Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.
Think about the greatest gift that you ever received in your life. It might have been a toy, a game, car, or house. If we are married and are smart, we would say that the greatest gift we ever received was our spouse. Believe it or not, there is an even greater gift that you have received. You have received the gift of everlasting life. So just how exactly did you receive this gift? Did you buy it? Did you earn it? Did you do something for it? The answer is no; you did nothing to buy it, nothing to earn it, and you did nothing for it. This is a gift.
St. Paul tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God….” You see, all of this is a gift granted to you by faith. Faith is the key to all of this. Faith is something that is given to you, not something that we make or create. Paul makes that clear in his letter to the Romans: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Faith is something that comes from the outside, not from the inside. There isn’t anything that we can do to have faith; it must be given to us. The Holy Spirit gives faith to us. It comes to us in the Word of God. It comes to us in Holy Baptism. It comes to us in the Lord’s Supper. It comes to us through Christ, who died for our sins. Only through these means does true faith come.
What is the true faith? The writer to the Hebrews tells us at the beginning of chapter 11: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” All throughout our text for today, we read about those people who lived throughout biblical times and the faith which they had, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Each and every person whom the author of Hebrews mentions was a person of great faith. You have Abraham, Moses, the prophets and patriarchs. All were great people of faith, yet each of them experienced pain in their lives, all stemming from the faith that they had in God.
Faith is what saved the people of the Old Testament, since they did not experience the Messiah. Instead, they had faith in the promise of the Messiah. Faith is ultimately all that Abraham had. Abraham is often called “the father of the faithful.” It was promised to Abraham that it would be his descendants who would inherit the kingdom of God. However, even the “father of the faithful” had his share of trials and tribulations and pain along the way. His most painful moment came when God commanded him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, to God.
Instead of scoffing at God’s request, Abraham took his only son and went to the land of Moriah to offer him as the sacrifice, just as God had told him to do. When Isaac questioned about where they would find the lamb for the sacrifice, Abraham told him, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Instead of losing or questioning his faith, he continued strong in his faith, even in the face of what was to happen, that God would provide. In the end, the faith of Abraham did not waiver. Abraham focused on God rather than on the circumstances of the impending sacrifice and God ultimately provided a ram for the sacrifice instead of Isaac.
So has God provided a sacrifice for you. He provides the very sacrifice that He asks of Abraham – His one and only Son. But unlike Isaac, there would be no ram to replace Him. Instead, God sacrifices His one and only Son so that we, the poor, miserable sinners that we are, would receive life through the blood of the sacrifice. That works great for us living in a post-Jesus era, but what about all those before us in our text today? What about those who lived pre-Jesus? Does that mean that they are without life? Of course not!
As the writer of Hebrews expounds on Moses and the people of Israel, and others, faith is all that they had. Faith is all that any of us have. Our faith is in Jesus Christ, the greatest of all promises. This promise includes the resurrection and the glorification of our bodies when Christ shall appear in His second coming to those who are expecting Him for salvation. This promise is a promise for you and for me and for all believers in Christ Jesus.
For us sinners, we have been given faith by the Holy Spirit in our Baptism. We who are sinners have been united with God forever as His beloved children through what Christ has done for us, through Baptism and through His life, death and resurrection. We have the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus Christ.
So what happens when our faith is weakened or when it seems that God has given up on us, that He has left us to our sinful vices? First, know that God has not given up on you, His beloved and baptized children. Even when Israel turned their backs on God over and over again, God did not utterly abandon them. Yes, He let evil befall them. They lost their land, their lives, even their identity, but God was still their God and would preserve them.
For you, God is still your God and will preserve you. He will lift you up when you are at your lowest point in your sinful lives. He has promised that in your Baptism, that you have His name placed upon you and that you are His forever. That promise is yours.
So, what sins do you cling to today? What weighs you down in the marathon of your life as a Christian? What sins trip you up? Whatever it is, the text is clear: lay it aside. How do we do that? Confess it. Speak to God of your sins that He already knows: acknowledge them before Him. And rejoice: rejoice because the Lord has comfort upon comfort in our epistle to give you this day.
This grueling race is already won. Every other religion tells you that the prize is yours if you run the race well enough. But this is not so. Jesus has already run the race. He has already become flesh to endure the cross for you. He has despised its shame—the shame of being found guilty of all the sins of the entire world, for they were all heaped upon Him. Yet He has endured the cross so that you might be delivered from your sin.
Jesus remains the victor. He sits at the right hand of the throne of God: He is His Father’s right-hand God-man for you. He does not grow weary or discouraged about your soul; rather, He continues to work all things for your good, actively preserving you in the one true faith throughout the race.
Your ultimate joy is this: knowing that you are not alone, for Christ is with you now. He is the author and finisher of your faith: it is He who is the source of the faith you have, and it is He who has completed the cross so that your faith and salvation might be fulfilled. He is the author and finisher, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. But He is not far away: He is with you. In your endurance run, who has given you the living, life-giving water of Holy Baptism? It is none other than Christ Himself. Who continues to feed and strengthen you for whatever race remains? It is your Savior, with His own body and blood.
It’s an endurance run, this life of a Christian. Christ has run His course from heaven to the cross and back again, enduring the judgment for sin so that you might be set free. Take heart, dear friends, for your race is run and won already, because you are forgiven all of your sins. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.