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Faith: Seeing the Invisible (Hebrews 11:23-27)
Have you ever tried to do one of those children's puzzles which has objects hidden in a picture? There is a line-drawing of a scene in the woods on the puzzle box. Upon glancing at it, you see some trees, an old log lying on the ground, a stream running through the middle, and some plants growing along the water's edge. That is all.
But the instructions say, "Can you find hidden in this picture a duck, a house, a boy, a bucket, a zebra, and a boot?"
Looking more carefully, you see them jumping out at you. There is the boy in the plants by the stream, the duck is on the side of the old log, and -- wonder of wonders -- the zebra is upside down in the tree.1
You saw none of these things until you really began looking for them -- searching for them in unlikely places. They had been invisible to you, but before long you began to see the invisible.
Seeing the invisible is not something we are very good at. It is just not our nature to try. But it can be done.
Witness a man in the wilderness of Midian. His name was Moses. He had never intended to come to the wilderness. He had been reared in the palace of the Pharaoh in Egypt. But he was a Hebrew.
In manhood, he became concerned about his Hebrew brethren who were slaves in the land. One day when he came upon an Egyptian mistreating one of the Hebrew slaves, he was enraged. He intervened and killed the Egyptian with his bare hands.
As a result of that, Moses had to run for his life; he ran east to the land of Midian. For 40 years he lived there. He married, raised a family, worked with his flocks, and maintained his faith.
He kept on believing that there was meaning and purpose in life. He kept on believing that God had a purpose for his life.
Now, how did he do that? How did he remain faithful and hopeful?
The Bible says "He endured, as seeing him who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27). Here was the source of his strength and power: he was living in the midst of a strange and alien land sustained by the grace and power of God. He saw Him! He was "seeing him who is invisible."
That is the great need of all of us today. We desperately need to see the invisible.
Yet, we find that difficult to do. Abraham Heschel once said that we have that problem with the prophets. He spoke of the prophets as being "one octave too high for our ears."2
While some things are hard for us to hear, others are hard for us to see -- especially the invisible. How do we do it?
I. How Do We See the Invisible?
Parents can help their children develop this capacity. Moses had his first lesson in seeing the invisible at a very early age. In fact, the first lesson was probably rooted in his subconscious because he certainly could not consciously remember it.
The Pharaoh had issued a decree that all the male babies born to the Hebrews should be thrown into the river. Shortly after that decree, Moses was born to a Hebrew woman named Jochabed and her husband whose name was Amram.
These parents were faced with a choice. They knew that the Pharaoh had decreed that this little baby should be killed. If they violated the decree, they themselves might be killed.
They made their decision: they would not kill their child. They would hide him rather than surrender him to the Egyptians. Hebrews 11:23 records, "By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king's commandment."
From his earliest days Moses saw faith modeled in the lives of his parents. They did not know whether they would live or die, but they lived their lives looking to the invisible God for grace and strength.
Parents need to show children how to live, as seeing Him who is invisible. Sometimes it may seem you do your best to model that kind of faith, but you are not getting through. Maybe it is entirely too early to tell whether you are getting through.
One parent said that sound travels much more slowly than scientists say. She said, "Some things you say when your kids are teenagers don't reach them till they're in their 40s."
It often takes a while for the message to get through. But we have to continue sending the message.
The big award winner at the 1992 Grammy Awards was Natalie Cole. She won several Grammys for her album and her song. The song was unique. It was an old song done by her father, Nat King Cole. Using the old sound track, she sang along with her father, in a brilliant duet, the haunting words of his old song. The title of the song that the daughter and father sang was "Unforgettable."
Unforgettable! That is the word for the influence of a father on a daughter. Unforgettable is the influence of parents on children. When parents are willing to do more about faith than just talk about it -- when they demonstrate it -- then their influence is unforgettable. Long before Moses lived as "seeing Him who is invisible," he saw his parents demonstrate that way of living.
How on earth can we live that way? How can we see the invisible? We can often best see the invisible when the visible recedes.
Moses' life had been crammed with the visible. Pharaoh's daughter had found him in the river where his parents had hidden him. She had brought him to live in the house of the Pharaoh as her own son. He grew up surrounded by pomp and circumstance.
All of that changed, however, when he was forced to flee for his life to Midian. Suddenly the rug had been pulled from under his feet. He had been living in the lap of luxury but that all changed.
One man, who was trying to cope with several economic reversals in his life, said "I used to live in the lap of luxury -- then luxury stood up."
That's what happened to Moses. Suddenly, his life shifted from the palace of Egypt to the wilderness of Midian. No longer was he surrounded by the visible glitter of Egypt. Yet, out in the wilderness he found it far easier, and far more necessary, to see Him who is invisible!
That happens in the wilderness moments of life. While trips to the wilderness are unsettling and difficult, they are also instructive.
Sam Rutigliano is a former NFL football coach. He and his wife lost a child over thirty years ago. It was a time of profound sorrow in their lives. But it was also a time when they turned to God with a renewed sense of dependence on Him.
Rutigliano, in a recent talk about the experience with an interviewer, quoted an old proverb. He said, "The things which hurt, instruct."3
Painful things are very effective instructors. Sometimes when a lot of visible things are taken away, we can see more than we ever could before. The power and permanency of God become more obvious than ever.
Walter Winchell was a well-known radio newsman during World War II. Once after a particularly dark week during which the port of Singapore fell to the Japanese, Winchell closed his broadcast with this sentence, "Singapore has fallen, but the Rock of Ages stands."4
Thank God that He stands!
You may be walking through the wilderness today. It may seem that everything of value has fallen. But I say to you that the Rock of Ages stands. It may take the visible clutter of our lives to fall away before it becomes easier for us to see the visible. Sometimes in the wilderness you can see farther and more clearly than at any other time in life.
Seeing the invisible -- it is a challenge. We can best see the invisible when we have genuine faith.
That is what the writer of Hebrews said to begin this chapter. Hebrews 11:1 declares, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
That was how Moses experienced the wilderness. "By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible" (Hebrews 11:27).
It was by faith that he left Egypt, and it was by faith that he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. When the pressure was on him, he responded by faith. How do you respond to that kind of pressure?
After a hurricane came near his residence, a man turned in an insurance claim on his homeowner's policy. He explained that when the hurricane was approaching, he heard a radio weatherman tell his audience they should crack the windows in their houses in order to balance the air pressure. So he took a hammer and cracked every window in his house!
That is often the way we handle pressure. We crack under the pressure. We reach out for visible means of support and are often blind to our ultimate source of strength.
What we need is faith. We have been called to walk by faith not sight. The just shall live by faith. We are not to "look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18). We are invited to call upon Him by faith.
I have read that, on an average day, the president of the United States gets 5,000 telephone calls. That number doubles in times of crisis. Of course the president talks only to a very small number of these himself. He talks only to those who hold high positions of power and influence.
I want you to know that it is different with God. He invites you to call upon Him. He hears every prayer. He invites you to look to Him by faith, for it is by faith that we can see the invisible.
II. What Kind of God Is It That You Can See?
He is a mighty God of power. Who can ever forget Moses' ultimate experience of seeing the invisible?
In the middle of this trackless wilderness, he saw a bush that burned and burned and was not consumed. He turned aside to investigate the fire and came face to face with God. God said to him, "[Moses], put off the shoes from thy feet because the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5). And Moses was overwhelmed with awe, wonder, and reverence at this encounter with this God of power and might.
Have you seen this God lately? Or have you ever seen Him?
Have you ever wondered why so many people in our day go to see horror movies and tales of the supernatural? One of the reasons may be that in our very nature there is a need for a sense of awe, a sense of the mysterious, an experience with that which we cannot control. In other words, there is a hunger to see God. Since many people do not have this need met by an experience with the holy God, they turn to all kinds of cheap and unworthy substitutes in an effort to meet this basic human need.5
When you see the invisible, you see a God who is mighty, powerful, holy. This God is big enough for every moment in life, including the wilderness moments of life.
Now, what happens when you see the invisible?
III. What Is the Result of Seeing the Invisible?
I will tell you what the result was in Moses' life: Moses endured.
Out in that harsh environment when it seemed as though God had forgotten him and had no plans for his future, Moses endured. He refused to quit. He would not give up. When some offered other gods, quick fixes, and easy ways out, Moses refused them all. He endured.
My friends, that is what God can do for you. He can give you the grace and strength to endure. Your unwavering obedience, dedication, and commitment are the things you need.
An old legend tells of a man who went to see a great man of God and asked for guidance in his quest to become a holy man. The old teacher told the man he was to plant a dry stick in the sand and to water it daily.
The man went home and planted the stick in the sand, but the only source of water was many miles away. He left each evening to fetch the water, and returned at dawn each day.
For three years the man patiently fulfilled his instructor's command. Month after wearying month, he watered and waited, watered and waited, with no signs of life.
At the end of the three years, a change took place. The stick suddenly put forth leaves and in a short period of time bore fruit. The old teacher came to look at the fruit. He picked it up and carried it to the table of the residence.
He then invited all of the people in to eat. He said to them, "Come and taste the fruit of obedience."6
Thank God for the fruits of obedience. Thank God for people of faith who endure. Thank God for those who turn their wildernesses into places of triumph in their lives. Thank God for those who see God in unlikely places.
How can you make it through these coming days? How can you find hope, purpose, and promise in your life? How can you endure? There is only one way -- you can endure "as seeing Him who is invisible."
1. Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Harper's Magazine Press, 1974), p. 17. Adapted.
2. Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962), 1:9.
3. Peter King, "The Beginning of the End," Sports Illustrated (October 14, 1991), p. 74.
4. Paul Powell, "The Gospel for the Graveside," Proclaim (July-September 1991), p. 12.
5. See Harold Kushner, Who Needs God (New York: Summit Books, 1989), pp. 47-65.
6. Tilden Edwards, Spiritual Friend (Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980).
Cited by Bob Benson and Michael W. Benson, Disciplines for the Inner Life(Waco, TX: Word Books, 1985), p. 234.
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