HEBREWS 11: HEROES OF THE FAITH
PART 4: ABRAHAM
“GOOD TO GO”
Abraham is the next character in the heroes of the faith series as mentioned in Hebrews 11. We’ve looked so far at Abel and Enoch and Noah. Abel taught us about the first step – how to be accepted by God. Enoch taught us about the next step and that is walking with God. Noah taught us that we are called by faith to obey – even when it makes no sense – and to stand firm when all others are living a different life. We now come to the great Patriarch, Abraham, who is going to teach us that faith is about letting go of all that we once knew and setting out on a life for God: even though we don’t know where this will lead us, we know where the journey ends up.
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. (Hebrews 11: 8-10)
WHO IS ABRAHAM?
- He is known as the father of the Jewish nation, but…
- He is the father of all who believe to this day (Romans 4: 11-16)
- Until he was 99 his name was actually Abram (which means “exalted father”; but God changed it to Abraham (which means “father of a multitude”)
THE LESSON OF ABRAHAM IS THIS:
- Faith is stepping out into the unknown because God tells you to.
- Faith is the motivation for a life of obedience
FAITH IS GOING WHEN YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING!
Let’s remind ourselves of the commendation of Abraham by the writer of Hebrews:
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 (Hebrews 11: 8).
Genesis 11: 31 through to 12: 1-9 tells us where he was called to by God. Here it explains that he was called by God first to leave Ur (probably found in Southern Mesopotamia) to go, via Harran (northern Mesopotamia) to the land of Canaan (modern day Israel and Palestine)…BUT there was no booming voice from God telling him WHAT route to take or WHERE to go in Canaan.
31 Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there. (Genesis 11: 31)
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; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.
6 Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
8 From there he went on towards the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
9 Then Abram set out and continued towards the Negev. (Genesis 12: 1-9)
Abraham left all that he knew to go, in obedience to God, to a place that he had no idea about. He had no Google Maps, no GPS in his car…no car!
Genesis 12: 1-3 tells us that this trust in God’s calling and leading would result in a whole bunch of blessings for him:
- I will make you a great nation – In Genesis 10, 70 nations are listed coming forth from Noah’s three son’s but now God will make one more of his own from Abraham – one that will be separated from the others throughout history – the Israelites.
- I will bless you – a personal blessing, both material and spiritual, upon Abraham himself.
- I will make your name great – personal honour for this man Abraham. Here we are 4000 years on, and we are still talking about him and he holds a prominent place in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
- I will bless those who bless you and curse those that curse you – This was a personal promise for Abraham himself but later that same promise is spoken of all of Israel (Num 24:9). God is still honouring this promise which even empires throughout history have discovered when they turn against Israel and the Jews.
- All the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you – This would, as Paul brings out in Galatians, find its fulfilment in the Son of Abraham, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, through whom Jews and Gentiles alike would find blessing.
There is a very real sense in which this story is played out again in the life and call of every Christian. Abraham was born and brought up in Ur of the Chaldees. We know this city to be a centre not just of learning, culture and civilisation but also as the centre of the worship of the Moon god. Joshua tells us that Abraham’s father, Terah, “worshipped other gods” (Joshua 24: 2) and the inference is that Abraham would have been brought up to worship them too. At some point the one, true, God revealed himself to Abraham who had to now make a choice of returning to what he knew or leaving his old life forever. Just as Abraham left his life in Ur with its worldliness and false gods, so those that hear the call of the gospel today are called to do the same. When we become a disciple of Jesus, we, each one of us, are called to step away from everything we have ever known – our old way of life – and, like Abraham, will even be called to leave behind our family and friends if need be. We are called to a journey to the Promised Land (which is Heaven) and we will need to be led by the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit every step of the way.
But there might also be a call here to some of us to leave the life we are living in as Christians now in order to go to the “place” to which God is calling us. The challenge is to have the faith to hear and go.
ABRAHAM’S MOTIVATION FOR HIS JOURNEY OF FAITH
Abraham stepped out in faith. And what was his motivation? Let’s read again Hebrews 11: 9-10 –
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.
So, Abraham made his way to the Promised Land, dwelling in tents and building altars to God in various places. In fact, those two outward symbols of Abraham’s life, the tent and the altar, sum up his life as both a pilgrim on this earth and a worshipper of God along the way. But what was his motivation? According to the book of Hebrews, the father of the Jewish race didn’t have his eyes on the Promised Land so much as the land still to come. He wasn’t looking so much for the city of Jerusalem as he was the Heavenly city. His motivation and gaze was on the heavenly city whose architect and builder is God.
But even for Christians it is easy to lose this eternal perspective when the things of earth cloud our view. In the late 1980’s Dave Hunt wrote a book called ‘Whatever happened to heaven?’ (Today we could also ask ‘Whatever happened to hell?’) Hunt rightfully saw that the church had moved from its historical emphasis on the hope of the heavenly home and eternal matters to come and was becoming more and more focussed on the here and now. In the language of a more recent popular book, the church became focussed on ‘Your best life now’. But here, in this chapter on faith in Hebrews 11, we see that even Abraham, 4000 years ago, obeyed God in the here and now because of this critical thought of eternity and his eternal home. THIS was his motivation.
SO, WHAT DO WE LEARN ABOUT FAITH FROM ABRAHAM?
- That faith is all about obedience – doing what God tells us to do and going where God tells us to go.
- That faith is about trust – that God knows best and that whatever God tells us to do, and wherever God calls us to go, is because God has a plan for us for our good and for the good of others – even when what He calls us to do makes no sense.
- That faith is a challenge to “go the whole way”. Contrast the faith of Terah with that of Abram. Terah listened to God but was half-hearted and so he only got ½ way there. The faith of Abraham was that he was fully committed to following God’s command to leave and risk all in a place that God would show him. It was a faith not only to “leave” but “to go”.
- That faith is about going without seeing the whole picture – our faith, like that of Abraham, is to take it one step at a time, not knowing where God is leading us, trusting in Him to guide us on the next part of our journey of life. He promises that He will be with us, every step of the way, and that He is going to bless us. That is enough!
- That faith is letting go of all that we previously held dear – all that was familiar – as we step out in a new life with God: Ur was the symbol of civilisation, culture, plenty, security, familiarity. Abraham’s faith is that he was willing to trust that God knew the plans He had for him – plans to prosper him…and so his faith was to trust in God, listen to God, hear what God had to say, obey God and leave all this behind him – not knowing where he was going to be taken. He left behind all that was familiar to him, all that was his human security (home, family, friends, job, stability), his riches, all the things that he liked to do (the clubs and pubs of Ur and its libraries and schools and hospitals) and, literally, stepped out in faith to go where God wanted him to go and to do what God wanted him to do.
- That faith is holding all things lightly. Like Abraham, faith is to be willing to let go of our homes and our families and our possessions IF we are asked to do so – knowing that the promise of citizenship in Heaven is far more valuable than anything we are ever going to let go of here on earth.
- That faith is fixing our eyes on the goal – like Abraham did. His father, Terah, took his eyes off the goal (Canaan) and opted for the easy way out – the half-way stage in Haran. Abraham never took his eyes off the goal. Listen to this story:
In 1952, Florence Chadwick stepped into the waters of the Pacific Ocean off Catalina Island, determined to swim the 26 miles to the shore of mainland California. She’d already been the first woman to swim the English Channel both ways. The weather was foggy and chilly; she could hardly see the boats accompanying her. Still, she swam for fifteen hours. When she begged to be taken out of the water along the way, her mother, in a boat alongside, told her she was close and that she could make it. Finally, physically and emotionally exhausted, she stopped swimming and was pulled out. It wasn’t until she was on the boat that she discovered the shore was less than half a mile away. At a news conference the next day she said, ‘All I could see was the fog… I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.’ Two months later, she tried again. The same thick fog set in, but she succeeded in reaching Catalina. She said that she kept a mental image of the shoreline in her mind while she swam. Randy Alcorn, in his book, “Heaven” relates this story and goes on to ask ‘Can you relate to those words? We live our lives in a fog of trouble, worry, doubt, depression, health problems, unemployment, financial uncertainty, strained relationships…and loss of loved ones… All these things create a fog. It’s difficult to see in front of us. We end up focusing on the fog because we can’t see the shore. Sometimes we feel like giving up because we don’t have the strength to stay afloat any longer. This is where the people of God throughout the ages had a source of strength and perspective that for some reason we don’t talk much about today: Heaven. It was their north star by which they could navigate their lives. It was their great reference point.’
Is God calling you to step out of your “comfort zone”? Is He calling you to give up all you hold dear? Is He calling you to move into a new area, a new job, a new relationship, a new service? If He is, then remember that ALL God does is guaranteed to be a blessing to you.
We are called, like Abraham, to be strangers, wanderers, in a strange land. Wherever we are led by God we remember that we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 3:20). We may be pioneers or we may be settlers. We may never put down roots, or we might be called to put down roots – in Ashford – but we must remember that we “live in tents” – ready to move on at any time – for our faith is that He is preparing for us a Heavenly Home (John 14: 2-3) in the Heavenly city of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21).