In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. … 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” (Heb 1:1, 3). Thus the Word of the Lord. Here’s a question for you: What would you say is the key word in Hebrews chapter 11? Quite evidently, it’s faith and its related forms, such as faithful. Over and over we hear, “By faith Abel … By faith Enoch … By faith Noah … By faith Abraham … By faith Sarah” (vv. 4, 5, 7, 8, 11). The word faith and its forms occur 26 times in Hebrews 11, thirteen times in these first 16 verses. The writer to the Hebrews is defining faith here: the assurance—or better yet, the substance, the essence, the underlying reality of things hoped for, the conviction, the confidence, the evidence of things not seen. In all of God’s Word, both the Old and New Testaments, the words faith and believe are related, forms of the same word. To have faith, to believe, means to trust, have confidence, have the conviction, be convinced, persuaded, that someone or something is true. In Hebrew, the language of those saints of old, the words faith and believe and true are all forms of the word that is the also the root of a Hebrew word very familiar to us; you know what I mean. It’s the Hebrew word we use all the time at the end of our prayers: Amen. What does this mean? “Amen, amen, means yes, yes, it shall be so.” We could go back to the Lord’s teaching on prayer, as found in the Small Catechism, the Explanation of the Conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer: “This means that I should be certain that these petitions are pleasing to our Father in heaven, and are heard by Him; for He Himself has commanded us to pray in this way and has promised to hear us. Amen, amen means ‘yes, yes, it shall be so.’” When we pray, we end with a word that means faith, believe, truth. Think of it. That little word Amen connects us by faith to Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, and all those believers of old going back thousands of years! The faith we have is the faith they had! The God who promised them and commended them is the same God who has fulfilled His promise in Christ Jesus, the Savior whom we believe and confess.
Now that we’ve looked at the Epistle reading, look at the Gospel reading again. I’ll ask the same question: What’s the key word in this passage from Luke 12? You might think it’s anxious, or its synonym used in other translations, worry. But what does Jesus say here to His disciples about being anxious or worrying? “Do not be anxious, do not worry. … Fear not, little flock” (vv. 22, 32). The key word of Jesus here is no or not. As it turns out, it’s also another key word in Hebrews 11. Look at it again: “… things not seen … what is seen was not made out of things that are visible … [Enoch] should not see death, and he was not found … Noah [being] warned [about] events yet unseen … [Abraham] went out, not knowing where he was going … These all died in faith, not having received the things promised … Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God.” And now go back to the Gospel reading, and what is the essence, the underlying reality, of what Jesus is teaching His disciples? It’s faith and faithfulness. Trust in your heavenly Father, for He knows your needs, and He will provide all these things for you.
Which came first, faith or faithfulness? Faith is belief or trust; in this case, trust in God. Faithfulness is acting according to the ways of God in truth. Before we can act in faithfulness, we must have faith, as Hebrews says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (v. 6). Faith is a gift from God in the first place. Jesus teaches His disciples to walk in faithful trust of the Father’s provision for them. So we must have faith first before we can exercise our faithfulness toward God. But it is God’s own faithfulness which comes first! Before we even existed, He acted in faithfulness, creating all things, including us men, by His Word. From eternity, God has acted in faithfulness. For before the foundation of the world, in the eternal counsel of the Godhead, God the Father willed that His only-begotten Son should become one of us, by the working of the Holy Spirit, and God the Son willingly gave Himself from eternity to be the Lamb of God, the Sacrifice on the cross for you, to make full payment for your debt of sin, your rebellion, your faithlessness, against the good and holy God. From eternity, God chose you, elected you in Christ to be His own. In faithfulness, God the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, creating faith in you, so that you may believe in Jesus Christ your Lord and come to Him. Now by the Spirit’s power, you may walk in faithfulness before God, being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Yes, you will stumble and fall and fail to walk as faithfully as you should; that’s life in this fallen world, in this corrupt flesh, that’s sin. Before Christ is given to you as your Pattern, He is given to you as your Savior. As we will soon sing, in the words of Thomas Olivers,
The God of Abr’ham praise, Whose all-sufficient grace
Shall guide me all my pilgrim days In all my ways.
He deigns to call me friend; He calls Himself my God.
And He shall save me to the end Through Jesus’ blood. (LSB 798, st. 3)
With Abraham and all those believers of old, we are called to be strangers and pilgrims on earth—just like Jesus! When you’re on a pilgrimage, you can’t be weighed down with all manner of possessions. What does Jesus call you to carry instead? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Lk 9:23). Pilgrim, you’re to deny yourself and carry your cross. That’s the intersection of those two key words, faith and not, the cross. The Cross of Christ is His denying Himself for your sake, for your salvation. Your cross is denying yourself, saying “no” when the world says, “Say ‘yes,’” saying to God, “No, I can’t see, and yes, I believe You.” We might object that it was easy for Jesus; after all, He’s the Son of God, so He knew beforehand what was on the other side of His cross and suffering. So do you, because He has told you in His Word. And yes, Jesus is the Son of God, but He is also the Man of Faith. He prayed to His Father, even in the stress and agony of bloody sweat. Of Jesus the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased,” which means He had faith in the Father, because “without faith it is impossible to please Him.”
Hebrews 11 is sometimes called the “Faith Hall of Fame” or the “Heroes of the Faith.” The latter is the title of a new Bible study starting this morning. We may also call these saints “Types of Christ” or “Images of Christ.” On an old typewriter, you have a type element. You hit the key attached to that element, it strikes a ribbon against the paper, and you’ve made an image of the character on the type element. The letter on the page is the type, and the metal element is the antitype. The antitype is the original. So also is Christ the Antitype, the Original, from eternity: the One who offered the best Sacrifice; the One who walked with God and pleased Him, whom death can touch no more; the One who saves His kin through the floodwaters; the One who, though put to death [the literal meaning of “as good as dead”], begets countless faithful offspring. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham—these, and all of God’s saints, are images, imprints, of Christ Jesus. Christopher Wordsworth got it so beautifully right in his Ascension hymn, “See, the Lord Ascends in Triumph” (LSB 494):
He who walked with God and pleased Him, Preaching truth and doom to come,
He, our Enoch, is translated To His everlasting home.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels; Man with God is on the throne.
By our mighty Lord’s ascension We by faith behold our own.
Now our heav’nly Aaron enters With His blood within the veil;
Joshua now is come to Canaan, And the kings before Him quail.
Now He plants the tribes of Israel In their promised resting place;
Now our great Elijah offers Double portion of His grace.
Right now, it feels like we could use a “double portion of His grace” across this nation in the wake of the string of mass killings. A lot of blame has been shouted around, fingers have pointed at this or that culprit. Texas senator John Cornyn tweeted something eminently sensible: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. Sadly, there are some issues, like homelessness and these shootings, where we simply don’t have all the answers.” Still, we ask, why did these people die? Is their meaning to their deaths? Famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted this:
In the past 48hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings.
On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose…
500 to Medical errors
300 to the Flu
250 to Suicide
200 to Car Accidents
40 to Homicide via Handgun
Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.
In other words, “Stuff happens; get over it; move on.” Tyson is an atheist, for whom apparently those lives are ultimately meaningless. As Australian author Michael Cook put it, Tyson is heartless and his atheism looks threadbare. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the believers of old couldn’t see what lay ahead, couldn’t see the final outcome of their sojourns or their crosses. “These all died in faith.” Cook tells of one couple at the El Paso Walmart, whose story you may have heard:
To save his wife Jordan, Andre Anchondo stepped in front of her; to save their 2-months-old daughter, Jordan stepped in front of her. Andre and Jordan died; shielded by their bodies, their baby lived. The love of this young couple will outlive the infamy of this hideous crime.
No doubt there are more stories like this, although most of them will remain untold.
(“The light in the darkness,” Michael Cook, MercatorNet, Aug 5, 2019.)
The Anchondos, and so many others, walked, and loved, and gave, and died like Christ. We may not know them, or be able to tell their stories; but God does know them, and He has told their story, and your story, in The Story of His Son. And we may not be able to tell, nevertheless we will sing “for all the unsung saints” who were “mindful of their Lord,” praying that God grant us to be so as well, by His Spirit, for the sake of Christ.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.