Three readings that talk about faith. That tremendous story from 1Kings about the prophet Elijah, who not only showed faith in Gods provision for the basic essentials of life but also faith in the ability of Gods power working through him to breath life into a young and precious son. And then theres that whole list of faithful people that were given in the letter to the Hebrew Christians.
You want to know about faith, says the writer, then how about these for starters. And then he follows it with that amazing statement that these folk all died without seeing the fulfilment of their faith, for the simple reason that God wanted them to enjoy the same benefits of his love and Grace as we would. That all Gods saints through the ages would one day rejoice together in the fulfilment of all things and all time
"This was because God had something better in store for us. And he did not want them to reach the goal of their faith without us"
When we read about the faith of Elijah, of Abraham, Moses, David, Gideon, Sarah and the like what does it do to you? Can you empathise with these great people of God? Could you put yourself in the place of Abrahams elderly wife Sarah wanting a son and being told that it would happen despite the chances of a natural conception being impossible. How would your faith cope with that news?
Could you put yourself in the place of Noah, told to build a boat on the top of a hill in an area that gets hardly any rain. What would you have done when the locals started staring and saying things behind your back?
Could you put yourself in the place of Stephen, stoned to death for his faith and yet to the last proclaiming the greatness of his God? Would you have let it get that far? Would there have even been enough evidence to convict you?
Could you put yourself in the place of Elijah telling the widow to use up all the meagre ingredients in her larder to make him something to eat, on the basis that God would provide her with an abundance of flour and oil.
Or even put yourself in the place of the widow, asked to share the last bit of food she had in the house. Or what about that awful moment when the young son seems to have died and Elijah is blamed. How would your faith have fared then?
Faith in one sense can be an odd concept, in that most people have faith in something. We probably have faith in British or American Justice, a "sense of fair play" in a game. Many folk have faith in their abilities to accomplish a task or even to direct their lives in the direction they feel it should go.
And of course theres nothing wrong with that. To live lives without such a faith can easily lead to emptiness and depression. The downside of course is that this type of faith can easily be knocked or ignored until it matters. More importantly it has its centre well and truly on the here and now and on self.
Of course thats where we have to draw the line and say that such a faith is limited, whereas Christian faith is limitless. It is limitless because as the writer to the Hebrews says quite plainly it has its focus as much on what will be as what is. Christian faith has its eyes set not on now but on eternity, its focus not on self but on God.
Have you ever had your faith challenged? Has anyone actually questioned you about what you believe and why you believe? Its not something that happens very often to most Christians and to some extent its a shame.
I did a course on personal evangelism some years ago, and before they set you loose on real people you were forced to look to your heart and actually ask pertinent questions - about sin, repentance, forgiveness, Grace and Salvation, about where I was in my walk with God. Was I sure of what I believed and why I believed it? Self-questioning like that is very useful insofar as it puts you on your guard against the time that someone asks you to justify your faith.
John 5:24 says "I tell you for certain that everyone who hears my message and has faith in the one who sent me has eternal life and will never be condemned. They have already gone from death to life.I tell you for certain that the time will come, and it is already here, when all of the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen to it will live!"
Its Jesus words that are recorded here. "I tell you for certain that everyone who hears my message and has faith in the one who sent me has eternal life" Does that ring true? If not, why not? Did Jesus really mean that promise of eternal life to all that believe, or was he mis-quoted. If you believe that, then how can we believe any of his other words?
John 6:40 Jesus words again "My Father wants everyone who sees the Son to have faith in him and to have eternal life. Then I will raise them to life on the last day."
John 11:25,26 "Jesus then said, 'I am the one who raises the dead to life! Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die. And everyone who lives because of faith in me will never really die. Do you believe this?'"
Jesus asked the question of Martha, but its one we do need to ask ourselves now and again. We may say that we have faith, but in what or who do we have that faith? And just as importantly what difference does that faith have on our outlook on life and death?
In the Old Testament the people of God had faith and hope in a God who would provide for their everyday physical needs - just like Elijah was sure that God would honour the widows generosity. They had faith in a God who would lead them to the promised land; protect them; offer justice to good and bad alike; be a source of comfort and strength for them in times of trouble (read Psalm 23).
They had faith that their God would lead them to victory against the enemies that surrounded them and would lead them from the bondage of captivity when they were in exile. They also had faith that He would send them the Messiah of which the prophets had foretold.
It was quite a faith but easily knocked and forgotten, as you soon find out if you follow the history of Gods dealings with his people through the pages of the Old Testament. It didnt take much persuading for the people of God to start worshipping other gods when the going got tough, or things didnt seem to be going their way.
I have a feeling that a lot of folk who are regular worshippers today still have this same Old Testament faith - a simple faith in a God who provides for daily needs, offers comfort through His Word, protects and loves His people.
A faith such as this, although solid is also a faith that is lacking, for it has its eyes on the day to day and not on eternity. Its centre is elsewhere than Jesus on the cross and His promise of eternal life and the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.
Listen to Paul in Ephesians 1:18ff "18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called. I want you to realise what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people. I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honour at Gods right hand in the heavenly realms."
Through the pages of the New Testament we find the faith of believers is still grounded in the faith of Abraham, David, Moses and all those other faithful saints, but it is now empowered and made alive through Jesus Christ and the cross.
God is now seen to provide not only for our physical but our spiritual needs - food and water (the basics of life) become spiritual food and the water of life; freedom from bondage becomes freedom from the bondage of sin, and hope for the Promised Land becomes hope in eternal life.
And the benefits of such a faith are plain to see says Paul
How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we belong to Christ Ephesiand 1:3
When we question ourselves about our faith can we say Amen to that?
And Scripture is very clear about the difference that a"New Testament" faith (if you want to call it that) can have on a life.
We have a spiritual inheritance:
James 2:5 "Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasnt God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Arent they the ones who will inherit the kingdom God promised to those who love him? "
1 John 5:14-15 "We are certain that God will hear our prayers when we ask for what pleases him. 15 And if we know that God listens when we pray, we are sure that our prayers have already been answered. "
Sonship (a sense of belonging to Gods family):
John 1:12-13 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or planthis rebirth comes from God.
John 14:11-12 (Jesus words) "Have faith in me when I say that the Father is one with me and that I am one with the Father. Or else have faith in me simply because of the things I do. I tell you for certain that if you have faith in me, you will do the same things that I am doing. You will do even greater things, now that I am going back to the Father."
1 Samuel 37ff "The Lord has rescued me from the claws of lions and bears, and he will keep me safe from the hands of this Philistine."
'All right,' Saul answered, 'go ahead and fight him. And I hope the Lord will help you.' Saul had his own military clothes and armour put on David, and he gave David a bronze helmet to wear. David strapped on a sword and tried to walk around, but he was not used to wearing those things.
'I cant move with all this stuff on,' David said. 'Im just not used to it.'
"David took off the armour and picked up his shepherds stick. He went out to a stream and picked up five smooth rocks and put them in his leather bag. Then with his sling in his hand, he went straight toward Goliath."
In our walk with God we need to be sure of our faith. We need to be sure in whom we are putting our trust and confidence. We need to be sure in our own minds why we believe, and where our faith has difficulties. We need to be honest with ourselves, and where there are doubts these need addressing.
We need that same assurance that enabled Job, after all that hed been through to say with such fantastic confidence Job 19:25-27
In our walk of faith we need to be sure in whom we have faith, and why. There will come a time when our faith will be tested, if it hasnt already happened. Hopefully it wont be as hard a time as poor old Job faced, it might just be a friend or neighbour saying to you You dont believe all that religious nonsense, do you?
Is your faith strong enough to say"Yes!" and explain why?
Its not as easy as you might think, but your answer might make all the difference to the person who asked the question. If Elijahs faith hadnt shone through his life and words, the widow might have thought twice about giving him all that she had to eat. If Abrahams faith had not been strong, his family might have up-sticks and moved off into an uncertain future rather than the Promised Land.
Have faith in God. Look to his promises in the Bible, look at the lives of those that the prophets wrote about, look at Jesus, believe his words, accept his promise for all who believe and put you absolute trust in Him. You can do no better. Then you will be able like Job to stand up and confidently proclaim
"But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought"