In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The other day in the church office, someone had asked Linnea Affield about her new house, and so she was showing pictures of it on her phone. She also had pictures of her [maternal] grandparents. She remarked how much her son Kerry resembles her grandfather. Sometimes a younger family member resembles an older family member so much that the former is the said to be “the spirit and image” of the latter—or as it is often heard, “the spittin’ image.” In the Penikis family, several of us have a dimpled or cleft chin; my sisters call it “the Penikis butt chin.” Of course, family resemblances, shared traits, also go beyond outward appearances. For example, color blindness is an inherited trait usually among the males of a family. “Like father, like son,” we say. Even back in 1616 they said, “Like mother, like daughter.” At age seven, I first became interested in astronomy, thanks to a sticker book. Before long, my dad renewed his former interest in the subject, even building telescopes. Whenever we’re at my folks’ home, if I answer the phone, I sometimes get greeted in Latvian, “Ah, sveiks, Ārīt!” The Latvian on the other end is fooled by my voice, thinking that I am my father. So the likeness may extend to voice, speech, mannerisms, interests, behavior, and so on. “Like father, like son.”
During a family vacation many years ago, when I was a child, I saw a church sign that read, “He who is born of God should grow to resemble his Father.” It’s like the old saying, but a more profound thought. Who is “born of God”? The Apostle and Evangelist St. John says in his Gospel, “To all who received [Jesus], who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:12–13). Jesus says that one needs to be “born again, born from above … born of water and the Spirit” in order to “see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3, 5). John further says in his First Epistle, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1 Jn 3:9). “Like Father, like son.”
How well do you resemble your heavenly Father? Yikes! I cringe at the prospect of applying that question to myself. That is a frightening question to consider, isn’t it? Another way to phrase it might be: How many sins don’t you have to confess?
Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm? (Small Catechism, Confession)
Based on that, we must confess that we often don’t bear resemblance to Him very much at all. We often look and act more like someone else’s children. What can we do? We confess our sins and receive His forgiveness for the sake of Christ, our Elder Brother. And in faith we turn to Christ the Son, as the writer to the Hebrews directs us, “looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).
Last Sunday, with the first part of Hebrews 11, the “heroes of the faith” chapter, as our Epistle, I pointed out that the Old Testament saints named there are images, figures, or types of Christ Jesus. “By faith Abel … By faith Enoch … By faith Noah … By faith Abraham … By faith Sarah.” As we continue in that chapter today, we hear again, “By faith Abraham … By faith Isaac … By faith Jacob … By faith Joseph … By faith Moses … By faith the people … By faith Rahab.” As we read through this chapter, something is notable by its absence: There is no mention of any sin or any lack of faith on the part of these people—with one possible exception, the mention that Rahab was a prostitute. Yet by faith “she welcomed the spies [from Israel] in peace” (Heb 11:31, Kleinig). Rahab is also one of three Gentile women listed as ancestors of Jesus (Mt 1). We know the unbelief and other sins of so many of them from the Bible itself. As Abram had once lied to the king of Egypt about his wife Sarai, saying “She is my sister,” so Isaac lied to the king of Philistia about his wife Rebekah, saying, “She is my sister” (Gen 12, 26). “Like father, like son,” telling the same lie to save their own hides. Jacob tricked his brother Esau to get the birthright of the firstborn, and then deceived his father Isaac to get that blessing. Moses killed an Egyptian and hid his body in the sand, then fled when he thought that his crime was known. The people of Israel grumbled and complained against the Lord and against Moses before and after the crossing of the Red Sea. So many sins, just as we have, and yet not one of them is brought up. Why?
“By faith” is the defining character of the lives of these saints of old. It is the defining character of the life of every believer of God in Christ Jesus. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3:28). “And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom 4:5). “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … hav[ing] been justified by His blood” (Rom 5:1, 9). Moses “considered the reproach of Christ,” the reproaches Christ bore in His suffering and death for our sakes, “greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt” (Heb 11:26). Moses, and all these saints of old, looked ahead by faith to the Coming One, Christ Jesus. They aren’t given to us as intermediate examples of faith, because Jesus is too perfect, and achieving His righteousness is too high, so that we cannot attain it. These saints of old are given as witnesses to God the Promiser, that He keeps His Word, above all that He has secured forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life through His Word made flesh through the flesh of the Virgin Mary, Christ Jesus the Son. It’s true, we cannot attain to God’s righteousness by our own means. Because of sin, we can never see the Father to know Him, to grow to resemble Him. “The eyes of sinful man Thy glory may not see.” Jesus says, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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 (Heb 12:1–2).
The Christian life “by faith” is no life of ease. It’s not a sprint; it’s a long-distance race. It is a race run bearing your cross. It is a race, a way of life, that often leaves us feeling ready to give up, to surrender, to let the devil and the world and our sinful flesh have their way with us. Even otherwise good gifts from God can and do become temptations to lay aside the cross instead of laying them aside, to avoid suffering and conflict, to reject the claims of Christ upon us, to reject His marks upon us. Thorns, whips, nails, spear—His marks are painful! God made this world, this creation, and gave it to us for our benefit and enjoyment. Those saints of old enjoyed the fruits of God’s creation, yet they looked forward to an even better, new creation, a future with God in His eternal glory. God made a claim upon Abraham’s loyalty, that his love for God should be greater than his love for his son Isaac. In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes His claims upon His disciples, upon you and me. Our loyalty belongs to Him, even over loyalty to family, whether by blood or marriage. “Father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Lk 12:53). Through Holy Baptism, we have been washed in the blood of Jesus, covering all our sin, and we have been made members of His bride, the Church. In the Supper of His body and blood He is preparing us for the marriage feast that has no end. How far did He go for you? All the way to agony and bloody sweat in the Garden, to suffering and death on the cross, His baptism by fire.
It is a shame that the makers of the Lectionary made the last verses of Hebrews 11 an optional part of today’s Epistle. It is so valuable for us, as we live in an increasingly hostile society, hostile to the teaching and preaching of the Christian faith. We haven’t yet experienced the fullness of persecution the way some of our Christian brothers and sisters in other lands have. Shall we seek comfort and friendship with the world, or the reproach that Christ bore? What does the teacher of the Hebrews say?
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—those who through faith conquered kingdoms, enacted righteousness, obtained what was promised; shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edges of the sword; were made strong out of weakness, became powerful in battle, put foreign armies to flight; women received their dead by resurrection. But others were tortured, not accepting the offer of release in order to obtain a better resurrection. Still others were put to the test with mockery and flogging, as well as with chains and imprisonment; they were stoned; they were sawn apart; by execution with the sword they died; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, made destitute, persecuted, maltreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.
Yet even though all these were attested through their faith, they did not gain what was promised, because God had foreseen something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:32–40, tr. by John Kleinig, Hebrews Concordia Commentary, CPH.)
You are one with these saints of old, one with them in Christ Jesus. As they were images and types of Him, so also are you called to bear and be the image of Christ before the world, before your neighbor, before a child, before judges and politicians, before scoffer and despiser. “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb 12:3). “By faith” be His image, looking to Him and to His cross, so that you may endure.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.