Lessons from the 'Great Cloud of Witnesses'

Dear Church Family,

In our current sermon series in the book of Hebrews, most recently we have been in the eleventh chapter, examining these examples of faith from the old covenant. The writer of Hebrews refers to these examples as a “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (Hebrews 12:1). This coming Sunday, we will be concluding our study of this chapter in our sixth and final sermon from Hebrews 11. As such, and in preparation for the sermon this coming Sunday, I thought it a good idea to briefly review the lessons that we have learned concerning what it means to live by faith from Hebrews 11.

 

(1) By Faith: Approved by God (Hebrews 11:1-3, 39-40)

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  2 For by it the men of old gained approval.  3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.
39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised,  40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:1-3, 39-40)

 

In our first sermon, we looked at the opening and closing verses of this chapter where we learned the truth that by faith – by faith alone, in Christ alone – we stand approved by God. Faith in Christ is the only way to gain God’s approval.

 

(2) By Faith: Pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:4-7)

4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.  5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.  6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.  7 By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (Hebrews 11:4-7)

 

In the examples of Abel, Enoch, and Noah, we learned that by faith, we are found to be pleasing to God. Not only are believers approved by God, but we are also pleasing to Him. And, in fact, we are able to please Him in our lives.

 

(3) By Faith: Sanctified by God (Hebrews 11:8-19)

8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.  9 By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise;  10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.  12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE.  13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.  15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.  16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.  17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son18 it was he to whom it was said, "IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED."  19 He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Hebrews 11:8-19)

 

Through the example of Abraham, we learned that God not only approves – or justifies us – by faith, but He also sanctifies us by faith. By faith in Him, He continues to conform us more and more to be like Jesus.

 

(4) By Faith: Passing on Covenant Blessings (Hebrews 11:20-22)

20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come.  21 By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.  22 By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones. (Hebrews 11:20-22)

 

Then, in the examples of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, we learned the importance of passing on the covenant blessings of the Christian faith to our children – to the next generation. In their final words, these examples of faith declared God’s promises to their children: the Great Commission to make disciples of all the nations begins in the home (Matthew 28:18-20).

 

(5) By Faith: With the People of God (Hebrews 11:23-31)

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's edict.  24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter,  25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,  26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.  27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen.  28 By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them.  29 By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.  30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  31 By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. (Hebrews 11:23-31)

 

Tracing through the history of Israel from the time of the exodus to the entrance into the promised land, the writer of Hebrews highlights the faith of God’s people and that of Moses and Rahab, specifically. Here, in these examples, we learn that the call to faith in Christ necessarily includes a call to identify and associate with God’s people, the church.

 

(6) By Faith: Content in All Circumstances (Hebrews 11:32-38)

32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets,  33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions,  34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection;  36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.  37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated  38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:32-38)

 

In these verses, the writer of Hebrews moves rather quickly from the time of the judges up to the time of the dawning of the new covenant and the first coming of Christ. Here we find two groups of people who by faith, underwent very different experiences in this life. These are examples of faith conquered and also those who were persecuted. Both, however, knew the secret of contentment: that their sufficiency was came not from within, but from without – from the Lord who gives strength (Philippians 4:11-13).

In some ways, this last lesson is the most difficult faith lesson to learn, especially in times of poverty, sickness, affliction, and persecution. Yet, it is a promise that God gives to all His people: in all things, we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us for nothing is able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:37-39)

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch