It’s the Faith, Brother
“It’s the faith, Brother.”
That’s what Tim Russert said to Jon Meacham when he invited him to appear on Meet the Press to debate noted atheist Christopher Hitchens. He told Meacham he had a “great deal” for him.
“You gotta come down and defend the faith, Brother.” He wanted Meacham, an Episcopalian, to defend the Christian faith against the sulfuric criticism of Christopher Hitchens. Even though he was a devout Catholic (a fact he never tried to hide), Russert as moderator couldn’t take sides so he wanted Meacham to take up the cause.
“It’s the faith, Brother.”
That’s a good statement any way you look at it, and it gains new poignancy after the sudden death of Tim Russert last Friday afternoon. Later that day Howard Fineman of Newsweek magazine made this observation during a television interview:
“Tim Russert Did Not Pursue False Gods, He Pursued the Real One”
That’s as fine a tribute as you are likely to find, and not just about a public figure.
When Meacham wrote about Russert’s invitation, and the phrase, “It’s the faith, Brother,” he drew this conclusion:
“In that brief chat the many sides of Russert were on display: he was cajoling and charming, playing it straight, pushing others to be braver and bolder, all in the service of creating an interesting conversation about the things that matter most.”
Tim Russert was 100% right. It’s the faith. It’s what we believe about the things that matter most. Take that faith away and we have nothing left. If we believe it, if we really, truly, absolutely believe it, then yes, it’s the faith, Brother, and we’d best put on our marching shoes and go wherever we are needed to put our faith to work.
The writer of Hebrews 11 would surely say Amen to that. If what we believe makes any difference, then it has to change the way we live. That’s what the phrase “by faith” (repeated over and over again in this chapter) is all about. To go back to Howard Fineman’s quote, it’s all about pursuing (a great biblical concept) the one true God.
Sometimes we don’t take faith as seriously as we ought. We assume something that the Bible never takes for granted. True faith is a precious and precarious commodity.
True faith is a precious and precarious commodity.
There are those who have faith and those who don’t. And if you don’t have faith, you cannot please God. Ponder that for a moment. Or better yet, consider how Hebrews 11:6 frames the issue:
Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
I think we take faith for granted. We think it’s easy to believe and easy to keep believing, but it’s not—not for most of us. I am sure there are some people to whom God has given such grace that believing is never a challenge, even in the midst of extreme circumstances. But the rest of us struggle to believe at least part of the time. Robert Rayburn expresses this very directly:
Think of what must be believed in order to become a Christian. That you are God’s creature, that you have rebelled, that he is holy and you are guilty as a sinner before him, that he sent Jesus Christ into the world to atone for sin, that by believing in Jesus his righteousness and the virtue of his death are imputed to you so that your guilt is swept away and you are accounted righteous in God’s sight, that, if you believe in Jesus, you have been made a new creature in Christ, have been given a summons to live a new life and the power to live it, that when you die and your body is laid in the ground, your soul will be immediately and gloriously in the presence of God in heaven, and Jesus Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead and to vindicate those who have trusted in him, and that endless bliss and perfect satisfaction of human life, body and soul, awaits, at the resurrection, those who have trusted Jesus Christ. You can’t see any of this. You can’t prove it in a laboratory. No one ever comes back from the other world to tell us of how things are there. The evidence of our eyes is against all of this. We can’t see sins forgiven, we have to believe it. We can’t see the soul in heaven. We have to believe it. We have to believe it all on the strength of God’s promise. Christ said he would return, but it has been 2000 years! We must believe that he will keep his promise.
Then he adds, “That’s a lot to believe.” He’s right! And without God’s help, we would never believe all of that. We couldn’t. It’s just not in us to believe those things. Faith comes down to us as a gift from God. And we must exercise the faith we have or it will begin to wither and die on the vine.
“It’s the faith, Brother.”
Amen, so it is. And that’s why we’ve got to take it seriously. In order that we see the importance of this, consider our text in the light of this phrase—“Without faith it is impossible to please God.” What does that mean?
I. Without Faith You Cannot Understand the Universe.
“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Hebrews 11:3).
Note three things from this verse. First, the universe bears evidence of God’s design. It was formed or “framed” (as the King James Version puts it) at God’s command. The Greek verb is katarizo, which means to put things together in a way which perfectly fits them for an appointed purpose. The word is in the perfect tense, which describes past action with continuing results. That is why we can look at the beauty of the world around us and know that God created it by his all-powerful word.
Second, the universe came into existence by God’s command. That is why eight times in Genesis 1 you find the phrase “and God said.” He spoke and light shined through the darkness. He spoke and the waters receded from the earth. He spoke and dry land appeared. He spoke and vegetation appeared. He spoke and the sun filled the sky by day and millions of stars twinkled by night. He spoke and the sea teemed with fish and birds began to fly. He spoke and cattle grazed, squirrels gathered hickory nuts, otters frolicked in the streams, and the kangaroo began hopping across the outback. Finally, he spoke again and created Adam. He breathed into him the breath of life and Adam became a living soul. When Adam got lonely, God took a rib from his side and created Eve. Thus did the human race began.
Science plus faith leads you back to God. Science without faith leaves you in a hopeless quandary.
Third, present processes cannot explain the origin of the universe. Hebrews 11:3 explicitly says that God created the universe from things that are not visible. That means that modern science can never fully explain the mystery of the original moment of creation. This stands forever as a rebuke to the overweening arrogance of those who in concocting their theories hope to explain God away. They can no more explain creation than a blind man can explain the color green. They are morally blind, spiritually blind, and thus scientifically blind to the truth of God the Creator. Robert Jastrow, noted astronomer and physicist, founded NASA’s Goddard Institute. Though he called himself an agnostic, his book God and the Astronomers comes to this conclusion:
For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; [and] as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.
Science can only take us so far. Finally there is God and there is faith. To some that will seem to be admission of defeat, and it certainly does mean that man is utterly defeated in his attempts to dethrone God as the Creator of all things. Science plus faith leads you back to God. Science without faith leaves you in a hopeless quandary.
II. Without Faith You Cannot be Accepted by God.
“By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4).
This is the story of Cain and Abel. It is a story that is so well known that many people who never read the Bible know that Cain killed Abel. It has even entered our language as a synonym for troublemaking—Raising Cain. The phrase is appropriate because this story is dark and tragic from beginning to end.
It is the first murder in human history. One brother kills another in an outburst of rage and envy. You can read the original story in Genesis 4. Over the centuries it has gripped the imagination of many people because it speaks to an issue we all understand. Cain and Abel were brothers. As is the case in many families, there was evidently sibling rivalry from the beginning. Cain farmed the soil while Abel raised livestock. Cain brought an offering from his crops while Abel brought a sacrifice of the best of his herd. God accepted Abel’s offering because it was brought in faith. There are many mysteries about this story. There is much we don’t know that we wish we knew. What is the age difference between Cain and Abel? What were their growing-up years like? Why did one choose to be a farmer and the other a shepherd? How did they know to bring an offering to God? How did Cain know Abel’s sacrifice had been accepted and his had not? What exactly had Adam taught his sons about the proper way to approach God? I suspect that Adam had explained that God required a sacrifice. Certainly Cain represents all those people in the world who believe they can make up their own religion.
Where there is no faith, even the finest offering cannot make up the difference.
Whatever we may say about the two offerings, the real difference was in the heart. Abel had faith; Cain did not. Abel believed God and offered the best that he had; Cain lacked faith and apparently just went through the motions. Genesis 4:4 says that God looked with favor on Abel and his offering. The order is crucial: first the man, then the offering. Ditto for Cain. Man looks on the outward and makes his judgments that way. God always looks to the heart first and foremost. When he looked at Abel’s heart, he found faith there, and it was faith that he rewarded. Cain’s absence of faith guaranteed that his offering would be rejected. Sacrifice is acceptable to God only if it is offered in an acceptable spirit. Where there is no faith, even the finest offering cannot make up the difference.
III. Without Faith You Cannot Please God.
“By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:5-6).
If the story of Cain and Abel seems short, the story of Enoch is minuscule by comparison. In just four brief verses (Genesis 5:21-24), we have his entire life history. For 65 years he lived for himself, but when his son Methuselah was born, he began to walk with God. And for 300 more years he walked with God until “he was no more, because God took him away” (v. 24).
All of us are on a journey going somewhere.
If the story of Abel is about our quest for acceptance, then the story of Enoch is the familiar metaphor of the journey. All of us are on a journey going somewhere. We are looking for something—meaning, purpose, identity, fulfillment, satisfaction—and many people spend a lifetime engaged in a literal journey from one place to another, and sometimes from one relationship to another, seeking something that seems just out of our reach. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has put eternity inside every human heart. That is, God has placed in us a hunger to know who we are and where we fit in the universe. And all our striving after career goals, worldly success, financial independence, and even our jumping from one relationship to another, those things are but symptoms of our deeper need to find our place in the universe. The French philosopher Pascal said that there is a “God-shaped vacuum” inside every human heart. Since nature abhors a vacuum, if we don’t fill it with God, we will fill it with something else. So many of us have filled our hearts with the junk food of the world. No wonder we are so unhappy. No wonder we jump from one job to another and from one relationship to another. Augustine said, “O Lord, you have made us for yourself. Our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.” How true that is.
Enoch’s journey led him to God, and when he found God, he walked with him. He began walking with God after the birth of his son Methuselah. Perhaps he was like many men who don’t get serious until they look into the face of their firstborn son or daughter. Suddenly they realize the heavy weight of responsibility that is upon them. Many men have gotten serious about marriage and fatherhood and their faith because of the birth of a child. Perhaps that’s what happened to Enoch. In any case he walked with God for 300 years.
Death is a “trivial episode” to the believer.
One day Enoch and God had walked so far that God said, “Why don’t you come home with me?” And Enoch walked beyond space and time into eternity. He “was not” because God took him off the earth and allowed him to enter heaven without experiencing death. He is one of only two people in the Bible who did not die—the other being Elijah. Enoch’s story teaches us that death for the believer is not a traumatic event—though on earth it often seems traumatic. For the believer in Jesus, death is a transition from this life to the next. As John Stott remarked, death is a “trivial episode” to the believer. It is the doorway through which we enter the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
IV. Without Faith You Cannot Stand Against the World.
“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7).
Finally we have the story of Noah. All of us know about the great flood, the massive ark, and the gathering of the animals. And we know how Noah saved his family while the world around him perished. Here we see another side of the life of faith.
Abel pictures the quest for acceptance.
Enoch pictures the journey to find God.
Noah pictures the power of courage.
Notice that his faith is mentioned twice in this one verse.
By faith he built the ark.
By faith he condemned the world.
The Bible calls Noah a preacher of righteousness but he didn’t have much to show for his efforts. For 120 years he preached the truth and called the society around him to repentance. When the flood finally came, only eight people were saved: Noah and his wife, his three sons and their wives. He managed to save his own family—and no one else.
By faith he preached when no one would listen.
By faith he built when people ridiculed.
By faith he continued year after year.
By faith he believed God regarding things he had not yet seen.
Here is a message especially for all the men who read this sermon. Fathers, listen up. Sons and brothers, pay attention. Husbands, read this carefully. Single men, take notice. All men and all boys, heed this word. Noah was a righteous man who had great faith in God. His faith saved his entire family. But note this. Not one word is ever said about the faith of his wife or the faith of Shem, Ham or Japheth or their wives. But they must have had some faith. How do I know that?
Noah believed so deeply and obeyed so completely and walked so intimately with God that it was natural for his entire family to do what he did.
When Noah entered the ark, his wife went with him.
When Noah and Mrs. Noah entered the ark, their boys went with them.
When the boys entered the ark, their wives went with them.
I don’t know how much faith they had, but they had enough to follow the head of the family. And Noah had enough faith to inspire all of them to follow his example. That’s the power of a godly leader. Noah’s faith saved his entire family. He believed so deeply and obeyed so completely and walked so intimately with God that it was natural for his entire family to do what he did. They believed because he believed.
This is the power of a godly example. It is also the power of a godly husband and father. Men, God holds you accountable to set the pace for your entire family. Your wife looks to you for leadership. Your sons and daughters will be like you, for better or for worse. If you abdicate your responsibility, your wife will never be able to fully take your place. And if you live out your faith every day, it’s natural and normal to expect your family to follow in your steps.
And for all of us, men and women alike, take heart from Noah’s example. You can be godly in a very ungodly world. Let’s stop complaining about the evil of the present day. As bad as things are, they were worse in Noah’s day. Back then, there were only eight true believers in the whole world. We have far more spiritual advantages than Noah had. All we need is the courage to do what Noah did and to believe what God has said.
Let’s stop complaining about the evil of the present day. As bad as things are, they were worse in Noah’s day.
So what do we have when we stand back and look at these three men who lived before the flood?
Abel found the righteousness that comes by faith.
Enoch walked with God and went straight to heaven.
Noah had the courage to stand against the unbelieving world.
From Abel to Enoch to Noah—what joins these men together? What they did, they did by faith. And God honored them because of their faith
Last Sunday I received word that LeeAnne Nichols had died. Marlene and I met LeeAnne and her husband Buddy during our college days at Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga. LeeAnne was the daughter of Dr. Lee Roberson, founder of the university and pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church. I knew Buddy Nichols because I was a student in several of his psychology classes. We had another bond in that we both came from the same small town in Alabama. Over the years I’ve heard from Buddy a number of times, more often in the years since LeeAnne was diagnosed with cancer. Here is part of an email he sent to his friends last Sunday:
My sweet LeeAnne went to Heaven at 10:15 this morning. As she took her last breaths on this earth, our two children and their mates were embracing her and me as we literally sensed the wonderful presence and peace of God carry her away to be with Him. Her last significant contact with us was late Thursday afternoon. At 5:30 PM I walked into her room as she was telling her care-giver that she was afraid that she would not see her in heaven. LeeAnne had been burdened for this lady for over a year. She had been jaded about spiritual matters earlier in her life. I can’t adequately tell you how real the presence of the Holy Spirit was as LeeAnne led this lady to pray and receive Christ right then. With tears flowing, the lady joyfully embraced LeeAnne and within an hour she told two people that she had just asked Christ to come into her heart and be her Savior. . . . Last Sunday we gathered around her bedside for a great family time together. She sang along with us on Some Golden Daybreak, Shout to the Lord, and Surely Goodness and Mercy. Your prayers were answered. LeeAnne is now Home and healed.
With faith and by faith and through faith we are delivered from this world and brought safely to our true Heavenly Home.
I was struck by the sense of faith being strong at the very end of life. This is a very precious gift from the Lord. And to be able to share Christ in that situation is remarkable. To sing praises as you are dying, surely this is true biblical faith. Finally, I note that the word “Home” is capitalized because LeeAnne Nichols has not disappeared. Like Enoch of old, she walked with God, and last Sunday, she was no more on this earth because God took her, and now she is Home forever.
I need not try to convince you of anything. Without faith you will not believe it anyway. But true faith, faith that rests on God and his Word and believes all that he has said, true faith sees the unseen and say, “Yes, it is true.”
“It’s the faith, Brother.”
Yes, it is. And it is that faith that we confess with Christians everywhere. Though it may be hard to believe sometimes, we take consolation that without faith we cannot please God at all. And with faith and by faith and through faith we are delivered from this world and brought safely to our true Heavenly Home.
May God give us the faith of Abel, Enoch and Noah to believe and be bold for Jesus now and until our time on earth is done. Amen.
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