November 25, 2018
What is the American Dream? The idea can be traced to our Founding Fathers and founding documents like the Declaration of Independence in which people are said to be created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, which include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – defined by Francis Shaffer as personal peace and affluence. The Dream was popularized in a 1931 book by James Truslow Adams entitled Epic of America, in which he wrote, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or birth.
Wikipedia defines the American Dream as, “a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.” That’s a good definition – I suppose I’d summarize it as, the opportunity for freedom and prosperity for all. Regardless of how you feel about the large immigrant caravan right at our southern border, I suppose that’s why many made the over 2000-mile trip, largely by foot, from Guatemala and Honduras – in search of the American Dream.
Of course, in preparation for Christmas and your personal pursuit of the Dream, let me share some highlights of this year’s Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog:
Top Secret Mission: Become A Secret Agent In Las Vegas – This exclusive mission will give you the opportunity to work as a secret agent. As special agents, four guests will fly to Las Vegas via private jet for a three-day, two-night espionage adventure. Arrive at your mission via private jet, helicopter and limousine and luxury accommodations at Waldorf Astoria. The mission will include: high-speed drives in Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren supercars; shooting handguns, rifles and machine guns; and detonating exploding targets, shooting guns from a flying helicopter. Adrenaline junkies will love jumping out of a plane at 12,000 feet. During the adventure, you will get fitted for a hand-tailored suit by a master tailor, enjoy top-secret dinners, receive exclusive access and VIP tables to nightclubs and be paired with a casino host for high-stakes gaming. Price: $315,000. That’s $105,000 per day.
The Serenity Solar Yacht – This exclusive one-of-a-kind 74-foot yacht is the largest solar-powered yacht in the world. The interior is inspired by Neiman Marcus Fashion Director Ken Downing and includes three levels, full kitchen and four cabins accommodating up to 12 people, including a crew of four. Price: $7.1 million.
One more just because I like it. Animal Sculpture By Bjorn Okholm Skaarup And Trip To Italy – Create your own custom creature to be cast in bronze. Danish sculptor, Bjorn Okholm Skaarup will bring your life-size creation to life. Okholm Skaarup is best known for fanciful animal sculptures including his more than 15-foot-tall bronze Hippo Ballerina on display in New York City’s Lincoln Center. And now, a custom creation can be the centerpiece of your home. You’ll fly to Florence, Italy, to spend time with the sculptor at his studio, see some of his most famous pieces, and finalize details of his unique sculpture for you. Perhaps you have a favorite pet that will be merged into a 14-foot tap dancer or something more realistic like a life-size tribute to your cat, your custom creation is left to your imagination to create an iconic piece for your home. Price: $200,000. For a 14-foot cat.
Well, I suppose that Christmas Catalog is not available in Guatemala or Honduras. Where else but the United States and our American Dream. What is it you dream about? What is it you want wrapped under the tree this year? What is it you want in your personal pursuit of happiness? What is it for which you would travel 1,500 or 2,000 miles by foot?
It’s interesting to note the Bible records a similar immigrant journey of 1600 miles by foot – looking forward to the fulfillment of a dream. The difference between this dream and the American Dream is the certainty of the one promising its fulfillment. Not Founding Fathers in a Declaration of Independence, but a heavenly Father and His eternal word.
We are in a study of the book of Hebrews, having arrived at chapter 11, the Hall of Faith. The author is encouraging a group of Jewish believers who were facing persecution and as a result, considering quitting their new Christian faith. Maybe that’s where you are – someone made some promises of prosperity in the Christian life, and it hasn’t delivered. And you’re considering quitting. This letter includes many warnings – many encouragements in the midst of opposition – and, as yet, unfulfilled promises. So, to quit, or not quit. The author turns his attention to a who’s who of faith – those who through time remained faithful to God, despite struggles and trials and opposition. To this point, we’ve seen:
- Abel, who offered a worship of faith and was opposed by his brother, to death.
- Enoch, who lived a walk of faith in the midst of a wicked world.
- Noah, who demonstrated a work of faith, in the midst of that same wicked world.
Bringing us to our text today – the beginning of the story of Abraham and Sarah. Let’s read it, Hebrews 11:8-12.
What is it for which you live? For which you dream? Hold out hope? “for he was looking for a city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
In this chapter of great heroes of faith, our author devotes more time to Abraham than anyone else. The ones so far received one verse each. Abraham’s faith is discussed from verses 8 to 19 – 12 verses. Which isn’t too surprising, I suppose. The Jews revered Abraham more than any other. They were proud to be his descendants. Interestingly, rabbis long taught Abraham pleased God by his works. They thought God looked down from heaven to earth, sought and found the most righteous man, and because of his goodness, chose him to be the father of the Hebrew nation. Yet, the NT teaches Abraham was a man of faith, who acted on faith. Consider:
In Romans, Paul is talking about how people are justified – declared righteous – by faith. He gets to chapter 4, and uses, of all people as the example of faith, Abraham. Listen to what he says:
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
Paul goes on, in fact all of Romans 4 is about Abraham and his faith. Paul also wrote in Galatians 3:
5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
6 Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”
9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
I could go on – much is written in the NT about the faith of Abraham, to include our text in Hebrews today. And so, writing to these Jewish believers who were considering abandoning Jesus and returning to the Law, the author writes to say, even the patriarch Abraham was a man of faith. Returning to the Law will do you no good. So be like father Abraham. How? Look at the text with me with this outline:
- By Faith, Abraham Departed (8)
- By Faith, Abraham Believed (9)
- By Faith, Abraham Persevered (10)
- By Faith, Sarah [and Abraham] Conceived (11-12)
We see, once again, these people made it into the Hall of Faith because they lived by faith. Verse 8 tells us by faith, Abraham departed – that is, he left his homeland. By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. Several thoughts here.
First, Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldeans in modern southern Iraq. Contrary to what the rabbis taught, Abraham was not a righteous man who worshiped the only true and living God. Joshua 24 says, “Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River [that is, the Euphrates], namely Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.”’”
They served other gods, to include Abraham. Those other gods would likely have been Anu, the sky god; Enlil, the air god; Enki, the earth and water god; Nanna, the moon god; and Utu, the sun god. He worshiped false gods. A familiar verse in Isaiah 51 says, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the LORD; look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” And we often think, remember who you were when God saved you – the rock and quarry from which you were dug. And that’s fine, I suppose, but the context is, remember Abraham and Sarah from whom you came. They were not worshipers of the true God, but God chose them anyway. He sovereignly chose Abraham and gave him a promise – which Abraham believed – and God credited that to him as righteousness – his faith, not his own righteousness. So Abraham is hanging out in Ur when God appears to him and tells him to leave and go to a place God would show him. We read about that in Genesis 12:
1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you;
2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing;
3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
4 So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
Now, it seems God appeared to him in Haran, which is a little over halfway from Ur to Canaan. But Stephen sheds some light in his OT survey speech in Acts 7. It seems God appeared to Abraham while he was still in Ur. Abraham then took his father Terah, his brothers, to include his nephew Lot, and his wife Sarah, and traveled as far as Haran. Then, after his father died, he left his still living brother, took Lot and his wife, and traveled further to Canaan.
Here’s some things I want you to see. First, the wording in Hebrews 11 is such that when he was called – or as he was being called, Abraham obeyed. It seems the command had hardly left God’s mouth, and Abraham was leaving. Now it is true, he was to leave his father’s household, and he took that household with him, and they only made it to Haran. Regardless, the authors of Scripture point to Abraham’s immediate, albeit incomplete, obedience. I wonder how much God has to speak to us before we obey, remembering that delayed obedience is merely disobedience.
God said go, and Abraham left. Can you imagine what it was like as he was packing? His friends said, so Abraham, what are you doing? Packing. Why? We’re moving. Really, where? West. Where West? I have no idea. Why? God told me to go. Oh, why didn’t you say so. Which one, Nanna, Utu? No, Yahweh. Who?
Abraham obeyed and went to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, even though he did not know where he was going. And we remember the definition of faith in verse 1 – the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Abraham believed God, and went to a place he’d never seen. There were no travel brochures. He simply obeyed by faith, and trusted God.
Which brings us to verse 9 – By Faith, Abraham Believed. Don’t miss what verse 9 says, “By faith he lived as an alien, a stranger, in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs according to the promise.” When Abraham got to Canaan, God said – this is it. Lift up your eyes and look – to the north, south, east and west – all that you can see will be yours. And by the way, he made the same promise to Isaac and Jacob.
But a careful reading of the book of Genesis reveals they never received the promised land. By the way, this is the only place in the Bible where the land is referred to as the land of promise. You see, Genesis 12 promises the land to Abraham and his heirs. They received the same promise. And yet, the only land Abraham actually ever owned was the burial plot he bought to bury Sarah when she died. Jacob ends up leaving the land of promise for Egypt. The book of Genesis ends with the Israelites in Egypt – with Joseph in a coffin.
Further, this verse in Hebrews 11 highlights the transitory nature of Abraham’s sojourn. He’s called an alien in the land of promise – that doesn’t sound like a permanent resident – like he belonged there. Almost like an illegal alien. He lived in a foreign land – the emphasis being it was not his homeland – it was a foreign land. Further, he lived in tents moving from place to place – no permanent dwelling in the cities. Finally, they were all fellow heirs of the promise – but when they died, they were still heirs. They had not received the land promised. In fact, verse 13 will say, “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises…” In Stephen’s OT survey in Acts 7, he said, “But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground.”
So how? How did Abraham continue to live by faith, having not received the things promised? Point 3, verse 10, Abraham persevered because he knew the promise was ultimately not about the earthly land of Canaan. Even Canaan was a type of their ultimate inheritance. Oh how we would understand and live that way. All of a sudden, the American Dream would not be so important. Why is it we live as though this is all there is? As if a nice house, couple of nice cars, a picket fence, a solar yacht, a trip to Vegas, a 14-foot statue would be ultimately satisfying and fulfilling? How is it that, as people of faith, we are so easily distracted? We too are people who live in tents. How so? Because this place is not our home.
How could Abraham do it? For, verse 10, he was looking for – eagerly awaiting is the idea – a city which has foundations, which speaks of stability, unshakeable permanence, as opposed to temporary tents – a city whose architect and builder is God. That is, the one who designs it and builds it. Abraham lived with an eternal perspective. The “fulfillment” of physical land, physical stuff here, was nothing compared to the promise of the city to come. This city becomes an important focus in the rest of the book. My brothers and sisters, that it would become a focus of our lives now. We are not living for what we can acquire here. Hebrews 12 will say:
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels,
23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,
24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant…
That’s what we have. Hebrews 13:14 says, “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.” Is that what you live for? Is that your dream? Is that what you hope for, and build your life around? The city to come. Do you dream of mansions beyond your wildest imagination? Let me read to you of your inheritance to come (Revelation 21):
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.
2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,
4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.
7 “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.”
That is the inheritance that awaits us, the city whose architect and builder is God. That makes paltry the American Dream, and it is an eternal assurance – for those who believe. It is something worth living for. You see, the prosperity gospel gets it wrong in two ways. First, they promise prosperity now – and it is not now, it is to come. And secondly, they promise prosperity in stuff, but the ultimate prosperity is this – we get God. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be My son. That’s the sure dream for which we live.
Finally, very quickly, we see by faith, Abraham and Sarah conceived, verses 11-12. You’re likely familiar with this part of the story. When they moved to Canaan, Abraham was 75, Sarah 65. Sarah was barren – that is, she had no children. And yet, the promise was Abraham would be the father of many nations – his descendents would number the stars in the sky, the sands on the seashore.
By the way, the name Abram means exalted father, and Abraham, to which his name was changed, means father of many. Could you imagine a neighborhood barbeque? Hi, how you doing, I’m John, what’s your name? Abraham. Father of many? How many children do you have? None. And yet, God promised. And in Genesis 15, we read Abraham believed God about that particular promise, and his faith was credited as righteousness.
Verses 11 and 12 indicate both Sarah, who initially laughed, and Abraham considered the one who made the promise faithful. And when they were beyond child-bearing years – she beyond the proper time of life for having children; he as good as dead – they were given the ability or power to conceive. They had Isaac when Abraham was 100, and Sarah 90 or 91. And the rest is history – their descendents number the stars in the sky, the sands on the seashore. But remember, they didn’t live to see that, either. Sarah died with one son of promise – Isaac. Abraham died with one son of promise, when Jacob, his grandson, was 15. Hardly a multitude.
But, they believed God. By faith, they left Ur and moved to Canaan, even though they didn’t know where they were going. By faith, they believed God about inheriting the land, even though they never did. By faith, they conceived and had a single son. How did they do all that? Because by faith, they looked for something better to come – even though they died without receiving the promises. Do you see the point the author is making? We can live by faith if we live undistracted lives – eyes focused on the promises – whether we receive them in this life or not. Because the best is yet to come.