We know that evidence exists for what we believe. Experiential evidence exists for God, and yet the unbeliever's eyes are veiled, and he cannot see the evidence, so he does not believe the evidence is there at all. Faith is not believing IN something but believing that something. Faith isn't believing IN God, but believing God, believing in what God says to us in the Bible, that he is truthful and trustworthy. That is faith.
Our gospel passage reveals another layer to faith:
12:32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
12:33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.
12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
12:35 "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit;
12:36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.
12:37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.
12:38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
12:39 "But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.
12:40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."
We have seen the analogy Jesus makes, when he compares himself to a thief in the night. There are several places in scripture where this comparison happens. But we stop looking at the analogy when we think that Jesus is only comparing the unexpected nature of his coming. Look at last two verses. Yes, Jesus is talking about the untimeliness of his approach, but he is also comparing himself to an unpleasant person--a thief. If the owner knew when the thief was coming, HE WOULD BAR THE DOOR.
Let's look at this another way. If the owner knew when SANTA CLAUS was coming, he would . . . THROW THE DOORS OPEN WIDE and welcome Santa into the home. My kids have been expecting you! They set out milk and cookies! Let's exchange gifts! Jesus does not compare himself to Santa Claus or anything like Santa Claus. He compares himself to a thief. The implication is that perhaps you may not want to see Jesus. You want to protect yourself from Jesus. It's an assumption that he is going to fill us with joy, but what if he is going to fill us with dread?
Look earlier in the passage. We have another analogy. Jesus is comparing himself to a slavemaster. Now, I know that different kinds of master/slave relationships existed throughout history. We have the dreaded violence of American slavery to the indentured servitude of Israel's slavery. Regardless of the kind of slavery, the master/slave relationship was never comfortable, because someone was in control of your freedom. You were at the mercy of that person's whims. Even if they treated you nice, there was the possibility that the master might be in a bad mood. So, the thought of the master coming home usually is an unpleasant experience. The slave is not going to bar the door against the master like the homeowner is the thief, but there is going to be apprehension there.
Now, here is the twist in verse 37: blessed are those slaves who welcome the master in the house, because he is going to SERVE THEM! Here is the unexpected twist. The slave has moved toward the danger and has found something good on the other side. The master serves them. This is true faith: not just believing God, but believing God when danger is involved, moving toward the danger with the faith that peace lies on the other side. Christianity is not a cake walk. Danger is usually involved. True faith is moving toward that danger instead of away from it.
God is spoken of throughout the scriptures as an unquenchable, consuming fire. We've heard this before, but have we ever really thought about it? What does an animal do when it senses a forest fire? It runs away! It's instinct, and unless we are a firefighter, we are going to do the same thing--run away! Now, imagine seeing God face-to-face. Are you going to move toward him or run away? If God is a consuming fire, our instinct is to run away. Let's say we have been feeding our animal nature all our lives. The instinct is going to win. Let's say we have read our Bibles, and understand through meditation and prayer and revelation that God the consuming fire is something that we need to run TOWARD when we see him. He is dangerous, but there is peace on the other side.
When we go through the roll call of faith in the rest of Hebrews 11, we can see something new now. I think of my prayer life, and it consists of a laundry list of "please take this cup froms." I'm constantly asking God to reverse the danger. I find out someone has cancer, and I pray to God, "take the cancer away." Sometimes the cancer does go away, but sometimes it does not. Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, "take this cup from me," but then he prayed, "not MY will but THY will be done."
When Noah found out about the flood, he didn't pray, "please undo that, God." He built the ark and had the faith that God was going to get him through the danger to the peace on the other side. When Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac, he never thought that God would stop him from doing it. The danger was going to happen, he knew. Now, God DID stop his hand, but Abraham never assumed that would happen. His faith involved facing the danger head on and getting to the peace on the other side, which, to Abraham, was God raising Isaac from the dead. This is true faith. Not running away from the danger but meeting it head on, having faith that God is going to get you to the other side.
And God would never force us to do anything he didn't do himself first. Jesus prayed in the garden. He asked for the cup to be taken away, but then he obeyed the Father's will and met the danger head on. He met the cross head on. The cross is a dangerous thing, but there is peace on the other side. The cross is scary. It involves pain. It involves death. But the other side is the end of pain. The other side is the end of death. When we are told to pick up our cross, we are not being given fancy symbolism. We are told to meet the danger head on, to run at it, to ignore our instincts. The Bible trains us to ignore the animal instinct. This is the difference between heaven and hell. Hell is not the fire. Hell is the outer darkness, the place to where we have run to when we ran away from God. God is the fire. We have to have the faith to head into the fire, to embrace it, to have the faith that God is going to get us to the other side, to peace, to reconciliation, to redemption, to everlasting life.