'Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen' Would you repeat that back to me please….
The writer to the Hebrews invites us into THE GALLERY OF THE FAITHFUL, where portraits of those who lived BY FAITH are on display.
The first portrait is of the HOLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH. It's a group portrait, a great cloud of witnesses, all those who “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.” That's the place to begin.
We believe what we are told. God created the universe out of nothing BY HIS WORD, “by the Word of God.” It was a ‘spoken word.’ “Let there be… and there was.” Now, there’s a Word with power. What it says HAPPENS.
A Word that has that kind of power to command the “NOTHING” that is UNSEEN to become SOMETHING and VISIBLE, well you better believe that that kind of Word also has the power to keep whatever promises it makes. “The universe was created by the Word of God…” is like the ‘gold standard’ for God’s Word. If it can to that, it can do anything and everything it says.
If you don't believe that much, “The universe was created by the Word of God…”, if you give, what seems like just a little piece of God's Word away to evolution or “The Cosmos – A Space-time Odyssey,” you take away the BACKING of God’s Word to do what it says. Can His Word really DELIVER WHAT IT PROMISES or not?
“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” is the basis for our 'ASSURANCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR AND CONVICTION OF THINGS NOT SEEN.'
The second portrait in the Gallery of the Faithful is of Abel, whom we looked at last week. Abel is an example to us all because Abel lived with those who despised him for his faith. And not just people he didn't care much about, but people whom he cared deeply about. His own brother Cain was jealous of him because God preferred Abel’s sacrifice over his own.
Abel is a HERO of the faith and EXAMPLE to us because he stood firm in the ASSURANCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR, CONVICTION OF THINGS NOT SEEN, even though he was despised by others and even unto death.
Now today, we come to the third portrait in this Gallery of the Faithful – a man named Enoch.
“By faith, Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him.”
Enoch is a name that we may not be as familiar with as we are with some of the other portraits in this gallery like Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses. So let's discover what we can about him from the information that we're given.
Remember what we said last week about the promise that God made to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after their fall into sin on JUDGEMENT DAY. God cursed the serpent, which is the devil. And in cursing the devil, God gives a promise to Adam and Eve and all of their descendents. To the serpent, God said, “I will bring enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; and He shall crush your head and you shall bruise his heel.”
Remember that we said that Adam and Eve must have believed that promise so thoroughly that when Eve bore a son, she exclaimed, “I have gotten a man, the Lord.” She thought Cain was the promised deliverer.
As we saw last week, he obviously was not. So, since Cain was not the One, the people who believed that the promise was still in force began to keep track of the offspring of the woman. “This is the book of the generations of Adam…”
If you listened carefully, you noticed that there was a certain pattern, a certain rhythm. “He fathered so and so… he lived a certain number of years… and he died.” And this is repeated over and over again.
“Death” is the consequence of Adam and Eve's sin. Their sin changed everything, most significantly, it changed the IMAGE OF MAN. Adam and Eve were made WITHOUT SIN, in the IMAGE OF GOD. But after their fall into sin, we read, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son IN HIS OWN LIKENESS, AFTER HIS OWN IMAGE…” The very nature of man has been changed by Adam’s sin.
St. Paul writes to the Romans saying, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Rom. 5:12) Paul is referring to the fact that we are all born in the image of sinful Adam, therefore we all sin, and sin is the cause of death, and therefore we all die.
BUT isn't it as we are DYING and in the grip of death, that we want to cling all the more tightly to the Word and Promise of God in the “assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” Specifically, that the OFFSPRING OF THE WOMAN WILL overcome the Evil One and take away our sin and recreate us in His holy image and bring us from death into life.
And that brings us to Enoch. Enoch is an interruption in the pattern. Enoch breaks the rhythm. Enoch was fathered. Enoch lived a certain number of years. But just when we expect to hear, “AND HE DIED,” instead we hear, “and he was not, for God took him.”
Enoch was spared the agony and pain of death. He went right from life in this world to life in heaven. He skipped over the whole business of dying and death.
God takes all believers to Himself in heaven. But the normal experience is that He takes us AFTER WE DIE. Death is the terrible bridge that we must all cross over into the arms of God. But Enoch was taken right from this life into eternal life.
Let’s just remind ourselves of the normal process that all BELIEVERS IN CHRIST go through when they die. At the moment of death, our soul goes to heaven and is with God. To the thief on the cross, Jesus says, “today you will be with me in paradise.” And yet, long after this man’s soul was with Jesus in paradise, his body remained on the cross until it was eventually taken down and buried.
It’s like that for us too. At the moment of death our soul will be with God in heaven. But our bodies remain and are buried in the ground to await, what the Scriptures call, THE LAST DAY. On the LAST DAY, we are told that Jesus will come again and our physical bodies will be raised and united to our soul in heaven. God will reunite what He had joined together at the moment of our conception.
But what about those who are still alive in this world on the LAST DAY? What about those who have not yet died when Jesus comes again? Paul describes the scene in his letter to the Corinthians. “Behold I tell you a mystery! We shall not all sleep. (Paul is saying that not everyone will go though the normal process of death and the separation of soul and body.) But we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” (1 Cor. 15:51).
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul says, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (That is, those who have died. Their bodies will be raised.) Then, we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…” (1Thess. 4:17).
Enoch is an example of encouragement to us all. In Enoch, God gives us a foretaste, a preview of the Last Day when the Offspring of the Woman comes again in all His glory surrounded by His angels. Those who have already died will be raised first. And those who are still alive will not have to pass through death, but will be taken directly into the arms of Jesus. Just like Enoch was.
But now the question arises, why Enoch? Someone must have asked that question because the writer to Hebrews wants to explain, 'why Enoch?' And the answer is, 'because he pleased God.'
In the Genesis account, we are told that Enoch, 'walked with God.' To “walk with God” is to live by faith in God's Word, to live with ‘assurance of things hoped for, conviction in things unseen.’
So, Enoch was taken by God because Enoch lived by faith. How do we know this? BECAUSE GOD WAS PLEASED WITH HIM. And the author writes, 'without faith it is impossible to please God.” Enoch believed the Word and Promise of God and WALKED IN THAT FAITH. Enoch wasn’t perfect. He was born in the same fallen likeness and image of Adam as all of his forefathers were and that we are. But he believed in the Word and Promise of God and WALKED WITH GOD.
The author goes on to explain that FAITH IS BASED ON TWO THINGS: FIRST, WE BELIEVE THAT GOD EXISTS. It’s impossible to put your “assurance” and ‘conviction’ in God if you’re not sure that He exists.
And SECOND, that He rewards those who seek him. Faith in the existence of God is more than simply consenting to the fact that there is a god out there somewhere. It's the belief that God is GOOD and GRACIOUS and WORKS ALL THINGS FOR GOOD IN THE LIVES OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.
“For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
So, Enoch is a great example of the certainty and dependability of God’s Word and Promise for all of us.
So, one last question comes to mind.
If we ask, 'why Enoch,' why did God take Enoch to himself without the agony of death, then the question arises, 'why not Jesus?'
No one has ever pleased God more than Jesus Christ. No one has ever 'walked with God' as has Jesus. No one ever believed that GOD EXISTS and that He REWARDS THOSE WHO SEEK HIM, like Jesus did. Why didn't God take Jesus to himself and skip the agony of death? And we all know what agony Jesus suffered in His death.
And the answer of course is, Jesus died for all those who must ultimately face the agony of death. If Enoch is the example that strengthens our faith in the Last Day and 2nd Coming of Christ, then Jesus is the example who strengthens the hope and conviction of all who must face death before the Last Day arrives.
His suffering and death on Good Friday is for all of us who will one day die. His resurrection on Easter Sunday, is the evidence that GOD WAS PLEASED WITH HIM.
Repeat with me, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”