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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Faith at Death's Door
Text:Hebrews 11:21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Death Defeated
 
Preached:2016
Added:2021-06-02
Updated:2021-06-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(Song Selections from the Blue Psalter Hymnal)

249 - Thy Word Sheds Light Upon My Path   

202 - Mindful of Our Human Frailty

38 - The Lord’s My Shepherd

440 - My Jesus, I Love Thee

Scripture Reading: Genesis 47:28-48:22; text: Hebrews 11:21

 

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


Faith at Death’s Door”
  Hebrews 11:21
    
If I were an artist – and I certainly am not – I would love to draw a portrait of Jacob worshiping the Lord as he leaned on his staff. Our text paints for us a picturesque portrayal of Jacob when it declares: “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.”
 
But Hebrews 11:21 presents more than just a picturesque portrait of Jacob at death's door. It also teaches us that faith and worship go hand in hand in every situation of life – day by day.
 
Because Sunday is a special day of worship, a day which we set aside from the other days of the week to publicly worship our God with other believers, some people have been led to believe that worship is only done on Sunday. But as we picture Jacob leaning on the top of the staff, worshiping the Lord, we are reminded that faith and worship go hand-in-hand in every situation of life, day by day. We are to worship the Lord our God Monday through Saturday, just as surely as we worship him on Sunday.
 
Our English word for worship was originally “worth-ship”. The connotation is that there is something or Someone worthy of our adoration and praise. We understand that Someone to be the Lord God revealed in Scripture, for in Scripture both the Hebrew and the Greek words used for worship stress the greatness and glory of God. They also stress our need as his people to revere –  to hold in awe, to render homage and praise to him, in essence, to fear him – because he is worthy of our praise.
 
Worship involves our acknowledgment that God is worthy of our praise, our adoration, of all that we have within us. We see that in the heavenly worship that is described in the book of Revelation. Consider Revelation 4:11: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
 
And again, in Revelation 5:9: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation."
 
And Revelation 5:12: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
 
You see, God is worthy of our praise and adoration – of our worship – each and every day, not just on Sunday when we meet together in corporate worship. Instead, our worship of our God is to be constant, and can be done in any situation, even while leaning on the top of a staff.  Jacob’s worship ties in with 1 Corinthians 10:31 where the apostle writes, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
  
However, even though faith and worship go hand-in-hand, day by day, in every situation of life, we often come across two extremes: One extreme is the person who says, “I have faith in God, but I worship him on the golf course, I worship him while fishing, I worship him while doing things that I like to do, but because I constantly worship him I don't need to go to church and worship him on Sunday.”
 
The other extreme is a person who goes to church every Sunday in a public display of worship, and yet shows no evidence of true saving faith by their conduct during the week. Both of those extremes reflect the mindset of people who do not exhibit genuine saving faith. Real saving faith takes seriously the admonition of Hebrews 10:25 not to give up meeting together; and true saving faith takes seriously all the other Scriptures – Old Testament and New Testament – on the public worship of God.
 
Yet true saving faith, like Jacob's, goes beyond the formal public worship of God and grows into an every day, every situation, constant worship of God. In the words of Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you ... by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
 
True worship, springing from saving faith, is constant day by day, involving every part of our being. And it springs from our realization that God, and God alone, is worthy of our adoration and praise. In the words of the hymn writer, Isaac Watts:
 
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
 
Saving Faith in Christ Conquers Fear of Death
 
A second truth that our text teaches us is that the true condition of our faith is often revealed at death. If you only knew Jacob from his younger years you would never expect him to be a person of faith. After all, he took advantage of his brother’s hunger to receive the birthright. Soon after that he deceived his father to receive the blessing that Isaac had planned to give Esau. His life in his younger years centered on deceit; and his name, Jacob, which means “he grasps the heel”, has the connotation of deceit (Gen. 27:36).
 
But now at death's door, we see a changed man. Jacob was changed by God's grace, and given a new name, “Israel”. He was convicted of his deceit and all his other sins; he wrestled with God and came to have great faith in the Lord God Almighty. And because of God's gracious gift of faith to him, he faced death without any fear.
 
We see that in his provision for his death. In Genesis 47:29-30, he said, “Do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” This request was not a mere whim. He knew that the land of Canaan was the land God had promised to give to his descendants. Jacob wanted to be connected with the promises of God in life and in death.
 
The Lord has also given us the promise of Canaan – the heavenly Canaan. Our entrance into that land is directly connected to our relationship to Jesus Christ. Just as Jacob made every effort to be under God’s promises, we are always to focus in faith on Christ, making every effort to be faithful to our Lord, knowing that in life and in death we belong to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
Jacob had faith in the promises of God, not only of the land to be given Israel, but of the Messiah who would crush the serpent. Because he had faith in the eternal Christ, Jacob had no fear as he faced the reality of death.  
 
Most of us have seen the great difference in those who know the Lord by faith and those who don't when it comes to the day of their death. Unbelievers have no hope. They have the fear that perhaps Christians are right. The looming question for them is, “What if those Christians are right? What if there is a righteous God who will judge all people? What if there is an eternal heaven and an eternal hell?” Fear marks the death of the unbeliever. By contrast, those who have true saving faith in Jesus Christ have no fear of death. With the apostle Paul they can rejoice and say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  (1 Cor. 15:55).
 
The reason for that difference is that those who have faith in Jesus Christ can be sure of what lies ahead. Their only comfort is that in life and in death they belong to their faithful Lord and Savior. The true believer knows that nothing can separate them from the love of God, not even the last enemy of death.
   
I read about a missionary who had witnessed to an old Indian chief about Jesus Christ and the need to believe in him. The Indian chief responded by saying, “The Jesus road is a good road, but I have followed the Indian road all my life and cannot change now.”
 
Years later the Indian chief was deathly sick. The missionary went to see him. And the Indian chief asked, “Can I turn to Jesus now? My own road stops here. It has no way through the valley.”  But believers know that there is a way through the valley of the shadow of death. Believers fear no evil for the Lord our God is with us. His rod and his staff, they comfort us (Psa. 23:4).
 
While last-minute conversions happen, they are rare. If someone has not had faith in life, most often they won't on their death bed either. That is why it is so important for you children and young people to take to heart the words of Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 12:1, where he writes, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’”
 
Having assurance in the valley of the shadow of death is a natural result of living a life of faith. Those who by God’s grace have faith in Christ through all the trials and pitfalls of life, are sustained by that same faith in the valley of the shadow of death.
 
Do you remember the false prophet, Balaam, and his request? He said in Numbers 23:10, “Let me die the death of the righteous.” But he never lived the life of the righteous. Instead, he brought calamity on the nation of Israel as he enticed them into sin. Although he lived in the Old Testament era, three separate New Testament passages point out the deceit of Balaam that led the nation of Israel into sin (2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 1:11; Rev. 2:14).
 
For those like Balaam, who say they want to die the death of the righteous with peace, comfort and assurance, yet live a life of unrighteousness, there is no comfort at death's door, but rather foreboding and fear.
 
The Lasting Impact of Saving Faith in Christ
 
A third truth that our text teaches us is that our faith has a lasting impact on our families. Jacob's blessing of Joseph's children was a powerful witness to Joseph, and to the rest of his brothers as well. Long after Jacob passed away, his children and grandchildren would remember that he was a man of faith, a man who although he had sinned greatly – as all of us have – nevertheless was saved by grace and given faith in the eternal Messiah.
 
Being a witness to one's family is stressed throughout Scripture. God works through the family unit and each generation is to have a testimony of faith to pass on to the coming generations. Consider the prayer of the Psalmist in Psalm 71:18, “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God,  till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”
 
Psalm 145:4 describes how “One generation will commend your works to another; they will speak of your mighty acts.” And Psalm 103 describes God’s faithfulness throughout the generations: “But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’S love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (Psa. 103:17, 18).
 
The Lord imputes his righteouness for the sake of Christ. He is the only One who perfectly obeyed God’s law, keeping the covenant in all righteousness. And he imputes – credits – his righteous record of obedience to all who have saving faith in him.
 
Many of us have family members who are not saved. But God will often use the influence of our faith in the lives of unsaved family members. Perhaps that influence won't be brought home by the Holy Spirit until after we die, but God does use the witness of faith for his purposes. And our lives speak, even after we have died. Hebrews 11:4, applies not just to Abel, but to all of us. It declares: “And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” The testimony of your life will speak even after your death, either as a godly example to follow, or as a warning of eternal judgment for unrepented sin.
 
Parents have such a great opportunity, and also such a great challenge, in raising their children in the knowledge of the Lord. Deuteronomy 6 describes how we are to “Love the LORD your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” And then the Lord says (Deut. 6:6-9): “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” In the everyday events of life – even leaning on a staff to worship – parents and grandparents have opportunity to witness to the next generation.
 
Spouses also are often used by the Lord as a witness. We understand that believers are only to marry another believer. But in the formation of the early church, often one spouse would come to believe in the Lord as the gospel spread, and the other person in the marriage would be an unbeliever. Peter's advice to wives in that situation was to win over their husbands, not by words but by their behavior, by “the purity and the reference of your lives” (1 Peter 3:1).
 
Even children are used by the Holy Spirit to save their parents at times. The Scripture describes how from the mouths of babes and infants God has ordained praise. A ministerial colleague, years ago, had the privilege of baptizing his father when his father was 75 years old. His father had not been a believer, but through the witness of his son, he came to know God's grace and redeeming love, even though that does not happen frequently at an advanced age.
 
But the influence of children on their parents isn’t just by children who grow up to be ministers. My wife’s family began attending church, and came to saving faith, after their children were in a Vacation Bible School program. Through that VBS program, and the biblical truths taught to little children, parents were brought into the family of God. The faith of children is a powerful testimony proving the truth of Scripture that "'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’” (Psa. 8:2; Matt. 21:16).
 
As we see God's grace in Jacob's life, and his testimony of faith as he blesses his grandchildren, we should be greatly encouraged. Jacob was a sinner saved by grace just as we are. God's grace is always far greater than our sin. And part of God's grace involves the witness of our faith to those in our family, to those in our community, and to those around the world through our support of missions.
 
Faith in Our Sovereign and Ever Faithful God
 
The blessing also points us to the sovereignty of God, not only in salvation but in all things. You undoubtedly noticed how Genesis 48 records Jacob putting Ephraim, who was younger ahead of Manasseh who, as the eldest, would normally receive the greater blessing. But just as God had determined that Jacob would receive the blessing that normally would have gone to his older brother Esau, so also in the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh we see the sovereign rule of God unfold. And when we see that he is sovereign and faithful in all things – our salvation and all the events and circumstances of lives – then we can have peace in life and peace in death.  
 
Have you encountered older people who reflect back on life with bitterness? Jacob could have been that way. His uncle turned the tables on him, making him work fourteen years for Rachel’s hand in marriage. His wages were changed ten times during those fourteen years, and not for the better. He was a widower who had been deceived by his sons. He lived for decades believing Joseph had been torn apart by wild animals. But at death’s door, as he reflected back on his life, Jacob had no bitterness. Jacob’s focus was on God and his blessings to him. In Jacob’s blessing he focused on the faithfulness and goodness of our sovereign Lord, saying:
 
“May the God before whom my fathers
    Abraham and Isaac walked,
the God who has been my shepherd
    all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered
           me from all harm
    —may he bless these boys.”
(Gen. 48:15-16a)
 
He had no bitterness because he focused on the sovereign love and care of God. He knew God to be faithful always, in the deep valleys of life as well as in times of great joy. And knowing that God is faithful he blessed his descendants with confidence, confidence in the Lord, not in the frail and sinful lineage that would be marked with many of the same sins he himself had committed.
 
May that same confidence, born out of faith in him who is ever faithful and sovereign, be yours and mine, giving us joy in life and peace at death, even as we trust and pray for God’s gracious work in the lives of our children and grandchildren. Amen.
 
 
Bulletin outline:
 
 
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and
worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. – Hebrews 11:21
 
                              “Faith at Death’s Door”
                                     Hebrews 11:21
                   (Scripture Reading: Genesis 47:28-48:22)
 
I. Hebrews 11:21 teaches:
     1) Faith and worship go hand in hand, day by day (Rom. 12:1)
 
 
 
 
 
 
     2) Faith’s true condition is often revealed at death (1 Cor. 15:55)
 
 
 
 
 
 
     3) Our faith can and should impact our families (Psa. 71:18, 145:4-7)
 
 
 
 
 
 
II. Application: Jacob’s faith serves as an encouragement as we see God’s
     grace and His faithfulness in life and in death (Gen. 48:3, 4 15, 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 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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