Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Our Great High Priest: A Study Of The Book Of Hebrews. Day 34, The Hebrews Hall Of Faith, Part Two

The author of Hebrews is speaking to Jewish Christians, so for examples of faith he uses their own ancestors. These examples of faith still speak to us today, plus I bet some of you have had people in your own families who have set wonderful examples for you in the faith. Most of us have known someone who held firm to their hope in God even when everything in their lives seemed to be going wrong. There were a lot of people in the Bible who fit this description, and we take a look at more of them today.

"By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith." (Hebrews 11:7) Have you ever been warned by the Holy Spirit to avoid a certain person or situation? You may not have been able to see with your own eyes what was wrong, but in your heart you felt led to take another path. I've been there, and although I couldn't explain to anyone just why I knew something or someone was to be avoided, I've learned to listen to these warnings. I've ignored such warnings a few times and lived to regret it. Noah must have been a man who was used to heeding the warnings of the Holy Spirit. When warned of the coming flood, he began building the ark even though he'd never seen a drop of rain. Can you imagine how much he was ridiculed? Can you imagine how difficult it must have been to get up every morning for about a hundred years to start work on the ark and to preach repentance to the people when it must have appeared to everyone but his family that he was crazy? That took a great deal of faith!

What does the author mean by saying that by Noah's faith he "condemned the world"? I believe he means that Noah preached the truth of God to them, and that since they heard the truth and rejected it, on judgment day they will be judged by the very words Noah preached to them. Earlier in the book of Hebrews we talked about the fact that it would be far better for a person never to have heard the truth than to have heard the truth and rejected it. A person who has never even heard of the existence of the living God can plead ignorance in the judgment. But no one who heard Noah preach can plead ignorance. No one who has heard the gospel of Christ can plead ignorance either. Once a person has heard the truth, he is held accountable for what he does in response to it. It's not that Noah personally condemned the people of his day to an eternity separated from God. They condemned themselves when they listened to the truth from Noah's lips and chose to remain in disobedience to the Lord.

"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. 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. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:8-10) Abraham left the pagan culture of Ur to follow a God that his people did not acknowledge. Archaeological work at the location of Ur has revealed that these people were quite advanced for their time. Many of the homes even had what passed for indoor plumbing in the ancient world. The residents there must have thought Abraham was insane to leave the comfort and luxury of Ur to live in tents in the wilderness. They must have thought he was suffering from mental illness when he claimed that someone he referred to as the one true God had spoken to him and had told him to leave his people and go to a land he had never seen. They probably laughed at him and told him to get some help when he proclaimed that God was going to make a great nation of his descendants and that God was going to give his descendants a land flowing with milk and honey. But in spite of all this, and in spite of the fear of the unknown which he must have felt inside, he packed up and set out on the journey anyway.

"And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered Him faithful who had made the promise." (Hebrews 11:11) We know that Sarah's first reaction to the news that she would bear a son was to laugh. She overheard one of the three angelic visitors telling her husband, "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son." (Genesis 18:10) Did she or Abraham know these men were angels? Probably not, at least not yet. So when Sarah heard these words, naturally she thought the man was crazy, for she'd faced disappointment over and over during her childbearing years. She'd probably tried all sorts of infertility remedies recommended by the physicians of the day. She'd probably, in desperation, even tried things that were basically "old wives tales". None of this had worked. Praying to God hadn't worked either. Every month during her childbearing years she'd hoped for a sign that she was finally pregnant, and every month her hopes were dashed. On the day the angels visit the tent she shares with her husband, she is ninety years old. This means for about thirty-five to forty years she has had no hope at all that she will ever be a mother. Biologically she can't expect such a thing. Looking at her circumstances from a human standpoint, she'd be crazy to believe such a thing could happen.

But what about looking at her circumstances from God's standpoint? Can the God who created every cell of the body not revive an old woman's ovary to produce an egg with which to conceive the child from whom God is going to make the great nation He's promised Abraham? In order to prove that the God who created all things is capable of making a ninety-year-old woman into a mother, the angel reveals that he knows Sarah laughed to herself within the tent. And by revealing this, Sarah realizes that these three visitors are not mere men. After making it clear that he knows she laughed to herself and scoffed at the idea in her mind, the one who made the promise of the coming child said, "Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son." (Genesis 18:14) Sarah is struck with fear. This being knows her very thoughts! He knows she laughed even though she laughed on the inside, not out loud. Doesn't this also mean that what he says about a son is true? In her heart, Sarah begins to believe that becoming a mother just might be possible after all. This kernel of faith, though it might have been as tiny as a mustard seed, enabled her to conceive a child. If she had not possessed this faith, the author of Hebrews appears to make it clear that she would not have received the promise, for he says she was enabled to bear children "because she considered Him faithful who had made the promise".

God is willing and able to do great things for us, but unbelief creates a barrier between us and the blessings He longs to give us. If Abraham had not left Ur in faith for the promised land, and if Sarah had not believed in faith that God was able to give her a son, then the following would never have happened: "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." (Hebrews 11:12)

We need to think bigger. We need to think better. If we had any true inkling of just how powerful our God is, we would never hesitate to ask Him for anything, no matter how improbable it looks from a human standpoint. Don't let anyone (not even yourself) tell you that your situation is hopeless. Don't fall for the lie that God can't take an ordinary person like you and enable you to do extraordinary things. Don't let it bother you if people think you're crazy for believing in a God you can't see and for obeying the guidance of a Holy Spirit who speaks to you in your heart. Just keep on doing what's right and keep on believing that nothing is impossible for God.

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