“Trust the Promises of God”
(Hebrews 11:1, 8-16 – Pentecost 12 – August 28, 2022)
Hebrews 11:1, 8-16 – 1Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…. 8By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude – innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. 13These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
Dear citizens of the heavenly homeland Jesus has secured for us:
“You’ve got to have faith.” Maybe you have heard people say that in regard to facing life’s challenges. A person who has suffered great loss may say, “You’ve got to have faith.” A person who is battling serious illness may be counseled, “Faith will get you through.” But the question is: Faith in what? Such words are used by people in all sorts of religions, representing totally different ideas about God and truth. Even people who do not belong to any religion may say, “You’ve got to have faith.” What does it mean? Faith in modern medicine? Faith in the economy? Faith in myself? Should I think that just because I believe something, all will go well; as if I can put my will over my circumstances and change things by the power of my faith?
Our text encourages us to have faith, but not just any faith. When it says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (vs. 1), it does not mean something is true and certain just because we want to believe it. No rather, we believe because something is true. And there is one thing we can be sure and certain of in this world, one thing that will never fail us – God’s unchanging promises in Christ our Savior. He says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Our text encourages us to “Trust the Promises of God”: 1) To be certain of what you cannot see today, and 2) To be sure of what you hope for in eternity.
1) To be certain of what you cannot see today
It says: “faith is… the evidence of things not seen” (vs. 1). Though we cannot see something with our physical eyes, the eyes of faith have all the evidence or proof they need in God’s promise. When God speaks, faith says, “It is as good as done.”
God’s people always have believed His Word over limited human understanding. Hebrews 11 lists many examples of believers from ancient times who simply clung to God’s promises – trusting that He was working out His great design in history, trusting that He was working His gracious plan of salvation in their lives, despite all appearances to the contrary.
Our text picks up with the account of Abraham, whom Scripture calls the father of all who believe (Romans 4:11). “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (vs. 8). At God’s Word, Abraham left extended family and their gods and all that was familiar behind. At the age of 75 he left for a distant land, sight unseen, where God was leading him. Faith had all the evidence it needed in God’s promise: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you…. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). God was promising Abraham that through his offspring would come a special Descendant, the Savior in whom all peoples on earth would be blessed. Abraham based his life journey on this promise.
Even after God had led Abraham to his new home in Canaan, he still had to live by faith in things unseen. The fulfillment of God’s promise of offspring seemed impossible, since Abraham and Sarah had always been unable to bear children. They had to wait 25 years, until Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90, before they had their only son Isaac. Yet they believed the promise of God. “Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude – innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore” (vs. 12).
Even after God provided the miracle of offspring to Abraham, he still had to live by faith in things unseen. God promised that the land of Canaan would belong to his descendants; yet in Abraham’s lifetime, God gave him no inheritance in it (Acts 7:5). The same was true for his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. It says: “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise” (vs. 9). They lived as a small foreign family of believers in the true God, among a vast population of pagan Canaanites who still occupied the land. It was not until centuries later, after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob died, and their descendants had been reduced to slavery in Egypt, that God finally had Moses lead His people back to this land.
Then, Abraham’s descendants inherited the Promised Land. Even after that, it would still be many centuries until God sent that one Descendant of Abraham they all were looking forward to – Jesus Christ, the Savior for all nations. So it says of God’s faithful through the ages: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (vs. 13).
Do you see why Abraham is called the father of all who believe? God may not have asked us to pick up and leave for a strange land in some distant part of the world, to live as aliens there in tents with nothing more than a future promise to our name. But like Abraham, God has called us to live by faith in things unseen. As Abraham lived among a pagan people who mocked God’s Word, we are surrounded by a world that says we are foolish to believe as we do simply from His Word. Like Abraham, none of us lived at the time of Christ’s coming. Yet, God asks us to stake our whole life’s journey through this world, and our eternal future, on what Jesus has accomplished for our salvation. Like Abraham, we live in this world by faith in things unseen.
Surely it was not always easy for Abraham to believe. In fact, no one could believe God’s promise of salvation in Christ if it weren’t for His Spirit working the gift of saving faith in us. In Abraham’s life, he faced trials and temptations that seemed to suggest God’s plan was not being fulfilled. Like every believer before us, we are tempted at times to lose faith. We cannot face life’s trials alone. We need God to strengthen our faith each day, through His Gospel promises.
Our weakness of faith shows when things do not go as we want, and we may pout and grumble as if God were no longer in control. At times, we push His Word and prayer aside and trust our own strength and understanding to get us through. We get impatient with His leading. God says, “In My time”; but we follow the impatient voice in our heart that says, “I want it now!” We try to satisfy ourselves by sinful desires. By our lack of faith, by our sin, we bring trouble on ourselves. Why should we think that God is still carrying out His gracious plan in our lives?
Because we still have His promise. Even if we are faithless, God remains faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). From the beginning He has provided a Savior – not for perfect people who have a perfect faith, but for falling and failing sinners, like Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, you and me. It is to real sinners that He has always declared His real Good News in the Gospel: “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12). When we fear that we have ruined God’s plan in our lives, He says: “Take heart. I have given you salvation in the name of My Son, that promised Seed of Abraham. By His once-for-all sacrifice on the cross, you are pardoned from all sin and condemnation.”
We are told that Abraham believed the promise of God in Christ, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). So also, through the same faith God has worked in our heart by His Gospel, He assures us: “I am counting that perfect righteousness of Christ to you. Through baptism and faith, I have united you to My Son as My children. Nothing can ever separate you from my love in Christ. I am working out My plan for you today, no matter what may come.”
What about when the dark clouds of trial and tribulation overshadow our lives? What if the world increases in wickedness and persecutes us for the sake of God’s truth? What if Satan seems to have his way and things go from bad to worse? Can any of this change God’s gracious working in our lives? No. His Word still declares His eternal love for us in Christ and our final triumph in Him. Abraham and countless believers through the ages can attest that God will work out His plan for our good, day by day, until He brings us home to heaven. Faith hears God’s promises and is strengthened. Over the din of this world’s false promises and false hopes, faith still sings:
I’m but a stranger here; Heav’n is my home.
Earth is a desert drear; Heav’n is my home.
Danger and sorrow stand Round me on ev’ry hand.
Heav’n is my fatherland; Heav’n is my home.
2) To be sure of what you hope for in eternity
Yes, trust in God’s promises to be certain of what you cannot see today; and also to be sure of what you hope for in eternity. As it says: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for” (vs. 1). We have not yet seen Jesus or heaven; yet faith says: “I have substance in His unfailing promise. His gift of eternal life is mine today. I have heaven’s joys before me.”
We read: “For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (vs. 14-16).
Our life really is not so different from Abraham’s. He was called to leave behind the old life he had known, of following the false gods and ways of the world. Instead, he willingly admitted that he lived as a stranger and pilgrim in this world; for he had something much better. As it says: “He waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (vs. 10).
So do we! We could turn our hearts back to the world and all the passing treasures, pleasures, and gods it offers. But why? We have the living God who loves us. He is not ashamed to be called our God, though we are imperfect; for He has purchased us by the blood of His Son for eternal life. As His redeemed children in Christ, we look forward to our homeland in heaven with Him. Long after the foundations of this world’s most magnificent structures have crumbled, long after this world has passed away, we have a heavenly city with foundations that can never fall.
Jesus assures us of our place in His heavenly Fatherland, as He says: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3). Faith looks up to Jesus our living Savior, and rejoices in what He is bringing us. Clinging to His promise, we sing:
There at my Savior’s side Heav’n is my home –
I shall be glorified; Heav’n is my home.
There are the good and blest, Those I love most and best,
And there I, too, shall rest; Heav’n is my home.
“You’ve got to have faith,” they say. But not just any faith – faith in the one true God and His promises in Christ. Like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and believers through time, trust the promises of God – to be certain He is fulfilling His gracious plans in your life today, and to be sure of the blessed hope He has given you in eternity. And soon, faith will turn to sight; for we will see our loving Savior with our own eyes and be like Him in heavenly perfection and glory (1 John 3:2).
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.