Faith in What We Don’t See
11 1-2 The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.
3 By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.
4 By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous. After all these centuries, that belief continues to catch our notice.
5-6 By an act of faith, Enoch skipped death completely. “They looked all over and couldn’t find him because God had taken him.” We know on the basis of reliable testimony that before he was taken “he pleased God.” It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him.
7 By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn’t see, and acted on what he was told. The result? His family was saved. His act of faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world. As a result, Noah became intimate with God.
8-10 By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.
11-12 By faith, barren Sarah was able to become pregnant, old woman as she was at the time, because she believed the One who made a promise would do what he said. That’s how it happened that from one man’s dead and shriveled loins there are now people numbering into the millions.
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13-16 Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.
17-19 By faith, Abraham, at the time of testing, offered Isaac back to God. Acting in faith, he was as ready to return the promised son, his only son, as he had been to receive him—and this after he had already been told, “Your descendants shall come from Isaac.” Abraham figured that if God wanted to, he could raise the dead. In a sense, that’s what happened when he received Isaac back, alive from off the altar.
20 By an act of faith, Isaac reached into the future as he blessed Jacob and Esau.
21 By an act of faith, Jacob on his deathbed blessed each of Joseph’s sons in turn, blessing them with God’s blessing, not his own—as he bowed worshipfully upon his staff.
22 By an act of faith, Joseph, while dying, prophesied the exodus of Israel, and made arrangements for his own burial.
23 By an act of faith, Moses’ parents hid him away for three months after his birth. They saw the child’s beauty, and they braved the king’s decree.
24-28 By faith, Moses, when grown, refused the privileges of the Egyptian royal house. He chose a hard life with God’s people rather than an opportunistic soft life of sin with the oppressors. He valued suffering in the Messiah’s camp far greater than Egyptian wealth because he was looking ahead, anticipating the payoff. By an act of faith, he turned his heel on Egypt, indifferent to the king’s blind rage. He had his eye on the One no eye can see, and kept right on going. By an act of faith, he kept the Passover Feast and sprinkled Passover blood on each house so that the destroyer of the firstborn wouldn’t touch them.
29 By an act of faith, Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. The Egyptians tried it and drowned.
30 By faith, the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho for seven days, and the walls fell flat.
31 By an act of faith, Rahab, the Jericho harlot, welcomed the spies and escaped the destruction that came on those who refused to trust God.
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32-38 I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn’t deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.
39-40 Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.
Discipline in a Long-Distance Race
12 1-3 Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
4-11 In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?
My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline,
but don’t be crushed by it either.
It’s the child he loves that he disciplines;
the child he embraces, he also corrects.
God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off big-time, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.
12-13 So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!
14-17 Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.
An Unshakable Kingdom
18-21 Unlike your ancestors, you didn’t come to Mount Sinai—all that volcanic blaze and earthshaking rumble—to hear God speak. The earsplitting words and soul-shaking message terrified them and they begged him to stop. When they heard the words—“If an animal touches the Mountain, it’s as good as dead”—they were afraid to move. Even Moses was terrified.
22-24 No, that’s not your experience at all. You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace.
25-27 So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time—he’s told us this quite plainly—he’ll also rock the heavens: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.
28-29 Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!
Jesus Doesn’t Change
13 1-4 Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love. Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it! Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you. Honor marriage, and guard the sacredness of sexual intimacy between wife and husband. God draws a firm line against casual and illicit sex.
5-6 Don’t be obsessed with getting more material things. Be relaxed with what you have. Since God assured us, “I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,” we can boldly quote,
God is there, ready to help;
I’m fearless no matter what.
Who or what can get to me?
7-8 Appreciate your pastoral leaders who gave you the Word of God. Take a good look at the way they live, and let their faithfulness instruct you, as well as their truthfulness. There should be a consistency that runs through us all. For Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself.
9 Don’t be lured away from him by the latest speculations about him. The grace of Christ is the only good ground for life. Products named after Christ don’t seem to do much for those who buy them.
10-12 The altar from which God gives us the gift of himself is not for exploitation by insiders who grab and loot. In the old system, the animals are killed and the bodies disposed of outside the camp. The blood is then brought inside to the altar as a sacrifice for sin. It’s the same with Jesus. He was crucified outside the city gates—that is where he poured out the sacrificial blood that was brought to God’s altar to cleanse his people.
13-15 So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God in Jesus’ name.
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16 Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship—a different kind of “sacrifice”—that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.
17 Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?
18-21 Pray for us. We have no doubts about what we’re doing or why, but it’s hard going and we need your prayers. All we care about is living well before God. Pray that we may be together soon.
May God, who puts all things together,
makes all things whole,
Who made a lasting mark through the sacrifice of Jesus,
the sacrifice of blood that sealed the eternal covenant,
Who led Jesus, our Great Shepherd,
up and alive from the dead,
Now put you together, provide you
with everything you need to please him,
Make us into what gives him most pleasure,
by means of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah.
All glory to Jesus forever and always!
Oh, yes, yes, yes.
22-23 Friends, please take what I’ve written most seriously. I’ve kept this as brief as possible; I haven’t piled on a lot of extras. You’ll be glad to know that Timothy has been let out of prison. If he leaves soon, I’ll come with him and get to see you myself.
24 Say hello to your pastoral leaders and all the congregations. Everyone here in Italy wants to be remembered to you.
25 Grace be with you, every one.