XI. The Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11:1-40)
XI. The Hall of Faith (11:1-40)
Canton, Ohio, is home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is where those who excelled at the game are recognized for their achievements on the field. Hebrews 11 is home to the Hall of Faith. Here the champions of the Old Testament are recognized for their achievements as they followed God by faith. Success for them didn’t bypass suffering. Instead they trusted God and ran the race to the end. To encourage his readers to keep going, the author of Hebrews reminds them that they’re not the first to travel the faith road. Others have encountered the hardships of the race and crossed the finish line.
11:1-2 How does the writer of Hebrews define faith? Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen (11:1). To exercise faith is to have confidence about an expectation without visible proof that it will happen. What makes this confidence possible? The trustworthiness of the object of faith. The question we must answer is this: Is God trustworthy? And as I like to say, faith is acting like God is telling the truth. If you want to increase your faith, grow in your understanding of God. Believers of the past trusted him by faith and won God’s approval (11:2). Notice that each of the heroes of the faith mentioned in this chapter acted on what they believed.
11:3 A clear example of something Christians accept by faith is God’s creation of the universe. We believe that what is seen was made from things that are not visible by a being who is not visible. We trust that the word of God created everything, in all its vastness and complexity. That should encourage us that God may be doing extraordinary things in our lives for our good even when we can’t see what he’s doing.
In the following “Hall of Faith,” the author uses a repeated structure: he gives the name of an Old Testament believer, explains what he or she did, and uses the expression “by faith” to connect that person’s actions with a belief system. This pattern is a reminder that faith is measured by the steps of one’s feet—not by his feelings. Many faith-based decisions, in fact, go against feelings. We must, therefore, walk by faith in the integrity of God’s Word rather than by gut instinct or emotionalism. Feelings are the caboose; they don’t get to drive the train.
11:4 By faith Abel worshiped God based on God’s standards and expectations: he offered shed blood as a sacrifice rather than just giving him something his own hands had produced. He offered God his best and was approved as a righteous man. In fact, even though he is dead—murdered by his brother—Abel’s faith still speaks. It teaches us that access to God’s presence is through the blood. That’s the kind of legacy you want to leave. You want your life of faith to be a testimony to others, to point them to the truth.
11:5-6 Enoch is one of only two people who did not experience death (Elijah is the other; see 2 Kgs 2:1-12). Why? Hebrews says it’s because he pleased God (11:5). That doesn’t mean, of course, that if you’re pleasing God you won’t die! But it does mean that his departure from the world was a direct result of how he lived. He lived a godly life within the context of an evil and corrupt society. What he did mattered.
Do you want to live in a way that pleases God? Then you must know that without faith it is impossible to please God. You must believe that he exists and rewards those who seek him (11:6). You must operate by faith, even if you must do so alone and go against the accepted norms of the day. You must believe with expectation that God responds—regarding his will for your life—when you seek to please him.
11:7 Though Noah was warned about what was not yet seen, he was motivated by godly fear. He couldn’t even conceive of the flood God was going to bring on the earth. Nevertheless, Noah took God seriously and acted on what he said. Just consider the obstacles he faced: There was a 120-year gap between God’s command to build the ark and the flood; Noah was instructed to build a tremendously huge boat on dry land; everyone who saw it no doubt called him crazy. But Noah believed God and obeyed, even though what he’d been asked to do didn’t make sense since it had never rained a drop at that point in history. He thus became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Be prepared to answer this wisely: When God’s Word says something contrary to popular opinion, whom are you going to believe?
11:8-10 Abraham made a pilgrimage of faith. God called; he obeyed. That sounds simple until you realize that Abraham did not know where he was going (11:8). How did he do it? And how did he live as a foreigner in the land of promise without ever owning it? (11:9). The answer is that he had his heart set on another city—one whose architect and builder is God (11:10). He focused on the spiritual while looking for the physical.
Often in life, you won’t know where God is taking you. And if you overlook the spiritual, you will become discouraged. God is the architect of the eternal city, and he’s the architect of the opportunities in your life.
11:11-12 Sarah is an example of the power of God in a person’s life. She was unable to have children, and Abraham was as good as dead in terms of ability to procreate. In fact, Hebrews only gives us the conclusion to the couple’s infertility story. When God promised her a child, Sarah laughed (Gen 18:11-12). She thought it was a joke. Eventually, though, she had faith that the one who had promised was faithful (11:11). It took twenty-five years to get from promise to baby. Oftentimes God doesn’t complete what he wants to do in your life until you’re spiritually prepared.
11:13-16 At this point, the author pauses before continuing. He points out that all these believers died in faith, although they had not received all the things that were promised (11:13). They walked by faith, but God didn’t plan to deliver the promise while they were on earth. Though they could have turned around and given up (11:15), they were seeking a homeland (11:14); they desired a better place—a heavenly one (11:16). Their approach to life, then, was based on an eternal perspective, a kingdom perspective. When you know the one who’s preparing a better city for you, you can survive the wait. And when that’s your mindset, God is not ashamed to be called [your] God (11:16).
11:17-19 After years of waiting, Abraham received his son Isaac. Thus, the promise was fulfilled and the testing began. God told him to sacrifice Isaac—the very son through whom Abraham was to become the father of a nation (11:17-18). Make no mistake. In one way or another, God will test how much you love him. Do you love the gift or the Giver more? So, how did Abraham cope when it seemed like God’s command contradicted his promise? He considered that God was able to raise the dead (11:19). And why would he think that? Because Sarah was barren (11:11), and Abraham was “as good as dead” (11:12); nevertheless, it is God who gives life, and he had a promise to keep.
Don’t forget what God did for you yesterday. The situation you face may be different than anything you’ve experienced before, but God is the same. The receiving back of Isaac is an illustration of the same type of divine intervention that God’s people can expect today if they live by faith.
11:20-22 These verses illustrate a legacy of faith. By faith Isaac blessed his sons concerning things to come (11:20). By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed his grandsons while he worshiped (11:21). By faith Joseph, near the end of his life, told the Israelites to bury his bones in the promised land when they got there.
If you’re a parent, you’re going to pass on many things to your kids. Make sure that you pass them the baton of faith in God above all else. Let them pray with you about things you’re trusting God for so they can see your faith in action.
11:23-29 Here we see a summary of Moses’s life: eighty years are covered in seven verses. His parents valued God instead of the evil culture and refused to let their baby be killed (11:23). When he grew up, Moses himself chose God over the surrounding culture. He opted to suffer with the people of God rather than to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter (11:24-25). By faith he left Egypt . . . instituted the Passover, and crossed the Red Sea (11:27-29). Why? Because he was looking ahead to the reward. He considered suffering reproach for the sake of Christ to be greater wealth than Egypt’s riches (11:26). Don’t miss that Moses chose Christ in the Old Testament era! Though it doesn’t always appear to be true on the front end, choosing Christ is never a losing deal.
11:30-40 The walls of Jericho fell as a result of the most bizarre military strategy enacted in history (11:30). And as a result of her willingness to align with God’s people, Rahab the prostitute—the lowest of the low—got recognized alongside Abraham and Moses as a hero in the Hall of Faith (11:31). How can these things be? Simple. God tells us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways,” declares the Lord (Isa 55:8).
Then, like a preacher, the author rolls through a list of even more Old Testament heroes of faith and how they lived. Some conquered; others perished. All lived by faith in God (11:32-37). When faith is inaugurated in your life and you keep on going, your circumstances don’t have the final word. The world was not worthy of them (11:38), but they were approved through their faith (11:39). Did you catch that? The world didn’t deserve them, but God applauded them. Whose approval are you seeking? You can’t please both the world and God.
The author concludes the chapter by observing that God provided something better for us New Testament believers so that we can all be made perfect (11:40). Salvation in Christ is the culmination of God’s plan of redemption for eternity and deliverance in history.