Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | July 5, 2010

Sermon on Hebrews 11:5-6

Downloadable Version

Faith Takes You Away

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This morning we prayed:  O God, you have prepared joys beyond understanding for those who love you.  Pour into our hearts such love for you that, loving you above all things, we may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire. That man who walked with God, Enoch, might have prayed this himself.  It expresses well the content of faith.  Enoch, like us, to paraphrase one Lutheran commentary, knew that his only hope for a life worth living and a death worth dying centered on the blessed Seed, the promised offspring of Eve.  Enoch sang with the psalmists, God will redeem my soul from the grave and You will take me into glory.

And so too we.  Because this is the faith that is pleasing to God.  Faith is not just simply saying, “There is a God!”  Even the devils believe that.  Nor is faith saying, “Well, if I work hard enough, God will reward me with heaven.”  Those are damnable additions to the Scriptural testimony that have sent millions of souls to hell because they are not putting faith in the true God.  Rather, we see that Luther had it right in his lectures on Hebrews when he said, For this reason another faith is needed, namely, the faith by which we believe that we are numbered among those for whom God exists and is a Rewarder.  But this faith does not come from nature, it comes from grace. It is this faith, faith that comes from God, faith that is placed in the atoning work of Christ on the cross, not me, faith that moves us to walk with God, as Enoch did, not to earn our way to heaven, this faith is pleasing to God.  And more, this faith takes you away, just as it did Enoch.  Yes, FAITH TAKES YOU AWAY.

We know tantalizingly little about Enoch.  Moses only recorded those verses we heard earlier:  When Jared had lived 162 years, he became the father of Enoch….  When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters.  Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. That’s it.  Hebrews doesn’t add much more to that.  The only other detail we have in Scripture comes from Jude, who told us that Enoch was a prophet with this as his message:  The Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him. Our knowledge of Enoch is now exhausted.  But we know enough.  He was a man of faith.  Moses’ “He walked with God” is synonymous with Hebrews by faith. And it was this faith that made Enoch pleasing to God, that, in fact, moved God to make Enoch one of the most unique men in history.  He never died.  He was just taken.

What a gift from God!  Because, you’ll recall, Enoch’s ancestor, Adam, had been told, To dust you will return. Beginning with Adam, the inevitable end of life is death.  Except when faith enters the picture.  Jesus said it today in John, If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death. Likewise, John 11, Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.  Whoever lives and believes in me, will never die. Normally, those words refer to eternal life, to heaven.  For the believer, death is only a sleep from which we will wake up with Jesus in heaven.  Here, God literally carries out those words.  For Enoch, it meant actually not dying.  God wished Enoch to avoid death, because the testimony about Enoch was that he was pleasing to God.  Enoch lived life rightly.  He walked with God, that is, if God said it, he did it.

Wait a minute, that sounds suspiciously like works righteousness.  Enoch was so good, that God took him to heaven.  Always remember the words of Jesus, I am the vine, you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear fruit.  Apart from me you can do nothing. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession put it three ways:  The Law is not kept without Christ.  Works are pleasing because of faith.  Without Christ the commandments are not kept and cannot please. Enoch was pleasing to God not in himself, but on account of his faith, faith that came from the Holy Spirit when Enoch’s father, Jared, told him about the Savior.  We must always keep things in order.  Faith always comes first.  Good works always follow.  It can’t be otherwise.  And that’s the point, Without faith it is impossible to please God. This isn’t faith plus works.  It’s faith that shows itself by works.  You could do all the works in the world, but if it’s not motivated by the Holy Spirit based on and compelled by the love of Christ for you, then it’s not pleasing to God.  But, moved by faith, works are pleasing to God.  He rewards faith because in Christ He has declared you and your deeds righteous!  As Jesus said, Great is your reward in heaven! Faith means no eternal death.  And Enoch is the living proof.  Like us, he did not die.  But God dramatically demonstrated the point by just taking him up to heaven, the exception that proves the rule.

Someday that will be us, on account of Christ.  Jesus told the disciples, Because I live, you also will live. And Paul wrote, We do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Just like Enoch.

But, wait, there’s more.  God took Enoch after only 365 years.  That was about one-third of the life span of people then.  His removal spared him from so many terrible things:  the death of children; the falling away of children from faith; sickness; injury; interpersonal conflicts; wars and rumors of wars; earthquakes, famines, and natural disasters.  Enoch was graciously spared from hundreds of years of all the manifestations of the Lord’s anger over his sins.  God, in his grace, spared him.  What has God spared you from over the years?  Because this is a promise attached to your faith as well.  Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well, Jesus says.  He promises that a life of faith results in being taken care of by the Father.  Or, later, No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields – and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. What has He spared you from?  The longer you live, the more you see.

Perhaps, though, you’re saying, “God hasn’t spared me from all that much!  What’s the deal?”  Perhaps then it’s time to see how much of your life is spent walking with God and how much is spent walking with someone else somewhere else.  Luther writes about the 1st Commandment:  A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god. Now is the time to see that you are walking with God.  Now is the time to make adjustments in your habits, your priorities and your routines.  Because just as God took Enoch from life so quickly, He can take us so quickly.  Death is just around the corner and coming closer.  Is my life a by faith life or not?

These words of Hebrews are both comfort and warning.  The comfort is seeing God take care of Enoch, releasing him from a world of sin and bringing him to paradise.  The warning is found in verse six.  Here we have the one place in our chapter of faith where we talk about not having faith.  God strips you of all comfort and hope found in yourself.  God forces you back to Jesus and the cross.  With Paul we say, Who will rescue me from this body of death? And we hear, There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! We understand anew the comfort of the Word that is written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the comfort of Baptism that excludes and repels all the works that we do, because it’s God washing us clean, the comfort of the Holy Supper, by which God says, “You’re hungry, I’ll feed you!”  This is faith.  It sees beyond what the eyes see, it sees beyond pain and anguish, hunger and sorrow and sees the God who is – who is with us, in the flesh, dying for us, rising for us – and the God who rewards.  He gives life now and into eternity.  Like Abraham who saw Jesus day and rejoiced, like Enoch who walked with God, by faith we have seen Jesus, and seeing Jesus is our reward, it is our life, now and forever.  It takes you away!  Amen!

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