Wait For It…
A sermon based on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Sunday, August 11, 2013 – Pentecost 12C
A certain pastor took his family on vacation several hundred miles away. After an hour or so had gone by his young son asked the inevitable question, "Daddy, are we almost there?!" "No, son," he replied, "we still have over 300 miles to go." The little boy sat quietly for another hour and burst out again, "Daddy, are we almost there yet?!" "No, son," he replied again, "we still have 250 miles to go." "Daddy, will I still be three when we get there?" he asked.
"Yes, son, you'll still be three. And tell you what, if you can be patient for a few more hours, you can have an ice cream sundae when we get there." The little boy sounded alarmed: "We won't get there until Sunday?!" "Just be patient, son. We'll get there today."
He waited as patiently as he could, then one hour later, "Dad, are we there yet?!" "No, son. We still have 200 miles to go." "How long will that take?" The pastor replied, "Probably 3 or 4 more hours." The boy was quiet for a bit, obviously pondering how long that meant. Finally, he asked, with a nervous tone, "Daddy, is that as long as one of your sermons?"
The truth is, impatience isn't just limited to young kids, is it? Especially in today's society where no one ever has to wait for anything! We don't wait to make dinner. It takes too long. We pick up some fast food. We don't wait for letters. They take too long. We have email—and not with dial-up. That's too slow. We need high speed. We don't save up to make a major purchase. It would take too long. We buy it today and put it on the credit card.
When we're impatient, we can make unwise and hasty decisions that might later ruin our health or cause financial problems. But when we're impatient with God, the results can be far more devastating. We can lose our trust in him and we can lose out on heaven. When it comes to matters of faith, you and I need patience. God gives us some amazing promises! But he doesn't fulfill them for us instantly. We may have to wait for some time trusting in the promise of heaven sight unseen.
But God gives us faith in his promises. And by that faith he gives us the patience we need while we wait for the unseen fulfillment. This morning, through the author to the Hebrews, God encourages us by Abraham's example to persevere in this life. He strengthens our faith to trust in things unseen. He strengthens our faith that waits patiently for them to come. Listen now to God's encouragement that's recorded for us in Hebrews 11, verses 1-3 and 8-16…
1Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for. 3By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible… 8By 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. 9By 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. 10For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he[a]considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12And 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. 13All 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. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, 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.
I. Faith Trusts in Things Unseen
Now before we discuss how faith gives us patience we need define what faith is. Actually, we don't. The author to the Hebrews does that for us. What is faith? It's not following some hunch. It's not some blind leap in the dark. It's not hoping for the best while disregarding the facts, assuming all will be well. No. "Faith is being sure of what we hope for…" Faith brings the future into the present, making things hoped for as real as if we had them. "Faith is being… certain of what we do not see." It means having solid confidence.
This is the faith that Abraham demonstrated in the things God promised to him—things that he didn't see right away. God told Abraham, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go…" (Genesis 12:1) "Get up, pack all your stuff and move away from all you hold dear." And before Abraham could ask, "Where to?" God told him: "…to the land I will show you." "Go to some unknown place that I'll show you. But for now, just get moving."
And Abraham believed in God's promise of protection. (cf. Genesis 12:3) By faith he moved to a new place, sight unseen. He began the long, hard journey to move thousands of miles away "even though he did not know where he was going."
And God gave him another great promise that Abraham was sure of. We heard it in our first lesson this morning. Even though Abraham was 75 years old, his 65 year-old wife barren, and he as good as dead reproductively speaking, God promised, "a son coming from your own body will be your heir…" In fact, Abraham would have so many descendants, they would be as many as the stars! But Abraham had only eight kids. That's all he ever saw. He never saw a great nation. He never saw multitudes as numerous as the stars. But he believed what he would never see.
And what's more, God promised him, "…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:3) namely, that one of those descendants would be the Christ. But Abraham never saw Jesus—at least not the way we see him. That's why the author to the Hebrews writes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, "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."
But Abraham believed in Jesus and in his saving work, without seeing him, or understanding the details of how he would accomplish his mission, like we do. Jesus once said to the Jews, "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad." (John 8:56) And "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." (Genesis 15:6)
Finally, God promised him heaven. That's why Abraham didn't settle in the land and build some huge mansion. That's why he refused the gifts of the King of Sodom. He knew all his wealth in this life was only temporary. "He was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." All these things Abraham believed thought he didn't see many fulfilled in his lifetime. He was "still living by faith when [he] died."
What an example this hero of faith gives to us! …How his example shames us. Have we always had a faith like this—one that is "sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see"? Do we always obey and go, when God calls us to action? I don't think so.
Someone once asked me in a Bible Class, "Does the Bible allow for aliens, that is extra-terrestrials, intelligent life not from this planet?" And I answered, "Yes! Of course!" and went to these verses.
The heroes of faith, "admitted that they were aliens… on earth." If they were, "looking for a country of their own… longing for a better country—a heavenly one," they understood that they didn't really belong here on earth. They were strangers here. Heaven was their home.
And the same is true of us! Does the Bible allow for aliens? Okay, maybe not in the sense of little green men, but in another sense, yes. Absolutely! We are aliens. You could even say that we're extra-terrestrials. We are not from around here. We don't belong to the earth. We belong to heaven. We confess that in one of my favorite hymns: "I'm but a stranger here. Heaven is my home." Maybe you've seen the clothing line or window stickers that look like this?
The "notw" stands for "Not of this world." And it describes you and me.
But we don't always act like it, do we? We don't always "[look] forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God"—that is, heaven—more than anything else. We heard Jesus say in our gospel lesson, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:34) So where's our treasure? When you compare your income to your offerings, does the ratio reflect the fact that you belong to heaven? When you look at the goals you've set for yourself, do they show that you've "Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things"? (Colossians 3:2) When you consider your most valued possessions—your treasures—are they spiritual things? Or material things?
How sinful we are! How weak is our faith! So how can we possibly be sure of the heaven we hope for?! How can we be certain of peace with God when we can't see it? By faith. By a faith that trusts in things unseen.
You and I didn't see Jesus walk the earth and live a sinless life any more than we saw the creation of the universe. But we believe in both, sight unseen. You and I didn't see Jesus' crucifixion or the hell that God poured out on him on that cross. But we can be certain that it happened and that our sins were forgiven by it. And this faith is credited to us as righteousness. We're perfect and holy before God.
You and I didn't witness the resurrection, put our hands in his side or our fingers in his hands. But we are sure not only of his resurrection, but of our own resurrection, which we hope for. We can be confident of these things because God has promised them, just as he did to Abraham. Jesus said to his disciples (and to all of us), "Because I live, you also will live." (John 14:19) And we know it's true even if we can't see it.
And so Abraham's example of faith doesn't just shame us, it encourages us. It reminds us to hang in there because God keeps his promises. He kept them for Abraham. And he'll keep them for us. So hold on to his promises with a faith that waits patiently for them to be fulfilled…
II. Faith Waits Patiently for Them to Come
Consider how patient Abraham had to be. Remember how old he was when God promised him a son? He was 75 years old. Remember how old he was when God fulfilled that promise? He was 100 years old. Man! Talk about a long time to wait!
Imagine if your boss promised you a promotion and a raise, but you had to wait 25 years for him to fulfill it! How long do you think you'd believe his promise? How long would you keep your faith in him?
But Abraham kept his faith in God. Though he wavered at times and was disciplined by God, though he needed regular reminders of God's promises he hung in there with a faith that waited patiently for God to deliver for twenty-five years!
And if you think about it, Abraham waited a lot longer than 25 years to see God fulfill all his promises. "All these people were still living by faith when they died," the book of Hebrews says. And Abraham lived to be 175 years old. After waiting 25 years for Isaac, Abraham waited another seventy-five years for God to fulfill his promise of heaven. And it wasn't for another 2000 years until he'd fulfill the promise of a Savior.
But in every case, Abraham's patience—brought by faith—paid off. God did deliver. God did remain true to every promise.
Did you know that in the Hebrew language there's a special tense called the prophetic perfect? What that means is when there's a future event that God told one of his prophets about they wrote about it in the past tense. To them it was as good as done because God promised it.
God kept every one of his promises to Abraham. God kept every one of his promises to Isaac and to Jacob. God kept every one of the promises he made to and through his prophets. And God will keep every promise that he's made to us.
You might not have a promise from God that he'll give you a kid or a spouse or a better job or perfect health. But you do have the promises that he's forgiven you, that he'll take you to heaven, that he cares for you, that he'll hear and answer your prayer.
So Romans 8:28 says, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…" 2 Corinthians 4:14 says, "We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence." 1 John 3:2 says, "We know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." 1 John 5:15 says, "We know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him."
And this knowing—not guessing, not hoping, but not really sure, but this absolute certainty we have because God has promised it and so it will come true—this faith and surety in what we hope for and this certainty of what we don't see, these keep us patient while we wait for him to fulfill those promises.
Even if you must endure trials and problems and pain for many more years to come, even if that promise of heaven takes another 20, 40 or 80 more years to find fulfillment for you, don't grow impatient. But look up to heaven and wait for it. And do as Jesus says in our gospel lesson…
35"Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.
And when he does come to fulfill his final promise to us, what an awesome role reversal there will be! The master will serve the servants! I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them…
And confident that God will deliver on this promise too, we don't need to ask God, "Are we there yet?" We don't need to whine, "How much longer till we get there?" But with a faith that knows God will deliver we patiently serve him in thanks day after day. We patiently remain ready for his return. We patiently live not for ourselves, but for him who gives us these great promises—for him who gives us this faith that trusts in things unseen, a faith that patiently waits for them to come. In Jesus name, dear friends, wait for it… Amen.