"He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead."
As we continue our study of Hebrews 11 and particularly the faith of Abraham, we learn a valuable and essential lesson in Biblical faith; that we must have an eternal perspective on life in order to live in faithful obedience to God; i.e., we must be willing to wait until heaven to receive our full reward for obedient faith. The prosperity gospel (and we all suffer from some form of that) is the extreme opposite view; obey God and get it now – especially material things and things esteemed by the world (Luke 16:15). "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons (temporal rewards) what have I gained? If the dead are not raised (and rewarded for obedience) "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." (1 Cor. 15:19; 32) Like Abraham, Paul used a different arithmetic; he lost his head (beheaded for his faith in Jesus) but gained eternal crowns. (2 Tim. 4:6-8) He considered what was to his profit (power, position and prestige among men) a loss after he came to know Christ and considered everything as a loss if it hindered his growth in intimacy with Jesus and likeness to Jesus. (See Phil. 3:1-15)
We see in Hebrews 11:8-19, but more clearly in the account of his life seen in Genesis, the growth of Abraham's faith. As with Abraham, God teaches us and then tests us (tests our faith) to see if we have really learned the faith lesson (James 1:2-5). He calls us to new levels of faith because yesterday's faith is today's sight. Abraham's first step of faith required him to leave Ur where he enjoyed prestige (as seen later in Genesis, he was a wealthy man) and comfort as Ur was an advanced civilization (homes with conveniences) and live the rest of his life as a nomad, living in tents. He also left without knowing where he was going and gave up the idol we all struggle with – "control" of our future (as if that were possible with man). In essence he trusted God's plan for his life (which was unknown to him) more than his "known" plan for his life. As the elder and leader, he gave Lot first choice of the land when they needed to split up once again showing his trust in God's overruling plan. He waited twenty-five years for God's promised son (though he and Sarah tried to help God out ten years into the waiting – hence Ishmael). But as Romans 4:18-21 shows us he did continue to believe God's promise for a son in spite of looking at the facts square in the face (versus wishful dreaming): "Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform." And last but certainly not least we see how he longed for heaven and never complained to God about the unfulfilled promises (promises from God Himself many of which have been fulfilled – the multitude of Abraham's physical and spiritual descendents and all of the land He promised will belong to Israel in the Millennial Kingdom). "But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them." (Heb. 11:16)
Abraham reminds us of the psalmist in Psalm 73:25: "Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth."
When you add up all the faith lessons Abraham learned you can see how he passed the greatest test of faith seen in the Scriptures- a willingness to sacrifice his only son, the son of promise, the son he had come to love and cherish. But don't miss the point. Abraham was inspired to do this because he knew (by faith) that God would raise Isaac from the dead (though there had not been a resurrection of a dead person at this point in Biblical history). "God had told him, "Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted." (Heb.11:18 NLT). God said it, so God would keep His word even if it required the miracle of raising a dead, burnt corpse back to life. What faith he had in the power of God and the promises of God as we see recorded in Scripture in Genesis and Hebrews. "Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you." (Gen. 22:5) "He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead." (Heb. 11:19)
There are many lessons to be learned from this. First of all we see the gospel. Even as Isaac carried the wood for the fire on his back as he walked up a hill, two thousand years later Jesus walked up that same hill with a wood cross on his back. Yet the Father did not stop those who were to kill His Son, but He loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. Maybe even Abraham realized this because as they walked up that hill, God told Abraham and Abraham told Isaac: "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." (Gen. 22:8; Also see John 1:29; 8:56; Gal. 3:8) It was not uncommon for the pagan nations in those days to offer sacrifices to appease the gods and even sacrifice their own children. So the shock of the gospel is that God did what man always assumed he would need to do to be right with God. We grieve for Abraham's struggle to obey God and kill his son (though God never intended that he actually kill Isaac) and yet take for granted that God the Father did "kill" His only Son.
But another lesson we learn from Abraham's faith is how faith conquers our greatest fear – the fear of death, the fear of losing a loved one, the fear of separation from God and those we love. These surely are our greatest fears. (Heb. 2:14-14; 1 Thess. 4:13-18) As Abraham believed in the resurrection of his beloved son because of God's Word and promise we can believe in the resurrection of our own lives and the lives of those we love (who trust Christ alone for salvation) because of His Word and promise: "Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die (i.e., spiritually, be separated from God and our saved loved ones). Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26) The joy of knowing we will spend eternity with our great God and our saved loved ones in perfect eternal bliss can lift our hearts even in the midst of great pain and sorrow in this brief life. "God has also set eternity in our hearts." (Eccl. 3:11)
["Faith is confidence in God that leads to obedience to God. True faith is based on what God says and is demonstrated in what we do. People with faith do things for God, and God does things for them. Faith is not a luxury; it is a necessity. It is for common people and not just great leaders. We need faith for worshiping (v. 4) as well as for working (v. 7), walking (vv. 8-9), waiting (vv. 10-12), and warring (vv. 30-34). In any area of life where you ignore faith, you will sin (Rom. 14:23)." Warren Wiersbe on Hebrews 11- With the Word] Abraham lived a 100 years by faith (age 75 to 175) and most of that time he was doing the day by day ordinary duties of life but doing them to please God. (1 Cor. 10:31). In fact, doing the ordinary things of life for God's pleasure and glory is a big part of how we grow our faith. "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. (Luke 16:10)
True Biblical faith changes our longings, desires and values (Heb. 11:6, 16) so that former desires (money/possessions, position, sensual pleasures) don't pull us down as much because knowing and pleasing God and valuing what He values (people, His truth, heaven) pulls us upward. If we really believe that He loves us perfectly, knows what is the very best for us and has the power to "make it happen" then it would be foolish (unbelief) not to obey Him; i.e., obedience is the only thing that makes "spiritual sense" IF, we include eternity in the formula. Abraham and Paul understood the new arithmetic and the "alchemy" of faith – the process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.Let us pray that the Lord will convict us of our wrong arithmetic whereby we hold on to temporal gain and thereby miss the spiritual and eternal gain (growth in Christlikeness for the glory of God and the spiritual good of others).
Let's pray that, like Paul, we will "fight the good fight, finish our race and keep the faith and gain the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to us on that day-and not only to us, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. Abraham and Paul understood the new arithmetic and the "alchemy" of faith – the process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value. How can we "transmute" our time, talents, treasures and truth into heavenly currency? 2. Like the trapeze artist or crossing the monkey bars, we have to let go of what we are holding on to in order to grasp the next. What have you let go of to move on with God's plan for your life? Where are you still holding on too tightly?
3. Where have you seen your longings, desires and values change (as Abraham and Paul's did) since coming to know Christ?
4. The joy of knowing we will spend eternity with our great God and our saved loved ones in perfect eternal bliss can lift our hearts even in the midst of great pain and sorrow in this brief life. Would you say this statement is true for you some of the time, most of the time or none of the time? Discuss your answer.
5. Like Abraham and Paul, do you know the new arithmetic? Do heavenly rewards factor into your formula for faith?