************ Sermon on Hebrews 11:11-16 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 5, 2017
"Abraham's Faith (2)"
Before he was called by God, Abraham was a pagan, raised by pagans, living in a pagan city, worshiping pagan gods. After he was called by God, Abraham -- by grace -- became a man of faith.
What does faith produced by grace look like? Whether it is Abraham's faith or your faith or my faith, what does faith produced by grace look like? We've been answering this question as we look at Hebrews 11.
Today, as we look again at Abraham, we learn that faith produced by grace has confidence in the character of God. And, we learn that faith produced by grace sees the fulfilment of God's promises.
I Faith's Confidence in the Character of God
A God promised Abraham a child; and, through this child God promised Abraham would be the father of a great nation. God first made this promise when Abraham was 75 years old. Eleven years later, Ishmael was born to Hagar but he was not the promised child. Thirteen years later, when Abraham was 99, God promised Abraham he would have a son through Sarah the following year.
Do you remember Abraham's response? Do you remember Sarah's response?
(Gen 17:17) Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?"What does this mean? Our Bible reading tells us exactly what this means: Abraham was past age to become a father and Sarah was barren. We are to believe that Abraham had lost his procreative powers. We are to remember that Sarah was barren in Ur already; and, at the age of 90 she was past the age of bearing children. Do you hear this? Both Abraham and Sarah had lost their procreative powers.
(Gen 18:12) Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"
Yet, in spite of this, God promised Abraham a son and a nation. For 24 years God made this promise! The years go by: 1,2,4,8,16,24 of them. Abraham was a man. Just a man. He had doubts. He had questions. Why else did he father Ishmael? Why else did he try to make a servant his heir? Humanly speaking, what God promised him was impossible and improbable; after all, they were old, worn out, tired, barren, no longer able to procreate.
B So, what sustains Abraham's faith during all these years? Notice the word "because" in verse 11:
(Heb 11:11) By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.
I want you to notice what Abraham did by faith: he turned away from all the human considerations and turned to God instead. He put aside all the questions and doubts and focused on the character of the God Who made the promise. He stopped looking at himself and Sarah and looked to God instead. By faith Abraham weighed the human impossibility of becoming a father against the divine impossibility of God breaking His promise.
By faith, Abraham had confidence in the character of God. Utter confidence. Absolute confidence. Abraham knew that if God could break a promise then God was no longer god. Abraham knew that if God could break a promise then God's character had a defect. Abraham knew that if God could break a promise then nothing is sure and steadfast and all of life is turned upside down.
Listen to how Paul explains this in his letter to the church at Rome:
(Rom 4:19-21) Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead. (20) Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, (21) being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.Abraham was absolutely convinced God can do anything, anything at all.
When our sons were growing up, we often played a Jelly Beans record. I know kids today don't listen to records but I hope they still hear the song:
Hey kids! We have a mighty great God, and you know, I believe God can do anything. Now I'm wondering, do you believe that too?This song describes the faith of Abraham. He believes God can do anything. He believes God remains true to His promises. Why? Because, says Hebrews, he believes God is faithful.
You gotta believe God can do anything,
Anything He wants to do.
He can paint the sky a bright, bright green
And turn all the trees to blue.
You gotta believe God can do anything,
For everything is in His hands.
For everything is in His hands.
Hebrews changes the focus from Abraham to God. God, not Abraham, is the center of attention. The God Who can do anything. The God Who can suspend the rules of Creation. The God Who parts the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan River. The God Who makes water come from a rock and manna from heaven. The God Who makes walls fall down. The God Who makes a barren woman give birth. By faith, Abraham considered this God to be faithful.
Like Abraham, we need to believe by faith that God is faithful to His promises. That He is trustworthy. That He is reliable. That He never breaks His Word. So, when we hear the Gospel call to repent and believe and you shall be saved, we believe God is faithful to this promise. And, in good faith we can proclaim this Gospel message to our friends and neighbors and family and coworkers, because we believe God is faithful to His promise.
C By faith Abraham "considered him faithful who had made the promise."
(Heb 11:12) And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.The idea here is that Abraham's descendants are too many to count. They are beyond number.
We find a literal fulfilment of this promise when Israel came out of Egypt. Listen to how Moses describes the children of Israel in Deuteronomy:
(Deut 10:22) Your forefathers who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.
You need to understand there is also a spiritual fulfilment to this promise. Paul explains this in his letter to the Galatians:
(Gal 3:6-8) Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (7) Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. (8) The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."Did you hear that? Everyone who believes in Jesus is a child of Abraham. Everyone who believes in Jesus is one of the sand on the seashore people and one of the stars in the sky people.
"And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore" (Heb 11:12). It all began with a promise. A promise of a son. A promise to two people with no power to procreate. A promise that pointed forward to another Son, another impossible conception and birth. A Son born of a virgin.
We love this promise because it includes us. Because we love this promise and take this promise seriously we dare to dream it includes others. Because we love this promise and take this promise seriously, we invite others to become children of Abraham by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Faith formed by grace rests on the promises and character of God. This describes Abraham's faith. Does this describe your faith? Do you believe God to be faithful?
II Faith Sees the Fulfilment of God's Promises
A The second thing we learn is that faith produced by grace sees the fulfilment of God's promises. Look at verse 13:
(Heb 11:13) All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.
Who are "all these people" Hebrews is talking about? Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. What are we told about these people? "They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance" (Heb 11:13).
Moses is perhaps the best illustration of this. Because of his sin, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. But what did God allow Moses to do before he died? God allowed Moses to climb Mount Nebo. From there the LORD showed him the whole land (Deut 34:1-4). Moses saw the land from a distance but he himself did not cross over into it.
What was true for Moses was also true for Abraham. Yes, when he died he had a son but not the sand of the seashore people. All nations on earth were not yet blessed through him. And instead of the whole land being his, all that he owned was a graveyard. He did not receive the things promised; he only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. He saw them and welcomed them by faith.
So Abraham went to the grave with the promise and not the fulfilment. Moses went to the grave with the promise and not the fulfilment. Same with Noah and Enoch and Abel. They all had the promise but not the fulfilment.
Yet, they saw and welcomed the promises. Theirs was joy and pleasure in these promises. In their mind's eye they could see the promises fulfilled. The promises filled them with excitement and anticipation.
Faith formed by grace sees and welcomes the things promised.
Does this describe your faith? Will you, like Abraham, like Moses, be going to the grave with confidence in the promises of God? As the years go by without the return of Jesus, do you see and welcome His kingdom? As the years go by on this old earth with its sin and shame, do you see and welcome the promise of a new heaven and new earth? As the years go by with the church persecuted and true religion hated, do you see and welcome the final victory of God's people? As the years go by with the death of loved ones, do you see and welcome the resurrection of the body?
Faith formed by grace anticipates and sees and welcomes what is yet to come.
B Now, notice what is said next: "And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth" (Heb 11:13). When Sarah died, Abraham referred to himself as an alien and a stranger (Gen 23:4). When Isaac blessed Jacob and sent him on his way, he acknowledged he lived in the land as an alien (Gen 28:4). Before Pharaoh, Jacob admitted that his life and the life of the other patriarchs was a pilgrimage. David talks about himself as a stranger on earth (Ps 119:19). Similarly, Peter writes his first letter to "God's elect, strangers in the world" (1 Pet 1:1). And, he says "live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear" (1 Peter 1:17).
Think about this: aliens, strangers, pilgrimage. Do you realize what this means? This means, as Hebrews puts it, that "they were longing for a better country -- a heavenly one" (Heb 11:16). This further means that this life, this earth, this body is not really our home. In this life, this earth, this body we are aliens, we are strangers, we are on pilgrimage.
Faith formed by grace directs our attention away from this life, this body, this earth. As for those without grace and without faith, this life, this world, this earth is all they have. Abraham was that way when he was a pagan in Ur. Everything was riveted on this life, this body, this earth: money, family, friends, culture, business, home. But when the God of grace invaded his life, he saw another life, another body, another earth, another kingdom, another country.
Jesus talks about two gates, two roads, two treasures. One is the gate and road and treasure that is focused solely on this life. The other is the gate and road and treasure that we find in heaven.
Faith formed by grace changes the affections of our heart. Faith formed by grace changes what I love and what I hate. Faith formed by grace changes what I set my heart and my mind on. Is this the kind of faith you have?
Think, too, of your children and your grandchildren. They are far more perceptive than we give them credit for. What example do you set for them? Do they see you living for the future or the present? Do they see you seeking treasure in heaven or on earth? Do they see you longing for a better country?
C Now notice how our Bible reading ends: "Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God ..." (Heb 11:16). "Therefore." Because they have faith formed by grace. Because they have faith longing for a better country. "Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God."
And, yet, we know God has every reason to be ashamed of them. Consider the life of Abraham. Two times, out of fear, he claimed Sarah to be his wife rather than his sister. He tried to father a child his way rather than God's way. Yet God was not ashamed to be called his God. Consider Isaac. He and his wife played favorites with Jacob and Esau. He, too, lied about his relationship with his wife. Yet God was not ashamed to be called his God. Consider Jacob. His name means deceiver. He deceived his father. He deceived his father-in-law. He deceived his brother. He was a scoundrel. Yet God was not ashamed to be called his God. So how does God make Himself known throughout Scripture? He says "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Mt 22:32; Ex 3:6,15,16; Acts 7:32). Isn't this amazing and gracious and wonderful?
We all know God has ample reason to be ashamed of us as well. After all, we are conceived and born in sin, commit actual sin, are totally depraved. Even as born-again Christians, we are filled with sin. Yet, God is not ashamed to be called our God.
Faith formed by grace arouses pleasure in God. He takes pleasure in us and our faith. He takes pleasure in everyone who lives by faith.
By faith. By faith. Is this how you live? Are you a child of Abraham? Are you an alien and stranger looking for a better country?
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