Reformation Series – #4

November 26, 2017

Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church

Sioux Falls, SD

Rev. Norman F. Seeger

 

Hebrews 11:1,2,8-13,16

 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  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.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.  And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. … Instead, they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

 

Hebrews 11:1,2,8-13,16

“Believing is Seeing”

1) Faithful Abraham Sees a Promised Land (a Home in Heaven)

2) Faithful Abraham & Sarah See a Promised Son (a Savior)

3) Faithful Abraham Sees Believers as Countless as the Stars

 

Dear Faith-filled Followers of Jesus the Christ,

Did you say you parred the course?  Sank a hole-in-one?  Bowled a 300?  When someone talks athletic accomplishments, ‘Seeing is believing’ may be an appropriate response, but ‘Unless I see I will not believe’ is not an acceptable answer as ten disciples tell Thomas they have seen Jesus, who was crucified Friday, appearing to them alive in a locked room Easter evening.  Our Lord is alive?  Our Savior’s sacrifice for our sins is accepted?  Doubting Thomas does not believe, will not believe Jesus fulfilled his promise to rise from the dead the third day until Jesus appears again a week later; tells Thomas to ‘put his fingers where the nails were, put his hand into the side’ where Jesus was pierced — to ‘stop doubting, but believe.’  Thomas confesses, ‘My Lord & my God.”  Jesus responds, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen & yet have believed.’ [JN 20]

Jesus is talking about you & me, is he not; also talking about Abraham?  Faith-filled souls heading for heaven do not believe because we see.  We see because we believe.  Abraham lives 2,000 years before Jesus is crucified Good Friday.  We live 2,000 years after Jesus rises from his tomb Easter Sunday.  Neither he nor we are eye-witnesses when God the Son endures hell during his crucifixion as our sinless Substitute nor when his Father declares us forgiven by raising Jesus to life the third day.  Yet we who do not see with our own eyes are saved…saved by faith trusting Jesus’ life, death & resurrection covers us with Christ’s righteousness while absorbing our guilt, just the way Abraham is saved …saved by faith trusting God will accept the promised Savior’s holiness as if it were Abraham’s while holding that Savior accountable for Abraham’s sins.

Is seeing believing?  God turns our world upside-down, turns our thinking inside-out.  God tells us, ‘Believing is seeing.’  ‘Faith is being sure of what we hope for; certain of what we do not see.’  ‘By faith,’ our Lord reports, ‘our ancestors won God’s approval.’  Just as Abraham was saved, ‘Through faith, a gift of God’s grace — not our own work — we are saved.’[EPH 2]  Saved by faith, only by faith, we look to our promised home in heaven — the first of three parallels offered with Abraham today.  ‘By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed & went, even though he did not know where he was going.’  Calling Abraham to follow his lead, the Lord specifically promises to give Abraham a special land, promises to turn seventy-five year old Abraham (who has no children) into a great nation; promises he will bless all nations through one of Abraham’s offspring.  Not knowing where he is going, not seeing his destination in the distance, Abraham & Sarah follow wherever God’s Positioning System will lead them.

Believing is seeing.  Abraham’s faith sees God giving his people land in Canaan – as God promises he will – even though Abraham will personally own nothing but a burial plot for his wife.  ‘By faith Abraham makes his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lives in tents, as do Isaac & Jacob, who are heirs with Abraham of the same promise.  For he is looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect & builder is God.’  Looking beyond what earthly eyes might see, Abraham looks forward to living with God in heavenly glory, glory Jesus also promises us disciples as he assures faithful followers, ‘In my father’s house are many rooms.  I am going there to prepare a place for you…If I prepare a place for you, I will come back & take you to be with you, so you also may be where I am.’[JN 14]

As I look forward to living in a new house, realizing my present home is a temporary not permanent place, am I able to see heaven?  Not with my earthly eyes.  Did any of you actually see Jesus open a welcoming door to walk Walt Priebe & Elsie Buehner into God’s eternally glorious home this past week?  No.  Yet, does anyone doubt these two faithful souls are celebrating with our Savior in heaven?  No doubt, for faith sees our home in heaven.  Faithful souls follow where our Lord leads as Jesus assures us, ‘I am the way…no one comes to the Father except through me.’[JN 14]  Perhaps we picture our path to heaven this way:  When you drive to a new destination, do you ever enter an address in your GPS; do you blindly follow some unseen voice’s instructions to turn left or turn right in fifty feet?  On a spiritual level, faith follows directions Jesus voices in Scripture, ‘Come, follow me… take up your cross & follow me… Come to me, you who are weary & burdened; I will give you rest for your souls…whoever follows me, the Light of the World, will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’  Faith hears our Lord’s voice, faith follows our Savior’s call.  Faith sees Jesus leading us home to heaven, so – as Abraham lives in temporary tents while looking forward to a city God is building for us – saints will not sink our roots into this world, but will realize our life on earth is temporary; our real home is in heaven.

Believing is seeing… ‘Faith is confidence in what we hope for; faith is our assurance about what we do not see.’  A second parallel:  ‘By faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.’  The Lord promised Abraham, ‘through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,’ but no child appeared for the next twenty-five years.  Nearing the century mark, with his wife approaching ninety, Abraham tries to adopt his servant Eliezer as a son through whom God could fulfil his promise; Abraham sires a son with Sarah’s servant Hagar, trying to personally put God’s promise into effect.  But the Lord says, ‘No, Abraham, a son born to you & Sarah will be the son of the promise – the ancestor of the Savior.’

Trusting God to keep his Word – realizing the Lord who cannot lie never leaves one promise unfulfilled – Abraham & Sarah, by faith, see their son Isaac being born nine months later, a human impossibility the Lord of life causes to occur as he keeps his promise to send a descendant of Abraham to serve as the Savior for every soul from every nation.  As Abraham is later asked by the Lord to sacrifice Isaac, increasingly faithful Abraham obeys, now trusting the Lord who impossibly brought Isaac to life in the first place will impossibly bring a sacrificed Isaac back to life, if necessary, to fulfill his promise to send a Savior who blesses us by replacing our guilt with his righteousness.

When we look back at Jesus — as Abraham looked ahead — when we look at the Son of Mary, whom we only see through words God records in Scripture, do we not see the eternal Son of God?  How can we saints possibly see what is humanly impossible – Jesus being true God & true man?  Faith, only faith sees the sinless Son of God sacrificing himself to pay our sin’s death penalty.  Only faith sees a sinless Son of Mary wrapping us in righteousness by obeying God’s commands as our perfect Proxy.  Faith sees our Savior Jesus win forgiveness for us by living, dying & rising the third day to free us from sin’s death, to bless us with eternal life in Christ.

Believing is seeing… ‘Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.’  A final parallel:  ‘From one man, as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; as countless as the sand on the seashore.’  Repeating his intertwined promises when Abraham is uncertain if he will ever have a son, a full family tree, a Savior-descendant who will bless everybody, God uses a visual aid, asking Abraham to count the stars in the night sky; promising that is how many offspring he will have.

Can any person possibly measure the milky way?  Can anyone accurately count all the grains of sand on a shore?  Is anybody able to number the believers in God’s Holy Christian Church?  Only the Lord, looking into our hearts, only the Lord knows who really believes.  While earthly eyes are unable to look into anyone’s heart to see faith, while we are limited to hearing what people confess while observing their actions, outward evidences of faith – while hypocrites can fool us – faith sees more believers in heaven & on earth than men can number because God promises, wherever the good news of Jesus our Savior is preached (around the world), God’s Spirit-powered Word will produce faith in souls our Lord died to redeem.

Abraham never experienced such a big family eating thanksgiving dinner in his tent that he needed extra leaves to extend his table, but he can anticipate a wedding feast in heaven where his descendants – ‘Everyone having the faith of Abraham is his descendant,’ we are told – his descendants will be too many to number.  Can you see yourself – a star, a grain of sand — celebrating in heaven?  Yes, before or after the fact, faith sees Jesus (God & Man) live a holy life & die an innocent death to redeem ‘me.’  Faith sees Jesus return in time to take ‘me’ to heaven forever.  Am I an eye-witness of Jesus’ crucifixion or resurrection?  Not necessary, we say, for we will “not believe until we see,” not when God tells us what he has done.  When God talks, believing is seeing.  ‘Faith, faith God gives us, is the reality of what we hope for; the certainty of what we do not see.’  

Amen.