Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | July 25, 2010

Sermon on Hebrews 11:11-12

Downloadable version


Faith Looks in All the Right Places

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Abraham was 75 when he left his relatives in the east and headed for Canaan.  All Abraham knew was that God told him to go and that blessings would follow, one of which would be an abundance of offspring.  The hitch: Abraham was old and his wife was barren.  But, Abraham went.

Time passed.  Abraham found success.  After squabbling with the employees of Lot, they divided the land and went their separate ways. And again, the LORD says, I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth. Still, Abraham had no children.

Shortly after this, the LORD appeared to Abraham.  The LORD says:  Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. But for the first time, Abraham has a question: What can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?  You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir. And the LORD responds:  This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.  Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.  So shall your offspring be. And Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Ten years after coming to Canaan, still no son.  Sarah gets an idea.  She says:  The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her. Abraham does the math and realizes that he’s not getting any younger; Sarah’s not getting any less barren.  He sleeps with another woman and, lo and behold, Ishmael’s born.  Perhaps this is what God meant.

But it isn’t.  Thirteen years later, the LORD appears to Abraham.  He confirms the promise:  “I will bless you.  You will be a great nation.  This land will be your possession.”  But the LORD goes further.  He says:  As for Sarai your wife….  I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations. What happened with Hagar was not pleasing to God.  Yet, here’s Abraham:  He laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” God took it in stride: Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And a year later, with Abraham 100 and Sarah still barren, Isaac was born, the son of the promise.

Hebrews says today:  By faith Abraham, even though he was past age – and Sarah herself was barren – was enabled to become a father because he 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. The Spirit commends Abraham’s behavior over the course of this twenty-five year wait.  By grace, his faith is accounted as righteousness.  We read about a faith that looked in all the right places, that clung to God’s promises, that clung to Christ.  But, listen closely.  You heard wavering; you saw eyes drifting in other directions.  You saw a faith looking elsewhere than at God.

Abraham was as good as dead.  75, 85, and 99 year olds don’t have children.  Barren women don’t suddenly become fertile.  Knowing that, Abraham looked elsewhere.  He looked to his servant, Eliezer.  “He will be as a son to me.  This is how God will keep this promise.”  Abraham was trying to think good thoughts, but he didn’t grasp God’s promise.  He looked to the fertile womb of Hagar, and said, “Here’s how a son can come from me.  This is how God will keep this promise.”  Far less good thoughts here.  God never moves his people to commit adultery.  He didn’t grasp God’s promise.  Finally, Abraham threw up his hands, “I’m 100!  Sarah’s barren!  Just use Ishmael!”  Abraham’s faith rode a roller coaster, and while he believed the LORD and that faith was credited to him as righteousness, he also spent time putting faith elsewhere.  A dangerous, a deadly, a damnable thing to do.  Because while God is patient, his patience wears out.  Faith that looks in all the wrong places is a faith that won’t find God.  And seeing faith looking in all the wrong places, God says: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.  If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.  Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be cut off nor destroyed from before me.

This is what happened to Israel, after centuries of idolatry and spiritual adultery.  God said, “All that you could have had is no more.”  This could have happened to Abraham.  God is serious.  When faith looks inward and not at Him, then He leaves, He rejects, He revokes His covenants.  Where are we in danger of this?  Since we’re talking about children, let’s talk about children.  We live in a society that deals with children and childbirth as something under our control.  We speak about birth “control.”  We have pills, barriers, and surgeries that allow us to have children (or not).  Worse, we have pills and surgeries that remove living children from our wombs, because we don’t want them.  We’ve designed procedures that allow us to preempt or cut off that which God has begun.  We’ve taken control.  We look to doctors and medicine.  We look at bank accounts and career paths.  We look at our convenience.  We try to stop what God starts.  As if God can be stopped.  We forget the old man and the barren wife.  We forget the unmarried virgin.

And even if we have an understanding of these things, even if we’re careful to avoid birth control or conception procedures that end lives, even if we’ve searched the Scriptures and then conformed our motives for having or delaying the having of children so that they’re God-pleasing, we can still find ourselves looking in the wrong places.  Abraham had expectations.  And when God didn’t meet them, Abraham formed his own plans.  He couldn’t handle this cross, so he did things his way.  He looked to himself.  We hear God say that His ways and our ways aren’t the same, that we can’t understand His ways, and intellectually we might get that, but spiritually we don’t always appropriate it.  We give God a moment to do what He says, but that’s all.  Because our faith expects to see certain things.  We expect fertility.  We expect what we expect and desire.  We expect a certain amount of success and comfort.  We demand it.  We complain to God about all that’s gone wrong, we question him vigorously when something goes awry.  But when things work out, there’s silence, because that’s what God’s supposed to do.  But God works through the barren wife.  God works through the virgin.  God works life through death.  [God] calls things that are not as though they were.

Hebrews again:  By faith Abraham, even though he was past age – and Sarah herself was barren – was enabled to become a father because he 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. When push came to shove, Abraham had only one place to look – at God.  And this is the gift of faith – it looks in all the right places.  This is what the Spirit does to our weak, sinful, twisted, hate-filled, enemy-of-God, look-at-me hearts.  It pulls our eyes to God.

It pulls our eyes to God the Enabler.  Abraham was enabled to become a father.  God made Abraham’s reproductive system work, just as He makes ours work.  Just as He makes the universe work, just as He makes everything work.  He had a plan for Abraham, a reason for making him wait 100 years.  It focused Abraham on the promise, “Not your will, but My will!”  The Maker of the rules can break them.  He did for Abraham and Sarah.  He did for Zechariah and Elizabeth.  He did for Mary.  And He doe for you.  Perhaps He hasn’t yet or didn’t bless you with children, or as many as you desired.  He still can.  He may use some God-pleasing science.  He may simply break through what’s broken and fix it.  Or, He may not.  He may have other uses for you.  But He is the Enabler of all these things.  And greater, He is the Promising One.

And the Promising One proved faithful.  Abraham had Isaac.  From a dead one came life.  This same Promising One is the God to whom we cling.  About this, Paul wrote:  The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.  As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.

And to end all doubt, look at the one Descendant on account of whom this happened.  Out of the many descendants of Abraham, God focuses all attention on this One, whom the Angel described:  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. What a gift to give to people whose faith routinely looks in all the wrong places.  But this is the point.  Abraham’s faith was imperfect, because of the sin brought into the world by Adam.  So too is ours.  That one sin opened the path to countless others.  What a dreadful gift we’ve inherited!  But it came to a stop with this incredible gift, a gift given to Abraham and to Mary, a gift that’s meant for us:  For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Faith looks in all the right places.  By this incredible gift of God we see the promised descendant of Abraham, we see Jesus and all He’s done.  We see His perfect life, we see His atoning death, we see His justifying resurrection.  We see this as we look at God, not ourselves.  Christ is the one right place.  Look there and live.  Amen!


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