Please turn in your Bibles this morning to Hebrews chapter 11 as we look at the life of Abraham and the pilgrimage of faith that he made. And as we look at this life journey of Abraham, he is an example of what Paul said back in Hebrews 11:1, and this is from The Amplified Bible, NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].
I think it is important for us to understand what faith is all about especially as God calls us to walk by faith. Paul tells us it is the substance or the realization that what you believe will come to pass, but not just wishful thinking. It is the support, it is what holds it all together, the promises of God given to us. How can we know if what God has said is true? Just one example to show you we can trust in what God has said to us and that is found in Numbers 23:19 where we are told, God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
Not only that, but Paul goes on to say that faith is the evidence or the confidence of the things you dont see. In other words, you know what God has said in His Word, and even though you might not see it with your physical eyes yet, you do see it with your eyes of faith and that causes you to act upon it. It causes you to live what you believe. You see, if you dont live what you believe you are really saying that you dont believe it!
Let me share with you this story that will illustrate this point perfectly. It will show you that true faith does not just believe, but it also acts upon those beliefs. We are told:
In college I was asked to prepare a lesson to teach my speech class. We were to be graded on our creativity and ability to drive home a point in a memorable way. The title of my talk was, The Law of the Pendulum. I spent 20 minutes carefully teaching the physical principle that governs a swinging pendulum. The law of the pendulum is: A pendulum can never return to a point higher than the point from which it was released. Because of friction and gravity, when the pendulum returns, it will fall short of its original release point. Each time it swings it makes less and less of an arc, until finally it is at rest. This point of rest is called the state of equilibrium, where all forces acting on the pendulum are equal.
I attached a 3-foot string to a childs toy top and secured it to the top of the blackboard with a thumbtack. I pulled the top to one side and made a mark on the blackboard where I let it go. Each time it swung back I made a new mark. It took less than a minute for the top to complete its swinging and come to rest. When I finished the demonstration, the markings on the blackboard proved my thesis. I then asked how many people in the room BELIEVED the law of the pendulum was true. All of my classmates raised their hands, so did the teacher. He started to walk to the front of the room thinking the class was over. In reality it had just begun. Hanging from the steel ceiling beams in the middle of the room was a large, crude but functional pendulum (250 pounds of metal weights tied to four strands of 500-pound test parachute cord.).
I invited the instructor to climb up on a table and sit in a chair with the back of his head against a cement wall. Then I brought the 250 pounds of metal up to his nose. Holding the huge pendulum just a fraction of an inch from his face, I once again explained the law of the pendulum he had applauded only moments before, If the law of the pendulum is true, then when I release this mass of metal, it will swing across the room and return short of the release point. Your nose will be in no danger. After the final restatement of this law, I looked him in the eye and asked, Sir, do you believe this law is true? There was a long pause. Huge beads of sweat formed on his upper lip and then weakly he nodded and whispered, Yes. I released the pendulum. It made a swishing sound as it arced across the room. At the far end of its swing, it paused momentarily and started back. I never saw a man move so fast in my life. He literally dived from the table. Deftly [skillfully] stepping around the still-swinging pendulum, I asked the class, Does he believe in the law of the pendulum?
The students unanimously answered, NO!
- Ken Davis, How To Speak to Youth, pp. 104-106
That is a pretty powerful point and an interesting way to show that real faith is seen in the things we do, not just what we believe. Thus, Paul, here in Hebrews chapter 11 is trying to encourage these Jewish believers who were struggling with their faith, being drawn back into Judaism, to look at these examples of Old Testament saints who endured all kinds of hardships, all kinds of situations, and yet, they lived what they believed their faith was real! With that as our background, lets begin reading in Hebrews chapter 11, starting in verse 8 and see what the Lord has for us on this pilgrimage of faith.
Now please understand that prior to Abrahams calling by God, he was an idol-worshiping gentile living in the Ur of the Chaldeans in the area of Mesopotamia. Listen to Gods calling to this man named Abraham in Genesis 12:1-4, Now the LORD had said to Abram: Get out of your country, From your family And from your father's house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
God called Abraham to separate himself from this world, to begin a pilgrimage or journey in a new land that he did not own. In fact, the only property he ever owned was a burial plot for his wife Sarah and yet by faith he believed in the promises of God. He believed that one day his descendants would possess this land and because of that, he walked accordingly! It is as Augustine said, Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of faith is to see what we believe.
I think we can easily read over these stories and miss all that was going on. Abraham, a man who once worshiped many gods, now had given his life over to the true and living God, he has separated himself from this world, all those things that once filled his life, and is now walking by faith!
There are those today who believe you need to only have faith, it really doesnt matter what your faith is in, as long as it is in something or someone. I totally disagree because, if the object of your faith is empty, if it cant hold you up, it is worthless and it is dangerous as this story illustrates for us. We are told:
On April 30, 1976 Evelyn Mooers attached a rappelling rope to a drain pipe grating on the roof of the Mark Twain South County Bank. Mooers, an experienced climber, had once scaled 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier in Washington State. The rappelling exercise from the bank building would have been routine but for one miscalculation. The drain pipe grating wasnt anchored. Numerous bank officials and their friends watched as Mooers plummeted to her death. Her faith in the grating was fatally misplaced.
- Today in the Word, May, 1990, MBI, p. 16
On the other end of the spectrum is a faith that is placed in the true and living God, which causes us to not only believe but also to live what we believe. Notice what Jesus said in Mark 11:22, . . . Have faith in God. Notice, He didnt say to have faith in your faith, but to have faith in God! Why is that? Because God alone is able to make the impossible, possible. Listen to this story of the great missionary to China; Hudson Taylor and how he lived out his faith in God and others saw that his faith was real. We are told:
When Hudson Taylor went to China, he made the voyage on a sailing vessel. As it neared the channel between the southern Malay Peninsula and the island of Sumatra, the missionary heard an urgent knock on his stateroom door. He opened it, and there stood the captain of the ship.
My. Taylor, he said, we have no wind. We are drifting toward an island where the people are heathen, and I fear they are cannibals. What can I do? asked Taylor. I understand that you believe in God. I want you to pray for wind. All right, Captain, I will, but you must set the sail. Why, thats ridiculous! Theres not even the slightest breeze. Besides, the sailors will think Im crazy.
But finally, because of Taylors insistence, he agreed. Forty-five minutes later he returned and found the missionary still on his knees. You can stop praying now, said the captain. Weve got more wind than we know what to do with!
- Source Unknown
That is genuine faith, he not only believed God but his belief lead to action in his life! Now please understand that Abrahams faith was not perfect, but as God looked down upon it, He was pleased and placed this man in this portion of the Scriptures known as The Hall of Faith! And as you read through Genesis, you will see that over the years his faith grew, he matured, his faith was not stagnant. He learned faith lessons; he learned to trust in God. How do I know that?
Because, after he had a son by his wife Sarah, at the age of 100, some 33 years after the birth of Isaac, God tells Abraham to take his only son and go to Mount Moriah and offer Isaac as a sacrifice to Him. Now God was testing his faith and going to use this example as a picture of what He would do some 2,000 years later as God the Father gave His only begotten Son on that same spot for the sacrifice for our sins, Jesus Christ! Now God did not allow Abraham to sacrifice his son, for as he was about to bring the knife down, he was stopped and God provided an animal sacrifice instead.
But here is the thing, notice how Abrahams faith grew as Paul tells us in Hebrews 11:17-19, By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, In Isaac your seed shall be called, concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. The moment God told Abraham to sacrifice his only begotten son, in his mind, Isaac was already dead. And on that 3-day journey to Mount Moriah, he remained dead in the mind of Abraham.
And here is the point. Abraham didnt know how God was going to do it, but he knew that God promised that through his seed the nations of the world would be blessed, that the Messiah would come. He knew that through his seed his descendants would be innumerable! Thus, if God did take the life of Isaac, he then would have to raise him from the dead in order to fulfill His promise! That is faith in action.
You see, this command by God seemed to contradict Gods other promise, so what did Abraham do? He obeyed the Lord, followed His command and he let God take care of the promise that He made to Abraham which God was and is more than able to do. It is as Paul said in Hebrews 11:6, But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. And in Romans 4:20-21 Paul spoke of the faith of Abraham, He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.
Now what does this all have to do with us as Christians? Think about it, where were you at when God called you? You were, in a sense, an idol-worshiping gentile; you had many gods that you worshiped. Now some of you may disagree with that, but it is true!
Maybe you didnt worship some religious object, religious god, but you still had gods before you. Maybe your god was made out of metal, plastic and rubber a car! Maybe it was sports! Maybe it was women or men! Maybe it was drugs or alcohol! Maybe it was pornography! You see, whatever has control of your life is your god, whatever you bow down before is your god, whatever your pour your life into is your god!
But then, one day God called you to Get out of those things, to leave those things behind and step out by faith on a pilgrimage that God has for you. You see, the moment you come to Jesus and ask Him to forgive you of your sins, to be Lord and Savior of your life, you are to separate yourself from this world!
Paul put it this way in II Corinthians 5:17, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Dont go back to the old things, the old ways because that is not you anymore. The old ways, the old things will only bring you down, they wont lift you up. You must leave the old for the new! I do realize that that things of this world can have a pull on our lives, the enemy wants to draw us back, but dont allow him to. James 4:4 tells us, Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James doesnt pull any punches; thus, keep your eyes focused upon Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith!
Please listen carefully to what Paul tells us in II Corinthians 6:14-18. He said, Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people. Therefore Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty.
There are those that read that and come to the conclusion that we as Christians should isolate ourselves in small communities, separated from the world. That is foolish and it negates the Great Commission given to us by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 where He tells us that we are to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, teaching them the things of God! In fact, Paul said in I Corinthians 5:9-11, I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world , or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner not even to eat with such a person. Paul is saying that we are to minister to the unsaved, to sinners, but when it comes to a brother in the Lord who is willfully living in sin and refuses to get right with God, you are to avoid them, stay away from them, because if you dont it would seem that you are condoning their sin!
Think of it like this in regards to living in this world as Christians and what we are to do. Driving around Manitowoc this time of year, in the winter, boats are out of the water, they are dry-docked. Now I have never seen people gathered together for a boat trip as the boat is sitting on dry-dock, that would be foolish, the boat is going nowhere! The boat does not function as it should outside the water, I dont care how much gas you give it!
But, once you place that boat in the water it functions beautifully. But there is one catch, the boat will function properly in the water but as soon as you let the water get into the boat, you are sunk! That is also true for us as Christians. We are to be in the world, we are to function in the world, bringing people to Jesus, but as soon as we allow the world to get in us, we are sunk!
As soon as we as Christians begin to compromise our faith, as soon as we start allowing the things of this world to fill our lives, we are backsliding, we are moving away from the Lord. Right now, what is the most important thing in your life? Some may say family, work, the church, relationships, sports, this or that, and that may be true in your life, but it is now where you should be.
The most important thing in your life should be your relationship with Jesus Christ and everything else, even your family, is behind that. If He is not the most important thing in your life, everything in your life will be off! If He is not Lord over all, then He is not Lord at all! Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-37, Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
We dont often think of Jesus speaking like that, but He did. What is His point? His point is simple, God must rule supremely in your life and that may cause division in your family. I have heard pastors talk about members in their congregation who before they were saved were into drugs and alcohol and their lives were being destroyed. And then the Lord came in and they were saved and their lives changed for the better. The sad thing is that some family members were upset and they would rather have them into drugs and alcohol than into Jesus! And thus, Jesus must reign supremely in your life, over all!
You see, we all have choices to make, God wont force any of us to do anything but He does know what is best for our lives. Look at the faith of Moses in Hebrews 11:24-26, By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.
Many times we live this life to gain all we can in this world. We might not say it but we act like this is true, He who dies with the most toys wins! It is not true. John, very clearly tells us in I John 2:15-17, Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
I do understand that it is not always easy as you look at the things that are happening right now in your life, you can be discouraged. The problem is you are looking at the temporary, not the eternal. Abraham walked in a land he dont know, he didnt physically own but he did own it by faith, he believed in the promises of God. Moses didnt look at the earthly treasure but the heavenly one. Peter admonishes us in I Peter 2:11-12, Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.
But what about the tough times? What about the storms that come our way? What happens when it feels like we are going under? Listen to this true story that you can actually check out on a web page and see that it is true the pictures are amazing. You can find it at www.gcfl.net/stuff/tugboat/. And we are told:
In 1979 the tugboat Cahaba was headed down the Tombingbee River in Alabama, USA. The current was flowing fast as the tugs pilot approached the bridge and released his coal barges. He then put his 1800 horsepower twin engines into reverse to get away, but when the boat moved slightly off line the current swung the boat sideways and slammed it into the bridge. The current was so strong that it forced the boat down under the water. To the astonishment of onlookers it passed under the bridge and popped up, upright, with the engines still going and the pilot at the wheel, on the other side. Why did it come back to the surface in an upright position? Because it was ballasted with a meter thick lining of cement on the bottom of the hull.
Folks, storms will come, the enemy will try to pull us under, but if our life is filled with Jesus Christ, if He, in a sense is the Ballasted, no matter what we are going through, He will keep us upright, He will keep us floating, He will see us through it all. How do I know that? Because Paul said in Philippians 1:6, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. And in I Thessalonians 5:23-24 we are told, Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.
Abraham was called by God to leave the things of this world behind. His home, his family, his friends, and begin a pilgrimage by faith, and he did! God is also calling us to take a journey of faith and to separate ourselves from the things of this world that will only drag us down. And yes, it can be hard as we cant see clearly with our physical eyes how things are all going to work out, as this story illustrates for us. We are told:
One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, Jump! Ill catch you. He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: Jump! I will catch you. But the boy protested, Daddy, I cant see you. The father replied, But I can see you and thats all that matters.
- Donner Atwood
God is calling for us to walk by faith, not by sight, to trust in Him as a loving Father, He can see us. He wants us to trust in His promises that He has made to us, to trust in His Word, to see with our spiritual eyes that what God has promised, He is more than able to bring to pass. You see, this is not our home folks, we are just passing through. Paul tells us that in Philippians 3:20-21, For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. Thus, we are just passing through here, our passport lists our citizenship as Heaven you might say! And one day, this journey will be over and we will be home! We are not there yet though.
Let me drive home that point with this story as I begin to rap things up this morning. You may have heard this story before, but it is so important that we understand the principle that is being spoken. We are told:
A missionary couple came home aboard a ship after many years of faithful service in Africa. It so happened that there was a very important diplomat also on the same ship who got special treatment and special attention. When the ship arrived, this couple stood back and watched from the deck as the band played and the people had gathered and there was great applause. As the diplomat walked down the gangplank and was whisked off in a lovely limousine to the sounds of music and applause, this dear fellow put his arm around his wife and he walked off with her and got into the streets of New York. Honey, he said, it just doesnt seem right after all of these years that we would have this kind of treatment and here this fellow gets that kind of special treatment. And she put her arms around her husband and said to him, But, honey, were not home yet.
- Al Bryant, 1,000 New Illustrations
May we follow the example of Abraham, walking by faith, growing in faith, trusting in the promises of God, living a life that is separated from this world and seeing with our spiritual eyes that what God has promised He will bring to pass. And folks, if you truly look at your life, you will see some of those promises fulfilled! It is as Paul said, Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1. Let us continue on in this PILGRIMAGE OF FAITH!