June 9 - 15
Giants of Faith
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Hebrews 11.
MEMORY TEXT: : "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1, RSV).
KEY THOUGHT: Though hardly perfect and needing correction, rebuke, andmost importantlygrace, the men and women recorded in Hebrews 11 all share one common trait: They learned to live beyond the narrow spectrum of what is seen, and they grasped instead, by faith, the promise of the unseen.
PERFECT FAITHSEEING THE UNSEEN. In his harshly anti-religious play, Waiting for Godot, French playwright Samuel Beckett depicted two hobos living on a road, waiting day after day for this mysterious Mr. Godot, who keeps promising to come but never does. This play was Beckett's metaphorical mocking of the Christian faith, the belief in something promised that never appears, at least not yet.
Beckett's problem, however, isn't the problem for the cast of characters listed in Hebrews 11, these giants of faith who have learned to see beyond the limited world of sight alone. From Abel to Abraham, Samson to Samuel, Isaac to the Israelites, Jacob and Joseph, and moreall these people grasped by faith the promises of God, promises of something not yet seen but guaranteed by the blood of Christ, a promise of something so much better than this world could ever offer.
"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" (vs. 13).
"By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh" (Heb. 11:4).
It's rather interesting that Abel would be listed among those who exercised faith. Inspiration is clear that God interacted with him in a close, personal way. Genesis 4:4 says that "Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering" (NKJV). Ellen White wrote that after Abel brought his offering, "fire flashed from heaven and consumed the sacrifice."Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 71. How many of us would struggle for faith if, after each time we sacrificed an animal, fire flashed down from heaven and consumed it? Nevertheless, Abel is listed, first even, among those who are considered exemplars of faith.
If faith is believing in what we don't see, what was Abel showing faith over by offering sacrifices?
Abel's faith wasn't so much regarding the existence of God (which must have been pretty clear to him) but regarding salvation in Christ. His sacrifices symbolized his trust in, and understanding of, the great plan of redemption, in which God Himself would pay the penalty for our transgression of His holy law and thus free us from the condemnation that our transgression has brought. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:1, NKJV).
By his "more excellent sacrifice," Abel showed his total dependence upon the merits of the promised Savior, who had not yet come. In fact, it takes more faith to trust, not in our own good works or in anything we do, but in the works of someone else, in this case Jesus Christ.
How interesting, too, that by this "work" of offering a sacrificewhich itself symbolizes just how futile our works are for salvationAbel "obtained witness that he was righteous."
|Where did Abel's righteousness come from? Was it from offering the sacrifice? Or did it come from the righteousness of the One symbolized by that sacrifice?|
"By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God" (Heb. 11:5).
Genesis 5:24 says that "Enoch walked with God: and he was not, for God took him." The verb "walked" here appears in a relatively uncommon Hebrew verb form that gives the idea of continuity; it's the same form used in Job 1:7, when Satan, asked by God what he was doing, said that he was "walking up and down" upon the earth. Thus the idea in Genesis, and expanded in Hebrews, is that Enoch's life was one of continual faith and obedience to the Lord.
Hebrews 11:6 says: "And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (RSV). What do you think this verse means?
Without faith it is impossible to please God because without faith it's impossible to know God, and knowing God is crucial for a religion whose most important command is to, indeed, "love God" (after all, how can you love what you don't know?).
Through the years, philosophers and theologians have devised many sophisticated arguments for the existence of God (with such fancy names as the cosmological, the teleological, and the ontological arguments). Yet however far these arguments go, they never go far enough. God is so far beyond our fallen minds that there is always the need for faith, which is belief in something we don't totally see or understand. If we could totally see it or understand it, then there would be no room for faith. We don't need faith to believe that the sky is over our heads. We can look up and see it. Faith is needed, instead, to believe in the God who lives beyond that sky, because we can't see Him.
|Alfonso has a college professor, an avowed atheist, who never misses a chance to tell Alfonso that Christian faith is blind. What kind of answers can Alfonso give to show that Christians have many good reasons for their faith? Also, can you give examples of how we exercise faiththat is, belief in things we don't see or totally understandin the everyday secular realm of our lives?|
"By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son" (Heb. 11:17).
Unquestionably, the most moving, powerful, and illuminating representation of the gospel appeared in the incredible story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22), where Abraham was called to offer "his only begotten son" as a sacrifice for sin. What parent, even under normal circumstances, could have shown the faith that Abraham did, under circumstances so far from normal? What a painful, even frightful, lesson about just how costly our redemption was!
Hebrews 11:17 says that Abraham was called to offer "his only begotten son." What other well-known verse talks about an "only begotten son" offered for the world?
The big difference, of course, between John 3:16 and the story of Isaac and Abraham on Moriah is that Isaac was spared; Jesus wasn't. If we were to be saved, Christ had to die. There was no way around it. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up" (John 3:14; emphasis supplied). However painful the process for both Isaac and his fatherhow much worse it must have been for Jesus and His Father at the Cross.
Even before the angel stopped Abraham from slaying his son, which promise (Heb. 11:19) gave him hope that even if Isaac died, Abraham would see him again?
Abraham's hope ultimately must be the final hope of all of us: the resurrection of the dead at the second coming of Christ and the inauguration of a whole new existence. This is the great promise, the promise all these people depicted in Hebrews 11 died in faith hoping for, even if they didn't yet see it (Heb. 11:13). Anything short of that promise leaves us, really, with nothing at all to hope for but this life with its pains, sufferings, and disappointments.
|Someone once said that without the promise of the Second Coming, Christ's death at the first coming was a waste of time. Do you agree or disagree with that concept? Explain your answer.|
"By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace" (Heb. 11:31).
A heathen harlot who lied and who committed what only could be called "treason" is listed in this roster of faith along with such Bible stars as Sarah (the only other woman mentioned in Hebrews 11), Enoch, and Abel. How could that be? The answer is simple: it's called the grace of God.
Joshua 2 gives answers that greatly help unravel this mystery. Rahab, whatever her seamy background, was moved by the powerful witness of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and defeating enemy kings. In other words, she realized that only the living God, the true God, could have given such a miraculous deliverance. She said to the spies: "For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side of Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed" (Josh. 2:10).
The key, however, to understanding Rahab is found in verse 11 of Joshua 2. What does she say there that shows her faith?
Rahab confessed with her mouth the reality of the true God, a faith that was manifested by her works, in this case risking her life to help the spies. Like the rest of the characters mentioned in Hebrews, her faith had been manifested in works. "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works; shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works" (James 2:18).
The writer of Hebrews, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, believed that her faith was genuine; she was not just switching sides in the middle of the game in order to be with the sure winners. Rahab, obviously, manifested true faith, which is why shea prostitutewas placed where she was. God's grace extends even to pagan harlots.
|Of course, the problem with using Rahab as an example of faith is her lie about the spies. Does this incident justify lying? Remember, here was a newly converted woman probably not well versed in the theology of ancient Israel, which is why using her to justify lying isn't expedient. Was she being heralded in Hebrews for her lieor for her faith?|
"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" (Heb. 11:32, RSV).
"What shall I more say? The list might be extended indefinitely, but enough illustrations have been provided to prove the principle that faith and faithfulness are the essence of godly living."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 477.
In the first part of the chapter, the author of Hebrews defends each person's choice, relating specific accomplishments they all made because of faith. Later he just records names with no supporting details as to why he included them.
Look up the scriptures most likely associated with these names and list
reasons why Paul probably included them in
11. (The texts are suggested by the editors of The SDA
Bible Commentary, pp. 477, 478.)
"The writer's purpose was not to prepare a catalogue of all of God's faithful . . . but only to illustrate his point that faith and faithfulness are essential to patient waiting for the coming of the Lord. . . ."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 477.
Look at all the names listed in Hebrews and notice that all these men and women had faults, some rather bad ones. If these giants of faith were flawed, what kind of hope should that give to us, we who love God, have faith, and yet struggle with character defects, as well?
FURTHER STUDY: Who Might These Have Been? (Read the general categories in Hebrews 11:33-39).
"Who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight . . . were tortured. . . suffered mocking and scourging. . . were stoned sawn in two. . . killed with the sword. . . destitute, afflicted, ill-treated" (Heb. 11:33-37, RSV).
First, the author gives names and reasons; then he just lists the names. Finally, the last verses of Hebrews 11 explain the trials endured but offer no specific characters who endured them.
SUMMARY: Despite their faults, these giants of faith learned a crucial lesson about living beyond the moment, living beyond the mere temporary and, ultimately, unsatisfying things of this world and, instead, reaching out on the promise of God, who through Christ offers us "a better country, that is, an heavenly" (Heb. 11:16).
Once Joseph Wilba had found the church he had prayed for, he did not want to be anywhere else. He praised God for leading him to His kingdom, and did not hesitate to share his faith with others. He invited the prime minister and several other government ministers to the church for special meetings, and several of them came.
He served his church with the same fervor. On Sabbath evening following a Week of Prayer, Wilba seemed unusually happy. His response, as usual, was "Jesus is coming soon! We all must be ready!"
On Sunday morning he surprised his wife when he came to breakfast dressed in his Sabbath clothes. Questioned about his attire, he told her, "I must obey my Father. I am going visiting. I must warn my brothers, my friends, my relatives that there is no time to waste. Christ is coming soon!" That day he visited many people he had worked with, including the former prime minister, delivering his message of Jesus' soon coming.
He arrived at church in time to take part in the Sunday evening youth program. After the program he boarded his motorcycle to go home. A young boy begged Wilba to take him along, but the older man responded gently, "You must wait for your own time." The boy waved as his friend rode off down the dirt road toward home. He assumed the man had meant, "Wait until you are old enough to own your own motorcycle." But the remark did not sound like Wilba.
As he neared his home, two men riding bicycles crossed his path. He pressed hard on the hand brake to avoid hitting the bicyclists. The motorcycle's wheels locked, and he was thrown off. He died instantly.
The unexpected death of such a well-known man shocked the capital city of Chad. Hundreds who attended his funeral heard the same testimony that Wilba had believed and practiced, that Jesus is indeed coming soon. For him it will be as if in an instant.
Joseph Wilba (left) served as advisor to the former prime minister of Chad and was an active lay member of the Adventist church in N'Djamena, Chad. Charlotte Ishkanian is editor of Mission.
Produced by the Office of Mission
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