I’ll read some verses from Hebrews 11 and also from Hebrews 12, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. 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 and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
These last three chapters of Hebrews – I somehow hardly ever read them individually because they seem to be so closely connected. The first one tells us of what faith is and it tells us of what men and women did by faith. Then it speaks of them as the cloud of witnesses in the 12th chapter. It says, “Let us therefore run the race with patience.” Then it speaks about what it is leading us to and what we are receiving by faith.
Then the last chapter starts with, “Let brotherly love continue and be not forgetful to entertain strangers.” It also speaks there of Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever. It helps us to understand what is accomplished by faith in our lives and that it is eternal because it is God’s work. Also that the trying of our faith which worketh patience is God’s work. It is wonderful to see resignation in a yielded life and it is wonderful to see contentment in God’s people in spite of their circumstances. It is the evidence of the Lord’s work. I realise more and more that faith is God’s work. In the false, nominal Christian religions, it is often said that you must just believe but my friends, faith is not just believing. Faith is the work of God. It is God’s work.
When Paul wrote to the Romans he spoke about faith being accomplished in our lives by the preaching of the Gospel. The Gospel message brings faith. Faith comes by the Gospel, it is not man’s work but it is God’s work. I am very grateful for that as I think of my own experience as a teenager. I have often told this and I don’t mind repeating it. I will never forget sitting in that simple little meeting and there was just a handful of people in that meeting. But I remember that night when we drove back to the farm and I was looking out into the darkness of the night and for the first time in my life I had a need to pray. I had often said my prayers before that but that night when my brothers and sisters went to bed and it was quiet, I knelt beside my bed and I prayed that God would give me a desire to serve Him. Looking back at that time, I realised that it was the first little bit of faith that God had put in my heart and it caused me to go down onto my knees. God put that into my heart and it was as a result of that meeting, the result of something of God’s Spirit, it was God’s work.
It tells us here that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen and it tells us that by it the elders obtained a good report. We realise that, even as it says in this chapter, that without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh to Him must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. My friends, I think that we all realise that the writing is on the wall as we look at the world, our country, at conditions as you look at the newspaper we can see that the writing is on the wall and we know that the prospects of days ahead are probably not what people would like them to be. They are not but we have something better, we have faith and we have trust in God.
That hymn says, “When storms of life are round me beating.” It says there, “Within my closed door retreating, I love to be alone with God.” In the day of distress we have the privilege of drawing near to God in confidence, remembering that we are drawing to the greatest source of help that there is and often our faith may be shaken if it doesn’t work out OUR way. The fulfillment of faith in our lives is not the accomplishment of our own desires, of our own will, but it is the accomplishment of God’s purpose, of God’s will. That is faith, when I draw near to God in prayer. Sometimes we pray about things and sometimes we want things to turn out a certain way. It could be a business deal and it could be our natural circumstances. It could be things we are distressed about and there may be every reason for that but when we draw near to God in the place of prayer, our thoughts may be along our natural interests and the Lord just giving us our way but it doesn’t work that way. That is why Paul wrote to the Romans and said that we don’t always know what to pray for as we ought but the Spirit makes intercession with groanings that cannot be uttered and it tells us in the context of that that it is according to the will of God. What does it say then? It says that we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. I have often asked myself the question “Do I know that? Do I believe that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose?” If we are trusting God and if we are praying with faith in our hearts and accepting God’s guidance, accepting God’s direction, for some of us it might mean deeper suffering. For some of us it might mean greater loss. We don’t know but it might mean that. I say this respectfully and with fear in my heart but I have seen it and in a measure experienced it, that sometimes God allows that. He allowed it in the life of Job and he allowed it in the lives of others. He has even allowed it in the lives of some in our day, where every earthly hope has been shattered because God has something better in mind. God wants to give us something with eternity in mind. God wants us to understand that He is the most important one in our lives and that our spiritual prosperity is the thing that matters. We can have the best that the world holds and we can still have nothing but we can find joy and we can find peace and we can find quality of life when we find the presence of God and when we have the help of God in our lives.
For myself, I would like to be satisfied with what it means what God would allow in my life. I hardly want to say this but I can tell you that some situations that have been my portion and some responsibilities or privileges that come our way, it hasn’t been my choosing and it is not really what I would like and it really doesn’t suit me but one would like to accept what God decides, what God chooses because He knows what He is doing. He knows the end from the beginning and He knows what He can do with my life and He knows what He can allow in my life. I feel grateful today for that, for a deeper tranquility and for a deeper acceptance of what God allows. It is costly.
It says here that without faith it is impossible to please God and it says that by it the elders obtained a good report. Two Wednesdays before last, we had those chapters in Genesis. The one chapter where Jacob was wrestling with the angel all night and he wouldn’t let him go. Then in last Wednesday night’s chapter, it tells us that it was the Lord. He wouldn’t let Him go until he had the blessing and we know that he was facing his brother Esau and it was imperative for Him to have the blessing. It might be some of the greatest struggles in life when we come face to face with our natural adversary and our spiritual adversary. He had to face Esau, he had to face his brother and he couldn’t do it without the Lord’s blessing. The most important thing for any one of us today is still the Lord’s blessing, there is nothing more important. The most important thing is for me to be right with God as I begin the day.
The most important thing for me as I face the day is drawing near to God in the place of prayer. It is the most important thing and my friends we cannot stress this enough. When hardness and when differences come between us as God’s people, it is IMPERATIVE, it is absolutely important that that be put right immediately. It affects our liberty and it actually affects our salvation. It affects our relationship with God and we cannot get away from that. Jacob faced Esau with faith in his heart, not in himself and not even with his brother but with faith in God. As a prince, he had prevailed and God could change his name.
There is a wonderful parallel in what took place in those two chapters, with the life of Jesus. We were reading those verses in Hebrews Wherefore being compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses let us run with patience the race that is set before us looking unto Jesus. I don’t know what is in your mind when you think of looking unto Jesus but it is not a physical looking with the natural eye but it is a yielding in our hearts to the will of God. It is obedience and it is as Paul wrote to the Philippians when he wrote Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus who thought it not robbery to be equal with God but made Himself of no reputation and took upon Himself the form of a servant and became obedient unto death even the death of the cross. Then it says God hath exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name. Looking unto Jesus means that, it means having the mind of Christ. It means humbling myself and it means being obedient.
That night when Jacob wrestled with the angel, we know there was a night in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus prayed three times that God would remove this cup from Him but nevertheless not My will but Thine be done. Then it says that God sent an angel to strengthen Him. It says that He prayed more earnestly until His sweat became as drops of blood. Then Jesus went to the cross of Calvary and took upon Himself your sin and my sin. He took the blame. He suffered innocently and that is the example and that is what Jacob saw that night when he went to his brother. It tells us that he bowed down seven times. He left it in God’s hands. It didn’t matter what anybody thought. It didn’t matter what his wives and his children thought. It didn’t matter what his servants thought but that day as he faced his brother he bowed seven times. Sometimes people have spoken to us because of difficulties that have arisen, difficulties in the church, difficulties among brethren. Sometimes it has been said that all that could be done was done but it just couldn’t come right and some of my co-workers have uttered these words “Have you bowed seven times?” Jesus set the example when He reconciled us to God by taking the blame. It should be a small thing for you and me to just be willing to take the blame.
We have heard that God will avenge His own elect. If we are being disadvantaged and if we are suffering wrongly, it is to our advantage. We can trust in God as we think of that. There is something else that was beautiful to me. When Esau asked him about the gifts he presented, he said, “I have enough, I don’t need it.” Jacob insisted that he would accept the gift and that he would take it. It is just such a beautiful picture of Jesus when He shed His blood on the cross of Calvary and entered into heaven with His blood. It is there continually, in the presence of God. Jacob said to his brother that day that he looked into his face as the face of God and he wanted that gift to remain in his presence. Whenever Esau had looked upon what Jacob had given him he would have remembered the day of reconciliation and today we are grateful as we think of the gift of Christ, of His precious blood that was shed and that He is in the presence of God where He intercedes for us continually. It is there in the presence of God and He looks at us through the blood of Christ and His heart is touched. It tells us earlier in Hebrews that we don’t have a High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmity. He is moved with compassion and was tempted in all points as we are yet without sin.
We have heard already of the things that touch the heart of God and something that I appreciate so much is what we read in Luke 15 when that prodigal son came back. It touched his father’s heart, when he humbled himself. Repentance touches the heart of God. A whole lot of definitions can be given to what repentance is, like changing direction but I just appreciated the simplicity of what Jesus said, “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” If only we’ll come, come with faith in the place of prayer. Remember that it is the greatest source of help that there is.
Anyway in this 12th chapter it says “Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.” Those who had walked in faith and those who had conquered in faith and those who had made choices in faith, It says, “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith,” It has been said that your patience is always tested when you have to wait. I realise more and more that here in the context it means endurance, running with endurance. Convention time I had to make a phone call to South African Airways because of a booking and that old electronic voice came up, “Please be patient and your call will be answered” and it continued for 20 minutes. We were working on the grounds and I had a mobile phone which I just hung around my neck and it was more than an hour before someone answered the phone. So when he answered I said to the man, “I have a lot of patience, I have been waiting for an hour.” I realised that I didn’t actually have patience. Patience is God’s work and when God does it then it is perfect. Sometimes we are praying about something and it is not changing but if we are trusting God we can wait and we can endure because we know that He is working and that He is holding out something better for us.
I love this 12th chapter of Hebrews and I’ll tell you why. It tells us later on in this chapter, in the 18th verse “For ye are not come unto the mount that might not be touched and that burned with fire. But you have come unto mount Zion and to the city of the living God. To the heavenly Jerusalem and to an innumerable company of angels and the general assembly and church of the Firstborn.” Then later on it speaks of receiving a Kingdom that cannot be moved. We have something that is immovable, it’s not tangible with the human hand but it is eternal. It is of God and we have been sharing it today, these eternal things. If I can try and put it in a nutshell, somebody once made this comparison that if someone asked you what church you belong to, if you could give a ready answer then it means that you can put your finger on it. If people ask me what church I belong to I kind of feel glad because it is an opportunity to explain something that you can’t put your finger on. If I told them that I belonged to this church or that church, then I could put my finger on it, but I have to explain to them about God’s work in my life. I can tell them about the workers going out two and two and I can tell them about the church in the home. I can tell them all that and it is right and it is good in its place but I have to explain something about God’s work in my life. I have to give them something of my testimony. You can’t just put your finger on it because it is spiritual and it is eternal and it is immovable because no man can touch it with his hand.
Sometimes we ask ourselves the question. A young couple gets married, have a wonderful wedding day and go off on their honeymoon and some people will say, “Reality will still hit them.” You know that old story. Anyway I don’t know anything about that….yet and hopefully never. We sometimes speak of reality as the things you can touch and you can look out there and see it is a beautiful day, that is reality. When you look at your wife or your husband sitting next to you, it is reality. When you think of the things you have accomplished in life, it is reality. It is actually not reality because the time will come when this body will return to the dust and it slips from your hand. A dead hand can hold nothing, it is not reality. My friends, what has touched our hearts today and what God gives us, that is reality. The joy of salvation, that is reality. The peace of God in our hearts, that is reality. This living by faith that we have been trying to speak a little about, that is reality. This relationship with God, that is reality. As we think of the work of God in the world, that is a reality.
A man of about 40 years old professed two weeks ago and we were traveling back from a meeting on Wednesday morning and he was telling me of someone in the place of worship he went to and was seemingly trying to lecture him because he had made his choice to serve God in this way. This man was evidently speaking about the old law and the Sabbath day and those things of the Old Testament and he just said, “I can’t say anything against what you say now but what I can tell you is what I have been missing all my life, now I have got it.” That was like music to my ears, that is reality. You can’t put your finger on it and you can’t show it physically but it is reality because it is the work of God. It speaks here of a kingdom that cannot be moved, it is a reality, you can’t put your finger on it. No man’s hand can touch it, it is a reality, it is real. It is God’s work in our lives.
It says, “Receiving a Kingdom which cannot be moved let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and with Godly fear.” We are grateful for these meetings today, grateful for God’s people and grateful for God’s fellow servants in our midst. Grateful for the prospects in God’s Kingdom. This country north of our borders things are pretty grim. What you read in the papers is terrible but I can tell you that there is something else in that country. There are probably about +/- 400 Christians and we are going to have Special Meetings there soon. Well we hope that we can have the Special Meetings and if we are going to have the Special Meetings, I can tell you one thing, that they are ALL going to be there and it is not because it is comfortable to get there. But I have no doubt in my mind that they will all be there. Last year, we were at those meetings and there was also no transport but they were ALL there. There was one young woman who came there, it was 9 degrees and it was raining all day. She left home at 5 that morning with a baby on her back and she walked barefoot for 55 kilometres to the Special Meeting place. There was another group of more than 20 who walked 62 kilometres to be at those meetings. They were all there and it was wonderful to see that. There is a lot of doom and gloom in the country but there is something beautiful, something wonderful about God’s people because they have something that is better and they have faith and confidence in God. Even though every earthly hope is shattered, there is confidence in the future because they have a better Kingdom, a better country and a kingdom that cannot be moved because no man can touch it. No circumstance can quench it because it is God’s work. God’s work in the human life.
We are thankful as we think of our workers there, having encouraging missions and they are happy to be there. I just mention that and hope that we can face the days ahead with confidence. Not in ourselves and maybe not in the circumstances but we have something better to live for. We have better things to speak about. We can be feeding on all the negative things out there and it is not going to help us or anybody else. We can feed on Christ and as it says here, we can look to Jesus and we can run with patience the race that is set before us.
Earlier in the book of Hebrews it speaks of Him as the Forerunner who has entered within the veil, He is already there, He has already finished the race and we can also say that He has won the race, if you want to put it that way. It is wonderful to think that we are actually running on the winning side. We are actually fighting on the battlefield of victory because the victory was purchased on Calvary’s cross for thee. May God help us that our own little personal difficulties and our own personal battles won’t cause us to be a ‘casualty on the battlefield of victory.’