THE MANY FACES OF FAITH:
ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB
Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-22
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 25, 2019
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
— Hebrews 11:8-12, 17-22 ESV
Before God had a name, He was known by three. “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (ref. Exodus 3:6). What did God have to do with these three men, why are they inducted into the Hebrews Hall of Faith, and what can we see in their faces of faith today?
For the Hebrew people these three were the holy trinity of patriarchy. The rivers of Genesis’ prologue all pour into God’s choosing of changing of Abram to Abraham, where the history of the Old Covenant begins in earnest. From Abraham comes Isaac, from Issac comes Jacob, from Jacob comes the twelve tribes, with his name and theirs changed to Israel.
For the Jewish Christians who provided the original audience for the book of Hebrews, these men were shining examples of a sold out faith in God. They forged an old covenant faith so strong that it held for two thousand years until the promised Messiah, descended from God as a descendent of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, arrived. The Lord Jesus Christ inaugurated a new and better covenant, which although new demands the same old faith as possessed by the patriarchs.
For Christians gathered for worship today, these men are specific examples of the beginning, end, and middle of our Christian faith. Taking our cues from the text of Hebrews, Abraham is a picture of effectual calling, the beginning of our faith. Isaac is a picture of the promised resurrection, the end of our faith. Jacob is a picture of what we are to do with our faith from beginning to end, namely bless others and pass on the faith from person to person, generation to generation.
Abraham the Called
“Abraham obeyed when he was called”
There is so much to say about Abraham and so much Scripture that speaks about him. His name appears over two hundred times and is used in about half of the books of the Bible. But the first thing the writer of Hebrews says about Abraham is the first thing Genesis reveals about the man of God. He was called by God. When he was called, Abraham did not merely hear, nor simply acknowledge, he obeyed.
The call of the Lord is two-fold. It is general, appealing to the whole cognizant world; and, it is effectual, heard and heeded by the elect. Abram experienced the general call years before the effectual call changed him into Abraham. My prayer for those studying the life of this patriarch would be for them to hear and obey like Abraham.
The general call of God comes through creation (ref. Romans 1:19-20), which calls attention to the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The general call becomes clearer in the Bible (ref. Romans 10:17), as the Law, Writings, Prophets, Gospels, Epistles, and Revelation give the complete story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.
All human beings with a baseline level of intelligence can perceive that creation has a Creator. Most human beings have read or been exposed to the Holy Scriptures. An overwhelming majority has heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the general call of God, and it does not save anybody, for it can be heard, ignored, or in the anti-Abraham way, disobeyed (ref. John 3:36).
But when God calls someone effectually, salvation is irresistible (ref. Romans 8:28-30). God’s word is delivered by God’s Spirit, which opens the heart, mind, and soul to God. Sight gives way to faith and sin is turned by repentance and a new life emerges. Abram becomes Abraham, Saul becomes Paul, and the true believer becomes a new creation formed to follow the Lord Jesus Christ (ref. John 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17, etc.). It is an experience of grace that changes life, lasts a lifetime, and guarantees eternal life.
When you experience the effectual call of the gospel, you live like Father Abraham. You go where God tells you to go, do what God tells you to do, give up what God tells you to give up, and give the whole warp and woof of your life to the One who created you for His glory. Sometimes the yoke is easy and the burden light, other times the hard work and heartache seem overwhelming. But the reward of faith is worth every instance of faithfulness to God. Abraham received faith and was faithful, which is why he is in the Hall of Faith, along with his son and grandson.
Isaac the Resurrected
“[Abraham] considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back”
The effectual call which begins our Christian faith is actually a passive experience, not something we do but rather something done to us, a passive experience that ignites an active response. We were dead before it happened, then we become alive in Christ.
The same table will be turned for us at the end of our earthbound Christian experience. We will be dead (with apologies to the exceptions Enoch, Elijah, and the raptured Christians at the end of the world), and something will be done to us that will enable us to enjoy our best life then. It is called resurrection, and the faithful Issac serves as an apt illustration.
Isaac was only a boy when he was used by God to give his father, Abraham, one of the most difficult midterm exams in history (ref. Genesis 22). The test was given by God to Abraham to see if Abraham’s faith was genuine, a faith that treasures God above all earthly desires for fortune, fame, or even family. Abraham passed the test, in large part because of his belief in the resurrection. Isaac did not die, and his resurrection from the altar is likened by the writer of Hebrews to the great resurrection at the end of time.
To experience the earthly resurrection of salvation is to play the rest of your life with house money. You really cannot lose. It is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote to the Philippians, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (ref. Philippians 1:21). You were dead and were brought to life through regeneration (ref. Ephesians 2, Titus 3, etc.) and whatever little or large thing you can do for Christ with your life will add to your reward.
But the real resurrection Issac illustrates is our last one. Physical death will render even the Christian passive and powerless for a moment. Death happens to us, it is done to us, by a failing heart, faulty cells, or the horror of homicide. Even suicide is not a victimless crime, for only a soul badly tortured with circumstances beyond terrible could take his own life. In the end we all lie down, passive, unresponsive, dead.
Then comes resurrection. It is like the second effectual call, bringing the dead to life. Issac arose from the episode and looked into the smiling, loving face of his father. When a Christian dies, they arise to see the twinkling eyes, smiling face, and loving heart of the Heavenly Father.
What blessed bookends Abraham and Isaac make. Called to saving life and called to eternal life, salvation and resurrection, beginning and never ending, justification and glorification. But what are we to do in the middle? What are we to do with our justified lives before our glorified death? This brings us to the third inductee in today’s text, Jacob.
Jacob the Evangelist
“By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed”
Jacob got the effectual call during a wrestling match with God (ref. Genesis 32:24ff). He is limping and leaning on his staff in this snap shot from Hebrews. Jacob is not only limping, he is dying, at which time he will experience resurrection and reunion with his earthly fathers and Heavenly Father.
Jacob is in the Hall of Faith based on what he did with his life, from the time of his effectual call to the resurrection of his soul. Jacob was blessing people with the blessing he himself was blessed with by God. In other words, he was passing on the covenant by passing on the gospel.
We are all dying. Will the gospel die with us, or are we busy passing it on? Who are we blessing?
Jacob shared the blessings of his covenant relationship with God with family first, and I doubt he was bashful about his faith with friends and neighbors, either. All of the good and godly kings of Israel, including David, and all of the faithful prophets, like Moses and Elijah, and all of the outstanding women, like Esther and Ruth, received the same faith from Jacob’s blessing as covenant faith in God was passed on from generation to generation.
We can bless people with money, which will eventually be spent. We can bless people with food and water, which will eventually run out. But when we bless people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, this blessing endures forever and ever. And almost always, the blessing you share with someone else will be passed on to someone else, from generation to generation.
Life, real life, begins with the effectual call of God. You know it when you experience it, like Abraham. Life never ends for the child of God, although we do pass from death to life in the miracle of resurrection, like Isaac. Life in Christ is to be shared, blessings to blessings, family to family, person to person, like Jacob.
There is a God in Heaven! And indeed He is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. I pray He is your God, too.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org