“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable . . .” (Heb. 11:8–16).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Abraham obeyed God by faith (v. 8). And his obedience left him a sojourner in what was both a strange county and a promised land (v. 9). As he dwelt in tents, he looked to a well-founded city which was built by no man (v. 10). Abraham’s wife received strength to conceive a child when she was long past childbearing years. And this strength came to her through faith (v. 11). The result of this faith was children innumerable like the sand by the Pacific Ocean (v. 12) . . .
THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH
An old Southern Presbyterian once said that the gospel is always crucified between two thieves, legalism on the one hand and lawlessness on the other. Likewise, you have one Christian who says he is all about faith and another who says he is all about obedience. All of this could be solved if we would just remember that old hymn, “Trust and Obey.” The text says that it was by faith that Abraham obeyed. You cannot have the latter without the former and you cannot have the former without the latter.
THE CITY TO WHICH WE LOOK
God told Abraham to go to place on earth. And God told him that he would give him a particular place on earth. Now Abraham obviously gave some attention to the land of Canaan. He walked in that land for some amount of time. But as he did so, he looked for a city with foundations.
STRENGTH THROUGH FAITH
A central theme in this text is not only that faith and obedience are closely linked. It is that faith is the only way to obey. Sarah was long past childbearing years. She simply couldn’t become pregnant. We have here something similar to Joshua before the people of Israel. The people say, “We will serve the Lord.” And Joshua replies, “You cannot serve the Lord.” Abraham was “as good as dead.” And Sarah herself was ninety years old. Where did the strength come from? God. And how did it come? “Through faith Sara herself received strength to conceive.”
God does not merely work good things in the world. He works wonders. From Abraham there sprang “so many as the stars of the sky in multitude.” And all of this from one man. Christ feeds five thousand with but five loaves and two fish. And God moves mountains with faith the size of a mustard seed.
DYING IN FAITHN
We are still near the entry in the Hebrews 11 hall of faith. After Abraham and Sara come Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Samson, and many more. Yet all of these died in faith not having received the promises but having genuinely embraced them. In verse 40 of this chapter we hear the reason, “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” Faith, then, is not merely an individual enterprise. We are, after all, children of our father Abraham. We are a covenant people, who look to the promises together and will be made perfect together. The covenant in which we find ourselves is always kept by faith.
Living in the New Covenant, we have received more of the promises than our fellow saints in the Old. The seed of the woman has come. The foundations of that city, the prophets and apostles that is, have been laid. The cornerstone himself has come. We are centuries into the building project of that heavenly city. And yet, we, like those who have gone before us, will die in faith. And we must die in faith. And though we die, yet shall we live. For we have believed in the one who is the resurrection and the life.
GOD IS NOT ASHAMED
The hallmark of those in this hall of faith is that God is not ashamed to be called their God. He has publicized his grace toward us long ago in our father Abraham, saying, “I will be God to you and to your seed after you in their generations.” He has placed his sign on us in baptism. He sets us apart from the world by feeding us bread and wine. And he has not left us without a home and without children.
Jesus says in Mark 10:29, “Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”
These promises from our Lord were true for Abraham, the man of faith. And they are true for all of his children. So trust God and look around. You can already see God pouring out blessing upon you a hundredfold. As you take in what God is already doing for you and yours now, go on desiring an even better country. For we must go on walking (that is, we must go on obeying). And we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).