Sermon: Case Studies in Faith: Abraham Saw a City (Hebrews 11:8-16)

Case Studies in Faith:

By Faith Abraham Saw a City

Hebrews 11:8-16 (ESV)

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.  [9] 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.  [10] For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  [11] By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  [12] 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.

[13] 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.  [14] For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  [15] If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  [16] 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.

As we begin this morning we should reread the opening verse showing us the characteristics of faith from Hebrews 11.

Hebrews 11:1-2 (ESV)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  [2] For by it the people of old received their commendation.

One big piece of this text today when we take into account the apostle’s description of faith is that assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, is that all the ones mentioned never received the promises while on this earth.  None of the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 actually received what they had been convinced of while alive.  By this fact, and by other verses in Scripture, we shouldn’t think that God’s promises will be fulfilled while we’re alive either.

Here’s what I mean.  The thrust of this text is that Abraham believed and obeyed what God told him.  He left his home not knowing where he was going.  He sojourned on earth as a foreigner his whole life.  Abraham died believing the promises of God but never actually seen them come to pass.

The Human need these verses address is to understand that death doesn’t strip us of the promises but connects us to them.

Truth Taught- Abraham understood he was a sojourner on earth and he looked forward to the heavenly city.

1. By Faith Abraham Left His Home (Hebrews 11:8-10)

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.  [9] 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.  [10] For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

We’re immediately shown two important points in understanding what was going on in Abraham.  First, Abraham was called by God.  This must happen if Abraham is going to ever obey.  God’s initiative is seen when He calls Abraham.

Romans 8:28-30 (ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  [29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Abraham heard God’s call and obeyed.  God’s ultimate purpose for Abraham was to be conformed to the image of Christ.  The calling to leave his home was the beginning of  the calling to be conformed to the image of Christ.

John 10:27 (ESV)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Abraham saw Christ from afar.  Abraham saw Him and loved Him and spent His whole life obeying the heavenly calling.

John 8:56-59 (ESV)

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”  [57] So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”  [58] Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  [59] So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

Abraham believed God and acted on what he knew to be true.  Faith is what connects us to God.  When God told Abraham to leave his home he didn’t tell him anything else about his new home, perhaps that’s because Abraham would never have a permanent home while on earth.

Abraham and his family lived in tents as foreigners never in a permanent dwelling.

[9] 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.

How could Abraham do this his whole life?  He believed what God said.

It’s at this point we’re tempted to think about some of Abraham’s failures/sins.  There were times when He stumbled and his faith seemed to be lacking.  Twice Abraham posed as Sarah’s brother because he was afraid.  But through what seemed to be a lack of faith, he never went back to his original home in Ur of the Chaldesse.

Have you ever been driving at night out in the darkness on a country road?  Have you ever been able to see at a great distance a city all lit up?  By faith this is what Abraham saw.  He wanted that city more than the one he had.

[10] For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

God had told him that he would receive an inheritance.  God told Abraham that He would make him into a great nation.

It was concerning this exact promise that Paul writes…

Romans 4:3-5 (ESV)

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  [4] Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.  [5] And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Abraham left his home not to earn salvation.  He left his home because God had already worked and chosen Abraham to inherit His great promises and be the Father of all who believe.  Out of all the pagans in Ur for reasons we don’t really know about, God chose Abraham.

As Abraham’s faith began to function he saw the city of his inheritance.  He saw the lights from his tent opening and longed for it more than he ever wanted to be back home.  There is a big difference between Abraham longing for the new city and the Hebrews who left Egypt longing for slavery and Egypt.  All they could do is look back in unbelief and all Abraham could do is look forward in faith

Are you longing for that same city?  Do you see yourself as a foreigner and a sojourner on earth?  God may not be calling us to leave our homes, although for some He may.  Some are called onto the mission field in a foreign country.  Some are called to go there and live as foreigners.  Others are called to remain home and serve the Lord there.  But all of us are called to live as foreigners on this earth because heaven is our real home.  By faith do you see the city whose builder is God?  Do you long to be there?  I pray that the Lord would continue working and being patient with us as He weans us off our dependence on this world.

By faith Abraham left his home.

Truth Taught- Abraham understood he was a sojourner on earth and he looked forward to the heavenly city.

2. By Faith Abraham Had Descendants (Hebrews 11:11-12)

[11] By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  [12] 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.

Ladies, this should be an encouragement to you as you see that God’s great promises are not intended only for men but are for you as well.  By faith Sarah herself…

Genesis 18:9-15 (ESV)

They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” [10] The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. [11] Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. [12] So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” [13] The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ [14] Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” [15] But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

Genesis 21:1-7 (ESV)

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. [2] And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. [3] Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. [4] And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. [5] Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. [6] And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” [7] And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

We see a lot happened in that year.  Sarah went from disbelief and laughing at the truth to actually conceiving and then later giving birth to Isaac, the son of promise.

Both Abraham and Sarah were way past the normal years of childbearing.  Yet the Lord made a promise…

Genesis 15:4-5 (ESV)

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” [5] And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

If left to themselves Isaac would never have been born.  However, left up to God about a year later infant cries were heard from the nursery of old Abraham and Sarah.

Romans 4:19-25 (ESV)

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead ( since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  [20] No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,  [21] fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  [22] That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”  [23] But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,  [24] but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,  [25] who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

Sarah considered herself worn out and her husband old.

Abraham continued in faith believing that no matter how things looked, God would keep His Word.  God would fulfill His promise.  No mater if Sarah’s womb was not functioning, God would keep His promise.

3. Living and Dying in Faith (Hebrews 11:13-16)

[13] 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.  [14] For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  [15] If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  [16] 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.

Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob all died in faith, not having received the things promised.  This is important for us to consider.  While alive, they acknowledged that they were waiting on a better city.

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of nations, and that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and that all the nations of the world would be blessed through him.  Yet while alive he didn’t receive the promise.

God promised Abraham a land yet all his life he dwelt in tents.  God promised a multitude of descendants and yet at his death Abraham only had sons and grandsons.  He died not having received what God had promised.  The promise concerning the land was then repeated by God to Isaac and then to Jacob.  Neither received the promise while alive.

They knew that in time God would fulfill all that He promised so they lived as aliens and wanderers until their deaths.  Abraham was much happier wandering as a nomad waiting on God than to go back to Ur and put down roots.  They lived in tents while looking at the Promised Land.

These verses are present so that we will read them and study them and imitate the faith of Abraham.

There is a sequel to the Abraham story.  There is a part two of the account.  Jesus refers to it when He encountered the Sadducees.

The Sadducees were a branch of Judaism who was in effect lawyers.  Like lawyers today they were always looking for loopholes and trying to manipulate the situation to their advantage.

They have met their match with Jesus.

Matthew 22:23-33 (ESV)

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question,  [24] saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.’  [25] Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother.  [26] So too the second and third, down to the seventh.  [27] After them all, the woman died.  [28] In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

[29] But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.  [30] For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.  [31] And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:  [32] ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”  [33] And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.

What Jesus was in effect saying was that you teachers say there is no resurrection from the dead.  God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob not 1000 years ago but right now.  They are alive and well in their land of promise.  Their eternal inheritance is currently being enjoyed by them because God is the God of the living.

John Calvin had it right when he concluded that

there is no place for us among God’s children, except we renounce the world and that there will be for us no inheritance in heaven, except we become pilgrims on earth. — John Calvin

Perhaps you’ve experienced situations where you thought that God was not being true to His promises.  Perhaps you are in a situation a situation now where things are not going quite the way you think they should go and you’re not sure what to do.

Keep in mind that the Lord cares for His children and we experience a little of His goodness while on earth.  But His ultimate love and promises are to be experienced in the life to come.  Don’t expect heaven on earth.  Don’t expect your best life now…by faith expect it later.  There is a city waiting for us.  It’s one God has prepared for those who love Him.  Live by faith now as you anticipate great blessing later.

Death doesn’t strip us of the promises but connects us to them.

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