April 21, 2019

Jesus: The Author of Faith

Passage: Hebrews 11:39-12:2

Good morning! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! It’s good to be back with all of you, celebrating Easter Sunday, together. Our family had a good week of holidays, last week. We were able to spend some time with family, as well as, take in the Alberta Homeschool Convention in Red Deer. But it’s good to be back. And we’re excited for what God is going to do here at the Chapel.

If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Hebrews 11. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we are going to be looking at the last two verses of Hebrews 11 and the first two verses of Hebrews 12.

For the past few months, we have been going through this sermon series on the Heroes of the Faith, looking at the individuals mentioned here in Hebrews 11, focusing on the faith they had that made them the heroes they were.

I’ve made it a point throughout this series to say that these men and women are not the point. They are examples of the one faith that we believe, but the reality is that they are imperfect, flawed examples. They were never intended to be the point; they were always intended to point us to Someone better.

And so, it’s fitting for us to wrap up our series on the Heroes of the Faith on the very Sunday that we are focusing on the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. And it’s fitting because, this morning, we are going to look at Jesus, who teaches us that He is the Author of faith.

So, if you have your Bibles opened to Hebrews 11, let’s begin reading in verse 39. “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” And then, look at Hebrews 12:1. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

What I want us to see, this morning, is how we can be assured that the resurrected Christ is the Author of faith—that we can look at this great cloud of witnesses, and this weight that we lay aside, and this throne on which Christ is sitting, and be reminded that what God authors He will bring to perfection.

1. The first way that we can be assured that the resurrected Christ is the Author of faith is that there is a great cloud of witnesses.

Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…”. Who is this great cloud of witnesses? Everyone mentioned in Hebrews 11. The writer of Hebrews starts by naming specific people and sharing their stories of faith, but by the end of the chapter he gets more generic, saying that there are these others of the faith who are experiencing hardship.

And this is where we find ourselves. We are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses that encompasses everyone from biblical history till now who has put their faith in the resurrected Christ. And the writer of Hebrews is expecting this to make an impact on us.

Gary Habermas, an American historian, New Testament scholar and philosopher of religion, carried out the most comprehensive research into the resurrection of Jesus. He compiled over 1400 critical works on the resurrection written during a certain period of time from both secular and Christian scholars. And he discovered that virtually all agree on 4 major points, plus one:

1. Jesus was crucified by the Roman Empire.
2. The disciples believed that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them.
3. The Church persecutor, Paul, was suddenly converted.
4. James, the brother of Jesus, also went from skepticism to belief.
5. The tomb was empty (this has 75% support from scholars).

Scholars from all over the theological spectrum agree on these points. And this is significant, because what do each of these points need in order to be verifiable? Witnesses. And there are two key witnesses that are mentioned here.

The reason why James is significant is because he was the brother of Jesus. But he was not just one of Jesus’ brothers, James was outspoken in his skepticism of Jesus and who Jesus claimed to be. James thought Jesus was crazy.

And the remarkable thing about James is that he goes from being a skeptic of Jesus to a believer of Jesus. That doesn’t just happen. You don’t just change your view of your brother for nothing. There is something bigger going on here.

And the explanation for this drastic change, according to Scripture, is that Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to James.

Here is what the apostle Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”

That is the only explanation for the conversion of James. James believed in Jesus, because Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to him.

So, that’s key witness #1. The reason why Paul is significant is because he was a persecutor of Christians. Paul was a devout Jew who had no tolerance for Christians and their belief in this Jesus as God. He was breathing out murderous threats against Christians and oversaw much Christian persecution.

And the remarkable thing about Paul is that he goes from being a persecutor of Christians to converting to Christianity—the very religion that he sought to extinguish. Again, that doesn’t just happen. There is something big going on.

Paul becomes a Christian, after spending the past few years trying to eradicate Christianity, again, according to 1 Corinthians 15, because Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to Paul.

These two witnesses provide us with certainty in the resurrection of Jesus. But it was not just them that Jesus showed Himself to. Jesus also appeared to over 500 people, most of whom were still alive at the writing of 1 Corinthians, so that if you wanted to inquire of them as to the validity of this claim you could, and they would have told you that they saw Jesus risen from the dead.

In Acts 1:3, it says that Jesus “presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”

The eyewitness accounts are extremely important to us. Without this great cloud of witnesses, we’re lost. We have nothing to base our faith on. But it’s because of them, it’s because of the many followers of Jesus who have gone before us, that we can know that the resurrection of Jesus is true and that Jesus is the Author of this one faith that we believe.

2. The first way that we can be assured that the resurrected Christ is the Author of faith is that there is a great cloud of witnesses. Secondly, there is a weight that we lay aside.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”.

In John Bunyan’s classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, we are introduced to a character by the name of Christian. And Christian is a man who is burdened by the weight of sin. He knows that he has a burden on his back, but he cannot remove it, despite his best efforts. His redemption must come from outside of himself—a righteousness not his own.

And the crucial moment in Christian’s life is when he comes to the cross. In the book, we read this description: “He ran thus till he came to a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and little below in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back; and began to tumble, and so continued to do so until it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.”

Shortly thereafter, Christian sang his song of deliverance: “Thus far did I come laden with my sin, nor could aught ease the grief that I was in, till I came hither. What a place is this! Must here be the beginning of my bliss? Must here the burden fall from off my back? Must here the strings that bound it to me, crack? Blessed cross! Blessed sepulchre! Blessed rather be the Man that there was put to shame for me.”

Here’s the reality: Each one of us comes into this world with this burden on our back—this burden of sin. There is no one exempt from this. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

And what we do is we try to get that burden off our back by being good people and doing good things, all in our own power and effort. But the reality is that there is nothing that we can do, no righteousness that we can accumulate, that will get that burden off our back. We need help from outside of ourselves.

And so, the writer of Hebrews is pointing out that we have this burden, we have this weight of sin upon us, and that the answer to our need is found in Jesus.

We’re not going to be able to meet our need on our own and in our own power. The only way that burden of sin comes off our back is through the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ. Then, and only then, are we able to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely.”

You see, the culture that we are living in will tell you that you don’t need to change anything about yourself, that you are perfect the way you are, and that everyone else just needs to accept you for you. And unfortunately, that belief will just send you headlong into a lost eternity.

The reality is that we have all sinned against a holy God, and that that holy God has right and just cause to declare us guilty, that none of us is righteous, that none of us seeks after God, and that our only hope lies in Jesus, as the sufficient payment for our sin.

That not only tells me that something needs to change in my life, but it also tells me that if something doesn’t change, then it doesn’t matter how perfect I think I am, because there is still that weight that I have not yet laid aside through the power and work of God in my life.

And it’s only through our faith in the resurrected Christ that we are able to be set free from our burden of sin and death.

Going back to 1 Corinthians 15:54-57. “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ 55 ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

When Christ rose from the dead that Easter Sunday morning, He rose in victory over sin and death, so that they no longer have mastery over those who live by faith in Christ. And it’s how we can “run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

3. And this brings us to our final way that we can be assured that the resurrected Christ is the Author of faith, and that is, that there is a throne and Jesus is on it.

Look at Hebrews 12:2. “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The writer of Hebrews wants us to see that we are running a race in a particular direction. We are not running aimlessly.

I don’t know how many of us have seen the movie, Forrest Gump. But there comes a point in the movie when Forrest goes out for a run for no particular reason and in no particular direction. He goes from one end of the United States to the other and back again.

And there comes a point in his running when reporters start to ask him, “Why are you running? Are you doing this for world peace? Are you doing this for the homeless? Are you running for women’s rights? Or for the environment? Or for animals?” And Forrest’s response is, “I just felt like running.”

And church, our response to the Christian faith, the race that we are in, is that we are running in a particular direction for a reason, and that is, because of Jesus and what Jesus has done for us.

Look at the text. It says that we are to be looking to Jesus “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…”.

We looked at this on Good Friday, but follow this, if that’s where Jesus went, and if we’re following Jesus, then should we not also expect this?

I mean, think about it. If Christ is our aim, our goal, the perfect example of faith that we see in Scripture, and if Christ would eventually go to the cross to suffer and endure, then this would be what awaits us, His followers.

And I’m not saying this to bring down the joyous atmosphere of Easter Sunday. I’m merely pointing out the reality of who we are as followers of Christ.

But then, look at the last part of Hebrews 12:2. Where is Christ now? He is “seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

He did it. Christ is risen from the dead. He not only endured the cross, He conquered it. He not only despised the shame, He did away with it, completely, nailing it to the cross.

And because we do not worship a dead Saviour, but rather, a risen Saviour, who is seated at the right hand of God on His throne, what do we ultimately fear?

We worship a God on His throne. Amen? What can come our way that is not ultimately dealt with by the cross of Christ and that is not ultimately under the reign of the resurrected Christ? Pain, loss, guilt, shame—it’s all covered under the authority of Christ.

And church, our hope is that our faith in that Christ, of which He Himself is the Author, will one day be perfected. Revelation 21:4 speaks of a day when there will be no more death, no more mourning, nor crying, nor pain, “for the former things have passed away.” On that day, we will have life and life to the full. And we will forever be with Christ our Saviour. This is what the resurrection of Jesus ultimately promises us, His followers.

Do you believe it? That’s what this series on the Heroes of the Faith leaves us with. That’s what Easter Sunday leaves us with. Do you believe that what God has authored in you He will bring to completion? Do you believe that the resurrected Christ on His throne is the answer to the release of your burden of sin? Do you believe in the testimony of the witnesses who have gone before us?

My hope for us is that we will grab hold of this one faith and not let go, regardless of the road ahead, regardless of what we will be asked to endure, and regardless of whatever else we might be tempted to believe.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

May we go forth in joy, and may we let our voices ring with victory, for Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Let’s pray…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *