New Testament Lesson
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. By faith Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice that Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found because God had translated hi: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he diligently seek him. By faith Noah being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder is God. Through faiths also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the seashore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
I have taken as my text the first verse of the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews; which was one of the selections in the lectionary for the New Testament lesson at Mattins today. In this verse we seem to have set before us a definition of what faith is. But the author of this letter is actually presenting a different view here; he is defining for us what faith does.
Taken in the context in which it was written, “Faith” is an active word; one that doesn’t just imply a belief we that take into our hearts, but one that also produces concrete results. And it does so in two ways.
First, Faith provides substance. It is through Faith that we are given knowledge; the knowledge that God has Revealed Himself to us through His Holy Incarnation. And second, Faith provides evidence; the proof that results in our convictions.
The difference between the two can be found in the entirety of the verse I have just read; “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. In the original Greek, the word “substance”, often meant “assurance”, and it is this translation that makes the most sense here; “now faith is the “assurance”, of things hoped for”. And assurance involves a future hope; the hope of the Resurrection, the promised Second Coming of Christ, and the glorification of the saints.
Evidence involves the realities of the present that we cannot see; such as the forgiveness of sins granted by Christ’s sacrifice, and the intercession of the saints. Hope is Faith relating to the future, and conviction is Faith relating to the present.
Now when I speak of hope, I do not mean that type of hope that we all feel from day to day; “I hope the traffic will not be too heavy, I hope that the restaurant won’t be too busy, I hope this weather will change soon”!
No, the type of hope we are considering here is not a wistful wish for some temporal comfort; rather, it is that feeling that causes us to look forward with utter confidence. This type of hope is such that it dictates all our actions; we live in it, we die in it. Faith is a hope that has turned into certainty.
As if to prove this point, the author of Hebrews goes on to give us many examples of such Faith; beginning with Abel’s sacrifice to God, Noah’s building of the ark, Abraham’s journey from his home country, and Sarah’s giving birth to her son Isaac. In all of these examples these people had that type of Faith in common (though Sarah was somewhat skeptical at first). And, as the author of Hebrews goes on to point out; “you know what; they’re all dead now”!
But the fact of their departure from this world wasn’t the significant part; what was truly remarkable was that they had that Faith, that hope, that had turned into certainty, even though they themselves had not RECIEVED the promises of the New Covenant. No, instead, they had been given that assurance, that future hope, of those promises; and they believed!
Think about these examples; Abel, Noah, Abraham and Sarah. All lived before God gave His Law to the Jews. This was before the time of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. There were as yet no real rules or guidelines or codes of conduct written down and enforced by priests, Pharisees and scribes. And while we know that these people all engaged in some sort of formal worship of God, the idea of a final, atoning sacrifice would have been difficult for them to comprehend. And yet still they believed, still they hoped, still they had Faith.
For us as well, this then is the first part of Faith. It begins with our certainty in the promises given to us; the certainty of the Resurrection, the promised Second Coming of Christ, and the glorification of the saints. It begins when the certainty of those promises dictates all our actions. And it begins when we look forward to the accomplishment of those promises with utter conviction.
Yes, the second part of our Faith also resides in our conviction; but this conviction is grounded in our belief in the evidence of those things that we know exist in reality, though we cannot see them with our human eyes.
We can see the bread and wine up on the Altar, but it is our Faith that causes us to know that this is in reality the Body and Blood of Christ. We can see the Baptismal font in the back, but it is our Faith that causes us to know that we are regenerated by the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. We can read the words in our Bibles, our Missals and our Prayer Books, but it is our Faith that causes us to know that our sins are forgiven through the Sacrifice of Christ. The evidence is all around us; guiding us, strengthening us; providing the proof that results in our conviction.
The Faith of those elders, Abel, Noah, Abraham, their confidence and utter certainty in the promises yet to come, caused them to stake their entire lives on God; to place their lives in the hand of God. And, of course, God approved, “For by it the elders obtained a good report”. They did the hard part for us. We don’t have to figure out how to have that Faith, that future hope, because by their example, we have been shown. The rest really is up to us.
But we have such advantages that those elders did not. We have received those promises. We have the evidence. We have the proof. It is now incumbent upon us to put that Faith into action; to display our confidence in that future hope and in the unseen realities that are all around us; To be living witnesses by our utter conviction in the Word of God, and to show others not just what Faith means, but what Faith does. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report.