“The Miracle of Faith” (Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-16)
Sometimes I think about the impossibility of faith. I mean, if you stop and think about all the things that are working against faith, it’s amazing that any of us have it. To believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ and all that that involves, to trust in the goodness and the promises of God, in spite of all that would cause us to not believe–it’s simply amazing. And so today we’re going to talk about “The Miracle of Faith.”
Consider our Old Testament lesson for today, from Genesis 15. It relates a portion of the story of Abraham–or Abram, as he was still called at that point. Abraham, in the Bible, is often portrayed as “the father of faith,” the prime exemplar of someone who trusted in God’s promises. “And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness.” Likewise, in today’s Epistle, from Hebrews 11, Abraham is called forward as the man of faith: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance,” and so on. The promised land, the promise of a multitude of descendants “as many as the stars of heaven”–these promises Abraham believed. That’s faith, and that’s why Abraham is set forward as an example for us.
But think about all that was working against Abraham’s faith. To begin with, going back to Genesis 12, the Lord God called Abram from out of the blue, and told him to go to a land he had never seen, a land far, far away. What’s more, the Lord told him he would make of him a great nation. But at that point, Abram didn’t have any children at all, let alone the makings of a great nation. Besides that, Abram was an older man, and his wife, Sarah, was no spring chicken herself, well past childbearing years, and she had not been able to have any children even when she was younger. It looked like the deck was stacked against these crazy promises being fulfilled. And then Abram had to wait a whole bunch of years after the initial promise before he and his wife had a child.
If you look at it humanly speaking, there’s no way Abraham should have believed these wild, grandiose promises. Oh, and in some respects, Abraham did have his doubts from time to time. He got impatient with God and tried to take matters into his own hands, to get what he was looking for. Sound familiar? Do we ever do that? Get tired of trusting in God to come through for us?
But somehow the Lord restored Abraham when he faltered, and kept him in the faith. This is what I’m talking about when I say “the miracle of faith.” It takes a miracle, both to have faith in the first place and then to remain in that faith, despite the obstacles. It takes a miracle, because faith in God’s promises–it’s not just a matter of “humanly speaking.” Really, it’s a matter of God speaking, and that makes all the difference.
There are all these obstacles to faith working against us. Think about the believers mentioned in Hebrews 11. Take Abel, for instance: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” Yes, Abel still speaks, but how might we be hearing him? “Well, there I was, just going about my business, giving an offering to the Lord. But my brother got jealous of me, and one day he met him out in the field, and guess what? He killed me! Is that what I get for having faith in the Lord?” You see, that’s how we might take the example of Abel. Trust in God, and get murdered anyway. Betrayed by a member of your own family.
Life is not always easy for people who have faith in God. In fact, it can be very difficult, downright dangerous. Persecution, suffering for the sake of the gospel. These things can threaten our faith. We’re tempted to think that God isn’t looking out for us, that he doesn’t care what happens to us.
Oh, faith is a difficult thing, for so many reasons. Belief in Jesus Christ? How many of you here have ever seen this Jesus fellow? And you believe he is the very Son of God come in the flesh? That he did all those miracles mentioned in the Bible? That his getting crucified somehow covers the sins of the whole world? And that he then rose from the dead on the third day? Tell me, when was the last time you saw someone rise from the dead? And you believe this? You see, this whole faith thing should be impossible. Yet you believe. You’re staking your life, and your life after death, on this Jesus fellow you’ve never met. It must be a miracle. Or else you’re crazy, we’re all crazy, all the millions and millions of us Christians who have believed the gospel and held the faith, in spite of all the things we haven’t seen.
And what about all the times we haven’t seen God come through for us in the way we hoped? When our world comes crashing down on us, and there’s no magical happy ending. When the biopsy comes back “malignant.” When you get laid off from work, and you can’t find a decent-paying job. When your spouse leaves you. When your child takes a wrong turn in life. Where is God then? Your faith can be severely tested, severely shaken.
Faith in God’s goodness faces a tough challenge at times like these, and we need to be honest about that. Putting on a happy face and pretending the problems don’t exist won’t cut it. Faith has to be able to deal with these adverse realities.
What’s the answer to these challenges to faith, these obstacles we all face, in one form or another? The answer is–the answer comes in the very word of promise that comes from God himself. God’s Word creates and sustains the faith it calls for. God’s Word is alive and active. It is dynamic and powerful. This is why I say faith is a miracle. Because it is God’s doing, from start to finish.
When our faith is challenged–and it will be challenged, no question about it–when our faith is challenged and tested, what we need then is more of God’s Word. We need more gospel. This is what will enable us to face those tests and come out with our faith still intact, perhaps even stronger.
Faith is a miracle. For most of us, that miracle started in our baptism. There at the baptismal font, God put his name on us and made us his children. He put his claim on us and took us for his own. There in the blest baptismal waters, Christ’s holy blood washed away our sins. The Holy Spirit was given to us, the Spirit who creates and nourishes saving faith in us, and keep us in the one true faith our whole life long. In my own case, for instance, I was baptized as an infant and raised in the church, and I cannot remember any time in my whole life when I did not believe two things: 1) The Bible is God’s Word; and 2) Jesus is my Savior. My story is but one of a countless number of examples of how God’s gospel promise, delivered in Holy Baptism, does the job. It works. It works faith in the Christian believer, sustained by an ongoing life in Word and Sacrament.
What is this faith? It is not just a mere intellectual belief that there is some sort of a Higher Power up there. That is not saving faith. No, faith, biblically speaking, is much more specific and substantial than that. When we’re talking about faith, we’re talking about faith in the one true God–the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who has revealed himself to us in Holy Scripture, in the preaching and teaching of the gospel.
This gospel faith is focused in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who reveals the Father’s heart of mercy to us–Jesus Christ, whom the Holy Spirit bears witness to and glorifies. This Jesus Christ is indeed the very Son of God, the only Savior sent from heaven. He is your Savior, the one who came to rescue you from sin and death, and to give you forgiveness and everlasting life in their place. Jesus did this by going to a cross for you, shedding his blood for you, that you might have these gifts. Jesus did this for you by rising from the dead, showing the power of his victory, which will be your victory also, on the day when Christ returns and raises you to eternal life. These gifts are yours by grace. Receive them by faith. Faith takes hold of the promises of God, and all these promises are wrapped up in Christ.
Now with this gift of faith, you will be able to make it through all the challenges and obstacles you face in life. In spite of all the adversities and the setbacks and let-downs and the “How come all this bad stuff is happening to me?”–in spite of all that, your faith in God’s goodness will not be destroyed. Tested, yes, but not destroyed. You know that God is for you and with you, even when it doesn’t look like it. The ultimate proof is in the cross of Christ. This is the one thing you can hold on to, when everything else is falling apart.
The miracle of faith is a miracle, because it is all God’s doing, God working this faith in you through his powerful, dynamic word. This faith in Christ your Savior will see you through every obstacle you will face in life, and on into the life to come. Dear Christian, praise God for his mighty work of giving you faith and keeping you in it!