The Faith of Abraham: A Stranger in a Foreign Country (Hebrews Sermon 49 of 74)
November 27, 2011 | Andy Davis
Faith, Walk by Faith
Living as a Resident alien in Japan
In a variety of places that we, as Christians, are aliens and strangers in a foreign country, probably in my life, I have never felt that as acutely as the two years that my wife and I and our two children at that time were living in Japan. It began, I think, for me when we sold our possessions, and gave away most of the stuff that we owned, we got it down to some Action Packers just a handful of them, and they were en route. And I remember patting my pants to be sure that I had my wallet and my keys, and the wallet was there but the keys were nowhere to be found; I remember that distinctly. I was like, what happened to my keys, where are my keys? And then I realized I didn't have any keys. Our car was gone, the house was gone, the office was gone, and so were the keys, and I had literally no keys at that point. It's no longer the case that I have no keys. My keys have been the butt of many jokes actually now. I have many keys now. But on that afternoon, I remember distinctly just pausing and feeling acutely that I was just passing through in this world and that my possessions were temporary. All of them temporary. And that feeling actually only grew, and built, and became more acute over the next two years as we lived in Japan, as we made our home in a foreign country.
And we learned a new language, Japanese, and we tried to learn a new culture, and we made some wonderful friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, who were Japanese, who had come to faith, and who are just some of the most incredible friends, brothers, and sisters that I'd ever met, but never feeling at home there. And I remember walking down the street in Tokushima, and a group of elementary age kids just stopping frozen in their tracks as I walked by on the other side of the road, and then they all just pointed, all of them at the same time, and said, "Gaijin da!" which is, "There's a foreigner!" Is that what I am? I'm a foreigner. Yes, that's what I am, that's what I was, I was a foreigner. And Tokushima is a small city by Japanese standards, and so therefore they weren't used to seeing somebody that looked like me, and they were unrestrained in their amazement and shock, and that's how it was. Many, many such moments for me, concerning the food, concerning the aromas, concerning the language, concerning the feeling that I was never really at home.
See the thing is, though, I should still feel that way now here in Durham, North Carolina. By faith, I should understand that this place is no more my home than that place was. By faith, I should feel myself to be an alien and a stranger in a foreign country here. And that is why I'm preaching this message today, I am preaching so that we might, by faith, grow a little less attached to the things of our lives, and a little more, perhaps even a lot more attached to the things of that country to which we are headed. That by faith, we will understand that we are like Abraham, strangers in a foreign country, even here in the land of our birth.
So what we're going to do is we're going to study for the first time for a number of weeks the faith of Abraham, and we're going to look at this faith, and this section here of Scripture that we're looking at today, Verses 8-10, zeros in on the beginnings of Abraham's faith, the origins of his faith, and how things began. But we're going to be looking at Abraham all the way through, more or less, to verse 19 of this chapter, so we'll be with Abraham for a little while.
I. The Origin of Abraham’s Faith: The Sovereign Call of God
But I want to start with the origin of Abraham's faith, and I'm going to put it right here at the sovereign call of God. It was by the sovereign call of God, that Abraham believed and trusted. His faith came as a gift of God's sovereign call. Now, we're looking at this man, Abraham, and he's a very significant man in redemptive history. We're told in the New Testament in Galatians 3:7 that all of us who are believers in Christ Jesus are children of Abraham; Abraham, is our Father in faith.
Romans chapter 4 establishes this man as the pattern of those who are justified by faith. "What then shall we say that Abraham our forefather discovered in this matter? If in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about, but not before God. What does the scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited him as righteousness.'" So in Romans 4, Abraham is given as the paradigm example of the man who was justified by faith alone, apart from works, that's who this man is. And so we've already seen how Abel offered his offering by faith, and he was justified by faith, not by works. We've seen how Enoch was pleasing to God by faith, he also justified by faith in Jesus Christ, not by works. And Noah also by faith obeyed and built the ark to save his family, and he also, justified by faith, he became an heir of the righteousness that comes only by faith in Jesus Christ. Well, these were individuals who lived before the flood. But now as we come to Abraham, we come to a significant moment in redemptive history.
The call of Abraham is a key moment, a turning point, as it were, in the history of the human race. For Abraham is the father of the Jewish nation, and as Jesus said very plainly to the Samaritan woman at the well, "Salvation is of the Jews." Salvation comes from the Jews, and Romans 11 says that we Gentile believers in Jesus are like wild olive shoots who have been grafted into a cultivated (Jewish) olive tree. And so with the call of Abraham we have the beginning of the history of redemption through the Jewish nation. And he's going to be very significant to all Hebrew Christians, these are Jewish believers in Jesus Christ. And so the author, by spending so much time in Hebrews 11 looking at the faith of Abraham, is seeking to challenge and encourage the Jewish professors of faith in Christ to be steadfast and immovable in their walk with Jesus Christ, that they would give a good testimony in the midst of persecution and not give up. And so Abraham is going to be their example.
And so Abraham's faith had its origins in the sovereign call of God. Genesis chapter 12, verse 1-3: "The Lord had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people, and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse. And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.'" So that's the call of Abram, a man who later became known as Abraham, that's how we know him, and refer to him still.
There are difficulties with the timing of this call; it's hard to completely put it together. In Genesis 12, it says... It seems to be that it came after he had settled in Haran with his father, Terah, because at the end of Genesis 11, that's where they are. And so they're there in Haran, and Terah is still alive, etcetera. But then Stephen and his marvelous sermon in Acts chapter 7, said this: "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia before he lived in Haran. 'Leave your country and your people,' God said, 'and go to the land I will show you.' So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran. And after the death of his father God sent him to this land where you are now living." I think the best way to harmonize is that the original call had come in Ur of the Chaldees, but Abram had deferred obedience. He was waiting, it seems, for the death of his father. I'm not saying there was any wrongdoing in waiting; there may have been some disobedience in his part, or maybe not, we don't know. But the way you put it together is it seems that after his father died, then he obeyed this call to leave and to go into the Promised Land.
The Component Parts: A Command and a Promise
And the call comes in the form of a command and a variety of promises. The command is, "Leave your country, your people, your father's household, and go into the land that I will show you." So that's the command, and with it a variety of beautiful promises. Majestic promises. "I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." So a combination of a command and promises.
Now, I believe that Stephen adds for us something that's not clear in the text, but is significant as a moment for Abraham's faith. He adds a divine appearing, perhaps somewhat of a theophany, the appearance of God in some amazing way. Stephen said, "The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham," and I'm going to talk more about that in a moment. But I think this could be the beginning of his truly... His justifying faith. And by the way, this is the bit of a challenge with Abraham. In Genesis 15, we're told he said, how do I know, I don't have any children, and all that. God says, look at the stars. You remember that whole thing? Genesis 15 says, "Look at the heavens and count the stars-if indeed you can count them." And then He made him this promise. "So shall your offspring be." And it said there that "Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness." Yeah, but here it says, by faith he left and settled originally. So he had faith then. So I think what happens in Genesis 15 is just more continuation of the same faith that justified him.
So I think from the very beginning that he heard, and believed, and obeyed, he was justified through Jesus Christ. And I think there is no one, there is no sinner, who's ever made right with the sovereign God, who's ever made right with the Holy God apart from the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. And so Jesus said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day, he saw it and was glad." And so he trusted in Jesus for the forgiveness of all of his sins.
Well, that was the call, those are the promises. But immediately with this call came difficulties. For example, Abram came from a pagan heritage, and he was surrounded by a comfortable, seemingly advanced culture in which he was at ease and had all of his pleasures met. And so there are a tremendous difficulties. It's amazing how God in his sovereign call creates faith. And I think that's where it comes, it's by the call of God that faith is created. And then God then challenges faith with obstacles that have to be overcome. And so there are a tremendous obstacles.
So first and foremost is his own status. He was a pagan, and a Gentile, and an unbeliever. And what do I mean by that? Well, it says in Joshua 24:2-3, Joshua, in his closing comments to Israel, Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel. Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates. Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor, and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the river, and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. And I gave him Isaac." So with Joshua's saying there under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is that before the call, Terah, Abraham, and Nahor served other gods; they were pagans. Perhaps moon worshippers or something there in Babylon.
And he was uncircumcised at the time of his call. Romans 4 makes this very, very plain that his faith came and his justification came long before he was circumcised. It did not come after he was circumcised, but before. And Paul is very clear about this. So you have in Abraham the quintessential Gentile pagan. And in the midst of that, God sovereignly calls him in this amazing way, and he says, leave everything you know, everything of comfort, everything of ease, everything that is familiar to you, leave your country, your people, your family, leave the language you're used to, leave all of these things behind, and go to the land I will show you. Nothing is certain about the future, there's nothing visible. I don't even know if he knew where he was going. I'm sure once he began to go, he must have had a direction. God must have at least said, "Go west." But beyond that, we just don't know. And so the obstacles are incredible.
And so God called him, and I think at the very beginning, the origin of faith, we see the jealousy of God. Our God is a jealous God, and he will have no rivals in our hearts. He will not allow any idols to remain in the heart of a believer, he's going to attack idolatry, he's going to severe with idols. Exodus 20, "I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other Gods before me." A couple verses later, he says, "For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God." Later in that same book, in Exodus, he says, "God whose name is jealous," etcetera. God is a jealous God, and he will not brook any rivals.
And so it is with our calling as Christians. Jesus comes and calls us to leave, in effect, everything behind, all of our allegiances, that our heart would be married or connected ultimately to nothing but him. And so he says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever loves his life in this world will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it for all eternity." And so Jesus will have no rivals, not your father and mother, not your husband or wife, not your children, not your possessions, not your houses or lands or anything at all. And so from the very beginning of the call of Abram we have here God severing ties to everything familiar and comfortable. What God does is he shows himself from the very beginning of faith to be greater than any idol could ever be.
So now I want you to meditate with me on what Stephen said. I've already told you about it, but this is the kind of explosive new idea that came in my heart as I was preparing this particular message. And it's what Stephen said, "The God of glory appeared to our father, Abraham." There was some kind of glorious appearance of God to Abraham. So he's not venturing forth into nothingness because of some dim voice inside his head, but I believe that God showed himself to be infinitely greater than anything he could leave behind; infinitely greater. More glorious, more satisfying, more of a treasure and a pleasure than anything he could ever leave behind. He gave him a foretaste of glory there, and it changed everything for Abram. It changed everything. From then on, all he wanted was God: I want God, I want to please him, I want to know him, I want to seek him. He's what I want, and I will leave anything behind in order that I may have that.
Jesus said, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again and then in his joy sold everything he had and bought that field." God doesn't ask you to sell everything you have to buy a possible or a potential treasure in a field. So in the parable, we imagine that the guy was digging a hole, a well, trying to... And then he finds a portion of the treasure, the box, he opens it up. He doesn't need to count everything inside, he knows it's a vast treasure, far greater than anything he presently possesses. And so it's worth it to him to sell all of his earthly stuff to get that field so he can have the treasure. And so in some mysterious way, I can't go beyond what Stephen says, but God appeared to Abraham in glory. The God of glory.
Has God revealed himself to you to be glorious? Has he shown Himself to you in Jesus Christ to be worth everything you could ever give up to have him? Is Jesus worth more than any possession, any earthly pleasure? Do you want Jesus like Paul in Philippians 3, more than anything else, that you forget what lies behind you, you count it as dung and refuse compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus. That's the faith that's in front of us here, that's the beginning of his faith. And so God's sovereign call created what it commanded. He created light in Abraham's heart, and then the receptor of faith within his heart, so he could see it as what it is, glorious and beautiful. And for the rest of his life, he was yearning to see more and more of it.
The Sovereign Call of God: Creating What It Commands
And so God's sovereign call creates what it commands, and so it is with the Church. God says, let there be a Church, and there's Church, God says Let there be an individual Christian, and that man or woman, boy or girl, is brought into faith in Christ. God's call creates what it commands. And so again and again, Paul in his epistles talks about we who are called, we're the ones that are called, called to be saints, and set apart for the gospel of God. Called in Romans, called in 1 Corinthians, called in many places. Romans Chapter 8, we were "predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son that He might be the firstborn among many brothers, and those He predestined He also called and those he called he justified, and those he justified, he also glorified." So we are the called, and so God's call creates the faith. Friends, our faith doesn't create God's call. I hope you know that. God isn't searching around for people with faith. There's one, there's one, there's one and then the call comes. That puts everything backwards. No, God, the sovereign one, creates something that didn't exist before. And he created an Abraham. This is the genesis, the origins of Abraham's faith, and yours too if you have any. If you have faith in Jesus, it was God who created it in your heart, and it's God who's been nurturing it and sustaining it all along.
God is the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. And at one point you were not a believer and now you are a believer, and the sovereign God made it so in your life. So that's the origin of the genesis of his faith. God is better than anything you could possibly leave behind. Amen? He is the treasure worth everything that you would sell to get it. He is the pearl of great price worth anything you could sell to get it. Jesus is worth more than any of it. And so, from the very beginning, God severs ties to idols and sets them free.
II. The Effects of Abraham’s Faith: Surprising, Costly, Lasting Obedience
Secondly, we see the effects of Abraham's faith. The effects are surprising, costly, lasting obedience, that's the effect of faith. Out of true genuine faith comes obedience. Look at verse 8 of the text. Hebrews 11:8, "By faith, Abraham when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance obeyed and went." He did it. Dear friends, genuine faith always produces obedience, genuine faith always produces obedience, a pattern of consistent obedience. The essence of our sin problem is that we were rebels against the command of the sovereign God, our King. We were rebels against His laws. We were violating his commandments and we were sinning. And Jesus comes to us with the gospel and he invites us, He holds out His hands to us and says, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest." But then he says this. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
As I've said a number of other times, that yoke must be the kingly yoke of Jesus. The Kingdom of Heaven has come into your life, and He is the king and he's saying, "Now you take that formerly stiff neck of yours, which is now made soft by grace, and you put it under my yoke and you will not regret it, and you follow me the rest of your life. You obey me, and you yield to me and let me be your king, and you will not regret it. For you will find rest for your souls." And so I say to you that true, genuine faith always produces a consistent pattern of obedience to God's commands. Has this happened in your life? Have you turned away from a life of rebellion? Have you turned away from the wickedness of sin? And have turned to Jesus as your redeemer, the one who shed His blood for your rebellions, who took on Himself the wrath and the curse that you and I deserve for our rebellion.
Have you trusted in Him for the forgiveness of your sins? And now, by His spirit, are you set free from sin to follow Him in a lifestyle of obedience? If so, then heaven is your future, your home. If not, I plead with you while there's still time, repent and believe in Jesus. Today is the day of salvation. Now is the era, this is the time of faith when you can hear a message like this and be transferred or rescued from Satan's dark kingdom and brought into the kingdom of faith and light and forgiveness. And so true faith produces obedience, always produces obedience. This is what it says in Romans 1, in verse 5, "Through Him and for His name's sake, we receive grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith."
That's how Romans begins. Romans ends the exact same way. Romans 16:26, "So that all nations might believe and obey Him." Believe, obey. Believe, obey. James says without deeds faith is dead, deeds equals obedience, so without the works of obedience you have no faith, it's dead. And so the effects of his faith is obedience, initial obedience, you obey it. It was surprising obedience. What must his neighbors have thought as he had his yard sale and sold most of his stuff, anything he couldn't take on camelback and set out, surprising obedience. What are you doing? Well, I'm going away. Really, where are you going? I don't know. So far I know it's west. You're crazy, crazy. It's just radical obedience, surprising obedience. I just want to ask you, what is there in your life that your faith is doing that just makes no sense to unbelievers. There just needs to be something in our lives that makes no sense to unbelievers.
So for Abraham, I think that yard sale and leaving did it. It's costly obedience, the rest of his life there's going to be a pattern of sacrifice, of laying things aside, laying them behind. It's going to culminate as we'll see later in Hebrews 11 in the command to sacrifice his son, his only son, Isaac, to offer him up as a burnt offering. It's going to be costly obedience, it's not going to be easy to obey God. And it's going to be lasting obedience. It was something for the rest of his life. It wasn't a whim or a fancy, wasn't something that came on him. But for the rest of his life he was going to be hearing the voice of God and obeying it. God was going to lead him step by step.
And he was going to move place to place, even within the promised land and not know where the next place was going to be. And he was going to, for the rest of his life, follow by faith and obey by faith. Jesus said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." And as he said very clearly in another place, "Remember Lot's wife." Don't look back. He didn't look back, he never returned. He never returned. More on that later and he was alone but he never returned, never went back. Lifetime of surprising, costly obedience.
III. The Challenge of Abraham’s Faith: Obstacles
We see next, the challenge of Abraham's faith, and I've already mentioned this, obstacles. God creates faith within our hearts and then challenges the faith with obstacles. He creates mountains that have to be moved. He creates things you have to get through and he makes it difficult, and so the faith is strengthened by the obstacles. God is glorified greatly by these obstacles.
First Obstacle: “I Don’t Know Where I Am Going!”
And the first obstacle as I've mentioned, is that he didn't know where he was going. I don't know where I'm going. Now, I want you to look in your text there in verse 8.
And I want to compare it to verse 13. There are two things. I'm not preaching on verse 13 today, but I just want to bring out something that just jumped off the page to me, and it's just very significant. And it's the word "not". Look at verse 8. "By faith, Abraham when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance obeyed and went." Listen, "Even though he did not know where he was going." See that? He did not know. He did not know. Okay, now in verse 13, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised." Do you see the word "not" in both of those? Now, I don't know if every translation may have it, they maybe rephrase. But the idea of negation is there in both verses. He did not know, and he did not receive. That's where faith operates friends. It's when you don't know where you're going, and you haven't yet received the promises. That's where faith works.
Are you in a situation like that in your life now where you don't know where you're going? Are you in a situation where you're still waiting on God for some promises that are earthly, connected to this life, but waiting? And clearly, as we'll get to in verses 13 through 16, haven't received the big promise yet of eternity in heaven with God. This is where faith operates. And so, this obstacle is, I don't know where I'm going. And I think that that continued. In a moment we'll talk about how he lived in tents. He didn't have the GPS with the whole purple line that goes all the way to the destination, with all the way stations along the way. You can kind of zoom out. Oh, there it is. I know exactly how we're going to get there. That's exactly what he did not have. He didn't know where the next place would be that he would pitch his tent. God would later do the same thing with Israel and the Exodus.
I'll let you know when we're going to move. When the cloud got up, "Okay we're moving." When it settled back down, they stayed there. And so step by step by step God leads His people, and you just don't know where the next step's going to be. So that's the first obstacle.
Second Obstacle: “The Promised Land is Already Owned by Others!”
The second obstacle is that when he arrived in the Promised Land, he found that it was cheerfully occupied by other people. Canaanites and Perizzites and Hivites and Jebusites and Amorites and all these -ites, Amalekites. And they liked the land. It's good land, it's a land flowing with milk and honey. It's really rich, good land. And they plan on staying. And you're just you and your wife and your nephew. And God is saying, "I'm going to give all of this to you." Really? What about all these -ites? What about all these people that are here?
But he received that promise and it was by faith he received it. In Romans 4:13, "By faith," it says, "It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world but through the righteousness that comes by faith." I love that verse. That's one of those verses that kind of lay like a ticking time bomb and suddenly jumped up on me. It doesn't say that he would be heir of the promised land there, does it. It said it was by faith that he received the promise that he would be heir of the world, not just that little stretch of it. And all of us who have come into faith in Christ are sons and daughters of Abraham. We also are heirs of the world with Abraham. Amen? And so Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek for they will" what? What will they do? "They will inherit the earth." And so by faith he looked at these other peoples that were settling there, that were there, and he accepted that they were there and he lived in a certain pattern that way and he knew that it was theirs for now, but God is sovereign over everything.
The earth is the Lord's. And if some unbelievers are squatting for a time on your promised land, what's that to you? And so by faith he understood that at some point he would come into that inheritance.
Third Obstacle: “My Body is as Good as Dead, and So is Sarah’s Womb!”
The third obstacle was my body is as good as dead, and Sarah's womb is too. Now, we're going to talk more about Sarah next week, and I don't want to steal the thunder of next week. But Abraham was told through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed. But Abraham and Sarah had not been successful in having children for 75 years, and then the decades would continue after that. No children, no children. She was barren, they could have no children. And so it says, we'll study this next time. Verse 12, "And so, from this one man and he is good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as sand on the sea shore."
So what did he do as he looked at his body and said, "I don't see how it can happen." And he looked at Sarah's womb and said, "I don't see how it can happen." But Romans 4 says, "Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead," since he was about 100 years old, and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God had power to do what He had promised." And so Abraham's faith was challenged with obstacles and God strengthened his faith to overcome those obstacles.
IV. The Display of Abraham’s Faith: Living Like an Alien
Next, we see the display of his faith and that is living like an alien, living in tents. Look at verses 9 and 10. "By faith he made his home in the Promised Land. Like a stranger in a foreign country. He lived in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, who are heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God." And so every day, Abraham's faith was put on display by the simple fact that he was living in a tent, he was living like an alien and a stranger. The same expression is used in verse 13, and used in other places, 1 Peter 2:11, "Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world to abstain from sinful desires which wage war against your soul." And so Abraham was the pattern of a walk of faith in which you look around and say, "Some day this will all be mine. But not yet. And so I'm an alien and a stranger here now. And my living in tents is evidence of that." A tent is movable, it goes from place to place. They don't have solid foundations.
And so, he didn't build a walled city like Sodom and Gomorrah probably were, or Jericho with vast gates and walls to protect you from desert raiders that are going to sweep through. He just lived in a tent, he was vulnerable, and he was movable. And so did Isaac and Jacob, and they were heirs with him of the same promise. They were living in tents as they moved from place to place. And so there's a disposition or a demeanor that Christians should have toward the world saying, "I am an alien and a stranger here. This is a strange place." It's almost like the one thing that us and non-Christians agree about. We both think that the other is crazy. I really do. I think unbelievers are just crazy. I don't know why they would live for this stuff and then die and go to hell When Jesus could forgive them of their sins. If they'll just trust in Him, they could have a permanent inheritance. It doesn't make any sense to me. And I think my life must make no sense to them either.
And so Paul says in Galatians 6, in verse 14, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Listen to this. "Through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." There's just a severing that's happened between Paul and the world because of the cross, the cross has severed it now, and he is an alien and a stranger. The world is dead to him, and he is dead to the world. And so, lived in tents, and he knew it was his but just not yet. The image that's in my mind here is, let's say you're going to a vast, formal banquet and it's in a very, very expensive hotel in a major city, and you've got exquisite clothes on and you and the other people that are invited to this banquet are walking through a hallway en route to the ballroom or the feasting room, wherever that is, you're walking through the hallway and it's a great hallway. The carpet's cushy, and there's just artwork on the walls and all that. And it's like this is probably the most incredible hallway I've ever been in my life. I think I'll just stay here. I think I'll just look at the pictures on the wall. It's like the banquet's in here. This is just a hallway friends. And it may have evidences of God's grace and mercy for tastes of heaven, little gifts that he gives you to keep you on your way. But it's just a hallway, that's it.
And so the display of Abraham's faith was that he lived in tents and he had to dicker with the Hittites for a cave to bury his dead wife. In Genesis 23, there's a whole chapter devoted to it. Why would Moses give a whole chapter to the dickering? It all had to do with the promised land, and he didn't have it yet, and so he had to dicker back and forth like a camel trader. Oh, it could be this. Well, but what's that among friends? And back and forth they go. And they're dickering over the number of silver coins he's going to pay to the Hittite guy so he can have a piece of the promised land to bury his wife. Genesis 23, the purpose of that chapter is to say, he didn't have it yet, he was an alien and a stranger, he hadn't come into his inheritance yet. That's why it's there.
V. The Outlook of Abraham’s Faith: Looking Forward to a Permanent City
Finally, we see the outlook of Abraham's faith. How was he enabled to do this? Verses 9-10, "By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country. He lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who are heirs with him of the same promise. For He was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God." So the logic of the verse goes like this, Abraham you're living in a tent, why? Well, because I'm looking ahead to a city with foundations. That's the logic of it. Why are you living in a tent like a stranger in a foreign country? Because I'm looking ahead to another place, that's why. The logic's very much the same as that which we already saw at the end of Hebrews 10 go back and look, they may even be on the same page or you have to turn back one page but Hebrews 10:34 as you already saw speaking to the Hebrew Christians saying, "You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the plundering of your property because, because you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and a lasting one." It's the exact same logic here, because you're looking forward. So I say to you faith is essentially constantly looking forward.
Now, you know around this time, little kids say they're looking forward to Christmas and looking forward to this looking forward... You can spend your whole life looking forward and then it's gone, and it's just amazing. It's like live in the now, we need to live in the now, and we need to smell the roses that kind of thing, can't be looking forward. Well, this chapter tells you you should spend your whole life looking forward just not to anything in this world. And I'm not talking about mere optimism, have a positive outlook. You should have a positive outlook, don't you think? We should be optimistic people, away with that. That's two weak. No, no we have an inheritance that's coming and nothing is going to stop it, we just don't have it yet. And so I am looking forward all my hopes are set on it. I'm looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God. And so that's the focus of what they were looking forward to a city.
What's interesting is our inheritance is cast in verse 10 and in verses 13-16, as both a city and a country, isn't that interesting? You have a city here in verse 10 and you have multiple mentions of a country and then a city in verses 13-16. So we have the city, and then verse 14, "People who say such things show that they're looking for a country of their own. They were longing for a better country, a heavenly one, and so God is not ashamed to be called their God because he's prepared a city for them." And so for me the country is the new Heavens and the new Earth. I kind of put those words together; they're all together for me, new Heavens and new Earth, that's what it's called. And to me it's just rich and full in my imagination.
I think of it like the new world when Columbus landed then after that you have all these explorers, think about the Explorer era and just whoever it was, Ponce de Leon in Florida, and the Conquistadors, Hernan Cortes, and all these guys that went across the South West, Spanish-speaking people that went up there and then French explorers go up the Mississippi and John Cabot up there and then New Finland and all those areas, all these explorers, Henry Hudson, all these guys. I used to read about this, you guys remember, did you go to school? Are you still there? Are you awake? Alright, there you go. So, Explorers, I think the new world will be something to explore. And it's going to be majestic and no longer cursed, it's not going to be subjected to the decay or futility of frustration, it's going to be a perfect world. That's the country where we are heading. I will say no more, because I'm going to preach on 13-16 in a few weeks, but a majestic new country. But it also mentions here prominently in verse 10, a city, a city with foundations. It's unshakable, it's immovable.
For me as a kid that grew up in suburban Massachusetts in Framingham near a big city of Boston, I knew what the city looked like. I didn't love the city. I love national parks, I love the Acadia up in Maine, I loved Yosemite when I got a chance to see how beautiful that was and I just love the nature and the beauty of the place. And so a city I tend to think of it as dirty, crime-ridden, overcrowded those kind of things. And the Bible does have that take on human cities that's why God destroyed the tower of Babel and all that. There's aspects where that's actually a right way to look at the human city, but this isn't a human city now, this is the city of God, this is the city that God builds, the city at which God is the architect and the builder. He is the one who made the blueprints, who laid out the City Square or whatever it's going to look like, and then each building or structure in it he is the architect of the city of God and he is the builder.
And Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, living in tents, looking ahead to that city, couldn't wait to see that city. And the book of Revelation calls it the New Jerusalem, and it says it's going to come down like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband and in that city there'll be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. It's going to be irradiated with the glory of Jesus, there's no need for the light of a lamp, the light of the sun or the moon. It's going to be just irradiated with the glory of God. The streets will be of some mysterious stuff called transparent gold, don't know what that is but it's just going to be radiating with the glory of Christ, and it has walls and foundations of the walls are of different precious gems of varieties of colors. And there are gates and the gates are made each of them of a single pearl and it says they always stand open, they're never closed so that the wealth of the nations may be brought into the city and the city is immense, vast. 1400 miles on a side and figure this one out, 1400 miles up. Cuboid. And you're like, "Well maybe that's just figurative language." Fine, let it be figurative the reality will be even better.
I'm just saying it's an immense, vast place. The view from 1400 miles up, whatever floor number that is, will be amazing. The city with foundations whose architect and builder is God. God Almighty drew up the plans and now God is building the city. Jesus is building the city. Didn't he say in John 14, "I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you I'll come back." He's building the city. Jesus is building the city, the Holy Spirit is building the city out of living stones that are quarried. Matt and Christine are quarrying living stones out of that people group that they're working by the grace of God, living stones being brought to be a spiritual structure in which Ephesians 2, God is going to dwell by His spirit. So the Holy Spirit is building the city. Father, Son and Spirit building this city of God.
VI. Application: Living in the 21st Century for the City that is to Come
So what? How do we live in the 21st century in light of these truths? How many of you (don't raise your hands) live in tents? Do any of you live in tents? I'm actually not aware of anyone connected with this church or ever has been that lives in a tent. You know what that means, since you don't physically live in a tent like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, it's harder for you to be faithful to the truths in this text but you still need to be faithful to them. You need to realize that this Earth, this world is not your home and that you are just passing through and nothing in it should captivate your heart. You should be living for the city and the country that is to come later that Jesus is building.
You should focus your heart entirely on Jesus' words, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my father's house are many rooms, if it were not so I would have told you for I'm going there to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you I will return and take you to be with me so that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going…'We don't know where you're going so how can we know the way?' I am the way and the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through me." Set your heart on that, that's your home. And as Peter puts it, "Dear friends as aliens and strangers in the world abstain from sinful lusts which wage war against your soul." don't be polluted by this world as you make it through the hallway, don't get polluted by it. Fight the fight of holiness as an alien and a stranger in this world, fight for holiness, put sin to death by the power of the Spirit.
And then finally, I want to give you an odd piece of advice that Paul gives, please don't take me out of context here. In 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 Paul says this, "What I mean brothers is the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none, those who mourn as if they did not. Those who are happy as if they were not, those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep, those who use the things of the world as if not engrossed in them for the world in its present form is passing away." So hold on to your spouse lightly, love him or her, fulfill your role biblically, be faithful in that relationship but act in some senses as if you're not married. Paul says that and if you own a possession hold it lightly as if it didn't own you and you can give it up whenever God calls in you to do it. And if you use the things of the world, don't do it as one engrossed in those things but live as an alien and a stranger in this world. Close with me in prayer.