Field of dreams was on tellie recently, I haven't seen it for ages… does anyone else know it? It's a strange film, very whimsical and fantastic, from back in the days when Kevin Costner was a full on Hollywood movie star… and he plays a farmer who's a baseball tragic, and one day in the corn fields he hears a voice whispering on the wind 'if you build it they will come' … and he sees a vision of a baseball diamond right there in his field and the ghosts of his baseball heroes running around on it. The vision persists until in the end he ploughs up his field, pulls up the wheat and starts building a baseball diamond. He builds grandstands – bleachers as they call them in baseball; he builds a club house… and he invests all he has in the hope that 'if you build it they will come'. And as you might expect he has issues with his wife, who doubts his sanity; with this wife's family – who are confident of his insanity; and with his bank who want their money back. They all think he's crazy… but he has this hope in his heart and this voice in his head 'if you build it they will come'. Of course, he builds it and in the end they do come, the great heroes he longs to see, and his dead father too; and along with them the long line of cars full of paying punters who rescue his finances. And what is it all about? You tell me, I've got no idea – was it a fantasy? Did he actually go mad? Does he wake up the next day and it was all a dream? Who knows …
But what I can tell you is that that right there is an example of a man who lived by faith. And, just like our section of Hebrews 11 tonight, his faith led to a deep and sustaining hope for the future. That hope directed his actions, sustained him in all his difficulties and put joy in his heart long before he saw it fulfilled.
Did you see all that in the passage? Because, aside from faith – which holds all the chapter together - the common thread that links Isaac, Jacob and Joseph here is that they all received the promises from God, but not the fulfilment… they lived in hope, and they all died holding on to those promises with hope in their hearts.
So we're to see that faith looks forward in hope of receiving what was promised.
Now Hebrews gives us three verses, those three verses summarise Genesis 27-50. There's a lot that happens through these 23 chapters of Genesis; each of these men has a tale to tell of difficulties and troubles through which God sustained him; and each has a tale of remarkable signs of God's presence with them and God protection over them, and of God's blessing on them, and through them to others – just as God had promised to Abraham 'I will bless you and I will make you a blessing'… But we notice that in Hebrews, for each man, their great and significant lives are reduced to one moment – the moment of facing death. And how did they face death? They faced death with hope for the future. They died, but they died with faces set to what was still to come, they didn't give up hope, but died in confidence that God would fulfil his promises to them and to their descendants after them.
Whatever had gone before they weren't looking back resting on their laurels, nor were they stewing in discontent; they were resolutely looking forwards, looking to the day when all God's promises would be fulfilled. So these verses are about hope, hope in the face of death, hope fuelled by faith in God, hope that puts joy in our hearts; hope that God will make good on all of his promises.
So our structure tonight is a simple one of following each of the characters in turn to see what they teach us about living in the hope that comes by faith. And the big idea? Living by faith includes, and is typified by, looking to the future with hope. And true hope directs our actions, sustains us through life and death and gives us Joy. So what does each father show to us:
By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
There's quite a lot that's not said here – we don't hear Isaac's story of marriage to Rebecca, or of the ways that his life mirrored his Father Abraham's, even down to having his wife taken by Abimilech, just as his Father did. And there's nothing here about the sibling rivalry, of how Esau was Dad's favourite and Jacob was mums, nothing about how Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of Lentil stew. There's nothing here about Isaac continuing to live as a nomad like his father before him, without any land in Israel except the burial plot that Abraham bought to bury Sarah, where Abraham was buried and where Isaac was buried too.
Hebrews doesn't even tell us how God re-iterated the promises he'd given to Abraham saying
I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky, I will give your offspring all these lands, and all nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring
If you want to know more about that you'll have to read Genesis 23-28. But while none of this said we are expected to know it all. And it is significant, but God draws our attention simply to the blessing. Why this? Two things I think:
1) he has nothing of the land himself, he's not a great nation, nor is he proverbial as a blessing for others – the promises of God seem far off in his day, but the very things that seem so far off, he leaves to his sons – and
2) Jacob comes first in this verse, but Jacob is the younger… and so Hebrews draws our attention to the great deception by which Jacob stole his brothers blessing.
In these two things we see that Isaac lived in hope, and passed that hope down as his family inheritance, just as his father passed it to him. And we're subtly reminded that the blessing is God's to give. So Jacob received the blessing that Isaac wanted to give to Esau. God had revealed it at their birth that the older would serve the younger(Genesis 25.23-26), but it took serious deception on the part of Rebecca and Jacob to thwart Isaac's intention to pass the blessing on to his (beloved) eldest son.
Why are we reminded of that here? When Esau came seeking the blessing Isaac told him the blessing had gone to Jacob. So he speaks out of faith, trusting that was has been promised in the blessing will be given by God. There's sadness here – Isaac had the promise from God that was good for one son and tragic for another, and it broke him up – he was distressed for his eldest son who missed out on the blessings, but he didn't give up on God even though God's choice distressed him.
What is Isaac like? Richard Williams - Venus and Serena Williams' Father – he invested in his kids future, he had a dream for where they could go and worked to get them there. sacrificing all for the sake of the future for his kids… Perhaps with this illustration might get a sense for the heartbreak in this father – better for Venus and Serena to be elevated without their other siblings than for all to stay low without the superstars in the family… but still sacrificing the whole family for the sake of the few must have been hard…
Application for us: Keep hold of God's promises even if they seem far off… Keep hold of God's promises even if they seem to leave our loved ones out – hard, but trust God even in that…
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
Again a lot is left out here – of Jacob's life, his flight back to his father's household, his long years serving his uncle, his two wives, two concubines and twelve sons. All significant, but all passed over here. He blesses Joseph's sons – what is significant about this? Two things. First, Jacob blessed all of his sons, and like Isaac before him passed on blessing from God. But Joseph was the son who he lost – remember his brothers sold him into slavery and passed him off as dead to their father – to Jacob. For perhaps 20 years Jacob assumed him dead and mourned for his lost son. But miracle of miracles God restored his son to him – and how! Joseph who was lost is restored, and now with a family of his own, and wealth and honour, power and influence. In fact the son who was lost becomes the son who saves by providing food for the family and the whole region in the famines. So when Jacob comes to the end of his life and blesses his sons he takes Joseph children as his own. They will be reckoned as his children. The father who was bereft is now enlarged. God is GOOD.
And Second, like his father before him Jacob blesses the younger above the elder, and this deliberately, as if re-enforcing that it is God's choice that matters, not the order of nature and the expectations of custom and honour. Jacob speaks of the promise given to him by God – to increase his family into nations (and that's on the way) and to give him the land. So he gives Joseph's boys a share in the inheritance of the land, one share each as if they were his own kids. But hang on, he's passing it on when he hasn't come into possession of it. He lives in hope, by faith.
The last thing we see about Jacob is that he worships as he leans on the top of his staff. This leaning is a reference to his weakness of old age – he leaned on the top of his staff because he lacked the strength to stand on his own. He was dying in other words, mortal weakness was taking him, and for all that he had walked a long time with God and seen his grandchildren and even his great grandchildren, still he was going to his grave with the promises unfulfilled – so why did he worship God? Because he went to his grave looking a far way off and seeing the fulfilment of all of his hopes; he looked to the future and saw the fulfilment in confidence in God's power to do all that he had promised.
Jacob was a man who warred with everyone, and experienced long seasons of discouragement, but who held on to hope in God. In the end God restored to him the son who was lost, and even more, two sons considered his: but he did not let this distract him from the future promise, this restoration simply encouraged him to believe all the more in the God who restores what was lost.
What is Jacob like? Like the father who sacrifices all for the sake of his kids and begins to see them enjoying success of a type that might distract them from the truer and deeper success that he has strived for (perhaps he's raising Einstein and young Einstein has become distracted with a burgeoning interest in Rock guitar!) The prayer of the Father is that the kids, however successful they might be in other fields might not stray from the one essential thing.
Application for us?
Hope keeps us focused on the one thing that matters Hope sustains us through the loss of good things
God restored to him what was lost and then some more… and that was a sign of God's love and blessing, but not the final blessing itself, even this blessing from God was not to distract him for the future – same for us, when God is gracious to us and restores the things we gave up to follow him, need to guard our hearts that they don't distract us from the future hope.
By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.
Joseph, like his fathers went through hardship and then into wealth and comfort – but he went to deeper depths – sold as a slave, imprisoned for something he didn't do – and to greater heights – even to the very summit of political power in the ancient world, only just below Pharaoh in power and honour and prestige. But again that's not where our focus or interest lies.
How did he die? Was he looking back and resting on his laurels? Not at all… his heart wasn't captured by the years of glory in Egypt, his hope was still back in the Promised Land and so he had his brothers – the very brothers who sold him into slavery – swear an oath to take his bones back there. Why does it matter to him where his bones lie in his death? Because he lives and dies by God's promise; in asking for his bones to be moved he testifies even in death that he did not live for riches in Egypt, but he lived for riches in heaven. His hope was set upon the promises of God, not upon the riches that he can not take with him. God's people appeared to be set for life in Egypt – with the priests they were the only free people in the whole land, the rest of the people having sold themselves into slavery in order to gain food for themselves from Joseph… but Joseph knew that they had not arrived in the land of blessing yet, and he proved correct that the people would need to leave Egypt before they could come into the fullness of God's blessing –and how interesting that he says that it will require the aid of God to bring them out of Egypt. He looks forward to that day of God's deliverance and says that the will not rest in peace until it be fulfilled and so he directs the thoughts and hopes of his descendants away from the place where they seemingly live securely and says to them that they will never be home until they go to that land that God had given then –and the tells them to look forward to that land because God will surely take them home in due course.
Joseph was one who also experienced long discouragement, but also one who experienced all the success that can be in this world – fame, honour, wealth and immense power and privilege – but he did not let that success distract him from the greater blessing that God held in trust for him in heaven. He encourages us not to hold onto our success and the trappings of worldly blessing at the expense of heavenly blessing.
What is Joseph like? The Aboriginal people's who sued for the return of the head of their ancestor from the British Museum. 1000's of aboriginal people's bones are stored in museums around the world and have been subject to effort to restore them to their ancestral lands. Offensive to pack people's bones off to a museum without consent, as if they were an animal or artefact… difference here being not a belief that the spirit will not be at rest until bones restored to ancestral lands, but the symbolic power of the promised land – he kept his sights on it, never settling in Egypt so that it became home, just like the exiles prayed towards Jerusalem and wept for it in Babylon.
Don't let success or failure take your eyes off your future hope.
The thing about hope is that it looks for that which remains unfulfilled – we have been included in Christ, but we have not yet physically sat down with him in the new creation, we have not yet been made new, we have not yet said goodbye to sin and weakness and fear and oppression and death… but we will one day do all those things. In the face of fear and weakness and oppression and loss we hold onto the hope that eternal life is just around the corner – there is an eternal city where we hold our citizenship and where we will meet the definitive 'yes and amen' to all of God's promises, and all of our hopes.
Each of these men finished the race standing entirely on the promises of God – they were sure of the things they hoped for and certain of the things they could not see. This is more of a future oriented sermon than last week, which was more focused on the question of God's provision for them. If we live by faith we look forward to the future with confidence not based on how many children we have or what achievements we have managed in the past or our wealth or security or worldly strength or power, but on the basis of what we can not see – on the basis of God's promise.
What is the significance of this for us? They faced death with confident hope and with blessing on their lips and praises for God. So should we. We may face death in horrible circumstances that appear to call into question God's goodness and provision for us, or we might go to our graves old and full of years; but we need to remember that it is not the wealth or the political security or the brilliant education or anything else that we pass on to our children that will secure their future, but it is only the promise of God that will secure them – and the promise is enough no matter what else is going on! All three – Isaac, Jacob and Joseph – show us that hope is key to holding on through the tough times, and they remind us that things are judged by the ending, not by the journey… but it is in the way that we conduct ourselves on the journey that the destination is determined. So hold on to hope, the one hope that is strong enough to sustain us through all of life – the hope of God's eternal blessing: Forgiveness and reconciliation and restoration in a renewed creation, in short – Heaven.