June 17, 2018
This morning I’m going to take you back to your childhood to a song that you sang as you grew up in church:
“Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham. And I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord…”
So, what is the point of the song? Why do we teach it to our kids other than to get them wound up to get their energy out?
Paul writes in Galatians 3:29 that if we are Christ’s then we are Abraham’s offspring — children of Abraham by faith. Thus, while we may not be connected in our biology, we are connected by faith. Paul goes as far in Romans 4:11-12 to say that Abraham is the father of all who believe, both Jew and Gentile.
So, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the largest portion of this “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 is dedicated to Father Abraham. In fact, it has two parts…the first (which we will deal with this morning) surrounds Abraham’s call and the second (next week) focuses on Abraham’s halted sacrifice.
You probably know the account found in Genesis 11&12 well… Terah fathered Abraham and his two brothers in Ur of the Chaldees. In case you are a bit geographically challenged, it is in what we know as Iraq today. And so, after the death of his son, Haran, Terah took Abraham and Sarah (then still known as Abram and Sarai) to Khran (which is part of modern Turkey. Then, at the age fo 75, at the death of his father, Abraham finally goes the rest of the way to the Promised Land — a land given to his children as an inheritance.
And this is the promise that God makes to Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3):
“I will bless you and make you a great nation…”
“I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing”
“I will bless those who bless you.”
“He who dishonors you, I will curse.”
“In you all fo the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
We could spend weeks and months on the language of this promise, but I simply set it before you as a backdrop to what it is that the author of Hebrews is saying to us…
“By faith, Abraham, being called, obeyed and went into a place that he was about to receive as an inheritance, yet, he went, not being acquainted with where he was going.”
As we have seen all through this chapter, the response of the person of faith is obedience.
Folks, this is something you have heard repeatedly from me and I expect from my predecessors as well. God expects his people to obey his word — in church, in school, at work, at home, in the community — wherever you happen to go, God expects you to live in obedience.
Everything we are saying here is of little use if you don’t live it out — out there! Church is not like a tv show or other form of entertainment where you go there to have your needs met and your interests piqued. It is the opening up of GOd’s word to conform us into the image of Christ.
Maybe put it this way… Ask yourself what your sins are that you personally struggle with and be brutally honest with yourself because it is between you and God…
-it could be anger or unforgiveness at one who has hurt you
-it could be gossip
-it could be lust or pornography or abuse of drugs and alcohol — drunkenness
-it could be that you covet the good things that your neighbor had or that you like stirring up controversy if things don’t go your way
-it could be an unwillingness to address sin in your life or to have it addressed by Counsel or to address sin in the life of another close to you
-it might be your attitude toward the Lord’s Day or grumbling about decisions made by council
-It might be your prejudices toward another person or socio-economic group
Whatever it is that is in your life that you know you need to confess to God and repent of, but you haven’t done so for one reason or another — think on these things. And then repent of your sin, recognizing that repentance at its heart means to change your mind and attitude toward something — at one point you thought “x” was okay, but now you understand that “x” is a sin in God’s eyes so you will hate it because God hates it.
And then, if you are reluctant to repent, ask yourself this question — which do you love more…Jesus or your sin? Jesus says that if we love him we will be obedient to him (John 14:15)…So, if you love Jesus…repent. And remember that the mark of the Christian is not that we live a perfect life, but it is that we strive for perfection and then repent when we fail.
Yet, Abraham did not just obey, we are told that he obeyed even though he was not acquainted with where he was going…
It is one thing to obey when it makes sense to us…
“Don’t murder” — no problem…
“Don’t steal” — got it, makes good sense.
But true obedience is practiced when you don’t really understand the “why” but you obey because of the “who.”
Let me give you two examples of this, the first one in scripture to establish the principle and the second one to address a practical application today…
God says to Adam, “Don’t eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil” or you will surely die…”
It would have been a whole lot easier on Adam had God said:
“Don’t eat from the fruit of the tree of poisonous destruction — the fruit that is perpetually rotten and smells like sewage.”
Adam would have said, “got it, totally cool on that one…”
Or, God could have said, “Adam, look at the animals that have wings. They are birds and they fly in the air; I haven’t given you wings, so don’t jump off this big cliff for on the day you do this, you will surely die.” Again, Adam would have said, “no problem, you don’t have to tell me twice.”
But, no, God gave Adam and Eve what seemed like an arbitrary command to test them — the fruit looked good to eat and is not knowing good from evil a noble thing? God was testing the nature of their true obedience — something that CS Lewis would call “Bare Obedience.”
That’s the principle, let’s look at something closer to home in our culture…
It has become commonplace for people who struggle with same-sex attraction or transgender feelings to say that God made them that way.
Yet, God’s word clearly teaches that homosexuality is a sin and that we are not to bear false witness (note that transgenderism is not necessarily a matter of homosexual urges, but one presents themselves as something that they are not — no amount of hormones or plastic surgery can change one’s chromosomal makeup).
And note that for the most part, those who fall into that category of our society are not evil, malicious people trying to warp the culture due to some sort of diabolical scheme…some maybe, but not most. They are just struggling through attractions and feelings that do not fit into the typical, “binary,” male or female gender/sex roles. In many cases, every fiber of their being rejects that which society at large would present as normal.
But here is the point of application.
Because God says it is a sin, that is enough — even if you don’t understand, even if your urges point you in a different direction, and even if you feel that God made you that way.
Now, to be balanced, the same thing applies to heterosexual relationships outside of marriage. Society tells you that sex is a normal body function and that it is just a normal part of the dating relationship. But God says it belongs to covenantal marriage alone. No matter whether you like it or not, whether you are pressured or not, your love for Christ must outweigh the desires of your flesh.
And, particularly young ladies, if a gentleman says, “If you really loved me you would sleep with me,” respond by saying, “yes, I love you, but I love Jesus more and if you don’t respect that you don’t really love me.”
The mark of your love for Christ is seen in your obedience to his Law and your heartfelt repentance if you disobey. God calls you to a life of bare obedience.
That leads us to verses 9-10:
“By faith, he lived as a stranger (an alien) in the land of promise like a foreigner — living in tents along with Isaac and Jacob who shared with the same promised inheritance. For he was waiting for a city that had foundations whose designer and builder was God.”
Now, you need to understand something about what Abraham left behind when he and his family left Ur. Ur was a city near ancient Babylon which contained many ancient Ziggurats (predecessors of the Egyptian pyramids).
In fact, as a side note, archaeologists have located ancient Ur by the location of one of these unearthed ziggurats, in this case to the moon god, “Nanna.” It’s original sections date back to the lifetime of Abraham himself and it seems to have been restored during king Cyrus’ era. In fact, during the Gulf War, American soldiers occupied that region and there is a picture of a group of them climbing up the ziggurat there. For me, that is interesting because it helps confirm in my mind the historicity of these events found in the Bible.
What is more important to our text, though, is a contrast. Abraham gave up living in a region where brick structures were the norm for living in tents as an alien in the land. Why did he do this? It was because he wasn’t interested in a city whose foundations were laid by men, but one whose foundations were laid by God himself — something he would not live long enough to see.
As Americans, one of the things we struggle with is looking at things from the perspective of he big picture — we want everything to take place in our lifetimes; we don’t like to wait. But that is not how things work in Christ’s church.
Think about it this way…
-Abraham would wander in tents for 25 years before Isaac, the immediate object of the promise, would be seen, but not completed.
-Then 430 years would pass before Israel as a people would exit the land of Egypt for the promised land, spending an additional 40 years in the wilderness on their way (Exodus 12:30)
-Then there would be another 480 years before Solomon would build God’s temple (prior to this, all worship was in tents (1 Kings 6:1). And again, Solomon’s Temple is only a shadow of the Temple that Abraham was looking forward to.
-That temple would not begin for nearly another thousand years with the birth of Jesus who is the cornerstone of the Temple (1 Peter 2:6-7; Ephesians 2:20).
-The church, then, is the building that Abraham longed to be a part of…and even now, 4000 years later, it is still being built as believers are being added as living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5) — the Spiritual house being built by God.
And so, we walk patiently and in faith as Abraham did knowing that if we do not see the completion of the work God begins in us that he will bring it to completion in his time, even if we see it’s culmination from glory.
And so, we arrive at verses 11-12:
“By faith, Sarah, who was barren, received power to conceive a seed. Even as it was beyond the time of life, because she regarded him who promised faithful; and therefore, from one who had been dead, was begotten as many as the multitude of stars of heaven and as uncountable a number as the grains of sand beside the sea shore.”
Lesson: faith’s power lies in the object of your faith, not in you. Jesus says that faith moves mountains (Matthew 17:20) — but it only does so because the God who is the object of your faith can move mountains. Further, Sarah had a child by faith, but it was because the God in whom she had faith ushered Isaac from her womb.
“According to faith, all of these died not receiving the promise, but beholding and welcoming it from afar, and confessing that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
When you take a divine perspective as to timing, then you are forced to realize that you serve not yourselves but generations that will come after you — and while that is very “unAmerican” in some ways, it is very Biblical.
Peter speaks of the Old Testament saints in this way: “It was revealed that they were not serving themselves but you…” (1 Peter 1:2). Our perspective should be the same.
“For if these are speaking in such a way, they make it clear that they were seeking a fatherland. Now, if indeed they had that in mind when they went out, they potentially had an appointed time to return, but now, they aspired to something better — that is a heavenly place. Therefore God is not ashamed of them to be called on as their God for he has made them ready for a city.”
They went following God with no intentions of turning back. Stephen Curtis Chapman had a song a number of years back, called, “Burn the ships.” It tells of the destruction of many of the ships early settlers to the Americas had done to prevent sailing back because of hardships.
That, folks, is what Hebrews is telling us about Abraham and Sarah’s mindset. They committed their old lives to the flames of destruction because whatever hardships were before them amounted to nothing compared to the city whose foundations that God has laid in Christ.
But let that not just be Abraham and Sarah’s mindset, but ours as well — commit it all, your resources, your lives, your efforts, your time, to the building of Christ’s Kingdom regardless of whether we will live long enough to be here to see the results.