Bible readings: Ps 33:1-9, Hebrews 11: 1-3 & 6-11, Hebrews 13: 1-8& 20-21
How many of you have been on a rough boat or plane ride where you are constantly looking for signs of the harbour or runway because your hope of a safe arrival is fast diminishing? Then suddenly in the far away distance you catch a glimpse of it …. as soon as you see it you fix your eyes firmly on your destination… What is it about fixing our eyes on the destination that allows us to start breathing easier, to believe that we’re going to make it? What is it about seeing the end in sight that brings a sense of hope?
Today’s our last morning in Hebrews and as we draw to the end the writer is asking his audience to think in terms of running a race and to fix their eyes… “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” Heb 12:1b-2 (NIV).
Instead of fixing their eyes on the finish line they’re to fix their eyes on……? Yes, Jesus… they are to fix their eyes on what is unseen, not what they can see in front of them….
A quick recap to date. Hebrews was a sermon written by an unknown author to a group of Jewish Christians who had gone through a time of persecution and struggle and who were falling away from Christianity, failing to meet together as a body of believers and returning to Judaism. So the author has skillfully taken them through worship under the Old Covenant, or Judaism and contrasted it to what Jesus Christ has done in establishing a more exceptional way through a whole new covenant which we looked at last week.
So far, we’ve heard how Jesus is fully human/ fully divine, the Son of God as such is more exceptional than the angels. How God now speaks through his Son, and Jesus now mediates between God and humanity and prays for us in the very heart of God, making him more exceptional than Moses and more exceptional than the high priests. Last week we looked at how Jesus has established a whole new covenant through the laying down of his life resulting in our forgiveness, healing and reconciliation with God.
Finally, we’re looking at Jesus Christ, who it says in 13:8 “is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow” as offering a far more exceptional hope than the Old covenant could. As we saw last week...the Old covenant was centered around God being housed in a tabernacle or temple made by human hands and who could only be approached once a year and then only by the HP after all the appropriate offerings for sin had been made, whereas the new covenant is centered around God’s dwelling place and through Jesus laying down his life for us we’ve been enabled to enter into God’s presence at any moment in time.
Threaded through it all the author has warned of the dangers of unbelief, which ch 12 gives more attention to…v 25, 28-29 “Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. For if the people of Israel did not escape when they refused to listen to Moses, the earthly messenger, we will certainly not escape if we reject the One who speaks to us from heaven!..” advising instead “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire!”
This serious reminder comes to us as we round third base and head for home, the banner waving over home base calling us on is “Jesus Christ.... the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
But how do we take a hold of this more exceptional hope found in Jesus? So far much of what we’ve heard has been around what Jesus has done or is doing… but here we move into our part… we have to exercise faith… how do we exercise faith?
If we think in terms of going to the gym to build muscle, we start out small and repetitive…. the more often we exercise those muscles the stronger and more resilient they become… we develop faith in the same way...we start trusting God in small ways and the more we step out in faith, or choose to trust God, the more our faith muscle develops.
We have to trust, believe and accept what Jesus has done and we have to live from that place of trusting God’s perspective on life. Trust that if God asks us to live in a certain way that will be the best way for us to live.
As it says in Proverbs 3:5-6 read with me
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”
Trust and faith go hand in hand. Faith was obviously important to the writer as he’s given a lot of space to it so let’s unpack faith a little more.
In the Old Testament Hebrew scholars tell us there isn’t really a noun for faith, instead it conveys the idea of faith with verbs…possibly because they saw faith as something you did not something you owned. Some verbs meant to be firm, established or steadfast, regard as true or believe…some convey the idea of a confident resting, fastening or leaning on someone or something….
I like that faith being a confident resting, fastening or leaning on God.
Hab 2:4 tells us the righteous will live by their faith, this use of faith (emunah) is the nearest to a noun in the Old Testament and it means “a fastening of the heart on the divine word of promise, a leaning upon the power and faithfulness of God.”
In the New Testament pisteou (noun Pisitis) is the word used most commonly for faith, but its multi-faceted. In Paul’s writings it mostly means trust, trust that accepts the divine gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, trust shown in an act of commitment turning away from living our lives for ourselves to following Jesus.
For James it was used more in terms of belief, but he strongly points out that believing isn’t enough even demons believe…faith for James had to be lived out with a life that acted on that faith…faith without actions was as useless as actions without faith.
In the gospels the emphasis changes again, faith is linked to the miracle working ability of Jesus, all things are possible to the one who believes.
Our reading from Hebrews 11:1 unpacks faith a bit more saying “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (RSV) What does that mean really? The NLT puts it this way “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.”
One commentator suggests here faith needs to be understood in two ways…Firstly, faith being the confidence of what we hope for is time orientated, meaning it looks to the future and secondly, faith giving us the assurance of things we can’t see is space orientated….meaning it looks to the present reality of the invisible world, it knows the “really” real is beyond what we can see.
The author of Hebrews backs this up by pointing out that what we see as reality, as the bricks and mortar of creation was actually created out of the unseen, brought into existence by the word of God…and yet how many of us think in everyday terms of the eternal being the main domain and our world being a secondary player. We move and act as if what we see dictates how everything has to be…but we’ve got it upside down….
Jesus said we were to pray that God’s will would be done on earth “as it is in heaven” he didn’t say to pray that God’s will be done in heaven as it is on earth…imagine what a disaster that would be!!!
The writer wants them to grasp the eternal existed long before creation began and it will exist long after it has gone…the eternal is where Jesus now intercedes for us. The eternal, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can shape our reality if we only have faith or rest upon the one who is able to do far more than we ever could.
Or to put it another way, faith in Jesus is the peg on which we hang our hope, no ordinary hope but a more exceptional hope, a hope that God can do far more than we can even begin to imagine. Eph 3:20 puts it this way “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
As one commentator notes “Because of faith, our hope is no flimsy dreaming; it has substance and reality. Faith provides a ground to which we may hold fast. But that grounding also orients us toward the future and gives us courage to move forward, launching out into the unknown.”
The writer then goes on to give concrete examples of faith in the flesh and bones of many of their ancestors. Their stories painting vivid pictures of faith as something to hold fast to in the difficult times and to give courage and hope to keep moving forward to a new and better day.
Finally, the author brings the application of his sermon into the arena of everyday life. In Ch 13 Reminding them as a people of God, as followers of Jesus that must impact the way we live. We’re not to live as if this world sets our agenda, we’re to live in a way that shows we belong to God. We’re to make God's invisible kingdom, a visible reality in the world by living differently to the way the world lives.
He gives six major instructions
Firstly, the need to love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Secondly, the need to be hospitable to strangers.... Not to become an insular community focused only on themselves. They’re to be hospitable to the stranger and look out for where God might be at work in and among those they provide hospitality too.
Thirdly, the need to remember those who were going through trials, persecution or imprisonment and help them where they could as they themselves understood what it was to be persecuted.
Fourthly, the need to honour marriage including sexual fidelity.
Fifthly, the need to live in thankful contentedness for what they have and not be bound by the love of money.
Sixth, the need to be loyal and show respect for those who have led them faithfully in the ways of Christianity.
Seventh, the need for proper worship. What does that look like? We are to offer God our praise and thanks in response to the more exceptional blessings and the more exceptional hope we have through the new covenant.
By Faith we can embody this way of life, not out of guilt, but through God’s transforming empowering grace. Will we?
By faith we can endure and move forward through the most difficult of circumstances holding to the more exceptional hope Jesus offers. Will we?
By faith we can bring change in our communities, in our world and leave stories of the radical transformation God can bring through the lives of those who choose to follow Jesus. Will we?
By faith we can fix our eyes on the unseen, on Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, we can fix our eyes on our eternal goal and draw strength from the more exceptional hope Jesus’ faithfulness to us brings. Will we?
By faith we can confidently come to God with our praise and our pains knowing Jesus has opened a more intimate way to God. Will we?
By faith we can see the ultimate goal is not this world, we can fix our eyes firmly on the finish line Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and make God’s invisible realm a visible reality to others in the world today. Will we?