Every once in a while, I will hear that someone has been inducted into this hall of fame or that hall of fame. Maybe the Country Music or Rock-and-roll Hall of Fame, and I think “Seriously, what took them so long?” I would have assumed that they would have been there long ago. But then again, nobody asked my opinion. And while I can’t speak to sports, those of you who follow hockey and baseball probably have had that feeling at one time or another.
The Bible has its own Hall of Fame, part of it was read for you earlier. It’s found in Hebrews Chapter 11 and often it is referred to as the “Faith Hall of Fame”.
And for the most part, we understand why those who are listed are listed. It starts with Abel, the younger son of Adam and Eve, who offered a better sacrifice than his brother Cain did. And then for thirty-five verses example after example of faithful people are given. Noah who built an ark, Abraham who became a father in his old age, and then Abraham’s son, grand son and great-great-grandson, that would be Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph and then the author highlights Moses and the faith that he had to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land. And finally, we read Hebrews 11:32 How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets.
This is week five of our Step Out series at Cornerstone. And over the past month we’ve been looking at various stories in the Bible where people were asked to step out in faith.
Stories of miracles, and stories of healings, and they all began the same way, with a request or a promise that seemed impossible.
This story is not so much of a promise, but more a story of a result.
Nobody really knows who wrote the book of Hebrews, many would suggest that it was the apostle Paul but there are enough differences between this letter and others that he wrote in writing style and structure to cast at least a shadow of doubt.
Among the suggestions of who the writer may have been, Priscilla is gaining more and more acceptance, and if that is the case, she would be the only female writer of the New Testament.
And so today, we are landing in the book of Hebrews in one of my favourite chapters. In most of the stories that are told in Hebrews 11 there are some really neat things happening, nations begin, arks are built, and people are rescued. But listen again to the scripture that was read earlier Hebrews 11:5 It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying— “He disappeared, because God took him.” For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God.
That sounds like something out of science fiction. “Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying.” You might say “there he was and then there he was, gone.”
That is so cool, and it’s even cooler in the King James Version because it reads Hebrews 11:5 KJV By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.
Enoch was translated. I’ve had my words translated, and we all know what that means. You speak using words from one language and they are repeated in a different language. One night on my first trip to Africa, my friend Nick Graham spoke in English. His words were translated into a second language, and then another person translated them into a third language.
So, we know that when you translate a language, the message remains the same, but the words used are different. In the original language, the word used meant “To change, or to turn”.
HC Wilson is a good friend of mine, who gave oversight to the Wesleyan Church worldwide, before he retired, and I heard him refer on some occasions to translators as “Word Turners”
So, Enoch was changed, he was turned from one thing into another thing, while the essence of who he was remained the same. And we don’t know how, not at all. And if anyone tells you they know how it happened they are bluffing.
But it is a neat concept. When I was trying to figure out what happened and how it happened, this is what came to mind
(scene from Disney’s Cinderella). The essence of who Cinderella was remained the same, but she had been changed and translated.
Every one of us will experience the change that happens that happens between life and death.
Quite a number of years ago now Joe Diffie had a song called “Prop me up beside the Juke Box When I’m Gone.” And that’s why I love country music.
And in the song, there is a line that says “I’m not afraid of dying it’s the thought of being dead.” But for most of us it is the opposite, we’re not afraid of being dead it’s the thought of dying and not knowing what that will look like.
And I don’t think I’m alone in that. Four hundred years ago Francis Bacon wrote, “I do not believe that any man fears to be dead, but only the stroke of death.” And fifty years ago Woody Allen said virtually the same thing “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
And probably if most of us were honest here today, we would admit to the same thing. That we have the assurance of an eternity with God, but we aren’t really looking forward to the journey.
It’s like travelling with Angela, she wants to be wherever it is we are going but she hates to fly and doesn’t look forward to that part of the trip.
If we could be assured of the transition and that it would be peaceful, then perhaps we could say with Samuel Butler “To die is but to leave off dying and do the thing once for all.” Or Joyce Cary who said, “I look upon life as a gift from God. I did nothing to earn it. Now that the time is coming to give it back, I have no right to complain.”
I love the Meme that says, “I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather, not screaming like the passengers in his car.”
But we don’t get that choice; most of us won’t get to pick how or when we are going to go.
So, what do we know about Enoch? Not much. He is mentioned three times in the New Testament. Here in Hebrews, in the book of Luke, he is mentioned in the genealogy of Christ and there is a brief and obscure reference to a prophecy of his in the book of Jude.
There is almost as much written about him in Hebrews 11 as there was in the original story where we read in Genesis 5:21–24: When Enoch was 65 years old, he became the father of Methuselah. After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch lived in close fellowship with God for another 300 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him.
Now some of you have fixated on the fact that Enoch lived 365 years and you are stuck there. And you are thinking “365 years that is impossible. How can I believe the bible when it makes statements like that?”
You know I don’t have a problem with that. Some people have said that it was just a different way of counting back then. I tried that different way of counting when I was taking math in school, didn’t work out so good for me.
But you know I’m quite content to say “ok, he lived 365 years, let’s move on.” Because it wasn’t even that long in the big scheme of things back then. The bible tells us that Enoch’s son, Methuselah, lived for 969 years. Enoch was just middle aged when he was translated.
And I wouldn’t worry too much about not living that long Mark Twain got it right when he said, “Methuselah lived to be 969 years old. You boys and girls will see more in the next fifty years than Methuselah saw in his whole lifetime.” And if that was true over a hundred years ago think of how more you will see today.
My theory, if you are interested in it, is that when humanity was so close to creation, it wouldn’t have been unusual for people to live that long. Have you ever made a copy of a copy of a copy? Starts to get a little fuzzy, doesn’t it? Every step away from the original means that the copy gets a little less crisp and clear. If we believe the bible account, then Enoch was only six copies from the original.
But really, what does it matter to you? You probably won’t live to be 365 years old. If you are lucky, you won’t have a child at 65 and you probably won’t be translated.
Although in saying that you understand that we believe that Christ will return, that is part of the promise that we are given in the bible, and here is another part of that promise. 1 Corinthians 15:51–52 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.
Sure, sounds like what happened to Enoch. But that is a whole different sermon.
But ultimately we have very little control over when or how we will die, but what we do have control over is how we will live. So, today I want to focus on what we can learn about living from Enoch.
If we go back to where we started we read Hebrews 11:5 It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.” For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God.
Enoch is not on the list because he built an ark or fought a giant, he is on this list for one reason only “He was known as a person who pleased God.” Well that is a given, I would suspect that each of the people on this list pleased God, that’s how they got on the list.
But in the other cases we are told how they pleased God, so let’s return to the original story to see if we can find some clarity. Genesis 5:23–24 Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him.
So, Enoch pleased God by walking with God, but what does that mean? Especially for today.
Let’s go back to the premise that every journey begins with a single step. There was a time that Enoch decide that he would walk with God, and he took that step.
In the book of Deuteronomy, we read Deuteronomy 26:17 You have declared today that the Lord is your God. And you have promised to walk in his ways, and to obey his decrees, commands, and regulations, and to do everything he tells you.
Stepping Out Requires a Choice
One of the basic tenets of Christianity is the doctrine of “Original Sin” or “Inherent Depravity”. That is the belief that we all have been born sinful and with what some would call a bent toward sin.
There are some who would debate this and lean the other way and talk about the innocence of children and how people are inherently good. A number of years ago I had a chance to be on CBC radio on a panel speaking about communities of faith and the environment.
The other speaker was from the Shambala Community and he kept referring to the inherent goodness of man and how if left to their own devices they would do the right thing. But in the same breath he spoke about how the government needed to legislate this or that. But if man is inherently good and will do the right thing if left to their own devices then the government shouldn’t have to legislate anything.
The bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and try as we will we can never bridge the gulf between sinful man and a holy God, it is just too great. And the path that we walk by default is a path that leads away from God and into an eternity devoid of God and goodness and light and love. A destination the bible refers to as hell.
But God sent his Son to provide a different path, a path that would lead to God and goodness, to light and to love. A destination that the bible refers to as heaven.
But it requires a choice. It was Robert Frost who wrote
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both.
And be one traveller, long I stood.
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;”
Like Robert Frost, many of us come to that juncture and want to travel both, but the reality is we can’t. Walking with God will require a choice. And when we choose to walk with God, we will have the words in our heart that Frost finished his poem with.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference
It wasn’t long after the story of Enoch that we read the story of Noah and it begins with these words, Genesis 6:9 This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.
While the rest of society walked a path of disobedience and rebellion Noah choose to walk in close fellowship with God.
If you have never chosen to be a Christ Follower, then today is the day. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:2 For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation.
That conscious act to walk with God begins when you acknowledge that you are a sinner and need forgiveness and you turn from your sinful nature and turn to God. That is called repentance. And the next step is accepting the reality that your sins have been forgiven and your new life is about to begin. Which leads us to the next point.
The Old Testament Prophet Amos asked in Amos 3:3 Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?
That, of course, is a rhetorical question. Stepping out Requires Direction and Movement If we are going to walk with God, then we will need to walk in the same direction as God is walking.
Sometimes we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want the end result of walking with God, but we want to walk where we want to walk and how we want to walk. And that can’t happen.
Jesus told us in John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.” The converse is also true, if you don’t obey his commandments, then you don’t really love him.
And in proverbs Solomon tells us Proverbs 21:3 The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer him sacrifices.
And how do we know what is right and wrong? Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.
Too often I meet Christians who know they are being disobedient, but they are way too eager to play the grace card. “Well, I know it’s wrong, but I’ll ask God to forgive me and it will be all right.” Seriously? That sound suspiciously like the question Paul asks in Romans 6:1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?
The thinking was that if we are saved by God’s grace and it is through grace that we are forgiven, and God’s grace is a good thing, that the more we sin then the more grace is evidenced. Win, win.
But Paul answers his own question in the next verse when he writes Romans 6:2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?
And I’m sure that under his breath he muttered “Idiots”.
And it’s not just knowing what direction to go in, but actually moving in that direction. Throughout the bible metaphors for the Christian life usually include movement. Whether it’s a walk, a race, a journey or simply moving from childhood to maturity, there is never an implication that it is stationary. As Will Rogers said, “Even if you are on the right track you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”
So, we have made a choice to follow God and to walk with him in the direction that he chooses. Now there is a fallacy that says that if we are walking with God that there will never be problems or challenges. And that is a lie.
When we talked about choosing to follow God you are choosing not to follow Satan, not to follow the ways of the world. So, understand that Stepping Out Requires Commitment
Somewhere some have bought into the myth that the walk of the Godly is somehow a beautiful stroll in a beautiful peaceful park.
Sometimes we have problems just because we are people who live on earth. But there are other times that the evil one is intent on messing with us.
Jesus’ best friend wrote to the early church warning them, 1 Peter 5:8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
Throughout the bible the Devil is referred to as the enemy of the godly, as our adversary, as the accuser. Tommy Douglas said, “We must never underestimate our opponents; nor should we forget that the closer we come to reaching our objectives, the more vicious and forthright will their opposition become.”
But while we need to acknowledge the opposition that comes from the Devil, we need to remember the promise of the word of God, we read in James 4:7–8 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.
And while Satan can tempt you to do wrong and tempt you to turn from God, he can’t make you do it. “The Devil made me do it” is a cop out and a lie. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13 The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
And finally, we need to understand that Every Journey Has a Last Step
What happened to Enoch will always be a mystery. But the reality is that unless the Lord returns during our lifetime, each person here will die.
As you know from the number of times, I quote him I’m a big fan of William Barclay who wrote the Daily Study Bible. If I have a problem with Barclay, it’s that he’s constantly trying to explain away the supernatural and offering alternate scenarios for miracles.
The case of Enoch is no exception, but I enjoy his explanation in this case, “In a wicked and corrupt generation Enoch walked with God and so when the end came to him, there was no shock or interruption. Death merely took him into God’s nearer presence. Because he walked with God when other men were walking away from him, he daily came nearer to him and death was no more than the last step that took him into the very presence of that God with whom he had always walked.”
The question for each one of us today has to be, where will your last step lead you?