FAITH, ABRAHAM Hebrews 11:8-16

A sermon preached at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Kingston, Ontario, August 13, 2001 by

Robert Brow     (

This is the second of three sermons on Hebrews 11. The whole chapter is about different aspects of what faith is. Last week we looked at the faith of Abel, Enoch, and Noah. Now we come to three kinds of faith in the life of Abraham. It was a faith that had a huge impact on the history of many countries, it is still honored by Jews, Arabs, and Christians, and it begins with what I will call MOVING FAITH.

"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going" (Hebrews 11:8). Some of us exercise faith without ever leaving the place where we were raised. Last week we thought about Enoch, who walked with God, but as far as we know he never went far from home. But Abraham went with God on a very long journey of 1,600 miles (2,500 km) from near Basra in present day Iraq to the area of Jerusalem.

Moving faith has been the faith experience of hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to North America. I remember the story of one family from the Ukraine who were suddenly invited to join others on the long journey to a seaport in Germany, and then by ship across the Atlantic. They hardly had time to pack a few belongings before they abandoned their home for ever. Eventually they did very well, but when they set out they knew next to nothing about Canada and the life they would experience here. Some of you had grandparents who had that kind of faith.

When they arrived life was not easy. They had no property, and some of them survived their first winter in makeshift shacks. "Abraham stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise" (Hebrews 11:9). For many immigrants the language was strange, they had no property, and people did not want to give them a job till they had Canadian experience. You can imagine the adjustments Abraham had to make, having come from the great Sumerian civilization in the city of Ur of Chaldees, when he settled among the very heathen Canaanites.

My wife, Mollie, felt called to go to India as a missionary when she was still in her teens. To her surprise she met me, and we served for eleven years in that far country. Many who have gone out on missionary assignments had Abraham's kind of Moving Faith. It begins when we know God has called us to serve in another place, not necessarily as far as India or the journey Abraham took with his family. Many young people have taken the step of moving far from home to work in the oil fields of Alberta or other distant parts of Canada. But when the time comes for a decision we know very little about our destination except that God will be there with us whatever hardships we may face on the way.

Secondly there is what I will call UPWARD LOOKING FAITH. "Abraham looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). When we first move there is the excitement of building a new life. In the case of Abraham the promised land was flowing with milk and honey. In present day Iraq the only water for irrigation was from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Here in Canaan there was refreshing rainfall, and an abundance of vines and olive trees, figs, and pomegranates. But soon there were very serious problems. There was a quarrel over grazing areas with his nephew Lot, as Abraham graciously let him choose either the Jordan valley and areas to the east or the hills of Judea. The Canaanites not only had a different language, but a totally different culture and heathen practices. Similarly here in Canada we realize that however comfortable we are, there are limitations, and this cannot be our eternal residence. This kind of faith in an eternal home is described as "They desire a better country, that is a heavenly one, Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:16).

The city that God is building was later described as the new Jerusalem, the city of God, where there would be no tears, or death, or sorrow, or crying (Revelation 21:2-24). The city will be filled with the perfect love of God.

When they begin to look forward to this eternal city, people inevitably share their faith with others. "They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13). This does not mean, as people imagine, that we only have "pie in the sky." People suggest that we are "so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good." But actually all the people I know who have this kind of faith are some of the most creative and practical individuals in their present community. Having had a vision of the perfect love of the heavenly city, they put that vision into practice in the earthly city where they live. It would be good if our politicians had a vision of what God has in mind for the perfect love of heaven to guide their thinking instead of mere economics and the gross national product.

The third kind of faith that characterized Abraham's life was what I will call CREATIVE FAITH. "By faith he received the power of procreation, even though he was too old - and Sarah herself was barren - because he considered him faithful who had promised" (Hebrews 11:11). When Abraham first left his home in Ur of the Chaldees God had promised "I will make of you a great nation, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Genesis 12:3-4). The only way he imagined this promise could be fulfilled would be by having a son. But his wife Sarah was barren. When he was 85 years old she suggested, according to the custom of the land, that he could have an heir through her servant woman, Hagar. And sure enough Ishmael was born, who became the founder of the large group of Arab nations. Then another 14 years later God told Abraham he would have an heir through his own wife Sarah. And through her son Isaac and grandson Jacob the twelve Jewish tribes came into being.

But God had much more in mind for Abraham's creative faith. Our text says that "from this one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore" (Hebrews 11:12). If we count the stars, and even the grains of sand on a few feet of beach, obviously God is promising that Abraham's faith will influence millions more people than the population of the Arab and Jewish nations. In the New Testament we find that by faith people of all nations can become children of Abraham.

What does this kind of creative faith mean for us? Mostly we feel we are too unimportant to matter in our neighborhood, let alone our nation, or the history of the world. But every now and then we suddenly realize that we have a special place in God's plan. Our faith is going to make a difference. It is not just married people who can have spiritual children. Every time we pray for others our influence reaches out across the world.

When Mollie and I came back from serving in India we kept meeting people who had been praying for us, and obviously their faith had given them spiritual children in a far country they had never seen. Like Abraham they had been given creative faith. And it is people who have that kind of faith who make a huge difference in our world.

Before we close, we might think of how the eternal Son of God came from heaven to our very foreign country. And he made it clear again and again that, though he was going to be crucified, his eternal home was waiting for him. And of course, like Abraham, Jesus' creative faith reached out to touch each one of us who believe in him. That means we not only have the faith of Abraham, but as believers in Jesus the Son of God we too can have moving faith to move to new tasks for our Lord. Like him, we have the upward looking faith to the city God that he has prepared for us. And we join ourselves to his creative faith that is bringing many children into the family of God in every country of the world.

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