Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Faith of Moses (Hebrews 11:23-29)

Moses is one of the most important figures in the Bible, if not in all of world history. Already in this epistle, we have learned that “Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after” (Heb. 3:5). He is the author of much of the material in the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, often called the Book of Moses (2 Chron. 25:4; 35:12; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 13:1; Mark 12:26). When we think of Moses, we think of the burning bush and the flaming Mount Sinai, the Ten Plagues and the Ten Commandments, the parting of the Red Sea and the giving of the Manna. It is of Moses that God himself said, when Aaron and Miriam complained of his leadership over Israel: “If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches: and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Num. 12:6-8). Later, in recording the death of Moses we read, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, and in all that mighty hand, and in all the great terror which Moses shewed in the sight of all Israel” (Deut. 34:10-12). Moses was a man apart. He was a miracle-working man, a patient man, a courageous man, a faithful man, a meek man – a great man, a man of God. He was a prophet, statesman, warrior, judge, and leader.

It is therefore easy to over-romanticize the life of Moses. And while there were certainly triumphant moments, like that on the other side of the Red Sea as the waters came crashing down over their enemies, much of Moses’ life was very difficult. I’ll never forget a comment that the late Kentucky Baptist pastor Henry Mahan once made about Moses, to the effect that God had to kill half the Israelites just to keep them off Moses’ back. But it didn’t start in the wilderness. Like our Lord, his life almost didn’t even begin, as we are reminded in verse 23, with Pharaoh seeking to kill all the male children of the Jews. And then, even after he had been adopted into the royal family, he had to flee for his life into the desert and live in exile for many years after standing up for one of his brethren. Even when he came to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, it was not all fun and games. I would not have wanted to be Moses. Staring down Pharaoh must have been difficult, and we shouldn’t wonder why Moses begged God to send someone else. And then the treachery of the spies and the 38 further years of wandering in the wilderness could not have been terribly exciting. And yet that is where Moses spent the rest of his life, since God did not allow him to enter the Promised Land on account of his failing to honor the Lord at the waters of Meribah (Num. 20:12).

But though we are apt to overdramatize and over-romanticize his life, this is a mistake, because it keeps us from seeing very valuable and important lessons that there are in his life and story. More importantly, it keeps us from being encouraged by his life and walk of faith. If we think he is so different, we are apt to think there is nothing we can learn from him, which would defeat the very purpose for which this chapter was written. In this message, I want us to be guided by Moses and encouraged by Moses. To that end, I want us to see the good news in how Moses is like us as well as in how he is different from us. Most of all, I want you to see how Moses points us to Jesus who is also both like us and different from us in the most important ways possible. Moses points us to Jesus, in what he said and in what he taught and in

what he did. And in that way, his faith points us not to himself but away from himself to the God in whom he trusted and in whom we also are called to trust.

Moses is like us, and that is good news.

It is easy to look at the life of Moses and to think that there is just no way his life could be a model, let alone a source of encouragement for us. But as we have seen with all the saints listed so far in this chapter, they are just like us in many ways. And at this point in the chapter, one of the things we can really begin to see is the number of parallels between the men and women of faith whose lives we are called to look at. One of the things this teaches us is that these are things we should expect of anyone who aspires to a life of faith in Christ. It teaches us that we should look for these characteristics in ourselves.

Moses is like us in the sufferings he endured.

Moses and Abraham were both called to a life of sacrifice and faith. Abraham was called to a life of sacrifice in being called away from his homeland and to a pilgrim lifestyle and then later in being told to sacrifice his son. Moses was called to a life of sacrifice in being called to give up the treasures of Egypt, the temporary pleasures of sin, in order to suffer affliction with the people of God.

It is this way with so many of God’s servants. One of my heroes, John Calvin, was constantly surrounded by enemies near and far. He was sometimes saddled with unfaithful friends. Though his position as a Reformer and minister of Christ in those troublesome times required a great amount of boldness and fearlessness, Calvin was constitutionally timid – so it’s not like this work was naturally easy for him. He was poor – I mean, really poor – all his days. Pope Pius IV is reported to have said, after Calvin died, “The strength of that heretic came from the fact that money was nothing to him.”i

And if that wasn’t enough, he was plagued with terrible health for most of his days. One author speaks of severe hemorrhoids or “the knifing pains of kidney and gallstones” that “would torment him. If his hemorrhoids were bearable, he would take to his horse and gallop as fast as he could, hoping to jolt loose the stones for which his day knew no surgery. Headache – was he ever free from it? Sometimes he was blinded by the pain or kept awake all night. Many times Calvin ate only one meal a day. Cramps, indigestion, influenza were regular problems.”ii And yet it was out of this furnace that came spiritual renewal in Geneva and theological truths written down for the ages. To this day, five hundred years later, people are still reading and profiting from his sermons, letters, and above all his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Brothers and sisters, I am saying this because this is normal for the Christian life. Lots of faith and spiritual wisdom and kingdom energy doesn’t get you a Learjet. The most productive Christians have always been the most afflicted and tried Christians. In fact, the apostles told the early Christians that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The apostle Peter told the early Christians, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:12-13). It’s not strange, it’s normal that we suffer. It is the furnace through which the dross is melted off and a life is lived to the utmost for the glory and God and the advancement of his kingdom. Actually, we should be perhaps a little worried if nothing ever happened to us. If we were always grinning and never groaning, that would be a problem. The kingdom of Christ does not belong to his world and its gifts; neither do his people.

He is like us in his dependence upon the God of promise and grace.

Both Abraham and Moses endured the trials they faced by looking forward to the sure fulfillment of the promises of God and by seeing that what God promised was infinitely better than anything that this earth could give them.

We’ve noticed this already with respect to Abraham, but you see it again here in Moses. They endured because they didn’t think they were really making any kind of ultimate sacrifice. I think if you had pressed them about what they had to give up, they would have described them as short-term sacrifices for long term gain. Hence, we are told that Moses “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” and to “suffer affliction with the people of God” and to endure “the reproach of Christ” not just because it was the right thing to do (though it was), but because he understood that what the world could give was just “for a season.” In contrast, he had “respect unto the recompense of reward” (which was not just for a season) and even the reproach of Christ was seen to be “greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” He “endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” God was greater, more central, more glorious to Moses than was Pharaoh, and God’s grace more precious than the king’s gifts. In other words, we are again reminded of the central importance of faith in God’s word, his word of promise and reward and hope and grace. They were convinced that faithfulness to God was better than the best the world could give. That was the key to their endurance, and it is the key to ours as well.

Remember what the author of Hebrews had said to the saints to whom he was writing? “For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise” (Heb. 10:34-36). It’s the same thing. They were to endure by “knowing . . . that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.” And it’s the same for us today as well. If you want to endure well and finish well, you have to have this perspective of faith. Will the words “by faith” be written over our lives, as it was the patriarchs and Moses and all the saints whose names grace the record of Hebrews 11? May it be so!

We need to remember that Moses wasn’t a great man because he was a great man. He was a great man because he fully followed and utterly depended upon God Almighty, the God who created the world, guides its every revolution and orbit, and who saves a people by sovereign and omnipotent grace.

He is like us in the mistakes that he made.

Another thing you will notice about Moses, as well as the rest of these saints, saints who persevered in faith and finished well, is that they nevertheless were not perfect. Abraham and Sarah both fell temporarily into unbelief. But they didn’t stay in that mindset; there was a pattern of true faith that characterized their lives. The same can be seen with respect to Moses. There is an illustration of this principle in the way our author describes the way Moses left Egypt in order to escape Pharaoh, and the way this is described in the book of Exodus. In Exodus, we are told that after Moses realized that others knew about his having killed the Egyptian, he “feared, and said, Surely this thing is known” (Exodus 2:14). But our author writes, “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). This has caused much consternation among the commentators. Which was it? Did he fear or did he not?

Some get around this difficulty by making Heb. 11:27 not about Moses leaving Egypt after killing the Egyptian but about Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. This is the solution for which even so great a Bible scholar as the puritan John Owen settles, for example. The problem with that is that it destroys the linearity of the passage: the author seems clearly to be tracing the history of Moses in a historically linear fashion, from his birth in verse 23 to the crossing of the Red Sea in verse 28. Since verse 27 comes before the Passover which came before the Exodus, it is best to see verse 27 about Moses fleeing from the wrath of Pharaoh when the king discovered that Moses had killed an Egyptian.

But what you have here is not a contradiction, but faith overcoming fear. It’s not that Moses was never afraid, but that he didn’t allow fear to paralyze him. He overcame his fear, and it was the courage of faith in God that led Moses to leave Egypt and the only life he had ever known to go into exile in a strange land. I believe this is very similar to what a lot of us experience – we are confronted with something fearful, and our first tendency is to be afraid. But then as the Lord reminds us of his promises and his faithfulness and his goodness and his sovereignty, our hearts are strengthened and we are made courageous – valiant for truth.

You see, my friends, the call to endurance, the call to perseverance, is not – as some of its detractors seem to make it out to be – a call or claim to perfectionism. None of the people here in Hebrews 11 were sinless or perfect. You cannot expect yourself to become perfect this side of heaven. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” the apostle John tells us, “and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8). And what that means is that we should not respond to our failures – whether it is the failure of faith or purity of heart or whatever – by thinking that God can no longer do anything with us. Rather, we should not respond to our failures by despondency but by repentance and faith. We must never forget that as sick and bad as the church of Laodicea was, our Lord issued this amazing and stirring invitation to them: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). Who is our Lord talking to here? He is talking to people he had just a few verses before described as “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (17)! So let us not let our mistakes discourage us from coming to Christ for new repentance and faith and grace and mercy. His throne, brothers and sisters, is a throne of mercy.

Moses is like us, and that is good news. It is good news because it means that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through comfort and patience of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). It means that we can learn from his life and example lessons that we can appropriately apply to ourselves. Above all, it means that the God of Moses is our God; that God’s power extended over the Red Sea is the same power that watches over us. It means that the God who glorified himself through Moses is still glorifying himself in the church today. God’s kingdom is advancing and will advance, and it advances through the lives of men and women who, like Moses, trust in the God who saves.

Moses is different from us, and that is also good news.

But there are also ways – obvious ones – in which Moses is not like us. This is also instructive. Even though we should expect there to be many similarities between the men and women of faith in every age, nevertheless, there will also always be plenty of differences. These differences will in some respects be the result of personality, the culture and the times in which they lived, as well as they part they were meant to play in God’s providential dealings. But above all, these differences are rooted in God’s different purposes for different people. So though it is true that saints like Moses are held up for us as example and as an encouragement to our faith, we shouldn’t think that God deals with his people in a one-size- fits-all approach. You see this clearly illustrated in this chapter.

Moses is different in the particular ways in which he experienced suffering.

Even though it is a fact that suffering is normal for the Christian life doesn’t mean that we all suffer the same way or to the same extent. Again, think about Joseph and Moses: Joseph started out as a slave and ended up in the palace with the Pharaohs. Moses started out in the palace with the Pharaohs and ended up in the desert with a bunch of ex-slaves who wanted to pin his hide to their tent walls. So whereas Joseph went from the furnace of affliction to the throne of Egypt, Moses’ life went in the opposite direction. After a bumpy start, he spent the better part of his youth in the courts of Pharaoh. But instead of staying there or getting better, Moses traded all that for a life of toil and care in order to serve Christ.

As a result of such differences, there is a danger, I think, to look at other Christians, either past or present, and to compare our lives with theirs in a way that is unhealthy and unproductive. The temptation is to evaluate these differences and to end up thinking that God is unfair in his dealings with men in general or with us in particular. For example, we may look at someone who is suffering in ways that we can’t even imagine. We don’t understand how they could be coping with such a trial. Why is God treating them like that, and me better than them? How is this possible or just or right? Or we may be on the end of suffering that others aren’t experiencing and wonder how it’s fair for God to be dealing out this kind of pain and difficulty to me when other believers seem to have it easier. What makes it harder sometimes is that it doesn’t seem to matter how faithful a person is. The providential dealing out of pain can seem arbitrary. And this can lead to bitterness and unbelief.

But what we learn from Joseph and Moses is that their particular sufferings served God’s purpose and the good of his people. Joseph’s sufferings would not have necessarily served the advance of God’s cause in Moses’ day, and vice versa. It would not have been right for Moses to consider Joseph’s sufferings and to fault God for treating him so differently, because what God was doing in Joseph’s day was different from what God was doing in his day. In Joseph’s day, it was for the good of God’s people that they come under the shelter of Egyptian protection. And that meant that Joseph needed to have some influence in the courts of Egypt (and it took his sufferings to get him there!). But in Moses’ day, it was for the good of God’s people that they leave Egypt, not only to rescue them from the slavery into which they had come, but also to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham. In other words, it isn’t right for us to look at others and think that our sufferings are somehow arbitrary. They may indeed look that way sometimes, but that doesn’t mean that they are that way. God doesn’t do things except in accordance with his wise and just and good and holy purpose, a purpose which is for his glory and our good and the good of his people.

Brothers and sisters, God is sovereign. And what that means is nothing happens that is apart from the purpose of God, and that includes our sufferings as well as our blessings. This is precisely what the apostle Paul says, for example, in Eph. 1:11, where we learn that the God who predestines his people to their inheritance is the God “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” In other words, whatever comes to pass (all things) does so because God brings it about (worketh) either directly or indirectly (and without in any way becoming the author of sin), and he does so in accordance with his own free and sovereign purpose (after the counsel of his own will). Practically, this means that the suffering you and I have to endure, whatever it is, comes to us in accordance with the will of God. It is planned suffering, planned so that it is working for our good (Rom. 8:28).

The apostle Peter put it this way: “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Pet. 4:19). I love that. How do we suffer? “According to the will of God.” I know that doesn’t make it easier. Suffering is still suffering and no amount of right knowledge about it is going to change that. But it does provide a context for understanding how our sufferings are meaningful. They are meaningful because God meant them. And that means that, as they come from the God who is holy, wise, and good, our sufferings will redound to his glory and good. There is no such thing as meaningless suffering. And remember that you are not the one who ascribes meaning to your hardship. God does. And that means that if we cannot see why, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason, or that the reason isn’t good and wise.

Moses was different in the particular ways in which he experienced God’s blessing.

Suffering can make people bitter and broken, but blessing can make people envious and jealous. We may not be suffering, but we can see how other people are being blessed and think that God is holding out on us. We may think that we have done more for God and his people and his kingdom, and yet there are so few returns for all our effort, whereas others seem to enjoy greater blessings without a fraction of the effort. We may wonder why some can be so successful in their businesses when we struggle to make ends meet. We may wonder why some can be so fruitful in ministry – especially those who don’t seem to have it all together on the truth or who employ unbiblical methods – when we labor and labor and there doesn’t seem to be any fruit at all. We look at Moses – what a life! As we are reminded in Scripture, there was not another prophet in the same category. And yet, Moses was just a man. So why him? Well, there is only one answer to that: because God chose him!

When we look at others, let us be careful that we do not compare ourselves in such a way that we begin to think that God is being unkind or unfair in withholding certain blessings or experiences from us. First of all, we don’t deserve any particular blessing, do we? Is this not the lesson of the Parable of Laborers? “Is it not lawful for me,” says the Lord to us, “to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (Mt. 20:15). Or as Paul puts it, “For who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). We are sinners, who deserve nothing but wrath. Any blessing short of hell is infinite mercy. Second, whatever we do have is itself a gift of God. We must not think that God is holding out on us. When we begin to focus on others, this tends to make us forget that God has already been so good to us. What have we received? Every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3)! Exceeding great and precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4)! Brothers and sisters, we have nothing of which we have a right to complain.

Moses’ similarities and his differences point us to Jesus Christ, and that is the best news.

Moses, though he was the Lawgiver and is often contrasted, even in Scripture, with Jesus (e.g. Jn. 1:17), nevertheless, he is also a type of Christ and points us to him. When Peter preached the gospel in Acts 3, he said this about Moses and Jesus: “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you” (Acts 3:22). This quotation from Deut. 18:15, 19, was meant to substantiate his witness to Jesus from the previous verses. In other words, Jesus Christ is the ultimate prophet, the one to whom Moses pointed and of whom Moses spoke. Our Lord himself said, “. . . had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me” (Jn. 5:46).

Moses was different from all of us because we could never be a prophet like he was. But Moses himself said that the Messiah was a prophet different from and greater than himself. Our Lord is the ultimate Prophet, the one through whom God speaks, for he is the Son of God, the Word of God (Jn. 1:1, 14, 18). As we are reminded at the very beginning of Hebrews, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Heb. 1:1-2). Do you want to know the will of God for your salvation? Then look to Christ.

But Moses was similar to us in many ways. He was, in the end, just another man. In the same way, this points us to Christ as well, who as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:14). Again, as we are reminded in the book of Hebrews, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15). Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God became man by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary and born of her, yet without sin (cf. Shorter Catechism, Q. 22).

Of course, the great way in which Moses pointed to Christ was not so much even in himself but through the institution of the Passover. This is spoken of in verse 28: “Through faith he kept the Passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them.” This was God’s answer to the last plague, the death of the firstborn. It is interesting that everyone was exposed to that terrible destroyer, Egyptian and Israelite. The only way you could be protected was through the sprinkling of blood, the blood of the Passover lamb. I don’t wonder if this is what John the Baptist was referring to when he pointed to Christ and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).

We recall that God told Moses that the angel of death would come to Egypt and take the life of every firstborn. Even so, we are all under sentence of death: “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Our sin makes us obnoxious to God. He is of purer eyes than to behold sin and iniquity. But there was, though God didn’t owe anyone this, a miraculous interposition of mercy. There was a way of deliverance. It was this: they were to kill a lamb and to take its blood and put it on the doorposts of every Israelite home. When the angel of destruction came through and saw the blood, he would pass over. This is all pointing to the death of Jesus on the cross, and when his blood is sprinkled and applied to you through faith in him (Rom. 3:25), the angel of death passes over. How do you escape the judgment of God? Not by looking to your good works, but by looking to the atoning work of Jesus Christ. When his blood of atonement is applied to you, the destroyer cannot touch you. You are safe in the arms of Jesus Christ.

At the end of the day, we don’t look to Moses or anyone else for salvation. Moses is in many ways a great example and a great encouragement. But he is not our Savior. For that, we look only to Jesus. I am always touched by the description given by John Bunyan in his The Pilgrim’s Progress of how Faithful – one of the characters in the allegory – came to meet Jesus. He met him after first meeting Moses and getting beat up by him. That’s what the law of God does – it beats us up mercilessly. Here is the exchange between him and Christian:

FAITH. So soon as the man [Moses] overtook me, he was but a word and a blow, for down he knocked me, and laid me for dead. . .. He had doubtless made an end of me, but that one came by, and bid him forbear.

CHR. Who was that that bid him forbear?

FAITH. I did not know him at first; but as he went by, I perceived the holes in his hands and in his side; then I concluded that he was our Lord.

That’s who Jesus Christ is: he is the one whose hands and sides were pierced for our transgressions. His body was broken so that ours would not have to be in the judgment. His blood was shed so that we might be saved from God’s eternal and just wrath. That’s what we celebrate every time we take the Lord’s Supper.

So brothers and sisters, be encouraged by the faith of Moses. But more than that, look to one to whom Moses himself looked – to Jesus Christ.

Van Halsema, Thea, This Was John Calvin (Baker, Grand Rapids: 1959), p. 164. 

ii Ibid., p. 184.


Sunday, July 17, 2022

Faith and the Future (Heb. 11:20-22)

In these three verses, we are given what are essentially brief bullet points on the faith of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. But I want you to notice that there are a number of common themes to all three accounts. First, all three accounts are about what these patriarchs would say when they knew they were near death. For example, Isaac wanted to bless his first-born Esau because, as he put it, “I am old, I know not the day of my death.” He went on to say that he wanted to bless him before he died (Gen. 27:2-4). Of course, through the trickery of Rebekah and Jacob, he ended up blessing Jacob instead, which is why in the text it has Jacob before Esau.

And then both verses 21 and 22 explicitly mention the fact that Jacob and Joseph where dying when they pronounced their blessings.

Then there is the common theme of the future promise of God, which is also a major theme of this whole chapter. Isaac’s blessing was “concerning things to come” (20). Joseph talked about the future exodus and even left instructions that his bones were to be removed to Canaan when the exodus of Israel from Egypt did happen (22). And though we are not told the content of Jacob’s blessing in verse 21, we can read about it in Genesis 48:15-17, and there we discover that it too is a reference to the future blessing of God upon the descendants of Israel.

I think it is a remarkable thing that on their death beds, these men didn’t spend a whole lot of time dwelling on their past. It’s not because their past wasn’t worth talking about. And they did refer to it some: Jacob, for example, points Joseph to “God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed [shepherded] me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads” (Gen. 48:15-16). So there is a pointing back to the past – but it is only to provide a context for the blessing which points to the future: “and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (16).

What exactly was the nature of these promises? Well, there was an element that pointed to the near future. There was this promise of the inheritance in the land of Canaan, which would be fulfilled, as we are told quite explicitly by Joshua, when the land of Canaan was conquered by the Israelites after the Exodus (cf. Josh. 21:43-45). This would not happen for another several hundred years, but it did happen. It was in this context that Joseph’s commandments concerning his bones were fulfilled. When Israel left Egypt 430 years later, we are told that “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you” (Exod. 13:19). Then in Joshua 24:32, we read, “And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.”

And then there was the element of the promises to Abraham that pointed to the coming of Christ and to the redemption that he would accomplish by his perfect life and atoning death, by which “the blessing of Abraham” would be given to the nations (Gal. 3:14). This is of course the linchpin of all the promises. Canaan was given to Israel in order to preserve a place for the family of Abraham from whom the Messiah would come. It was not an end in itself; it promoted a purpose, a purpose which was fulfilled in the person and work of our Lord. All the promises of God to the patriarchs ultimately point to Jesus Christ and the salvation from sin which he came to accomplish. All the promises of God find their yes and Amen in him (2 Cor. 1:20).

But there is another aspect to these promises which is still future. As we saw last time, the promise was that Abraham (and hence Isaac and Jacob and Joseph) would be the heir of the world (Rom. 4:13). This is more than a promise of a patch of land on the shores of the Mediterranean: it is a promise of a world renewed by the grace and power of God for his chosen people. This was not only future to the patriarchs, but it is also future to us as well.

So as these men neared their deathbeds, they were thinking about the future, not obsessing over the past. Not a totally unknown future, but a future defined and expected by the promise of God. And it is this God-given future to which they pointed their heirs. In particular, they pointed them to the word of God, given to Abraham and passed down through the generations.

And as I read this, it hit me that this is surely an important lesson for us as well. Now we are not in the same position as those men. But we are in a similar position, in this sense: as the people of God, we still possess the promises of God in Christ, promises like the one in Col. 3:4, founded on the realty of the redemption and resurrection of our Lord: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and our life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4). We are to live in light of these realities. And we are to die in light of these realities. But more than this, we are to be concerned to pass on these promises to the next generations, just like Isaac and Jacob and Joseph did. We are to orient our children to a future defined by the promises of God, promises given to us in Christ and authoritatively recorded in the Scriptures.

And just like the promises given to the patriarchs, there are various ways in which God’s promises come to us. In fact, as Paul tells us, if we believe in Christ, then we too are sons and daughters of Abraham by faith and heirs of the world with him (Rom. 4:11-16). There are promises for the forgiveness of sins in Christ, received by faith. There are promises for daily grace and strength. There are promises for the presence and provision of God. You might call these present and near future promises. There is the promise concerning the church, that the gates of hell will never prevail against it (Mt. 16:18), a promise that will reach all the way to the end of human history. (Do you want to be on the right side of history? Then be on the side of the church!). And then there is the promise that when we die, we immediately go to be with Christ. Finally, there is the promise that at the very end of the age, the people of God will be resurrected, their souls and bodies reunited in glory, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. We ought to be living in light of these realities and pointing our children and our friends to them as well.

So what should be the object and purpose of this sermon, in light of these verses? Well, it is this: the life of faith is not just about me and my times. It is also, and primarily so, about the future of the kingdom of God. The life of faith does not exist primarily for short term gains, but it plays the long game. This is because the life of faith lives in the refreshing shadow of the future-oriented promises of God in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, and our Savior. And this should be shown, not only the life we live, but also in the words we speak, which is the focus of these three verses. What the patriarchs said to the next generation was meant to confer upon them a confidence in God’s Word so that they would faithfully endure in obedience to it. We should follow their example.

Will we do this? Will our lives and our words encourage the next generation to press into the future in faithfulness to Christ and his word? Will we teach them to orient themselves in light of the future fulfillment of the promises of God? Will we teach them to look outside of the box that defines the values and priorities of this present evil world? Will we show them how to not only look along the horizontal axis of this age but along the vertical toward heaven as well?

How do we do this? How do we bestow upon the next generation an eternal perspective, a perspective shaped neither by the demands of the present nor by the pressures of the world in its opposition to God? Well, I think we do what Isaac and Jacob and Joseph did. We point them to a future which is guaranteed to them by the promises of God.

But we will never do this unless we ourselves are convinced to play the long game in light of the faithfulness of God to his word. So I want to do two things this morning. First, I want to remind you of the terrible waste that results when we live entirely in response to the pressures of the present, a present which presses in upon us and wants to completely consume the horizons of our perspective. Second, I want to remind you of the benefits that inevitably result when we bequeath to our children and the next generation a future-oriented perspective defined by the promises of God in Christ.

The price we pay when we lock ourselves (and the next generation) into the present

Again, what do I mean by this? What does this look like? Let me present before you a few scenarios to illustrate what I am talking about.

It’s the man who is so consumed with pleasing his boss or getting ahead or making his business a success that he ignores the Bible and prayer and the fellowship of the saints and kingdom service. He may know that the Scriptures are important, but the Bible on his shelf is not going to pay the bills, and so he neglects the care of his soul for the sake of making a few more dollars. Over time, his soul shrivels as he spends more and more time on the pressing needs of the present and neglects his soul. Prayer falls off, and eventually he rarely darkens the door of the church. Or if he does continue to come, it is only in and out as quickly as possible. For he has more important and pressing obligations.

Do you see what is happening? He is living in the tyranny of the present. It is this world and its priorities, not God and his kingdom, that are defining this man’s decisions and the way he spends his time. He is not living in light of the future, but entirely in light of the present. He has become a slave to what the apostle Paul calls, “the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Eph. 6:12). And this has terrible consequences. It must inevitably lead to departing from the faith unless God in his sovereign mercy awakens this man to the tragic state of his soul.

Or it’s the parent who is so consumed with having successful children as the world judges success that everything, including the cultivation of the heart and soul with the truths of God’s word, is subordinated to that. And so sports and homework and extracurricular activities dominate to the neglect of the things of God. Church is an interruption in the course of life’s more important events. College is more important that conversion. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not for a moment against any of these things. They are all well and good in their place. The problem is, what is the priority? In the rearing of our children, are we seeking first the kingdom of God or the kingdom of men? Are we raising children who will be able to endure persecution or who will join the persecutors? Do they see that our homes have Christ and his glory and his person as the center around which everything orbits and turns, or do they see themselves and the worldly ambitions we have for them as the center?

Or it’s the church and church leaders who are so attuned to the culture that they end up mimicking the culture. They are so caught up in the thought patterns of the world that they end up, sometimes unconsciously, adopting them. This is sometimes obvious, as when denominations become overtly liberal and heterodox. When a denomination starts embracing not only sinners but also their sin. When it ordains homosexuals to the ministry or promotes the murder of innocent children under the banner of healthcare. Or doctrinally, when churches begin to deny orthodox doctrines like that of penal, substitutionary atonement, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and so on. Why does this happen? Well, it doesn’t happen overnight. Almost all of these denominations start out Biblically faithful and intended to stay that way. But they didn’t and the reason why they didn’t is because over time, the present and the world came to have more weight upon them that the word of God.

But listen, this can happen more easily than you think. And don’t think that just because this church doesn’t use musical instruments and is overall very conservative in its outlook and practice that it can’t happen to us. We are not immune from the siren song of the fallen world we inhabit. Do you remember what our Lord said to Peter, when Peter rebuked him for foretelling of his death? “Get thee behind me, Satan, for thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Mt. 16:23). This is a tremendous statement because just a few verses earlier our Lord had praised Peter for his Great Confession (16-19). And here is my point: we can be perfectly orthodox on big and important doctrines. But that doesn’t mean we can’t become tools of Satan, and in so doing start to savor the things of men, the things of the world. I don’t doubt but that this attitude is partly what played into Peter’s denial of Christ later on – and if it hadn’t been for Christ interceding for him and the sovereign interposition of the grace of God in his life, he would have been lost forever.

What is the price we pay when we are captured by the spirit of the age, when the horizons of our perspective are limited to the present order of things? Well, it is always apostasy, whether that of individuals or that of groups. It inevitably means walking away from faithfulness to Christ. And so you see why the author of Hebrews is telling them these things. You need to have a future perspective, or you will drift away. But you not only need to have it for yourself, but like these three patriarchs, to pass it on to your children, the next generation. And that brings us to our next point.

Why we need to equip the next generation with a future-oriented, promised-based mindset

Here I want to answer the following questions, questions like, what is the point of teaching our children and others about the faithfulness of God to his word? How important is the role of the promises of God here? How does pointing to the future as it is revealed in God’s word help our families and our churches thrive?

First, it teaches them not to define success in terms that the world dictates. My friends, I’m not saying the world can’t give you success. It can, and that is what makes it so tempting to follow its advice. And the success it promises you is immediate and instantly gratifying. It plays also on our self-centeredness and our pride. It doesn’t prune you; it preens you. But that is also the problem. The success that the world gives does not go beyond the borders of the grave. You cannot carry its riches with you. In other words, for all the niceness and attractiveness of the world’s rewards, it comes with a significant cost. The cost is short-term gains in the place of eternal riches. Isn’t this the point of the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16? It is also the point of the examples and lessons the author of Hebrews wants us to learn. We will see this further illustrated in the example of Moses in the next few verses, who because of this eternal perspective left the treasures of Egypt in order to suffer with the people of God. Why? Because “he had respect unto the recompense of reward” (Heb. 11:26).

Don’t you want your children to be like this? Don’t we want the next generation to be like this? Don’t we want them to be like Daniel and not like Demas? Then teach them that success is not ultimately defined by the standards of broken image bearers and their books but by the God of heaven and his Book. Unless they are shaped by the promises of God, they will be molded according to the pattern of this world. Unless they can see a future sovereignly ruled over and guaranteed by Christ, they will bow to the dictates of the present.

Of course, brothers and sisters, they must see it in us first. They must see that we are men and women who live in light of God’s promises. This was true of these three men. Isaac and Jacob and Joseph lived this way, and their children could not have helped but to have seen it. I love the way Jacob refers to God to Laban: he calls him, “the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac” (Gen. 31:42). Can our children say that of us?

Second, it teaches them to have a heavenly perspective. The promises of God in Christ are not promises of health, wealth, and prosperity now. We remember what the apostle Paul said, that he had suffered the loss of all things and counted them as dung that he might win Christ (Phil. 3:8). For Paul, gaining Christ meant losing everything else. But he was able to do this in light of the future resurrection: “That I may know him [Christ], and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (10-11).

Nor are we to say to the next generation that if they just have enough faith in Christ, that they will be able to go through life without any worries or stresses, that they will always be happy, that they will never have to struggle with anxiety or depression. Rather, we are to “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13).

In other words, the promises of God point us to our heavenly reward, and in doing so they steel us against the winds and waves and earthquakes that beat upon us in the present. It is only as we are able to look beyond the trials and temptations of the present and into heaven that we will be able to persevere and not give up. This is why our Lord says what he says in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake;” and if you stop there, that doesn’t make any sense. How do you put blessing and persecution together? It’s insane. But not if you keep reading: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Mt. 5:9-12).

Third, it teaches them to be patient and to play the long game. We don’t want the next generation to burn out and give up. But that of course is the temptation when things get hard. That’s the temptation when you are despised and rejected of men. That’s what you want to do when the fierce heat of persecution beats down upon you and wears you down. We will be tempted to give up when there isn’t the fruit that we wanted and expected. And look, you don’t have to be a prosperity preacher to fall into this trap, for even Elijah succumbed when the victory on Mount Carmel didn’t turn out the way he expected.

But how do you keep from doing that, and how do you instill this kind of endurance in the next generation? How do you teach them to value the little victories and become depressed when nothing big happens? Well, again, you do it by instilling in them a commitment to God’s promises. You tell them to hang their hopes on God, not on their own meager efforts. God is playing the long game. He took almost 2000 years from the promise to Abraham to the coming of Christ. Think about all that happened in the middle. Think about the ups and the downs, the terrible period of the Judges, the promising reigns of Kings David and Solomon followed by the rending of the kingdoms, the apostasy of Israel and its deportation, and so on. The entire Old Testament is a roller-coaster ride, and if you focus just on a particular moment, it might look as if God had completely forgotten about his promises (in fact, the psalmists say this very clearly). But he hadn’t, and we need to remember again and again what Peter reminds us: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not wiling that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

Fourth, it teaches them to have hope in God when all seems lost. By pointing ourselves and others to the promises of God, it forces us to look up. The events of this world are not to be understood in a merely this-worldly perspective. That is one of the reasons why I think Biblical books like Daniel and Revelation are so important. In those books the curtain is drawn back, and we are able to look into heaven, a heaven very concerned in the affairs of men. The Biblical reality of which we need to remind ourselves and our children is that future does not belong to Satan, it belongs to God. The promises of God remind us of that. The Biblical story reminds us of that. And it reminds us that the present is never the interpretive grid for the future. For when did Isaac come? When his father was 100 and his mother 90. Impossible! Yes, but not with God. And when did Jesus come? Not at the height of Israel’s power and influence, but at its nadir, when it was subservient to the pagan empire of Rome. We need to be like Abraham, and we need to teach our children to be like Abraham, “who against hope believed in hope” (Rom. 4:18).

Fifth, it teaches them to be willing to be unnoticed. How do holding onto God’s promises do this? In two ways. First, by helping us to see that we are really only a small part in a grand scheme. God’s promises pass from eternity past through the entirety of human history and into eternity future. I am but a dot on that continuum. Now it doesn’t mean that I don’t play a part – of course I do – but it is only a part, and I am really not that big of a deal. God doesn’t need me; I need him. The perspective of the Bible helps us to see that. And we need that. We need, each of us, as the apostle puts it in his letter to the Romans, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). We need to not take ourselves too seriously. It is when we do think we more than we really are that we start doing damage, and turn ourselves into modern equivalents of Diotrephes who loved to have the preeminence (3 Jn. 9-10). May God save us from that!

But the promises also help us to be willing to go unnoticed because they promise us something much better than human praise could ever give to us: they hold out for us the promise of the fellowship and friendship of God. Away with the praises of men! “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory” – and then notice the motivation here – “for thy mercy and for thy truth’s sake” (Ps. 115:1). Or, as the ESV translates it, “for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.” Faithfulness to what? Faithfulness to his covenant, of which his steadfast love and mercy is a witness. Faithfulness to his promises. He gives himself to us in his promises to be our help and our shield and to bless us (10-15). It is when we have this perspective that we will “bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore” (18), not our own name.

Above all, it teaches us to have a Colossians 3 mindset and to set our minds on things above where Christ sits at the right hand of God. It is the only thing that makes the gospel make sense. The promises of God find their yes and amen in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). Jesus Christ is the one to whom all God’s promises point. If you don’t see him in them, you are not looking at them correctly. The promises of God fuel our hope; but there is another name for hope: Jesus – the “Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1).

How is it that a single promise of God, promises for good and eternal blessing, can come to pass for creatures such as ourselves, not only tiny and insignificant, but traitors and rebels against God, dead in trespasses and in sins, foul and stinking and putrid in our iniquity? There is only one way. It is because Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). It is because in his office as Mediator between God and men (1 Tim. 2:5), he did for us what we could not do. He kept God’s law perfectly so that his flawless obedience could be counted for those who are united to him by faith (Rom. 5:19). He suffered God’s just wrath against sinners in his own body on the cross so that we can have everlasting mercy instead of eternal misery.

In other words, the promises of God are not for people who have made themselves fit for him, but for sinners who believe in him. We are told in Gen. 15:6 that Abraham, as he heard the promise of God, “believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” That is to say, Abraham was justified before God, and he didn’t create his own righteousness through good works but received God’s righteousness through faith. It is the same today: “the righteousness of God . . . is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:22-24). That is the gospel, the good news. Do you hear it as such? My friends, be not among those who do not receive Christ, but be among those who receive him, to whom God gives the right to become the children of God (Jn. 1:11-12).

Let us then, brothers and sisters, pass on to our children and the next generation a perspective shaped by God’s word of promise so that they will endure and persevere in the faith. Let us be like Isaac and Jacob and Joseph. Let us say with the psalmist, “We will not hide them from [our] children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born: who should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” (Ps. 78:4-7).

Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Victory of Faith (Hebrews 11:9-19)

In the Bible, great promises are given to those who conquer. “To him that overcometh [conquers] will I [King Jesus] give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (2:11). “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (2:17). “And he the overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star.” (2:26-28). “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (3:5). “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of the city of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name” (3:12). “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (3:21). “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (21:7).

When you consider that there are no promises for those who do not conquer (in Rev. 21:7-8, those who conquer are contrasted with those whose end will be in the lake of fire), it makes overcoming all the more important and serious. So we really should want therefore to answer the question: overcoming what? And the answer is that those who overcome, who win the victory, are precisely those who overcome Satan and all that he stands for (cf. Rev. 12:10-11; 15:2). In other words, the victory here is victory over the devil and the world as it joins Satan in opposition to God. Being victorious means not joining the enemy of God by giving in to his deceptions and his flattering and his enticements.

But that naturally leads to another question: how do you do this? And the answer to that is: you do it by faith. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5).

But here’s the deal: those who overcome are those who endure to the end (Mt. 24:13). You don’t win the victory until you can say with Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7- 8). We are not urged to win Pyrrhic victories. Or, to put it the way our text puts it, those who are victorious are just those who die in the faith (Heb. 11:13), not out of it.

I want to die in faith, not out of it. I don’t want to be like those whose faith was overthrown (2 Tim. 2:18), or like Hymenaeus and Alexander who didn’t hold on to their faith but put it away and made shipwreck (1 Tim. 1:19-20). No, I want to be like Paul, and I want you to be like him, too. And I want us to be like Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob. Let it be said of us, that like them we died in faith.

We have had occasion to notice that there is in our day a lot said about certain deconversion stories, people who once claimed to follow Jesus, sometimes with large public followings, and then have fallen away (often also very publicly). But even though such stories generate a lot of publicity, these are not the people you should really focus on. Because for every deconversion story, there go unnoticed by our

secular media a thousand faithful believers whose entire lives to the very end were one fragrant offering to Christ, who were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. People like James Meece, Ernie Godbey, and Lois Sargent. They give the lie to the argument that there is nothing to Christianity. I want to be like them, and I want you to be like them, and like Abraham.

We have already been encouraged in the book of Hebrews to follow the faith and example of Abraham: “That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:12, and the next verses 13-17 are about God’s promise to Abraham). We are being encouraged again here to be like him in our faith. Now last time we noticed that Abraham’s faith produced obedience to God (11:8), and how it did so. Today, we want to look at verses 9-19 and ask the question, “What was it about Abraham’s faith that sustained him through so many trials and setbacks and difficulties, so that he persevered in the faith to the end of his life and overcame and won the victory of faith?”

To answer this question, I want us to notice two things. First, I want to look at the ways that are highlighted in this text in which Abraham’s victory over the world was shown. And then I want to look at the ways that his faith enabled him to do that.

The ways in which Abraham’s victory over the world was shown

First of all, it was shown in his not making Canaan his homeland. Now this might seem strange, because God promised to give Canaan to Abraham’s seed (cf. Gen. 13:14-16). And yet we are told that Abraham “sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange [foreign] country” (9). Note that: he was living like an exile in the land God had promised to him! Abraham and his family “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (13).

Now brothers and sisters, the people of God have always been like this since the fall of man into sin. The meek shall inherit the earth (Mt. 5:9), but not yet. We are told that there will be a regeneration for the physical universe (Mt. 19:28), when all things are renewed. It is for this that our world groans and travails in pain until now (Rom. 8:22). There is coming a New Heavens and a New Earth wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Pet. 3:13). But this is all future. However, the fact of the matter is that we are walking on an earth that will one day belong to the people of God. We are living on our land. But now we have to do so as strangers and foreigners, as pilgrim people. And that means we need, like Abraham, to retain a pilgrim mindset. We need to remind ourselves that our inheritance is future. But that does not make it any the less certain!

What this means is that we need to be careful that we don’t settle for less. That is what worldliness does for you. It makes you settle for less because you are settling on this world. Of course, those who are worldly will laugh at this. They will tell you that you are the one missing out. They will point to their possessions and power and prestige, and then point to you and ask you: who has it better? Well, they often have a point. They often do have it better now. (By the way, I’m not suggesting that riches are indicative of godlessness or that poverty is a sign of piety. Abraham was a wealthy man in his day. Nevertheless, he probably could have had more, more riches and more power, but he never sought to possess as much of this world as he could – see Gen. 14:22-24). But let me ask you this: who would you rather be like – Lazarus or the rich man (Luke. 16)? You see, what really matters is how you end up, and God’s elect will end up with immeasurable riches in eternity that will make this world’s pleasures look like mud cakes in the slum. It isn’t even a contest (cf. Rom. 8:18).

So Abraham didn’t settle for less. He never put down stakes, even in Canaan. Did you notice that? He lived in tents his entire life (Heb. 11:9). He never lived in a house with foundations. He never dwelt in a city. He was a nomad, a sojourner, on purpose, because he was living in light of the promise. We should do so as well.

Second, it was seen in his doing what was impossible, humanly speaking. The Lord promised Abraham and Sarah a son, long after it was physically impossible for this to happen. This is highlighted in verses 11- 12. Sarah herself “was past age” to have children (11) and Abraham was “as good as dead” (12). Nevertheless, Sarah “received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child” so that there “sprang . . . even of one . . . so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.” This language is similar to that of the apostle Paul’s, who said that Abraham, “being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Rom. 4:19-20).

God loves to call us to do the impossible, too. At least from a human standpoint. Now I know that Paul says that God “will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able” (1 Cor. 10:13), but we must remember that our enabling comes from the Lord, just as Sarah received strength to conceive. This is why Paul goes on to say that the Lord “will make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Our strength doesn’t come from within but from God. This is why it’s not a contradiction when Paul wrote later of some “trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). Yes, it was beyond Paul’s resources, but not beyond God’s, a lesson he was meant to learn and a lesson we all have to learn as well through trials that are above our capacity to meet on our own terms and strength: “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God, which raiseth the dead” (9).

It is the victory of faith when we follow through in a path of obedience that seems beyond our own resources or wisdom or power to accomplish. And yet Abraham and Sarah show us it can be done. And thousands of others throughout history have demonstrated this as well.

Third, it was shown in his not returning to his homeland. In verse 15, we are told that Abraham didn’t spend his life grumbling about what he had been told to give up: “And truly,” we read, “if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.” But they didn’t because they didn’t even think about it. Abraham moved on; he didn’t look back. Neither did Sarah. It reminds me of the way J. I. Packer comments on Paul’s relationship with his past. The apostle wrote, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:8). On this Packer comments: “When Paul says he counts the things he lost as rubbish, or dung (KJV), he means not merely that he does not think of them as having any value, but also that he does not live with them constantly in his mind: what normal person spends his time nostalgically dreaming of manure?” [Packer, J. I., Knowing God (IVP: Downers Grove, 1973), p. 25.] Paul and Abraham were cut out of the same cloth. Abraham wasn’t mindful of the land of Ur of the Chaldees because it was no longer of any value to him; it was like dung to him, and he wasn’t going to go around nostalgically dreaming about manure.

What a lesson we could learn from both Abraham and Paul! For our Lord has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9). We have been called to live separately from this world. Though it is true that we are in this world, yet we are not of it (Jn. 17:15-16). Though it is true that we are called to go into the world, not retreat into Christian enclaves, yet the Christian is always to appear as different from the world in its tastes and values and thinking. As the apostle exhorts the Corinthians, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 6:17-7:1).

And the victory of faith is shown when we don’t go back, and that we don’t spend our days wishing we were back in Egypt. It is heart-rending to hear of those who do go back, who like Lot’s wife look back. That’s what apostasy is. It is forsaking the work of the Lord for the love of this world, like Demas.

I am convinced that the main reason people grow cold in the walk with the Lord and distant from the church is not because they are convinced by the arguments of a godless culture but because they are in love with the world. The mind is convinced because the heart is captivated. If you love the world, you will find a reason to justify your love to it. Our Lord put it this way: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Mt. 6:24). Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t engage with the world on an intellectual level. Of course we do: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5). But it means that no amount of argument is going to change a person if their heart is enslaved to the lusts of the eyes and the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. We need to have a genuine love to Christ if we are going to successfully remain faithful to him. Otherwise we will end up going back. It is the victory of faith that we keep loving Christ over this world.

Finally, another way we see Abraham’s faith comes in verses 17-19. We had occasion to look at them last week as well. It is seen in Abraham giving up his most precious possession, his only begotten son Isaac. We are specifically told that his faith was tried (17). Yet Abraham did what God asked him to do, however painful and confusing this must have been for him.

What we see in this instance of Abraham’s faith is an illustration of the principle that God calls all his people to hold the things of this earth loosely. Of course, that means that we give them up when God takes them from us. For Abraham, God gave his son back to him before he was able to follow through with the sacrifice. But he was certainly willing – the knife was in his hand, and it was stretched out to give the killing blow (cf. Gen. 22:10). But for others, what God takes isn’t given back this side of heaven. Maybe it’s your health or your possessions or your reputation or something else. Fill in the blank. What will you do in that moment? Will your faith be victorious or not?

How faith enabled Abraham to achieve the victory

How do you live like a stranger? How do you adopt a pilgrim mentality? And how do you stay like that? How do you become to the kind of person who holds things loosely, and gives them up when God takes

them from you without becoming bitter and turning away from the faith? How do you live a life that constantly demands from you what seems impossible and beyond you?

Another way to put this is: what is it about faith that enables us to overcome and obtain the victory? That is what we want to look at now.

First, let’s look at Abraham’s pilgrim mindset. What enabled him to live in those tents in the land of promise? What kept Abraham from putting down roots? Well, the reason is given for us in verse 10: “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” That word “looked” points us to Abraham’s faith. It is by the eyes of faith that Abraham looked for that city, for it was not something to be seen with his physical eyes. It was Abraham’s faith in the promise of God.

Consider this. God promised to Abraham the land of Canaan for his posterity. But he also promised that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. I think Abraham saw through that promise a promise of a renewed world, and it is that insight that I think is behind how Paul describes the promise to Abraham: “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world” (Rom. 4:13). Abraham didn’t settle for less by refusing to settle for this world. The reason why he was able to dwell in foundationless dwellings – aka “tents” – is because he looked for a city which has foundations laid down by God himself. Abraham wasn’t giving up anything, really. He was giving up this world in hopes of the next.

We need to be the same way, don’t we? We can be exiles in this world because we won’t be in the next. It is faith in the sure word of God that gives this to us: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced [greeted] them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (13). You won’t confess yourself a pilgrim until you have by faith seen and greeted the promise of the future inheritance.

And then, what was it that kept Abraham from going back to Ur? Well, we are told throughout these verses – it was the promise of a better land. Not only a sure inheritance, but a better one: “And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city” (15-16). You know why they were not mindful? Because they desired a better country – heaven. And it is faith in God’s word that enabled them to see the beauty and the superiority of that country. The power of perseverance, brothers and sisters, is not learning to be hardened to hardship, being a Stoic – it is seeing that what God gives us in Jesus Christ is infinitely better than anything a life lived in independence of God can give.

Or what was it that enabled Abraham to follow through with the impossible task of founding a people – even though he was 100 and Sarah 90? It was because he believed God – “he was persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:21). When Jesus called Peter to go out on the waves, it wasn’t Peter’s dexterity and nimbleness on the water that kept him afloat – it was his sight of Christ and his confidence in him, and when he put more stock in the winds and waves than he did in Christ, that was when he went down. I don’t know what God has called you to do that seems impossible to you, but rest assured that the power doesn’t belong to us but to God.

And he has promised it. This is not just for guys like Abraham. It’s for everyone who belongs to Jesus. You are to know “what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his might power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him

at his own right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:19-20). “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to power that worketh in us” (Eph. 3:20). Lay hold on these promises, lay hold on the power of God! Yes, we are full of infirmities, but God is greater than them all. The Lord loves to use little children and their lunches to feed five thousand men. He loves to use tiny armies to defeat large ones. He loves to do great things with little ones.

Finally, what was it that enabled Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his son? It was this: he accounted “that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, whence also he received him in a figure” (19). What the author means by that last phrase is just that it was as if Isaac had actually been killed and had been raised from the dead. What happened there upon the mountain was a miracle of no less amazement than if Isaac had been killed and raised from the dead. So what enabled Abraham to hold loosely the one he loved so much was the fact that he knew that God raises the dead.

Brothers and sisters, God raises the dead. God will renew all things. He will put all things right. Hold this world loosely; hold your loved ones loosely. We can do this because we serve a God who is the God of resurrection. Jesus Christ is God’s Son who died and rose so that those who belong to him will be raised again. He will restore all things. There is nothing you can lose here that you will not in the age to come be recompensed infinitely times over.

But above all things, we must remember the background of Hebrews 11. It is Hebrews 1-10. And in those chapters, the central figure is Jesus Christ the Son of God and our High Priest before God. By his perfect life and his perfect sacrifice he opened the way into the very presence of God. Through Jesus Christ we have access to God the Father and into his love and fellowship. It is by faith that we receive this – which means that we aren’t looking to ourselves but away from ourselves to Christ. It means that we are not trusting in our goodness or righteousness but in the goodness and righteousness of Christ. It means that we don’t see our salvation in our trying but in trusting in Christ. We don’t depend on our doing but on Jesus. And this not something that we’ve cooked up – this is something which God himself reveals to us in the gospel. It is not something that we become worthy for, for God justifies the ungodly in Christ.

How does this play into the victory of faith? Well, clearly it does, as John tells us (1 Jn. 5:4). Those who overcome are those who believe in Jesus. This is so because it is by faith that we receive Christ and in receiving him we receive a right standing before God along with every other blessing needed to continue to the end and overcome. This is the reason why John would say in his Revelation of the saints who went to war with the beast, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Rev. 12:11). It is always by the blood of Lamb that we overcome. It is his sacrifice for us that is the basis of all our victories.

In other words, the call to enduring faith in Hebrews 11 is not a call to look to yourself and your resources and your worthiness but to look to Christ and his grace and his worthiness for you. You won’t make it to the end if your focus in on yourself. Hope in God, hope in his Son. Look to Jesus and rest your soul in him and in him alone and in doing so you will find the victory.

The Gathering (Acts 2:41-47)

What is the church? What is its purpose? How does it function? If we claim to be a true church, then it behooves us to be able to answer the...