Sunday School 09 09 2012

 

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“Faith Gives Assurance”

Lesson Text: Hebrews 11:1-3; Psalm 46:1-3, 8-11

Background Scripture:  Hebrews 11; Psalm 46

Devotional Reading:  Psalm 27:1-6

 

Hebrews 11:1-3, 6 (KJV)

1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

2 For by it the elders obtained a good report.

3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.

6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. 

Psalm 46:1-3, 8-11 (KJV)

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.

9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.

10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

 

OBJECTIVES

To learn to relax, because God is in control.

To know that without faith it is impossible to please God.

To live a life assured of our hope in the Lord.   

 

INTRODUCTION

Attacks on Faith

   We have many great universities here in America. Some are mammoth institutions, having over 40,000 students. There are dozens of these schools in North America.

   Many students come to these universities from a strong background in the church. Some of these young adults are outside a “safe” Christian environment for the first time. They encounter students of other, non-Christian faiths. They are confronted by the strident atheism of some students. But, most dangerously, they end up in classes taught by professors who seem determined to demolish what they see as simplemindedness when it comes to faith. The rules of academic freedom allow for relentless questioning and even ridicule of Christian values and beliefs.

   For young Christians navigating college, graduating with an intact faith requires a transition. They must move beyond a “dependent faith,” which is based on what they perceive a parent or preacher believes. They must grapple with the great issues of belief to emerge with an independent, personal faith. Only then will they have a faith that will last a lifetime.

   The author of Hebrews was aware that faith is always one generation from extinction. This week’s lesson looks at examples of faith from the past and give us insights into a deep, abiding, biblical faith for our future.

 

LESSON BACKGROUND

   The book of Hebrews is a carefully crafted argument that shows the superiority of the Christian faith over the Old Testament structure from which it comes. The author never makes his argument in a belittling way; he always shows great respect for the earlier Scriptures. The result is a crescendo that reaches its height in chapter 11.

   That chapter sometimes is called “Faith’s Hall of Fame.” There the author offers an interesting list of faithful individuals from Israel’s history: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and Rahab are prominent. The author summarizes these faithful folk as “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), as if they hover over the church by their testimony of faith.

   Psalm 46 has been chosen for this lesson as an appropriate Old Testament counterpart to Hebrews 11. We might see it as a “Hall of Fame” for the faithful too, but in this case there is only one member: the Lord God of Israel. Together, these two passages of Scripture help us understand the enduring nature of true faith in God.

 

Faith That Pleases God (Hebrews 11:1-3, 6)

1. What is the description of “faith” in Hebrews 11:1?

   This is not a definition of faith but a description of what faith does and how it works. True Bible faith is not blind optimism or a manufactured "hope-so" feeling. Neither is it an intellectual assent to a doctrine. It is certainly not believing in spite of evidence! That would be superstition.

   True Bible faith is confident obedience to God's Word in spite of circumstances and consequences.Read that last sentence again and let it soak into your mind and heart.

   This faith operates quite simply. God speaks and we hear His Word. We trust His Word and act on it no matter what the circumstances are or what the consequences may be. The circumstances may be impossible, and the consequences frightening and unknown; but we obey God's Word just the same and believe Him to do what is right and what is best.

   The unsaved world does not understand true Bible faith, probably because it sees so little faith in action in the church today. The cynical editor H.L. Mencken defined faith as "illogical belief in the occurrence of the impossible." The world fails to realize that faith is only as good as its object, and the object of our faith is God. Faith is not some "feeling" that we manufacture. It is our total response to what God has revealed in His Word.

What Do You Think?

How does your faith enable you to face the future with confidence?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In times of illness | In times of lack | In times of spiritual stumbling

When a loved one sins

 

2. Who were the “elders” that “obtained a good report” (v. 2)?    

   By the elders the author of Hebrews means the ancestors of the faith whose lives are recorded in the Old Testament. The author is convinced that the Old Testament has much to teach us about faith. The author appealed to a long list of biblical examples to answer the above question. God commended them precisely because of their faith in Him (Heb. 11:2). As important as anything is the conclusion that these ancestors obtained a good report because of their faith. The word used here is a form of the verb meaning “to witness” or “to give testimony.” The good report itself is from God. God gives His positive witness to the effective faith of these men and women. 

   This idea—that it is by faith we are justified in God’s sight rather than by actions—is reflected elsewhere in the New Testament. For example, a key verse for Paul is Genesis 15:6, where “[Abraham] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” This verse is a focus for Paul in Romans 4:1-5 and Galatians 3:6 (compare James 2:23). 

   There are two problems some people have with the past. They either disregard it or forget it. Hebrews 11 stresses the importance of remembering the past and living by faith. We discover from the testimony of other believers who have gone before us that we can remain faithful to the Lord-despite the hardships we might be experiencing-because He will remain faithful to us.   

3. What example of faith does the author give us (v. 3)? 

   The author now fills out his description of faith by giving an example. Our understanding of the existence of the universe is a matter of faith. A profound question is, “Why is there something and not nothing?” As one philosopher said, the sense of the universe must lie outside the universe. The universe is not, and will never be, self-explanatory. 

   The Christian’s understanding of the origins of the universe is based on faith that the Creator God designed and made the worlds through His powerful word (see John 1:1-3). Those who deny the existence of a Creator God prefer a materialistic explanation. But science will never be able to prove or disprove that God created the universe, for it is a matter for faith. 

   Despite all appearances to the contrary and despite all of the naturalistic explanations about the origin of the universe, God gave existence to the cosmos. We have nothing but the written Word of God to explain how life first began, and we believe what it has revealed to us. In this regard, Revelation 4: 11 asserts that the all-powerful Lord “created all things.” Furthermore, it is because of His sovereign will that they were “created” and existed.   

4. What two things must support a person’s faith in God (v. 6)?

   Before proceeding with more Old Testament faith examples, the author gives another description of faith. This one is a more dynamic, working description. The examples of Abel and Enoch (vs. 4,5) show that God is pleased by our faith as it is lived out in obedience to Him. Faith is not confined to a dictionary definition; it is demonstrated in the lives of the faithful.

   Two things must undergird the life of a person of faith. First, we must believe that God exists. We cannot have a faith relationship with God if we do not acknowledge His existence. An atheist may have some type of faith in certain things, but it is nothing like the faith being presented here.

   Second, we must accept certain things about God. One such thing is that He is a rewarder. This pictures a personal God, a God with standards and expectations. Earnest attempts to do God’s will do not go unnoticed (example: Acts 10:4). They will be rewarded. While we cannot earn God’s favor, He does care that we are living to serve Him and please Him. As we move to a consideration of Psalm 46, we learn other things about our personal God.

 

Faith That Recognizes God (Psalm 46:1-3, 8-11)

   Most people recognize this psalm as the basis for Martin Luther's hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." The historical background is probably God's deliverance of Jerusalem from the Assyrians in the time of King Hezekiah 701 B.C. (2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chron. 32; Isa. 36-37), when Sennacherib’s forces were miraculously smitten by the angel of the Lord and the 185,000 Assyrians lay dead on the ground. King Hezekiah was a poet and may have written not only this psalm but also 47 and 48, which probably came out of the same historical context and celebrate God's victory over the enemy.

   The emphasis in this psalm is on the presence of the Lord with His people (vs. 1, 5, 7, 11) and the difference it makes when we trust Him in the changes and difficulties of life. The psalm focuses on the Lord and what He is to His trusting people. 

5. Name the three attributes of God in Psalm 46:1?

   The psalmist begins his great statement of faith by highlighting three attributes of God. First, God is a refuge. This word pictures a place of safety, a protected shelter. It is used in everyday conversation to refer to something that provides protection from the weather (see Isaiah 4:6). God is our... strength has the sense of unquestioned authority. This is the kind of power you want to have on your side. It is strength through righteousness (see Psalm 99:4). Third, God as a present help in trouble gives the picture of something more than abstract ideas of assistance. God never leaves us and is ready to help us at all times.

What Do You Think?

How have you applied the truth that God is “a very present help in trouble” to a personal crisis? How did things turn out?

 

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Job loss | Health crisis | Loss of a loved one | Prodigal child  

 

6. Why should we not fear when things go wrong around us (vs. 2, 3)? 

   Having affirmed God as refuge, strength, and help, the psalmist gives examples where these things are needed. Israel will proceed in a reasonable manner, regardless of the situation around her, because she knows God is in her midst. Though the earth be removed. . . the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, nevertheless, Israel will remain calm. The metaphors of these verses are designed to encompass whatever violent disturbances Israel may encounter. What a powerful thought; let’s dwell on it a moment.  

   God is a tower of strength in times of personal disaster (see Proverbs 18:10). God is our refuge and strength when our personal world is shaken, when we are flooded with misery and hardship. We do not stand alone in these times, so we need not fear. God is greater and more powerful than anything that threatens or bedevils us. Faith in God dispels fear (compare Mark 4:40). 

7. What “desolations” did God make on earth on Israel’s behalf (vs. 8, 9)? 

   The desolations in mind here are the ruins of a defeated army after a battle. This scene is on the fields surrounding Jerusalem where the Assyrian soldiers lay dead, their weapons and equipment scattered and broken. However, there had been no battle, but the angel of the Lord left this evidence behind to encourage the faith of the people. "Come and see the amazing things (desolations) the Lord has made!" The Lord defeated and disarmed His enemies and destroyed their weapons, and they could attack no more. 

   Israel can look back on her history to the many times when God’s hand was evident in military successes. These include the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea and the conquest of Jericho and other cities as the Israelites occupied the land of Canaan. Those opposing God come to a bad end.  

8. What does it mean to “be still” and watch the mighty hand of God (vs. 10, 11)?

   The psalmist now moves beyond the nation of Israel to the Lord himself. 

   "Be still" literally means "Take your hands off! Relax!" We like to be "hands-on" people and manage our own lives, but God is God, and we are but His servants. Because Hezekiah and his leaders allowed God to be God, He delivered them from their enemies. That was the way King Hezekiah had prayed: "Now therefore, O Lord our God, I pray, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know You are the Lord God, You alone" (2 Kings 19:19). There is a time to obey God and act, but until then, we had better take our hands off and allow Him to work in His own time and His own way. If we seize His promises by faith with both hands, we won't be able to meddle! In the end, God always will be exalted—recognized as having the highest possible position. 

   Our response is to be still in our understanding of the power and provision of God. Being still and quiet is an act of faith. Sometimes, waiting and trusting is how faith must work in our lives. The frantic busyness of our lives will push God aside quickly. Faith grows when we have an awareness of God’s protective presence, and this will be found in times of quiet contemplation and prayer. 

What Do You Think? 

   What are some things that distract people from “being still” before God? How do we address these areas? 

Talking Points for Your Discussion

   1 Kings 19:1-18; Psalm 73:2, 3; Matthew 13:22; Luke 10:38-42; 1Timothy 5:13

   The final verse of our lesson today (v. 11) repeats verse 7. It is a bold statement of the Lord as the commander of invincible armies and as an impregnable fortress. This is the center of faith. Our God has the power and mercy to see us through any trial of life.

 

POINTS TO PONDER

1.One must have hope and certainty in Jesus (Hebrews 11:1). 

2. Examples of faith were documented by God for our understanding (vs. 2, 3).   

3. Faith is so foundational to the Christian life that one cannot be in a relationship with God apart from it (v. 6). 

4.True stability is found when we put our trust in God alone (Psalm 46:1-3).

5.God can fight our battles like no other (vs. 8, 9).

6.Relax, God is in control! (vs. 10, 11)

 

CONCLUSION

Faith and Worship

   We often think of faith as a private matter, a deeply personal relationship between God and us. Yet the Bible has a very public view of faith, as today’s texts reveal. When we join with other Christians in songs of worship, we are expressing our collective hope and trust in God. When we read Scripture in worship, we are highlighting the great truths that undergird our faith. When we pray together in worship, we are sharing a common trust that God is listening. 

   Unity in faith builds faith. If we neglect our worship together, we neglect our common faith. There is “one faith” (Ephesians 4:5), and that is the faith in God through Jesus that all Christians share. May we be faithful in worship and worship in faith. 

PRAYER 

   Lord God, be our strong refuge in trials that test our faith. May our trust in You grow each day throughout our lives. In Jesus’ name; amen.                      

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER 

   Faith is our permanent relationship with God.

 


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