The Evidence of Things Not Seen
Hebrews 11:1-16 | Sermon Notes 24 July 2011
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Movies and TV teach our children a lot about faith. “It doesn’t matter in what or in whom you have faith, even if it’s in yourself, just as long as you have faith.”
Modern Christians go one step further and tell us to have faith, to trust in Jesus to save us. That’s a big step in the right direction, and a saving one, but it doesn’t give us much practical help in the day-to-day trials and temptations of life. The reason for this is because moderns do not understand biblical Covenants.
Chapter 10 ends this way:
So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
“He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
What is the context here? The writer is showing the parallel between Israel in the wilderness and the church in the first century. Their respective journeys to the promised rest follow the same pattern.
Sabbath – Ministry of Moses/Christ
Passover – Death of firstborn/Christ
Firstfruits – Ascension of Moses/Christ
Pentecost – Testing the Spirits
Trumpets – A New Generation: Acts to Ad60s
Atonement – Jericho/AD70
Booths – Canaan/A Jew-Gentile church
Hebrews was written to Jews who were tempted to go back to the Egypt of the Herods. The “faith” required here was the faith to enter the Land and possess it, to patiently inherit it. Faith is explicitly tied to the promises of God — by COVENANT. Those who truly believe will persevere, and those who persevere are true sons, and those who are true sons will inherit the promises.
TRANSCENDENCE – Who’s the Boss?
HIERARCHY – Who’s put in charge?
ETHICS – What are the rules?
SANCTIONS – What do we get?
SUCCESSION – What’s next?
1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
- The distress expressed in the Psalms is mostly due to the fact that being under Covenant with God involves purification, transformation. As soon as God gives us His word, that word gets challenged by Satan. God wants to see if we will turn to false gods when under pressure. Faith without testing is not faith.
- Suffering is common to all mankind, and God often uses it to draw us to Himself. But the Bible paints a picture of Covenant suffering as a deliberate choice.
- Living for and witnessing to the truth of the Gospel is offensive to sinners because our words and deeds condemn them. Our witness opens the Law, with its Ethics and Sanctions, and they are reminded of their accountability to men and to God. Our obedience — in the power of Christ — is the evidence of unseen things. It is also the evidence God will use to condemn the wicked.
2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
- As the Word of God softens and transforms our hearts, true faith produces works. These works condemn the world. So faith without works is not true faith. Faith will always bear fruit, and a tree is known by its fruits.
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.
- We understand this because God tells us in Genesis 1. Without the Word of God, we cannot interpret the world rightly. We judge by sight and come up with all sorts of deluded interpretations. We can only understand the world with the Word of God.
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.
- Cain judged by sight. He did what was right in his own eyes, and was offended when God accepted Abel’s offering, an offering that was obedient to God’s requirements. Cain’s offering made perfect sense to him. When God offered him mercy after the murder of Abel, he sinned again by refusing it. Cain could not understand grace.
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.
- From Adam to Noah follows the same “slavery to Sabbath” pattern, and the annual feasts. Enoch was taken as the Firstfruits offering. But the Law opened at the following “Pentecost” was the murderous law of Lamech.
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.
- Belief in the existence of God is only the first step. The demons believe and tremble. We must seek God with determination, fulfilling what He has commanded by Covenant so He can bless us as promised.
- Many people today have turned from God and the Bible because of some sort of controversy. Many turned away from Jesus when He purposely made the going tough. True seekers will not let a personal hurt or a “Bible contradiction” make them stumble. They will keep searching until they find the answer that vindicates God, led by the Spirit within them. The Spirit leads them to heed God’s warnings, and take His cutting remarks to heart. True faith cannot give up.
- Under the Old Covenant, blessing depended on obedience. Nothing has changed under the New. The difference is that those who are truly redeemed will be obedient. And the redeemed also shelter under the obedience of Christ, the true “Amen.”
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.
- We understand that Noah believed God, despite the craziness of God’s words to him. But notice that it says Noah’s obedience condemned the world. Noah’s faithfulness got the faithful out of the world, just like the angels got Lot’s family out of Sodom, and the apostles got the faithful out of Jerusalem, so that God could pour out His judgment. By our obedience, and by our prayers, we are a two-edged sword. With every act, every breath, we both redeem and store up vengeance.
- The inheritance comes once the wicked are judged. Perseverance pays off. The inheritance of Jesus is the nations. And Jesus is patient.
8 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.
- God continually “showed” Abraham, through various means, what he would inherit. The tests grew more and more intense, until the final request to offer Isaac. Just so, Jacob was tested in greater ways than Abraham, and Joseph in greater ways than Jacob. Abraham could not have conquered Egypt the way Joseph did.
9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.
- Esau is not mentioned because he despised the promise. He was not interested in the Covenant, as shown by his selling of this birthright. Isaac was initially foolish in his desire to hand the Succession to Esau. Later on, God opened Isaac’s spiritual eyes.
10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
- The true city of God is Jerusalem, a city of peace, of rest. The earthly Jerusalem was only a picture of it. Paul says in Galatians that the earthly city was made barren, given no Succession history, like Lot’s wife, like Michal. She became the great harlot, and was burned with fire. The true Jerusalem is the true bride, the Jew-Gentile church of God.
11 By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.
- Covenant Succession is always God’s way of guiding history. Under Abraham, Succession was by flesh and blood. God used physical fruitfulness to teach us about spiritual fruitfulness. The Succession is now spirit, not blood. The blood was presented in heaven as Firstfruits and then Jesus sent the Spirit. Succession is now by Spirit, through the preaching of the gospel. The emphasis is no longer on physical genealogies.
12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
- Stars are heavenly mediators. Sand mediates between Land and Sea on earth. In the social realm, God’s people are a new heaven and a new earth. One day, there will also be a new physical heaven and earth, and God is preparing us for it. He will put us into the Garden City as He put Adam into the Garden. But we will be wise as serpents.
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on the Land.
- To understand these references, we must understand God’s architecture. Israel was the Bronze Altar, the earthly country, outside the Tent. The church is the Golden Altar of Incense, the heavenly country, inside the Tent. Abraham and all the Old Testament saints—plus the New Covenant martyrs—inherited the heavenly country in AD70, at the end of the Old Covenant.
14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.
- Our desires are to be focussed on the future. It doesn’t mean that the world doesn’t matter. God expects us to transform it for Him. Heaven is just a waiting room. At the end of history, the saints will inherit, not just heaven, but the earth.
- So, what are you hoping for? Faithful children? Then that will show. A larger congregation? Then that will show. A holy life? Then that will show. Just like God, we are all driven by desires, by LUSTS. God desires US. If we desire HIM, we will desire what He desires. He will fill us with zeal for His house, just like Jesus. Christianity is not about throwing cold water on desire. It is about replacing ungodly desires with godly ones. Without God’s vision, we will have no godly desires. God’s vision comes from God’s promises.
15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.
- What are our minds fixed on? Bringing people to Christ? The future? We are often tempted by our old desires. We must fight fire with fire. This means getting into God’s Word and being encouraged by the saints.
16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
- Adam was created but Eve was constructed. She was a picture of the bridal city. The Old Testament saints are already there, as God’s royal court. And when we assemble together in Jesus’ name, by faith, we are there also, as His legal witnesses, testifying to His perfect justice and His unspeakable grace.
We are a house built by invisible hands. The wicked see and hear us and tremble. One thing I have noticed is that it is often those who are most opposed to the gospel that get converted. The Spirit is at work on them, so don’t be discouraged by such opposition. It vindicates the power of the gospel.
Personally and corporately, we are a grand work beyond the explanation of men, the evidence of things unseen. And men hate that. They hated Noah, Jesus and Paul, and they will hate us, if we are living faithfully.