THE MAN WHO LEARNED TO TRUST GOD
Hebrews 11:8-10, 17-19
It is no surprise that Abraham makes the list of heroes of faith in this chapter. The author of Hebrews had already mentioned Abraham’s name six times before he even got to this chapter. In fact, his name appears 230 times in the Bible. We cannot afford to forget Abraham.
We learn from Abraham how to be God’s friend, his faithful steward, and to reflect God’s generosity. He is the father of the faithful who hear God’s gospel, respond by faith and are justified by faith.
But there is another aspect of faith that is highlighted by the author of Hebrews in today’s text. To have faith in God is to trust him: trust him with your present possessions, and your hopes and dreams for the future. Let’s walk through these six verses today, and ask God to show us through the life of Abraham what trusting him means.
Trusting God means leaving the past even though you don’t know the details about the future (8).
“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance.”
God showed up in Abraham’s life and told him to go away. He had to leave his family, the place where he grew up, and the culture that he was accustomed to. Not a lot of people are willing to do that even if they have hopes of a better life.
Abraham obeyed and set out for parts unknown. Not everyone is required to do that, but for Abraham it was necessary. It was his act of repentance. If Abraham had chose to stay, he would not qualify. The act of leaving his former life was an act of trust. It indicated a willingness to turn from what he was so that God could make him into what he was going to be.
So Abraham “went out, even though he did not know where he was going.” God had not provided Abraham with a map, with an X marking the spot of his destination. No, God just pointed him in a certain direction, and said Go.
Jesus did something very similar to his twelve disciples. He invited each of them to follow him, and they did, but he went here and there, and they never knew how long they would be where they were. By the time it came for Jesus to go to Jerusalem and to the cross, it dawned on them that following Jesus was not always going to be safe.
Jesus taught them many times about the cost of following him. Pledging loyalty and obedience to Christ and his kingdom meant uncertainty about the future. It was a lifetime lesson in trusting God.
Trusting God means enduring the temporary for the sake of the permanent (9-10).
Our text points out that Abraham “stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents.” When Abraham got to the land of promise, he found that it was already occupied, and the current residents had no idea that he owned the place. But God did not direct him to start building his castle and organizing an army to take over. Instead, God was giving him a preview of the land that would eventually go to his descendants. So, he lived as a temporary resident – in tents.
Abraham set the pattern for those who would follow him. The text mentions his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Abraham learned to trust God with the temporary while waiting for the permanent. His entire life was lived that way, and his children and grandchildren picked up his trust habit by observing him. They were “coheirs of the same promise” So they learned to endure lives focused on the future rather that obsessed with the present. The descendants of Jacob set out from Egypt in tents.
Now, when our Lord Jesus came to set up his dominion on this earth, he taught people to enter that kingdom with the same attitude. He told them to adopt an attitude of temporary humility, meekness and submission even though they would inherit his eternal kingdom. Faith in Christ for the future often means enduring an unpleasant present.
We are learning to trust God for our daily bread because he has promised us a future where we will never again hunger and thirst.
We are learning to trust God as we weep with Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb because he has promised us a future where He will wipe away every tear from our eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain. The first things – these temporary things will have passed away.”
We are learning to trust God and live in tents because “here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Abraham could endure his nomadic existence because “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” He didn’t need as much safety and security during his lifetime because he was learning to trust his God for an eternity with both security and satisfaction.
Sometimes God allows us to endure an unpleasant present so that we can learn to yearn for his safe and satisfying future.
Trusting God means doing what he says, even though you don’t understand why (17-18).
When we were in school we discovered that the learning process involves times of testing. For Abraham, his lifetime of learning to trust God was put to the test many times. But the particular test that the author of Hebrews mentions happened when God commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac.
There was a conflict between what God had promised Abraham and what God was requiring of him. The text says “He received the promises and yet he was offering his one and only son.” God had specifically promised Abraham that his offspring would be traced through Isaac. Isaac had to be alive in order for that promise to be fulfilled.
Abraham knew that God’s command did not make sense. But he also had committed himself to obeying God’s commands. He had to decide that he would obey, even in situations like this, when he did not understand.
You and I have times of conflict as well. He calls us to live in integrity even when the hypocrites and scoundrels get the best jobs, live in better houses, eat tastier food and have greener grass.
Abraham learned something about trusting God that enabled him to overcome the internal conflict he was feeling.
Trusting God means focusing on his ability, not our own (19).
Abraham could have focused on what he was not able to do. He could have said “I can’t.” But it would have been ineffective in dealing with his problem. Instead, he “considered God to be able even to raise someone from the dead.” The only way out of Abraham’s personal conflict was right thinking about God.
In the same way, you and I have an internal conflict going on. We want to believe in a future after the grave. But all we see is tombstones.
Jesus told Martha that her brother would live again, but Martha was having conflict. Her theology was spot-on. She told Jesus “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” She was right. Her problem was not in what she knew. Her problem was that her brother was dead. She was having conflict trusting in God’s ability. Even when Jesus asked them to remove the stone covering Lazarus’ tomb, Martha reminded Jesus that he had been dead four days, and would stink.
Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead as a sign for all of us Marthas who have good theology but we need to learn to trust in God’s ability. We say that God can but he probably won’t. We need to be praying according to what we know about God.
What Abraham had learned about God enabled him to look beyond even the potential death of Isaac.
The Lord took Ezekiel up and set him down in a valley full of human bones. The Lord said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” He answered, “O Lord GOD, You know.” God told Ezekiel to prophecy to the bones, and he did. He listened and he heard rattling. It was the bones coming together. He watched as the skeletons grew flesh. God told Ezekiel to prophecy again, and the breath of God came into the bones and they became alive again.
Remember what God’s question to Ezekiel was? “Can these bones live?” Yes. Abraham learned that even death is not an obstacle because God can undo death. He learned to focus on God’s ability, not his own. They called the place Moriah because that was where God provided a substitute.
We are learning to put our faith in God. A person with faith in God can even face his own death with confidence because God is able to raise the dead. Even as he takes his last breath, his next conscious moment will be inhaling into newly resurrected lungs.
Lord, our Father Abraham learned to trust you. We choose to trust you today.