Abraham as a model of faith.
If you were here in December, when we were talking about hope, you may well recall how we used Abraham as an example of hope. Abraham’s story is at the beginning of the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. Specifically, we looked at Abraham to see how he believed in a future he would never see and acted in a manner that showed he believed God would continue to provide and continue to be faithful. In God, Abraham put all of his future hopes.
Yet, Abraham was imperfect. At one point he despairs and tries to take things into his own hands. Despite this, even in his very old age, God fulfills His promise to Abraham and his wife Sarah, God gives them a child named Isaac.
Then, through Abraham and his family, God faithfully establishes a covenant that eventually brings the message of salvation to all of the world. The hopeful message of Christ stems from the original promise God made to Abraham.
Ultimately, God is faithful and God’s promises to Abraham are fulfilled.
I point all of this out to say…
Here in Hebrews 11:8-19, we are looking at the same Abraham.
Turn with me now as we read.
8 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.
Abraham “obeyed and went…” he acted before he knew how things would turn out.
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, [Abraham’s son and grandson] who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he [Abraham] 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.
Abraham is an example of faith because he acted in a way that showed he trusted God. He doesn’t just say, “yes I believe.” No. He acts and it affects his entire household. In fact, what the writer of Hebrews is helping us to connect here is that the family of Abraham is built on faith before even the foundations of a home have been laid. They “lived in tents.”
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.
Here again, we see that acting in faith does not necessarily mean we will ever receive a specific gift from God. Faith is not tit for tat contract with God. Faith means we act and trust God and it means we may not see the end results of our actions.
This is so important for us to understand, especially when it comes to being a family. How many families have struggled to deal with a wayward child? Or a huge challenge?
What do you do with a person who tests every boundary placed before them?
How do you survive when the world around you is falling apart?
Well, you love them and model faith… you trust God to ensure His long term plan will be fulfilled… and accepting in faith that we may not ever see the end result of our work… at least not in this life.
Verse 14 continues by making the point that Abraham was not just looking for a better place to live. No, he was in fact pursuing God eternally. It says…
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.
In faith, Abraham and his family are looking forward to God’s future, promised city. If they just wanted comfort, they could have returned to Mesopotamia from where they had come from.
Now, before we move on… just take note of this “city” God is to prepare for them, it is mentioned here in verse 16. I’m going to come back to this after we look at these next few verses. Verse 17…
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.”
Now, if you are unfamiliar with the story of Abraham and Isaac, you can read about it in Genesis 22… the shortened version of it is this, Abraham is told by God to take his son, Isaac, to Mt. Moriah and sacrifice him.
The opening lines of Genesis 22 set the scene for us. It says,
Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
I was talking to a friend of mine this week who has been preaching for a very long time. He heard me say I was preaching about Abraham being told to kill his son Isaac and he pointed something out to me.
Abraham is not being told to kill his son. He is, in fact, being told to sacrifice him.
Now, sounds like splitting hairs. I know.
We miss the difference in simply killing someone and preparing a sacrificial burnt offering because it is not something we experience on this side of Jesus’ sacrifice.
It is, in fact, alien to us to prepare a sacrifice.
To help you understand what it is that Abraham is being told to do, let’s just read from the Book of Leviticus chapter one. It provides some insight to the idea of preparing a burnt offering.
Keep in mind, as I’m reading this, Abraham is taking his son Isaac, acting in faith… up the mountain for the purpose of a burnt offering.
Isaac is carrying the wood for the fire.
Abraham is carrying the knife… and the secret intent of obeying God in faith to make a burnt offering of his one and only promised son.
This is Leviticus 1, starting in verse 3, … it is instructions, or a how-to, on burnt offerings…
3 “ ‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you are to offer a male without defect. You must present it at the entrance to the tent of meeting so that it will be acceptable to the Lord. 4 You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. 5 You are to slaughter the young bull before the Lord,
Then, for this next part, let me just read the bullet points:
- the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
- 6 You are to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces.
- 7 … the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire.
- 8 …the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar.
- 9 You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar.
This explanation of how to properly prepare a burnt offering then says,
It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.
Yeah… Pleasing aroma if you are sacrificing a bull for a holy bbq… but let’s be honest…
This is gruesome.
It is horrific.
Yet, this is the intent Abraham has, in faith, as he goes up Mount Moriah to faithfully obey God.
He is not moving forward with the promise of prosperity as much as he is hoping God will be faithful… and merciful. Abraham is putting his faith in God without knowing how the story will turn out.
His actions, his deeds, his works exude faith.
Abraham is moving forward with faith.
He goes up the mountain.
He builds the altar.
He lays out the wood.
He ties up his son and places him on top of the wood.
Let me just read now from Genesis 22:10-14
10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
Now, back to Hebrews 11… The writer of Hebrews summarizes this story in verse 19 by explaining the faith behind Abraham’s actions:
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 moves forward with faith even when it doesn’t make sense to him.
- Abraham moves forward with faith even when he can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
- Abraham moves forward with faith even when it looks like it will cost him all he knows and loves.
That is faith! Faith moves forward with action… and it acts without knowing the end result.
Well, how do we connect all of this to how we live?
I think, from Abraham, we see that faith requires a sacrifice, it requires us to move and act. Faith is evident, we learn from the Book of James, by our good works.
Listen to James 2:14-24
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
NOW… listen to this, this is what I read during communion, as we see Abraham come back into the story here…
20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham [same Abraham we have been discussing] considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” a and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
Let me read that once more…
24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
So… back to us… back to the present… back to Tunnel Hill…
What will you do to grow your faith today? This week? This year?
What will you do to move forward with God in faith?
What might God do through you?
Look, let’s just connect the dots here.
Earlier, I said I’d come back and mention the “city” mentioned in Hebrews 11:16… it says,
16 Instead, they [Abraham and his faithful family] 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.
And what city did God prepare for them?
It is the city of Jerusalem… and, what we often miss is that Jerusalem was built on a hill. In fact, Mount Moriah, where Abraham took his son Isaac to sacrifice him… that place still exists.
It is where the City of Jerusalem is built.
Today, we call that place, Mount Moriah by a different name. We call it the Temple Mount. It is the site of where the Jewish Temples in the Old Testament were built.
Why does that matter you ask?
Well the Jewish temples, constructed on Mount Moriah, where Abraham was tested in faith… is the site where Jesus was taken to fulfill the prophecies of a promised Messiah.
Jerusalem, sits on the very mountain that Abraham went up to be tested, where Abraham summited to sacrifice his one and only son.
It is the place in Genesis 22:14 where we read, 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
And what did He provide? What did God provide?
Look… and don’t leave here without understanding this… God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. He provided a sacrifice for Abraham and demonstrated faithful mercy.
Then, instead, God Himself came in the form of a man, when the time was right, and allowed Himself to be sacrificed in the city of Jerusalem… on that same holy hill… God came in the form of the man, Jesus Christ, and died for all… a perfect and holy sacrifice that was offered as an everlasting testament of our loving God’s faithfulness.
Look… God did not provide simply a ram for sacrifice, He laid Himself on the altar for you.
For everyone who has ever lived!
God is faithful and so, therefore, when we move forward with faith in God, it determines who we will become.
And, what we see is that we have the same hope, stemming from our faith in God’s love, that we too will inherit a city that we do not see. We choose faith… and…
faith is confidence in God’s character and assurance about what we do not see.
Ultimately, though Abraham never saw it with his own eyes… on Mount Moriah where Abraham’s faith is tested, the city of Jerusalem is built… it becomes the place where our savior is sacrificed for the sins of the world… and… in faith, as we look forward, we see it is the same eternal city He has prepared for us. … it is what we also look forward to in hope.
We get a glimpse of this faith filled hope in the Book of Revelation… listen, this is John bearing witness to our future in Revelation 21:10-11
10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
The city Abraham and his family looked forward to in faith was an eternal city… the same eternal city promised to you and I.
Their faith helped them see what they could not imagine… the same thing we look forward to by faith… the Second and Final coming of Jesus Christ!
Revelation 22:12 then records these words from Jesus…
12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.
14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.
May we ever be washed clean and ready to enter His perfect city!