Sermon begins at the 3:20 mark after the music
Lay Reader = Romans 8:26-39
26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We’re continuing our series looking at words from the Bible that are worth remembering. My hope is that everyone will memorize one of the verses on the handout in your bulletin each week. But my goal is that everyone will memorize at least one additional verse over the course of this series. And if memorizing isn’t in the cards for you, maybe there’s another way to write these words on your heart so that you’ll have them when life reminds you that you need them.
Last time we talked about verses that point to Jesus saving us – because we can’t save ourselves. This week we are looking at some key Bible verses that tell us about faith. And faith is an interesting word. Some of the words in the Bible are out of linguistic fashion these days. You don’t hear many people throwing around words like “salvation” and “repentance” and “substitutionary atonement” in conversation, right? If you do run in circles that use those words commonly, we might need to get you leading a Bible study!
But faith? Faith is a word that we hear and use frequently in regular conversation. In marriage, we hope people are faithful. When someone doubts us, we might say, “have a little faith in me.” If you like country music, you might say, “I listen to Faith Hill.”
But that can bring its own challenge. For those rarely-used words, we have to define them. For words like faith that we use regularly, we have to ask if the Bible means it the same way we mean it. It’s like in the Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think that words means what you think it means.”
So let’s listen to what the book of Hebrews has to say about faith. You’ll hear the word “faith” quite a few times. Listen to how it matches and how it challenges your own definition of faith.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
4By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s. Through this he received approval as righteous, God himself giving approval to his gifts; he died, but through his faith he still speaks. 5By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” 6And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith. 8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.
Have you seen the movie Water World with Kevin Costner? It’s kind of a bad movie, but there are some interesting scenes. In the movie, the oceans have risen to cover pretty much all the dry land on the entire earth. Dry land has become a myth.
But one little girl has a map that supposedly leads to dry land tattooed on her back. The bad guys kidnap her and the leader gives a speech to his troops and announces, “We have the map to dry land! Start rowing!” And a cheer rises up as everyone grabs their oars and starts heading out to sea. In the next scene, the leader is with his inner circle, and he asks them, “How long do you think they’ll keep rowing before they realize we don’t know how to read the map yet?”
They had faith in the existence of dry land. They had faith in the map to lead them to dry land. They presumably had faith that their leader could read the map. Some of their faith was misplaced.
Or in Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is talking to Han Solo about the Force. And Han replies callously, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” Han’s faith was in himself and his ability to protect himself.
Where do you place your faith? You’re sitting in church, so there’s an easy answer to that question, but is it the correct answer?
Our text says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” And let me try to illustrate for you what this is trying to say. Imagine that I tell you, “I believe in good design for houses.” Got it? “I believe in good design for houses.” Nice. Generic. Easy.
Now imagine that I tell you, “I believe in Feng Shui. I changed the color of my front door, reoriented my furniture, and paid to move a staircase to maximize the flow of chi throughout the house.” That’s little more intense, right? And it’s really specific.
Or I could dial it down a notch and say, “I believe in the modern design style. The clean lines of the house help my brain stay focused and decluttered.” That’s still way more conviction than, “I believe in good design for houses.”
So when our text says, “Faith is the assurance…” it’s raising the bar. To have assurance, you have to have conviction and direction. If you say, “I believe in God…” what does that even mean? Or if you say, “I believe in Jesus,” what do you actually believe about Jesus? I have spoken with Hindus who would say they believe in Jesus. They would say he’s an avatar of one of their many gods. Muslims believe in Jesus. They believe he’s a major prophet who said some good things. I’ve spoken with Wiccans who believe in Jesus as a divine expression. In the Bible, even the demons believe in Jesus.
So “I believe in God” or “I believe in Jesus” are phrases that lack the conviction of what our text is talking about. That’s like saying, “I believe in good design.” What is design? What is good design? Does that mean there’s bad design? What about no design?
In the same way, who is God? Who is Jesus? What do you believe about God or Jesus? For your faith to have assurance and conviction, you have to say more than, “I believe in Jesus.” What do you believe about Jesus, and how does that affect you? Are you tracking with me?
We had a leadership retreat a few weeks ago, and one of my assignments coming out of that meeting was to read a book about church leadership and structure. I know you’re all jealous of my riveting reading assignment, so the book is High Impact Church Boards if you want to read along at home. The author makes an interesting point about church leaders, though. In John 15:5, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” And the author challenged church leaders to check inside themselves and ask if they really, truly believe Jesus’ words there.
“Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Do I really believe that?
I mean, I can program computers and robots without Jesus, right? And I was given certain abilities and talents and skills and personality traits, and I can use those to good effect, right? What does Jesus mean, “apart from me you can do nothing?”
Well we had some snow last week, right? Did anyone trim down or eliminate some of their garden because of that? Some of our vegetable plants are no more thanks to the snow. But what happens after you cut off a branch from the plant? If there’s a vegetable that’s close to ripe, it might finish. But nothing new is going to grow. You might see some growth out of momentum, but no new life.
That’s what Jesus means when he says that he’s the vine and we’re the branches. If we’re cut off from the vine, we might continue the momentum we had with Jesus, but nothing lasting and nothing valuable in God’s eyes will result – no new life. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing.
But we, and we includes me, we often place more faith in our branches than we do in the vine of true life. But that’s why the author of Hebrews gives us all these examples of faith. “By faith Abel…by faith Enoch…by faith Noah…by faith Abraham…”
Three commonalities in these stories and the many others you can find if you keep reading in Hebrews.
First, none of them created their own plan. They habitually listened to God, and God gave them a clear direction.
Second, they followed through without any real guarantee from God. They had faith. They had an assurance. They had conviction that following God’s plan was the best thing they could possibly do, even if it didn’t line up with their own plans.
Third, what they did pleased God. Verse six even says, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” So the desired outcome of our faith is that it pleases God, not that it achieves a personal goal.
So the point of faith is that we turn to Jesus first, not as a last resort. The point of faith is that we trust Jesus to create the plan, not just praying for our plan to happen. The point of faith is that we ask if this will please Jesus, not please me. That takes conviction. That takes assurance. That’s faith.
Here’s another way to think about it. If the Denver Nuggets are down by one point with twenty seconds to go, who do you want taking the shot? Do you want to pass it to Bol Bol, the new rookie? Or do you want your MVP candidate Nikola Jokic taking the shot?
Or if you’re a Broncos fan, rewind to the Super Bowl years. If the team was down and needed a last minute score, who were they going to trust? They were going to turn to John Elway or Peyton Manning, right? That’s where they would turn first.
When we have faith, assurance, conviction in Jesus, we acknowledge him as the number one option. We often treat him as the hail Mary backup plan, the break glass in case of emergency plan, but with faith he should be option one. But that takes conviction to make him option one instead of making yourself option one.
We’re the sponsor church for the Vietnamese Fellowship in Denver, and many of you have probably met Pastor Tu. Last week I was at the Vietnamese Fellowship to preach and attempt to sing in Vietnamese without having any clue what I was saying. I think Pastor Tu is a great example of faith with conviction – of turning to Jesus as option one.
Tu grew up in Vietnam at a time when the government was actively trying to destroy the Protestant churches. His father was a faithful deacon, and so his father continued to lead Bible studies and raise his children in the faith. Tu saw his father arrested and beaten because of those Bible studies, but it didn’t deter his father and it didn’t deter Tu, either. There wasn’t a protestant seminary in Vietnam anymore since it was shut down by the government, but he arranged to come to the US to study. He felt God’s call to start a Vietnamese church here in Denver, and that’s where he still is.
But think of all the different opportunities he had to say “no” to God’s plan. When his father was arrested, he could have said, “this isn’t worth it.” When he wanted training and couldn’t go to a seminary in Vietnam, he could have said, “this is too expense to go to the US.” Instead of starting a Vietnamese church from scratch here in Denver, he could have chosen an easier path. But at each step of the way, he asked for God’s plan. He asked for Jesus’ guidance. He asked for the strength of the Holy Spirit.
That’s what it looks like to have faith. Faithfully following Jesus doesn’t mean that everything’s going to just be smooth sailing. I mean, no one has ever been more like Jesus than Jesus himself, and he was killed, right? And the disciples went out with faith and fervor to spread the Good News, but many of them faced immense and painful opposition. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we hit roadblocks. The question is, what does Jesus intend to do about the roadblock? And how can we follow behind him?
Sisters and brothers, faith requires more than a passing belief that Jesus really walked the earth or that some divine being called God exists. Faith requires conviction to trust Jesus as plan A, as the first option, as the go-to rather than the emergency plan. Do you have that kind of faith? Or do you need to have some prayerful conversations with Jesus about who he is and how he affects your life? Amen.