Sermon: Case Studies in Faith: The Faith that Overcomes Death (Hebrews 11:2-22)

Case Studies in Faith:

The Faith that Overcomes Death

Hebrews 11:20-22 (ESV)

By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.  [21] By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.  [22] By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

These verses may seem a bit redundant or perhaps anticlimactic after the verses from last week concerning Abraham and Isaac.  The drama of last week’s event, as amazing as it was, is a rarity.  These verses today have one thing in common that I want us to see.  We travel from last week’s drama to this week’s inevitability.  These three men mentioned in our verses today each had drama in their lives but what is mentioned is the common denominator they shared.  They all died of old age believing in the promises of God so strongly that their feebleness of body did not detract from their rock solid faith.  Like Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham they all died not having received the promises but looking for them in the future.  In their case, the covenant promises were passed on from one generation to the next, from father to son to grandson.

What made the difference in the lives of these mentioned today?  What was it that caused them to not fear death but to look it straight in the eyes and rejoice?  The difference was saving faith.  God had given each of these men the gift of faith and in the end that was what carried them from this world to the next.

By way of contrast, I want to share a couple of examples of the last words of nonbelievers:

Edward Gibbon a brilliant English historian who wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire said this on his death bed…This day may be my last. I will agree that the immortality of the soul is at times a very comfortable doctrine. All this is now lost, finally, irrevocably lost.  All is dark and doubtful.

Thomas Paine, the renown American author and atheist who was very outspoken against anything Christian had these words at the end of his life in 1809… O Lord help me.  O Christ help me.  O God what have I done to suffer so much?  But there is no God!  But if there should be, what shall become of me hereafter?  Stay with me for God’s sake!  Send even a child to stay with me, for it is hell to be alone.  If ever the devil had an agent, I have been that one.

I could go on with examples of unbelievers and their dying words.  Most all the examples I read had a bit of fear for the unknown.  Unless these folks had an unknown gospel experience, their fear was understandable.  Hell was their final destination.

Notice the difference between these two examples and the words of those who were believers.

Thomas Goodwin was the famous Puritan from the 17th century.  On his death bed said these words…Ah, is this dying?  How I have dreaded as an enemy this smiling friend.

John Owen who probably wrote the greatest exposition of the Book of Hebrews ever written had these words as he died…I am going to Him whom my soul loveth, or rather who has loved me with an everlasting love, which is the soul ground of my consolation.

Andrew Fuller the great Reformed Baptist pastor from the 18th century as he died said this: I am a great sinner; and if I am saved, it can only be by great and sovereign grace…great and sovereign grace etc.

There is a clear difference between the deaths of those who don’t know Christ verses those who adore the Lord.

Today, I want to look together briefly at three men who died in the Lord and exercised faith right up to the end.

The human need addressed in these verses is the need to not fear death but to bring glory to God through it.

Truth Taught: These verses show us the importance of passing a legacy of faith to the next generation.

It’s amazing that none of these examples of dying are fearful examples but very peaceful examples.

1. Isaac’s Blessing (Hebrews 11:20)

By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.

It’s important that we study this situation briefly concerning Isaac and his two sons, Jacob and Esau.

Genesis 26:3-5 (ESV)

Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. [4] I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, [5] because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

Isaac received and believed the same promise that Abraham had believed.  He also was a sojourner in the land.  He died in faith.

However, all along the way we see that Isaac made a lot of decisions that cause us to wonder about his faith.  Many times the account shows Isaac walking by sight and not by faith.

Isaac’s wife Rebecca was unable to have children.  Isaac and Rebecca prayed and the Lord answered their prayer.  Twins came.  Esau was born first and then Jacob.  It was Jacob that would receive the continued covenant.

Isaac favored Esau over Jacob.  Esau was the outdoorsman and Jacob liked it inside.  Esau was the firstborn and by all rights should have been the one to inherit the father’s blessing.  However, God had something far different in mind.

In fact it doesn’t get much clearer than in Romans 9.  Paul was teaching the fact that it isn’t physical descent that is one’s claim to be God’s child but it’s God who decides.

Romans 9:6-13 (ESV)

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,  [7] and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  [8] This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.  [9] For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.”  [10] And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,  [11] though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call— [12] she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”  [13] As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Right up until the end we see Isaac with a bit of rebellion trying to bless Esau.

John MacArthur writes, If Jonah was the reluctant prophet then Isaac was the reluctant patriarch.  In some ways Isaac was a blot on the Old Testament record.  But in the end he was God’s man.  At death, he submitted to the will of God.

God’s choice of Isaac wasn’t made because Isaac would be obedient.  He didn’t choose Isaac because of some foreseen faith, because right up to the end there was a streak of rebellion in Isaac.  However, he died in faith, submitting and obeying God.

In the end, the father blesses his children and prepares them for the future promises of God.

The faith of Isaac looked forward to the promises and as a result blesses his sons.

2. Jacob’s Blessing (Hebrews 11:21)

[21] By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.

Just like Isaac, Jacob was a less than perfect example of patriarchal faith.  He lived a life that was hot and cold toward God.

Jacob’s blessing passed on to Joseph and his sons.

Genesis 48:21 (ESV)

Then Israel said to Joseph, “Behold, I am about to die, but God will be with you and will bring you again to the land of your fathers.

The covenant blessing passed through another generation of God’s people.

It’s important that we understand that life is short.  What type of blessing will you leave to your children?

James 4:14 (ESV)

yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

It’s also important to note that the covenant blessing passed through those whom God determined that it would pass through.  It was not based on these patriarchs being perfect or being sinless.  The covenant passed through them because God made a promise to Abraham and God cannot lie.

Some two hundred years had passed from the time God made the promise to Abraham.  In that time, none of Abraham’s descendants had lived in the Promised Land.  Four generations had come and gone and none ever received the promises but looked forward to the day in which they would be fulfilled.

Hebrews 11:10 (ESV)

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

3. Joseph’s Bones (Hebrews 11:22)

[22] By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

Joseph knew prophetically that God’s people would not remain in Egypt.  He knew that when the time was right God would fulfill all His promises.

Genesis 50:24-26 (ESV)

And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” [25] Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” [26] So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

Joseph new of the exodus years before it ever happened.  He knew God would somehow bring everything to pass.

All three of these men died in faith.  All three looked forward to the fulfillment of the promises.  Their faith at times wavered in life but was steadfast in the face of death.

When faced with death, people are honest because the need to lie is over.  When faced with the last few moments of life what really matters comes out.

How will you die?  Will your last words be words of confidence in the promises of God?  Will your last words be that of encouragement to your family?

I’m convinced that how we will die is something we should contemplate while we are strong and healthy.  Strive to bring glory to God in life and in death.

Joseph lived and died in Egypt, but he was no Egyptian.  He lived and died in a foreign land as he watched and waited for the heavenly city.

Do you have the confidence in God that these men had?  Do you believe the covenantal promises of God so strongly that even when faced with death you’ll be able to die in faith?

Philip. 1:21-26 (ESV)

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  [22] If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  [23] I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  [24] But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.  [25] Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,  [26] so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Joseph knew that when his eyes closed and he was buried that they would open and see all God’s promises fulfilled.

Does the thought of dying terrify you?  No one wants to die but it is so gracious of God to give us grace in dying so that our fears are alleviated and His glory is magnified.

Thomas Goodwin was the famous Puritan from the 17th century.  On his death bed said these words…Ah, is this dying?  How I have dreaded as an enemy this smiling friend.

The human need addressed in these verses is the need to not fear death but to bring glory to God through it.

Truth Taught: These verses show us the importance of passing a legacy of faith to the next generation.

As Joseph looked to the Exodus years before it happen, this sets up next week’s text as we consider the faith of Moses.

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