************ Sermon on Hebrews 11:21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 5, 2017
What do people think about on their death beds, and what do they say? Here is a sample:
-Murderer Richard Loeb was a trifle optimistic about his survival after being stabbed 56 times by a fellow convict: "I think I'm going to make it!"Have you ever considered what your final words might be? Today we look at what is said about and by Jacob as he faced death.
-James Rodgers replied to the question whether he had a last request before facing a firing squad: "Why yes, a bulletproof vest."
-Douglas Fairbanks must have been confused because his famous last words were: "Never felt better."
-William Palmer, who was hanged in 1856, was told to step on the trap door. "Is it safe?" he asked.
-Phineas T. Barnum was interested in the almighty dollar right up to his last moment on earth. His last words: "How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?"
Last week, if you remember, we looked at Isaac in this situation. Next week we will look at Joseph. Hebrews holds before us the faith shown as these three men sense death approaching. So what we have is faith under fire, faith under the shadow of death, faith at the foot of the grave. Over the years I have noticed that the strongest faith often is displayed at the time of death and the grave. People who otherwise are quiet and reserved about their faith come out of their shell as death approaches and give wonderful testimonies to their belief in Christ, the forgiveness of sin, and the resurrection of the body.
Someday, unless Jesus comes first, we all will be dying. When that happens, as you sense death approaching, will your loved ones say you are like Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph? Will they say that you showed faith under the shadow of death? Of course, I urge you not to wait until you face death to show this kind of faith. After all, death can strike at any time and we must be ready always to meet the Lord.
Our text this evening lists two separate events in the life of Jacob. The first event we read about in Genesis 48 -- when Jacob blessed each of Joseph's sons. The second event we read about in Genesis 47 -- when Jacob worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. Both events reveal Jacob's faith towards the end of life. Both events reveal that Jacob's faith has grown and matured over the years.
Don't forget, Jacob was a deceiver from youth on. He lied and schemed and plotted and cheated to get what he thought he deserved. Think of the birthright he took from a hungry Esau. Think of the covenant blessing he stole. Think of how he made his flocks and herds multiply at the expense of his father-in-law. Think of how he split up his flocks and servants and wives and children when he was about to meet with his brother. Yet now, at the brink of the grave, he finally shows a mature and living faith.
I By Faith Jacob Blessed Joseph's Sons
A "By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons."
Why is this one of the acts of faith listed by Hebrews? As you know, Hebrews 11 is the great chapter on faith. It looks at the faith of Abel who offered a better sacrifice; the faith of Enoch who walked with God; the faith of Noah who built an ark; the faith of Abraham who left Ur, believed the promise of a son, and obeyed the command to sacrifice the son. Why is Jacob's blessing of Joseph's two boys a similar act of faith? We find the answer when we take a peek at the story in Genesis.
B The story actually begins with Abraham. God basically promised Abraham three things. First, the possession of the land; God promised Abraham all the land he sees. Second, God promised Abraham many descendants. Third, God promised that through Abraham's seed the world will be blessed.
How many of these things came to pass by the time Abraham died? Not one of them. Abraham lived a full life and never saw any of these three things come to reality, not a single one of them. But do you know what he said in faith? "Isaac, you will see these promises fulfilled." When Isaac died do you know what he said in faith? "Jacob, you will see the promises fulfilled." When Jacob died do you know what he said in faith? "Joseph, you will see the promises fulfilled." When Joseph died do you know what he said in faith? "Ephraim and Manasseh, you will see the promises fulfilled."
All of these men died never really seeing the fulfillment of the promise. Keep in mind what we were told back in verse 13:
(Heb 11:13) All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised ...Yet what did they do? Verse 13 continues with:
(Heb 11:13) they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.In faith, by faith, they passed on God's promises to their children. By the time of death they had seen nothing and yet they believed their children would see the fulfillment.
They died in faith. Not one of them doubted that the promise would happen. They didn't die in despair. They didn't die saying, "It didn't happen; it didn't happen." They died saying, "It will come; it will come; it will come" because they believed God. Even though they died they believed the promise of God would never die. That, says Hebrews, is faith. That, says Hebrews, is faith that is commendable.
C Now, let us look at the specifics when it comes to Jacob. Genesis tells us Jacob was old and sick. Joseph went to see him and took his two boys with him. Jacob was told Joseph had come so he rallied his strength and sat up in bed. Jacob was old, sick, infirm, with death approaching. But he got out of bed to bless Joseph's sons with God's promises.
Now do you remember what Jacob did? First, he repeated the promise of God -- the promise first given to Abraham, the promise next given to Isaac, the promise passed on to Jacob, the promise he now wanted to pass on. Jacob said to Joseph:
(Gen 48:3-4) God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me (4) and said to me, 'I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.'
Look at the next thing Jacob did. But before I say it, let me ask a strange question: How many tribes were there in Israel? If your answer is twelve you are wrong. There actually were thirteen. Joseph was divided into two tribes: Ephraim and Manasseh. Here is how Genesis records this:
(Gen 48:5) Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine.So Ephraim and Manasseh were made into full tribes of Israel. Just like that they became heirs of the promises of God with the other eleven tribes. So, by faith, Jacob made Ephraim and Manasseh into full tribes of Israel. Keep in mind all the jealousy and sibling rivalry of previous years; this could have been a foolish and dangerous thing to do; but Jacob did it by faith.
With all of this out of the way, it is time now for the actual blessing to be passed on. So Joseph placed the two boys before father Jacob to bless them. Because Jacob's eyesight was failing, Joseph made it as easy as possible on his father. He put the oldest boy, Manasseh, at Jacob's right hand. He put the youngest boy, Ephraim, at Jacob's left hand. Remember human custom and convention back then? The oldest son always comes first. And what does Jacob do? He does this: he crosses his hands. Joseph gets upset and tries to correct his dad. "No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head" (Gen 48:18). "I know, my son, I know ... his younger brother will be greater than he ..." (Gen 48:19). So Jacob put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh. Jacob went against the wishes of Joseph. This is no small thing because Joseph was his favorite son and the second most powerful man in all of Egypt.
Did you know that in later years Ephraim became the predominant tribe of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the name "Ephraim" was used to refer to the territory and people of the ten tribes. By faith Jacob knew this was going to happen. By faith Jacob knew the place of Ephraim in Israel's history. So, the blessing was not the foolish act of an old and senile man. It was not the product of wishful thinking. Rather, it was an expression of faith. In faith, Jacob submits to the plan and sovereignty of God and blesses the younger before the older.
In the same way we can have faith in God's promises. God promises to save us because of the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. With Jacob we can have utter confidence that God will keep this promise. And all we need do is believe. All we need do is have faith. I know this is contrary to what most people think today. I know most people today think they are basically good and that their deeds save them, or their religion, or their morality, or their generosity. But all we need have is faith. Like Jacob.
II By Faith Jacob Worshiped
A Hebrews also refers to a second event towards the end of Jacob's life which shows his faith. Let me read the event from Genesis 47:
(Gen 47:28-31) Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. (29) When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, "If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, (30) but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried." "I will do as you say," he said. (31) "Swear to me," he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.Pay attention to the last sentence: "Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff." This is the same sentence we find in our text from Hebrews. So we know the events of Genesis 47 are in mind as an example of faith in the face of death.
Did you take note of the promise Jacob extracted from Joseph? Jacob obtained from Joseph the promise to bury him in Canaan. Not in Egypt. Not in Goshen. But in the same place Abraham and Isaac are buried.
We know from Genesis this was not a small thing that Jacob was asking for. Because when Jacob died it became a state funeral. Jacob was embalmed. There were seventy days of mourning -- two days less than if a Pharaoh died. A huge funeral procession took the embalmed body of Jacob the two hundred forty plus miles from Egypt to Mamre. The funeral procession stopped at the border of Canaan and observed seven more days of mourning. Finally, Jacob was buried in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre. All in all, what Jacob asked for took close to ninety days to become a reality.
Jacob made Joseph swear an oath to do this. Now, when we swear an oath we raise our right hand. But in Ancient Israel you put your hand under the right thigh.
So Joseph promised to bury Jacob in Canaan. Joseph sealed the promise by putting his hand under Jacob's thigh. What happens next? Jacob pushes himself up from his bed, grabs his staff, stands on his feet, and worships God while leaning on the staff.
B Why is this an act of faith? Jacob knew it was not God's sovereign plan for His covenant people to live forever in Egypt. To be sure, for a while it was a place of great blessing; in fact, Genesis 47 indicates the children of Israel were given "the best part of the land" (Gen 47:11). This was the part of Egypt that had water and grass in abundance. It was here that Israel grew and ate wonderful crops of cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. It was a land of milk and honey. In this land the nation of Israel grew and prospered. When they came to Egypt they were seventy in number. They were small, hungry, in danger of poverty. In Egypt they grew to over a million in number. In Egypt they were safe and secure and protected by Joseph. For seventeen years even Jacob enjoyed peace and prosperity of life in Egypt.
But Jacob knew, by faith, Egypt was not the promised land. Jacob knew, by faith, God's future plan for Israel was not the land of Egypt but the land of Canaan. Jacob knew God's people cannot live side-by-side with the Egyptians forever without compromising their faith and practice.
That's why Jacob extracted a promise from Joseph. That's why Jacob asked to be buried in Canaan:
(Gen 47:29-30) Do not bury me in Egypt, (30) but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.
Jacob's request for burial in Canaan was his last statement to his sons and daughters: your home is not here but in the Promised Land. As Hebrews put it earlier, "he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb 11:10). He was "longing for a better country -- a heavenly one" (Heb 11:16).
By faith Jacob was saying death is not the end. By faith Jacob was saying his was utter confidence in the promises of God. By faith Jacob knew there was more to come.
C The person Who best illustrates this, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to die. He did not come to do anything else. He came to die in the place of sinners. Each day He was fully aware of His impending death.
And why could He do this? Because, like Jacob, He knew death was not the end. He knew that the third day the Father would raise Him from the grave. He knew that forty days later He would be raised into heaven and be seated at the Father's right hand.
In Jacob, and looking past Jacob to Jesus, Hebrews gives us a picture of authentic Christian faith in the face of death.
Let me ask about you. When the day comes when we stand at the end of your freshly dug grave, what will be said about your faith? What message will be proclaimed from the platform of your death? Will your faith remind people of the promises of God?
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