Faith of Our Fathers
Well, if all goes according to plan, sometime within the next year I should be graduating with my Doctorate in preaching. This December would be the earliest possibility, next May would be the latest, if all goes according to plan. That’s a big “if” isn’t it? I can remember, not that long ago, say, my sophomore year of Bible college, when it felt like that day would never ever come. Man, I remember being a year or a year and a half of being into my course work at Boyce College, and looking at all the classes I had left to take to graduate with my Bachelors degree and then thinking about, if I do a Masters of Divinity, which is a 90+-hour degree at Southern Seminary, how much longer that would take. And then if someday I happened to do doctoral work, it seemed like that would never end, I would just be the eternal student. In the throws of book reviews, Greek paradigms, and doctoral seminars, school seemed like it was just never going to end. But now, where I currently stand, having finished everything but my dissertation, that whole mindset, that way of thinking just kind of seems silly. It really wasn’t that long. Now, some of you are thinking 11 years in school, after high school, is that long. But right now I’m here, I’m not there. So it really seems silly. It’s true that hindsight is always 20/20, but when I was in the middle of my education, it felt like it was never going to end.
We had a similar experience with the development of our second son, Jack. Most of you know Jack’s story, how he was born with Hirschsprung's disease, and he had surgery just days after he was born. And within the first six months of his life he had undergone 2 surgeries, so as a result of that his development was slowed down. You guys remember, just a couple years ago, Jack was scooting around the church here like a primate. He didn’t walk, he did that kind of weird one leg scoot thing. You guys remember that? So Haddon was born when Jack was 22 months old, Jack did not start walking until right when he hit 2. So there was a 2-month span where we had three kids, and only one of them could walk. And at that point, it seemed like it was never going to end. It seemed like Jack was never going to be able to walk, and we were just going to be carrying him around forever. Looking back now, that seems silly, doesn’t it? I mean you guys see Jack now. If you had just met him today, you would never know any different. You would never know that there was slower development, that he was a late bloomer, it doesn’t show whatsoever. You know he just walks around, doing his thing. It seems silly now. But that doesn’t change the fact that in the middle of the storm, it felt like there was little hope.
Every one of you in the sanctuary this morning can relate to that experience to one degree or another. Some of you students and kids, you guys want to grow up like yesterday, and it feels like it’s never going to come. Graduating, getting your driver’s license, going away to college. You want these things now, and it seems like the clock is moving in slow motion. Some of you out here are single and you are longing to meet somebody. You’re trying to be faithful to Jesus by seeking another believer, but you’re still alone. The loneliness hurts, and it feels like it’s never going to be remedied. Some of you guys, in fact in a church our size I can say a significant portion of you guys out there, are getting ready to get married, are engaged. That’s the season of life that you are in, which is awesome. But it may feel to you, well some of you may say it’s moving very fast, as the day approaches, but there’s another sense in that you may feel that time is crawling. Because you are fighting for fidelity, and that’s hard. And right now, it just feels like you’re always going to be engaged and never married. Some of you in here may be trying to get pregnant, and it hasn’t happened yet. You’re getting frustrated because you’re doing everything that the doctors and the professionals are telling you to do, but every month you’re left in disappointment. And it feels like that pregnancy test is never going to say, “positive.”
Some of you, in this sanctuary this morning, have been dealing with illness or chronic pain for years. You long for the day that your body will be resurrected and restored, but the pain that you feel every morning when you climbing out of bed it preaching a different gospel to you. It feels like you’re never going to feel better. Maybe some of you have experienced loss. Loved ones have died. Relationships have been broken. And it feels like that pain is never going to go away. You know that God has promised you the heavenly city where you’re going to live forever with him, but right now it just doesn’t feel like that’s true. It feels like you’re going to be lonely forever.
Regardless of whether it has to do with work, education, relationships, health, everyone of us here this morning, feel the pain of living in the “not yet.” We know the promises that God has made, but they don’t always feel like they’re true. It feels like we’re going to be stuck in the shadowlands forever – always winter and never Christmas. That feeling, that is exactly how this little Hebrew church felt when they received this letter. They had believed the gospel by faith. They had left the Judaism that they were raised in to follow Jesus Christ, and now they were beginning to experience problems, and pain, and persecution. They knew that Jesus hadn’t promised them their “best life now.” They knew that they had been called to take up their cross and follow Christ. They knew what they were getting into, but it was starting to feel to them like this Christianity thing was all cross and no empty tomb. And it is to this pain – the pain of wrestling, waiting on the promises of God – it is to that pain that the author of the epistle to the Hebrews calls them to remember: remember the fathers of the faith; remember the faith of the fathers.
The Holy Spirit, here in Hebrews 11:17-21, invokes the names of the patriarchs to stir up the spirit of this little church, indeed, to stir our spirit this morning. We believe that. We believe that when the Holy Spirit inspired whoever wrote Hebrews, when he inspired that person to write this letter, that they were thinking about you. The Holy Spirit had you in mind and knew that you were going to hear this sermon this morning. And so he gave you this word. He calls them to remember the faith of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. Let’s not pass over those 3 names lightly, guys. This isn’t like a trio of familiar Old Testament characters. This isn’t Mickey, Donald, and Goofy; these men were the very foundation of the nation of Israel. Abraham, then Abram, was called out of the chaos of Babel to bring about an new nation, the promise moved forward through his son Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob. These men are the Washington, Adams, and Jefferson of the faith. And they were an integral part of the biblical theology of faith that propelled the story of redemption onward. Let’s listen, let’s take note.
The Scripture says that it was by faith, that little phrase shouldn’t be familiar to us by now as we are moving through Hebrews 11, by faith. It was by faith that Abraham was tested. Isn’t that interesting? Isn’t it interesting that out of the entire Abrahamic saga, that the Holy Spirit chooses to use this particular scene to encourage this little Hebrew church? To encourage you, this morning. Why the Akedah (הָעֲקֵידָה)? What is encouraging about Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac? Again, we need to check ourselves, we need to repent of our chronological snobbery of our familiarity with this passage and we need to immerse ourselves in the actual mood of the narrative, if we’re going to feel the tone of the text. YHWH had called Abraham out of his idolatry, and He had promised him three things, Genesis 12:1-3. He had promised him a land, he promised him a son, and he promised universal blessing that through Abraham YHWH was going to bless the nations. Isaac was the answer to the son promise. Even after Abraham had tried to do it another way, didn’t he? Remember, he got him a girlfriend Hagar and got her pregnant, Ishmael is born and Abraham says, “Oh great, God, here we go. I know you’ve been moving kind of slow, maybe you are trying to figure out how you are going to bring about this whole you know, kids the size of the stars thing, I’ve figured it out. Sarah, it’s not really working with her, something's wrong so you know, I fixed it!” Abraham thinks he has fixed it, but what does YHWH say? He said, “No!” Even after Abraham tried to do that, YHWH says no. Ishmael is not the son of the promise, Isaac would be the son of the promise. And after 25 years of waiting, and 25 years of wondering if he would ever hold Sarah’s son in his arms, Isaac is born. God had kept his promise.
But then we turn to Genesis 22, and God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. the son of the promise, the son that he had been waiting for, his only begotten son, the son whom he loved. Don’t you see the conflict here? Do you feel the tension? Do you feel the pain? Isaac is the son of the promise; remember YHWH had said so himself. Abraham brought Ishmael, God said, “No! It will be Isaac,” Isaac will be the promised son and now he is calling for his death. What in the world was God doing? Is he a liar? Is he a lunatic? He had renamed Abraham! His name was Abram in Genesis 12, and YHWH calls him out and renames him Abraham, which means, “the father of many.” You can’t be the father of many if you slaughter your only son. Here’s where we see whether Abraham has faith or not. And the Scripture tells us in verse 17 that by faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac.
Abraham walked Isaac up the mountain alone, tied him down, and raised his knife. Here again is where you have to retrain yourself to read the story with fresh eyes. Abraham didn’t know the end of the story. Abraham did not know that the angel of YHWH was going to call from heaven. Abraham didn’t know that there was going to be a ram caught in the thicket. When Abraham raised that knife, he was fully intending on slitting the throat of his only begotten son. Abraham believed that Isaac was dead the moment they set out on that journey. This isn’t Veggie Tales. This is life and death. If Isaac is dead, the gospel dies with him. Do you guys understand that? He is the son of the promise! But Scripture tells us something else that Abraham believed as well. Abraham considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead. And Hebrews 11 tells us that’s what He did! As a figure of speaking, literally as a living parable (παραβολῇ). When the voice came from heaven, and when the ram appeared in the thicket, God raise Abraham’s only begotten son from the dead
The Bible goes on to tell us what affect this had on Isaac himself. The scripture says by faith Isaac imparted future blessings on Jacob and Esau. Now like his father, as you know if you’ve read the book of Genesis, Isaac’s family situation was less than ideal. He and Rebekah had two sons – Jacob and Esau – Isaac loved Esau more, Rebekah loved Jacob more. And even in the midst of their dysfunction, the bible says that Isaac blessed his sons by faith. Now, if we’re being honest, it’s kind of weird for us. Because we don’t really care about someone’s blessing, we’re all a bunch of rugged individualists. So the only time we ever talk about getting someone’s “blessing” is when we talk about marriage. You know, you ask for your wife’s blessing from her father, but it’s really it’s just kind of a figure of speech. You know we say that, but like most of us don’t really make the decision based on whether or not we get the blessing. I’ll tell you this, I asked for my father-in-law’s “blessing” both to date and to marry his daughter. But, and I emphasize especially with the wedding, I was going to marry her whether he said yes or not. Okay? So I was asking for a blessing, I wasn’t asking for permission. We were moving forward regardless. Obviously that won’t be the case with Sophia. But we don’t do we? We don’t care about getting someone’s blessing. We do what we want, this is America!
Man, that’s not how they viewed it in the ancient Near East. This blessing was everything to Isaac, to Jacob. You can see in the story the lengths to which Jacob goes to receives his father’s blessing. Jacob wanted the blessing of his father so bad that he was willing to dress up like Esau, to go in and trick his blind father. And he even invoked God’s name, he even used God to steal the blessing. Do you remember? Isaac says, he’s like, “Alright, this is a little weird, you sound like Jacob, but you feel like a Grizzly Bear, A.K.A Esau.” So he’s like, “Who are you? What’s going on?” And Jacob’s like, “It’s me, it’s Esau. I’ve just come down with something, but it’s me, it’s Esau.” “Well how did you get back so quick with the food?” What does he say? “God gave me favor.” Remember that? He lied about God to trick his father into stealing his blessing. Man, you are reading that growing up in church, and you are expecting the next line to say, “So YHWH struck him dead.” Right? That is what you are expecting next. I mean Ananias and Saphira don’t look that bad compared to this, right? I mean this is hardcore. He lies about God. He wanted that blessing so bad, and why? Because it was the blessing of the promise of the gospel. Even in the midst of their disfunction and their brokenness and their sin, Isaac and Jacob both understood the gospel well enough to know that this has to happen. There’s got to be a seed of the woman who crushes the serpent's head, and we will do anything to make sure that happens. Now the bible doesn’t condone their sin but the bible does say that they offered and received these blessings by faith. It’s because they knew the gospel was true. This has to happen. In the midst of deception and disfunction, Isaac blessed them by faith, because they believed the promises of God, that they would go to these lengths to secure the blessing.
Hebrews 11 goes on to tell us what affect this had on Jacob. We have three generations here of faith. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. Jacob’s life, like Abraham’s, like Isaac’s, though filled with scandal, it’s filled with dissention, and it’s filled with brokenness. It’s like reading a Hebrew episode of Jerry Springer. It’s a mess, but it ends in faith. For it was by faith that Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph. Jacob believed, even though he didn’t see it yet, that God was going to keep his promise. If the promise of the blessing was going to come through the sons of Abraham, then Jacob must also bless his grandsons. And he did this on an Egyptian deathbed. Israel, like his father, and his grandfather believed that God would be faithful to the promises that he made, even when it didn’t feel like it.
Think about the circumstances in which these men exercised their faith. How could Abraham believe that the seed of the woman was going to crush the head of the serpent when he had the knife raised in his hand? How could Jacob believe that his sons would inherit the Promised Land, when he was in Egyptian hospice? The answer is by faith. They had the assurance and the conviction that God exists and that he blesses those who seek him. They believed that God was there and that he was going to keep his promises even when it doesn’t feel like it.
Today, church, the Holy Spirit is encouraging us that we have inherited what the patriarchs were waiting for. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all greeted Jesus from afar, but brothers and sisters, we dine with him every week! You see, Abraham and his sons were all living breathing types of a greater reality that was coming in Jesus of Nazareth. Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac pointed forward to another only begotten son who would carry the wood up the mountain. This time it would be God’s only begotten son, but when the moment of execution came for Jesus, there was no voice from heaven, and there was no ram caught in the thicket, there was only the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The sacrifice of Isaac pointed forward to the sacrifice that Jesus would make for his people – the fulfillment of the faith of our fathers.
The blessing that Isaac and Jacob gave their sons pointed forward to the true seed of Abraham: Jesus Christ (Gal 3.16). Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah. He is true Israel. Jesus is the seed, the land, and son blessing that was promised to father Abraham. And church, we now live as members of his New Covenant. We have inherited his kingdom. We are the seeds of Abraham by faith. We are the nations who have been blessed through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
But again, like it did for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, does it? Sometimes it feels like the enemy is the one who is on the throne. Sometimes it feels like Jesus is still in the tomb. Sometimes it feels like the hope of resurrection and New Creation is just an opiate for the masses. But, church, hear the gospel proclaimed to you this morning: death is defeated and Jesus reigns! The strongman has been bound. He cannot deceive the nations. You have inherited all of the blessings of the heavenly places, currently. Every promise made by God is the Bible is fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus Christ. You are righteous before your covenant God now. You are an adopted son or daughter of the king. So the encouragement is whatever is ailing you this morning, whether it is insecurity or anxiety, whether it’s illness or broken relationship, impatience; do not believe the false gospel of the anti-Christ this morning. He wants you to believe that Jesus isn’t currently reigning on the throne. He wants you to believe that it’s never going to be better. He wants you to believe that Jesus isn’t coming back. He wants you to believe that it will always be winter and never Christmas.
Satan preaches these lies to us, but church we hear a different homily from the Word and Sacrament this morning. As you come to the Eucharist, remember that you are dining with the King of the world. He loves you. He died and resurrected for you. He cares about your pain. Don’t you know that Jesus knows exactly how you’re feeling? He understands the pain of experiencing and wondering whether the promises of God are actually going to come true. Don’t you think for that 3 hours, as he hung on the cross, that Jesus felt like it was never going to end? He had never sinned. He had never been separated from his Father, and for those 3 hours He bore our sin and was abandoned by God, for us.
As you come to the table this morning church, bring your pain to Jesus. The anxieties, the illness, the hurt, the impatience, bring it to Jesus and ask him, ask him to help you believe. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief. He knows your pain and he is with you through it. Faith is the assurance and the conviction that God is there and that he keeps his promises. Church this morning Sacrament is a tangible reminder to you every week that Jesus is here and that he keeps his promises.