Faith of the Patriarchs

Hebrews 11:8-16

Sermon #212

“Faith of the Patriarchs”


The dictionary defines history as “the study of past events, particularly in human affairs.” Hebrews 11 while often called the Hall of Faith could more accurately be titled a walk through the history of faith in God’s relationship with mankind. We looked at last week the characters of Abel, Enoch, and Noah. We looked at how faith offers to God worship He deserves, that it pleases God and that it produces the action of obedience as we saw in the life of Noah. It is on the backdrop of the flood and the judgment of God which had destroyed a generation that was described in Genesis 6: 11, 12 as a generation that was corrupt and also in verse 5 of chapter 6 as mankind‘s wickedness becoming so evil “that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” So it is with this backdrop that we understand from the Scriptures that Noah is a man of faith and re-built the world of his day following the flood. Noah and his sons became the fathers of the nations mentioned in Genesis chapter 10 soon after this in Genesis 11 we understand that the people put their minds to work in such a way that God said of them “behold they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they purpose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down there and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another speech.” It is with this backdrop that the scriptures move our attention to another man of faith. God initiates a relationship with a man named Abram later to be known as Abraham.  In the opening verses of Genesis chapter 12, it tells us that the Lord simply instructed Abram go from his country and his kindred and his father’s house to the land that God would show him. Perhaps there is no other greater character in scripture outside of the Lord Jesus himself that is connected with the obedience of faith. He is not just mentioned in the Old Testament but everywhere in the New Testament as well, as a man who trusted God and that his faith was accounted to Him as righteousness. But, before we delve into these wonderful verses that give us insight into Abraham’s faith, let us consider who this Abraham was and where he came from. As R. Kent Hughes notes in his commentary on Hebrews: “Abraham lived in the 19th century BC and scripture indicates that he was a citizen of the city of UR, located on the Euphrates River in what is today southern Iraq. It was an ancient city even in Abraham’s day and it was laden with idol worship mainly of the god Nammu (or moon god). Turn to Joshua 24 real quick. We know that Terah and Abraham worshipped other gods as Joshua 24:2 tells us.” Just as the author of Hebrews is giving a history of faith so Joshua in his day was telling the people of God at that time their very history. 

     So, it is in this context of idolatry that God initiates a relationship with Abram and calls him to go and follow Him. Is this not what He does with each one of us? We were all idolatrous prior to the Lord saving us. We are going in a way that seems right to us and then we are introduced to the Lord Jesus Christ through the Gospel and He calls us to come and follow Him. So, it is at this point of Abraham’s life that God then promises Abraham four things: he says starting in verse two of Genesis 12. 

  1. A land: “Go to a land that I will show you” 
  2. I will make you a great nation and 

      3.  I will bless you and make your name great, so   

            that you will be a blessing. 

      4. I will bless those who bless you, and him who 

           dishonored you I will curse, and in you, all the families

          of the earth shall be blessed. 

     Again, quite clearly God promises Abraham land, that he would make him into a great nation, that he would bless him and would make a great name for him. Further, through him he would bless all the families of the earth, which is the fuller effects of the Gospel coming through Jesus Christ. Really we see the fulfillment of that in the reading of this scripture this morning. The very fact that we are speaking of Abraham reveals that God meant what He said. Many will hear of Abraham and his faith. We have received the blessing of Christ, we are amongst those who have received from the families of the earth. I find it interesting that even outside Judeo-Christian circles Abraham is still well known for instance in Islam, he is seen as a historical figure.  

     Now, let’s look at our text and what it says concerning the faith of Abraham. We will look at this in 3 points:

  1. Faith Centers on the Person of God (vs. 8,11,13)
  2. Faith Believes the Promises of God (vs.8,11,13)
  3. Faith Follows God Wherever He leads (8b, 9, 13b-16

A. Earthly Places

B. Heavenly Place

Faith Centers on the Person of God (vs. 8,11,13)

If you look with me at verses eight verses 11 and verse 13 we see mentioned here in this text that God is the one who Abraham heard and responded to you in verse 11 we see that his wife Sarah herself received power to conceive even when she was passed agency considered him faithful and promised so noticed that this is faith in the person of God. They simply believed him. Then in verse 13, it mentions that these all died and sees not having received the things promised but having seen them and greeted them from a far off and having a knowledge that they were strangers and excels on the earth. They received a promise and that promise came through the very mouth of God. And so face, is not just some idea or something that we have to work up, But is an active trust in the one who speaks. As we saw last week in chapter 11 verse six that without faith it is impossible to please him for who whatever draw near to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. We see here than the principle that true faith centers on the person of God. I ask you this morning, Do you believe God? Notice I did not ask “do you believe in God?“ I asked, do you believe God? So far here in chapter 11, we have seen that this in this hall of faith are men and women who believe God. This presupposes then, that they believe he exist as verse six told us that we must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who diligently seek him. One of the greatest apologetics is that of the promises of God. If God is a figment of man’s imagination then why is it that He has spoken and what He says comes to pass while He Himself remains unseen. But you see, He came to us, in the person of the Son. He was born of a virgin as prophesied, lived a life obedient to God, submitted Himself as a lamb to the slaughter that we could be delivered from our sin, He rose again and ascended back to heaven. Sure this takes faith to believe but He has spoken has He not? So, to truly move on in faith brings us to the reality that we must believe God’s words. This is why he has given us the Scriptures. It is God’s revealed Word to us. There is no need for further revelation. We have all we need for life and godliness until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Many in our day will say that they want a fresh word from the Lord. And I like with Pastor Caison has to say about that, “if you want a fresh word from the Lord read the Bible to yourself out loud.” … It seems so simple, but yet profound. Could it be the reason that we are so dry in the western church is that we have all this information available to us, but the issue is are we simply reading and believing God’s Word? It really is sharper than any two-edged sword! This is why I asked the question, do you believe God? If we are people who believe that He exists and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him, Then we will be people of the Book. We will believe the promises of God which is our second point.

Faith Believes the Promises of God (vs.8,11,13)

Look again with me at first 8. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he would receive it. Notice it says he obeyed when God called. His obedience gave evidence that He understood and held fast to the promises of God as we saw mentioned in detail in Genesis 12. Secondly, at the end of verse eight, it says that he went out not knowing where he was going. So, we see that obedience has feet to it, it actually does the things that God says because one believes the promises of God. As James puts it, “I’ll show you my faith by my works.” Is it any wonder as the church that we are called to encourage one another daily because our faith is challenged daily moment by moment to look at this present world than towards what is unseen. You see we understand we are not saved by our works but most certainly our faith continually manifests itself in producing works. Mainly, believing the promises of God! Look at verse 9. Abraham went to live in the land of promise as in a foreign land living in tents with Isaac and Jacob with him at the same promise. And so this faith in God’s promises was not just Abrahams but also his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Abraham Isaac and Jacob are known as the patriarchs for this reason. Even in Matthew 22, when Jesus is talking with the Sadducees about marriage in heaven Jesus says, 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. So, just as the faith of Abel, Enoch and Noah speak so do the patriarchs. Why? Because they are not dead. They are very much alive! It doesn’t say he was their God but is their God present tense. Further it reveals the identity of the Christ that was speaking to them. He is the “I Am”. And so while faith existed before and after them, it is through them that God brought the nation of Israel and in turn, brought us, Christ. Look now at verse 11 again. Not just men have the promises of God but Sarah herself as mentioned here. Notice God gave her power to conceive even when she was past the age and noticed that this came so she considered Him faithful. She believed God and therefore believed His promises. Even seemingly crazy, ludicrous, and otherwise laughable information can and should be believed when God is the Author. Is it any wonder that in Hebrews 12 it tells us that God is the author and perfector of our faith. Sarah while the narrative of Genesis says that she laughed initially at the word that she would conceive at such an old age, but here in Hebrews it tells us that she considered Him (God) faithful who had promised. She believed God and His promises. Notice verse 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.” Women, maybe you feel like you have a husband that is as good as dead….kidding, But women, take courage in your everyday endeavors, God is using you for His purposes. A good half of this congregation is being taught on a daily basis by women of faith, namely mothers. Think about that. Women, take courage from this lesson of Sarah here and believe that God is accomplishing His purposes in what seems to be a chaotic, laughable and otherwise crazy time of life. The next generation is in your care. Sure your husbands are called and accountable to lead and faithfully shepherd, but you know what I mean. It is your words they hear most during the day. It is from you they learn about God, His Word, and His world through what you teach them. He speaks through the mundane activities of our lives. So next time you are trying to cook dinner and a whining creature is hanging on your leg sounding like air coming out of a balloon, remember, God is using it for His glory and your good and you can only begin to dream of what God will do in and through your family in the days, years, and decades ahead because of your faith in the One who is able to keep you. Are you trusting Him and considering Him faithful who promised?   

Look at verse 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.”

There is one final thought here on believing the promises of God. The sense of the future tense. They believed God’s promises to their physical death not having received them. You know, the world would say that is a travesty. We would agree if there were no existence beyond the grave. There is a hereafter. Just as Christ said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” After death, He is still your God! We were meant for eternity and God being an eternal God longs to fulfill His promises both in the near and the far aspects. This future tense requires that we have a faith that is the assurance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen. We cannot see God but we know He is there. We see His Work and as Hebrews says in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, who He appointed the heir of all things, through whom He also created the world.” (1:2) So, when we look to this aspect of faith being a confidence in the promises of God, we must also accept that we have yet to receive some of these promises. Namely, seeing Christ face to face and dwelling with Him in the New Jerusalem. So, this near and far aspect was also true for Abraham in our third and final point: 

Faith Follows God Wherever He leads (8b, 9, 13b-16

A. Earthly Places (8b)

B. Heavenly Place 

Faith follows where God leads on this earth

Verse 8 told us that Abraham went out not knowing where he was going but looking to the God who promised. Verse 9 tells us that he went to live in this land of promise and in a foreign land and which was promised that family would eventually return to as we see at the end of the book of Deuteronomy and beginning of Joshua. Verse 10 tells us that Abraham looked further though. Not just earthly but we see that: Faith follows where God leads to our heavenly home. He looked to a “city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God.” Verse 13 tells us that both Isaac and Jacob felt the same way “acknowledging that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” Verse 14 “For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” Don’t you see dear Christian that this is not our home we are only passing through! Are we too comfortable here? Do we talk about this life as if this is all there is? Do we stack the endeavors of this life as most important and as in the parable of the rich fool, Christ’s point was that the man was not thinking about eternity! We are going to a better land and we can forsake this world and all it has to offer. Verse 15 tells us plainly that “if they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.” So, while the Promised Land was very real in the earthly sense this land was not to be their sole focus but to look beyond it to the heavenly one as verse 16 tells us, “But, as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” You see the Israel of God has a home in heaven! It is unseen now but shall be revealed in due time. With all the wonders that this world has to offer it is nothing in comparison to what shall be. Finally at the end of verse 16 it tells us that God is not ashamed to be called their God. Why not? Because they believed Him, they believed and did what He said, and they follow him wherever He leads both now and forever for He has prepared for them a city. While God has not called us specifically as He did Abraham to a particular geographic location, He does prepare the boundaries of our lives. Where has He called you? Has He not called all of us to go to places that have not heard of Him? This also is an act of faith. Believing that yes in our lifetime and our generation that God wants us to advance the Gospel in our circles of influence and to go to the uttermost parts, wherever He has not been heard. So, from the beginning of this passage to the end God is the One who initiates, the One who has a plan for all History, the One who is designing, building, and preparing a city, and a God who is not ashamed to be called our God is we look to Him in faith with full assurance that He will do what He promised, sanctifying us into the image of His Son and leading us to our heavenly habitation with Him. 

So, we have seen that biblical faith centers on the person of God, it believes the promises of God, and it follows God wherever He leads both in this life and in the life to come. For those that we have studied thus far, they provide a history of God’s work through His people who trust Him in the midst of a dark and fallen world. What about us? Do we feel the weight of being His ambassadors in this generation? That what God is doing in us and through us right now as a church is God’s writing of History and continuing this hall of faith? Will you look to Him, trust His promises until He takes you home as He did with Enoch, or whether you die as many did in this hall of faith. Until then, He calls you to follow Him to the Celestial City that awaits and warns us not to get comfortable in this present world that we sojourn in. Behold He is coming quickly! Let’s Pray.