Sunday, April 28, 2013

Strangers and Exiles on the Earth

I love going to a church where multiple times a year a sermon has the potential to become my new favorite. The Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church has been that kind of church since I began attending nearly 10 years ago. Today's sermon by my Elder James was one of these sermons that will rival for a place amongst my other top favorites. Today's topic: Hebrews 11, and Abraham's faith:
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:8-10, NASB).
The letter to the Hebrew Christians was meant to encourage those former Jewish believers to remain steadfast in their faith, and that there was nothing to go back to. You see, Jesus Christ had come to fulfill the promises given long ago; one of those promises was given to Abraham - that through Abraham all the nations would be blessed.

How strange it must have seemed to Abraham to receive this kind of promise, but even more than this the seemingly unclear way in which the Lord chose to lead him. He gave Abraham a command to go to a place he was unfamiliar with ... in fact, he didn't know where he was going! This might seem like a subtle point, but Abraham had an implicit trust in God and His commands. He didn't question God's wisdom, or make up a bunch of excuses to put off what he knew good and well what was demanded of him.

Hebrews chapter 11 is known well as the great Hall of Faith chapter because it serves as a reminder of the great cloud of witnesses that had come before who possessed saving faith. Although implicit and unquestioning trust is one part of faith, there is another vital element: obedience. Notice that when Abraham was called he obeyed God's command.

Remember the words of our Lord, "...unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3b, NASB). The true gospel of Christ includes repentance, a turning from sin and all desires contrary to what He commands. Now, I am not at all denying that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone, but just that a true faith is never alone, and is accompanied by obedience to God. It is this message of repenting from sin unto faith in Christ that our world needs to hear.

Something else was brought out about Abraham's faith that I never considered: he was patient. The author of this epistle goes on to say:
"13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:13-16, NASB).
I don't know about you, but without all of the clear revelation we have now, it would have been hard for me to obey God the way Abraham did. He was told he would have descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore, and yet at one point, he was told to sacrifice his son! He had faith that God's promises would come to pass ... even though he never lived to see the fulfillment of these promises.

He saw the promises from a distance, and confessed he was a stranger and exile on the earth. He was looking for a heavenly city, and not an earthly city. Do you embrace that? Do you have the patience to know the promises of God even if you don't experience their fulfillment in your lifetime? These are some of the questions that the Holy Spirit used to convict me this morning.

Looking at our culture today, it is easy for me to believe that I am a stranger and an exile living in a foreign land. I don't belong here. I long for the heavenly city that is our promised future hope. But that day has not yet come ... and we need to be patient until the Day of the Lord arrives. May we be found faithful witnesses, so as to be not ashamed at Christ's coming.

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