Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
By Faith - August 14, 2016 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 15) - Text: Hebrews 11:17-31 (32-40); 12:1-3
Last week the writer to the Hebrews spoke of the men of faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham. Hopefully our Epistle reading from last week reminded us that faith is important. It reminded us about the fact that faith is a gift, given to us by God. It reminded us that faith was given through means, namely through the means of grace, God’s Word, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and Confession and Absolution, in other words that it is through these very means that God gives us the gifts He has to give. We were also reminded that faith is an instrument which means that faith must have an object, in other words, in order for faith to be saving faith, the object of faith must be and can only be Jesus Christ. You have heard me use the illustration of a bowl of ice cream and a spoon. The bowl of ice cream are the good gifts and blessings God has to give. The spoon is the means or instruments that God uses to give us the good gifts and blessings He has to give. The fact is that the Bible is God’s Word and so it is a Word with power, the power to do what it says. This week we continue as the writer to the Hebrews gives us even more examples of faith.
Last week the writer to the Hebrews talked about the faith of Abraham. We pick up this morning with more of the examples of Abraham’s faith. “11:17By 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, 18of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back’ (11:17-19). Notice how Abraham’s faith was an example of faith as the instrument that believed in the object of the resurrection. Abraham believed God’s promise and although Isaac was his only son, he believed that God could raise him from the dead so that he might be able to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham to make him a great nation. Faith was the instrument that Abraham used to believe the object of God’s power to resurrect his son.
After touching on the example of Jacob and Joseph, the writer to the Hebrews continues with the example of the faith of Moses. “23By 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. 24By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. 29By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned” (v. 23-29). By faith in God’s promises, Moses’ parents defied the king who issued a decree that all male babies were to be killed. Even the Egyptian mid-wives disobeyed the king’s order.
Even more, by faith Moses gave up the riches of the throne and family of Egypt because he knew he was one of the Children of Israel. Moses left Egypt for a time in order to live in the desert regions, only to return as he was called by God to deliver his people from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.
By faith, and by instruction of God, Moses instituted the Passover celebration. This celebration was a celebration of blood, shed for the people of God. The lamb was slaughtered, his blood was shed, so that the doors of the houses might be covered so the angel of death would pass over. This celebration foreshadowed the shedding of blood by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ Himself, on the cross for our forgiveness, that is so that the angel of eternal spiritual death, even Satan himself, may have no power over us.
And in faith Moses lead the Children of Israel through the Red Sea while the walls of water loomed on both sides and the Egyptian army was on their heels.
The writer to the Hebrews also mentions others of great faith, including, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, David and Samuel the prophet. It was through faith that these and others “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They 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—38of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (v. 33b-38). It was not that any of these people did anything of their own accord, rather it was by the means and instrument of faith in God and the power of God, that they did these things, it was God working in and through them to do the great deeds He had done.
The writer to the Hebrews gives all these examples of people of great faith and then he turns his attention toward us. He uses all these examples as an encouragement to us in our own faith life and faith walk. To us he says, “12:1Therefore, 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, 2looking 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. 3Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (v. 1-3).
The writer to the Hebrews does not sugar coat his encouragement nor his expectations. Just as others have suffered before us and others will suffer after us, so too, we may very well expect to suffer for our faith. Certainly we may suffer for our own sins, that is one weight which we carry through life, as we live as sinner/saints. But even more, we may also suffer simply because we are Christians. Even today, there are many in our world who suffer pain and even death for their faith. We may not have it too bad, at least not yet here in America, but as our country moves more and more away from God, as the deviant behavior of our society gets worse and worse and becomes more and more acceptable, it is becoming harder and harder to be a Christian, especially in the name of tolerance.
The Key for us, in this “race” of life is in keeping our eyes on the goal, namely eternal life in heaven. We keep our eyes on the goal as we look to the One who is the author and perfecter, the giver and the finisher, of our faith, namely, Jesus. Jesus is the author of our faith. He is the One who writes faith in our hearts. He does this, as we have said before, through means, namely through the means or instrument of His Word, the Bible, which does what it says, as well as through the means of Holy Baptism, that is, through simple water and God’s Word, again, which we said, does what it says. Jesus is also the perfecter, the finisher of our faith as He strengthens and keeps us in faith, again through means and in particular through the means of His Word, as well as through the Lord’s Supper, that is through simple bread and wine connected with His Word, which does and gives what it says, and through confession and absolution.
And the writer to the Hebrews sets Jesus’ example before us, the example of His suffering and dying, giving of Himself and His life for ours. He does this, gives us Jesus as an example, but not just as an example. Jesus is never just an example, He is always more. Jesus did what needed to be done, for us, because of His great love for us. He is an example, but even more He is the fulfillment of His very example.
So, what does this mean? This means that our desire is to have Jesus alone as the object of faith. And Jesus gives us this desire through the means and instruments He has to give us this desire, His means of grace. Jesus is the author and perfect of our faith. He is the prime mover, the first to act and He does give and He does act. He gives and acts through His means of grace.
So, our desire is to be given the gifts that God has to give. And the gifts that God has to give are faith, forgiveness, strengthening of faith, life and salvation. Remembering that faith is an instrument and faith must have an object, the object of faith is Jesus Christ and with Jesus as the object of faith, then faith brings the gifts God gives, the gifts of forgiveness of sins and as we know with forgiveness there is life and salvation. Forgiveness is the greatest gift because without forgiveness there is only eternal destruction, but with forgiveness is life and salvation.
Our desire is forgiveness and life. More than anything, this is our desire, because apart from forgiveness and life is to remain in our sin which would mean only death, even eternal spiritual death. But with forgiveness is life and salvation. And again, these are our gifts, given through the means that God gives them, namely the means of grace.
Thus, our desire is to be where the gifts of given, where the means are present, namely our desire is to be in divine service and Bible class, our desire it to have personal and family devotions, to read the Word on our own. Our desire is to be wherever and whenever the gifts are delivered. How do we know we have faith, by our desire to be given even more of God’s gifts. Indeed, as Luther pointed out, if we have no desire to be given the gifts of God, perhaps we might reach inside ourselves to see if we are still in the world.
As we grow up and move out of our parents’ house and begin a life of our own, we are often reminded that we are still a part of our original family. I suppose that is what family reunions are all about, the fact that we have a history. As parents our desire is that our children will continue, in some fashion, to be a part of our family, to come and visit. We are disappointed when they stay away for too long, or for what we believe to be too long. Certainly we believe we have a lot to offer our children, even as we grow older. In very much the same way, but even more so, our Heavenly Father is the one who has everything to offer and He is the one who gives everything to us. His desire is that we not stay away, but that we come to be given the gifts He has to give whenever and wherever those gifts are offered, in other words, His desire is that we are in Bible Class every Sunday morning and in divine service whenever we have divine service. Because His desire it to pour out on us and lavish us with His good gifts and blessings, indeed His desire is to give us the whole lot of His gifts and a whole lot more. My prayer for each one of you is that the Lord will put this desire in your heart, especially as you are given this encouragement through these people of great faith, “so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted,” but remain steadfast in the one true faith, even to eternal life. To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.