Prayer, Psalm 116
Children, Genesis 5.21-24
Message, Hebrews 11.1-7, 32-40
Background of the book
Hebrews, anonymous (tradition: Paul or one of Paul’s disciples)
Placed among the letters, but more of a sermon or
“Word of exhortation”, 13.22, etc.
“I have written to you briefly” (13.22), 45 minutes to read aloud!
Original readers (10.32-39)
“Earlier days” of persecution, imprisonment, confiscation of property
Now, a new trial … “you need endurance”
Quote Habbakuk, “my righteous one will live by faith”
“But we are not among those who shrink back and are destroyed, but among those who believe and are saved” (10.39)
“Then they had been bold for Jesus Christ; now they appear to have become timid. Then they had stood their ground; now they appear to be in retreat. Then they had regarded their property as expendable; now they are emotionally unprepared to risk the loss of property of life” (William Lane, 145).
Us as readersSleeping on a board
Does the flame of our faith gutter, at risk of going out?
Does the blaze of our hope flicker, at risk of being lost?
Does the fire of our love cool, at risk of burning out?
Virtues, not emotions
Objective content, substantial, not simply subjective
Faith: In the marvelous 2012 film Safety Not Guaranteed, a team of reporters attempts to find and profile the person who places the following classified ad: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.”
It becomes obvious in the film that the man who placed the ad believes that he has traveled in time. But, does “believing make it so”? (Craddock, 131). (Prayers) No.
Yet: “Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the pragmatic proof of things not seen” (Heb 11.1, personal translation).
Faith, Christian faith, is substantial, not because our emotion or enthusiasm makes it so, though there are some cases in which emotion and enthusiasm does make something. Faith is substantial, not because ideas have power, though they certainly do. Faith is substantial because faith ties me to the unseen God and every promise God makes. And, when we tie ourselves to God, when we are anchored in grace, when we live by faith, we can fling ourselves into the future with what looks like reckless abandon, we can take huge risks, we can take the leap before we … see what is unseen. And, whether we receive back our dead by resurrection or we are sawn in two … we remain God’s.
Hebrews 11, God’s classified ad: Wanted: Somebody to give up everything, to risk everything. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid at the end of the adventure, if not before. No weapons needed. Safety not guaranteed.
The preacher of this book invites us to time travel to the past, not in a time machine, but in biblical memory, taking us on a tour of the salvation story from creation through the first great redemption cycle – Exodus. Then, running out of time, he wraps up Israel’s story with a list of names and the exploits of countless unnamed saints “of whom the world was not worthy” (11.38). I love these stories. They make my imagination soar.
John Wesley & William Wilberforce (letter, one week before JW’s death):
O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it. … I was particularly struck by that circumstance that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a “law” in all our colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villany is this? (86)
“Would not, apart from us, be made perfect” (11.40)
I love these stories. They make my imagination soar. Would I have the audacity to dream their dreams, to leap with faith, to administer justice, to obtain promises, to be tortured, to be wander homeless in the wilderness? Would I have the faith to offer an acceptable sacrifice like Abel? Would I walk with God like Enoch? Would I trust God like Noah? I believe that the world was “prepared by the word of God”. Can I dare to believe that God’s promises have just as much power to create as that very first provocation, “Let there be light”?
Diving board – shrink back
“but we are not of those who shrink back …”
Not written to make us feel guilty but to remind us of the vital quality …
And remind us, when faith gutters, hope flickers, love cools
that we are those who believe and are saved.
Resources:William Lane. 1985. (1998 reprint). Hebrews: A Call to Commitment. Hendrickson Publishers.
Fred B. Craddock. 1998. Hebrews in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press.
George Wesley Buchanan. 1972. To the Hebrews, The Anchor Bible 36. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Albert C. Outler, editor. 1964. John Wesley. New York: Oxford University Press.