Captured And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 11:8-12 – Faith to Move Forward

Grace For The Journey

Many people speak of faith as something merely subjective, a blind faith, a leap-in-the-dark faith against all evidence to the contrary. 

  • People say things like, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe so long as you have faith.” 

That is just faith in faith, faith in nothing but itself.  That leads to dangerous ways of living. 

  • Someone says, “Just be sincere you know, it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere.” 

A doctor may reach into a medicine cabinet, sincerely believing he has grabbed the right medicine, not knowing he has actually grabbed a bottle of poison and – though sincerely believing he is doing the right thing by taking hold of the wrong thing – he would unwittingly poison a person with what he sincerely believed he was helping.  It does matter what we believe.  What we believe is objective, substantive.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for.  It is substantial . . . It is the evidence of things not seen.  We do not see with our physical eyes, but . . .

God’s Word points us to

Jesus Christ and we believe,

Not in some evanescent fleeting

Dream, but in a real person.

The writer says in verse 6 that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is …”  You come believing that He exists, that He is real, that His Word is telling the truth.  It begins there.  People demand God work on their own terms: “I will believe in God if this or if that!”  Christian faith does not work that way.  You believe first that He is, that He exists, and then He grants an ability to see so much that we see through the spiritual eyes of faith.  He rewards those who diligently seek Him.

We looked yesterday at three individuals who diligently sought Him.  We read of the faith of Abel, and Enoch, and Noah.  Now the writer turns in verse 8 to Abraham.  Of all the Old Testament saints mentioned in Chapter 11 it is Abraham who gets the most press, the most coverage.  And I think for good reason, too.  Remember the historical context of the Letter to the Hebrews.  The writer seeks to encourage Hebrew Christians who were facing persecution for their newfound faith in Christ.  They had been cut off from their families who remained under the Old Covenant.   They were excommunicated from the temple and everything with which they previously identified.  And who is Abraham if not someone who likewise left the familiarity of family, home, and culture to go to a new place, a place the Lord would show him?

Facing persecution for their faith and the temptation to go back to the old ways of Old Covenant, the writer presents Abraham, the “main man” of Judaism, as an example of what it means to live by faith, to move forward by faith in the promises of God fulfilled through Jesus Christ.  It is as if he is saying to those Hebrews tempted to forsake Christ: “You may think that by rejecting Christ and embracing Abraham that you are doing well, but I say that to reject the Lord is to reject Abraham’s Lord, also.” 

Frequently I find myself praying the first line of a hymn we sing from time to time.  In a paraphrase I pray: “Guide me, O thou great Jehovah, lead me through this barren land.”  It is a plea for God’s help to guide through uncertain terrain, where we are headed today, where we are headed this week.  Guide me O though great Jehovah, led me through this barren land.  So much of life is about how to move forward, how to keep going, how to get through the trials and challenges each day presents.  All the people in this great chapter, chapter 11, help us see how to move forward, how to keep going, how to follow the leadership of our great Jehovah God who brings us to faith in His Son Jesus Christ.  All of the people in this chapter help us move forward in faith, looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.  

I want to go through these five verses with you, studying them together, and then at the conclusion of our exposition, provide five faith facts to help us move forward this week.  Verse 8 states, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”  Abraham is quite a contrast with Noah before him!  Noah, the last person we studied, was given so much information from God.  So much detail.  And Noah obeyed.  Abraham is given very little information.  You can go back to Genesis 12 and read about God’s calling him out of the City of Ur in Mesopotamia, calling him out at age 75.  And God tells him to go “to a land” that He “would show” him. 

Unlike Noah, to whom God had given great detail about what he was to do, Abraham was simply told to “Go out” in Genesis 12.  That is it.  God promises to make Abraham a great nation and that He will bless him and make his name great and that through Abraham all the families of the earth will be blessed.  That is pretty much all God tells Abraham in Genesis 12.  He will renew His covenant promises later in Genesis 15, but for now that is all God gives him. 

Faith leads to obedience. 

Abraham acts as if

God is telling the truth.

Abraham accepts his inheritance on trust.  Does not know where it will be or even very much about exactly what it will be.  He just knows God says he would receive an inheritance.  He accepts it sight unseen . . . “He went out, not knowing where he was going.”

I picture him going to his wife Sarah one morning and saying, “Sarah, we need to pack up our stuff.”  Sarah responds, “Really?  Where are we going.”  And Abraham replies,  “I don’t know.”  “God will show us.”  Abraham trusts.  He trusts and obeys.  Faith leads to obedience.  That is why we sing the song: “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”

Little wonder Abraham is called by the Apostle Paul in Romans 4:16 the father of the faithful.

Verse 9 declares, “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.”

Abraham dwelt in the land of Canaan, the land of promise, “as in a foreign country,” or as in a place where he was not exactly “at home.”  And “dwelling in tents,” he lived in temporary housing, tents.  You read through those chapters in Genesis from Genesis 12 through Genesis 25, reading about the life of Abraham and you read the life of a nomad, a traveler, a pilgrim, and sojourner dwelling as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents.  And he dwelt “with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.”

His faith was not just a momentary singular act in the past, back when he left the City of Ur in Mesopotamia.  It was a continual faith, an ongoing faith, a faith that moved him into the future, ongoing believing that he instilled into the lives of Isaac and Jacob, decades of believing and living by faith.  True faith, saving faith, is a faith that goes on believing.  

Verse 10 states, “For he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”  I love verse 10!  Abraham lived in tents, but “he waited for the city which has foundations…”  I do not camp as much as I used to.  Frankly, I do not find it as enjoyable as I used to.  I mean I love the outdoors, walks in the woods, and the beauty of nature, but I am not too crazy about dwelling in a tent.  At least the “old school” tents with the old tent pegs you had to drive into the ground.  Using a tool to hammer the spike into the ground and watching it bounce off the ground as though it were concrete, the tent peg bending or breaking.  Some fun!  It is not like dwelling in house which has foundations, stability, solid floors, walls, and ceiling.

Abraham was able to dwell in tents

As a foreigner in a strange land

Because he knew he was

Just passing through.

The writer will say later in Chapter 13 and verse 14, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.“  Abraham looked beyond the present world and saw the world to come.  He was able to dwell in the present by looking to the future.  He did not focus on tenuous tent pegs, the frail, insubstantial stuff of the transient material world.  He looked forward by faith to a city not built with tent pegs, but a city with foundations, 12 of them to be exact as the Bible teaches in Revelation 21.  The great point being that this is a city whose builder and maker is God!

When we look out at the horizon, we see seemingly endless land and sky joined together.  When Abraham looked out at the horizon, he saw something else.  He looked beyond a temporary city to see an eternal city.

Verse 11 says, “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.”  Remember back in Genesis that God came to Abraham and Sarah and told them they would have a son.  Abraham was nearly 100 years old and Sarah was 90. Initially both of them laughed.  Abraham’s laugh was more a laughing to himself as in nervous wonder that he would be so blessed.  Sarah’s laugh was a laugh of disbelief.   But the Bible says, “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive and bear a child…”  She gave birth 9 months later to Isaac, whose name means “laughter.”

I like the song by Michael Card . . . 

They called him laughter [because] he came after

The Father had made an impossible promise come true

The birth of a baby to a hopeless old lady

So they called him laughter cause no other name would do

The writer says that Sarah “received strength to conceive.” Literally it reads, “power to conceive.”  This is a reminder that it is God who empowers women to conceive.  He is the one behind every birth, which means there are no accidental births.  There is no such thing as a baby being conceived accidentally.  God is working through the mystery of man’s actions, bringing into the world a new image bearer, a new little person created in God’s image.  This drives home the truth that every life is sacred and every stage of life is a result of God’s grace and mercy.

Verse 12 states, “Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead(this is a reference to Abraham!), were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude – innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.”  You will remember from Genesis 15 that God told Abraham to look up into the night sky and try to count the stars.  And God said, “That is how many descendants will be born through your offspring.”  Many sons of father Abraham, many more sons like we who believe are sons of the father of the faithful.

Note the first word, “Therefore.”  There is a direct and purposeful link between the subject of verse 11 to the actions of verse 12.  What the writer is emphasizing is, “In light of Sarah’s faithful obedience, her faith being necessary to carry out the promise made to her husband Abraham – therefore from one man … were born as many as the stars of the sky and sand by the sea.”  In other words, without Sarah’s faith, God’s promise to Abraham would not come true.  Both Abraham and Sarah believed, in spite of their weak faith and inability to fully understand.

What a wonderful thing when both husband and wife believe, grow together, and live and love together!  What a wonderful thing when husband and wife are what Peter describes in 1 Peter 3:7 as “heirs together of the grace of life.” 

Five Faith Facts From This Passage . . .

1) Faith Works In Spite Of Imperfect People.

Abraham was not perfect.  Remember he had lied about his wife?  He lied and made his wife lie, too!  And Sarah, not only lied, but in disbelief initially at God’s promise that she would conceive and give birth to a son at the ripe old age of 90.  She even lied about her laughing.    Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”  Even though Sarah wavered a bit, her name is listed on the great roll call of faith.  

That is encouraging to me.  Faith works through imperfect people, people like Abraham and Sarah.  The Gospel is for imperfect people, for sinners.  God accepts us not on the basis of our religious performance.  God does not accept us based upon our religious acts and behavior.  Thank God!  He accepts us in His Son Jesus Christ, the One who is perfect for imperfect people.  Faith works through imperfect people.

2) Faith Means Not Having To Know All The Answers.

When God called Abraham and said, “Get out,” Abraham did not ask a bunch of questions.  He just obeyed by faith.   In fact, when God initially called Abraham back in Genesis 12 Abraham was 75 years old.  And God goes on to talk about how He is going to bless him by making him a great nation and so on.  But 25 years pass before Isaac is born.  25 years!  Do you think Abraham may have questioned God?  Do you think he may have wondered why God was taking so long?  25 years is quite a delay, isn’t it?  Why the delay?  

God always has a reason for His delays, that is for certain.  Remember Joseph abandoned in that well and then abandoned to prison.  Yet God was with Him.  God is in control.  He may be slow as far as we are concerned, but He is always on time.  Faith means not having to know all the answers.

3) Faith Is Accepting That God Is Telling The Truth.

Faith leads to obedience.  God says, “Get out,” and Abraham gets out.  God says, “I’m going to give you an inheritance” and Abraham believes, he accepts that.  He takes God at His word and accepts that God is telling the truth.  Remember . . .

If gratitude is thanking God after He does it,

Then faith is thanking God before He does it.

Faith is the ability to so apprehend, so believe, so receive, that it is as though we see it now.  We live as though God has already done it.  Faith is acting like God is telling the truth.

4) Faith Is The Means By Which God Does The Impossible.

100-year-old Abraham is mentioned in verse 12 as a man “as good as dead!”  He is 100 and his wife is 90.  God gives them a child.  It is impossible.  Yes . . . But faith is the means by which God does the impossible.

What seems impossible to you?   Remember the lesson of the fig tree in Mark 11:22 where Jesus says, “Have faith in God?”  He goes on to say in Mark 11:24: “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”  Do you trust God when you pray, believing you will receive what you ask for?  Do you trust God to take care of your health?  Do you trust Him to take care of your wayward child?  Do you trust Him to know what’s going on in that workplace of yours and that He is actually working something great and wonderful through your job? Faith is the means by which God does the impossible. 

5) Faith Helps Us Live In This Fallen World.

Like Abraham, our home is not here.  We live here “as in a foreign country.”  Like Abraham’s tents, we all live in temporary housing. 

It was not the material things Abraham was after,

Like so many things so many are after here,

But it was the “here after” he was after!

It was the city beyond the city.  That truth should help us live in this fallen world!  It is a great comfort to know where we are headed, to know about our final destination!

Rome was once referred to as the eternal city.  Today you can go and see the ruins of ancient Rome.  Whereas so many robbers and thieves have stripped ancient Rome of its many treasures, by contrast the city God is building in heaven is an eternal city.  The “new Jerusalem” of Revelation 21, that new city is unassailable, inviolable.  It has foundations because its architect and builder is God.

To focus on the eternal joys is the way to live in the present.  Truly focusing on the joy to come gets us through so much.  Our joy here is shaped by the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  The joy of Christ is something we actually enjoy right now.  We live in that joy now.  That joy will be complete in heaven.

Do not place your confidence in the temporary tent pegs of money, houses, land, and stuff.  Do not look for joy in so many castles built with sand as though the tide will never rise to wash them all away.  It will rise.  Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, says Jesus.  Lay up for yourselves treasures in the eternal city.

Abraham did not place his confidence or look for his joy in his present circumstances or the things of this world.  His foundation was not the passing foundations of wealth, land, houses, or even family!  To quote an old puritan: “Abraham went out, not knowing whither he went; but he went out knowing with whom he went.”  He went out with the always-present, all-powerful, Eternal Traveling Companion, the Lord God! 

Faith will help you move forward in this fallen world this week.  God, the Supreme Traveling Companion, is with you through Christ Jesus, with you at school, with you at work, with you in the waiting room at the hospital, and with you at the graveside.   We see Him now by faith.  Our hearts cry out, “And, Lord, haste the day when our faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, even so, it is well with my soul.”

Are you living by faith?  Are you on your way to the city that has foundations?  Some of you are on your way, some are not.  I want to invite you to come go with us to the eternal city.  There is a sense in which every one of us is like Abraham – “as good as dead,” – dead in trespasses and sin.  But God can give us life today, God can do the impossible.  We need only admit our sin, turn from our sin, and turn to Him by faith, and we will be saved.  Let go of your sin and turn to Christ.  Live not for this world but for the One who has given you an eternal home.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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