December 2, 2018
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts began serving in 2013. Since 2016, she has been a favorite target of President Donald Trump, who has disparagingly called her Pocahontas. I won’t discuss whether the President of the United States should engage in name-calling, but the issue arose when Warren claimed Native American ancestry in her employment with Harvard University – some suggesting doing so to gain advancement through minority quotas.
Well, a few months ago, she took a DNA test, releasing the results in October – proving she did indeed have some Native American ancestry. While mostly European, apparently she is 1/1024 part Native American – less than the average American. President Trump had pledged one million dollars to a charity of her choice if she took the DNA test and proved her ancestry – he has yet to donate the money.
I share the story because DNA tests are all the rage. Spit in a cup, swab your cheek, send it in, and for about $50 to $200, in about four weeks you can discover your racial, ethnic ancestry. Most popular DNA tests include MyHeritage, Ancestry, LivingDNA, GPSorigins, etc. You might be interested to know if you’re thinking about a gift for that special someone in your life – some websites currently have Christmas cyber specials going on – you can gift a DNA test to family members. They are all the rage. Did you know, for example, that more people took DNA tests in 2017 than in all previous years combined? It’s quite popular.
The purpose, according to the websites I visited? Again, to discover your ethnic ancestry – find out where you’re from – who you are – save the trip to the top of a mountain to meditate. Discover and connect with lost relatives. Fill in your spotty medical records to determine potential health risks. You should know, however, submitting your saliva to different DNA companies may, in fact probably will, bring back differing results. In other words, the science is not precise.
Why do I bring all this up today? Well, I want you to know I ran your DNA for you. Not really – I don’t want anyone suggesting I invaded your privacy. But if I did, I would find the following, undeniable, unequivocal facts: First, I would find that we all share four common ancestors. You want to know your ancestry? I tell you right now, for free. Everyone on the planet shares the DNA of Adam and Eve, and Noah and his wife. All of us come from them. In that sense, we are all related.
But second, if our DNA test could somehow include spiritual paternity, we would find we are either children God or children of the Devil. From a spiritual perspective. The commonly held belief that we are all children of God is simply not true. In John 8, Jesus told the Pharisees they were of their father, the devil. Not the best way to win friends – if that’s your purpose in life. Further, we are all either children of Abraham, the father of faith, or not. We are all either children of Isaac or Ishmael. Oh, not in the sense of Jew or Arab, but either children of the free woman, or children of the slave woman. I’ll let you look that up in Galatians 4. Either a child of the promise, or not. A child of faith, or a child of unbelief.
In our study of Hebrews, the author is writing Jewish believers who were facing severe opposition – persecution. Martyrdom was right around the corner. As a result, some were considering quitting Christianity and returning to Judaism. He warns them, and encourages them don’t do that. As we’ve arrived at Hebrews 11, he is now giving a compendium of people of faith. Many who were similarly opposed, but remained faithful. In fact, many did not receive the promises, but remained faithful nonetheless – people of faith – until their dying breath. This is his encouragement to us. Today, we’ll see, as a result, we prove to belong to God – and He is not ashamed to be called our God – further, He has prepared a city as an inheritance for us.
You’ll remember we’ve already looked at three men of faith – Abel, Enoch and Noah. Interestingly, the Scripture records those last two walked with God. That brought us to the next two on the list – Abraham and Sarah. We began with them last week. By faith, Abraham left his home city – his homeland. That was a big deal – people weren’t as mobile as we are. They tended to be born, live and die in the same place.
But God appeared to Abraham and told him to go to a place he would receive as an inheritance. Amazingly, Abraham left, even though he did not know where he was going. Further, when he got there – Canaan – God said look around, this is it. It’s all yours. And yet he remained an alien in the land of promise – living in a foreign land, not his homeland. They lived in tents, no foundations, always mobile, never permanent, and Abraham never owned anything, except the burial plot where he buried Sarah. When he was negotiating to buy the burial plot, he said, “I am a stranger and a sojourner among you…”
Further, Abraham believed when God said he would have descendents as numerous as the sand of the seashore, the stars in the sky. Abraham and Sarah counted the God who promised faithful – and as a result, they had Isaac, the son of promise, in their old age – when barren Sarah was past the age of childbearing, and Abraham was as good as dead.
But Abraham believed God, and that faith was counted to him as righteousness. To be declared righteous by God has always been a matter of faith in God, and His provision for the forgiveness of sin. Today, that provision is only in the death, burial and resurrection of His own Son, Jesus.
And yet, these persecuted believers were considering leaving Jesus. So, the author writes to encourage them – God’s people have always lived by faith. In the midst of opposition – live by faith. This is a broken world – people are naturally enemies of God – you will be opposed. But believe. Consider, even Abraham lived by faith. Even though he never received the things promised. He never received the land, he never saw the fulfillment of the promise that he would be the father of many nations. But that did not invalidate the promises. And Abraham died believing the promises of God – because God is faithful. Here’s an important truth to grab today – God’s faithfulness is not dependent on fulfilling His promises in your lifetime.
How did Abraham remain faithful? Verse 10 from last week, “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Abraham understood that Canaan was never the ultimate fulfillment of the promise. He looked forward to a heavenly city. He somehow understood that physical descendents through Isaac were never the ultimate fulfillment of the promise. The city to come would be populated by people of faith. Bringing us to our text this morning – Hebrews 11:13-16.
So, my brothers and sisters, whose blood is coursing through your veins? Again, don’t leave and misquote me, suggesting I said you have divine blood. But I am suggesting as people of faith, God is our God. He is not ashamed to be called our God. And He has prepared a city – the city to come – for us. We are strangers and aliens – citizens of another country. Our DNA is somewhere else.
Let me give you a brief outline of the text – but here’s my purpose today. To remind you as people of faith, this place is not our ultimate home. We, too, are strangers and aliens on earth. And we, too, are seeking a country of our own. Do the DNA tests if you want – find out where you’re from in this melting pot we call the US. But, more importantly, let me remind you not where you’re from, but where you’re going – where you belong. Here’s the outline:
- Our Already-Not Yet Promise (13)
- Our Country to Come (14-15)
- Our God and Father (16)
Do you understand – the President of our country and a United States Senator are having spat over DNA ancestry. Calling names. Republicans and Democrats, leaders, at their best. I love our country. I love its freedoms, particularly the freedom of religion, one the main tenants of its founding. But, as she rapidly declines, we are reminded, we belong to a different country – a heavenly one. We have a different DNA. When God took out our hearts of stone and gave us hearts of flesh, it started pumping different blood. Don’t get too wrapped up in the silly spats of this life – which can evidence itself in racism. Am I European, Native American, Asian, African? Don’t really care. I am a citizen of heaven. With God as my Father – and you, regardless of ethnicity, created in the image of God – as my brothers and sisters.
Verse 13 says all these – likely referring to Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob – all these died in faith. They maintained their faith till their dying breath – notice, without receiving the promises. Namely, the land, the descendents as numerous as the sands on the seashore, the stars in the sky. True, Abraham and Sarah had one son of promise – in fact, Hebrews 6 says:
13 For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself,
14 saying, “I WILL SURELY BLESS YOU AND I WILL SURELY MULTIPLY YOU.”
15 And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise.
Well, that’s a little confusing – did Abraham receive the promise or not – chapter 6 says yes, chapter 11 says no. Which is it? Well, he received a son named Isaac, he never received the fullness of the promises. We’ll come back to that.
Isaac had two sons – Jacob and Esau – but only one was the son of promise. Jacob had twelve sons, who would become the twelve tribes of Israel. But when Jacob went to Egypt in a famine, he left the land of promise – with only 70 in his family. Sure, that’s a big family, but hardly the numbers God promised. And Jacob died, in Egypt. As we saw last week, these three – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – even Jacob’s twelve sons, did not receive the land of promise. So where’s the land? Where’s the great nation? Father of multitudes?
And further, God said through a descendent of Abraham, all the nations of the world would be blessed. We understand through a descendent of Judah, one of the sons of Jacob – through the line of David – the Messiah would be born. His name was Jesus, and yes, through Him, all the nations of the world are being blessed.
But, they did not live to see the fulfillment of any of those promises. And yet, they died in faith – having seen the promises and welcomed them from a distance. Which means, they saw them with the eyes of faith, and believed them, even though they did not receive them in this life. Does that nullify or make void the promises of God? Certainly not. Because God is faithful – and His faithfulness is not dependent on the fullness of the promises in our lifetimes.
Not only that – in welcoming them from a distance, they confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. In other words, they didn’t belong here. This place was not their home. This is interesting – remember, the as yet unfulfilled promise was a promise of land. But even then, they knew earthly Canaan was not it. They were strangers and exiles in that land – yes, they did not receive any of it. But that’s not what verse 13 says – it says strangers on the earth. You see, it didn’t matter where they lived – or what title deeds they had. This place was not their home.
So how does this relate to his readers – which include us? Have the promises been fulfilled, or not? Like Abraham, yes and no. You see, it depends. Yes, the land of promise was given to the Israelites. Yes, the nation of Israel became large – in a sense, as numerous as the grains of sand and stars. But that’s not it. Just as the land of promise was ultimately a spiritual land – a city to come – so also were the descendants spiritual descendants – those who would be people of faith. And as such are descendants of Abraham.
And the promise of a descendent of Abraham, of the tribe of Judah, of the family of David – has come. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas and Easter. Jesus, the Messiah, was born. And He came to be a blessing to all those who would believe the gospel. But the fullness of the promises have not yet come. Yes, we enjoy a relationship with God – as we’ll see in verse 16, such that He is our God. But we are not yet living in the fullness of His kingdom, in the city He has prepared for us. We are looking for, even longing for the coming of Christ – when we will inherit the kingdom in all its fullness. Until then, we too confess we are strangers and aliens. Exiles on earth. Looking for the city to come.
Which brings us to our second point – Our Country to Come in verses 14-15. For those who say such things – that is, that they are strangers here, this place is not their home – they make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. Interestingly, we see it’s not just a city, but a country. And we remember the words of Paul in Ephesians 2:19, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of the household of God.” We were strangers to God’s household – but no longer. Through the Gospel, we have been brought near. But that has made us resident aliens here. Peter in I Peter 2 says:
9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.
12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
We are a holy nation, a people belonging to God, with a country yet to come. A country of our own. Notice verse 15 – And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. Meaning, if Abraham and Sarah wanted to, they could have returned to Ur of the Chaldeans. Their homeland, right? No. They were not thinking of that country, either, but another. Again, nothing wrong with DNA tests to show where you’re from – but that’s not home.
You see, as it is, verse 16, our final point, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, because they have their eyes fixed on that which is to come – the final and full fulfillment of the promises of God, God it not ashamed to be called their God. As one said, “God is not ashamed to be called their God because they took Him at His word.”
Just as chapter 2 said Jesus was not ashamed to calls us brothers and sisters, so also, God is not ashamed to be called their God. I love that. We remember a number of places in Scripture say He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They’re dead and gone – but He is still their God, because this is not all there is – I suppose we could say they are now living in the fullness of the kingdom as citizens of heaven. And notice, He is not ashamed to be called their God. Even more. While Enoch and Noah are said to have walked with God, James 2 actually says this:
23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God.
Can I therefore say God is not ashamed of calling those who believe Him, friend. Not in an overly familiar sense – but in the sense that we walk together in fellowship with God. Further, He has prepared a city for them. That is the not-yet part of the promise for which we wait. Yes, Abraham’s descendants are as numerous as the sands on the seashores and the stars in the sky – and we are a part of that. Yes, all the nations of the world have been blessed through a descendent of Abraham – through Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus Himself told His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them, that where He is, they can be also. Yes, God has prepared a place, a city for us. And we await the final and full fulfillment of that promise. And it does not matter if the promise is fulfilled in our lifetimes – we will believe till our dying breath.