“Another Year Is Dawning” December 30, 2012
We’re going to get back to Romans 12 in a few weeks and finish our study
of that great chapter. But I’d like to spend a couple more weeks in Hebrews,
thinking about how the message of this book applies to the new year before us.
We’re going to focus on a few verses from the most famous chapter in Hebrews,
chapter 11, which is often called the hall of faith.
It’s called that because it presents us with example after example of great
men and women of God who kept eyes on Christ.
We’re doing to look at the verses that pertain to Abraham.
INTRO: World magazine last week had several articles about the Connecticut
school shooting. And as usual, I was impressed by the way World covers
news stories from a perspective that is so different from the major media.
One article focused on the spiritual climate of New England,
which is, of course very secular, very skeptical, very unchurched.
Illustrated with several examples how this secular outlook provided no foundation
and no comfort for those facing the shock and grief of these murders.
But the Lord has his people in New England.
And the article told about one large evangelical church in Newtown that is
bringing the hope of Jesus Christ into this dark place and this evil event.
They interviewed the pastor and it was powerful
There was one detail though that rocked me back on my heals—
three children in his church were among those killed in the Sandy Hook School.
I read that out loud to Allison and asked her: How would a church handle that?
How would a pastor find the strength to minister in something that bad?
Never in a million years did he think he would face that in the ministry—
three covenant children his church murdered.
There’s a line in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth
The character Macduff says:
Each new morn new widows howl, new orphans cry,
new sorrows strike heaven on the face.
That’s a sobering way to look at the future.
That each new morn brings grief and sorrows to some—
and one morning in this coming year, that grief might be yours.
How do you live confidently in the face of an uncertain future?
Remember the context of the book of Hebrews.
We’ve talked about it these past four weeks.
Hebrews was written for a congregation of Jewish followers of Jesus Christ.
These believers had once stood at the height of Christian maturity.
They endured persecution and loss. They gladly suffered and supported each other.
But over time, the cares and distractions of life,
the uncertainty, the threats of further hardship began to wear them down,
and they were in danger of drifting away from faith.
They were losing their confidence in Christ.
Over and over, the book of Hebrews addresses this in various ways—
calling these believers to persevere in the faith.
And chapter 11 lays before them a number of men and women of God
in the Old Testament and says: Look at their lives.
They lived with uncertainty just like you do.
They never knew what was coming in the future.
And they didn’t live in a magic circle, untouched by problems.
Had all sorts of problems and tragedies. Things didn’t always work out.
And yet, they lived great lives.
Weren’t mastered by life, they mastered life by faith in Christ.
And you can too, if you continue to live by faith in him.
Abraham gets the most attention in this chapter, the most verses.
That’s understandable. He’s called in Romans the father of those who believe.
And if there is a key verse in this passage, it has to be verse 8.
By 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.
You remember Abraham’s story.
His family had lived in Mesopotamia for generations, Ur and Haran.
Abraham was wealthy, cultured city-dweller.
That was his home. He got it there. He had a very comfortable, certain future.
And God said—Get out. Leave your country, your people, your father’s household.
Get out of your security, get out of your safety.
And Abraham obeyed and went. But look at the very last phrase—it’s so powerful.
He obeyed and went, “even though he did not know where he was going.”
He had no idea what was coming, and yet he lived a life of courage and greatness.
What might that be for you in 2013?
It might be a new door of opportunity opened to you, a new calling.
You may get the sense, through providential circumstances and the prompting
of the Holy Spirit that there is something new that will require you to leave
behind your sense of safety in the familiar.
That might be exciting, or it might not be. It might be scary or very sad.
Or it might be that you are pushed by God into uncertainty—
pushed by changes in your family, your marriage, your work, your health.
Things you would never choose, things you never saw coming.
And yet this is also God’s call for you to get out, leave things,
and follow him, not knowing where you are going.
How do you face an uncertain future? How do you face the changes that will come,
even the bad ones, in such a way that you don’t fall apart,
but instead grow in stability and confidence?
How do you master life, instead of being mastered by it?
Three truths in this passage for facing an uncertain future—
one negative, one positive, and one ultimate.
Let’s look at each.
But before we go any farther, I want to give credit where credit is due.
I got tremendous help on this passage from a sermon by Dr. Tim Keller.
These are his points, and I hope that they are as much of a blessing to you
as they were to me.
MP#1 The negative.
In order to live confidently in the face of an uncertain future,
do not set your heart on things working out according to your plan.
Let me put it another way:
Do not put your hope in and build your security on the things of this life.
We find this in this phase in verse 8 that we’ve already spent some time on.
He went out “not knowing where he was going.”
In other words, Abraham did not feel that he needed to know.
He was not anxious to know.
His heart was not set on having to know.
That’s because, in a negative sense, Abraham had not built his hope on his plans for
this life. He did not have this ideal future in which he had invested his dreams.
There was probably no better place to live in all the world during Abraham’s
time than Mesopotamia, except maybe Egypt.
But as secure and comfortable as life was in his country, among his people,
and in his father’s household, Abraham knew there was no real security.
He knew that he was living in a fallen world and that no matter where
he was, circumstances would come over which he would have no control.
I don’t say this flippantly, but you perhaps read that Newtown, Connecticut
was called “the safest place in America” and in 2005 Money had it in a list of
the most desirable places to live in America. Irony of that is painful.
Abraham had a vivid sense that even in relative security, his future was uncertain.
So when God said get out, and Abraham asked where?
He wasn’t bothered when God said: I’ll show you later, just go.
Because he knew that if he based his life on circumstances, on things working
out according to his plan, then he would be at the mercy of them.
Not that there is anything wrong with planning for the future and wanting
a peaceful, secure, comfortable life for yourself and family.
Of course we don’t live without plans, without saving, without insurance.
Of course we often make decisions that take into account happiness.
But here’s the difference: If you set your heart on those plans, and you don’t face
the reality that we live in a fallen world, circumstances will come that will mess
them up and shake you to the core.
Or it may be that God is telling you to go, to get out, to make some change—
but you are so concerned about knowing the future first, that your fear paralyzes.
God says go and you say no. Not until I know exactly what this means for future.
I was once talking to a pastor about another pastor.
You wonder what ministers do when we get together? Gossip about each other.
This man we were talking about had been dissatisfied in his church,
there were some low-level problems, he wasn’t happy.
And he had the opportunity to move to another church that he was sure was going
to be just great. He moved, and it was out of the frying pan into the fire.
If he was unhappy in old church, he was doubly unhappy in new one.
His plans for his future hadn’t worked out and he was miserable.
But what really surprised me was the lesson this pastor I was talking to drew from
our colleague’s situation. He said: That shows that the best chance for happiness
in the ministry is to stay where you are. Better to be in a church with the
problems you know, than to move to church you don’t know. I’m never leaving.
That didn’t sit well with me.
I thought—No, that’s not the lesson—it’s that you follow God’s calling.
His call might be to move or it might be to stay. And you have no idea what
you will face—good or bad, happiness or unhappiness—but he will be with you.
I didn’t argue, because this man was older, and I was a young man.
However, I did watch him follow his own advice over the years and he had a lot
unhappiness in later years that he had hoped to avoid.
This is the way we often approach our Christian faith.
We have the wrong expectations and ask the wrong questions.
What will Jesus do for me? Will he give me what I want for my life’s plan?
The man or woman of my dreams. The right school or work or standard of living.
But if you start asking will it work out as I want, will the Lord make it just as I
have planned—then it won’t! Bound to be knocked silly by circumstances.
But, if you start by asking: Is Jesus Christ with me? Yes.
Has he called me? Yes. Can I trust him even if I have no idea what future holds?
And you can start to develop a confidence that rises above your circumstances.
“Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.”
“Whoever loses his life will find it.” “His lovingkindness better than life.”
What made Jesus great? Was it that is life went so well?
Was it that his prayers were answered? Circumstances as he desired?
The most heartfelt request he ever made was: Take this cup from me.
And the Father said: No. Drink the cup of humiliation and pain.
He responded: Not my will but yours be done, and went out of Gethsemane.
Get your heart off your plans. You don’t know your future. You can’t.
Don’t imagine you can control it. Get your heart off your circumstances.
If you don’t, the uncertainty of life will clobber you. Second truth.
MP#2 The positive
In order to live confidently in the face of an uncertain future,
set your heart on the great plan that God has for you.
What is that plan? Look at verse 10.
Abraham had no idea where he was going, but looking forward to something.
For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Repeated in verse 16 as the hope of all the men and women of faith.
Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.
Abraham didn’t have to know what was going to happen in this life,
because he knew what was going to happen in the next life.
He was looking forward to heaven.
You don’t have to be a Christian to follow the first point, the negative point.
There are lots of people who are smart enough to realize that if they put their
hopes in their plans and circumstances, then life will be a disaster.
So they adopt the view—Life stinks.
Worrying won’t change things.
So I’m not going to hope, I’m not going to cry.
I’m just going to be a big boy and take whatever life throws at me
because that’s just how it is.
And that works in a way. You can get tough enough aren’t bothered by anything.
Can get tough enough that aren’t emotionally jerked around by circumstances.
But the cost is that you become cynical. You end up destroying feelings.
The philosophy of Stoics—turned their hearts to stone and called it peace.
But we weren’t made to have cynical hearts of stone.
We made to hope. We were made to plan.
We were made to feel pain and grief and to experience happiness and joy
and project that into our dreams for a future, perfect life.
We have to travel hopefully through life.
And in these verses we see that the reason Abraham was not overly concerned
about his circumstances and his plans for this life, the reason he didn’t
feel like he had to know what was going to happen, is because he knew
what was going to happen in the next life.
He deliberately, in a disciplined way, thought about heaven.
Doesn’t mean he never wept or got upset about losses here.
Doesn’t mean he always kept heaven perfectly in view.
We are told in Genesis of times he lost sight of the life to come
and tried to arrange things and force his plans.
But this was his big hope and it enabled him to courageously face unknown.
We don’t think nearly enough about heaven and the life to come.
If we did, we would be liberated in some significant ways.
For one thing, we would be liberated to enjoy and use good things.
Several years ago, we were in Asheville, North Carolina, and took kids to
a city park. It would have been a nice park, but people were living there.
I was sitting on a bench, watching kids swing, looked behind,
someone had gone to the bathroom. Ok, kids—we’re leaving!
City parks can be wonderful to visit, but when people start to live in them, gross.
Why? Because they are not made to bear the weight of a persons’ whole life.
It’s the same with your present life. If you can see your life on this side of heaven
as life in a park, then you can enjoy it, you can use it.
As long as you tell yourself: This is not my home.
Money is great. Status is great. Comfort and stability is great.
Family is great. Marriage is great. Politics, sports, business, education great.
But they aren’t your home. If you try to make them your life, will spoil them.
They cannot bear the weight of your expectations and hopes.
They don’t have foundations that will carry you.
And on the other side, heaven enables you to bear your losses and not fall apart.
If $500 was stolen from your pocket, but you have $5 million in bank,
you would be indignant about the theft, upset—but would shake it off.
On the other hand, if that $500 was all you had in the world, would be destroyed.
A lively view of the life to come enables you to see your losses here as
pocket change compared to what God has in store for you.
And in a related way, enable you to make costly, sacrificial decisions that are the
right thing to do—because you know that you will have more than enough later.
“This present suffering is not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed.”
God promises to supply our daily bread, but he does not promise pain-free life here.
Your hope is Christ’s return and the life of the world to come.
The Bible is saturated with that promise.
That is the future you can count on, dream about, hope for, look forward to—
and circumstances will never undermine it..
Our problem is that we just don’t think about it.
Too busy chasing our heaven here on earth—no wonder we struggle to face
the uncertainty of life with courage.
The negative: Don’t set your heart on things working out according to your plan.
The positive: Set your heart on the great plan, the great future, God has for you.
MP#3 The ultimate
In order to live confidently in the face of an uncertain future,
let your heart rest in your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
You can’t face an uncertain future only with negative and positive principles—
you need a strong person you can trust.
I read a book last week that Will got for Christmas about the Korean War.
Actually, it was about the American retreat from the Chosin Reservoir
during the first winter of the war after they were hammered by Chinese.
American army had to travel 70 miles on a narrow road through mountains—
often only making about 4 miles a day, mostly on foot.
It was 25 below zero, constantly under attack by pursuing Chinese forces.
The danger was that men would become so demoralized and fearful,
that the retreat would turn into panicked chaos.
I was struck by the way the men’s trust for one another gave them courage.
There was one description that was particularly good.
Author described this mountain road, steep ridges on each side, where enemy could
attack at any time. But they knew that Marines were patrolling those ridges.
Occasionally would see them up there. More often hear them in firefights.
It was trust in their brothers in arms that kept them from disintegrating in fear.
That’s the essence of faith—it’s trust in a person.
Vs. 11 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.
In popular American culture, many people think it doesn’t matter what you believe
as long as you are sincere. Just believe. Have faith in faith. Spiritual outlook.
Abraham did not get strong by looking at his faith. Didn’t tell self—just believe.
Didn’t hum Disney tune: “There can be miracles, when you believe.”
No, he got strong by looking at him who was faithful.
Of course, in the ultimate issues of life, there is no mere man who you can trust.
Because every person is sinful and mortal.
They will either let you down with their moral failures and weaknesses,
or they will be swept away by death. Except for one man.
In Genesis 15, after Abraham had left his home, followed God’s call, not knowing
where he was going, he began to have some fears and doubts.
So he asked God: You’ve promised to bless me, but how do I know?
You’ve said that if I am faithful, you will give me descendants, blessing to world.
How can I know you are faithful? But also, what if I fail? Didn’t trust self.
God said: Take a heifer, a goat, and a ram, a dove and a pigeon.
Kill them, cut them in half, and separate the pieces.
That sounds strange to us, but to Abraham it made perfect sense.
In that day, the way you made a contract. Didn’t write it, you cut it.
After making the agreement, two parties in contract or covenant would walk
together between the pieces as a way of sealing the deal.
Symbolism was: If I break my side of covenant, may I be as these animals.
Abraham expected that was about to happen, would be instructed to walk through.
But he fell into a deep sleep, there was a thick and dreadful darkness—
he saw as in a vision a smoking firepot and blazing torch pass between pieces.
This was an appearance of God himself, passing through the pieces.
Abraham realized the amazing promise made.
God was saying: If I am not faithful, let me be killed. Let immortal God mortal.
Which of course is impossible. God is God. Will always be.
But the other side of the promise wonderful.
And Abraham, if you are not faithful, I will pay the cost, so you can be blessed.
I’ve passed through the pieces for you, to cover all of your failures.
Abraham set his heart on that God, who promised to overcome sin and mortality.
In other words, he set his heart on Christ.
Jesus himself said, Abraham saw my day and was glad.
This vision in Genesis 15 was a foreshadowing of the cross.
Jesus suffered for our moral failures—he was punished for our unfaithfulness.
He was subjected to the intense darkness of the cross.
And as the man Jesus, he did not know what the future would hold.
He wasn’t omniscient. He only knew that only that terrible things lay ahead.
He was cut off from the Father in his greatest hour of despair and pain—
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
He was subjected to the curse of the covenant—so that you would be guaranteed
to get the blessing. You that your future would be secure.
So that all you uncertainty and suffering in this life will be redeemed.
How do you live confidently in the face of an uncertain future?
How do you look at a coming year and say:
No matter what is ahead, no matter what God has planned for me,
good or bad I can face it in strength.
By not setting your heart on your plans for your life,
by looking forward to the life to come—that is certainly true, have to do it.
But ultimately by trusting the Lord Jesus and his suffering on cross for you.
The cross—that assures you any pains you suffer this year will be redeemed.
The cross—that guarantees God has ultimate good planned for you.
The cross—that proves even your greatest enemies, sin and death, dealt with.
There’s an old hymn that says:
Isn’t that a powerful line—the wrecks of time. Many past, many future.
But towering over them—the cross.
In the cross of Christ I glory, Towering o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sacred story Gathers round its head sublime.
And your life, your time is part of that sacred story of redemption.
So keep your eyes on Jesus, on his cross, move with confidence,
like father Abraham, into his new year.