The 13th Sunday After Pentecost September 7, 2014
420, 784 (TLH alt. 422), 410, 54
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible…By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
“Where do you live?” You have been asked that question before, I am sure. You might answer and identify your home by the state in which you live, by the town, by the particular side of town, or perhaps by the name of your subdivision. Whenever you meet new people you are likely to be asked the question and the detail of your answer will depend upon the circumstance.
If you were to ask Abraham—one of the most famous figures in the Bible—you might hear a surprising answer. He could have said, “Mmm…No place in particular,” and his answer would have been completely true.
Abraham was a wanderer. He first lived at Ur in the land of Chaldea, some distance east of Palestine. Ur was a busy and prosperous capital city with an advanced and sophisticated culture.
Abraham did not stay at Ur. God called upon him to move. So Abraham, with his father’s family and his brother’s family, moved 500 miles northwest to Haran, according to the Lord’s direction. This move was not to be the end of moving, however.
After a time, God told Abraham to continue onward from Haran to the land of Canaan, a fairly long distance to the southwest. So, at the age of 75, Abraham was on the move again. As he left Haran, he also left behind much of his extended family. Only Abraham’s wife, his nephew Lot, and Lot’s family left with him.
Although Abraham became an experienced mover, we are told that “he went out, no knowing where he was going.” [v.8] What do you make of that? It’s not the way we usually travel, is it? When we plan for a trip we decide where we’re going to go and why we want to go there. We get out the maps and choose a mode of transportation, figuring out exactly how we will arrive at our destination.
When we travel, we also have a pretty good idea what we will do when we arrive at the place we are going. If we are going to a camp, we will boat or fish. If we are going to a theme park, we will ride the roller coaster. If our travel involves a more permanent move, we generally would not go without some idea of where we will live and whether or not we will have a job in the new location.
It was not so with Abraham. He traveled by faith. The LORD called Abraham to go, and that was good enough for him. He was confident that wherever God would send him, all would be right. He was not concerned if he did not know immediately how every last detail would work. Abraham was a living example of the way in which the book of Hebrews describes faith: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” [v.1 NIV]
Could you travel like that? Could you go through life without being entirely sure what was around the next corner? That is what Abraham did, but some people cannot stand living that way. Some feel that they must be in control of everything. They feel that they must have everything worked out according to their plans. They are not willing to listen to God’s voice and do not look for indications of His guidance in their lives. Or they want to know every detail of God’s plan and they make demands of Him saying, “Why this, Lord? Why that?”
Surely, it was not always easy for Abraham to trust that God was leading him in the way that was best for him. Certainly, Abraham had those moments when he too wondered, “Why am I leaving Ur? Why am I leaving Haran? Where am I going?” But finally, Abraham had confidence in the LORD because the LORD had worked that confidence in his heart.
God did not simply send Abraham off into the wilderness saying, “See you later.” He sent him off with a word of promise. He had said to Abraham: “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” (Genesis 12:1-2). So you see, Abraham was not traveling on blind faith. He was traveling on sure faith that rested on the Word of God—faith that saw what God had promised to him.
Abraham’s confidence was in the promise that he would be blessed in the new land to which he was being led. His confidence was in the promise that God would make his name great, that he would have children, and that his children—especially one descendant in particular—would be a blessing to the whole world. “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 were heirs with him of the same promise.” [v.9 NIV]
It was God’s voice of promise that encouraged Abraham to pick up and move his family. It was God’s voice of promise that led him not to be so bothered if he could not see the future as precisely as God did.
There was another promise too that was very much a part of Abraham’s thinking as he was led on his life’s journey from Ur to Canaan. That promise is mentioned in the second half of today’s text, beginning with verse 10: “For he was looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” [NIV] Abraham was not only trusting in God’s promise to lead him to Canaan, he was, actually, looking far beyond that.
What is this “city with foundations” to which Abraham looked forward? It is not Ur. It is not Haran. It is not Jerusalem. It is, in fact, no city on this earth for the cities on this earth are cities without foundations. They are cities which eventually die and crumble into dust. They are like tent-cities which are put up one year and later are gone. It becomes clear what this “city with foundations” is when we get to verses 13 and following: “All these people (Abraham included) were still living by faith when they died … And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.” [NIV]
As Abraham journeyed through life, he did not simply look forward to where God was leading him here. He looked toward the ultimate destination, the city of God, the new heavens and the new earth. That was his real home. That was where the LORD was really leading Him. Therefore, Abraham did not need to know every twist and turn in the road here. He did not need to know what was around every corner in his life in order to be at peace and content. He understood that he was being led to Heaven—he knew that Heaven is what he had been promised, and in this promise he was certain and he rejoiced.
By now, you have already thought, I’m sure, about the similarities and the differences between Abraham’s journey and each of our individual journeys. It is true enough that we travel like Abraham.
As we move through life, we do not always know what is around the next corner. This is similar to Abraham who did not always know what was ahead when he moved on to another town.
Unlike Abraham, we do not have God speaking to us directly and saying, “Go here,” or “Go there,” but we can see how the LORD creates opportunities for us in this place or that place. We are able to see how in God’s own way, using earthly means, He supports us and directs us. Sometimes in our own stubbornness or ignorance we resist or abuse His directing hand, but that does not mean the LORD stops trying to lead us and bless us.
We also have the same promise that Abraham had to propel us through life. Yes—The promise that Abraham would become a great nation and that he would be a blessing was also a promise meant for us. You see, it was from Abraham’s family that Jesus, our Savior, came.
The LORD knew that the world was dwelling in darkness and that man’s evil and wickedness had put him on a path to judgment and eternal destruction. Therefore, through Abraham’s children would come the One who would be a blessing to every sinner. Jesus—the descendant of Abraham—would take our guilt upon Himself at the cross. The promise made to Abraham so many years before would come true when Christ suffered and died, enduring the agony of Hell in our place. He would then rise from the dead to assure us that the job was complete. In Christ came the blessing for all. In Christ the Genesis 12 promise made to Abraham and to us was ultimately fulfilled. We can journey through this life with confidence, because we are at peace with God. Our sins do not stand in the way. He is on our side.
Like Abraham, our focus is on the heavenly country to which we are going. Because Jesus died and rose again to cleanse us, our place in this heavenly country is assured. The writer to the Hebrews does not say that Abraham wondered if he would get to the heavenly country or not. It says “he was looking forward to the city with foundations.” When his days got dreary, when the struggles of his earthly life became long and hard and they seemed like too much to bear, Abraham took heart in the fact that this life was not all there was.
All of us are pilgrims and strangers on earth. Jesus bought us with a price so that He could bring us to our real home. When we are raised from the dead to live with Him forever then we will no longer be wanderers—no longer just passing through.
No, we cannot see every detail of tomorrow, but that does not need to trouble us. God graciously invites us to TRAVEL LIKE ABRAHAM: Confident in God’s words of promise which motivate and encourage us, confident in His power which sustains us, and confident in our final destination which is assured to us. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.