November 27, 2011
Pastor Joe Wittwer

High-risk Faith

Part 2: Abraham went

Hebrews 11:8-22

 

Opening:

ILL: When my pastor, Roy Hicks Jr. was a student at Life Bible College, he and a friend snuck into the sanctuary of Angelus Temple one night.  The Temple has a domed ceiling and the acoustics are amazing.  Roy and his buddy were up in third balcony, sitting alone in the dark, no one else there, when a lady came in, switched on the lamp over the organ and began to arrange music to practice.  It’s dark, except for this one small light.  Then Roy, using his deepest voice said, “Go to China.”  The startled woman hurried out and Roy said that he never knew if she went, but he hopes not!

Today, we’re going to talk about Abraham who had a “Go to China” moment, except it was God speaking, not a goofy kid; and God simply said “go” without saying where.  By faith, Abraham went.  I love what Luther said about this around 1517:

And this is the glory of faith, namely, not to know where you are going, what you are doing, what you are suffering, and, after taking everything captive—perception and understanding, strength and will—to follow the bare voice of God and to be led and driven rather than to drive. #

Would you say that underlined part with me?  “To follow the bare voice of God and to be led and driven rather than to drive.”  

 

Introduction:

    This is week two of our series, “High-risk Faith”.  We’re working our way through Hebrews 11, the faith chapter that describes the faith of the Old Testament heroes.  Today, we look at the high-risk faith of Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham is called “the father of faith” and is held up in the New Testament as the main model of faith (see *Romans 4, Galatians 3, and James 2).  When it comes to high-risk faith, Abraham is The Man!  So it is no surprise that the author of Hebrews gives more space to Abraham in the faith chapter than anybody else.  

    Before we read it, let’s give our tithes and offerings to the Lord.  Giving is an act of faith. Faith is a response to God.  God asks us to give and we obey and do it and trust that He will provide for us.  Let your giving be an expression of your faith.

Hebrews 11:8–19 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

9 By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

The story starts in Genesis 12 when God calls Abram and makes a covenant with him.  In this covenant, God gives Abram three promises.  Look for them as we read it.

Genesis 12:1–4 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him

The three promises are land, descendants, and blessing.  This covenant is repeated and expanded upon several times in Genesis 13-18 (see under point 2).  

  • Land. God promised to give Abraham a land of his own; later God showed Abraham that it was the land of Canaan. Abraham was leaving his land, so he had none.

  • Descendants.  God promised to give Abraham many descendants—uncountable like the stars in the sky—and to make him into a great nation.  Abraham and Sarah were childless.

  • Blessing.  God promised to bless Abraham and make him a blessing so that “all peoples on earth would be blessed” through him.  He was blessed to be a blessing.  At the time, he was nothing—just Abram.

A land, many descendants, and universal blessing—this is the heart of God’s covenant with Abram.  How does Abram respond to God?  By faith.

 

1. By faith, Abraham went and lived in tents.

Hebrews 11:8–10 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

9 By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

   

When God called Abraham to leave everything he knew and loved, he was 75 and Sarah was 65.  What do you hope to be doing when you’re 75?  Nothing!  About the time that most of us would be thinking of retirement, of kicking back in our Lazy Boy recliner and taking it easy, Abraham was starting a new adventure!  You are not too old to start a new adventure with God!  God is not finished with you yet—no matter how old you are!  

ILL: I love Carlie.  She is 88 and a lifelong member of the Salvation Army Church.  She comes here on Sunday evenings, and usually finds me for a hug.  When I ask what she’s up to, she tells me about her latest adventures volunteering somewhere in the community.  A couple years ago she was honored for over 10,000 hours of community service.  At an age when most folks are settling down, Carlie is living it up!

You are not too old to start a new adventure with God!  When you hear his call, don’t take a nap; take the next step and see what happens!

ILL: Someone said that they wanted the epitaph on their tombstone to read, “End of construction.  Thank you for your patience.”

How many of you are still breathing?  God isn’t finished with you yet!

So Abraham is 75 and starting a new adventure; and it really was an adventure.  God called him to go, but didn’t tell him where.  Not only did he not know where he was going, but he was leaving everything familiar behind.  “Leave your country, your people, your father’s household.”  Leave everything you know and love: leave your country, your culture, your language, your people, your family—everything you know and love—leave it all behind.  This is high-risk faith!

ILL: When God called Laina and I to come to Spokane, it meant we had to leave Eugene.  That was home.  Our family was there.  Our friends were there.  Our church was there.  Everything we loved was there.  The hardest part of coming here was leaving there.  

Now we feel that way about here.  Our family is here—our kids and grandkids.  Our friends are here.  Our church is here.  Everything we love is here.  I can’t imagine leaving; I hope God doesn’t ask me to!

Can anybody relate to this?  

    Here’s the deal.  You can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are.  Let me explain.  Everyone who follows Jesus leaves something. Abraham left his homeland; Peter and Andrew left their boats and nets; Matthew left his tax collector booth.  Everyone who follows Jesus leaves something. We leave the old life behind.  We leave our sin, our old habits and addictions. We may even leave some relationships behind.  You can’t go if you don’t leave.  I couldn’t come here without leaving Eugene.  You can’t go if you don’t leave.  You can’t follow Jesus without leaving something behind.  

    So what is God calling you to leave?  What is your next step in following Jesus?  (Write it down.)

I had it way easier than Abram; when I left Eugene, I knew where I was going: Paradise!  Spokane!  But God told Abram to go without telling him where.  It says, “By faith, Abraham obeyed and went even though he didn’t know where he was going.”  Think about that.  You start packing for a move and your wife asks, “Where are we going?”  You say, “I don’t know.  We’re just…going.”  Crazy!  High-risk faith: just go and trust God to tell you when you get there.  

Does God still do this?  Does He ask people to take the next step without giving them the whole road map?  All the time.  

  • Think about when Jesus called the first disciples.  “Follow me.”  That’s all they had.  No road map, no promises—just “follow me.”  So what did they do?  They followed.  They took the next step.  None of them every dreamed it would end on a cross…and a resurrection!  None of them dreamed they would be the leaders of God’s worldwide movement.  None of them knew that they would give their lives—legend has it that the apostles died as martyrs.  They didn’t know any of this, just the next step: “follow me.”

  • Think about Paul.  He was blinded on the road to Damascus, and what did Jesus tell him?  “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”  No road map, just “go into the city and wait.”  Paul had no idea he was about to become the new church planter and apostle for the Jesus movement; that he would criss-cross the Roman empire as a missionary; that he would write letters that would become half the New Testament; that he too would die a martyr for Jesus.  He didn’t know any of this, just the next step: “go into the city and you will be told what to do.”

God often asks us to take the next step without knowing where it leads. And we often don’t want to go without having the whole map in front of us!  It takes faith—high-risk faith—to obey and go, to take the next step when you can’t see where it leads.

Most of us live a cautious life on the principle of safety first; but to live the Christian life there is necessary a certain reckless willingness to adventure. If faith can see every step of the way, it is not really faith. It is sometimes necessary for the Christian to take the way to which the voice of God is calling him without knowing what the consequences will be. Like Abraham he has to go out not knowing where he is going.#

You may not be called to go to a new city or country, but you are called to go, to follow Jesus, to take the next step, to become a new person, to change, to grow.  Take the next step!  Go!  You can’t steer a parked car!

By faith, Abraham obeyed and went.  Faith is a response to God.  He heard God’s call and he obeyed and took the next step.  

By faith Abraham lived in tents.  He lived like a stranger in the Promised Land.  He lived like a nomad in the land God promised was his. When you buy land, do you pitch a tent on it or build a house?  You pitch tents when you’re temporary; you build a house when you’re permanent.  God said, “I am giving you and your descendants this land.”  Abraham believed God, but the best he could do was pitch a tent.  He couldn’t put down roots yet; he had to wait.  How long did he wait?  His whole life; his son’s life; his grandson’s life; and another 4-500 years beyond that.  God gave him the land, but they didn’t own it, they didn’t live in a permanent dwelling there for another 700 years!

Abraham and Sarah lived in the Promised Land in tents for 100 years!  Imagine living out of saddlebags or suitcases for 100 years!  Do you think Sarah ever got tired of it?  

“Abe, honey, we got little Isaac here…and I’m almost 100.  Do you think we could get a little place of our own—you know, settle down, and not have to move every couple weeks?”  

    What kept them in the Promised Land when they could have moved back home?  Faith.  God has spoken and they responded.  “We’re here.  This is home, even though we live in tents.”  Faith is what keeps you going when nothing seems to be working out.  More about that in a moment.

 

2. By faith, Abraham had a son and offered him to God.  

Hebrews 11:11-12 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

Hebrews 11:17-19 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

 

Abraham was 75, Sarah 65 when God promised them children, so you can understand why they got a little antsy.  To say the biological clock was ticking is an understatement—the battery was almost dead!  So after ten years of waiting, Sarah decided it was time to help God out, and suggested to Abraham that he sleep with her servant girl, Hagar.  Abraham did, she got pregnant, and turned on Sarah—it was a mess.  Helping God out is usually a mess.  Sex with someone other than your wife is always a mess!  God told Abe, “Nice work, bucko.  This isn’t what I had in mind.  I’ll bless this child, but he is not the child I promised you.  That child is still coming through Sarah.”  

Fourteen years later, God showed up and told Sarah it was time; she was going to have that baby God had promised.  Sarah was 89 years old.  What did she do?  She laughed.  How many of you ladies would have laughed?  How many would have cried?  When she laughed, God asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”  Sarah stopped laughing and started believing.  And a year later, Isaac was born.

  God waited 25 years to fulfill that promise. By the time God was ready, Sarah was 90 and Abraham 100—“past childbearing age.”  I’ll say!  But they “considered God faithful” and trusted Him to do what He said.  By faith Sarah was enabled to bear children.  Faith is a response to God; God spoke, she believed and it happened.  

Do you have a promise from God that you’re hanging on to?  Something you’ve waited and wondered, “Why are you taking so long, God?”  Let Abraham and Sarah be your examples of faith.  Keep trusting God.  (Our story?)  

So they have Isaac, and the promise of descendants begins to be fulfilled after 25 years.  And then some years later when Isaac was a boy, a very strange thing happens.  Genesis 22 says that God tested Abraham and asks him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Someone said, “Isaac wasn’t a teenager, or it wouldn’t have been a sacrifice.”  I would never say that!  I love teenagers!  I am still a teenager at heart!  

God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac.  This is the child of promise, the child upon whose survival the entire covenant hangs.  Think how conflicted and confused Abraham must have been.  “You promise me a son, give him to me, and now you command me to kill him?”  It’s crazy!  As John Chrysostom said in the 5th century, “The things of God seemed to fight against the things of God, and faith fought with faith, and the commandment fought with the promise.”

It was not only difficult for Abraham; this is a very difficult story for us.  What are we to think of a God who asks a father to sacrifice his son?  What are we to think of a father who was willing to do it?  

You say, “It was a test.  God wouldn’t let him do it.”  But Abraham didn’t know that, and couldn’t know it if it was to be a real test.  And Isaac didn’t know it—think about him there on the altar!  As the two of them walked up the mountain to worship God with sacrifice, Isaac asked, “Father, we have fire and wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”  

When they arrived, Abraham carefully built an altar and laid the wood on it.  Then he bound his son and laid him on the altar.  I wonder what he said as he bound his son?  “Don’t be afraid, Isaac.  Don’t be afraid, my son.  God will provide the lamb.”  I wonder if Isaac was terrified, if he began to cry, “No, father!  No!”  I wonder if Abraham wept as he reached for the knife?  (Rembrandt painting.)

At that moment, the Lord’s angel spoke and stopped Abraham.  (Pause and look at picture.)  He looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket, and he sacrificed the ram instead of his son.  God had indeed provided a lamb.  So he called the place, “The Lord will provide.”  And a saying grew that said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Centuries later, on this same mountain, God provided another Lamb.  This time, God sacrificed His Son for us.  Jesus, the Lamb of God, died on a cross to pay the penalty for our sin and to defeat all the forces of evil and set us free.  On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.  

By faith, Abraham offered Isaac.  Faith is a response to God.  God commanded; would Abraham trust God and obey, even when it might cost him everything?  This is high-risk faith!  Abraham trusted God so much that he reasoned God could raise Isaac from the dead.  Perhaps this is how he thought the command to kill his son and the promise of many descendants could be reconciled.  He would obey, and leave the rest to God.  

    Friends, God is not asking us to sacrifice our children.  This was a very unusual test.  But He may ask us to sacrifice things that are dear to us.  In fact, I can almost guarantee that He will, because everyone leaves something to follow Jesus.  

Luke 14:25–27 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

You will sacrifice something.  It may be friends, or family; it may be money or possessions or power; it may be that job you always wanted or that house you love; it may be your own life.  Everyone leaves something to follow Jesus.  When He calls you, do you believe enough to say yes and follow?  

 

3. Living by faith in the land in-between.  

Hebrews 11:13-16 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Abraham and Sarah were still living by faith when they died; they had not received the things promised.  Let’s review.  (Three promises.)

  • Land: They were promised a land of their own.  When they died, how much of the Promised Land was in their possession?  A burial site; a cemetery plot for the two of them.  

  • Descendants: They were promised descendants like the stars in the sky.  When they died, how many children did they have?  One.  Only one that counted toward the promise.  A cemetery plot and one son—the first two promises weren’t looking real great.

  • Blessing: They were promised to be a blessing to the whole world.  When they died, how was that working for them?  Not so much.  

They did not receive the things promised, but they saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  They believed that the promise was bigger than their short lives on earth.  They trusted that God would continue to work after they were gone.  They believed that there is more to life than our time here.  

    Centuries passed between the time of the promise and the time it was fulfilled.  Abraham and Sarah lived in that in between time—the land in-between—along with many others.  And they trusted God even when they didn’t experience the fulfillment of the promise.

    I was struck by verse 15.

Hebrews 11:15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.

They had opportunity to return.  They left their country and people and family and friends for a promise that they never received.  Do you think that the thought ever crossed their minds: “What are we doing here? We’re strangers and aliens here.  Let’s go home!”  They had opportunity, but they never went back.  They stuck it out.  They took the long view.  

    I see people who follow Jesus for a while, but then get tired or discouraged or bored or disappointed, and they go back to where they came from.  They give up.  They quit.  They lose their faith.  That is exactly what the writer of Hebrews is warning us about.   

    Keep believing, keep trusting, even when you don’t see the promises right now, because they will happen.  Abraham lived and died in faith without seeing the promise but knowing it would come true.  And it did for him, and it will for you!