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Jack Graham - Champions of Faith - Part 1


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    Jack Graham - Champions of Faith - Part 1
TOPICS: Going the Distance, Heroes of Faith

If you've been with us a while, you know by now that the book of Hebrews is about enduring and maturing in Christ. As believers we face challenges and difficulties in our lives and many are tempted to give up because faith is difficult; faith is hard. Sometimes it's hard to believe. And so, we need a faith that is founded on a future that is secure and trust in a God. We often say, "Well, Lord, give me greater faith". And I prayed that; the disciples prayed that. Luke 17:5, "Lord, increase our faith". I pray that prayer often; "Lord, increase my faith". But, remember, it's not the size of your faith that matters most, but it's the size of your God. And we have a great God who responds when we come to Him in faith.

And as we move through Hebrews chapter 11, it is a veritable hall of heroes. It's been called the hall of fame, God's hall of fame, or the hall of faith. I'm calling this message, "The Champions of Faith" because we're going to meet individuals today and over the next couple of weeks who lived their life by faith. The recurrent theme of chapter 11 of Hebrews is by faith, by faith, by faith, by faith. Each one of these men and women lived their lives, faced challenges in their lives and overcame by faith. And therefore, they received the great reward, because God is the rewarder of them who diligently seek Him. And so, what was true of yesteryear, those believers way back, it's true for us today. Sometimes we look at these great Old Testament personalities and we think "these are super saints, superstars; I'm not in their category".

Well, frankly, every one of the men and women that we meet here in the Bible, Hebrews chapter 11, they were very ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives by faith. What sets them apart, what sets us apart is our faith. Now what is faith? Well, I should say at the outset, you know the faith that cannot be tested is a faith that can't be trusted. A faith that cannot be tested is a faith that cannot be trusted. So, expect your faith to be tested. But faith is entrusting your life to God through Jesus Christ. That's what faith is. Faith is entrusting your life to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. And when you have that kind of faith, you trust God regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of the consequences.

So, let's take a look today at three of these great champions in Hebrews chapter 11. It's a trio of trust, if you will. And these three men of faith offer us a powerful testimony today. The first one is named Abel. You, no doubt, have heard the story. Many people, most people who don't even know much about the Bible, know about the story of Cain and Abel. Two brothers, the sons of Adam and Eve. And verse 4 says, "By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous (righteous Abel), God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks", by faith.

Now we can do all kinds of mental gymnastics as to why God may have accepted the offering of Abel and rejected the offering of Cain. The story is told in Genesis chapter 4, if you want to read about it later. But the basic story is that these two men came with offerings to God. No doubt, they had been taught by their parents, Adam and Eve for the need to bring a sacrifice and offering to the Lord, for the forgiveness of sins. And so, Abel brought a sacrifice, the first of his flock. Again, the principle of bringing my best to the Lord. And you could preach about that all day long. He brought the first and the best to the Lord, a more excellent sacrifice. And Cain brought the fruit of the ground, vegetables. You could make the case that one brought a really good sacrifice, one just a plain old ordinary sacrifice, but that's really not the point.

The point, the contrast between the sacrifice of Abel which pleased God, and that's the goal, isn't it? To please God? God is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. And therefore, to please God, faith pleases God, as compared to the offering that was accepted because Abel pleased God and rejected because Cain did not please God, it's a very simple reason. One, Abel brought his gift by faith, and the other, Cain, did not. Now Abel brought an animal as a sacrifice, and therefore, perhaps, taught by his own father, his own mother, about the sacrifice for sin, even in the Garden of Eden at the very beginning of time when Adam and Eve sinned against God, they brought a sacrifice. They slew an animal and covered themselves with the skins of those animals. And the blood spilled in the Garden.

And this scarlet thread of redemption, this red redemption river begins to flow from the Garden of Eden throughout scripture, because all of the Bible bleeds. It's all about the blood and the sacrifice that is made that is pleasing to God. And so, they learned that lesson. And so, Abel brought this lamb. We don't know it was a lamb; it was an animal. I believe it was a lamb because it is a prophecy, it is a precursor of the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ "who takes away the sin of the world". All of the Old Testament sacrifices, beginning with Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, and all the rest through the Old Testament are pictures of the sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, the better sacrifice as Hebrews has told us of Christ who died on the cross for our sins. There are two kinds of religion in the world.

You say, "No, there are many kinds of religions. I've heard 9 or 10 religions in the world, major, and all these various cults and sects and religions in the world. And then there's Christianity and then there's Islam, and there's all kinds of religions". No, there are just two kinds of religion: true religion and false religion. True religion and false religion. What is true and what is not true. And false religion is any religion that commends ourselves to God. False religion is all the religions that says: If I bring the works of my hand. You see, that's what Cain did. Cain brought the fruit of his labor, the work of his hands, and thought it was good enough somehow for God. It's this powerful portrait, it's this picture of one who brought a blood sacrifice and the other, in obedience to God and faith in God, and another who came without faith and just handed over some vegetables from his garden. True religion and false religion.

The Bible talks about "the way of Cain", which is the way of death. The first murder happened shortly after this experience. Cain was somehow enraged by this event or something else, and he killed his own brother. And Abel became a martyr in effect because the Bible says, Genesis 4:10, "Abel's blood flows from the ground. Cries out from the ground". When it says that, "by faith Abel still speaks", his blood is speaking to us today because his blood speaks of a greater blood, the blood sacrifice of Christ. "In my hand no price I bring; Simply to the cross I cling". I'm calling the faith of Abel Christian faith. What was his faith? Christian faith.

You say, "How were Old Testament believers saved"? By looking forward to the coming of Christ, to the cross of Christ, believing in the One who was to come. We're saved by looking back and believing in the One who has come. But all are saved by faith through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ! So, Abel by faith offered this sacrifice that was accepted by God because he gave it with genuine faith. Jesus said, "Those who worship Me, worship Me in spirit and in truth". So, you can give all your money, you bring all your offerings, you can do many good deeds, you can attend church ten thousand times, you can do all of these things, but unless your faith is in the Lord Jesus Christ, you're on the way of Cain and not the way of Christ which is the way of the cross. You come to the cross, and the cross, symbolizing the death and the burial, the resurrection, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Abel still speaks today! And what does he say? The Gospel! Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except by Me". That's why I say there's true religion and false religion. It's either the way of Cain, or the way of Christ. And if Jesus is not the only way to heaven, He's none of the ways to heaven because He claimed to be the way, the truth, the life! And if you want to come to God, the Father, you come through Jesus Christ. Peter declared this, when he said, "There is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved, the name of Jesus". The saving, powerful name of Jesus! Do you want to be forgiven of your sin? Do you want to know that your life is pleasing to God? By faith come to Jesus Christ through His blood sacrifice for you on the cross.

I could say so much more about that, but let's move to the second person we meet in God's hall of fame here, and his name is Enoch. In the Hebrew it's pronounced Enoch [hard k: Enock]. Kind of have to have a cold to say it exactly right. Enock! Say that with me. Enock! Oh, don't spit on the person in front of you. Enock! And his story is briefly told. These are brief biographies. This one picks up from Genesis chapter 5. Hebrews 11:5, "By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him". Now before he was taken, he was commended as having pleased God. And then it says, "And without faith it is impossible to please God".

So, meet Enoch, and he is singled out as an example of faith because he walked with God. His was a continuing faith. If Abel's faith was a Christian faith, that's how you get started, by coming to Christ and pleasing God through the sacrifice of His Son. That's how we worship God. That's how we connect with God. Then Enoch is how we walk with God. The Christian life is described in the Bible as a walk; it's like a journey, and we're on our journey home to heaven. And as we go, we are walking with God. It's a beautiful picture. Why walking? Because as Christians we are followers of Jesus. Right? That's what a Christian is. A believer is follower of Jesus. Not just faith in faith or faith in myself, or faith in whatever, but faith in Jesus Christ. And if you are a believer, you're following Jesus. If you're not following Jesus, you're not a believer.

So, it's a walk. And it begins and ends through and through by faith. We see this long continuous walk and as a matter of fact when you turn to Genesis 5, it's an interesting passage. It's like a walk through a cemetery because we meet all the genealogies of the early people on earth, beginning with Adam and Eve. It says that Adam and Eve lived so many years and then they died. And then such and such, so and so was born and he died. And such and such was born and he died. And he was born and he died, and he was born and he died, and he was born and he died, he died, he died, he died, he died! Very depressing to read the fifth chapter. It's a reminder that we all die. But right in the heart of that passage it speaks of Enoch who walked with God.

Genesis 5:21-24, "When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. (A man that lived longer than any man on earth.) Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters". For 365 years he was trekking with the Lord; he was walking with God. And a walk with God means to walk with Him as a friend, is to know Him, to have a relationship with Him. Jesus is not someone I know about; He's someone I know, because I've been walking with Him a long time now.

When I was a young preacher, in fact, my first sermon, I was a student at Eastern Hill High School in Fort Worth, playing baseball, going to school, loving life. And I'd been called to preach, and I knew God had called me to preach, I'd gone forward in my church to tell our pastor Fred Swank that I wanted to be a preacher, God was calling me. And so shortly after that a pastor from South Fort Worth by the name of Frank Minton, He was a former major league baseball pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Now a pastor, then a pastor. And so he said, "You know, we want to have a youth service, Pastor Swank, and you have a young preacher over there who's an athlete that he could come over, speak to our young people". And Brother Swank recommended I go.

So that was my first really full sermon. You know what my text was? It was John 15:15, part of that, it says that, Jesus said, "I no longer call you servants, but my friends". And it just stunned me even as a youth, that I could be a friend of God! That I could know Jesus as a faithful friend in my life. And I can tell you after all these years, I preached that sermon. It was real then; it's even more real today! As I've been trekking with the Lord a long time now, walking with God. Not without missteps and mishaps, but walking with the Lord who's always there to pick you up when you fail, when you fall. He's there! Walking with the Lord. That's what happened to this man Enoch. He started walking with God. There was a definitive moment in your life. Do you see that?

There came a time, He was 65 years old. They were just getting started. Something happened in his life that brought him to faith, and you know what it was? When he was 65 years old Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah. The same thing happened to Enoch that happened to many of you who are holding your babies today. Many of us when we held our children and we realized, maybe you went to college and sowed some wild oats, you came out. You never knew if you were going to get back to church again. You sort of abandoned your faith. But then that child came. God put a new life in your arms. And you realized I have a responsibility now. I can't, I've got to grow up. I need a genuine faith. I can't do this on my own. I'm married now. I've got a family now. Many men in this room, you know it. You came to faith in Jesus Christ because you realized that God had given you a son or God had given you a daughter, and now you have the opportunity and the responsibility to set the pace for your children, for your family, to set the pace for your wife spiritually, to set the pace for your family.

I remember holding our first born, Jason in my arms. I was just 23 years of age. I didn't have a clue about how to be a father. But I knew I loved that boy and I knew I loved God, and I just said, "God, if I don't do anything else right in my life, let me be the father this boy needs". That's what happened to Methuselah, what happened to this man, and it was a moment in time. You see, you don't just kind of by osmosis kind of ease into the Christian life. No, there was a time, a place he began this walk with God. And he walked and he walked and he walked, and there's an amazing miracle that takes place in Enoch's life. At the end of his days, the end of his walk the Scripture said he was taken into the presence of Jesus.

In fact, Genesis 5 when it talks about him, it says, "And he was not". That is, people were looking for him because he was not! Why? Because God took him! He didn't die! And that's affirmed here in Hebrews chapter 11. He was taken into the presence of God! One day he was walking with God and he never came back to earth! I like the way the little girl told it to her mom after Sunday school class. They'd been studying Enoch's life and his story. And she said, the mom said, "What happened"? Said, "Well, mommy, Enoch was walking with God and they walked and they walked and they walked and they walked. And as the sun was going down at the end of the day, and God turned to Enoch and said, 'Enoch, we're closer to My house than yours. Why don't you just come home with Me?'"

For the Christian death is going home. The rapture, when Jesus comes to take us home, is going into the presence of the Lord, we walk right in to heaven. That's what Enoch did. This is a prediction and a prophecy of the day when Christ comes to take us. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, "Then the trumpet will sound, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. And then, we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, will be caught up together with them in the air to meet the Lord in the air. And so will we ever be with the Lord"! We will be taken, like Enoch, translated. Like Elijah translated into the presence of the Lord! Sometimes I feel like that old country preacher who said, "Man, I'm not looking for the undertaker; I'm looking for the upper taker"! We keep our eyes on the horizon. And whether it is through the portals of death, the doorway of death or whether it is through the rapturous return of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are walking into the presence of the Lord! We're going somewhere! We're going to heaven.

There's one final man I'm going to mention briefly. His name is Noah. He represents a courageous faith. You know the story of Noah and the ark. And we're told in Hebrews 11 as we meet this man, that "By faith Noah, being warned of God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith". Remember, it's not self-righteousness. Abel taught us that! Correct? Not self-righteous, not what I bring, but righteousness that is given by God through Christ. And then we begin walking with God. We worship God, we walk with God, and then we start witnessing of our God.

That's what Noah did in his generation, a very dark and depraved and degenerate generation, those days before the flood. Terrible time to try to walk with God. And don't you know people thought he was totally insane crazy? They did. They mocked him. "That crazy old man, down there building a boat. He says unless you get on the boat it's going to rain. There's going to be something called a flood. We're all going under"! Nobody believed. He preached, he witnessed for 120 years, and didn't have one single come, and nobody even believed. He kept saying, "You better repent". He said, "There's grace. In fact, I'm going to name this boat the Good Ship Grace. And you can get on this boat and you can be saved. You can walk up the plank of faith and get on the grace and you'll be saved".

Mrs. Noah was standing in line at the supermarket. We don't know Noah's wife's name, we're not told in the Bible, but I know Noah's wife's name. You know what Noah's wife's name is? Joan of Arc, don't you know that? So Joan is standing in the shopping line, and you know, the ladies that are there, they say, "See, see her? That's Joan, crazy Noah's wife. He says that flood and judgment is coming. Poor thing". The kids are mocked at school. Crazy old Noah. No, he wasn't crazy; he was courageous. He believed God, and by faith he did what God told him to do and he built an ark. And after 120 years God's mercy and judgment. So longsuffering; grace was available, accessible all those many, many years, and Noah preached and he preached and he preached. And one day something started coming out of the sky a little bit at a time, a little more and a little more. Never seen anything like this, and now it's raining! And then there's more rain and more rain. And now it's flooding!

The people realize too late that Noah was right! That a judgment was coming! Because the Bible says. Hebrews 9:25, "It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment". And the judgment was on! God had shut the door. God put Noah and his family in the ark. The only people who believed were the eight in Noah's family. God shut the door, it says, and shut them in. The rain's falling, people are swimming to the ark. "Noah! For God's sake, Noah, let us in! Let us in". But it was too late, grace was no more. And they all perished according to the Bible, save Noah who lived by faith and preached it by faith. And he is a testimony today and along with this powerful story, that the only way to live in days of judgment, terrible days of depravity and degeneracy and violence and vileness that's in the world today. You know, our world's not as bad as Noah's world. I mean it's pretty bad but at least there are more believers than eight in our time!

I'm just telling you that I know it may be difficult to live for the Lord in times like these when so many are not, and so many don't believe your story, many do not believe your words, they don't believe in Christ, but by faith you keep believing; you keep trusting in God. I'm here with the same message as Noah, that grace is available through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that you don't have to face a sure and sudden judgment that is to come. There is a judgment coming. Galatians 6:7, "Don't be deceived; God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will also reap". There's a judgment coming. And I'm here like Noah, preaching and pleading and saying by faith trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and your Savior. Walk up that plank of faith and get on the ship of grace by receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and your Savior.
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