|Study of Hebrews|
By E.H. Jack Sequeira
In our last study we looked at the first six verses of Hebrews eleven where Paul defines for us the true meaning of faith. We discovered that faith is the reality God has promised us in Christ. That reality is three things: righteousness, eternal life, and heaven. That’s what God has promised us which is reality, none of which we have fully received as of now. We have the beginning of it but not its fullness; but we are sure of it. Faith is to be sure of the reality which we don’t have in fullness right now. Therefore, faith looks at this present existence only as a passing phase. We are just passing by. Therefore, this life is insignificant. This is what the saints of the Old Testament demonstrated in their faith.
Now what we are going to do is study verses seven to forty. Here we are given a whole list of men and women who demonstrated in their lives what faith is. Now these verses don’t need explanation. They are very clear. In fact, this passage is often referred to as the Westminster Abbey of the Bible. The Westminster Abbey is a huge building like a church in England where all the famous people are buried. You see, they are dead people. These men, even though they are dead, have a different kind of greatness. They all died in faith and that is the common thread that we all have.
Now, what I would like to do is to point out the outstanding characteristics of faith that these men and women displayed in their lives. I see six characteristics of faith as it was revealed in the lives of these men and women of old.
1. Faith believes in the impossible.
Or, if you want to use another phrase: faith believes in the supernatural. Now we are living in an age, the scientific age where many people no longer believe in the supernatural. But faith believes in the impossible. Look at verse seven:
By faith, Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet...
What did Paul mean by “things not seen as yet?” Had it ever rained before? No. There was no evidence scientifically that it could ever rain. And yet God warned Noah that the world would be destroyed by a flood. Did Noah believe it? Yes. He was...
...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.
Faith believes in the impossible. And there are many impossible things that God says in the Bible. Things that are supernatural. These things may not agree with the experience of the human race of which we are a part. Look at verses eleven and twelve:
Through faith also Sara 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.
When did Sara have a child? After she had past the age of child bearing. So, scientifically, it was impossible for her to have a child. Did she believe? Yes. Well, she laughed at the beginning but finally she accepted the possibility. At first she was caught by the scientific facts: she had passed the age of child bearing. But the text says she believed. Verse twelve says:
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 sea shore innumerable.
The result was that she did conceive and have a child and the child became the father of many. Now look at verses seventeen to nineteen. Here Paul tells us how Abraham was tested by God. What did God say to Abraham? “Take your only son and offer him as a sacrifice.”
By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
In other words, “The promise that I have given you, Abraham, will come through your son.” And now God says to take his life. Did Abraham go out to sacrifice him? Yes. Look at verse nineteen:
Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead...
Would you have such faith if God said to kill your child? Did he believe that God could raise him up? Yes. He believed the impossible. So number one, faith believes the impossible. So whenever you read something in the Bible that is to come, please don’t look around you for evidence. Take God at His word. These men and women of the Old Testament took God at His word. So #1, Faith believes the impossible.
2. Faith knows or is sure of the future end.
Today people are wondering what will happen in the future. There is a lot of speculation. There is a lot of fortune telling and star reading and all kinds of things. But these men knew what the future would be. They knew that ultimately God was going to restore this earth to its original perfection. They knew that the end of the world is not going to be becoming better and better. They knew that the future was in the city that God built. Look at verses eight to ten:
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 and maker is God.
The word tabernacles or tents means that they were living in temporary dwellings. They knew that this world was not permanent so they lived in tents. Did they have money to build houses? Yes. They were rich. Look at Lot. What did he do? He went to Sodom and began living in houses. Remember that these men looked to the future and they knew there was a future. This is what makes a Christian funeral a lot easier than a non-Christian one. Paul says in Thessalonians we should not mourn as those who have no hope. They knew the future. They had a hope. It was not maybe. It was sure. No speculations. No groping in darkness. They were sure.
3. Faith acts.
How did the people know that Noah believed God that there would be a flood? What was the evidence he gave? He built an ark. Do you know how far the ark was from the ocean? Approximately five hundred miles to the nearest span of water. It was not near the sea. It was inland. It was an ark that could not be transported. The greatest evidence that Noah gave that he believed in the flood was not his preaching but his building of the ark. What is the greatest evidence that you believe that the coming of Christ is sure? Do people say of Adventists, “They surely live as if the end of the world is coming?” We need to realize that faith acts.
Look for example at Abraham. God said, “I’m going to give you a country, just for you and your people.” Did he believe? What was the evidence? He left the security of his home, his people, his environment even though he did not know where he was going. Faith always acts.
Look at Moses. What did he do? He refused to be the Pharaoh of Egypt. Why? Because he believed that God had called him for a purpose and he refused to be a Pharaoh but chose to suffer with God’s people for a season. So all through the eleventh chapter of Hebrews you will notice that these men and women acted. All through this chapter you will see they did not sit down and say, "Yes, I believe.” They were not passive, in other words. Faith always produces action. And those actions are described in the Bible as “works of faith.” Faith without works is dead. Their works did not prove that they were righteous, they simply gave evidence. That’s why if you look at the last part of verse seven:
...by the which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.
If you look at James 2, what was the greatest evidence that Abraham gave that he believed that God could raise Isaac back to life? He took the knife and raised it to plunge it into his son. He believed. Faith always produces action.
4. Faith lives in the future.
This is somewhat related to number two but it is important also. Look at verses twenty-three to twenty-six:
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child... [i.e., special child. The parents believed that he was special; they felt that he was to be the promised deliverer.] ...By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
Please notice he was not swept away by the things that were around him. We live in a world where we want everything now. In fact, I have discovered in this part of the world that the philosophy is, “Enjoy it now and pay later.” The other day someone made a statement on the radio that most Americans live twenty-three percent above their resources, because they get things on credit. These men and women of Hebrews eleven did not allow the things around them to be the motivation of their lives. They lived in the sense that the future was more important to them than the present.
This is one of the hardest things that our young people are experiencing. One of the illustrations that Morris Vendon likes very much is if you are promised a million dollars ten years from now or one hundred dollars tomorrow which one would you take? To most kids ten years is a long time from now. “I’d rather have the one hundred dollars now.” We human beings want everything now. And that’s why you will notice that one of the characteristics of faith which we will later discuss as number six is that if you live in the future you can endure unto the end.
If you don’t live in the future, if you get impatient, then you are in trouble. The coming of Christ from the human point of view has been delayed. Because His coming is not as soon as we expected, the love of many waxes cold. We are not accustomed to wait because we want everything now. Number four is these men and women lived in the future. The future was their dream, their hope. Why was their dream in the future? Because they were sure, it was not “maybe.” They were sure of it. They never questioned. That’s why they were willing to die for their faith. They were willing to be cut in half. They were willing to be killed. They were willing to suffer because, to them, they were sure of the future. And they lived for the future. We need to do that.
5. Faith ignores the contrary evidence around you.
Can you imagine how many people must have come to Noah and said, “Boy, something must be wrong with you because it has never rained.” Or can you imagine how Abraham must have felt when people asked, “Where are you going? Why are you leaving here when you don’t know where you are going?”
I am bringing this up because one of the biggest problems we face in this present world is what we call peer pressure. It is not something that affects only our young people. It affects even the adults. We don’t like to be different. Faith ignores the contrary evidence. It ignores what people think and what people think of you. That is not easy! That’s what faith is. If people say to you, “You are old fashioned.” How does that affect you? If people say to you Adventists, “You are peculiar,” or “you are weird,” what do you do? Who is really weird? You or they who say you are? Faith ignores what people say about you or what they think about you. These people ignored what people said. They were willing to be different. That is not easy. It is very hard to be different. This is one of the problems.
One day I was visiting one of our sisters in Idaho. She was very embarrassed because I visited her at work. She was one of the officers of the church. She had some gold earrings on and she was very embarrassed. She called me outside and said, “It’s very hard for me to be different in front of my colleagues.” She was afraid to be different. It’s hard for us to be different. It is against our human nature to be different. This lady wanted to wear jewelry like her Nazarene friends. In the beginning, she didn’t wear it. She told them, “If I had my own choice I would be wearing them, but my church won’t allow me.” That’s how she put it. In her heart she was already doing it.
What I am showing you here is how faith manifests itself. What is one of the evidences that you have faith? It ignores those who contradict you. That’s one of the evidences of faith. The evidence of faith is that we live for the future. The evidence is that you act what you believe. It’s not simply a mental assent.
6. Faith endures unto the end. Faith perseveres.
In the Time of Trouble the issues will be pretty strong. We have no idea what the Time of Trouble will be like. We are told by the pen of inspiration that normally we anticipate problems to be far worse than the reality; except in the Time of Trouble. That will be worse than anything we can anticipate. So number six is faith perseveres unto the end.
Look at Matthew ten. This is a statement that we need to take to heart. Jesus is warning His disciples that when you become a disciple your life will not become easy but it will become hard. Verses seventeen and onward:
But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And you shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what you shall speak. For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father.
And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. [Can you imagine this? And this is all a part of what will be.]
And you shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake... [This is the Time of Trouble. You shall be hated of all men who are not on the side of Christ.] ...but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
That is why Jesus said in Luke:
When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth? [Can we endure unto the end?]
Go back to chapter eleven of Hebrews. Look at verse thirteen. And this is what I meant that they live in the future and they persevere to the end:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, [They saw it in the future; but they died before they reached that state but they were sure of it.] and were persuaded [they were convinced, they were sure] of them, and embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
They lived in the future. They were sure. Because they were sure, they were able to endure unto the end. They persevered unto the end. Now go to verses thirty-seven to thirty-nine. This is kind of summing up the whole thing:
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins [they didn’t have the latest fashions]; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; [Of whom the world was not worthy; they ignored the fact that the world made a laughing stock of them. They ignored it.] they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.
Every one of them died, but how did they die? In faith or out of faith? In faith. This is the key purpose of Hebrews eleven:
God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
Why did God not give them the promise? Because there were other human beings, we, that God said I must still save. They were willing to die and wait for the martyrs. I want you to keep this in mind for when we go to chapter twelve I want you to notice what Paul says here:
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us.
Please notice that there are many things that the devil would use to destroy your faith. For example, when this lady said to me, “I don’t like to be different,” that was to her a besetting sin. She was weak in that area. The devil will use that to get you out of Christ sooner or later.
One day the head deacon in one of my churches stopped coming to church, two, three, four, five weeks and I said, “What’s happening here? Is he sick?” I called him and he said, “No, I’m not sick.” He wouldn’t tell me. So finally I said, “I’m going to go and get it out of him.”
I said, “Why have you stopped coming?”
He brought a little booklet that one of his office mates had given him. It was a booklet on Seventh-day Adventists which called the church a cult and all kinds of terrible things. He said, “I am ashamed to belong to a cult.” So he stopped coming to church. He was not willing to ignore what people said about us. And we face that problem today. We will even compromise to get rid of the word “cult.”
Folks, are you willing to be made a laughing stock? Are you willing to live for the future even though you may be deprived of everything? We complain sometimes because we have to give 10% of our income. What will you do if you have to give one hundred percent?
When our family was deported from Uganda we were not allowed to take anything with us except one suitcase for the family with our necessary clothes. We couldn’t touch our furniture. We could not even touch our bank account. Everything was frozen. We couldn’t touch it. There were two of us who were Adventists, a doctor and myself. He couldn’t bear the thought.
He said, “I have spent my life earning. These things are mine. Why should they deprive me of it?”
I said, “No, they are not yours, they belong to God. Everything we have belongs to God. And if he says leave it behind, why do you worry about it?”
He put his goods into seventeen boxes or huge crates. He bribed the soldiers. He said, “If I give you so much money will you put these on the plane, the air freight plane?”
They said “Yes.”
I refused. I told my wife, “No, we are not going to try bribery and corruption.”
The denomination sent both of us to Ethiopia. He was sent to the hospital and I was sent to be Ministerial Secretary of the Union. Three months after we arrived only three of his boxes arrived. The soldiers had opened the 17 boxes, took all of the valuables, and they took the newspaper wrappings that they had used for their breakables, and squeezed them into three boxes and sent them the wrappings. So the doctor lost his money that he had bribed them with and also lost his goods.
I told the man who took charge of our house, “When we leave, you take our stuff. Don’t give it to Idi Amin’s soldiers. Give it to the poor members of our church.” We were allowed to give it to anyone we liked as long as they were Ugandans.
But he said, “I don’t have the heart.” So he packed everything in a huge crate twelve feet by eight feet by ten feet. He went to the government and said, “I want to ship this to Ethiopia.”
The officer said, “Whose stuff is this?”
They said, “It is our pastor’s.”
"Was he deported?”
They said, “Yes.”
He said, “Do you know that the law is that you can’t take anything out?”
They said, “Yes, we know that.”
But, you know, the Muslims are salvation by works people. He was scared to touch it because he thought God would punish him, because I was a Pastor. So he signed the documents and gave him permission to ship them. So they arrived. There was no communication between Ethiopia and Uganda. So we did not know what had happened. All I received was a phone call from the railway station saying, “Please come and collect your box.”
I said, “What box?”
They said, “I don’t know, your name is there and your address, and we called your telephone number.”
So I said, “Somebody must have sent us a box.” So I went and I saw this huge crate. I said, “Where did this come from?” On the bottom was the sending address in Uganda and I realized what it was. It had to be our things. I asked, “How did this come?”
Well, I did not know at that time but later on the man told me. In fact, he is now the science teacher of Gem State Academy, and will be here next weekend for a family reunion. He is a Canadian and he took my place. They did not deport any Canadians.
I called the doctor up and told him the good news. He said, “You are very lucky.”
I said, “No, it had nothing to do with luck. You of little faith.”
Are we willing to leave and give up everything? I tell you, the time will come when we will have to flee. That is why in the New Testament Christ said, “Remember Lot’s wife.” Why did Lot’s wife look back? Was God being so drastic? Her heart was in Sodom.
Look at the Jews of the Exodus. Where was their heart? In spite of the fact that they were slaves in Egypt, they longed to go back to Egypt.
We need to learn from Hebrews eleven. This is the witness that these men and women are to us. They never received the promise, but they were willing to die. They were willing to be mocked. They were willing to live in tents. They were willing to be hounded, live in caves, because they knew the future. All of them persevered until the end. Remember, Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were not persevering, they were giving up their faith. Many were going back to Judaism. Many were giving up their faith because they could not withstand that pressure.
Paul is saying in Hebrews eleven, “Look at these men and women. They stood the pressure and, if you have such a witness, why are you doubting your God and His promise?”
My dear people, as you see the end approaching and you see things getting hard, remember that the future is guaranteed. We have a city whose Builder and Maker is God. Don’t you ever give up your faith because that is what will be tested in the time of trouble. Only those who endure unto the end will be saved.
Have you ever wondered why these three fathers of Israel, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are mentioned all through the Bible? In fact, when the Jews asked Jesus about the future, if there is a resurrection, what did Jesus say?
God is not the God of the dead. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Have you ever wondered why God has given Israel three fathers? Paul tells us it is not the descendants of these three men who are true Israel but the qualities of these three men that is Israel. Abraham stands for faith. He is the father of the faithful. Isaac stands for those who are born from above. Jesus said to Nicodemus:
Unless you are born from above you can never enter the kingdom of God.
What does Jacob stand for? Why was his name changed from Jacob to Israel? Because he persevered through suffering. He endured unto the end. He never gave up his hold on God.
I will not let you go until you keep your promise and bless me.
And that is the gospel in the Old Testament. If you want to be an Israelite, you don’t have to have Jewish blood in you. You do have to have the faith of Abraham, you have to be born from above, and you have to persevere unto the end. And this last part is the most important because the devil has deceived many Christians into thinking that once you accept Christ you are saved even if you give up Christ. Do you know that? They teach that once saved, always saved, even if you give up the church and go back to your former life you will be saved because God always keeps His promise.
Please remember that God’s promises are conditional. Yes, He will keep His promise but without faith it is impossible to please Him. God cannot give you the promise if you say, “I don’t believe in You any more.” Remember? We covered Hebrews six and we covered Hebrews ten: the just shall live by faith. If you draw back, God will have no pleasure. He cannot save you. But we are not of them that draw back. Look at the last verse in chapter ten, before chapter eleven:
But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
It is my prayer that everyone here will persevere unto the end. Let’s look at these men and women as our examples. These are true Biblical heroes, somebody you can look at and say, “Boy, if they can do it, God give me the grace to do it too.” And we have better advantages than they had. For these people Christ had not even come the first time. Everything to them was a promise. But we know that His coming is a historical fact. He actually came; so we should have more reason for having faith than the men of the Old Testament. May God bless us that we may understand what it means to have faith, how faith works in our lives. It acts, it perseveres unto the end, it believes the impossible, it ignores what people say about you, and it lives in the future.