Pentecost 12c

Preached: August 15, 2010

Faith Awaits With Certainty
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is Hebrews 11

Now faith is firmness in what is hoped for and conviction about things that are not seen. In this the ancients were commended.

By faith we understand that the universe was put together by God's spoken word, so that what is seen did not come from what's visible.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance, obeyed and left, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he lived as a stranger in the promised land, staying in tents with Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of this same promise. For he eagerly awaited the city that has foundations whose architect and builder is God.

By faith, even though Sarah herself was barren and he was beyond that time of life, he was enabled to become a father, since he counted him faithful who had made the promise. Therefore from this one (and he was dead in these things) have been born those who are as numerous as the stars in the sky and as uncountable as the sand along the seashore.

In faith they all died not having received the things that were promised, but they died seeing them from afar, welcoming them, and confessing that they were strangers and temporary aliens on this earth. For those who say these kinds of things clearly show that they are seeking a fatherland. And if they were remembering that place which they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better place, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, with them God is not ashamed to be called their God. For he has prepared a city for them.

(Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Another ace. He couldn't remember the last time his cards looked so good. Three aces and two queens. He was sure his full house would win. He wasn't going to let the others bluff him out. There was big money in the pot, more than he had ever hoped for. He went all in. The others called. As he flashed around his full house, one of the others began showing his two's -- four of them. His full house had been beaten by four of a kind. But he had been so sure, so certain, so hopeful. What happened?

So what's the difference between that gambler's confidence in his cards and what Hebrews 11 talks about: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)? He was sure of his hope to win. He was certain that his cards where high, even though he could not see the other hands. What's the difference?

And this is not just an academic question. How often aren't our hopes been disappointed, like this gambler's? Haven't there been times that you were so sure of something only to find out later it was not so? Or have you ever been accused of blind faith, believing in something that is out of step with the real world? So what makes your Christian faith different than that gambler's? Or are we all just gamblers, hedging our bets for eternity?

A. God's word of promise does not fail

1. What makes the Christian faith different than a gambler's bet?

Now the writer to the Hebrews, instead of stating what makes the Christian faith different -- he shows us by listing believers from of old. As we look at just a small part of that list here today, we too see what the difference is.

He starts by taking us back to the very beginning. “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” (Hebrews 11:3 NIV).

Why do you believe that God created the world out of nothing in six regular days? You weren't there to see it. No one else was there to tell you about it. In fact, many of the highest authorities in science and the greatest intellects in our world today deny what these words say. They argue that the evidence shows a gradual change over time, an evolving from the simple to the complex. If you go to almost any natural history museum, you will see them lay out the steps of evolution over millions and billions of years.

We could rightly argue over their interpretation of the evidence. But that doesn't bring sureness or certainty, does it? At best it leaves the whole thing in doubt. But doubt's the opposite of faith.

So why is faith so sure and certain that “the universe was formed at God's commanded, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3 NIV)? Are you so sure because it feels degrading to imagine that our ancestors were monkeys and microbes? Are you so confident because you need someone bigger than yourself to hope in and lean on? As true as these things are, if they are the reason for your faith, then your faith is no better than that gambler's. You believe only because you want it to be true. That's not what the ancients were commended for.

Why did they believe and why do you believe that God created all? Because God says so. He alone was the eye-witness. And he tell us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 NIV). And it's not just Genesis 1 and 2 that tell us so, even though that would be enough, but it's woven throughout the Scripture. For example, we have this verse in Hebrews 11 for example. Exodus 20 says, “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Exodus 20:8 NIV). Psalm 33 says, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made” (Psalm 33:6 NIV). Psalm 124 calls him “the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8 NIV). Through the Prophet Isaiah the Lord God declares, “It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it” (Isaiah 42:12 NIV). And Jesus himself said, “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female” (Mark 10:6 NIV). And those are just a sampling. There's a lot of pages you have to tear out of the Bible to hold onto evolution.

So your faith is sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see, not because it makes you feel good or it sounds reasonable or you've seen it for yourself (none of us were there at creation), but rather because that's what God has said. And he is reliable, trustworthy, and true. That's what gives your faith sureness and certainty.

2. How does Abraham's faith show us the basis for faith's certainty?

How that's brought out all the more as we look at Abraham! Why did he leave his homeland and go to a place he had never seen? Did he dream big, imagining that he would set down firm roots there? So many today suppose that faith means to dream big, to have confidence that you can accomplish your goals. If that had been the case, Abraham would have died disappointed. For he never owned more land than the field and cave he was buried in. Faith doesn't mean to dream big.

Why did he go? “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8 NIV). Why did he go? Because God called him to do so and made his promise. Abraham's descendants would one day possess the land and later through them the Savior would come who would bring blessing for all peoples. What an inheritance! Abraham never saw any evidence that all that would happen -- remember he died only owning his burial plot. But God's promise is all the evidence faith needs. Abraham wasn't simply dreaming big; he was counting on God's promises. So sure and certain was Abraham that God would keep his word that he left the land he knew and lived and died as a stranger in a foreign land. Faith takes God at his word. Faith is sure and certain because God is trustworthy and true.

So also, Abraham believed that he and his wife Sarah would have a son. He believed, even though Sarah was barren and they were both too old. That was the reality of the situation. He believed not because he wanted it so bad. Yes, he longed for a son, but that's not why he believed. He believed because God had promised it. Note what it says in verse 11 “[Abraham] considered him faithful who had made the promise” (Hebrews 11:11 NIV). Faith is sure and certain because God is faithful. He is trustworthy and true.

So dear friends, look to God's promises. They, and they alone, give your faith real sureness and true certainty. Think about it. When something is promised, you have not seen it happen yet, have you? If I promise my wife that I'm going to clean out the basement, there's no proof that you can see. There's only my word. That promise is the only evidence it will happen. And I may prove unreliable for one reason or another. But God is trustworthy and true. His promises are more reliable than any evidence you can see or touch or reason out. His promises are the unseen proof that give faith it's sureness. They are the unseen evidence that drives away doubt. Faith is certain of what we do not see because of God's promises.

B. Our fatherland is ready

1. Where is your true home, your fatherland?

And his promises are what give us hope. If you promise a child that you'll take him to the rides at the fair, his face lights up in hope. But after you've kept the promise, hope is replaced with a fun time and pleasant memories. Hope looks forward and eagerly anticipates what we do not yet have. The promise holds out that future good, faith trusts that promise, and therefore faith hopes.

Now human promises often fail. Hope easily ends in disappointment. How different God's promises are! The hope God's promises bring is as real and sure as if we already had it. His promises do not fail. His promises give our faith and hope a reality and subsistence so that what he has promised is more real than this robe that I can actually touch. Hope that believes God's promises will not be disappointed. For he is trustworthy and true.

And look, dear Christian, look at what he has promised for you, who through faith are citizens of Christ's kingdom. Because of God's promise, Abraham “was looking forward to the city with foundations, who architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10 NIV). That's the hope that God's promise gives to your faith as well, dear Christian.

Abraham knew he was a stranger. He wasn't just a foreigner in the land of Canaan. He was a stranger to this earth, an alien. His fatherland, his home country was not Ur of the Chaldeans where he had been born. He could have returned there if he thought that was his real home. His fatherland was not Haran where his father had died. And Canaan certainly wasn't his home land. He and his son and his grandson lived there in tents as temporary residents. “They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country -- a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16 NIV).

2. How do we live now as we remember that we're strangers here?

Dear friends, live as aliens on this planet longing to go home. And I'm not talking about outer space or extra terrestrials or E. T. going home. I'm talking about heaven. Even though we have not been there yet, Jesus has made it our true home. He's prepared a place for you there. Heaven is your fatherland.

For you have been reborn through the water and word of Baptism, reborn as a citizen of heaven. God is not ashamed to be called your God and claim you as his people, because you have been washed clean in the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ. Your faith clings to Jesus' righteousness as your only plea that stands before God. It's not Peter or Paul who stand at the pearly gate, but Jesus himself welcomes you into the heavenly city with open arms.

We're not home yet, though. We're still strangers on this earth. We're living by faith, looking forward in hope to the promised inheritance. So don't grow attached to the earthly. This life is passing away with its glimmer and glitz. Rather keep your eyes on the distance and welcome the inheritance waiting for you. Yes, this life is filled with its disappointments, pains, troubles, and sorrows. Don't let these dampen your hope in what Jesus has prepared for you.

Like Abraham, live by faith, faith that is sure and certain because of God's promises. He is trustworthy and true. That's no gamble. The hope his promises bring will not disappoint or proof false. As you continue in the faith holding on to God's promises, no one and nothing can rob you of your citizenship in the heavenly city. That's the inheritance waiting for you. Count on it. You got God's word on it from the beginning through out all eternity. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313