The writer returns to the example of Abraham’s faith, since this man would have special significance for those brought up under the Old Covenant. Yes even he, the writer is at pains to point out, living before the law was given, lived by faith rather than by the works of the law and in his life, he pointed forward to Jesus, whose once for all sacrifice for sin would render the law obsolete as a means to earn righteousness before God.
LOOKING BACK (Hebrews 11:1-16)
We saw that faith is vital for the Christian life, and then answered the question (as the author does) “what is faith?” He describes it as a certainty of conviction. Other translations like the King James call it the SUBSTANCE – we think of substance as only physical, but in the immaterial world the essential substance of certainty is what we call faith. Faith is confidence that what IS true is TRUE. And this confidence for the future is formed by revelation and by reason and by experience. God reveals that He made the universe out of nothing and faith believes this. While faith is not the opposite of reason, neither is it dependant on our ability to fully reason, since it operates in places where our physical senses are necessarily not designed to function (spiritual things). Reason can take us so far but not all the way to providing a basis for our faith.
Those who have this faith have a very different perspective on living in this world, and the writer now presents 5 stories of characters in the Old Testament who illustrate this clearly for us.
Abel, unlike his brother, Cain, offered his sacrifice to God in faith and it was accepted. God commended him for his sacrifice even though the outcome in this world was that Abel was killed by Cain. Nevertheless, Cain still speaks to us today as one commended by God for his faith-driven actions.
Enoch walked with God and was commended by God for having pleased Him. The writer notes that this would be impossible without a faith that believes God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. True faith always has an eye to the commendation and the reward of God (because He Himself is our very great reward), and towards pleasing Him.
Noah built an Ark at God’s command. A boat in an inland place when it was not clear that rain had ever happened before! Yet he delighted to do what God commanded, even when he couldn’t fully understand the reason for it. He and his family sheltered in the Ark (a picture of Jesus) and were saved when the waters of judgment came.
Abraham. God called him to leave his current home and go to an unknown destination where God would give him an inheritance – and he went. His eyes were raised to God and his promise and were not earthbound.
Sarah considered God faithful and even though she was past the age for bearing children, God gave her power to conceive the child of promise – Isaac.
For all these people, their time on earth came without them receiving what was promised. But they will receive it together with us one day and it is through the work that Jesus did that this is guaranteed. Like them, whatever God calls us to do we need to respond to with faith that sees and is convinced by the reality of the invisible.
Today is the day to live by faith in the promises of God found in the gospel. It will make you a stranger and an exile in this world. America will not be your true home. You’ll being called to belong to a better country. A lasting one. A permanent one.
LOOKING FORWARD (Hebrews 11:17-22)
Abraham stood over the bound and helpless form of his young son, Isaac – the child of God’s promise, and the one through whose descendants God had said all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. This was the one on whom all Abraham’s hope rested for the fulfillment of God’s amazing and precious promises. This was the one impossibly born by God’s power to a couple well beyond the usual time for childbearing. This was the one called “laughter” because of the joy his coming (and the manner of his coming) brought to Abraham and Sarah. Yet now, in this moment, and paradoxically at God’s command, Abraham raises a knife and prepares (without openly questioning God, it seems) to offer up Isaac in sacrifice.
Peter talks about the tested genuineness of our faith, which will result in praise, glory and honor (commendation from God) when Jesus is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7). Sure enough, in this world our faith will be tested – not so that God may find out if it’s genuine, but that we might. Sometimes the tests can be very demanding. Sometimes the test involves those nearest and dearest to us in this world – and this was the nature of the test Abraham faced now.
At the critical moment, when Abraham was a split second away from using the knife, an angel called out to stay his hand and figuratively speaking, Abraham received his son back from the dead.
Why did God put Abraham through this trial? First, as we have seen, to prove to Abraham the strength and genuineness of his faith. This was a different man than the Abraham who tried to accelerate the fulfillment of God’s promise by fathering Ishmael through Sarah’s maid, Hagar. Now he reasons that God’s promises are so sure that if need be, He will raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill them.
But also God caused these events to happen and to be recorded for us, to give us the example of Abraham’s faith and a clearer view of God’s faithfulness in action.
Lastly, these events are overflowing with images about Jesus and references to Him. “God Himself will supply the lamb for the offering”, Abraham had told Isaac as they drew near to the mountain. And Jesus came as the Lamb of God, to take away the sins of the world. Abraham was about to sacrifice the son of his love, and figuratively receive him back from the dead. God in reality sent His only Son, Jesus, to the cross, and received Him back when He rose. The ram that God supplied to Abraham served as a substitute, dying in the place of Isaac, just as Jesus died as a substitute for His people so they may not die but rise to new life. And where did these events take place, except on the very mountain where, centuries later, the Son of God would hang, bound to a cross, as the Father put Him to death for the sins of His people?
Isaac lived on, and the promises of God and the example of Abraham’s faith we’re passed to Jacob and to Joseph, both of whom walked in the same faith. And now the promise is ours if we trust in Jesus.
If we have a similar faith to Abraham, it shouldn’t surprise us if it gets tested so we may see the reality of what God has done for us and in us through Jesus. And the tender mercy and faithfulness of God should be our refuge to help us come through the trial with praise and thanksgiving to God!