Faith Plus Nothing

Hebrews 11:8-19

Gotta love social media – unsuspecting friends never know when they might become sermon illustrations! Faith comes in different shapes and sizes, also mixtures. Couple examples:

“We’ve been in touch with the realtor and [husband] has applied for a job at the [local] shipyard so pray like you’ve never prayed before that he gets that job because he’s got to get a job up there, a federal job, so he’s got a decent retirement.”

“Just had an interview at [potential employer] for an optician position. He has another one scheduled for Monday. I will find out then about being called back for a second meeting. Please pray for God’s will in this and for me to be accepting of the outcome, whatever it may be. Having been out of work for 2 1/2 months, it’s very easy to get depressed and discouraged. I just need to remember that He’s the one in control and won’t let me down after bringing me this far.”

Notice the difference – “pray that it goes according to my plan” vs. “pray for God’s will and my acceptance”. Which kind of faith more pleasing to God? Let’s explore through events in lives of Abraham and Sarah.

A. call to go 8-10

not ignorant of geography, simply uninformed of destination

Gen 12:1Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you.”

According to one estimate, Ur was the largest city in the world from c. 2030 to 1980 BC. Its population was approximately 65,000. Ur was a major urban center on the Mesopotamian plain, immense luxury and unparalleled wealth. 2-story brick homes whitewashed outside, fully equipped kitchens, indoor plumbing; schools taught mathematics, astronomy and medicine; libraries, museums. Abram not your average redneck who called wife his sister.

not lacking in means, probably including land; didn’t need more acreage

Man of means, wealth in flocks and herds, but managed by his many employees.

started out with much, added to his holdings along the way: Gen. 13:2Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.”

to rescue Lot, Gen. 14:14 “he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house”

yes, had means, but moving all that from Ur to Canaan a difficult and dangerous undertaking, full of risks

meant leaving security of Mesopotamian god behind, too

Josh. 24:2And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.”

Abraham surely went to church with dad, mom, two brothers Nahor and Haran, worshiping other gods as Terah did

Abraham’s whole worldview changed – don’t know when for sure, at some point began trusting in true God, bigger god than his old one, the moon god worshiped in Ur

had to believe Yahweh could speak to him and guide him and provide for him in yet unknown place with different gods

to obey God in faith required giving up security, place of safety carefully constructed with much time and effort

not Ur of Chaldees, every one of us has place we have constructed, comfort zone, work really hard to stay inside its boundaries

God expects his kids to listen to his voice, when he calls us to go, obey in faith – leave our own security and trust in what God supplies

“Faith never knows where it is being led, but it loves and knows the One Who is leading.” Oswald Chambers

B. birth to behold 11-12

this faith present in the one who laughed! then lied about it!! (Gen. 18:12-15)

we call them heroes of faith – maybe not best way of thinking about them: Sarah and Abraham both had issues with trust and obedience in scary overwhelming situations

2x lied about relationship – to Pharaoh, then Abimelech – because didn’t trust God to protect them from harm

overwhelmed / frightened at idea of birthing and raising son at advanced age – mocked idea and God’s messenger

major failures, lapses in judgment, yet both were commended by God for their faith – God doesn’t go shopping for perfect children and adopt them and commend them

past and present evidence stacked overwhelmingly against being anything more than dream

Sarah 90 years old and never able to conceive (not Abraham’s fault); Abraham 100 years old, now past age to have children; Ishmael already a teenager by this time

Hagar promised her son would be father of great nation (Gen. 17:20) – had Sarah somehow misunderstood what God meant?

wasn’t simply unlikely, evidence indicated it couldn’t possibly happen and from human perspective, humanly explainable means, it was impossible – and that was the point

Sarah unable apart from faith to believe the unbelievable

God intended and orchestrated it that way – wasn’t just Isaac’s birth that was clearly work of God, doing the impossible

Sarah’s faith was work of God as well – hers was a rational faith in what she could neither understand or explain, a conviction that God would keep his promise unbelievable as it seemed

required giving up self-reliance, depending on own genius to move plan forward when God seemed slow

understood what God had promised, figured must be solution she could grasp, acted on own to make it happen – wrong!!

our job not to make things happen, is to do what God has told us, have confidence God will make his plan happen his way while we obey him

C. intermission 13-16

emphasis is on promises: saw, were assured, embraced them

saw that promises made without time reference were not going to be fulfilled next week – saw them in the distance

when they would be reality less important than certainty that God would keep his promises; not like us: length of wait directly proportional to decline in confidence

embraced them – took ownership of them so firmly it changed their lives; embrace of promises governed choices, priorities

understood… by faith… promise was way bigger than just bare statement – real estate in Canaan, child in old age

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah – all had their eyes on heaven, full and final deliverance from brokenness

were committed to God’s way of getting there – could have gone back home, former way of life if they had chosen

declared they were homeless, in search of better country – had high aspirations that could not be met on this earth

spoke it with their lips and their lives – acknowledged an identity shaped by faith, lived according to dictates of faith

Abraham lived with family in tents – gave up security of brick home, even in land promised to him, didn’t put down roots

Abraham (and the rest) had come to understand nothing about this world is permanent or ultimate – whatever God gives here and now only foretaste of real deal that comes later

understood that believing God’s promises, taking God at his word put them at odds with majority of others around them

having biblical worldview makes us aliens and exiles – strangers to everyone else, temporary residents here on this earth

ultimately confidence was in the God who made promises – God showed his approval: not ashamed, new home waiting for them

couldn’t see the fulfillment, trusted in God alone to make it happen – reality: only God can effectively deal with all that is broken

desire for wholeness that makes for perfect fellowship with God and one another a desire God is well-pleased to satisfy

D. sacrifice too great 17-19

no doubt about what God expected of Abraham: “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Gen. 22:2)

no substitutions (Ishmael), no holding back (burnt offering); Abraham didn’t expect God to provide substitute either – ram in thicket just as much a surprise to Abraham and Isaac as to us 1st time thru the story

wouldn’t blame Abraham if he had said “I can’t, makes no sense, asking too much – no way I can kill my hopes and dreams”

after all, this one (Isaac) was the down-payment on the really big promise – his numberless posterity specific to Isaac, blessing for all families of the earth through Isaac

wasn’t simply promise to Abraham, was promised blessing for whole world in jeopardy if he took life of his son – God’s command to sacrifice Isaac seemingly in direct contradiction to his earlier promise

required giving up stuff, all that is dearest in the world, even what God had provided to fulfill promise

what we are tempted to grasp most tightly is what God may require we relinquish to him… and he may take it away

from Abraham’s perspective, he “sacrificed” Isaac – Abraham was prepared to go all the way, in his mind he had done so

could be at peace with carrying out God’s extreme command because of his faith: “God requres me to take Isaac’s life, to keep his promise God will have to raise him from the dead and give him back”

piece of cake, right? uh-huh… extreme test of faith, more like; and with God’s help, Abraham passed the test

and think about Abraham’s pleasure in Isaac, how much more intense after he received Isaac back from the dead

more important – Abraham’s love for God and confidence in God’s provision: Abraham learned far more about God and his character than he did about himself

so, apart from God, what is your greatest treasure? about what do you think “I’d rather die than give that up”?

health; independence; spouse; child; career; financial security; possibilities are endless, maybe you say it about more than one

be prepared, God may require that of you as a test of your faith; be assured of this: whatever God supplies in return will be far more precious

Gal. 3:7Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” Does God consider you to be among “those of faith”? If so, you are child of Abraham. What would God have you understand from your father Abraham’s example?

Notice how in each circumstance, faith required willingness to give up the seen for the unseen; what seemed certain for the unknown; what centered on this life now for what is future and eternal. Yet there is constant theme throughout: every time, attention drawn away from earthly and tangible to God.

God expects our confidence, our faith to be in him… alone. Not him plus _______, him alone. God is a jealous God, he refuses to share his rightful place with anyone or anything else. To have faith in God alone means we need to surrender everything else to him. God expects no more of us than he has already given: Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his only begotten son, God actually did it. God gave dearest thing in universe for you and me, his Son the Lord Jesus. By God’s grace and with his help we can do no less.

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