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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Faith in the Promises of God
Text:Hebrews 11:8-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(1976 Psalter unless otherwise noted):

207 (Red) - Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
454 - Nearer, Still Nearer
166 - Zion Founded on the Mountains
471 - Jerusalem the Golden
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray      
Faith in the Promises of God”
Hebrews 11:8-19
Years ago, in Vermont, we served a church that had many immigrants from Holland. Many of them had relatives who had already immigrated to the United States. They knew that their relatives had been blessed in this land of opportunity, and they looked forward to similar blessings for themselves.
But when Abram was called to leave his country, it was quite a different situation. Ur, where Abram grew up and lived with his family, was a port city that flourished on trade moving back and forth on coastal waterways. It was fed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; it was a prosperous area, and the surrounding land was fertile and pleasant.
There was no economic reason for Abram to immigrate to another land. He had a good living there in the Ur of the Chaldees. But the Lord came to Abram in the words of Genesis 12:1, and said, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.”
That command would require a step of faith on Abram's part. Admittedly the Lord had also promised great blessing for Abram. But as our text in Hebrews 11:8 tells us, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”
By his obedience to God's command we see, first, that those who have true saving faith will strive for obedience, regardless of circumstances. We see that truth not only in verse 8 where Abram obeyed God, even though he did not know where he was going, but we also see it in verse 11 which describes how Abraham “considered Him faithful who had made the promise.”
Abram had been promised many descendants. In Genesis 12:2-3, the Lord had said to him:
“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
 I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”
Yet Abram's wife Sarah – Sarai as she was initially known – was barren.  For married couples who have no problem conceiving children, it may be hard to grasp the frustration of those couples who desire to conceive and cannot. Can you imagine the frustration of Abram and Sarai? They had been promised that they would have many descendants, even forming a great nation, and yet they were unable to conceive even one child.
Furthermore, before they did conceive, God changed Abram's name to Abraham. Abram means “exalted father”, and Abraham means “father of many” or “father of a great multitude”. Some commentators imagine the mockery of the servants behind Abraham’s back. “First, he has a name that means exalted father, even though he has no son. And now he calls himself the father of a great multitude! He is delusional! He has lost his mind!”
And then, finally, as Sarah reaches the age of 90 and Abraham 100, they are blessed with a child, the child of promise, Isaac. And what does the Lord tell Abraham? God told him, as recorded in Genesis 22:2, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
The response of Abraham was the response of faith expressed through obedience.  Hebrews 11:17-19: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.”
From Abraham's response, we see that faith and obedience go hand in hand.  If we have true saving faith, then it must result in obedience. It is not perfect obedience in this life; neither was Abraham’s and Sarah's, but it is that effort to strive to obey the commandments of our Lord, who said in John 14:15, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.”
A second characteristic of true saving faith is that those who live by faith realize they are just passing through this life. They realize that this earth is not our real home, but instead our true citizenship is in heaven. We see that in verse 9 which describes how Abraham “made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” ­
And then verse 10 gives us the reason why Abraham, and all others who have true saving faith, do not consider this earth to be their permanent home. Verse 10 also explains why people of faith do not make the possessions of this world their priority. Verse 10: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
A vivid example of how Abraham's concern was not with earthly things is seen in the division of the land between himself and his nephew Lot. Genesis 13 describes how Abraham and Lot were blessed with large flocks of sheep. They grew so large that the land could not support them, so Abraham gave Lot the choice of where to live. Abraham said, “If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”
And then we read of Lot’s downfall: “Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)  So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.” (Gen. 13:11-12).
Lot made his decisions based on the things that he saw; he focused on the earthly conditions that would enable him to increase his wealth. But instead of gaining, he lost everything, while Abraham realized that he was just an alien and a stranger here. He realized that he was just passing through, and so he focused on the spiritual realities of his heavenly home. In the end Abraham was blessed with abundance, even though he had not sought earthly riches. And by contrast, Lot, who sought the riches of this vain world, ended up with nothing, living as a widower in a cave with two daughters who were deceitful and cunning.
A third mark of true saving faith is a deep seated trust in God’s commands, no matter what happens. It is relatively easy, perhaps to trust God when everything is going smoothly in our life. But when there is transition, or hardship, it often becomes a different story.
Not so with Abraham. As we have seen, when the Lord called him to go to a place that he knew nothing about he obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going. One commentator notes that “He obeyed the call while it was still sounding in his ears.” There was no questioning or back-talk by Abraham. Abraham did not hesitate to obey God because he trusted God to be faithful in all His commands.
The same was true when Sarah was barren. Verse 11 (in our NIV pew Bibles) speaks of powerful faith when it declares, “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.”
In the ESV (and most other translations), the faith is attributed to Sarah: "By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered Him faithful who had promised." While the translations differ, the truth is the same, that both Abraham and Sarah "considered Him faithful who had made the promise.”
Abraham and Sarah considered God to be faithful, and trusted in the promises of God, even when those promises defied human logic. And the reason why goes back to that last phrase in verse 11 that they “considered Him faithful who had made the promise.”
Because Abraham knew that God is faithful, he obeyed the Lord no matter what happened in his life. Perhaps nowhere is that more clearly seen than in verse 17 to 19 which describes how Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, his one and only son, through whom all the promises of many descendants rested. Verse 19 tells us that Abraham was obedient and trusted God even in that circumstance because “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.”
In the account of their journey to Mount Moriah, where the sacrifice would take place, we read in Genesis 22 how Isaac said to his father, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Do you remember Abraham's response? He replied to Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”
In a sense, Isaac’s question is the question that is echoed throughout the Old Testament, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And in a sense, Abraham’s answer is the answer of the New Testament, “‘God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son,’ Abraham replied.”
The sacrifice of Isaac is clearly a foreshadow of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There are striking similarities:  Both are only sons. Both carry a burden. Isaac the wood, Jesus the cross (until Simon of Cyrene took over). Both were submissive.  Isaac did not resist his father’s will, and neither did Jesus. Instead, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed, “Father, if You are willing take this cup from Me, but not My will, but Your will be done.”
And the will of His Father was that the command from heaven would not come for Jesus the way it did for Isaac. As Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son, his one and only son whom he loved dearly, the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! …Do not lay a hand on the boy… Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.” (Gen. 22:11, 12).
But when Jesus was sacrificed on the cross there was no call from heaven to stop the crucifixion. There was no substitute to sacrifice. There wasn’t a ram in a thicket for Jesus, as there was for Isaac. There was, and is, and never will be any other sacrifice that can take away your sins and mine.
While Isaac was raised to life figuratively speaking (v. 19) Jesus was raised from the dead literally, still bearing the wounds of His crucifixion, yet gloriously and eternally alive, victorious over sin, Satan and death!
Abraham’s Example
As we witness Abraham's trust in the Lord, and his obedience to God's commands, we are reminded that we are to follow his example. We are, after all, among the descendants of Abraham who are in the words of verse 12 “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.”
The descendants that God promised Abraham were not just in the physical line of Israel, but rather, God's promise focused on the spiritual descendants of Abraham, that is, all who have true saving faith in Christ alone. As Galatians 3:7 expresses it, “Understand… that those who believe are children of Abraham.” And Galatians 3:29: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
If by God's grace you and I truly belong to Christ and are thus part of the Israel of God, the true spiritual descendants of Abraham, then we are to follow his example of not being attached to the things of this world. Abraham ended up being a wealthy man, yet his priorities were never on worldly wealth but rather His priorities were always focused on the spiritual riches of his heavenly home.
We see that in verse 9: “By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” And we read about that in Genesis 12:8 which describes how “he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord.” The pitching of his tent represented impermanence; the building of an alter pointed to the permanence of God’s promises to him, and his commitment to trust the Lord, regardless of circumstances.
By contrast, the desire for worldly wealth and material possessions has sidetracked so many Christians over the centuries. But Abraham set a wonderful example by having proper spiritual priorities, and he was able to have those priorities because he focused on “the city having foundations whose architect and builder is God.”
That description of our eternal home, in verse 10, points out three great truths about heaven. First, the eternal city which Abraham focused on, and we are to focus on as well, has a foundation. It has a foundation that is eternally secure, for the foundation is Christ himself. Any building is only as strong as its foundation. Our heavenly home is built on the perfect foundation that Christ has laid for us, through His redeeming work.
Verse 10 also describes God as the architect, or designer (ESV).  In even the best house here on earth we find flaws in the design. Even in a model home people often note that the architect could have built larger closets in one room or expanded the counter space in the kitchen, or placed windows in a better location. But our heavenly home is designed by God himself. He is the architect, and His blueprints are perfect in every regard.
And then, verse 10 goes on to tell us that Abraham looked forward to the city with foundations whose builder is God. You can hire the best architect for your house, but if you don’t have the best builder, then even if your blueprints are perfect your house won’t be. But our eternal home in heaven is built by the only perfect builder, God Himself. In that classic passage from John 14, Jesus describes Himself as the One who will prepare a place for us, and He assures us, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:3).
And in 2 Corinthians 5:1 the apostle Paul describes how when the tent of this body is destroyed we have an eternal home in heaven not built with human hands, meaning it is the divine work of our triune God. No wonder Abraham looked beyond the material possessions of this life to the blessing of having an inheritance – an eternal home – in the glory of heaven!
Unashamed to be Our God
Abraham also, no doubt, took great joy in knowing the truth that the author of Hebrews would write about in verse 16. Describing those who like Abraham were looking forward to heaven, he writes: “They were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”
Not only is it remarkable that God would prepare a city, the heavenly Jerusalem, for His people, but also it is remarkable that He is not ashamed to be called their God. We have focused on all the good points concerning Abraham, and there are many. He is the spiritual father of all who believe in the Lord. His faith in many ways represents the pinnacle of saving faith. But neither Abraham nor Sarah were perfect by any means.
On more than one occasion, when they traveled into foreign countries, Abraham was afraid and told Sarah to tell others that she was his sister. He said, “I know what a beautiful woman you are.  When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live.” (Gen 12:11-12). He was afraid that other men would covet Sarah’s beauty and kill him to have her.  It revealed a remarkable lack of faith that the God who called him out of the Ur the Chaldees would somehow not protect him in the foreign lands to which he was called.
Likewise, Sarah, although a woman of great faith, laughed when the angels announced to Abraham that she would have a son. It was not a laugh of joy, but a derisive laugh, a laugh that such a preposterous thing would even be mentioned. When the angels asked her why she laughed she lied and denied laughing.
Was God then ashamed of Abraham and Sarah? Is He ashamed of their spiritual descendants, we who are all sinners? Is He ashamed of you and of me?  He knows our sin, He knows our many failures and shortcomings, and yet as the author of Hebrews points out in Hebrews 2:11, Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters. And God the Father is not ashamed of us, but receives us because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, for He has covered our every sin with His precious blood and imputes His perfect record of righteous obedience to everyone who believes in Him.
No wonder Abraham's eyes were not on the things of this world! No wonder he focused on the city having foundations, whose architect and builder is God! He believed in the eternal Christ, for as Jesus declared to the Pharisees of his day, in John 8:56: “Abraham saw My day and rejoiced.” And by his faith in the promised Messiah, Abraham had the assurance that despite his sins and shortcomings God was not ashamed of him, but instead had prepared a city for him and all his spiritual descendants.
May you and I, by the Holy Spirit’s work through His Word, have that same faith, that same trust and obedience as Abraham and Sarah, as we also look forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Amen!


Bulletin outline:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance,
obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. – Hebrews 11:8
           “Faith in the Promises of God”
                      Hebrews 11:8-19
I. The faith of Abraham and Sarah teaches us that true saving faith:
      1) Strives for obedience in all circumstances (8, 11, 17-19)
      2) Does not focus on earthly goods (9, 13), but realizes that our true citizenship is in
           heaven (10; Phil. 3:20)
      3) Trusts God to be faithful in all His commands, no matter what happens (8, 11, 17-19)
II. Application: As Abraham’s spiritual descendants (12, Galatians 3:7, 29) we are not to be
     attached to the things of this world (Genesis 12:8), but are to look forward “to the city with
     foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (10), knowing that God is not ashamed of
     us, but has prepared a city for us (16)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Rev. Ted Gray

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