Hebrews: By faith Abraham . . .

“Abraham! Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love . . . and sacrifice him as a burnt offering . . . (Genesis 22:1-2).

As I meditate on Hebrews 11:17-19 (grab your Bible and read it) two questions come to mind: Why would God make such a horrific demand of Abraham and why would Abraham obey it? As I pondered those questions, two points emerge about Abraham and Isaac’s story.

To the first question, the author says that “God tested [Abraham],” (v. 17) and, as He often does, the Spirit whispered in my heart: “what does that mean?” The word “tested” actually has two meanings: to temp or to examine. How can you know which is happening? The difference is in the tester’s purpose: the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and sin; God tests that He might determine and sharpen true character, with no desire of making the believer fail. God was examining Abraham’s willingness to obey Him, even in the most difficult requests.  Sometimes it’s difficult to understand who’s behind the test, but the way through is always the same. Keep your eyes on Jesus and your heart firmly planted in the Word. In either case, you will emerge with deeper roots of faith and a testimony of God’s power and goodness.

As to Abraham’s part, I never understood how he could willingly sacrifice his son until I studied his story alongside this Hebrews passage and Romans 4:18 – 20: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.”  Did you catch it? Abraham believed the promise because of Who made it. He fully expected that God would still build a nation through Isaac and that meant Isaac would have to live. In his reasoning, he expected God to raise Isaac from the dead after the deed was done. But God stayed his hand at the last moment and provided a replacement sacrifice instead. The point is that Abraham’s faith was not in the promise – it was in the Promise-maker. And so must ours be.

Those are two solid truths you can build your life upon. God will never test you to make you fail and He will never make a promise He doesn’t intend to keep. Abraham is known for his great faith. Beloved, are you? Am I?

Hebrews: The Promise

Joy has a very good memory. She plays a memory game on my phone and can recall where the puppy was that she spotted three turns ago. She remembers that she sleeps with Nana and Poppy the night before she goes to “honey school” (Sunday School). She remembers letters and numbers and all the words to her favorite songs. And let me tell you, she remembers when we make a promise to her. If I say I will take her outside after a nap she will wake up and immediately put her shoes on. This girl doesn’t forget a promise.  And neither should you.

We’re still camped out on Hebrews 10:36 – it’s just such a rich verse. The author said, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.”  So what is it that God has promised? We saw it earlier: an “eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15). What it is we’re inheriting? Hold on to your hat, cause this is so good!

In His discourse on “the sheep and the goats” in Matthew 25, Jesus said, “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (v. 34). What is your inheritance? Only the Kingdom of God. To a people who had lost their beloved Jerusalem to Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, the idea that they would inherit the Kingdom of God was more than comforting, it was extraordinary. They were promised more than a nation. They were promised everything. And so are we.

For every believer, this is a remarkable promise of eternal life and blessings in the Kingdom we can claim as our own. I don’t think we get how huge this is. The kingdom of the God of the Universe, who called light from darkness and a dead man out of the grave is ours. How can we be so sure? Go back a few verses; the writer said, “He who promised is faithful” (v. 23). Go back even further if you need more assurance. Joshua 21:45 says, “Not one of the Lord’s good promises . . . failed; every one was fulfilled.” Every single promise God has ever made is as good as done. Including His promise to save you and bring you home. You can count on it, Beloved – your room is already waiting on you.

The Heavens told the Christmas Story

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“The heavens declare the glory of God . . .” Psalm 19:1.

When my son was very young, we would pull an old blanket out into the yard and lay down to watch the stars.  I tried to identify some of the constellations, but he was much too young to understand, and I was too far removed from high-school science to remember.  But it is a memory I cherish—stargazing with my boy. There were stargazers in the Bible too. Matthew said of the Magi: “When they saw the star they were overjoyed” Matthew 2:10.

Scholars believe that these were Persian astronomers who studied the stars for prophecies, premonitions, and promises.  How did they know about a Jewish prophecy so far removed from Palestine?  Remember Daniel – you know, the guy from the lion’s den?   When the Jewish exiles left Babylon after seventy years of captivity, Daniel opted to stay as did many other Jews who had put down roots in the area.  Daniel knew the Hebrew Scriptures well and likely shared the ancient prophecies of a coming King who would rescue His people.  These were handed down through the generations to the time of Jesus’ birth.  When the star appeared and the astronomers put all the pieces together, they realized something very special had happed in Judea.

For the past fifteen years, I have been a student of the descriptive names of God in Scripture. One of my most names of the Lord is El Emunah—the Faithful God—because it reveals Him as the God who keeps His promises.  The Magi were overjoyed when they saw the star because they understood that the ancient prophecy of a new King of the Jews had been fulfilled.  God had kept His promise to send His people a Messiah.

The same God who was faithful to the Jews has promised His faithfulness to you.  He has promised to redeem you and restore your life.  He has promised to walk with you and guide you every day.  He has promised His presence, His peace, and His unfailing love.  He has promised to prepare a place for you in heaven, and He has promised to come again to take you home.

The Magi rejoiced when they saw the star because God had kept His promise to the Hebrew people.  He continues to be the Promise Keeper today for all who trust in His Son Jesus.  Beloved, every promise God makes is a promise you can take to the divine bank. He is forever faithful.

I Promise (part 2)

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“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

I love Hebrews 11 – the great Hall of Faith.  There we see portraits of men and women whose lives were marked by extraordinary faith.  Abel, who gave a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord, and suffered his brother’s wrath.   Enoch, who so pleased God he was spared death and directly taken into heaven. Noah, the ark-builder, who was foolish in the eyes of his neighbors, but wise and obedient in the eyes of God.  There is Abraham who, despite a few stumbles, was called righteous because He believed God for the impossible.  There is Isaac, and Jacob and Joseph – all stalwart in their commitment to faith in God.  The list goes on and on – Moses, Gideon, Samuel and David and even a prostitute – Rahab. The list includes many who were persecuted and martyred, all because they believed God was greater than even their own lives.  These people inspire me and challenge me to endure and live a life of faith.

But there are a couple of verses in this passage that have always given me pause: “All of these people were still living by faith when they died.  The did not receive the things promised; they only saw them from a distance . . .” (v. 13). Go forward a few verses and there it is again: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised (v. 39).

Wait. What?

They believed God, obeyed God, gave their lives for their faith in God and still they “did not receive the things promised.”  How does that make sense?

In the modern world, we equate success with outcome.  When we look at these heroes of the faith, we expect to see results, like Moses, who led the Israelites out of bondage and Noah, who obediently built the ark and saved humankind, and David, the slayer of giants who became the King of Israel.  In the world of faith, a successful saint is not always the one who wins.  Hebrews tells us that some of these heroes endured torture, oppression, persecution, prison, poverty, and death – yet they are listed along with these mighty men and women of faith.   They too were “commended for their faith” (Hebrews 11:39).  Why?  Because they believed God.  They believed He is good and righteous and faithful.  And they believed that the outcome of their situation did not change who God is.  As the three Jewish youth in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace said, “The God we serve is able . . . and He will . . . but even if He does not” He would still and always be their God.

Abraham is one who pleased God with his faith.  The Lord told him, “The whole land of Canaan where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:8).   Yet we learn in Acts 7:5 that “[God] gave him no inheritance [in the land], not even a foot of ground” (Acts 7:5).  Still Abraham is commended as a righteous man “because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise” (Hebrews 11:11).   Abraham’s faith was grounded in God, not in the ground on which he was standing.

By contrast consider Abraham’s wife Sarah.  She knew about the promise that Abraham would have a son through whom God would build a family and a nation.  She believed the promise, but she didn’t believe God to fulfill it. She turned to the traditions of culture to make the promise a reality and the world is still reeling from it. Her hope was in the outcome not in the Lord.

My friend, the call to faith is not a call to believe God for something; it is a call to believe God. Period.  To believe that He is who He says He is and He able to fulfill his promises.  Genuine faith is in the Promise Maker, not in the promise.  When God says, “I promise . . .” our eyes should always stay fixed on Him, not darting back and forth in search of the thing.  It will come, but in the interim, we must keep our focus on the One who made the promise.  He is the Promise Maker and the Promise Keeper, but the greatest promise He made to Abraham is the same promise He makes to you and me: “I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8). That is a promise you can trust.

I Promise

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The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does” (Psalm 145:13).

The mothers of the nation of Israel, Sarah and Rebekah, both have stories marked by the power of God. They both saw God move in wonderful and amazing ways, in impossible situations. Wouldn’t you think they, of all people, would trust God completely?

Yet both women’s stories show them taking God’s promises into their own hands. Sarah heard God’s promise to give Abraham a son through whom He would build a great nation. When the promise was delayed Sarah devised a plan for Hagar to serve as a surrogate so that “through her I can build a family” (Genesis 16:2). The world is still suffering the consequences. The Lord told Rebekah that her younger son would rule over his older twin brother, yet when the time came for Isaac to give the blessing, Rebekah schemed to make sure her favorite younger son was in place under his father’s hand. Because of her actions Jacob was forced to flee from the wrath of his brother and she never saw him again.

I understand that tension. God has made promises to me and circumstances made those promises seem impossible. The truth is, I am as guilty as my ancient sisters of trying to manipulate God’s promise into fruition. And just as it did for them, my actions always led to frustration, heartache, and emptiness.  Sarah and Rebekah doubted God would keep His promise. So have I. They determined it was up to them to see God’s plan fulfilled. So have I.  Ultimately God did fulfill His promises to them and to me. He was and is faithful after all.

The Bible assures us that “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Unlike you and I, God does not make promises He cannot or will not keep.  Charles Spurgeon says, “God keeps His promises before He makes them.”  Think about that.  When God makes a promise, it is as good as done no matter how the situation looks. God can be trusted to fulfill what He has promised.

Now think about what God has promised to you.  Can you see the thing coming into reality right now?  Probably not.  Does that mean that God will fail to keep His promise?  Absolutely not.  It means you need to keep your eyes on Him and not on the circumstances.  It means God is going to do something amazing before your eyes.  In fact, the more impossible the situation looks, the bigger the miracle to bring it to fulfillment.  And you don’t want to miss that do you?

Beloved, you and I do not have to doubt that God will keep His promises.  We also don’t have to scheme and plot and manipulate to bring God’s promises to fruition.  It is completely His job and He doesn’t need any help from us.  Anything you and I may accomplish by our feeble actions will be empty and vain.  Everything God does to accomplish His promises will be extraordinary and beyond our wildest expectation.  I know this from His Word and from my own experience.  When I stand aside in faith and let God be God, He blows my mind!

Our only response to God’s promises should be “May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38) as we wait – not in frustration and doubt – but in eager anticipation.  God is faithful.  He will not fail you.  He always keeps His Word.

Always.

Holy Father, You are the great Promise Maker and the faithful Promise Keeper.  Sometimes You make such amazing promises we wonder if they can really be fulfilled.  Give us faith to watch and wait, knowing that when You do what only You can do, it will be more than worth the wait.  Amen