Hebrews 11 is often called the Hall of Faith because there is a listing of so many people’s faith. In our context of the book we have been observing the author teaching about the faith we need to endure the suffering of life and the difficulties that come from following Jesus. These Christians have suffered for the cause of Christ. In our last lesson we read that these Christians endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being exposed to public insults, being mistreated, being put in prison, and having their property confiscated. So the author is working to encourage these Christians to continue forward with Jesus and to not give up. Chapter 10 ends with the encouraging words that “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (10:39). Chapter 11 describes those who did not shrink back but had faith and are saved. Rather than examining each person in this chapter and how that person displayed faith in his or her life, I want us to be see the big picture that the author is using to overwhelm the reader. The author is trying to overwhelm us with some very important concepts about faith. There are a number of repetitions found in this chapter which reveal the points that the author makes to these Christians and to us. So let us read Hebrews 11 and then we will consider three points that the author makes that will spur our faith.
“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 Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
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 Isaac 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.
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:1–40 ESV)
Faith Is Necessary (11:1, 6)
The author begins by declaring that faith is necessary. Faith is the foundation for your hope. Faith is the support for your hope. Faith is what stands under our hope. We do not have hope if we do not have faith. Faith is necessary. Notice in verse 2 that it is by faith that those in the past received God’s approval. Further, faith is the conviction about things not seen. If you can see something, then faith is realized and it is not faith. Faith is always about believing in what you cannot see. Faith is about things you did not see yourself. Verse 3 illustrates this point. It is by faith we believe that was is seen (the creation) was made from things not visible. Notice verse 6 that continues to picture the necessity of faith.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)
The first point is that faith is necessary. It is impossible to please God without faith. Notice that there are two aspects of faith that we cannot see. We cannot see that God exists and we cannot see the rewards to come for those who seek him. Faith is necessary and it is impossible to please the Lord without faith.
What makes continuing in our spiritual journey with God so hard? Why are we tempted to give up? One reason we want to give up is because we cannot see any of this. We cannot see God. We cannot see the reward. We cannot see the future. We cannot see how it is going to turn out. We cannot see heaven. We cannot see eternity. We will say, “If I could just see it.” But that is not faith. Then you would not need faith. God made this journey a journey of faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. As we read through Hebrews 11 noticed that each of the people and events spoken about was about having faith in unseen things. Noah built an ark before seeing a flood. Abraham moved from his home without seeing where he was going. Abraham and Sarah believed they would bear a child even though their bodies were to old to do so. Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead even though he had never seen resurrection before. Everyone believed in the unseen. They believed in God and in what God said without any physical evidence to confirm their faith. The writer of Hebrews brings up something that we just recently looked in our Joshua study. What is the basis for believing that walking around the walls of Jericho will cause them to fall? What would you see to believe this? You have never seen this but believed because God said it. This is the essence of faith. Faith is the support for the things we hope for.
Faith Does Not Seek Reward Now (11:13, 39-40)
Second, faith does not look for joy and reward in this life. Look at what the writer of Hebrews says in verses 13-14.
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. (Hebrews 11:13–14 ESV)
All of these people died in faith without receiving the things that were promised to them. The reward is not now. They were strangers and exiles on earth. They did not enjoy a privileged life. Now look at verse 15.
If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. (Hebrews 11:15 ESV)
If they were thinking about this life and looking for a reward now, then they would have turned back. In fact, when we think about the failure of Israel in the wilderness, the reason for the failure is that they wanted reward immediately. Therefore, after a few days in the wilderness they made plans to return to Egypt. They were not thinking about the future reward. They were thinking about the present circumstances. People of faith does not look at the present circumstances. People of faith do not look to have their pleasures and rewards now. Look at verses 32-38 and notice how none of these people were receiving a reward in this life, even with all the great things God accomplished through them. Turn to verse 39 and notice that the writer makes this point again.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39–40 ESV)
Even though all of these were commended for their faith did not receive what was promised. But I want us to hear that this is a good thing. You do not want to receive now what is promised because God is providing something better for us. Listen to verse 16.
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. (Hebrews 11:16 ESV)
God’s people desire something better than what this life has to offer. We do not want this life and this world. We want a better life and a better world. The better thing and God’s promises are not about this life but the life to come. Faith does not look for an earthly reward because everything earthly is temporary and deteriorating. We want a lasting reward. We want an eternal reward. This leads directly into the third point made in this chapter.
Faith Looks Upward (11:10, 26)
Finally, faith looks higher. As we read through Hebrews 11 we must consider why these people did this. Why did they endure all that they endured? Why did they endure even though they could not see the outcome? They endured because their faith looked upward. The people of faith desired better things and so their faith looked higher. Look at verses 9-10. Abraham went to a foreign land and lived in tents because “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (11:10). He was not looking at the present circumstances. He did not remain in Ur because leaving his home and family did not make sense. He left home and family because he was looking forward to the city God was building. Abraham did not want the reward now. Abraham was looking at what was to come.
Look at verses 24-27. Moses chose to be mistreated along with God’s people. Why would Moses do this? Notice that the text says that Moses was looking at something else. He did not desire to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin (11:25). Sin is not what he wanted. He did not desire it. His faith caused him to look higher. Moses was looking to the reward (11:26). He saw that disgrace with Christ is a far greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt. Wealth in this life did not matter. Wealth in this life is nothing in comparison to wealth in Christ. Further, Moses was looking at the invisible God and not here (11:27). His faith was looking higher.
This is the mentality we must adopt. We want something better and therefore we look higher than this life. We avoid sin because we look up toward the joys and pleasures of God. We reject the pleasures of this world because the pleasures of God will be so much better. This point is critically important and will be brought back into focus in chapter 12. Good things come for waiting and we are forfeiting something so great because we are not willing to wait and look higher.
So what is our encouragement for faith from this chapter? The end of Hebrews 10 declared that the righteous live by faith. Living by faith means understanding that we are not going to see the outcome of our faith now. We are not going to see the reward of our faith now. We are not going to desire for this life to give us everything we want and desire. We are not going to look to sin to satisfy our yearnings. But let us settle in on this big point: we are not the only ones who have to do this. This is what the life of faith looks like. This is the way all the people of faith in the past lived. All lived a life of faith because they were looking to what was prepared for them by God. This statement brings us back to the first verse. Faith is the support and foundation for the things hoped for.
What do we hope for? If we hope for this world and things in this life, then we will not have faith in God because God does not support such hope. If we long, desire, and hope for what God has promised, a better, heavenly country, then we will have a faith to support that longing. Let us hope in God.