Chapter eleven is one of the most well-known chapters in the entire Bible. It is sometimes referred to as the “Hall of Faith” because it contains the names of a bunch of Old Testament heroes along with brief snippets of each of their stories that highlight their uncanny faith. From Abraham to Moses to David, the author of Hebrews walks his readers through the Old Testament narrative, detailing the rich history of God’s relationship with the Jewish people. This chapter would have meant so much to a group of young Jewish Christians who were struggling to find their faith in the midst of significant persecution and adversity. They would have been reminded that theirs wasn’t the first time that God’s people had endured suffering, giving them confidence that God’s will would prevail in the present day just as it had in the past.
Before he walks his readers through their history, the writer of Hebrews provides a clear definition of what faith actually is. He says, “faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” The idea is that, as humans, we often don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, and we can’t always see the “why” behind our present circumstances. God’s viewpoint is very different. He knows all and sees all, and not only that, He’s in control of it all. Where we’re limited, God is not. This causes a gap for us between our limited, earthly understanding, and God’s all-knowing, Heavenly understanding of what is happening and why things happen.
Because we cannot see and understand God’s plan, there are lots of things we try to do in order to fill that gap. Some people choose doubt. Others choose self-reliance, or anger, or busyness, or addiction. Faith is the decision to choose to trust the God who sees what we cannot. Faith is choosing to place our hope in Jesus rather than ourselves. As it is written in the Proverbs:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know Him, and He will make your paths straight. Don’t be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
At the end of chapter eleven the writer of Hebrews encourages his readers. He says, “all these (heroes of the faith) were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.”
What a powerful reminder! For hundreds of years the Jewish people have been waiting and hoping for the promised Messiah, and did not get to see Him. It’s the very definition of faith, to place your trust in God even when His plan and His promise is still unseen. The writer reminds his readers that God has given them something that their ancestors never got to see, Jesus the Christ. This is something to be grateful for. If your ancestors, who never got the chance to see Jesus, were able to demonstrate faith in the midst of trials, how much more ought you, who have seen Jesus, be able to endure your own trials by faith?
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. For by it our ancestors won God’s approval.
Old Testament References
- Where to start?!? Try Genesis and Exodus.
- Genesis 5:21-24
- Genesis 22:1-10
- Exodus 2:10
- Acts 13:13-41
- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
- 1 Peter 4:12-13
- What is faith? Why is faith important for Christians? What are some misunderstandings about faith?
- Describe your own faith. In what ways do you find it challenging to believe in (or hope for) something or someone you cannot see?
- What kind of adversity have you faced? What about persecution? How does faith make a difference?
Pick one person from Hebrews 11 whose story of faith interests you. Take some time this week to find their story in the Bible and to study their life. Try to understand why this person is considered to be a person of faith, and also areas where their faith may have been lacking. Identify some things about that person’s life that you might want to emulate, and write down some specific next steps you’d like to take.
[expand title=”Life Group Questions”]
- Take a few minutes to read aloud the Scripture from Hebrews 11. What truths about God can be understood from this passage? What observations can be made about people? What questions come to mind?
- What observations can be made about people?
- What questions come to mind?