"Faith in the God Who Keeps His Promises"
Hebrews 11 is the beloved “Hall of Faith” passage, which illustrates what it means to hold fast to faith, to “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Spirituals giants like Abraham and Moses are mentioned in these verses as our examples of what it means to trust in God with firm confidence in His character and promises, believing that He will keep His Word even when you cannot see Him at work.
At first, it’s surprising to see Sarah, Abraham’s wife, mentioned (Hebrews 11:11). While no saint mentioned in this passage was perfect (Abraham lied twice about Sarah being his wife, Jacob was a continual trickster, and Moses struck the rock at Meribah in anger), in Genesis we’re told Sarah laughed when she learned of God’s plans to use her barren womb to bring about Isaac. Yet here the text tells us Sarah “received power to conceive, even though she was past the age, since she considered Him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11 ESV). Sarah, rather than being scolded for her disbelief, is commended for her faith!
I think the story of Sarah stands out to us because it’s our story, too. Sometimes it is far easier to doubt than to believe that God will keep His promises. Sarah had waited for years for a child, and she had to have known she was past the point of fertility. And then, God appeared with this crazy plan to expand their family by giving them a son, whose offspring would outnumber the stars in the sky (Genesis 12:1–3, 15:1–6). At first, Sarah took matters into her own hands to make this plan happen by encouraging Abraham to have a child with her maidservant, Hagar. And yet that wasn’t how God was at work. When she heard God’s plan again, she laughed in disbelief. And yet, eventually, God worked to change her heart, to bring her to a place of faith where she was not laughing in cynicism at God but was laughing in delight with Him as she held the promised son, Isaac.
It’s appropriate to think about Sarah’s story in light of the Christmas story. It seems unbelievable that a woman far past the age of conceiving would give birth to a healthy baby, and that through that lineage, God would indeed extend Abraham’s family far beyond their wildest dreams! But it’s even more inconceivable to think that God would visit a young virgin named Mary, and that she, too, would be given a Child of promise—Jesus—who would save the people from their sins. And through His life, death, and resurrection, many more would have the opportunity to call themselves the very sons and daughters of God. Yet this is our story and our song, that God abhorred neither the womb of the barren nor the womb of the Virgin, but kept every one of His promises, which ultimately found their fulfillment in Jesus.
Hebrews 11:1-16 (ESV):
1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
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.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.