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Aug 31 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 30, 2020


Intro: In the bulk of this chapter, the writer shows us what faith looks like

In the verses we’ll cover today, faith looks much like a moving van
– the journey of faith is no vacation, but an indefinite homelessness
• with all of the stress that entails
• faith looks like an endless series of transitions
– this past week, I was counting for a friend all the schools I attended through the twelfth grade
• three elementary schools, three junior high, and two high schools
◦ being the new kid was no fun
• Abraham’s nomadic adventures were no fun for him either

Three of the verses we will read begin, By faith
– two times it refers to the husband’s faith and once to the wife

Abraham: First, faith looks like responsiveness to God
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:8

Abraham obeyed God — when he was called to go out, he went out
• he was not headed for a home that he already owned
◦ eventually he would receive a place as an inheritance,
◦ but it was not yet his, and he had no word as to when it would become his
• not only that, but when he left the family homestead,
◦ he did not even know where he was going
– we too have a calling (Heb. 3:1) and like Abraham we also are on the road
(whether or not you are aware of being on it)

Howard Marshall, “If they are still a traveling people, they are the traveling people of God, moving towards a destination rather than wandering aimlessly.”
– I do not disagree with this statement, but I would qualify it
• sometimes it feels like we’re wandering aimlessly
◦ not all of Abraham’s movements were deliberate
(he was driven out of Egypt and Philistine territory)
• he had a destination, he just didn’t know what or where it was
– Jesus’ disciples wrestled with this same difficulty
• when Jesus told them he was about to leave them, he added,
“And you know the way to where I am going.”
◦ but Thomas objected, saying,
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (Jn. 14:4-5)
◦ the unknown “where” is what we’ve learned about faith, that it is
the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1)
• where’s our destination? where’s heaven? you can’t point to it on any map
◦ we do not have to know the where if we know the way
◦ and Jesus is the way, so we follow him — just keep going

The second by faith: faith looks like heading into the unknown
By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. Hebrews 11:9

In verse 8 Abraham went out and in verse 9 he went in
– literally, he migrated to or sojourned in (a land; cf. Ge. 26:3)
• there are three Greek words I want to share with you
(there’s no need to remember them or think they’re vital, but they give us an idea of the dimensions of Abraham’s unsettled existence)
◦ the first is paroikeo – a visitor, a foreigner
• Abraham arrived in the land God promised, but as a foreigner
◦ he had to negotiate with the locals for only bit of property he ever owned
And Abraham rose up from before his dead and said to the Hittites, “I am a sojourner and a foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead (Ge. 23:3-4)

Living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of same promise
– Abraham never owned a house and never lived on his own property
• Jesus said,
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5)
• but for now they live on the earth as foreigners

The writer provides explanation for why Abraham lived this way
For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Hebrews 11:10

Here the writer introduces a new key term – the city
– this should surprise us, because there was nothing in God’s promise to Abraham regarding a city
• the writer is looking beyond all the material promises
◦ remember in chapters 3 and 4, God’s rest wasn’t the land of Canaan?
◦ it was something more, and though Joshua brought Israel into the land of promise, he could not get them into God’s rest
• in same way that the temple was a prototype of the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 8:1-5),
◦ Jerusalem was a prototype of Mt. Zion, the heavenly city
you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22)
– the Greek word for city is polis – the root of “politics”
• from the New Testament times to the fourth century Christians stayed out of politics
◦ our city is the same city Abraham was looking forward to
◦ and it and its politics are not of this world (cf. Jn. 18:36)
Hannah Arendt, “Historically, we know of only one principle that was ever devised to keep a community of people together who had lost their interest in the common world and felt themselves no longer related and separated from it. To find a bond between people strong enough to replace the world was the main political task of early Christian philosophy . . . .” (According to St. Augustine, she tells us, that principle is love, and she says that it is) “well chosen” and “admirably fit to carry a group of worldless people through the world . . . provided only that it is understood that with the proviso (‘as long as the world lasts’).”
• let’s say, our next president is not the one you chose
◦ it makes no difference in terms of how we proceed
◦ there is only one way for a Christian to journey in this word, and it is by faith
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Php. 3:20)
◦ so regardless of the outcome of the next election, we’ll continue on in faith

That this city has foundations tells us it is an established reality
– that it already exists
• further more, God is the one who designed and built it
• the design does not have to do with streets, buildings, and green belts
◦ but with its spiritual and social architecture
◦ its environment of perfect peace
– Abraham was looking forward
• our ability to endure in faith depends entirely on where we’re looking
◦ or to whom we are looking
• and this is where chapter 11 is taking us
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2)

The third by faith: faith looks like believing the impossible
By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. Hebrews 11:11-12

When he says Sarah was past the age, he means past menopause
– not only had she been unable to have children, it was now too late
• the story of Abraham and Sarah is really delightful
◦ neither one of them responded with faith immediately
◦ rather, God’s promise struck both of them as very funny
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Ge. 17:17)
So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” (Ge. 18:12)
• notice, they both spoke these words only to themselves
◦ but with God present, you might as well be talking out loud as thinking to yourself
The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh . . .?” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh” (even this exchange I find very funny; Ge. 18:14-15)
◦ so when the miracle baby was born, named him laughter (Isaac)
And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” (Ge. 21:6)
– how did Sarah demonstrate her faith?
• by considering, or counting on God’s faithfulness
◦ this is something the writer has wanted for his readers
◦ for us to respond to God’s faithfulness with our own faithfulness to him
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:23)
• the writer says something about Abraham that Paul also said
◦ he was as good as dead
◦ but to this hopelessly infertile couple were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore (this language is drawn directly from Genesis 22:17)

The writer’s commentary on Part 1 of Abraham’s story
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:13-16

They lived by faith and died in faith
– here is one thing they did not have and two things they did have:
did not: not having received the promises – they were never settled
did: having seen them and greeted them – from afar

Forgive me this short family story. On a December weekend, years ago, friends invited Barbara and I to join them in Newport Beach for the annual boat parade. Watching all the decorated boats float by, we heard the sound of music blaring from the other side of the harbor. It was not only Christmas music, but worship choruses as well. We could barely make out the distant figures, but I was convinced I could see my mom and dad sitting in the stern of the ferry-like boat.
Now when my brother and I were off playing somewhere and my dad wanted to call us home, he would stand on the front porch and using his thumb and forefinger, produce a loud whistle that could be heard several blocks away. We had our own, specific whistle, and when I heard Dad’s whistle, I would whistle back as Jeff and I ran home. So that night in the Newport harbor, I whistled into the dark, and I could see my folks sit up straight and look around. There was no way they could spot us, but Dad put his hand to his mouth and whistled back. We knew we were both there and we made a connection.
That is what I think of when I read that Abraham and his family greeted God’s promises from afar. God whistled to Abraham, and Abraham whistled back as he headed home.

did: having acknowledged – now those other two Greek words
strangersxeno: a sojourner passing through
(Abraham never became one of the locals)
exilesparapidemos: a resident alien (both words appear in Ge. 23:3)
– Stanley Hauerwas has argued that America is not a Christian nation
• that we live here as resident aliens in a foreign land
• there is significant biblical weight to his understanding of our situation

Verses 14-15 tell us that Abraham and his family looking for their own country
– they were not at home where they sojourned
• and they could not return to where they had lived before
◦ they could not even think of going back
– we do not look back to our past lives, because if we did:
• like Lot’s wife, we would get stuck and never escape our past
• or looking back would be first the stage in going back
William Barclay explains “point of no return” refers to a plane when it reaches a distance in which it does not have enough fuel to return; the “point of no return.” Since it would not make it back to the airport it left, it must continue one to its destination. He says, Once people have “set out on the Christian way, [they] should feel that [they have] already passed the point of no return.”
a better country – the one for which Jesus taught us to pray:
Let your name be revered,
Let your kingdom come,
Let your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven

Briefly, two final thoughts:
God is not ashamed to be called their God — beautiful!
– and Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters (Heb. 2:11)
he has prepared for them a city
– just as Jesus has prepared a place for us (Jn. 14:2-3)

Conclusion: What is the lesson here?

The way you got to where you are, is the way you continue on, by faith
Don’t get too comfortable
Do not get over-involved or over-invested in this world
We are not staying here forever

In the meantime, consider ramping up your faith,
believing God for something really big
I’m convinced that God enjoys people whose faith is outrageous,
perhaps like that for which Rainer Rilke prayed

I Have Faith
I have faith in all those things that are not yet said.
I want to set free my most holy feelings.
What no one has dared to want
will be for me impossible to refuse.

If that is presumption, then, my God, forgive me.
However, I want to tell you this one thing:
I want my best strength to be like a shoot,
with no anger and no timidity, as a shoot is;
this is the way the children love you.

With these ebbing tides, with these mouths
opening their deltas into the open sea,
with these returns, that keep growing,
I want to acknowledge you, I want to announce you,
as no one ever has before.

And if that is arrogance, then I will stay arrogant
for the sake of my prayer,
that is so sincere and solitary
standing before your cloudy forehead.
(trans. by Robert Bly)

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