Over 36 years ago, I asked Laina to marry me. I promised her that I would love her, provide for her, be faithful to her, be her best friend and partner for the rest of our lives, and give her beautiful babies. She said yes.
What did it take to say yes? Faith! High-risk faith! She had to believe what I said and trust me that I would do it—that’s faith. And it was high-risk faith because I’m a pretty shady guy! No—it was high-risk because of what was at stake, what I was asking her to do. I was asking for her life!
What does it take to be a Christian—a follower of Jesus? It takes high-risk faith, because God asks for our lives. He calls us into a relationship that promises everything to us and asks everything of us. We have to believe what He says and trust Him with our lives.
Today we start our series, “High-risk Faith.”
God asks us to do things that require faith—high-risk faith!
This is “High-risk Faith.” For the next five weeks, we are going to explore what high-risk faith looks like. We’re going to do that by studying Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. It shows how the heroes of the Old Testament trusted God in a big way. We’re going to tell the stories, and learn what we can about high-risk faith, about trusting God with everything, and doing what He says even when it’s risky!
Hebrews 11:1–7 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Notice that the author of Hebrews begins with a definition of faith, and then goes to the beginning and starts working his way through the Old Testament. In these first seven verses, he gets as far as Noah.
1. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1–2 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.
What is faith?
Webster defines it as “belief or trust.” Faith has two components to it: propositional and personal. Propositional: we believe something to be true. We believe that God exists and rewards those who seek Him. That is a proposition—a statement of truth—and we believe it is true. There is content to faith. We believe that. Personal: we believe someone to be trustworthy. We trust God and willingly do what He says. Faith is personal.
Both kinds of faith are required to be a Christian, and we’ll see both as we travel through Hebrews 11. You must believe certain things about God; and you must believe in God; you must trust Him with your life. And as we’ll see in this series, that means taking some risks and doing what He asks. Faith is a relational word. We trust a person. To have faith in God is to be in a trusting relationship with Him; it means listening, trusting and doing what He says.
Last summer, Laina and I watched “Expedition Impossible”. A dozen teams of 3 raced through a series of adventures in Morocco. Erik Wiehenmayer’s team was “No Limits”, so named because Erik is blind. Erik is the first blind man to summit Mt. Everest. He did it with the help of his friend, Jeff Evans; he listened carefully to Jeff, trusted him and did exactly what he said. In one episode of “Expedition Impossible” the teams came to a cliff and the only way to get across the river was to jump and swim. Here’s Erik and Jeff at the cliff. Video.
There is a picture of high-risk faith. Erik couldn’t see; he had to trust his friend who did.
The author of Hebrews defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith is being sure and certain; confident.
Faith is being certain of what we don’t see. What don’t we see? Well, lots. But in this context, I think he means that we don’t see God, but we are certain He exists. Faith involves the unseen; it is often contrasted with sight.
2 Corinthians 5:6–8 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
In this passage, Paul is discussing what happens when we die. Notice that he says twice, “we are confident”. He was sure and certain that when we die, we are with the Lord. To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. Paul is confident of this, but it is the confidence of faith. He hasn’t seen this; he believes it. We live by faith, not by sight.
We live in the age of skepticism and doubt and uncertainty. And yet everyone exercises faith. It takes faith to be an atheist. Can you prove there is no God? No—you just believe it. Everyone exercises faith. It takes faith to get on a plane, to walk across a bridge, to put your money in a bank, to undergo surgery, to take a prescription, to ride with your teenager, to give away your daughter at her wedding, to get married, to communicate with someone, to know anything. We live by faith.
The question is will we have faith in God? Will we trust our unseen God and do what He says? Will we jump with Him when He says, “stand up and jump”?
This is faith. Then the author begins to take us through the Old Testament examples of faith and starts at creation.
2. By faith, we understand the world is created.
Hebrews 11: 3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
The story of creation is found in the first two chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1-2. Here’s the big idea:
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Can I prove this? No. Can someone prove that it’s not true? No. By faith, we understand the world is created, or not. Either way takes faith.
There are two possible explanations for the universe: an eternal God or eternal matter. There are two ways to finish this sentence: “In the beginning…”.
In the beginning, God created.
In the beginning, matter was.
The real question is “what came first?” Please don’t think this is a new problem created by modern science. These have always been the options, and people have understood this for centuries. When the Bible was written, people understood that these were the two possibilities. You believe in God or you don’t, and if you don’t, then matter is all there is; matter is eternal; in the beginning, matter was. This is why our author says what he does:
Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
Why does he insist that what is seen (world, universe) was not made out of what was visible (matter)? He understands the two options, and wants us to know that God is eternal, that God was here first, and that matter came from God. In the beginning, God. Everything else flows from that personal beginning. Why is this important?
If you start with matter, if matter is all there is, if matter is eternal, then you have an impersonal beginning and all the universe is a colossal accident. There is no inherent meaning or purpose, nor can there be. You can’t start with impersonal matter and talk about purpose or meaning. If you start with matter, you have nothing but chance.
If you start with God, if God is there and created, then there is inherent meaning and purpose. A person can do things on purpose. A person can have a reason for doing something. Purpose and meaning are inherent in personality, but not in impersonal matter.
ILL: How many of you have ever played “pick up sticks”? Every time you drop the sticks, they land in random, accidental patterns, like this (random sticks slide 1). You might ask, “What is the meaning of the pattern?” There is no meaning. It’s random and accidental. Same here (random sticks slide 2). Same here (random sticks slide 3). No one tries to interpret the meaning of a pile of pick up sticks.
But what if, after dropping these a billion times, one time, the sticks randomly spelled out the word, “hi” (“hi” slide). What would be the meaning of that? Nothing. It’s still just an accident—no meaning, no purpose.
But what if you walked into a room and saw the pick up sticks arranged like this (“I love Laina” slide), what would you assume? That it’s not an accident! Someone arranged the sticks. Laina would assume that an intelligent being left her a message! She would find a meaning in the arrangement that had been left there by a person. It takes a person to have meaning and purpose
Two starting points: one leads to purpose and meaning, the other eliminates them. Can you see why it is important what you believe?
By faith we understand the world is created.
3. By faith, Abel offered a better sacrifice.
Hebrews 11:4 By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.
This story is found in Genesis 4:1-16. Here’s what it says:
Genesis 4:2–5 Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Hebrews 11 says that Abel offered a better sacrifice. What made it better? Genesis doesn’t say. It simply says God looked with favor on Abel’s offering, but not on Cain’s. People have speculated that Abel’s was better because it was an animal sacrifice (a blood sacrifice) rather than Cain’s plant offering. Others think that Abel offered his best (fat portions) while Cain offered less than his best(some of the fruits). But those are guesses. The text doesn’t say.
But Hebrews tells us that Abel offered a better sacrifice by faith. Why did Cain and Abel offer a sacrifice? Either they thought it up, or God asked them to do it. And if it was the latter, it is safe to assume that God told them how to do it. This is the case later when the Law was given: God required sacrifice and was very specific about what was offered and how to do it. So the best of explanation of Abel’s acceptable sacrifice is that he heard what God wanted, believed and obeyed. He did what God asked. By faith, he offered a better sacrifice.
Imagine a coach who has two undersized players, Cain and Abel. So he tells them both that over the summer he wants them to get in the weight room and work hard and gain 30 pounds. When practice starts, Abel shows up with 30 new pounds of lean muscle—he’s obviously been in the gym pounding the iron. Cain shows up with 30 new pounds of fat. He tells the coach, “I gained 30 pounds like you wanted me to. But I hate working out, so I just ate Twinkies and drank the Dew all summer.” The coach looked with favor on Abel and his weight, but on Cain and his weight he did not look with favor.
They both gained 30 pounds. But one listened and trusted and obeyed. The other did it his way. Faith is hearing and obeying.
What has God been asking you to do, and you’re not doing it, or you have a better idea and you’re doing it your way?
By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice.
4. By faith, Enoch was taken from this life.
Hebrews 11:5-6 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
The story is told in Genesis 5:21-24. In the midst of a genealogy we find this strange little story about Enoch. He was seven generations after Adam, and three generations before Noah. Most everyone in the list lived about 900 years—and then there’s Enoch, who lived only 365 years. All the others in the list follow the same literary pattern, which finishes: “so-and-so lived this many years, and then he died.” But Enoch’s entry finishes like this:
Genesis 5:24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.
There was something about Enoch’s faith, his relationship with God, that made God decide to take him from this life. Enoch walked with God. To walk with God is to live in intimate, trusting relationship with Him
A child told the story this way. “Enoch walked with God. Every day, Enoch and God walked and talked. One day, they walked a long way, and finally they noticed it was almost dark. So God said, “Enoch, we’re closer to my house than yours; why don’t you come home with me tonight?””
The kid might have it right. Enoch walked with God. But he hadn’t always walked with God. He had a conversion.
Genesis 5:21–22 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters.
Enoch started to walk with God after Methuselah was born. Something happened and Enoch changed and started walking with God. What happened? Methuselah was born. It could be that the responsibilities of parenthood forced Enoch to face his own moral and spiritual shortcomings and turn to God. He started walking with God because he had a kid! I’ve seen that happen before.
There is another intriguing possibility. Some scholars believe the name Methuselah comes from the root word for death, and think it means, “his death shall bring it”. Enoch is referenced in Jude and in extra-biblical literature as a prophet. It is possible that when Methuselah was born, God told Enoch of the coming judgment on the world by a flood. Methuselah lived 969 years and died in the year of the flood: “his death shall bring it.” From Methuselah’s birth on, Enoch walked with God. This change was a result of faith—he believed something God told him and started walking with God.
This is faith: you believe what God says and act upon it. You walk with God.
It says that Enoch pleased God, and without faith it is impossible to please God. God is pleased when we trust Him.
I think this is easiest to understand as a parent. I am pleased when my kids trust me. When I tell them something and they believe me and act on it, I’m pleased. If they refuse to listen, or believe or act—if they ignore me and do their own thing—I’m disappointed.
I think God our Father is pleased when we trust Him. And it is impossible to please Him without faith. Why? Because anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. You won’t come to God unless you believe this. You won’t come to a God you don’t believe exists. You won’t come to a God you don’t believe would welcome you. If I believed God was a tyrant determined to destroy me, I’d run away from Him. I’d avoid Him. And many people do for just that reason. You’ve got to believe that He is there and He is for you not against you!
By faith Enoch was taken from this life.
5. By faith, Noah built a boat.
Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
Noah’s story is told in Genesis 6-9 and I assume that most of you are familiar with it. The world was so corrupt that God decided to destroy everyone and start over. Noah was the one righteous dude on earth—like Enoch, Noah walked with God. He had a relationship with God. So God spoke to Noah and told him that He was going to destroy the world with a flood, but He wanted Noah to build a boat to save himself and his family and a pair of each kind of animal.
By faith, Noah built a boat. He listened to God, believed Him, and did what He said. This is faith. It is responding to God’s word, believing and obeying what God says.
But this wasn’t just any boat. It was a big boat: 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. A football field and a half long! To put that into perspective, no one would build a boat that big again until 1858! Here is a picture of a replica of the ark built by a Dutch Christian named Johan Huibers. He built it as an expression of his faith in the Bible, and in the hopes that it would renew interest in Christianity in his country. While this was built to scale, it’s actually about half the size of the ark in the Bible—although Huibers is building a full-size model and hopes to show it at the 2012 London Olympics. Noah built a big boat, and did it all by hand. Noah had to cut the trees by hand, mill the lumber by hand. Johan Huibers had the advantage of using modern power tools and pre-milled lumber, and it took him a year and a half to build the one you see here. How long did it take Noah to build his big boat? Over 100 years! That is a long obedience in the same direction! Over 100 years of long, steady, hard work.
And it’s not just the work that was hard. Think about the abuse Noah suffered from his neighbors. He was building a huge boat on dry land over 100 miles from the nearest body of water! Crazy!
When people asked why he was building the boat, he told them that God talked to him, and told him He was going to destroy the world with a flood. Crazy! As that great theologian Lily Tomlin says, “If you tell people you talk to God, they’ll think you’re spiritual. If you tell people that God talks to you, they’ll think you’re crazy.” They thought Noah was crazy.
“Ok, so let’s say God is going to destroy the world. So why not build a boat big enough for you and your family—why this huge monstrosity?” He told them that God told him to take pairs of every living creature into the ark. Crazy!
2 Peter 2:5 says that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness”. Evidently, while he was building this boat for 100 years, he told people what God had told him. He warned people. He probably pleaded with people to repent. But no one believed him—no one repented. And I’ve got to believe that for 100 years, Noah was called names and mocked and made fun of—right up to the day it started raining.
What keeps a guy doing something this difficult for 100 years in the face of mocking opposition? Faith. Noah did it because he believed what God said to him. By faith Noah built a boat. This is high-risk faith. Noah put it all on the line—his life, his future, his reputation. He bet everything that God was true. It was a long obedience in the same direction.
I think of my friend Jim Millard who heard God’s call to preach the gospel in Japan when he was 18. He has been at it for almost 40 years in a very difficult environment. He has given his whole life to this. Many people would have given up long ago, but Jim has stuck with it. Why? Faith. Jim heard from God. By faith, he’s building a boat. It’s a long obedience in the same direction.
What has God called you to do?
Has He asked you to do anything that requires high-risk faith?