Often called “the Hall of Faith” Hebrews 11 is a review of the Biblical heroes of the Old Testament. Their priorities were straight and their vision was clear and yet they died without receiving any of God’s promises. Only together with us would they be made perfect.
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All right. In this session now we’re going to be in Hebrews 11, because last time you know, we took a little break from the routine and did a little supplement to Hebrews 10. And so now we’re ready for Hebrews 11. In order to get us into Hebrews 11, let’s back up and come back into Hebrews 10 and we’ll just look at the last couple of verses in Hebrews 10 and that will set the scene for chapter 11.
In Hebrews 10:37 it says:
“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”
“But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.”
Now, this is kind of a summary, if you will, of Habakkuk 2:3 and 4. If you went back into the Old Testament to read this, you’d find out it’s not exactly the same, but it is a good summary of those verses. The part we are especially interested in is where it says, “The righteous will live by faith.” By faith. And of course, you’re familiar with the phrase, “we walk by faith and not by sight.” We don’t believe what we see; we believe what we believe by faith.
And so, in chapter 11 now, the writer is going to begin talking about faith, and as you know, Hebrews 11 is about faith. The whole chapter. In fact, some people call Hebrews 11, The Hall of Faith because it’s devoted to that subject and it reviews the great people of faith down through the ages.
So, in Hebrews 11:1 it says:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
I want you to look at that sentence. Faith is being sure of what we hope for. Lots of people hope for things, but they don’t really have faith that these things are going to come to pass, they just hope they will. But the writer here says, “No. That’s not enough. We have to be sure of those things we hope for.”
And of course, what does the Bible tell us about what is coming? It says, Well, the Lord’s coming back. He’s going to take us. He’s going to take us into His Kingdom and we’re going to have this great eternal life with Him.” We all hope for that. In fact, that’s called our blessed hope in many circles.
And what the writer is saying now is, faith is what makes you sure of this. Even if you haven’t seen it yet. Even if you don’t understand how it can happen. You believe it can happen and that belief is the source of your faith. In fact, in the Greek language, the words “belief” and “faith” are pretty much the same. Okay. Then we go down to verse 3, and it says:
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
Now this should answer all the questions about creation. Because what did God say? He said, “I created the Heavens and the Earth, and I did it in six days and the seventh day I rested.” And you know what? He was the only eyewitness to the event. There was nobody there to confirm it or deny it. The Bible opens with that statement. And what does man do? They start right off disputing it, right from the start.
Now, let me ask you this: If the Bible is supposed to be God’s Word and it’s supposed to be our guide for living—it is supposed to educate us about Him and about what He’s done for us and what He plans to do for us and all these things—what kind of sense would it make if He started out right from the beginning and told us a lie?
And yet, that’s the way the world looks at things. You know, “You can’t believe that old stuff.” And they come up with all these hypotheses that try to explain what really happened in the creation, instead of just saying, “Well, God was there. He’s never lied to us; He told us how He did it. So, let’s be happy with that, and let’s accept it in faith. Even though we didn’t see it, He has no reason to lie to us, and He has said this. So, let’s accept this in faith.”
So that’s where the whole thing starts. Because, if you can’t believe the first parts of the Bible, how are you ever going to believe the end of it? I mean, what if He is lying about that too? What if the whole thing is a big joke? I mean, it doesn’t make sense, does it, if you’re going to just pick and choose little bits of it here and there? And so, the very first thing out of His mouth, we have to accept this by faith. Because we weren’t there, nor was anyone else. So, we believe this by faith. That’s what He asks us to do. He didn’t explain it very much. He said, “I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this.” And that’s it. And so, we accept this by faith.
And He says He made it out of nothing. He made something from nothing. Now, only God can do that. That’s the creation process. He didn’t take a bunch of spare parts that He had from some other universe and bring them over here and fix them together and make one something like it. No; He made this something that we call this universe out of nothing so that what we see is something that was not visible in the beginning.
Okay. Verse 4 now:
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
And so, we have this story of Cain and Abel. You remember the story, how Cain and Abel both brought offerings and God liked Abel’s offering, but did not like Cain’s offering and Cain got upset and went out and killed Abel for it.
Now, Abel’s offering, you know, was the first born of his flock; Cain’s offering was the vegetables that he had grown in his garden. And believe it or not, some theologians say that God was upset because He likes meat better than vegetables. [laughing] Others say He likes shepherds better than farmers; they are missing the whole point.
The point of it is, if you read the account carefully, you’ll understand that God determined what kind of an offering that man should bring to Him. And it was an innocent animal. It was by the shedding of innocent blood that our sins would be covered, and that is why God set up the offering system that way. This didn’t begin with Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. This began with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He established an altar there and He told them what kind of offering He desired.
I’ll show you how we can prove that. Let’s turn to Genesis 4 where the whole story takes place. And in Genesis 4, verse—it’s about the last half of verse 2, it says:
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
Now, verses 6 and 7 are what we’re heading for:
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
Now, this tells us that Cain had to know what was right. He had to know what God expected of him. We know from the story that Abel’s offering was acceptable, and Cain’s offering was not. Well, the only way you could have something good and something else bad is to know what good is, right? Because one defines the other.
Abel must have been obedient to God’s command about what was acceptable for an offering and that’s why God accepted the offering. Cain was not obedient, and he brought something else and this was not acceptable. There was nothing wrong with the offering. There was nothing wrong with the work that Cain had done. There was nothing wrong with vegetables. It was not what God asked for and therefore, it was not accepted.
But Cain didn’t get that, did he? He was just angry, and he felt bad, and he felt like he was being rejected. And he felt jealous of his brother. And so, he went and killed him. That became the number two, the second murder in creation.
You’re saying, “Well, wait a minute, I thought it was the first.” No, the first murder was Adam and Eve. They died when they ate the forbidden fruit. Everybody was immortal up until then; of course there were only the two of them. They were immortal up until then. When Satan convinced them to eat the forbidden fruit, he was guilty of their death. That was the first murder. Here was the second one.
Okay. We don’t want to get off on that. What I want you to see is that this whole thing is by faith. And Abel brought his offering by faith. It was accepted and God approved of it because he was obedient.
By the way, speaking of obedient—you know the Old Testament is really the story of obedience. You can boil the whole, entire Old Testament down to one question: God saying to man, “Are you going to obey Me or not?” That’s the story of the Old Testament, isn’t it? Because, when the people obeyed, they were blessed and when they disobeyed, they were cursed.
And so, the whole idea was, He was trying to teach them to obey. “Are you going to obey or not?”
The New Testament can also be boiled down to one question, but it’s a different question. In the New Testament, the question is, “Are you going to believe Me or not?” You know the word faith— in the English version of the Bible, the word faith appears 250 times. Two-hundred-forty-eight of those times are in the New Testament—faith only appears twice in the entire Old Testament, because the Old Testament is about obedience. The New Testament is about faith. And the question God has for us is, “Are you going to believe Me or not?” Because, that’s faith, isn’t it? Faith is when we believe what somebody has told us. We have faith that what they’ve said is true.
Okay, so verse 5 now, Hebrews 11:5:
By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”
This is from Genesis 5.
For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God,
Do you understand that? You can never earn God’s approval. You can only gain it by faith. Because His standards are too high. Nobody can meet those standards. So the only way you can please God is by believing Him.
And it goes on to say:
because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
The whole basis for our relationship with God is our faith. The righteousness that God demands is impossible for us to achieve by our own effort; yt can only be imputed to us. How? By faith. But when God sees our faith, He credits that as righteousness, and He’s pleased.
So, faith becomes the only work that you can do that God accepts. You can’t do anything else to please Him. You can only believe Him. You can only have faith. You understand?
The best, the very best thing you could ever do in the whole world is not good enough. The best person who ever lived is not good enough. The only way you can earn God’s pleasure is through faith. And your faith is imputed to you as righteousness.
In fact, 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that faith in what Jesus has done for us makes us as righteous as God Himself. It’s faith again.
Okay. Now, this will be important to you tonight because I’ve already heard the years 2011 and 2012 being called “the years from Hell.” We are going to be tested for whatever part of these two years we are still on Earth, we’re going to be tested in a way that Americans have never been tested. And we’re going to learn to live by faith. Because we’re going to learn that nothing we have done can prepare us for what is coming.
What if you wake up one morning like some people say, and you discover that the money you have in the bank which was worth ‘X’ yesterday, is worth zero today? Now, where are you? Are you going to be able to trust in your bank account? No.
How will you live? You have no money. You have nothing with which to purchase the things you need. How will you live? You will live by faith. Because in Matthew 6 Jesus said, “Don’t worry about what you’re going to eat or what you’re going to wear or how you’re going to live. Just seek His Kingdom and His righteousness and He will supply you with all these other things. That’s the way you will survive. Not by the works of your hands; not by what you’ve saved up; not by the treasures on Earth you’ve accumulated. But by faith.”
Now I don’t know how real serious this will get. I don’t know if all this will happen this year or next. But everybody is saying—everybody who seems to be knowledgeable about this is saying—that it will happen. We have gone over the line and now it’s only a matter of time until this happens.
What I expect will happen over the next couple of years is, we’ll have ups and downs. There will be times when everything looks good like right now. Look at the stock market and other things—they look real good. But many people think that by spring it will look bad again.
And then, who knows? Maybe it will look good in the summer, and then we’ll have another bad and then a good one and then a bad one. And it will get to the point where you won’t know what to think. You won’t know how to act. You won’t know what to trust or what to believe.
Eventually it will get bad and it’ll never get good again. We don’t know how long it’s going to take to do that, but almost every honest expert in the field is saying that eventually this will happen. And it’s not in the far, distant future anymore; it’s close.
How will we live? We will live by faith. We will focus on seeking God’s Kingdom and His righteousness and we will trust Him to provide us with food and drink and clothing and shelter and all those other things we need, because He promised that in His Word.
In Matthew 6:29, 30, 31 (right around in there) He promised us this. He said, “If you will seek My Kingdom and My righteousness, I will provide these other things as well.” And we’re going to get to trust Him to do that in a way that most of us have never had to trust Him before.
But to do that, the writer here said in verse 6, we:
must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
We must believe that He is who He says He is and that He will do what He has promised to do. And how do we believe that? Not by experience, but by faith. Okay? So now, if that alone is all you take from the meeting tonight, you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
All right, verse 7:
By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
Now, you have to do some digging to understand what he was warned about and what it would have been that was not seen yet, but it turns out that it probably had never rained before on Earth.
At the creation, you know, there was no weather—well, there was weather, but it was always perfect. It was not what we think of as weather, like weather we’re having now. It was always perfect. There was a water vapor canopy that surrounded the Earth and kept everything very moderate, temperature-wise.
There was always just the right amount of humidity, there was always just the right amount of sunlight. The temperature was just perfect. Everything was perfect. After all, that’s the way God created it. But man didn’t appreciate that, he went off and rebelled and blah, blah, blah, you know. All the things that happened.
Sixteen-hundred years after the creation, God brought this big Flood and He destroyed everything. And before He did, He warned Noah about it; and Noah by faith, built the Ark. And by faith he brought the animals. As they came two by two, he brought them into the Ark.
He brought his family into the Ark by faith.
He warned the world. He tried to however he could. Anybody who would listen he would talk to about it. He warned them over and over and over again. But see, the problem was, Noah was talking about something they never had seen. There had never been a flood. There had never been any rain or any bad weather.
This, by the way, is the reason He put the rainbow in the sky after the Flood because He knew that every time it rained after that, people would be scared to death. And so, He said, “When you see the rainbow, you’ll know I’m not destroying the world again.” That’s why the rainbow is there. And so, by faith, Noah set out and built this boat.
Now, if you put two football fields end to end, this Ark would have completely covered the first one and half of the second one. It was one-and-a-half football fields long. It was 45 feet tall. It was built on three levels.
It had three levels: the lower deck, the middle deck, and the upper deck. Seventy-five feet wide. It was designed to float and to be stable while floating. It didn’t have any power. You see, you couldn’t steer it, it had no motor—it was just designed to float. And nautical engineers say it had the perfect aspect between length and width and height to be stable and in any kind of seas. And so, it was perfect.
The animals came in. Noah, his three sons and their four wives came in. How many others came in? None. They all laughed. They had never seen this before and they had no faith in the fact that God would do this.
Now you know, a boat that size—it has the equivalent space to a train with five hundred box cars. People say, “Well the boat probably wasn’t big enough.” It was plenty big enough. Even after the animals and everybody was in it, there was still room for lots of people. Nobody got on. Noah told them; he told them what was coming. He warned them over and over again. Nobody got on.
Noah did this all by faith and was commended for it.
Verse 8 starts a section of verses here about Abraham and it happens to be the biggest part of the whole chapter. And you see, remember that the writer here is writing to the Jews and they saw Abraham as their spiritual father. And so, giving this much space to Abraham, of all the people that had lived in the world, is a demonstration of the writers’ knowledge that they would be most impressed by hearing about Abraham’s faith over anyone else. Because he’s the one from whom they all came.
And so, he starts off here in verse 8:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
If you go back and read the story in Genesis 11 and on, you’ll find out that God just said, “Come, Abraham, and go to a place I will show you.” And He gave him directions, but He didn’t tell him what the place was. He just said, “I’m going to show you as we go,” in other words. And he picked up and went.
By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac
who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Now, here’s the first lesson from Abraham. He wasn’t interested in building an empire or kingdom or even a big business here on Earth. He lived in tents all his life. In other words, he never owned any property. He never even owned any land and he didn’t build a house. He didn’t do any of the things that were being done around him. He lived in a tent all of his life, and so did his son, and so did his grandson.
They all lived in tents although they had the means to do whatever they wanted. They lived in tents because they were looking for the world that’s coming. They were not looking to excel in the world they were in. They knew that the world they were in was temporary, but that the world that was coming is permanent and that’s the one they were interested in. That’s the one they were looking for. And so, by faith they did all these things, believing that this next world was coming—and that would be the important one.
And that’s still true today, by the way. You know, you are an eternal being. You’re going to live forever. Now, how long is eternity?
Well, it’s not measurable because the very word is not measurable. Eternity means, always was, always will be.
But how long is a lifetime here on Earth? That we know—seventy or eighty years, the Bible says. And that’s pretty much true as you look at the U.N. statistics of average life spans around the world. Some are long, some are short. The Japanese have one of the longest; they live into their eighties. There’s an African country that has the shortest—I forget the name of the country but their average lifespan is forty years so the span here, from the shortest to the longest is forty to eighty, and about half of the world lives to be about seventy which is what the Bible always said would happen.
Psalm 90:10 says a man’s life span would be seventy years, and that’s pretty much the way it is.
Now, how much of eternity is seventy years? Not very darned much, is it? So here you are, you’re an eternal being, and you’ve got all of eternity laid out before you. And if you’re the average person you devote one hundred percent of your time and energy to the first seventy years, and you don’t even think about the rest. Does that sound smart? Why would you put so much effort and energy into such a little, bitty portion of your life? And never even think about what’s coming afterward? It doesn’t make any sense.
Except if you don’t have any faith. Then you don’t believe that there’s anything after this and you think what you’re going to get now is all you’re ever going to get. And so you become obsessed with getting as much as you can right now. But for the person of faith, this life is not the big deal. It’s the next life.
Paul said in 2 Corinthians that we shouldn’t be concerned about what we see because what we see is temporary. We should be concerned about what we can’t see because that’s permanent. And he’s talking about the two phases of our life.
The first phase—the physical phase, the earthly phase (which is temporary) and the next phase, which is permanent. See, that’s the real life. This is just the transitory part. That’s the real life, there.
But I have talked to some extremely successful people in the world who have amassed great fortunes and built big businesses and are considered by their peers to be incredibly smart people and they’ve never given a single conscious thought to what will happen to them when they die.
They are so focused on the here and now and getting as much as they can as soon as they can get it. And they are considered so bright by their peers. But they never think about the next life. They think they are the big winners. But one day they are going to discover that they are the big losers. Because all that they’ve done and all they’ve amassed and all the effort and energy they’ve put into their life here is going to be wiped out. They can’t take any of it with them. They didn’t come with anything, they’re not going to leave with anything. And then they’re going to discover that all of their intellect, all of their brilliance, all of their effort and all of their energy was wasted on a little, bitty segment of their life. And it will be too late for them to do anything about it.
But you see, Abraham is credited here as a person who had the right perspective, right? He knew that this life is temporary and it’s the next one that’s important. And he wasn’t going to build a house on a foundation built by man here, he was going to wait for the house who is built by God in the next world. That’s the one he wanted to live in.
He wanted that so much he didn’t even think about building a house here. He was happy to live in a tent because he knew the house he was going to have, and he knew that would be superior to anything he could ever put together on Earth.
Now, some people say that Abraham was one of the wealthiest men of his day. And I don’t dispute that because in those days, wealth was measured in terms of the size of your herds and of the people who you had around you and everything. Abraham had sizable wealth in those terms, but he wasn’t interested in that. Maybe that’s why he had so much, because it didn’t matter to him. What he was interested in was what was coming, and he was focused on that. That’s something for us to remember because we’re going to see that the things we’ve depended on in this world are very fragile, subject to change, and will disappear at a moment’s notice. And then we’ll understand what Paul said when he said, “These things are temporary. It’s the next life that’s the permanent one. That’s the one you ought to be focused on.”
Jesus said, “Don’t store up treasure here because it rusts, people steal it. People break in and the next thing you know it’s gone. Moths eat it.”
You know, in today’s terminology, He’d be talking about inflation instead of moths eating up your treasure. He’d be talking about inflation eating it up. It’s the same result, right? It turns out to be worthless. And He said, “Don’t store up treasure here, because it’s not really worth the effort. Where you want to store up your treasures is in Heaven. That’s where you ought to be storing your treasure up. That’s what you ought to be focused on. The smart money is focused on treasure in Heaven.”
Okay. Down to verse 11:
And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.
And so, you see back in Genesis 17:17 God visited Abraham, didn’t He, and He promised him a son. Abraham thought to himself, “Somebody my age is going to have a son?” Sarah overheard this and couldn’t help laughing. She laughed out loud—and then denied it before God. So He made her name her son, “Laughter” so she’d never forget it. The name Isaac in Hebrew comes from the word that means “laughter.”
And so, all of her life, when she’d say, “Hey, Isaac, come in for dinner!” She had to remember, “Yeah, I laughed about you! But I’m not laughing anymore!”
But you can’t blame her, you see. She was ninety years old when Isaac was born. Abraham was one hundred! How many of us even hope to live that long let alone, start a family—it sounds remarkable, doesn’t it? Abraham, however, believed it, and he believed God. And God blessed him.
And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
Now, somebody who has a lot more time on their hands than I do did some research, and according to them there are one-hundred-thousand-million stars. I want you to get an idea of what he meant when he said, “as numerous as the stars in the sky.” There are one-hundred-thousand-million stars that we can see.
If you began to count them and you counted one every second, it would take you twenty-five hundred years to finish. That’s a lot!
And you know, that’s what God promised Abraham—one-hundred-thousand-million.
Well, in all of the age of man, these six thousand years or so in the age of man, there’s only been about thirteen billion—with a ‘B’—about half of whom are alive today. And what did God promise Abraham? A hundred thousand million! That’s a thousand billion, by the way, and so we’re nowhere near as many as we’re going to have, if you take this literally. But even now, it’s a lot. And, when Abraham started, he was a hundred years old.
All these people were still living by faith when they died.
They didn’t get to see any of this; none of these promises came true in their lifetime. They were still believing when they died. They didn’t receive the things they were promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.
One of the things that got Jesus into so much trouble with the Pharisees, is when He said in John 8—let’s go look at that. John 8:56. Let’s start at John 8:52. They’re saying—He’s in this big argument with the Pharisees and it’s getting pretty rough and so in verse 52 they said:
“Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death.
I mean, they’re saying, “Everybody has died in the past. And now, you’re saying that if somebody believes in you, they’ll never die?”
Verse 53. They said:
Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”
Now He’s going to tell them, and that’s where He gets in trouble.
Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word.
Now listen to this:
Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
In verse 57 they said:
“You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
He called Himself God!
At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
And here the writer of Hebrews said that Abraham saw this. They welcomed Him from a distance. And that was faith that they were certain of, you see. When they saw this by faith, they were certain that it would happen.
So certain that later Jesus could say, “Abraham saw this day and he was glad about it.” And then he says that they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on Earth. How many Christians feel that way today, that they are aliens and strangers on Earth?
According to the latest surveys, less than ten percent. The latest surveys about Christianity show that over ninety percent of people who say they are born again live lives that are indistinguishable from non believers, and have most of their time and effort and energy focused on the things of this world.
And look at verse 15 now. It says:
If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.
If Abraham had wanted to go back to Ur of the Chaldees where he came from, he could have turned around and gone back. There was nobody stopping him; nobody prevented that. God didn’t force him to do any of this stuff. He could have turned around any time and gone back.
The same with Jacob and Isaac, they could have come back any time. But they didn’t.
Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
They knew that they didn’t belong here. This is not our home. We’ve got a better home coming. And if you’re one of those people who can’t wait to get there, then you’re one of the people they’re talking about here. Because you’ve never seen the home that’s coming.
Paul said that even if you had, you couldn’t comprehend it. Because, he said, “No eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard, no mind has ever considered the things that God has in store for those who love Him.” It’s beyond our comprehension. The little bit we can see of it is so amazing it’s hard to comprehend. Most people can’t see any of it; most people don’t even think about it
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
Understand Abraham’s position here: God promised him a son who would be his heir. About twenty years went by and nothing happened.
So Abraham took it upon himself to help God out and with Sarah’s assistance they got a surrogate, Hagar. And according to the laws of the day, they had Hagar get pregnant with Abraham, understanding that the son she bore would be theirs, not hers. And so, sure enough, she got pregnant, she bore a son, they named him Ishmael and they thought, “Okay. Between God and us we got this thing done, we got a son.”
And yet, God said, “No. That’s not what I had in mind. I still have a son in mind for you and it’s not Ishmael. I’m going to bless him because he’s yours now. And for your sake I’m going to bless him. I’ll make him into a great nation. But he’s not the son that I promised you.”
And that’s how Isaac came to be. Isaac was the son of the promise. And yet, before any of the promise had come true, God said, “I want you to take Isaac to a place I’ll show you and there I want you to offer him as a sacrifice to Me.”
Abraham and Isaac set out the very next day and they travelled for three days and three nights, coming from the southern part of Israel—what is Israel today—up to Mount Moriah where Jerusalem is. And on the top of that mountain, Abraham built an altar and prepared to sacrifice Isaac. At the last minute, God said, “Okay. Stop. See the ram in the thicket over there? Go and get him and sacrifice him instead of your son.”
So, Abraham did that. He took Isaac off the altar. He prepared the ram and he sacrificed the ram.
Later on, we learn that this was a model of the time when God would send His only Son to that very place and offer Him as a sacrifice. Only this time there wouldn’t be any substitute.
Because, you see, God’s Son was the substitute for us. And then God showed how He was going to make all this happen. How the death of His Son would be the payment for our sin and would redeem us from the death penalty that we are due, into eternal life with Him. But only if we accept that by faith, you see. Because faith is important! It’s the whole story of the New Testament. “Are you going to believe Me or not?”
Abraham demonstrated his faith by going through with this, even though God had promised him that all the things that he had said to Abraham would come true through Isaac. And even though none of them had happened yet, Abraham was faithful.
Verse 18 says:
even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
Now look at verse 19. This tells you something about the nature of our faith.
Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
You see, here was the depth of Abraham’s faith. He knew that God had promised him. He knew the promise was going to come true through Isaac. And yet He’s asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham reasoned that if it was necessary, God could raise Isaac from the dead. He reasoned that.
You see, our faith isn’t supposed to be blind, like the world claims. We’re not dumb, like they think we are. Our faith is based on knowledge—the knowledge of God. It’s like Abraham’s faith. He said, “Okay, God. If you want me to sacrifice the son You have told me would be the fulfillment of the promise, then I’m going to do it. Because I believe in You, and I believe in Your promise. And if You ask me to sacrifice my son, that means You’re going to have to raise him from the dead. And I believe You can do that—so this will be Your problem, that I trust You with the life of my son to do that.”
Now, these stories show us three factors about Abraham’s faith, and I want you to pay attention to that fact.
You see, Abraham was not swayed by the passage of time. When God promised him a son, and twenty years later he said, “Okay, I’m ready.” The promise came true. Abraham was not swayed into disbelieving God, even during the passage of time.
Abraham was not swayed by human limitation. He’s one hundred years old and his wife is ninety and now they’re going to start a family? “Well, if God says so.” And so, even human limitation did not weaken his faith.
And the third thing: he was not swayed by impossible testing. “You want me to kill the son that You said is the promise? He’s the only son I’ve got, and You want me to kill him even though the promise hasn’t come true yet? Okay. I will still believe You. I still have faith in Your promise.”
I don’t know how many of us could muster up that kind of faith! But I think that’s one of the great testimonies of faith in history. And that’s probably why he got so much play in this chapter. How many times do we start questioning God when our prayers don’t get answered tonight or tomorrow? And how many times do we say, “Well, it must be it wasn’t God’s will. It must be it wasn’t His timing.” And we come up with all of these excuses for Him.
How many of us have prayed for something for twenty years, and still believed that God would perform? If we can’t last for a week or two without starting to doubt, how would we ever last for that long?
And I’ve heard so many things about people praying for impossible stuff. “It’s impossible! You can’t do that! Nobody can do that!” Well, nobody can have a child at one hundred years old, either—except when God said so.
And the most difficult challenge of all is to have to do something that, according to human understanding, would render the problem impossible. You know, you’ve got this son, and you’ve got this promise and you’ve got the promise that the promise is going to be fulfilled through the son and then you’re asked to end the son’s life before the promise is fulfilled. Wouldn’t that pretty much put an end to the promise? You would think.
But Abraham didn’t. He reasoned.
You know what we lack in our faith? We lack reason. We think faith is an emotion—you either feel it, or you don’t. That’s not the way it was with Abraham. His faith was based in logic. He knew enough about the character of God to know that God cannot break a promise, and so if He’s asking me to do something that appears to me to make the promise impossible, that doesn’t matter, because He can’t break the promise. He’s going to have to do something impossible to make this promise come true. He’s going to have to raise my son from the dead, because He will not break His promise.
Now, do we believe that about us? He says He saved us because we believed in the work of His Son. And, He says the minute we believed that He sent His Holy Spirit to us as a promise. And He sealed the Holy Spirit within us to guarantee our salvation. And yet how many times do you hear people talking about losing salvation? Doing something that puts you beyond it? Committing the so-called unpardonable sin? The only unpardonable sin is not believing Jesus can save you, because then you put yourself outside of the only program He has for your salvation.
But when God says clearly that the moment that you believed, He put the Holy Spirit in you—sealed the Holy Spirit inside you as a promise that guarantees that He’s going to follow through, that’s what He means. If you believed His Word; if you believed that God sent His Son to die for your sin and then raised Him up again on the third day. If you believed that and you believed that it happened for you, and then He sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in you and He sealed Him inside you as a deposit that guarantees your salvation.
He didn’t say that just once. He said it twice. He said it in Ephesians 1:13, and 14. He said it in 2 Corinthians 1:21 and 22 and in 2 Corinthians 1:21 and 22 He said not only that, but He accepted responsibility for you at that moment. He put His brand on you and it’s He who makes you stand now. Not you.
In John 10 He says you’re in His hands and nobody can get you out. Not even you. In Romans 8 He says, nothing can separate you. The past can’t, the present can’t, the future can’t, the people above can’t, the people below can’t—nothing can. And yet you still hear people talking about losing their salvation.
And then you hear them take the verses like the one we talked about a few weeks ago in Hebrews 6 and 10 both and they say, “All the promises God made to you are not true because of this verse.”
They never stop to think that they have misinterpreted the verse; they’re willing to take one verse out of context and wipe out all of God’s promises. What if Abraham had done that? Where would we be? I think you see the point.
Let’s go on to verse 20:
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
Now, here we read the story about Jacob and Esau, don’t we? How Jacob pulled a trick on Isaac, who was going blind. Pretended to be Esau and got Esau’s blessing—stole it from him. But you know what? The story is true. But the rest of the story is, he didn’t have to do that. He would have had the blessing, anyway. This verse here (verse 21) tells us that Isaac wasn’t really fooled by that. That he crossed his hands by faith, and he gave Jacob the blessing of the first born, even though Esau, technically, came out of the womb first.
You see, before the two were even born—go back to Genesis 25:23. Before the two were even born this was settled. And what that tells us is that Jacob and his mom didn’t have to go to all that trickery. Did I say, 25:23? Okay.
This is—the Lord said to Rebecca, Jacob’s mother, verse 23. She was pregnant, twins were coming. They hadn’t been born yet.
The Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.”
This was before they were ever born, before they ever had a chance to do anything, before anything had ever happened in their life, they’re still in the womb. The Lord told her that the older will serve the younger. In other words, the younger son, Jacob, will become the superior to the older son, Esau.
And so, even though Jacob (his very name means, “conniver” you know) even though he was such a conniver that he and his mother teamed up and got him Esau’s so-called blessing, he didn’t have to go to all that trouble; he would have had it anyway. It was already his.
Then you’ve got the fact that Esau sold the blessing to him for a bowl of lentil stew. And so, Isaac, by faith, gave the blessing of the first born to Jacob. Because that’s the way it was supposed to be. Even though that was against the rules of the day, that was the way God wanted it.
Verse 22 (Hebrews 11:22):
By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
He was dying, and on his deathbed, he made the Israelites promise that when the Lord came and released them from slavery in Egypt four hundred years later, that they would take his bones with them and bury them in Israel, in the Promised Land. He did that by faith. There hadn’t been any four hundred years yet, there hadn’t been any slavery yet.
At the time of Joseph’s death, the Israelites were the favored people in Egypt, being the descendants of Joseph who had single-handedly saved the country and had been given the best land the country had to offer. But Joseph knew this was not going to last, and by faith in what he knew, although he hadn’t seen it yet, he made them promise to dig him up and take them back with them when they went.
Of course, they did, and Joseph was buried in Shechem.
By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
This is a fascinating story and you only see this from here. But when you go back into the Hebrew traditions, you discover that Moses’ mother had a dream about him; that he would be Israel’s deliverer. And when he was born, you know it was against the law for the midwives to let a male child live. Pharaoh had written a law requiring them to kill every male child, because the Israelites were becoming too numerous. The Egyptians were intimidated by this and they were afraid that if somebody attacked them, the Israelites would side with the enemy and they’d overthrow the Egyptians.
You see, the real problem here was that the Israelites had a different diet, even in those days, than the Egyptians did. So, the average lifespan in Egypt was about thirty five years. The average lifespan among the Israelites was in the eighties. They lived longer, they had more children—they grew like you wouldn’t believe.
From seventy who came down there, to four hundred years later, being in excess of a million. You see, people who think that this was some small rag-tag group that Moses took out of Egypt, don’t realize that there were six hundred thousand men of fighting age. That means they were twenty to thirty five. Six hundred thousand of them. They all had parents and they all had siblings.
If there was any of them, there was a million, and it was probably more like two million. And now you get a little picture of what Moses’ challenge was. How’d you like to take two million people on a camp out that lasts forty years? I mean, that would be enough, wouldn’t it?
But Moses’ parents had this vision. They knew that Moses would be the deliverer. And so, they disobeyed Pharaoh’s law. The baby wasn’t killed when he was born. They hid him as long as they could. And then they put him in a little boat they made out of reeds, sent him down the river where Pharaoh’s daughter found him and, not being able to have a son for herself, she took him and raised him as her own. And so, Moses was actually the adopted son. That made the Pharaoh his grandfather—the Pharaoh he defeated.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.
See, he was living in the future too, wasn’t he? Notice it says:
He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ
Not for the sake of God—for the sake of Christ.
as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.
Moses stood in the presence of God.
By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned
This was evidence to them that it was their faith. It wasn’t some unusual event; it was their faith. There they were, backed up against the Red Sea. Mountains to the left of them, mountains to the right, the sea in front of them. And Pharaoh’s army, charging at them from the rear.
There was no place to go—they were caught, they were stuck—they were as good as dead. They began crying out to the Lord, even Moses! And the Lord said, “Why are you crying at Me for? Do you think I brought you all this way just to kill you? Just to let the Egyptians have you?” And then He gave them this famous, this famous direction that I try to live by myself, and that we all need to remember. And it helps me to remember it when I paraphrase it. This is from the King Jack Version: God said to Moses, “Sit down, shut up, and see the deliverance of your God!”
He said it a little differently than that but that was the meaning. And He asked Moses to tap the water with his rod and when he did the waves split. And the Red Sea, which is four hundred feet deep everywhere else, spread open in front of them on top of a sandbar called Jackson’s Reef. It’s there today, where the water’s only about forty feet deep today.
It’s four hundred feet on one side; it’s four hundred feet on the other, but there’s this sandbar that runs across from Egypt to Arabia. There’s only about forty feet of water there. If you want a picture of it there’s a ship aground on it. A ship ran aground there during a time of low water and they left it there. It’s called Jackson’s Reef. It’s at Land’s End and it separates the Arabian Peninsula from Egypt.
The water split both ways and they walked across on the top of that reef. Now, the Egyptians thought there was nothing to that. “If the Israelites can do it, we can do it too.” and as soon as they got out there—smack! The water came back together and drowned them all.
The Israelites were in what’s called Midian in the Bible, which is Saudi Arabia. And they came up through the Arabian Peninsula to Mount Sinai, which is not in Egypt, on the other side of the Red Sea. It’s called Arabia today, Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis know all about this because they’ve got a huge fence around it (Mount Sinai). You can’t get up there anymore. They’ve blocked it off and they won’t let anybody see it because it’s not in their interest to have the story of Moses proven true. But it’s there, just the same.
And there are representations of calves on rocks there. There’s twelve pillars around the base of it just like the Bible says. There’s bitter springs, there are twenty nine palms—all these things that the Bible talks about are there. Just like the Bible said.
Even with proof most people don’t believe it today. The Israelites believed it in faith before any of it came to be.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
Can you believe the attitude that must have taken place in the meeting between Joshua and his chief lieutenants when they came to him and said, “Hey, look at this thing. This is huge! How are we going to take this city? It looks like an impregnable fortress to us!”
Joshua said, “No problem. Here’s the strategy. Every day for a week we’re going to walk around it once. We’re not going to say a word as we do. We’re going to be absolutely quiet. We’re going to walk around the city once, come back to our tent. Second day, same thing. Third day, same thing—once each day. But on the seventh day, something different. On that day we’re going to walk around it seven times and when I give the signal, we’re all going to yell, and the walls are going to fall down.”
You can imagine how they must have looked at him? But they did it, and it happened. Because, you see, Joshua had been given this strategy by the Lord Himself. By faith they accepted it. They walked around the city and it fell down. And they took it.
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
Remember, Joshua sent the spies into the city. People discovered it, they came chasing after them; they went and hid in Rahab’s house and she took them up on the roof and hid them under the thatching of the roof until the people looking for them were gone and then she lowered them down over the outside. And they told her, “Take this scarlet ribbon and tie it to the window so we’ll know where your house is, so that we can spare it on the day we come.”
It happened just like they said. And she was the only family; hers was the only family that survived. Partly for that, Rahab shows up in the genealogy of Jesus. She married an Israelite. They had a son named Boaz, who had a son, who had a son, who had a son, who had a son named Jesse whose son was David, the king of Israel. And then, several generations later, Mary gives birth to another Son—a descendant of Rahab.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon,
You know the stories of these people, of Gideon, how the Lord called him to go out and defeat the Midianites and he said, “How can I do that? I’m not strong and my people aren’t strong.” And the Lord said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll help you. Get your army and go.”
He rounded up thirty two thousand men and he sent them after the Midianites. And before the battle could start, the Lord said, “Hey, Gideon. There’s something wrong here. You’ve got too many guys.” And he went through a process; you read this in Judges 4 and 5, I think it is. He went through a process with Gideon where they went through several steps and he whittled that thirty two thousand man army down to three hundred people. He sent 31,700 of them home. And he got down to three hundred people and the Lord said, “Okay. The odds look about right, now. Let’s go get ‘em.” And those three hundred people wiped out the Midianites. Did that take some faith?
Barak was the general of the army under Deborah. You’ll read about them in Judges, too.
Samson; you know all about Samson and about what he did by faith.
Jephthah, was one of the judges. These people were all judges. They’re all in the Book of Judges and you can read about them all when you get there. Jephthah was a judge over Israel.
Then we come to King David. How about the faith he had, standing up to Goliath as a boy?
How about Samuel, the prophet?
and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised;
Now here are some clues here:
who shut the mouths of lions,
Who do you suppose did that? That was Daniel. Daniel sat there all night long in that lions’ den in the dark. Do you think those lions ever stopped being hungry all night long? They didn’t have any dinner, you know.
Do you think there was ever a time when Daniel was safe there by human reckoning? By faith he sat there, surrounded by hungry lions all night in the dark. The next morning, when they pulled him out, I think just to prove that the lions were hungry, God had them throw his accusers down there. They’d barely hit the ground before they were gone.
quenched the fury of the flames,
This was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who walked into the burning fiery furnace and stood there with Jesus amidst the flames. And when they came out the only thing that was burned off them was the ropes that bound them. There was not even the smell of smoke on their clothing.
and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.
Now, this one takes a little bit of explanation, and we go to the Book of James to get it, which is just one the other side of Hebrews.
Look at James 1:12:
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
So, persevering under trial earns you a crown. And that’s what he meant by receive a better resurrection, because we all get a phenomenal resurrection, right? But then we get the chance to receive some crowns based on things that have happened in our lives. These people believed in that. And when they were being tortured and the people started to quit torturing, they said, “No! don’t stop!”
When did you hear that happen ever before? They refused to be released so that they might gain a better resurrection.
Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.
We’re talking about the apostles, now.
They were put to death by stoning;
they were sawed in two;
That’s Isaiah. The king Manasseh got so mad with Isaiah that he stretched him out between two horses, and he got two men together with a wooden saw and they sawed him in half. That’s how he died.
they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—
This is John the Baptist, among others.
the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith,
Now look at this:
yet none of them received what had been promised,
None of them received the promise. They died in faith that it was coming. But none of them received it. Why?
since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
It’s only because of the Church that they will receive this promise. The reason He didn’t give it to them is because He was waiting for us.
You know, when you read stuff like this—and the more you study this the more convinced you are that God was right when He had His prophets say that the Church, in the ages yet to come, will be the one that shows forth the incredible riches of His grace.
We are the model of how much God can love. We’re the ones they’re all going to look at. These people all looked forward to us. Ages yet to come will look back and they’ll see what a unique body the Church is—recipients of the incomparable riches of His grace. No group before us, ever treated the way we are; no group after us ever will be.
You realize when you read the Scriptures about the Millennium and what’s coming, that even when Israel receives the New Covenant, it won’t be like it is with us. We still got a better deal. These people in this chapter are going to be walking around in Heaven. They’re going to be saying, “Man, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. What God did for us was incredible. But look at that Church! Look what they got! I wouldn’t have believed that God could do so much as He has done for them!” And that will be true.
I’ve been studying this for twenty years and it has absolutely blown me away when I learn what God has done for us. It’s not just that He saved us from our sins. That would have been enough. There’s a whole series of things in the Passover that said, “If He’d only done this, that would have been enough. If He’d only done this, it would have been enough!” But no, He keeps doing more and more and more. And it’s so much more true with the Church.
You see, we’re not a continuation of God’s program for man. He didn’t start off with—you know, if you follow dispensational theology you know there are seven of these dispensations and we’re in the sixth one and each one is, has been what some call a progressive revelation of what God is. And so He started with Adam and Eve, and they learned a little bit about God, and then He went to the next session, the next grouping if you will, the next stage. And they learned more and each age has learned a little bit more about God and some people believe that the Church is the sixth and then the seventh is going to be another one better than that. Well, that’s not the case.
The Church is not just part of the progression here. The Church is an interruption in this progression. We’re not treated like any group ever has been; we’re not treated like any group ever will be. We have received God’s absolute best and we don’t deserve any of it. We’re probably the least deserving of all of them all through history, and yet we receive something that nobody else ever had or ever will have. Even in the Millennium when Israel has the New Covenant, it won’t be like it is with us. They’ll still have a temple. They’ll still have a priesthood. They’ll still be offering animal sacrifices. We don’t have to do any of that. They’ll still have to give evidence of their faith. We don’t have to do any of that.
You know, one of the reasons the Old Testament is so different than the New is that in the Old Testament there was regular evidence of God’s involvement. Most of the time it was in some kind of judgement, right? I mean, knocking mountains around and doing all kinds of stuff as evidence. These people didn’t have long to wait if they wanted to know that God was real. All they had to do was wait a little while and pretty soon He’d come crashing down and they’d know that He existed. There wasn’t any doubt about that. There wasn’t any opinion about it. I mean “This mountain used to be here, now it’s over there. That shows He’s here, right?” We don’t see much of that in our time.
We’re the only people in history who have gone completely on faith. There was massive evidence of God’s existence in the Old Testament. There will be massive evidence of God’s existence in the Millennium. He’ll live right down the street from a lot of people. There’ll be a temple in Israel, there’ll be evidence of His presence. Just like there was in the Old Testament days. If people don’t come to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, He’s going to stop the rain on their country. They will not have to wonder if there’s a God or not.
During our age, the Age of the Church, it’s belief. And because we believe without evidence we are blessed beyond all humankind. Never before, nor will it be after us, anyone has the intimate relationship with God that we enjoy. And, if the truth be known, we’re probably some of the worst sinners in the history of the world. And yet, we are more blessed and will be in Eternity more blessed than anyone.
That’s how much importance God attaches to faith. That’s how much our faith means to Him. And that’s the story of Hebrews 11.
Okay. We’ll have a closing prayer and then I’ll take some questions if you have them.