Printable PDF: 11-19-2017 Saints Triumphant Sermon
Vicar Bence ~ Saints Triumphant ~ Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12 ~ 11/19/17
By Faith Alone: What does this mean?
1Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for….8By 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. 9By 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. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And 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.
People approach faith and say prove it! Why did he do it? Why did Martin Luther nail the 95 theses to the door at the castle church? Why did he dare stand before kings and princes and say “here I stand!” Why did he dive into scripture and ponder its teachings day and night, year after year? Because he was looking for the answer. The answer to the question Luther asked himself from the day he became a monk; “What must I do to be saved?!” This question tormented Luther for many years. It caused him to fast, to pray intently, to confess profoundly and even to beat himself, and to punish himself for being such a wretched sinner before a just God. It was not until Luther’s “tower experience” that it truly clicked. As Pastor Clark mentioned a couple weeks ago, Luther’s eyes were opened when he read Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone without the deeds of the law.” Luther realized that he was asking the wrong question all along. Instead of asking, “What must I do to be saved?” He now asked “What has God done to save me?” This is the same way that we look at scripture. Not what we have done for God but of everything that God has done for us. This message shines bright in our text for today which teaches salvation by faith alone. First it defines faith, and then it shows us how to live out that faith.
Before we get into our verses for today it would be of great benefit to take a step back and look at the letter to the Hebrews as a whole before we look at our selected text. The author of Hebrews is most likely writing to Jewish Christians living in Rome who have a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament scripture. As you read through the entire book you will notice a large number of quotations from the Old Testament and its authors. We are told many times throughout the book that these Jewish Christians have been facing serious persecution and even imprisonment because of their faith in Jesus. Not only were Gentiles persecuting them but fellow Jews as well. These persecutors were trying to force these Christians to return to the teachings of the Old Testament as their means of salvation and flee from their belief in Jesus as their Savior. After facing all the persecution, these followers of Christ were tempted to flee from Jesus in order that the persecution would stop. The letter to the Hebrews is a serious encouragement to do the absolute opposite. Do not flee from Jesus amidst persecution but run to him as the only source of salvation. The author reminds these Christians that Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament Law. He is our great high priest who has sacrificed himself once and for all. Do not deny him!
Now to Hebrews 11. This chapter has been called the “heroes of faith” chapter. Some have even called it the “faith hall of fame.” In this chapter the author highlights the common faith that was present in all of these believers’ lives. But these men were not heroes or hall of famers because of themselves, but because of the faith they had in our eternal God. They were not saved by their deeds but by their faith in God’s promise. “By faith” they did all these things and “by faith” they were all saved. This phrase “by faith” is repeated over and over again throughout this chapter. We are reminded that these men were only able to do all of these things “by faith.” And at the end of their lives these men were saved “by faith.”
- Faith defined (verses 1-2)
The first verse in our chapter today begins by defining faith. We read, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” As we read this verse we quickly see that faith as a Christian is very different compared to the way the world describes faith. Some people define faith as blind. Faith means you cross your fingers, close your eyes, and hope for the best. We are reminded in our verse for the day that faith is not that at all. Faith is absolute assurance and confidence in what we hope for. We are confident that Jesus has done it all. He has fulfilled what we could not, he took the punishment we did not, and he raised himself so that we would not die but live with him forever. When Jesus proclaimed “It is finished!!!” we have complete confidence that is true.
The second half of the verse teaches against another kind of faith the world teaches. Another way the world describes faith is what you can see. Faith needs to see the facts for it to be reasonable at all. When people approach faith they demand that we “prove it” for it to have any weight at all. If there are no seen facts then that faith is just stupid or foolish. But our text for today reminds us of the exact opposite. Our faith is complete assurance in things we do not see. We did not see Jesus laid in a manger in Bethlehem. We did not see Jesus climb Calvary and die on the cross for our sins. We did not see the empty tomb when the angels proclaimed, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” We did not see the nail marks or place our fingers in his wounds. We saw none of those things, but by faith we are absolutely sure they are true. Faith assures us that Jesus has done it all. Everything that must be done to be saved was already done by Jesus. Faith in him alone saves.
This was something totally opposite from that which Luther was taught. While Luther was at the monastery studying to be a monk he was told time and time again how important his works were in order that he might stand before a righteous judge. Even when Luther would go to confession he was not absolved because of what Christ had done, but what he was doing. Luther recorded the absolution he received while at the monastery; “May the penance and the good works which you have done and still will do contribute to the remission of your sins, to the multiplication of your merits, and to your reward of eternal life.” Faith, as Luther was taught it, was not something God has done for you but something you must do for God. It flipped around the Savior and the saved.
This vile heresy creeps into our hearts and minds as well. It tells us that faith is not something God has done for us, but instead something we need to do. It tells us that we can play a part, even a small part, in our salvation. On Sunday morning it tells us that our attendance in church is something that makes us have a better standing with God and maybe make it easier for us to be saved. It wants us to believe that our attendance at the Lord’s Supper is some kind of meritorious act we do, rather than a free gift God gives to us. This heresy tells us that it is easier for me to be saved because of my decent life. It is a lot harder for God to save a murderer or a drug dealer. Luther had some harsh words for such a heresy, “The most damnable and pernicious heresy that has ever plagued the mind of men, was the idea that somehow he could make himself good enough to deserve to live with an all-holy God.” Luther, like the author to the Hebrews, warns us not to return back to the teachings of the Old Testament where we need to do something. Instead return to the cross where Jesus proclaims, “It is finished!” Return to the empty tomb where we hear, “He is not here; he is risen.” Return to faith which tells us all has been done; you are saved by faith alone.
2. Faith lived (verses 8-12)
As we look at the rest of the verses for today we see Abraham live out his faith. As we take a look at these verses we might be tempted to ask ourselves if these verses were meant to show us how great a man Abraham was. We know that is absolutely not the case. These verses aren’t here to show us how great Abraham is but how great our God is and how faith in him leads us to do the impossible. Notice the first words of our text which are repeated throughout the entire chapter, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, he 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 land; 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. By faith Abraham, even though he was past age – and Sarah herself was barren – was enabled to become a father because he considered himself faithful who had made the promise. 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.”
How did Abraham possibly do it? How did he pick up his family, cattle, belongings, everything he had, and travel to a land that he had never seen. By faith! How did Abraham possibly trust the impossible? Talking about faith as what you see, look at that in the eyes of Abraham. He looks at himself and sees a man almost 100 years old and his wife, Sarah, who was almost 90 and was infertile. How on earth would a nation more numerous than the sand on the seashore come from those two? It was impossible. By faith Abraham did the impossible. This faith led Abraham to trust in God and all these things were fulfilled. He became a great nation more numerous than the stars and the sand. The most important thing to remember was not the vast number of descendants that came from his line but the one important descendant. The one descendant that would bless all the nations on the earth. The one descendant who at the mention of his name every knee shall bow. The one descendant who reconciled the world to himself. This one descendant who would crush the serpent’s head. This descendant was Jesus. By faith Abraham did the impossible, and thanks be to God that he did because we received the greatest blessing from his descendants.
This chapter could’ve been a lot longer than it was. The author tells us in verse 32 that he doesn’t even have time to name any more names in depth. But we know that this list of heroes of faith could have been a lot longer than this. This list could have included names like Eileen Lincoln, Norbert Bottcher, Marie Wiggins, Sue Voss, Don Voss, Jolene Wilson, Phyllis Brauer, Merle Hellum, Wayne Greening, Pauline Riegel, and Jo Wolfrom. All of these saints of Grace who have gone to their eternal home lived their life like Abraham; by faith. Like Abraham all of these Saints looked forward to something far greater than life on this earth, “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” As believers these saints lived their life glorifying God in their actions. Like Abraham they trusted and did the impossible. But their greatest gift as a believer is the triumphant victory they had over death as they were raised to be with their Savior for eternity. By faith the righteous triumph.
We too have opportunity to live out our faith day after day. God gives us many opportunities to be like little Abrahams in our own lives. And as we do that, always remember that our good works show our thanks to our loving God for all that he has done. They do not earn us salvation, but instead are a response to the free gift of salvation which was already earned for us. We can be a blessing to others as we live out our faith in our actions; showing Christ’s love for us in what we do.
So as we look back this 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, do not make the same mistake Luther made for so many years. Do not ask yourself, “What must I do to be saved?” Instead always ask yourself, “What has God done to save me?” And as you look at God’s Word, you will be reminded that Jesus has done it all and that your salvation is found in your faith alone. And through faith in him, you too will triumph with saints who have gone before you and live with your Savior for eternity. Salvation is found in faith alone. Amen.