Ash Wednesday – "Faith Is…" – Hebrews 11:1-3 – 3/5/14

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.”

“Things hoped for” is the key. “Things not seen” is the problem. “Not seen” is the spoiler to ‘seeing is believing.’ ‘Seeing is believing’ is what comes naturally. It's easy. But it's not “faith.”

It was a man named Thomas who spoke for all of us when he said, “Unless I see… I will not believe it.”

In their excitement, his friends couldn't wait to report their good news. “We have SEEN the Lord.” Notice the emphasis on ‘seen.’ They were no different than Thomas really. Over and over Jesus had told them that He would not stay dead for long. In three short days of dying He would rise from the dead and they would all ‘see Him.’ “A little while, and you will SEE me no longer; and again a little while, and you will SEE me.” (John 16:16). He knows how dependent we are on ‘SEEING.’

It was during that “little while” that they did NOT SEE HIM that they were confused and panicked and afraid. When the SAW HIM they were elated and confident and joyful. “The disciples were glad when they SAW the Lord.”

Thomas was not with them. He missed the ‘seeing.’ To their “we have seen the Lord,” he replied, ‘Unless I SEE in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into this side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25).

Thomas ups the ante. For him, believing demands both SEEING and TOUCHING. Thomas didn’t even trust his eyes. Eyes can play tricks on you. Thirsty travelers in a desert SEE a green oasis with bubbling fountains in the distance that are not really there.

Eight days later Jesus found Thomas and met his demands. But during those eight days, Jesus was as good as dead for Thomas. No Easter victory. No Easter joy. No Easter peace. No ASSURANCE OF THE THINGS HOPED FOR OR CONVICTION OF THINGS UNSEEN.

Only after SEEING does Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.” We expect Jesus to COMMEND Thomas with a big “blessed are you Thomas. I’m so pleased that you finally believe.” And He certainly would have if ‘faith were the assurance of things SEEN.’

But it’s impossible to miss the deep disappointment in Jesus’ response. “Have you believed because you have SEEN me?” As if to say, 'why would you not BELIEVE based on My Word alone.' ‘Why didn’t you believe based on my Apostle’s Word?’ 'Did you not trust Me to do as I promised I would do?' “Blessed are those who have NOT SEEN and yet have believed.” (John 20:29).

Jesus turns everything around on us, and against us. “God’s ways are not our ways.” “Seeing” is not believing, nor is it to be commended. “Conviction of things NOT SEEN” is believing. “Conviction of things NOT SEEN” is commendable.

Trusting what God promises you, even though you cannot see it, it pleases God because it shows that you trust Him at His Word. “Assurance of things hoped for…” even while you are experiencing just the opposite, demonstrates that you believe that God is FAITHFUL and TRUE, not because the evidence proves it to be so, but just because He is God.

In fact, faith requires assurance and conviction CONTRARY TO THE EVIDENCE. “If God said it, then I should count on it, even though I cannot yet SEE IT, even though what I do see is just the opposite, solely because I know that it is impossible for God to fail.” “Blessed are those who HAVE NOT SEEN and yet have believed.”

“For by it the people of old received their commendation.” Through the course of this Lenten season, we will examine some of the examples that the author of this epistle holds up to us as HEROES OF FAITH: Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham. Every time that little phrase, “by faith,” pops up, we’ll stop and examine and learn and hopefully grow in our faith and what it means.

They did what they did because they believed God's Word. With their eyes, they saw the visible things that lay in the present. By faith, they saw the invisible things that lay in the future. By faith they saw things that were not visible as though they were. They acted as though the future was already present.

Just to be sure, they were not commended for their works. Their works were just the visible evidence of their faith. Each one of them held the title and deed to something that was invisible. It was invisible because it lay in the future.

Paul writes to the Corinthians encouraging them and us to follow their example. “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look NOT TO THE THINGS THAT ARE SEEN but to THE THINGS THAT ARE UNSEEN. For the THINGS THAT ARE SEEN are transient, but the THINGS THAT ARE UNSEEN are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18).

We see “lowly bodies” filled with feel pain and suffering and disease. We see death. We do not see the “transformation of our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body by the power that enables Him to subject all things to himself.” (Phil. 3:21). But BY FAITH, we have the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

We see our sin, and our captivity to sin in the daily experience of disappointment over our failing to do the good that we will to do and doing the evil that we hate. We do not see “that our old self was crucified with Christ… so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” We do not see that Christ Jesus has “set the captives free.” (Rom. 6:6). But BY FAITH, we have the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

We see the creation coming apart, earthquakes and famines and floods. We see nation against nation and wars and rumors of war. We do not see the “new heavens and a new earth; that the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea is no more.” We do not see that “the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” (Rev. 21:1; Is. 65:17). But BY FAITH, we have the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

What we see is just plain water. What we do not see is our union to Christ and our death and burial and resurrection with Him. But BY FAITH, we have the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

What we see is bread and wine. What we do not see is the body of Christ, given for you. We do not see the blood of Christ shed for you. But BY FAITH, we have the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

And so we do live BY FAITH. We may not be HEROES OF THE FAITH. But the commendation goes to us just the same. “Blessed are those who have NOT SEEN and yet believe.”

Before moving to the HEROES OF THE FAITH, the author directs us to the very first verse in the Bible. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen.1:1).

“BY FAITH we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

No one was present when the universe came into being and was formed except God Himself. The first man and woman were not created until the 6th day, after everything else was created and formed and in its proper place. There were no eyewitnesses of “THE BEGINNING.” “The Beginning” is UNSEEN to us. What a perfect place to begin an examination of 'faith.'

The grand demonstration and proof of the authority and power of God’s Word to do what it says is the creation of the universe. God spoke His Word into the ‘formless void,’ and out of the “NOTHING” there came “SOMETHING.” And not just a random “SOMETHING” that evolved on its own, but an ORDERED something that came together piece by piece, exactly as instructed by His Word.

Like an artist putting the paint onto the canvas, the paint goes where it is to go by the hand of the Artist and the completed work is a masterpiece that is exactly what the Creator had in mind. And the canvas that He painted His creation onto stretches from the first day in the beginning all the way to that last day, when the day that has no night begins and never ends.

It is all created and order by God by the power and authority of His Word – the seen and the unseen, the temporal and the eternal. He is the DIVINE ARTIST and it is all His Work.

By placing this first example of BY FAITH before the accounts of those who were commended for their faith, the author wants us to understand that each of those who are singled out for their faith believed “that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

If we will believe that God has created the entire universe from what is invisible, from what did not exist, how much more shall we be believe that He has done and will do all that He has promised for us?

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

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