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Oct 19 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 18, 2020

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Hebrews 12:12-13

Intro: Once again – what is our writer up to?

He has given us an athletic metaphor,
– and reminded us of the importance of training
• the serious athlete must learn discipline
• learning discipline requires athletes to endure their training
◦ endure those cravings to eat something they know should not
◦ endure getting out of bed in the morning or off the couch to workout
– the beauty of discipline is that once you learn it,
• you can use it to give structure to your whole life
◦ not a rigid structure, imposed on you by someone else,
◦ but you can structure the life you desire to live
• the writer’s main idea: we use discipline to structure our spiritual lives

Until this point, the athletic analogy has been theoretical
– but now the writer gets to the practical
• what do our “workouts” look like?

We concentrate on training our hands and knees

Try to imagine this person with drooping hands and weak knees
– better yet, let your hands hang limp at your side and imagine your knees buckling
• think about how that posture feels emotionally
◦ picture the posture of a defiant child (spine straight, shoulders back, etc.)
◦ do limp hands and weak knees look like defiance? or like giving up?

Pat Ogden is a leading researcher in “somatic psychology”; that is, how the body expresses past experience and current moods. She writes, “The body speaks clearly to those who know how to listen. Nonverbal expressions visibly reveal what words cannot describe . . . . The multifaceted language of the body depicts a lifetime of joys, sorrows, and challenges, revealed in patterns of tension, movement, gesture, posture [and so on]. . . . Postures, facial expressions, and gestures outwardly express internal emotional states, communicating these states to others.”

– hands that droop indicate a slacking off, fatigue, quitting
• weak knees impede progress, risk slowing, stumbling, stopping, or falling

As for you, son of man, groan; with breaking heart and bitter grief, groan before their eyes. And when they say to you, “Why do you groan?” you shall say, “Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt, and all hands sill be feeble; every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold it is coming, and it will be fulfilled,” declares the Lord GOD (Eze. 21:6-7)

◦ our bodies reveal and support our determination
◦ active, skilled hands speak of progress; strong knees speak of stability
• do you see? this is not about preparing for one big race
◦ it’s about a lifestyle that defines us
Hannah Arendt argued that our words and actions tell who we are
“The moment we want to say who somebody is, our very vocabulary leads us astray into saying what he is; we get entangled in a description of qualities [that person] necessarily shares with others like him. . . . In acting and speaking, [people] show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world . . . . This disclosure of ‘who’ in contradistinction to ‘what’ somebody is . . . is implicit in everything somebody says and does.”
who are we? People who make steady, stable spiritual progress

Straight paths may refer to making road improvements
– but more likely, has to do with moving on a straight course to our goal
• if a path has a lot of quick twists and turns,
◦ a person who is partially crippled or lame won’t be able to manage it
• we don’t want to be waylaid by a sprained ankle or dislocated knee
– implied here is our responsibility to clear a straight path for others
• who is helping you?
• who are you helping?

What is the goal line? What are we trying to accomplish?
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the LORD. Hebrews 12:14

“Strive” as it’s used in New Testament is an aggressive pursuit
– it would be like one of us running to catch a bus
• first, we are to chase after peace with everyone
◦ we know what it’s like to enjoy peaceful relationship with a friend
◦ we’re relaxed, feel safe and comfortable, we can be “ourselves”
• but peace is not our nervous system’s default setting
◦ around others we’re guarded, defensive, suspicious
◦ and there are many ways to ruin a relationship or end a friendship
◦ and peace with an enemy seems like an impossibility
– in verse 11 we learned about the peaceful fruit of righteousness
. . . peace and righteousness kiss each other (Ps. 85:10)
• why do the Scriptures combine peace and righteousness?
◦ because righteous has to do with the way we treat each other
◦ Jesus raised the bar for what this looks like
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Mt. 12:7)
• it’s not about always being “right”
◦ do you want to be right if it’s going to cost you a close relationship?
◦ righteous is about doing what is right–i.e., what is most loving, what is best
Luke T. Johnson, “There is no reason to think that this pursuit of peace should include only members of the community. Indeed, pursuing peace ‘with all people’ seems particularly important—and particularly difficult—in conditions of oppression. The author asks them both to remain constant to their confession and to seek peace even with those who mock them and do them harm.”

The goal of peace is an outward pursuit – but there’s also an inward pursuit
pursue the holiness without which no one will see the Lord
– there is a reason for putting peace and holiness together
• not only because both require an aggressive pursuit,
◦ but both of these words are relational terms
◦ we tend to make holiness moral, but at heart it is relational
• holiness means we belong to God
◦ anything given to God becomes his exclusively, and is made holy
◦ think, for instance, of the Sabbath
– holiness qualifies us for a life with God
without which no one will see the Lord
• as we’ll see further on in the chapter, seeing the Lord Jesus is everything

Four more rules for spiritual training
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. Hebrews 11:15-16

  1. See that no one fails to obtain the grace of God
    • “obtain” means “fail to reach,” “come short,” “fall behind”
      • if we think of a relay-race, we all depend on each other
    • the only way to reach the finish-line is by God’s grace
      • we fail to obtain grace if we don’t trust God all the way
  2. That no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble
    • look at the contrast between
      “fruit of righteousness” (v. 11)
      and “root of bitterness”
      • you’re not going to get righteous fruit from a bitter root
      Leonard Sweet says we have to dig deep to plant healthy relationships– “Plants can’t grow heavenward without first growing downward. Colorful blossoms are the by-product of bland, down-and-dirty roots.”
      • in other words, to grow strong relationships,
      ◦ we have to get down on our knees and get our hands dirty
    • a root of bitterness is like indigenous weeds, they’re easy to grow
      • even toward someone you have loved and respected
      ◦ just take offense at one thing – and brood over it
      ◦ the seed has been planted, and will eventually bear fruit
      • and by it many become defiled (or contaminated)
      ◦ there are high-conflict people who work at creating chaos rather than peace
      ◦ what is growing in the garden of your heart?
      ◦ we cannot grow the peaceful fruit of righteousness in toxic soil
  3. That no one is sexually immoral
    • the writer has a real concern for the sexual purity of his readers (Heb. 13:4)
      • however, here he may have an additional thought in mind
      ◦ he is going to offer Esau as a negative example
      ◦ in scripture, Esau is depicted as “a man of the world,”
      ◦ someone who did not have a high regard for spiritual values
      • frequently in the prophets, Israel’s reach for the world was viewed as an unfaithful wife (see especially Ezekiel 16)
      ◦ Israel’s idolatry was spiritual adultery
  4. Or unholy – a place or object can be neutral, holy, or unholy
    • if it was once dedicated to God, it is holy
      • but if later it is treated as neutral, it does not return to neutrality
      ◦ rather, it becomes unholy, defiled, profane
      • we cannot go back to what we were before

An example of an unholy (or profane) person
(like Esau) For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. Hebrews 11:17

This was a story of twin boys – Esau and Jacob
– Esau’s values were twisted
• he could not see the importance of his actions and family traditions,
◦ until they cut into his inheritance
– “repent” refers to a fundamental change of mind that changes a life
• it may not be that Esau was unable to repent,
◦ but that he found no place for repentance in Isaac (NASB)
◦ that is, he was unable to change his father’s mind
(about giving him a blessing, Gen. 27:30-40)
• the materialist lives with delusion he or she can have it all
◦ but a day comes when all they have dissolves in their hands

Conclusion: In Hebrews we’ve seen several examples of failure

The wilderness generation in chapter 4
Those who fall away in chapter 6
Those who go on sinning in chapter 10
Now Esau

Let’s return to the athletic analogy
– to enter a golf tournament, each player has to qualify
• then, to play the final holes, each player must maintain a previous score
• otherwise, they do not make the cut
◦ lots of athletes may “try out” for track and field,
◦ but not everyone makes the cut
– Paul expressed his concern over making the cut to the Corinthians
I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Co. 9:27)

But we won’t end on this negative note this morning
Grace is always more edifying (and energizing) than guilt
So let’s remember what we have going for us
God wants us to finish the race,
having giving it everything we’ve got
And to ensure that we do finish well,
he gives us everything we need

Reminiscing on his early relationship with Israel, God said,
I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride,
how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the LORD . . .
(Jer. 2:2-3)
Israel was holy simply because Yahweh was their God
and they were his people
So here is what we can take away from today’s lesson:
God’s grace makes it possible for us to run this race
and God’s embrace makes us holy

Oct 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 11, 2020

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastens every son whom he receives
Hebrews 12:5-6

Intro: I’m going to tell you a secret

The most amazing commentary on this passage,
– is not a commentary at all, a but story written by G. MacDonald
• MacDonald was a 19th century Christian minister and storyteller
• his story is The Gift of the Child Christ – you can find it online
◦ if you read it, have a box of tissue nearby
– the protagonist is a five-year-old girl, Sophy
• her dad is cold towards her and her step-mother is distant
◦ the nanny is uncaring and easily annoyed with Sophy
• coming home from church one Sunday,
◦ Sophy took herself upstairs to her room and sat in her chair to read

MacDonald, “But she did not read far: her thoughts went back to a phrase which had haunted her ever since first she went to church: ‘Whom the Lord loves, he chastens.’ . . . ‘I wish he would chasten me,’ she thought for the hundredth time. . . .The small Christian had no suspicion that her whole life had been a period of chastening–that few children indeed had to live in such a sunless atmosphere as hers. . . . ‘If the Lord would but chasten me!’ said the child to herself, as she rose and laid down her book with a sigh.”

Sophy wanted to be chastised, because she wanted to be loved
– she saw a connection between the two that we are likely to miss
• and perhaps that is because we are not as desperate to be loved

The writer of Hebrews is working with an athletic analogy
– a key Greek word is paideia, discipline, education, the training of athletes
Patrick Gray, “Some form of the Greek word paideia appears in this passage eight times. It can denote the physical discipline of an errant child or, more generally, the process of education in Greek culture.”
• another relevant Greek word, gumnazo appears in verse 11
◦ from it we get our English word, gymnasium
• the place where boys received their education and physical training
– the Christian life is a marathon,
• and the key to running a marathon is endurance
◦ last week we were told to “look to Jesus” – not at, but to:
◦ we look to him for our example, for coaching, for help, for perfecting
• this week we learn that through endurance we develop discipline

This is the first of three questions writer will ask

Have you forgotten the exhortation. . .?
– exhortation is a spoken word to instruct, correct, encourage, or comfort
(the writer refers to entire letter as a word of exhortation, 13:22)
• forgetfulness can cripple our spiritual development
◦ God’s word doesn’t do anything for us if we do not remember it
– the worst case of forgetfulness is fugue state amnesia
• people forget who they are
◦ our identity is the combination of our history and destiny
◦ we are not only defined by our past, but also by the person God made us to be and therefore who we are becoming
• the quote is intended to remind us:
◦ who we are, and in light of that,
◦ the meaning and purpose of hardship in our spiritual formation

addresses you – as always, for the writer scripture is not an ancient relic written for someone else
– through it, God speaks to us in the present
• in this instance, God addresses us as sons
• I’m going to ask you to ignore the gender reference
◦ in the cultures of Greece and Rome, sons enjoyed a privileged status
◦ that privileged status is what the writer sees for all readers,
and for all God’s children

The quote in verses 5 and 6 comes from the Book of Proverbs
– these are presented as lessons from a father and sometimes the mother to a son
• each proverb provides instruction and training in wisdom
• the point the young person toward the best paths through life
– the Proverbs are structured like poems (it makes them easy to remember)
• Hebrew poetry is typically written in parallel lines
◦ the first line makes a statement or asks a question
◦ the second line repeats the first line, adds to it, expands, or intensifies it
• the topic of this proverb is discipline and there are three lessons:
the first two lines tell us how to respond to God’s discipline
the third line tells us why we want to respond in these ways
1. do not regard lightly – a negative way of saying “take seriously”
2. nor be weary – listening to lectures can be exhausting
◦ “reproof” is to show someone his or her fault, error, or mistake
3. the Lord disciplines the one he loves
– not everyone is comfortable with the image of God as Father
• I understand that
• if so, try to imagine the ideal father–the father you wish you had
◦ and then look to God in that role
◦ otherwise, see if Jesus provides you with a better representation of God

The second question
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are let without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Hebrews 12:7-8

The first sentence explains the purpose of God’s discipline
– it is to build endurance in us (the theme of this section)
Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you (De. 8:5)
• the value of enduring rigorous training is a disciplined life
• discipline benefits every important endeavor
◦ it’s what makes the right response our normal response
◦ discipline is how the brain’s neurons wire together to achieve proficiency
– have you heard of the “conscious competence” learning model?
• it identifies four stages of acquiring a new skill:
1. Unconscious incompetence (you’re not skilled but don’t know it)
2. Conscious incompetence (you know that you lack a skill)
3. Conscious competence (you acquire a skill, but must concentrate to perform it)
4. Unconscious competence (you perform a skill without having to think about it)
• discipline and training are the key to competence
◦ the key to becoming proficient, improving – in sports, music, art, etc.

God is treating you as sons – and then the question,
For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
– another verse that is relevant at this point is one we read in chapter 2:
For it was fitting that he for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10)
– Jesus, God’s firstborn Son, received an education in the same way as we do
• the writer isn’t saying God acts as if he were our father
◦ rather, God is our Father, and so treats us as his children

Years ago I spoke at a men’s retreat for Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. Before I began speaking, I asked for men to share something about their dads, the kind of father he was or some special memory. A few men mentioned how their dad worked hard to provide for their family, came to all of their ball games, or took them fishing or camping.
There was one young man there who was in a wheelchair. If you had attended Calvary Chapel in the early seventies you would have recognized him, because he wheel chair was always between the first row and the stage. Cerebral Palsy had put him in the wheelchair. His brain was as intelligent as anyone else, but it could not control the motor functions of his body perfectly, so that his movements were jerky and exaggerated. For the same reason, his speech was not easy to understand.
But that night, everyone could hear clearly what he had to say. Slowly, and in a loud voice he said, “My dad taught me how to tie my shoes.” Immediately I imagined his dad, working with his son’s rebellious limbs, and the patience it would take to repeatedly rehearse tying his shoes until he was able to get the job done. “My dad taught me how to time my shoes,” and went on, “My dad taught me how to button my shirt. My dad taught me how to brush my teeth. My dad taught me everything! And now I can live on my own.”

We have only the vaguest of ideas of how patient a Father our God is
Blessed be the LORD my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle
(Ps. 144:1, necessary skills at the time)

If you are never disciplined, then you’re not a child of God
– otherwise, discipline is something in which all have participated
• no believer is exempt – you are disciplined, and I am disciplined
◦ there is no growth in Jesus without it
Before I was afflicted, I went astray,
but now I keep your word
(Ps. 119:67)
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin (1 Pet. 4:1)
– we are like orphans, praying every night,
• that someone nice will show up and want us, and take us home
• Jesus showed up to tell us God is our Abba, our Papa
◦ and he has sent his Spirit to us to adopt us

The third question
Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:9-11

So far, the comparison between God and earthly fathers has been implicit
– now the writer makes it explicit – and he points out the contrasts between them
• first, it makes sense that we have more respect for God our Father
A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts (Mal. 1:6)
◦ the writer contrasts earthly fathers, from whom we received our bodies,
◦ to our heavenly Father from whom we received our spirits
• second, our earthly fathers disciplined us for a short time
◦ our heavenly disciplines us so we can share in his holiness,
without which no one will see the Lord (v. 14)
◦ God’s discipline prepares us to live in his presence forever
• third, earthly fathers disciplined us as it seemed best to them
William Barclay, “At the best there is an element of arbitrariness in an earthly father’s discipline.”
◦ we can trust God, that he knows what’s best for us
◦ his discipline is totally oriented toward our eternal good

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant
John Polkinghorne says the writer observes “the significance of the processes of life in this world for the formation of character in all human individuals. Not only is developmental growth recognized as present in the life of Jesus and his followers, but it is the painful process of suffering that is particularly significant.”
Luke T. Johnson, “the final elaboration of the analogy contrasts the pain of the experience with the joy of the result.”
– I don’t believe God purposely brings us suffering
• it comes to us naturally as a condition of living in this world
Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Mt. 6:34)
• God does not bring suffering into our lives, but he uses it
◦ he never allows our heartaches and miseries go to waste
– and in this life, we enjoy the peaceful fruit of righteousness
• when our relationships are healthy, functioning as they should,
◦ we are at peace — even with our enemies (Pr. 16:7)

Conclusion: This week with one of my grandsons,

The challenge of discipline became clear to me

To love him without spoiling him
To discipline him without punishing him

For us, the choice is not whether we will face hardships,
the choice is whether we will take advantage of them
and make good use of the opportunities they bring
Not all suffering is discipline
Not all discipline entails suffering
But all discipline requires endurance

We are not given a lesson in how to avoid discomfort
but how to take advantage of it – and see it through new eyes
Eternity changes our perspective on everything
So when discipline comes,
regardless of whatever form it takes,
dare to praise God,
and thank him for his patient and persistent fatherly love
for his steadfast love endures forever

Oct 5 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 4, 2020

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside ever weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us . . . . Hebrews 12:1

Intro: Do you know what I mean by “starting blocks”?

You would if you ran track in high school
– blocks are placed on a track provide stable brace for the runners’ feet
• Olympic athletes spend time at the blocks, testing and adjusting them
◦ because that first push-off is critical to a fast start
• part of their workout is practicing their starts
– the writer of Hebrews is not telling us to settle into the starting blocks
• instead, the race has already begun
• like a good coach, he is telling us how to run the race

What do we need to know going into this passage?
first, everything we covered in chapter 11 culminates here
• the writer has shown us example after example of biblical characters,
◦ and the repeated slogan for each one of them was by faith
• now he brings us to the ultimate example: Jesus
second, the big idea, that the writer practically shouts at us is,
• if we’re serious about following example of Jesus, we need:
◦ to streamline our lifestyle
◦ and increase our stamina

The chapter begins with the word Therefore

That tells us, the purpose of chapter 11 is brought to a point in chapter 12
– the next words, “we are” places him with us–we’re in this together
• in this chapter, he is going to explain to us our situation:
◦ our place in line behind the faith-heroes who came before us
◦ we are following Jesus
◦ we are learning the value of discipline
◦ and so on
• we have seen what others have done by faith
◦ now it’s our turn – we are next up at bat

we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
You’ve probably heard that these witnesses are sitting in the stands
– they have entered the stadium to watch us perform and to cheer us on
• meanwhile we are down in the arena, running the race
◦ but that is now how I read this
• it’s true that those people paraded before us in chapter 11 are witnesses,
◦ but that is because they have given their testimony
◦ they are witnesses and not mere spectators
– what we read of their lives, gives witness to their faith
• their witness has been recorded for our encouragement
• they have told us, faith works!
◦ and faith is rewarded
William Barclay, “. . . they are witnesses in a double sense, for they are those who have witnessed their confession to Christ and they are now those who witness our performance.”

The writer coaches us regarding the basics
let us also — like the cloud of witnesses, whose number we now join
lay aside every weight – runners wear little and light-weight clothing
◦ serious runners have conversations regarding the weight of shoes
◦ they won’t wear anything bulky, constricting, chafing, or likely to trip up
• notice that the writer does not say “the weight of sin,” but “and sin”
◦ not every weight we carry is a sin, yet some can still be a disadvantage
William Barclay, “If we travel far, we must travel light. There is in life an essential duty of discarding things. . . . Whatever holds us back must go; and often we will need the help of Christ to enable us to let it go.”
◦ if we’re walking with Jesus, we know the sins that cling closely
(this is not the writer’s last word regarding sin, because sin must be addressed)
let us run with endurance – this is a primary concern in Hebrews
• the writer already told them they’re in serious need of endurance (Heb. 10:36)
◦ this is a marathon, not a spring – being fastest is not our goal
◦ we simply want to reach the finish line – complete the journey
set before us – cross-country runners do not choose their course
◦ we don’t control every circumstance, we deal we deal it

What will help us endure?
. . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

Practice, of course, build endurance
– but what about those times when you think you’ve hit the wall?
• the whole book has been about Jesus – now, look to him
◦ notice we are given only his name — not Christ, or Lord, or Son of God
◦ we identify with the Jesus’ human name more than with his titles
founder and perfecter — combining two roles is typical of the writer
Jesus: apostle and high priest (Heb. 3:1)
God: designer and builder (Heb. 11:10)
◦ Jesus’ ministry isn’t limited to these roles – they are merely two of many
– founder – the person who is there from the start, a trail-blazer
• in the military a soldier who “takes point” goes ahead of the rest of the troop
◦ Jesus has taken point, going before us
perfecter – the idea of perfection has come up repeatedly in Hebrews
• Jesus was made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10)
And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9)
the Son . . . has been made perfect forever (Heb. 7:28)
by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:14)
(there is no “our” in this verse, but it is simply “faith” that Jesus perfects. Faith is the whole race)

When we look to Jesus, what do we see?
who for the joy that was set before him . . .

Jesus is our example of endurance
– there are the situations we despise, and there is pain and shame
• but we live through it all and endure with joy

A friend who knows about a physical trial I’m going through currently (and has experienced it herself) sent me a text this week to remind me, “Attitude is 90 percent of the battle.” She said that “the act of smiling works in your brain to help with attitude adjustment.”

◦ Mother Teresa suffered greatly over the distance she felt from God
However, she made “a conscious choice . . . to ‘keep on smiling in spite of everything’ and ‘to give Our Lord always all with a cheerful smile.” She also instructed those who those who worked with her, “Keep smiling. Smile at Jesus in your suffering—for to be a real [Missionary of Charity] you must be a cheerful victim.”
• Jesus endured the cross – that was the finish line of his race
and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God
• we run, not only for the sake of the race, but for the reward
• we cannot forget the cross, or that Jesus tells us to take up our own
Luke Johnson wrote that the writer believes they “need a deeper understanding of the essential link between their experience of suffering and shame, and the very process by which Jesus himself was brought to full perfection as son.”

Now that Jesus has our attention, consider him
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. Hebrews 12:3

We’ve been told before to consider Jesus, but here a different word is used
– from the Greek word used here, we get the English word analyze
• it is to break something down to its primary components
• think through something thoroughly, to ponder or contemplate
who endured from sinners such hostility
• because hostility is what we can expect from sinners

This past week, a woman I know, who is sensitive, loving, and caring, described how she was heartsick over a hate-filled post she read on a social media site. The person who posted it was someone she has known and loved for years. She found it difficult to accept the fact that someone who follows Jesus could be so profane and hostile.
The human nervous system is designed to respond to hostility immediately. Depending on our experiences in life, the response may be an instant retaliation, exchanging hostility for hostility (cf. Rom. 12:17). Or we may cringe or try to escape. Or we may freeze and hold our breath so we won’t be seen or heard. The point is, we want to discipline ourselves so that when exposed to the hostility of sinners, we respond as Jesus taught us.

Consider Jesus – consider his response to hostility
– he prayed, Father, forgive them
• this will help us not to grow weary or fainthearted
◦ psychological states that make us want to give up – on people, on the race
◦ look at Jesus, so that if you forgive and he smiles, you feel that all is well

How bad has it been for us so far?
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. Hebrews 12:4

We have not yet spilled any of our own blood in our struggle to resist sin
Timothy Johnson says that the writer wrote this because the readers “need a sense of ‘proportion’ . . . .”
sin in this verse may refer to all the failures we’ve read about
• unbelief, disobedience, hardened hearts, drifting away, etcetera
– the phrase, “struggle against sin” does not define our Christian experience!
• it is a necessary discipline, but our main concern is running the race
• what defines our Christian experience is drawing near to God

Conclusion: I think if the only thing a person ever knew of Bible was this instruction regarding looking to Jesus, that would be enough to to develop a fully formed Christian life

If they look, they will be led to the gospels
– the only place where we can actually look at him
• looking is important – looking affects our brain, changes the activity in it
◦ looking at a photograph can make you weep, laugh, upset
• you can look at something repulsive and your face will express disgust
◦ it happens automatically – you don’t have to try
– looking at Jesus is important, because looking changes us
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18)

We look to Jesus,
and we consider Jesus,
because the more we look
and the more we consider,
the more we discover
The more we discover,
the more we realize what he can do for us;
we just have to surrender and let him do his work
You are not alone
You are not lost–
Jesus knows where you are
But we do not know this
unless we make the time
to look and to consider

Sep 28 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 27, 2020

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets . . . . Hebrews 11:32


Intro: How would you respond if I said, “Show me your faith”?

Actually, I’m not the one who said it and that’s not whole sentence
Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (Jas. 2:18)
– you cannot do it – you cannot give evidence of faith apart from action
– this entire chapter has explored faith’s law of cause and effect
• we’ve heard one story after another of people whose actions were motivated by faith
◦ now he says, “There’s no time for all the other stories I could tell”
• so he summarizes all the volumes he could have written
◦ enclosing them in bookends on either side–i.e., through faith (vv. 33 & 39)

What more shall I say?

We could ask, What more needs to be said?
– is there enough here to convince us of importance of faith?
• are we ready to continue on this journey of faith?
– he could go on, but he hasn’t enough time to narrate all the stories
• so he abbreviates 1,000 years of biblical history

The people whose names he flashes past us are interesting choices
Gideon inadvertently created a cult
Barak was too timid to lead the army to battle without Deborah
(a woman instigated his military campaign and a woman won it, Jdg. 4:21)
Samson’s weakness was his attraction to Philistine women
(that included a night spent with a prostitute, Jdg. 16:1-3)
Jephthah committed an unthinkable crime against his daughter
– these men are not presented for his moral virtue
• they’re here because they believed God IS, and he rewards (v. 6)
• they were each called to a challenge
◦ and they looked to God to be with them to meet the challenge
– after these men, the writer stops listing people by name,
• and lumps together the prophets,
• even though their stories are as interesting as anyone else’s

Anonymous spectacular feats of faith
. . . who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made in strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Hebrews 11:33-35a

Most of these examples are familiar to us from the Old Testament
– especially from the Judges and the books of Samuel and the Kings
• others are found in historical records not included in scripture
– we cannot be sure how the writer meant to organize this list
• but at the least we can see:

  1. There were those who did something through faith
    conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises,
    stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire,
    escaped the edge of the sword
  2. There were those who became something
    were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war
  3. There were those who received something
    women received back their dead by resurrection

(Vv. 35b-38) Mid-verse, the history of faith takes a sharp turn
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. Hebrews 11:35b-38

Loveday Alexander, “The results of faith get more and more impressive: conquering kingdoms, victory against impossible odds, receiving the dead back to life. But meanwhile its costs are spiraling out of control: persecution, alienation, exile, the most gruesome of tortures—and finally martyrdom.”
– the writer exposes us to a different kind of victory
• not the kind that comes through remarkable success
• a more personal sort of victory
◦ these are people who accepted what happened to them,
◦ and refused to dodge the consequences of loyalty to God

Rather than comment on everything in these verses,
– I am going to cherry-pick three statements from these verses:

Verse 35: rise again to a better life
• this statement contains two important themes the writer has emphasized:
eschatology: the future that is at present unseen and specifically
(here there is a hint at the future resurrection to new life)
better: “things” (6:9) “hope” (7:19), “covenant” (7:22) “promises” (8:6), etc.
(and the source of all that is better is person of Jesus,
who is, himself, better than the angels)

Verse 36: chains and imprisonment
• some of the readers of Hebrews had experienced this
. . . after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property . . . (Heb. 10:32-34)
• we need to remember this is still happening
◦ China’s fresh wave of persecution (suppressing Christianity’s growth)
◦ N. Korea sends Christians to labor camps or executing them immediately
◦ Sudan, Somalia, Lybia, Pakistan, Iran, and others

Verse 38: of whom the world was not worthy
• the world proved it’s unworthiness by way it treated them
• some of the world’s rejects have done the most good for it

It is not easy to develop a balanced view of martyrs and martyrdom
– immediately it works on our emotions
• especially if we have details of what people are suffering
• we may be inspired by them, but we don’t want to be them
◦ and we may even have deep-seated fears regarding being persecuted
– at certain times in church history martyrdom was glorified
• it was considered a noble death, fit for saints
◦ some Christians were almost suicidal in the way they courted martyrdom
◦ Origen discouraged seeking to be martyred, and recommended instead the practice of strict asceticism
• after Christianity became a state religion and persecution was lifted,
◦ monks and nuns headed to the deserts to practice the disciplined purity that they imagined to be typical of martyrs

Another complication has to do with the gory details
– a morbid fascination with the tortures endured by martyrs is not healthy
• that we have a record of such things may be of historical importance
• but over-exposure to it can become a distraction from things that edify

A balanced view of persecution and martyrdom might include:
1. Being aware of persecution
• organizations like Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs do a good job of keeping us informed
• we want to do what we can to offer support to persecuted people
◦ perhaps writing to people in government, making donations
◦ especially remembering to pray for our brothers and sisters
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated . . . (Heb. 13:3)
2. Understanding the mind and heart of a martyr
• Christian martyrs do not die for a “cause,” “a principle,” or “an ideology”
• but for their relational bond with God that can’t be broken
3. Don’t let the fact of persecution overwhelm you
Loveday Alexander, “Wherever Christians are persecuted for their faith, Heb. 11 will be a source of support and inspiration; wherever they are not, it will be a challenge.”
4. Don’t allow persecution or martyrdom to become an obsession (Php. 4:8)
5. Don’t trivialize martyrdom by being melodramatic over our tough times
Abbot Chapman, “I think it is an excellent thing to laugh at one’s self a little whenever one feels like a martyr.”

A basic condition in which faith reveals itself
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40

This may sound wrong or cynical, but faith operates in a void
– we have a promise, but not its fulfillment; a reward, but not now
• faith is spiritually rich, but materially poor
• it moves through incompleteness and emptiness
◦ the chapter began with faith as the conviction of things not seen
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Ro. 8:24-25)
– faith finds God and his word to be its solid reality
• so rather than look for meaning in the world
◦ faith looks for something “better” – here’s that word again
• the words, apart from us ties you and I to the whole chapter
◦ it ties us to the hope that runs through biblical history
◦ these people who lived by faith are our people
their hope is our hope, their faith is our faith
they are not complete without us and we’re not complete apart from them

Conclusion: As I meditate on these verses, here’s what I see

Christian faith expresses itself in love
– first, in the characters who were named in this passage
• through faith they loved others enough to fight for their welfare
– second, in the stories where they characters who suffered are not named,
• through faith they loved God enough to live for him and to suffer and die for him

I’m urge you to let love and compassion be your priority
It is as if we have been given key that unlocks our prison cell,
and now we start unlocking the cell doors of all the other prisoners
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
(Lk. 4:18)

Suppose you’re convinced you know what needs to happen in this coming election
Does that make you more kind, less selfish, more loving?
This week I realized, people I love have chosen to look at only one side of our nation’s current political situation
They plug their ears and close their eyes to any information the other party brings forward
I also realized, I’ll never be able to get them to even consider other opinions

So instead of wasting my breath, I began asking,
“What is she afraid of hearing or seeing?
How does she imagine it will affect her?”
“What has he experienced to make him this adamant?
This hostile?”
In other words,
I am choosing to try to understand these people better
rather than trying to change them
And to understand them so I can better love them

To show your faith through action,
you do not have to be a saint
or have your doctrine all figured out
You just have to let God’s love into your heart
so that it becomes your motivation,
and then do something
Faith is not often glamorous,
but it never gives up
So get up and go win your victory,
or endure your suffering
by faith

Sep 20 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 20, 2020


By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. Hebrews 11:31

Intro: If we could read this chapter like the original readers,

We would see this verse had been sneaking up on them
– thumbing through Israel’s history, the writer cites examples of faith
• there’s a similar historical review in Acts chapter 7
◦ but there, Stephen uses Israel’s history to make a different point
• Stephen lists the regular heroes found in the Old Testament
◦ Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David provided spiritual leadership for Israel
◦ and also a theological foundation for the people
– so reading this list in Hebrews we can anticipate who will come next
• in v. 29, the people crossed Red Sea–we know that would relate to Moses
• v. 30, the walls of Jericho fell down–we know that would relate to Joshua
◦ only Joshua is conspicuously absent from this list
Carl Mosser, “The list’s now well-established rhetorical pattern leads listeners to anticipate the name of the next major hero in the OT narrative, Joshua. Our author, however, breaks the pattern and neither names or otherwise refers to any person. Without parallel in the rest of the list, inanimate objects, the walls of Jericho are the subject of the entry.”

Previously Hebrews presented Moses in a positive light (Heb. 2:5)
– and previously, Abraham appeared in a positive light (Heb. 6:15)
• but all we hear about Joshua, previously, is what he failed to do
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on (Heb. 4:8)
– now, as Luke Johnson says, “It is striking that Joshua is not even mentioned in connection with these events . . . .”
• Joshua is not the hero of this story
◦ but if not Joshua, then who? Rahab the prostitute
• she is the last person on the list to have a story attached to her name
◦ after her, the writer didn’t have time for Gideon, Samson, or David
◦ but he had time for Rahab!
– it may be that the writer arranged the list to feature Rahab
• perhaps her example of faith is the one his readers needed to imitate

Rahab is one of only two women who made the list

Sarah was the first woman – but Rahab was nothing like Sarah
– Rahab’s name is not connected to that of a famous man
• she was a Gentile outsider – and she was a prostitute
• like Melchizedek, she’s something of a surprise guest in Hebrews
◦ only the prostitute of Jericho is an even bigger surprise than the priest of Salem
– wouldn’t you like to get to know this woman?

We meet Rahab in a spy story

Knowing that this is a story of intrigue and espionage,
– makes it less surprising that she was a prostitute
• Joshua sent spies into Jericho on a reconnaissance mission
◦ there is a logic to them entering home of a prostitute
◦ such places typically provided lodging for merchants and other visitors
• the story includes others characters, like Joshua and the king of Jericho
◦ but the only characters named are Joshua and Rahab
– Joshua’s spies were identified and their mission was discovered
• the king sent soldiers to Rahab and ordered her to hand them over
• instead she hid them on her roof and covered them in flax
◦ she told them,
True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them (Jos. 6:4-5)

I’m going to throw something in here, just because it bugs me
– Christian commentators feel it’s necessary to point out that Rahab lied to the soldiers at her door
• that is true enough–in fact, I can count four lies she told them
• but it’s nonsense to fault her for this,
◦ or to turn the story into a pious lesson on telling the truth
– classic strategies in warfare include misdirection and misinformation
• Rahab did not lie for personal profit or to injure others
◦ it was to save her family
◦ if people were hiding Jews in their home, would we judge or criticize them for lying to Nazi soldiers?
• the Bible makes no moral comment on her actions, nor should we
◦ to twist the plot so that it yields an ethical problem misses the point
◦ let’s take the story at face value and not make unnecessary judgments

When the guards left, Rahab went up on roof and began to negotiate
– I want us to hear this in her own words
I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us . . . . For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you . . . and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites . . . . And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for [Yahweh] your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath (Jos. 2:9-12)
• this sounds as if she were quoting Moses’ exact words (Deut. 4:39)
• the strength of her belief in what she says is obvious
– God had strictly forbidden Israel to make any covenant with the people of the land
• but that is what Rahab was asking the spies to do — swear a treaty with her
Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother and all who belong to them, and deliver them from death (Jos. 2:12-13)
◦ this is the most suspenseful moment in the story
◦ is this outsider clever enough to save herself and her family?
• Rahab barters for mercy and truth – hesed and emeth
◦ sometimes translated steadfast love and faithfulness
◦ these are two key words of Yahweh’s covenant with Israel

The writer does not mention Rahab’s confession of faith

Like everyone else on list, it is her deeds that count
– James, perhaps most prudish writer in the New Testament honored Rahab
. . . was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (Jas. 2:25)
Charles Spurgeon, “. . . we are somewhat surprised, I think, to find her name recorded by James, because he is an eminently practical writer, and was writing of good works rather than of faith.”
• but her actions beg the question, “Faith in what? or in whom?”
• and that makes her confession important
◦ that reveals the content of the faith by which she acted

There another woman I want to visit this morning

That’s because her story has striking similarities to Rahab’s
– Jesus left Galilee and went north, crossing the border into the region of Tyre and Sidon (Lebanon today)

Jesus wanted to get away. He and the disciples had been traveling and ministering without a break and they needed rest. I imagine also that he was weary from the ongoing conflict with the scribes and Pharisees. While he was in Gentile territory, a local Canaanite woman tracked him down. She begged for mercy (like Rahab), not for herself but her daughter. At first Jesus ignored her, so she pestered his disciples. The Lord explained to them that she was not on their itinerary, but that he had come for the lost sheep of Israel.
Eventually the woman was able to get close enough to Jesus, kneel at his feet, and cry, “Lord help me!” But he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” To which she replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Mt. 15:26-27)

• clearly Jesus was pleased with her answer
O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire (Mt. 15:28)
– do you see the parallels? Here was another Gentile outsider
• she had no right to expect anything from Jesus
◦ in light of his mission, she had no rights at all
◦ and she didn’t argue her rights – she begged for mercy
• her desperate faith inspired her clever response to him
◦ she did what no one else could do, she beat Jesus at his own game
– with both women, faith found a way
• past boundaries, over walls, and around obstacles

Conclusion: What was it about Jesus that irritated religious people the most?

His inclusiveness – he made room for tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes
– we’re told that when the spies rescued Rahab,
they placed her and her family outside the camp of Israel (Jos. 6:23)
• that’s because they were foreigners and “unclean”
• but Rahab and her family did not stay there
◦ the last word regarding Rahab is
And she has lived in Israel to this day . . . (Jos. 6:25)
◦ she was an outsider, who by faith won her way inside

God is going to get the love, devotion and obedience he wants
If not from his own people,
he will find people on the outside to bring in to do it
I’m afraid for church in the United States right now,
it is so divided and distracted by politics
I don’t think we have kept our eyes on God
and what he is doing in the world,
or what he wants us to be doing in the world
There are still so many people he wants to bring to himself,
and he would like for us to make the introductions

Jesus said, I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness (Mt. 8:11-12)
Do you think the same cannot happen to the church in America?
It would be sad for us, if the Lord chose to skip over us
and found for himself a Rahab
or a Saul who had been a persecutor of Christians
But the good news is – it can still be us that he chooses to use,
if we extricate ourselves from world and put our faith to work

Let’s make sure to irritate some religious people
by being as inclusive as Jesus
Because by faith, we can still get in the game

Sep 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 13, 2020


By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. Hebrews 11:23

Intro: Today we turn a corner in this chapter

The people we meet in these verses risked their lives knowingly
– why? Because they recognize it was right thing to do–the thing that had to be done
• integrity is knowing right thing and doing it regardless of cost
Loveday Alexander, “. . . as we move into the story of Moses and the exodus, we find faith becoming progressively more costly. Faith involves a choice, a voluntary loss of status, identification with a despised people, being prepared to share ‘the reproach of Christ.’ It means looking beyond the seen to the unseen reward, but if the rewards are greater, so too are the all-to-visible hardships.”
• at present there is a notable absence of integrity in government, the corporate world, and the personal lives of many people
– integrity makes right choices and faith supports right actions
Timothy L. Johnson, “Distinctive to this part of the exposition is the necessity for faith to make hard choices for God in the face of danger, human wrath, and dishonor.”
• and I would add, in face of loss of status, wealth, and pleasures of sin
• how did they maintain their high standard of integrity? By faith
◦ trust in God gives integrity a reason, because it promises a future
Who shall ascend to the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully
He will receive the blessing from the LORD
and his righteousness from the God of his salvation (Psa. 24:3-5)

Faith makes fear irrelevant

The story of Moses’ faith does not begin with Moses
– it begins with his parents
• the infant Moses was hidden — he did not hide himself
• Exodus does not mention the faith of Moses’ parents
◦ but their faith is demonstrated by their actions
◦ and that is the message of this chapter – By faith
– a parent’s faith, when real, can do a great deal of good for their child
• nurturing a small child’s spirit includes “hiding” them from corruption and abuse
◦ providing a shield and within it forming healthy attachments
• that Moses survived infancy was the result of his parents’ faith

There were two motivations behind their actions
– the word translated beautiful literally means “from the city”
• someone who has the right look
◦ in Acts 7:20, Stephen adds to beautiful, in God’s sight
• Moses’ parents saw in their infant son the same quality God saw
– secondly, they were not afraid of king’s command
• many good people have been compromised by fear
◦ faith doesn’t back down when threatened
◦ this is not the same as being foolhardy or belligerent
• sometimes we know we’ll suffer for doing the right thing
◦ but we go ahead and do it
◦ it’s not that we aren’t afraid, but we don’t let fear get in our way
Kent Hughes, “Israel’s deliverance began with an obscure couple believing God in the midst of darkness.”

Faith makes sacrifices
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. Hebrews 11:24-26

When he was grown up – he is now his own man
– he makes his own decisions
• the examples given involve dual-action decisions
◦ that is, a decision that has two sides
• the first dual-action consists of refusing and choosing

Only rarely is integrity as simple as responding to temptation by saying, “I do not want this.” At times, the vortex of worldly temptation is so great that it seems we are sucked into it against our will. At other times, we feel that compromise and corruption are being forced upon us. There is no doubt that sin can be appealing and promise a variety of pleasures. Yet it will always result in more harm than good. In those instances, we cannot be weak, but must take a stand and adamantly refuse the temptation we are being offered.

• lots of people would think, “Couldn’t Moses have greater success in working for Israel if he took a high position where he would be working with powerful and influential people?”
◦ perhaps, but that would also place him in a precarious environment
◦ there he would be exposed to the fleeting pleasures of sin
◦ and there his efforts would be compromised by the inherent corruption of the system
• as Moses saw it, he had to be among his people
◦ his choice was to identify with his people – and suffer with them

What sort of calculations did he make that led to his decision?
he considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt
– Moses lived more than 1,000 years before Christ,
• how could he identify with the reproach of Christ?
◦ we read of Jesus’ reproach in Paul’s letter to the Romans
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’” (Ro. 15:2-3)
◦ Paul was quoting a psalm
For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me
(Ps. 69:9)
• notice how this verse connects zeal in one line and reproach in the next
◦ Jesus’ disciples saw in his actions a fulfillment of the first line (Jn. 2:17)
◦ Paul and the writer of Hebrews saw in Jesus a fulfillment of the second line
– that Moses chose the reproach of Christ relates more to the readers of Hebrews than to him
• they had also experienced “reproach” (Heb. 10:33)
• shame is unpleasant in any culture
◦ it can be damaging to a person and family both socially and emotionally
◦ it’s especially brutal in honor/shame cultures, where honor is the bedrock of a prosperous life and shame is the undoing of a family
• the writer sees Jesus as being at the heart of human history
(God’s ultimate revelation, Heb. 1:1-3)
◦ Jesus’ cross and resurrection extend to all of human history
◦ what Jesus has done embraces all that came before him as well as after
– reading this statement back through time,
• Moses made his choice for Christ
◦ even though he did not have that specific insight at the time
• however, the readers of Hebrews did have that insight
◦ they knew that going the way of God always means going with Christ
– making Moses’ choice is not an easy one for us to make
• the other option–that of great worldly wealth–
◦ is seductive and easy to rationalize
◦ but it also results in slavery

Looking to the reward — again we are reminded of two faith facts:
1.) faith sets its eyes on what is ahead; it is conditioned by the future
2.) faith believes that God is and that he rewards those who seek him (v. 6)

Faith takes risks
By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. Hebrews 11:27

This has bothered me for some time – Moses was afraid
Then Moses was afraid, and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and stayed in the land of Midian (Ex. 2:14)
– I am not certain how we are supposed to reconcile these two accounts
(though I have read a number of different attempts to do so)
• our writer was too well acquainted with the Scriptures he uses to have made a mistake
• perhaps he is saying that faith, not fear was his primary motive for leaving
– but where would he go? How would he survive?
• these questions reveal the faith part of his adventure
◦ and it echoes Abraham’s faith-journey, who went out not knowing where he was going (v. 8)

Important for the author is that Moses endured as seeing the invisible
– the endurance of his readers was one of his key concerns
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive the promise (Heb. 10:36)
• Abraham, last week, was tested – there were tests for his readers
• and there will be tests for us
◦ we have our everyday little trials
◦ we’re also slammed with life-altering big trials
– writer tells us we must endure the tests and trials
• we must keep getting up and doing what we always do
• knocked down, get back up
◦ don’t give up on God, don’t give up on others, don’t give up on yourself
◦ don’t give up
seeing the invisible – this is how faith rolls (2 Cor. 4:18)

Faith follows directions
By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. Hebrews 11:28

Within the verse the writer shifts from the singular he to the plural them
– the people of Israel become active participants in this act of faith
– Passover had to do with Israel’s immediate salvation
• but it also with their permanent liberation from slavery
• every year they remember this moment with reverence
◦ what the exodus was to Israel (salvation), the cross is to Christians
◦ what Passover means to them, the Lord’s Supper means to us

Faith moves with God’s will
By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. Hebrews 11:29

Escaping Egypt was not enough
– their slavery to the Egyptians had to end
• that could only happen if the power Egypt held over them was broken
• otherwise, a free slave may only be a runaway slave
– God eliminated the Egyptian threat so that Israel could belong to him
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself (Ex. 19:4)

Faith doesn’t worry about looking silly
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. Hebrews 11:30

The writer skips over Israel’s forty years in the wilderness
– he has already informed us that was a failed moment in their history
• they were stuck there for their disobedience
• so he jumps ahead to Israel’s first victory in the land of promise
◦ and here they engaged in seven days of a strange military campaign
– more than once in Israel’s history,
• God set up circumstances to make his intervention obvious
• he wants us to trust him to do what is impossible for us (Mk. 10:27)
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith (1 Jn. 5:4)

Conclusion: In this chapter, the message of faith is told in stories

That is where faith operates, in the stories of the lives of his people
– beliefs are communicated in forms other forms
• beliefs are recorded and recited in concepts or propositions
• faith, however, is what we live
Len Sweet, “Christians don’t just tell the story of Jesus.” “Christians live the story of Jesus.”

You will be living the next episode of your story this week
Write it with integrity
Write it in faith
Sometime in the future,
someone will be telling others your story,
and at some point that person will say,
“By faith she overcame every hardship”
“By faith he endured to the end of the race”
For now, think about the plot that forms this week
and write it well,
because as long as we’re here
there is always more to tell

Sep 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 6, 2020


After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham arose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Genesis 22:1-2

Intro: Hebrews chapter 11 can be summed up in two words: By faith

The six verses we dive into today share a sub-theme, which is death
– not in a dark context, but rather in the light of faith and hope
• faith is not short-sighted – it can see a future beyond end of my life
• the big idea in these verses is that faith owns the future
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Cor. 4:21-23)
– this passage takes us to one of the most bizarre stories in the Scriptures

At least we’re warned from the outset, God tested Abraham
– the circumstances under the conditions of a test are unique
• tests are performed to determine strength, quality, integrity, etc.
◦ God begins with a dramatic statement
Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love
(the first time that “love” appears in the Bible)
• from that point, the story gets dicey
◦ “Take what you love, and kill it”
– our first difficult question is Why would God use a test like this?
• our second difficulty is why would Abraham go along with it?
◦ why didn’t he hesitate? why didn’t he negotiate with God
(as in Gen. 18:23-33, where Abraham negotiated for pagan cities)
• the story moves rapidly – this is the nature of life’s tests
◦ they come suddenly, demand action, and give us no time to prepare

Everyone I know who has read this story found it to be upsetting
– later, God himself would say of child sacrifice,
I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind that they should do this abomination (Jer. 32:35)
– so what’s the point? Perhaps God was asking Abraham,
“Am I everything to you? Am I more than all the promises and blessings?”
• maybe it is like when Jesus asked Peter,
Do you love me more than than these? (Jn. 21:15)
◦ we might be tempted to answer glibly, “Of course”
• but perhaps God wants us to wrestle with the question
◦ “What if I ask for what is most precious? The unthinkable?”
◦ the question digs at the roots of what is most important to us
– it’s okay to give God an honest answer
• but still, it would require long and seriously thought

How does the writer of Hebrews interpret Abraham’s story?
By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” Hebrews 11:17-18

The writer assumes his readers are familiar with the story
– his synopsis moves as quickly as the Genesis account
• but what he sees in the story is that God was testing Abraham’s faith
(not his loyalty, as I suggested)
◦ James also regards this as a test of faith (Jas. 2:21-22)
• as if God said, “If I do this, will you still trust Me? Still believe My word?”
– Abraham considered that God was able – same word used of Sarah (v. 11)
Sarah counted on God’s faithfulness
Abraham counted on on God’s power
• Abraham trusted God to fulfill his promises,
◦ even if that meant raising Isaac from the dead
• after all, Isaac’s birth and life were already a miracle
◦ parents who regarding having a child were as good as dead (Ro. 4:19)
◦ would it be any more difficult for God to raise the dead?

Then the writer adds a comment that should not surprise us
– Abraham did receive Isaac back from dead figuratively speaking
• there is a different Greek word for figures of speech (cf. Jn. 16:25)
◦ the word used here is parable, which appears only in the Synoptic gospels and Hebrews
• a parable is a story or situation that has two meanings
◦ by analogy, a parable uses one thing is used to explain another
– in Hebrews, the Old Testament sanctuary was a parable (Heb. 9:9)
(remember, in chapters 8-10, the former earthly objects and rituals were copies and shadows of heavenly realities, which were opened to us through Jesus)
• now Isaac’s story is a parable – the heavenly reality is Jesus’ resurrection
• what happens if we go back and read the whole story this way?
◦ as if Isaac were in general a type of Christ
◦ we might find hints of Jesus in other details of Isaac’s story
(this could include details from Genesis chapter 24 as well)
1. technically, Isaac was not an “only” son — Ishmael was thirteen years older than Isaac
• but Isaac was the promise, the one that God would sponsor (Ge. 17:18-19)
◦ in John 1:11, we have become God’s children
◦ but in John 1:14 and 1:18, Jesus is God’s only Son
(the same Greek word here used of Isaac)
2. if the temple was built on Mt Moriah (2 Chr. 3:1), where Isaac was almost sacrificed, then that would be the same mount where Jesus was crucified
3. Isaac was obedient to the will of his father, as was Jesus (Heb. 10:7)
4. Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice, as Jesus carried his cross (Jn. 19:17)
5. Isaac asked about the animal to offer, and was told, Yahweh will provide
. . . as it is said to this day, “on the mount of the LORD it shall be provided” (Ge. 22:14)
– now these (and other) parallels were either:
• inspired by God and meant to be discovered
• or else evidence of our own clever imaginations
◦ but it is interesting to wonder the various ways that the Scriptures may bear witness of Jesus (Jn. 5:39-40)
◦ and we cannot rule out typology

Abraham’s faith enabled him to see beyond Isaac’s death
– he did not let go of hope
• his trust in God reassured him that the promises would be fulfilled

The writer speeds through next three names on list
By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.
By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.
By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. Hebrews 11:20-22

Three brief sentences cover Abraham’s son, grandson, and great-grandson
– all three were near death
(only of Isaac does the writer not mention that he was near death, but in the story of him giving his blessings, he said to Esau, My son . . . . Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death . . . . prepare for me delicious food, such as I love, and bring it to me so that my soul may bless you before I die (Gen. 27:1-4)
• in my dad’s biography, he talks about the benefit of being a senior citizen
◦ we reach an age when it is possible to see our whole life in perspective
◦ instead of events that seem random or meaningless, you can connect the dots so that a meaningful configuration appears — and it all makes sense
He says, “Everything is preparation for something else”
•all three of these patriarchs were looking beyond their deaths–By faith

The word “blessing” appears all through Genesis
(the only book where bless or blessing appears more times is the Psalms)
– in the first chapter, God blesses all living creatures, and then the humans
• in chapter 2, he blesses the Sabbath
◦ then, at the proper time, God gives his blessing to Abraham
I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you . . . and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:2-3)
• at some point, fathers began giving blessings to their sons
• and when worship became formalized,
◦ the priests pronounced blessing on worshipers and the nation
– blessings in the Old Testament focus especially on fertility, health, and peace (De. 7:13-15)
Sigmund Mowinckel, “Blessing is the basic power of life itself.”
Claus Westermann, “The act of blessing, berekh, means imparting vital power to another person. The one who blesses gives the other person something of his own soul. The handing on of blessing from father to son is a result of its being a power of the soul.”
• fathers walked their sons through a simple ritual
◦ combining words and actions – the words were poetic
◦ the actions usually included touch
(a formal act, such as placing a hand on the son’s head, or a more intimate touch as with a kiss)
• these were basic elements, but there was room for creativity
– most importantly, the fathers looked to God to guarantee and supply the blessing
• the blessing was like a prayer, but not a request
• it was more like a spiritual “Will and Testament”

Last week I said God enjoys a person with outrageous faith
-Isaac’s faith was not outrageous – he was a quiet man
• he was not an initiator – life happened to him
• the writer’s depiction of Isaac’s blessings looks brighter than they were
– but our writer is not concerned with the details, but just the act itself
• Isaac looked to the future, as if it were as real as the present
• being certain of it, he could pass on his blessings and die in peace

Jacob’s faith was outrageous – almost scandalous
– “If God is with me, then I’m going to grab up all that’s coming to me”
• his blessing takes up an entire chapter in Genesis
• and he gave it, as the writer says, when dying
◦ for our writer, Jacob used this opportunity to worship God
◦ Jacob recalls all the ways God has been with him through life
– he was fully aware that his blessing was prophetic
• he knew that in the future, the younger brother would outshine his older brother

Of the three, Joseph’s faith is the most impressive
– and like the others, he gave this speech at end of his life
– Joseph never forgot his family or his God – talked about him openly
• to his master’s wife, to a prison warden, with prisoners, and to Pharaoh
◦ and God never forgot him – the LORD was with Joseph (Gen. 39:2, 21, 23; 41:38-39)
• Joseph knew Israel would be leaving Egypt
(God had revealed this to Abraham when he entered a covenant with him Ge. 15:13-14)
◦ it mattered to Joseph where his bones would end up
◦ this was his way of participating in God’s promises

Conclusion: If you were a super hero, what would be your power?

Use your imagination
– you do have a super power; you have the power to bless others
• to transmit some of your energy toward others
◦ through words and actions
◦ or perhaps with a smile or gentle touch
• when my friend Pat drives past our street, he throws us a blessing
◦ he does this to the homes of his other friends who live in our community
◦ he prays for others, but as a priest he blesses them too

Am I able to give my blessing to the next generation?
If they have different ideas than mine? Take a different path?
Or will I try to horde what God has given me?
Control what I’ve built or collected?
And will I set things up before I die, so I’m still exercising control from the grave?

You are a wellspring of blessings
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers [and sisters], these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? (Jas. 2:10-11)
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you might obtain a blessing (1 Pe. 3:9)

Throw blessings to others
and trust God to land them where they will do the most good
Let’s do what we can to bring light and joy,
comfort and peace,
the grace of God and the love of Jesus
Let’s be generous with our blessings
and heal our broken world

Aug 31 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 30, 2020


Intro: In the bulk of this chapter, the writer shows us what faith looks like

In the verses we’ll cover today, faith looks much like a moving van
– the journey of faith is no vacation, but an indefinite homelessness
• with all of the stress that entails
• faith looks like an endless series of transitions
– this past week, I was counting for a friend all the schools I attended through the twelfth grade
• three elementary schools, three junior high, and two high schools
◦ being the new kid was no fun
• Abraham’s nomadic adventures were no fun for him either

Three of the verses we will read begin, By faith
– two times it refers to the husband’s faith and once to the wife

Abraham: First, faith looks like responsiveness to God
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:8

Abraham obeyed God — when he was called to go out, he went out
• he was not headed for a home that he already owned
◦ eventually he would receive a place as an inheritance,
◦ but it was not yet his, and he had no word as to when it would become his
• not only that, but when he left the family homestead,
◦ he did not even know where he was going
– we too have a calling (Heb. 3:1) and like Abraham we also are on the road
(whether or not you are aware of being on it)

Howard Marshall, “If they are still a traveling people, they are the traveling people of God, moving towards a destination rather than wandering aimlessly.”
– I do not disagree with this statement, but I would qualify it
• sometimes it feels like we’re wandering aimlessly
◦ not all of Abraham’s movements were deliberate
(he was driven out of Egypt and Philistine territory)
• he had a destination, he just didn’t know what or where it was
– Jesus’ disciples wrestled with this same difficulty
• when Jesus told them he was about to leave them, he added,
“And you know the way to where I am going.”
◦ but Thomas objected, saying,
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (Jn. 14:4-5)
◦ the unknown “where” is what we’ve learned about faith, that it is
the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1)
• where’s our destination? where’s heaven? you can’t point to it on any map
◦ we do not have to know the where if we know the way
◦ and Jesus is the way, so we follow him — just keep going

The second by faith: faith looks like heading into the unknown
By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. Hebrews 11:9

In verse 8 Abraham went out and in verse 9 he went in
– literally, he migrated to or sojourned in (a land; cf. Ge. 26:3)
• there are three Greek words I want to share with you
(there’s no need to remember them or think they’re vital, but they give us an idea of the dimensions of Abraham’s unsettled existence)
◦ the first is paroikeo – a visitor, a foreigner
• Abraham arrived in the land God promised, but as a foreigner
◦ he had to negotiate with the locals for only bit of property he ever owned
And Abraham rose up from before his dead and said to the Hittites, “I am a sojourner and a foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead (Ge. 23:3-4)

Living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of same promise
– Abraham never owned a house and never lived on his own property
• Jesus said,
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5)
• but for now they live on the earth as foreigners

The writer provides explanation for why Abraham lived this way
For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Hebrews 11:10

Here the writer introduces a new key term – the city
– this should surprise us, because there was nothing in God’s promise to Abraham regarding a city
• the writer is looking beyond all the material promises
◦ remember in chapters 3 and 4, God’s rest wasn’t the land of Canaan?
◦ it was something more, and though Joshua brought Israel into the land of promise, he could not get them into God’s rest
• in same way that the temple was a prototype of the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 8:1-5),
◦ Jerusalem was a prototype of Mt. Zion, the heavenly city
you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22)
– the Greek word for city is polis – the root of “politics”
• from the New Testament times to the fourth century Christians stayed out of politics
◦ our city is the same city Abraham was looking forward to
◦ and it and its politics are not of this world (cf. Jn. 18:36)
Hannah Arendt, “Historically, we know of only one principle that was ever devised to keep a community of people together who had lost their interest in the common world and felt themselves no longer related and separated from it. To find a bond between people strong enough to replace the world was the main political task of early Christian philosophy . . . .” (According to St. Augustine, she tells us, that principle is love, and she says that it is) “well chosen” and “admirably fit to carry a group of worldless people through the world . . . provided only that it is understood that with the proviso (‘as long as the world lasts’).”
• let’s say, our next president is not the one you chose
◦ it makes no difference in terms of how we proceed
◦ there is only one way for a Christian to journey in this word, and it is by faith
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Php. 3:20)
◦ so regardless of the outcome of the next election, we’ll continue on in faith

That this city has foundations tells us it is an established reality
– that it already exists
• further more, God is the one who designed and built it
• the design does not have to do with streets, buildings, and green belts
◦ but with its spiritual and social architecture
◦ its environment of perfect peace
– Abraham was looking forward
• our ability to endure in faith depends entirely on where we’re looking
◦ or to whom we are looking
• and this is where chapter 11 is taking us
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2)

The third by faith: faith looks like believing the impossible
By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Hebrews 11:11-12

When he says Sarah was past the age, he means past menopause
– not only had she been unable to have children, it was now too late
• the story of Abraham and Sarah is really delightful
◦ neither one of them responded with faith immediately
◦ rather, God’s promise struck both of them as very funny
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Ge. 17:17)
So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” (Ge. 18:12)
• notice, they both spoke these words only to themselves
◦ but with God present, you might as well be talking out loud as thinking to yourself
The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh . . .?” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh” (even this exchange I find very funny; Ge. 18:14-15)
◦ so when the miracle baby was born, named him laughter (Isaac)
And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” (Ge. 21:6)
– how did Sarah demonstrate her faith?
• by considering, or counting on God’s faithfulness
◦ this is something the writer has wanted for his readers
◦ for us to respond to God’s faithfulness with our own faithfulness to him
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23)
• the writer says something about Abraham that Paul also said
◦ he was as good as dead
◦ but to this hopelessly infertile couple were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore (this language is drawn directly from Genesis 22:17)

The writer’s commentary on Part 1 of Abraham’s story
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:13-16

They lived by faith and died in faith
– here is one thing they did not have and two things they did have:
did not: not having received the promises – they were never settled
did: having seen them and greeted them – from afar

Forgive me this short family story. On a December weekend, years ago, friends invited Barbara and I to join them in Newport Beach for the annual boat parade. Watching all the decorated boats float by, we heard the sound of music blaring from the other side of the harbor. It was not only Christmas music, but worship choruses as well. We could barely make out the distant figures, but I was convinced I could see my mom and dad sitting in the stern of the ferry-like boat.
Now when my brother and I were off playing somewhere and my dad wanted to call us home, he would stand on the front porch and using his thumb and forefinger, produce a loud whistle that could be heard several blocks away. We had our own, specific whistle, and when I heard Dad’s whistle, I would whistle back as Jeff and I ran home. So that night in the Newport harbor, I whistled into the dark, and I could see my folks sit up straight and look around. There was no way they could spot us, but Dad put his hand to his mouth and whistled back. We knew we were both there and we made a connection.
That is what I think of when I read that Abraham and his family greeted God’s promises from afar. God whistled to Abraham, and Abraham whistled back as he headed home.

did: having acknowledged – now those other two Greek words
strangersxeno: a sojourner passing through
(Abraham never became one of the locals)
exilesparapidemos: a resident alien (both words appear in Ge. 23:3)
– Stanley Hauerwas has argued that America is not a Christian nation
• that we live here as resident aliens in a foreign land
• there is significant biblical weight to his understanding of our situation

Verses 14-15 tell us that Abraham and his family looking for their own country
– they were not at home where they sojourned
• and they could not return to where they had lived before
◦ they could not even think of going back
– we do not look back to our past lives, because if we did:
• like Lot’s wife, we would get stuck and never escape our past
• or looking back would be first the stage in going back
William Barclay explains “point of no return” refers to a plane when it reaches a distance in which it does not have enough fuel to return; the “point of no return.” Since it would not make it back to the airport it left, it must continue one to its destination. He says, Once people have “set out on the Christian way, [they] should feel that [they have] already passed the point of no return.”
a better country – the one for which Jesus taught us to pray:
Let your name be revered,
Let your kingdom come,
Let your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven

Briefly, two final thoughts:
God is not ashamed to be called their God — beautiful!
– and Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11)
he has prepared for them a city
– just as Jesus has prepared a place for us (Jn. 14:2-3)

Conclusion: What is the lesson here?

The way you got to where you are, is the way you continue on, by faith
Don’t get too comfortable
Do not get over-involved or over-invested in this world
We are not staying here forever

In the meantime, consider ramping up your faith,
believing God for something really big
I’m convinced that God enjoys people whose faith is outrageous,
perhaps like that for which Rainer Rilke prayed

I Have Faith
I have faith in all those things that are not yet said.
I want to set free my most holy feelings.
What no one has dared to want
will be for me impossible to refuse.

If that is presumption, then, my God, forgive me.
However, I want to tell you this one thing:
I want my best strength to be like a shoot,
with no anger and no timidity, as a shoot is;
this is the way the children love you.

With these ebbing tides, with these mouths
opening their deltas into the open sea,
with these returns, that keep growing,
I want to acknowledge you, I want to announce you,
as no one ever has before.

And if that is arrogance, then I will stay arrogant
for the sake of my prayer,
that is so sincere and solitary
standing before your cloudy forehead.
(trans. by Robert Bly)

Aug 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 23, 2020


Intro: Reading the New Testament we constantly bump into faith

Jesus stressed it, pointing out instances of little faith and great faith
– Paul practically wore out the word faith
(faith appears almost forty times alone in his letter to the Romans)
• but the writer of Hebrews gives the fullest explanation of faith
• beginning in chapter 10, he reminded us of God’s declaration,
my righteous one shall live by faith (Heb. 10:38)
◦ then he defined faith in chapter 11 verse 1:
Faith is resting in the assurance that we will receive the things we hope for, the certainty of having things that are now invisible (my paraphrase)
◦ he follows that with numerous examples of others who lived by faith
– like I said last week, this is a magnificent chapter
• it would be hard to find a chapter that is more helpful than this
• from all these examples we learn that
Faith finds God, while unbelief gropes in the dark, and finds nothing

After the example of Abel, this second example is a little strange
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. Hebrews 11:5

The book of Genesis can be studied in sections
– each section tells us a story of a person or family
• and each section is separated from the one before it by a genealogy
◦ genealogies: those long, boring lists of “who begat who”
• we don’t expect to find much that interests us in these ancient family trees
◦ but every once in awhile, we strike gold
◦ Enoch is gold
– like Melchizedek, Enoch is a bit character with a minuscule role
• he is no more than a name in a genealogy
◦ yet he captured the imagination of biblical sages and rabbis
◦ he inspired legends and centuries later books were written in his name
• how did he make this list in Hebrews 11?

The writer quotes the Greek translation of Genesis
– in fact, he uses some of the exact same Greek words
Enoch was well-pleasing to God, and was not found, because God [had taken] him (Gen. 5:24, LXX)
• the writer tells us it was By faith that Enoch was taken up
• Genesis doesn’t say anything about Enoch’s faith,
◦ but it’s a reasonable deduction
– the writer adds God’s purpose for taking Enoch, which was so he would not see death
• follow the genealogy’s trajectory through time of fathers and sons
◦ each generation followed by the next, and they all exit the same way
and he died . . . and he died . . . and he died
• there’s only one exception – Enoch, that he should not see death
◦ Enoch is unique even in this chapter of Hebrews
These all died in faith . . . (Heb. 11:13)
death took all the others, but God took Enoch

This mystery haunts the dusty old genealogy
– how did Enoch just go from this world into–what? Heaven? Another dimension?
• God wanted Enoch immediately
◦ and wanted to spare him the experience of death
◦ it would seem that he just disappeared
and he was not found
• this phrase is echoed in another biblical story, equally strange
◦ that was when Elijah was taken into heaven
◦ a few doubtful prophets wanted to go look for him
Maybe the Spirit of the LORD dumped his body on some mountain or in a ravine (2 Ki. 2:16-18)
◦ but when they went and looked, they did not find him
– the point is, Enoch left this world because God took him out of it
• the writer says, prior to leaving he was “commended”
◦ last week we learned that’s what this chapter is all about
◦ all the people who made this list were commended (v. 2)
• his commendation was for having pleased God
◦ again, that is from the Greek translation, not the original Hebrew
◦ later I’ll explain why that’s important to me

The writer pauses to make another fundamental statement
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6

God is pleased when we know him
– when we live with him as the center and circumference of our lives
• when we choose paths that require absolute dependence on him
• otherwise, without faith it is impossible to please him
– God is pleased when we draw near to him
• this is the primary objective of Hebrews (cf. Heb. 10:22)
• so, if we are going to draw near to God, faith is what gets us there

When we move into faith, the first step is believing that God is
– not, as the verse reads, “God exists”
• God could simply exist, yet be in some faraway place
◦ we always want to add something to these two words
◦ like God is “powerful,” or “holy,” or “good,” or “love”
• but prior to those qualifiers, God simply is
◦ there is no blank that needs to be filled-in
◦ the two words are a complete statement
– this takes us back to when God revealed his name to Moses
• Moses asked God, What is your name?
◦ how did God identify and define himself to his people?
◦ in the name Yahweh–“I am”–the God who is
• God is not limited by conditions or attributes,
◦ he is not limited by space or time – he IS
◦ God is all the time, in all places, and all things to his people
– this was the special significance of God revealing his name at that particular moment in history
God saw the people—and God knew (Ex. 2:25)
This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations (Ex. 3:15)
• from his side, God says, “I am”
• in response, from our side, we say, “he is”

The second step of faith is believing that God rewards our quest
Harold Attridge, “Enoch’s faith, like that of anyone who would ‘approach’ God, is grounded in two propositions, that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him. These two affirmations are only one element of the complex portrait of faith that emerges in the chapter, but they are fundamental.”
– that he rewards us, tells us that he cares, that we matter to him
• we must believe this!
◦ we have to believe this journey is worth it,
◦ that it will be rewarded – as it was for Enoch
Luke Johnson, says of Enoch, “It was, then, his disposition of faith during his life that leads to God’s gift of continuing life.”
– I’ve frequently talked about seeking God
• so here I’ll only remind you that our search for God is not:
◦ geographical – or intellectual (an accumulation of information)
◦ neither God nor his reward are visible
Faith walks through emptiness and silence
• we seek God by focusing our attention on this present moment
◦ remembering that God is here now
◦ and God, by his Spirit, awaken our consciousness to his presence
Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it (Ge. 28:16)

Noah shares something in common with Enoch
By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Hebrews 11:7

Noah’s life was also well-pleasing to God
– Noah’s story differs from Enoch’s in terms of what God expected of him
• God warned him of events that were at that time unseen
◦ we’ve seen, this is where faith leads us–into the unseen
• Moses response demonstrated his reverent fear
◦ this reverence was characteristic of Jesus’ prayers (Heb. 5:7)
Rudolph Otto, in his book The Idea of the Holy describes the natural, human response to holiness as “the deepest and most fundamental element in all strong and sincerely felt religious emotion.”
◦ reverence comes from a felt sense of the sacred; the uncanny power of the holy
– Noah’s faith challenge was to construct a huge ship
• it became salvation for his family
◦ salvation is a theme in Hebrews, where we find that Jesus is
the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb. 5:9)
• that one person found salvation, tells us all could have had it
◦ those who rejected it were condemned by Noah’s example
◦ Noah is the first person in scripture to be referred to as righteous

Conclusion: The one thing I find most interesting in Enoch’s story

Did not interest the writer of Hebrews at all
– and that is, the original Hebrew does not say that Enoch was well-pleasing
• but that he walked with God
• Enoch did something unique
◦ something no one else in the living chain of his ancestors and descendants
– what does this mean, anyway? How does a person walk with God?
• I am not sure, but I am guessing it does not mean hike trails with God
◦ or go on long walks through a park or along the seashore

Perhaps walking with God means
• to go through life with a consciousness of God
• to constantly acknowledge God and interact with him, praying to him and thanking him
• a kind of intimacy with God
• a willing surrender to God, because to walk with him, we have to be willing to go wherever he is going
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (Jn. 10:27)

The writer of Hebrews
shows us the possibilities of a life we’re meant to live
That life is a potential that faith actualizes
Faith walks with Jesus
. . . as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him (Col. 2:6)
This is the kind of faith that we want growing in our hearts
So that the first step we take every morning
is a continuation of our long walk with Jesus,
until one evening he turns and says to us,
“You must be tired. Why don’t you just come home with me?”

Aug 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 16, 2020


Intro: Hebrews 11 is one of the magnificent passages in the Bible

It is right up there with Psalm 23, The Lord’s Prayer, and 1 Corinthians 13
– we won’t just step into Hebrews 11 – we need a running start
• last week’s passage culminated in two statements
◦ a line from the OT: my righteous one shall live by faith
◦ a line from writer: we are those who have faith
• it’s a fair question to ask, What does faith do for us?
◦ how does it make my life different from anyone else who is without faith?
◦ What is faith and what does it look like?
– Hebrews 11 gives us answers to these questions
• first, faith is defined – not with a dictionary type of definition
◦ but by explaining what faith does for us and how it challenges us
◦ then it shows us faith in living examples
Mariam Kamell, “What does . . . chap. 11 bring out with its repetition of ‘by faith’? Illustration after illustration verbally hammers home the point that these ‘heroes of the faith’ acted in a certain way as a result of their faith. Stressing an element of right content to faith, the author states in v. 3 that it is by faith we know . . . that God created the world. In addition to the knowledge, however, each of the characters here depicted acted in accordance with God’s will for them, whether it meant triumph and transformation . . . or pilgrimage and death . . . .” “. . . faith must have an active component or it is no faith at all.”
• the active component is stressed repeatedly: Abel offered, Noah constructed, Abraham obeyed, and so on
Luke Johnson observes that ch 11 begins “in a leisurely fashion, lingering over named figures,” giving details of their stories.
◦ but then it builds up speed until it gives only a rapid list of names,
◦ and by the end it lumps together a crew of unnamed heroes, and how their faith brought them to miracle and victory or suffering and martyrdom
Johnson also says “readers are advised to experience chapter 11 at least once in one go, read aloud and at full voice. Only in that fashion can its real power be fully experienced.”
– n chapter 6 verse twelve, we were told to
be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises
• now we get to meet those men and women we are to immitate

Faith, in our lives, is assurance and conviction
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

Hope cannot exist in a vacuum – it requires faith
– there have been interesting research studies on hope
• much has come from what Victor Frankl discovered in Nazi prison camps
◦ hope can be the difference between life and death
• more recently, hope accounts for:
◦ better mental and physical health
◦ improved performance (in school and work)
◦ enhancement of personal relationships
• hope is energizing
– faith supports and focuses our hope and our hope inspires and fuels faith

People we meet in this chapter did not have anything more than we have
– in fact, they had less–for instance, see verse 39
Richard Hays, “The chief emphasis of the whole chapter is not just that the biblical characters mentioned here are virtuous examples, but that their faith remained fixed on promises that were substantially unfulfilled.”
• but the “things” hope for are, in fact, substantial
◦ they exist, but their existence lies in our future
• our assurance is the knowledge that we already own those “things”
– “conviction” can be translated proof – but what does faith prove?
• William Barclay has an interesting answer: It was Pontius Pilate who condemned Jesus, but the centuries have passed and it is Jesus who is revered, while Pilate is all but forgotten
• in the future, the history of the world will prove and validate our faith

The point is, faith connects us to an invisible reality
– it’s invisible, either because the reality is still in the future,
• or because it exists in another dimension, or both
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 Cor. 4:18)
for we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)
– faith is a way that we enjoy the future now
• when you order something online, do you get discouraged?
◦ do you think, “Oh, it will probably never come”?
◦ or do you look forward to that item arriving?
Dr. Joe Dispenza, “What if you knew that some issue facing you had been completely taken care of? What if you were certain that something exciting or great was about to happen to you? If you knew it without a doubt, there would be no worry, no sadness, no fear, and no stress. . . . You would be looking forward to your future.”
• that is the attitude we can have when we pray in faith, trusting in God
“If you begin to doubt, become anxious, worry, get discouraged, or overanalyze how this assistance might happen, you have undone everything that you originally accomplished. You got in your own way. . . . you lost your connection to the future that the divine mind was orchestrating for you.”
◦ faith connects us to the future that is going to be ours
◦ rejoicing as if it were already here is an expression of faith
William Barclay, “The Christian [says] that the future is not uncertain, because the future belongs to God.”

This verse could be the title of this chapter
For by it the people of old received their commendation. Hebrews 11:2

We will meet men and women of old, who lived “by faith”
– commendation translates matureo; most often translated “witness”
matureo is the origin of our English word, “martyr”
• here, it is God who gives witness, or commendation, to these heroes
– the quote I mentioned before from Habakkuk is relevant here,
my righteous one shall live by faith
• it appears three times in the New Testament (Romans and Galatians)
◦ and it is central to Paul’s theology of salvation
• all of these people were made righteous (right with God) by faith
◦ that is his witness about them–cf. Romans 4:3

A starting point for our faith
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. Hebrews 11:3

“By faith we . . .” – it’s interesting that “we” go first
– we understand something about our world
• this is where God’s will and our lives are played out
• we understand, because faith in God’s word brings enlightenment
The unfolding of your word gives light
it imparts understanding to the simple
(Ps. 119:130)
– my intellect cannot convince me that God even exists
• people of much greater intelligence could out-argue me
◦ so it comes down to a choice I make
◦ a choice for God – I choose to believe, to put my trust in him
• when I do that, something amazing happens
◦ an understanding comes to me – deeper than knowing information
◦ I experience the certainty that it is true – God, heaven, eternal life, all of it!
– faith changes our perspective
• we realize that our universe cannot explain itself
◦ something else brought it into existence, and something else sustains it
[Jesus] upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb. 1:3)
◦ the word translated “universe” is literally ages,
◦ that which exists through time; the planet and its history – space and time
• once again, faith’s specific orbit is things that are not visible

The first example: Abel
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Hebrews 11:4

I love this story – it is the first instance of formal worship in scripture
– but it also swirls with mystery – the first two brothers engage in worship
• one worked the soil, a farmer; the other was a shepherd
◦ how did they know to bring God an offering?
◦ who told them what they were supposed to offer him?
• there was something special about Abel’s offering
◦ Cain’s offering appears to be–ordinary
◦ that may say something about them, but it was not the issue
the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard (Ge. 4:4-5)
Notice the following:
1. God’s response was to both the person and the person’s offering
2. Afterward, God spoke to Cain, not to Abel
3. God told Cain what he needed to do to be accepted
If you do well, will you not be accepted? (Ge. 4:7)
4. God warned Cain what would happen if he did not choose to do well
We learn from this important lessons about worship:
1. Worship involves an offering, a gift we give to God
2. Worship is a dialogue with God – an interaction (cf. Gen. 12:7-8)
(the brothers waited to see whether God would accept their offerings)
3. In worship, the worshiper seeks God’s acceptance
(notice that both acceptable and accepting occur in Heb. 11:4. The issue of worship finding acceptance is emphasized all through the Scriptures, beginning in this first instance of worship)
4. The offering is inseparably bound to the worshiper
(it was not that what Cain offered was wrong, but that he was wrong:
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD (Pr. 15:8)

Again, faith is how we are made right(eous) with God
– that though Abel was dead yet “still speaks” refers to God hearing the cry of his blood from the soil (Ge. 4:10)
• Genesis does not give a specific explanation for this
• the writer of Hebrews may seen a hint here at a continued existence for Abel from God’s perspective
◦ if this seems far-fetched, wait until next week!

Conclusion: I am not going to tell you that faith is easy

But faith doesn’t look for “easy” or travel the safest roads
– faith accepts whatever God hands it, and works with that
– unlike our beliefs, faith is not about what we believe, but who we trust

Let me make a suggestion, if I may be so bold,
that every day we take a break from social media,
from television and entertainment,
from the news, whether domestic or international,
and immerse ourselves in the Scriptures

We do not need to be all the time filling our heads with trivia
We do not need to anchor our hearts and minds in this world
We need to know this awesome One
who calls us to himself
who invites us to trust him
Faith in God lifts us out of today’s fears into eternity’s calm
Every day this week,
can we try, consciously, to do one thing by faith?
One thing where our specific goal is to please God
by trusting him with something really important?