Look at verse 2. “This is what the ancients were commended for.” All the ancients were not commended for any other thing, but for their faith, even though they all lived in different times The author goes on to tell of those who were commended for their faith. However, prior to doing so, he felt he had to write about creation faith. Look at verse 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.” Creation faith is an excellent example of faith that is being certain of what we do not see. At the time of creation nothing was there. But God made all things by his words of command. Then things could be visible. The point is that we can understand creation only by faith. We can believe God’s creation through his words. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God made the universe and all things in it; and he particularly created man in his own image. This is a most important truth of God. Creation faith based on God’s word is the foundation of our faith. How important it is to have creation faith! Those who have no creation faith are like wandering stars in the universe. However, one who has creation faith can say, “God is almighty and he made me as his masterpiece. In him I have absolute meaning of life and definite purpose of life.” We can confess like Apostle Paul, “We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10). May we renew and solidify our life purpose to please God in whatever we do in this new year, which may include denying ourselves and disappointing our close ones at times.

Look at verse 4. “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” Abel offered fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock, while Cain, some of the fruits of the soil” (Ge 4:3,4). His offering was the expression of his sincere, and whole heart. In offering he was aware of God and came to God with a broken spirit and contrite heart. Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Abel was the first one who came to God by faith in this fallen world, and so was commended as a righteous man by faith. However, as a result of his faith he was stoned to death by his brother. Humanly speaking his life was tragic. Yet, the author commented, “And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” He was the first martyr in God’s history and his life was a beautiful and powerful one in God’s sight. His life of faith shows how to come to God and how to speak and win the battle in life. We should learn to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). And sometimes speaking in silence before God by faith is the most powerful speech.

Look at verse 5. “By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.” Here the word “taken” is written three times. He was taken from this life by God, because God was so pleased with him. Genesis 5:22, 23 says, “…Enoch walked with God 300 years…Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” We can imagine that when he walked with God in the hostile world he was persecuted much, and his life was in great danger, so God he had to take him away. Enoch’s life shows God’s absolute protection for his people from the hostile world and even from death, when they live a life of faith walking with God. Each of them is an apple of his eye. As for Abel, God allowed him to be put to death. But as for Enoch God took him away. We believe that both lives were really beautiful and wonderful in God’s sight because of their faith.

Now it seemed that the author was so inspired by the life of Enoch who was commended as one who pleased God that he had to write verse 6 before going on to describe the life of Noah. Look at verse 6. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” In this verse first of all we can think of what our life purpose is. It is to please God or glorify God. When we consider God’s creation, all the creatures reveal God’s glory, his power and divine nature (Ro 1:20). Then men are to reveal God’s power and glory much more, and thus glorify and please God. Human beings are made to live for the glory of God, who alone is worthy of praise and worship and glory. The first question of the Westminster shorter catechism is, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” When Jesus was baptized by John the in Jordan and went up out of the water, a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased” (Lk 3:22). Jesus said in John 8:29, “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” And Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

And verse 6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God…” Human strength has limitation in pleasing God. In many cases our situations and circumstances do not allow us to please God. Especially, in an adverse situation we do not want to go beyond our capacity; all we want to do is to remain in our given present situation fatalistically or be content with what we are and what can see now. With that attitude or mentality we cannot reveal God’s glory and thus cannot please God. As we studied, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. In other words faith is to receive help from God, while no human help is possible. Verse 6 continues, “…because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Faith is to believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. There are many who say, “I believe in God,” but practically they do not believe it. In their practical life they live as if there is no God. They are practically atheists. Wouldn't you be sad if people around you ignore your existence? Then how about God? It is easy to ignore God’s existence simple because he is invisible, and live as if he is not there. But his existence is evident when we think of his creation. The works of his creation are the undeniable fact of his existence. We can say that God’s existence is as evident as my existence. Only God is a self-existing being. He said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). He created me, so I exist. My existence is an evidence of God’s existence. My throbbing heart shows God exists and he is living. Jesus once said to those who believed God merely theoretically, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Lk 20:38). He is the living God and is the God of the living. Our life of faith is to be aware of his existence, his presence, and live accordingly.

And faith is more than just believing God’s existence. It is also believing his rewards: He rewards those who earnestly seek him. Those who truly believe that God exists can come to God and earnestly seek him. Hannah in her barrenness and bitterness of her soul, came to God and prayed, pouring out her soul to God (1 Sa 1:10,15). Then God heard her prayer and gave her a great son, Samuel. Hezekiah, king of Judah, confronted a terrifying situation: the king of Assyria and his army were going to devour the nation Judah, including the city of Jerusalem. He confessed the national crisis to his officials: “This is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them.” He sent them to the prophet Isaiah to pray. And he himself went into the temple of the LORD and prayed, “O LORD…you alone are god over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made the heavens and the earth. Give ear, O LORD, and hear…Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God” (2 Ki 19:1-19). God heard his prayer and that night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty five thousand men in the Assyrian camp (19:35). When I think of our disciple-raising ministry our situation is like that of Israel, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them, due to our weakness and the power of this world. In this situation God wants us to come and earnestly seek him and pray. We can come to him with all our problems. When we come to him, he wants us to pray earnestly and believe his help. On one occasion Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. In the parable a widow kept coming to a judge, who neither feared God nor cared about men, with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” Through her persisting bothering she won over the judge who had no fear of God and no care of men, and eventually got justice. At this Jesus said, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” However, Jesus’ agony was: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:1-8). I pray that we may be found among those who keep faith and pray persistently, seeking him earnestly.

Let’s look verse 6b more carefully: “…because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Here God himself is the focus, “his existence” and “seeking him"--that is, God himself. In Genesis 15, when Abraham was fearful and had a sense loss, God said to him, “…I am your shield, your very great reward.” God himself is our reward, our very great reward. God eagerly desires to give himself. There are many believers who are content with and bound by outward blessings, and lose the point of their faith. Our Christian life is ultimately to obtain God himself. God wants us to focus on him and be rewarded with him by faith through all life situations, through success or failures. We remember Paul’s ardent and primary desire, “…that I may gain Christ…I want to know Christ.” His life focus was on Christ to gain him, knowing him better and better even in his old age. We can truly please God when we come closer to him seeking him earnestly, know him better, and be rewarded with himself.

Look at verse 7. “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” When Noah heard God’s message of judgment by the flood, he did not take it lightly. The trend of the wold was physical and pleasure-seeking. People denied God and ignored their spiritual life. But Noah believed God’s impending judgment through his words, although he could not see it and at the present situation it did not seem to happen. He believed and came to have holy fear and obeyed God’s given instructions. In absolute obedience to God he built an ark, which was his life-time project and required enormous hard work and great patience. Finally he completed his ark-building and all his family entered the ark at the time of the flood and were saved. He was not overcome by people’s criticism and reproach and condemnation. Rather he condemned the world by his faith. People could feel that they were wrong and had guilty feelings when they saw Noah’s life of faith. By his faith Noah became the heir the righteousness, that is, the heir of God. Noah’s life of faith teaches that we should be aware of God’s final judgment, which is unseen, and prepare for it with faith.

Thank God for granting us a new year 2015. May we believe that he exists and rewards those who earnestly seek him. With faith we may have sureness of our hope and certainty of what we do not see and bear fruit of faith to please God in this new year.

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