Pastor David B. Curtis


Faith's Trials

Hebrews 11:17-22

Delivered 06/15/1997

Blanch Taylor Moore was a woman who was loved and trusted by many men. When her third husband became very ill and was hospitalized, the doctors couldn't find what was causing him to be so ill. Finally, a doctor ran some tests that revealed a very high arsenic level. The police were informed and they suspected his wife. He wouldn't hear of it. She had nursed him and cared for him all during his illness and he trusted her. The more the police dug into her past the more they suspected her. Finally, after exhuming the bodies of her first two husbands and her father and finding out that they all died of arsenic poisoning, they arrested her. She was tried and convicted of murder.

The story of Blanch Taylor Moore is a classical story of trust betrayed. A wife, who one loves and trusts, proves to be a murderer. A wife, who one trusts as their best friend, proves to be no friend at all, but an enemy. A story like this reminds us of a very basic and simple fact of life, and that fact is this; All of our valuable relationships in life are built on trust.

When a husband and wife stop trusting each other ,they may continue to be married, but they can no longer have a happy marriage. When two friends stop trusting each other, they may continue to see each other, but they no longer have a true friendship. If that is true in our human relationships, how much more true in our relationship to God?

In one of the truly great statements of the Bible, the writer of Hebrews tells us, "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Hebrews 11:6). There is no way our relationship to God can be pleasing to Him unless we trust Him. The Christian life starts with an act of faith. When I come to the living God as a guilty sinner, who deserves hell, trusting in Jesus Christ and Him alone for my redemption, I am engaged in an act of faith. I've never seen God. I've never seen this place called heaven, or this place called hell. I've never seen Jesus Christ. But by faith those things which I cannot see become realities to me. They take on substance for me, and by faith, I gain assurance and conviction about things that my eyes cannot behold. That is what faith is all about. But trusting God for my eternal salvation is only the beginning. It is the start of a journey that cannot be traveled successfully in any other way but by a growing faith. As you look at Hebrews 11, it is very evident that the subject is faith. But as we examine the context, we see that he is not talking about saving faith, but living faith, not faith in God for our eternal life, but faith in God to carry us through our daily lives. The author of Hebrews is writing to Hebrew Christians who are suffering great persecution from the hand of their Jewish brothers. They are being tempted to turn away from Christianity and go back to Judaism. He is exhorting them to endurance in their Christian lives.

Hebrews 10:35-38 (NKJV) Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: 37 "For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. 38 Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him."

You need to hang in there believers, don't turn back to Judaism. Because in a very little while, (Hebrews was written some time between 65-69 AD) the Lord Jesus Christ would return and destroy Jerusalem, thus ending their suffering, making manifest who his true children were. If we understand the epistle as a call to go on believing in the truths of Christianity, chapter 11 makes a lot of sense. It is not an explanation of how to be saved. It is rather a call to perseverence or endurance in faith, whatever the odds. This chapter is an extended list of examples of Old Testament man and woman, who lived by faith in the midst of great opposition.

I think that it should be obvious that we can't live by faith unless we understand what faith is. Do you know what faith is? If someone asked you what faith is, could you explain it to them? Before we look at what faith is, let's dispel some myths. Some say that we live by faith every day. You turn on your faucet, fill a glass of water and drink it -- that's faith. You open a can of food and you eat it -- that's faith. Or you fly in an airplane -- that's faith. Those things are not faith! That is simply putting into practice what is called the law of mathematical probability. You are saying to yourself, "well, thousands of people do this everyday and everything is allright, so I'll do the same." I've grown up seeing people drink out of the faucet -- that is not faith. Faith is not superstition, it's not a sort of sixth sense, some intuition into the spiritual realm, or an open sesame sort of thing. Faith is not wishful thinking. I want a certain thing to happen, so I'm having faith that it will. Many people are like the girl who was asked to define faith. She said, "faith is believing what you know isn't so." That is what faith is to many. They think it is some sort of gamble. That is not faith. Faith is always intelligent, it knows what it is doing. Biblically defined, faith is understanding and assent to a proposition. If you were to ask me, "where is my money?" And I said to you, "The check is in the mail." Now, you are either going to believe me, which is faith, you are trusting in what I said, or you are not. No matter what the subject, whether it be God or guns, the psychology or linguistics of belief is identical in all cases. How many of you know what a M61 Vulcan is? It is a 20mm cannon with a rate of fire of 6,000 rounds per minute. That's 100 rounds per second. Do you believe that? Yes or no are your only choices. If you say yes, that is faith. You are trusting in what I have told you. Believing is always thinking that a proposition is true. The difference between various beliefs lies in the objects or propositions believed, not in the nature of belief. Faith must begin with knowledge, you can't believe what you don't know or understand. The Bible tells us that God is good. Do you believe that?

In this chapter, the writer explores the ways in which the trials of life can be met and triumphed over by faith. Every trial we face is an opportunity for us to trust God, and as we trust Him we grow in our relationship to Him. As an example of this, look at:

Isaiah 7:1-9 (NKJV) Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it, but could not prevail against it. 2 And it was told to the house of David, saying, "Syria's forces are deployed in Ephraim." So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind. 3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-Jashub your son, at the end of the aqueduct from the upper pool, on the highway to the Fuller's Field, 4 "and say to him: 'Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah. 5 'Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have plotted evil against you, saying, 6 "Let us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabel"; 7 'thus says the Lord GOD: "It shall not stand, Nor shall it come to pass. 8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, And the head of Damascus is Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken, So that it will not be a people. 9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, And the head of Samaria is Remaliah's son. If you will not believe, Surely you shall not be established."

Word came to Ahaz that trouble was coming, and he panicked. He knew Jehovah was the God of Judah, but he panicked. In verse 4, God tells Isaiah to tell Ahaz to quit worrying! In verse 9 we see a very important truth, "If in God you do not confide, surely in power you shall not abide." or " If you will not believe, neither blessing will you receive." POINT: The secret to victory in the experiences of life, is to trust in God. Every problem we face, every trial and every experience of life, is a call to trust in God. Hebrews ll: 6 says, "Without faith, it is impossible to please Him."

Let's not forget that the main purpose of our author throughout this chapter, was to demonstrate to his tried readers the great efficacy of faith: its power to sustain us in trials, to obey in the face of great opposition, and to obtain a blessing.

In verses 17-19, we see an example of faith in the life of Abraham. Here we see Abraham's faith put to the test.

Hebrews 11:17-19 (NKJV) By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.

These verses recall the most severe and unexpected trial of Abraham's faith, so much so that it was this trial, more than any other, that the strength of his faith was confirmed and established.

"By faith Abraham, when he was tried." The word, tried, is the Greek word, peirazo, (pi-rad'-zo) "to put to the test." Here it refers to the act of God putting Abraham to the test in order to prove his faith. We are all quite familiar with the story, but let's turn to Gen.22: 1-18 to familiarize ourselves with the details of the story. I think it is often the case, that familiarity with a story tends to dim its luster, it tends to blunt its cutting edge. The fact that we could read Gen. 22, and not be found in utter awe and amazement is an evidence of that fact. For surely, here we find one of the most amazing and startling incidents in the Word of God.

Genesis 22:1-3 (NKJV) Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

Here is a man (a real man, just like us) who is being commanded by God to perform a deed, which in itself seems absurd and destructive to the purpose of God. It was through Isaac that the promises of God were to be fulfilled. How could God ask this of him? Notice what Abraham didn't do : He didn't question God. "Are you serious, Lord? Did you mean Ishmel? Why God? Why do you want me to do this?" He didn't try to bargain- "Lord, I'll do it if you replace Isaac, or if you protect my reputation (what will people say if I kill my son?) or can someone else do the actual sacrificing?" He didn't get angry- "God I've had enough, I can't take any more. NO, I'm not going to do it, it's too hard, too costly."

We often respond in these ways when we are confronted with the commands of God, don't we? We question, try to bargain, or get angry. For example, how do you respond to:

Romans 13:1 (NKJV) Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

Do you question, "Do you mean President Clinton?" Do you bargain, "God I'll submit if you put a republican in office." Do you get angry? "God, I'm not going to submit to that person or to that law." We all submit when submission is easy, but what about when it goes against every fiber of our being?

Well, Abraham obeyed God, without question, debate, or anger and he obeyed immediately. Verse three says, "He rose up early", I would have overslept.

Heb.11:17 says, "offered up Isaac." The Greek word for offered is, prosphero, (pros-fer'-o) it is the same word that is used for the offering up of sacrifices. When it is said that Abraham offered up Isaac, the meaning is that in purpose and intention, he did so. The perfect tense is used here denoting Abraham's full intention to do as God had bidden him: his obedience was such that the deed was as good as done. HOW could Abraham do that? How could he draw back the knife to slay his son? How? He could do that because he knew the God with whom he was dealing. It was because Abraham knew, with a knowledge immovable, that God was infinitely Holy, and therefore, what ever he commanded was righteous simply because it was God who commanded it. He knew God was omnipotent, and therefore, if need be he could raise the dead. He knew that God was all wise, and although it seemed to be a very difficult situation, he knew that God knew what He was doing. It wasn't Abraham's to worry about how the problem was going to be solved. It was God's problem, Abraham's responsibility wasn't to figure out how Isaac would be delivered, His responsibility was to obey. He knew, with a knowledge immovable, that God was infinitely good.

Without a thorough confidence that God would never ask His children to do anything that does not have their well-being in view, Abraham would simply not have been able to honor God's command. It makes no sense to follow the directions of a guide whose motivation you do not trust. Our failure to readily follow God's commands reflects a lack of deep confidence in His goodness. The problem with unsteady commitment is not centrally a problem of the will; it is rather deficient belief. We simply do not believe that the God who commands us to a certain action is good. If we knew He was good, we would sense a deep desire to follow His leading in the same spirit with which Abraham responded to God's command. God's goodness must be clearly understood if His commands are to be gladly followed. An awareness of His character naturally stimulates a desire to follow His leading. In Genesis 3: 1-6 Satan's lie to Eve was that God was holding out on her. She questioned God's goodness, and so she disobeyed and so did Adam, thus causing the fall.

Believer do you understand the goodness of God?

Exodus 34:6 say's "And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth."

Not only is God good, but He is the only one who is. Jesus said in Mk. 10: 18, "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God." At times, all of us can do a good deed but, God is good, it is His nature. Only God is immutably good. Psalm. 52: 1 says, "the goodness of God endureth forever"

God is not like man, who can be good to you one minute and absolutely evil the next. He is always good. If God were not good, we would all live in constant fear of our lives. The goodness of God is his inclination to deal well and bountifully with His creatures. Psalm. 106: 1 says "O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good"

To sacrifice his son, made no sense to Abraham but he obeyed because he knew that God was good. Had Abraham not known the God with whom he was dealing, he would have failed miserably. The key to surviving the trials and difficulties in this life, is in the proper knowledge of God. Abraham not only knew God, he knew himself, and he realized that it was not for him, a sinful, finite creature, to question the word of his infinite Creator. To question the word of God, is to question the goodness of God. Man is in no position to question God. Our restricted human horizons incapacitate us for passing judgement on the thoughts and the ways of God.

Who has ever faced a trial so severe as Abraham's? Put yourself in his sandals for a moment, consider what he went through. By trying to put ourselves in the life situation of the characters of Scripture, we can come to a better understanding of what we are reading.

Abraham was not ordered to slay all his herds, but a human being; and not one of his faithful servants, but his beloved son. Think of the revulsion at the prospect of losing his child. Many of you have lost a loved one and you know how painful it is, but imagine how you would feel if you had caused the death of that person. Calvin said, "to be ordered to kill him with his own hand, is more terrible than any father's spirit can bear. He must have been stunned a thousand times had not faith raised his heart beyond this world." Could you cut your child's throat? Even knowing that God would raise them from the dead, could you do it? It certainly wouldn't be easy.

Gen.22:2 says, " Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest" Abraham loved Isaac very dearly, a son of his old age. He had waited for this child in fulfillment of the promise for 24 years, and he was to kill him. Abraham had other sons, but Isaac was unique and irreplaceable, he was the one through whom all the covenant promises were to be fulfilled. Gen. 17:21 says, "I will establish my covenant with Isaac." The death of Isaac was like the destruction of all the promises. How could God be true to His word if Isaac died? Abraham, as a man of faith, held tenaciously to the conviction, that what appeared to him to be an insoluble problem, was for God no problem at all. Though everything else was obscure, one thing was clear to him, namely, that God, whose word was unshakably true, had a way of resolving the problem which was as yet unrevealed.

He understood the truth of Lk. 1:37, "For with God nothing will be impossible" Heb.11:19, "Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead;" Abraham knew that God keeps His promises, even if He has to raise the dead to do it. Gen.22:5, "I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you." What great faith, "we will come again to you."

To worship is to bow to the divine will, which was to slay his son. Hebrews 11:19 says, "Accounting that God was able to raise him up." The word, accounting, is the Greek word, logizomai it means to reckon or reason. Abraham reasoned in his own mind, for three days he reasoned, "God is good, God is trustworthy, God is faithful, God is omnipotent, God is omnisciencent, and yet He has told me to sacrifice my son, the son through whom the promises are to come." He reasoned for three days and concluded that God was able to raise the dead. Isaac himself was a constant witness to the power of God to give life, where before there was the equivalent of death, because of the remarkable nature of his birth. Isaac was a miracle child, and God could perform another miracle just as easy.

Abraham's faith was strong, and by it he honored God. How do we increase our faith? There are two main factors which determine the strength of our faith. First is our knowledge of God. The main explanation of the troubles and difficulties, which most Christians experience in their lives, is due to a lack of knowledge about God (Theology proper). We need to study the revelation that God has given of himself and of his character. That is how to develop strong faith. Martin Luther said to Erasmus, "Your thoughts of God are too human." I think that is true of most believers today. Our thoughts of God are too human. We must study to know Him, it's hard to trust someone you don't know.

Romans 10:17 (NKJV) So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

The second element is the application of what we know. A knowledge that never ventures out upon what it knows will never be a strong faith.

Luke 8:22-25 (NKJV) Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, "Let us cross over to the other side of the lake." And they launched out. 23 But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy. 24 And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 But He said to them, "Where is your faith?" And they were afraid, and marveled, saying to one another, "Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!"

The disciples in the boat during the storm were failing to apply their faith, and that is why our Lord put His question to them in that particular form. He said, "where is your faith?" They had faith, but where was it? Why didn't they apply it to this situation? The problem was they didn't use the faith they had, they didn't think, they were caught up in their emotions. They were looking at the waves and the water coming into the boat. They were bailing it out, but still more was coming in, and they cried out to Jesus, "were going to die." Jesus responds to them, "where is your faith." Look what happened just prior to this incident.

Luke 7:12-15 (NKJV) And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." 14 Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." 15 So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother.

They had seen Jesus raise the dead, and they were worried about drowning? Does that make sense? In addition to our knowledge of God, there is this very important element -- we must apply what we know. Did David have faith in God? Yes, he killed Goliath. Did David always apply his faith? No, he acted crazy because he was afraid of Achish.

What is the purpose of trials? Why did God test Abraham and why does He test us ? We can find many purposes in the Bible for the trials we experience in life. 1. Trials show us and others the strength of our faith. The story of Abraham's trial is referred to in only one other N.T. passage.

James 2:21-24 (NKJV) Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. 24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

We see here that Abraham was justified by his works, his action in the trial, (verses 21 & 24). Justified by works? that's what it says, doesn't it? yes! Now doesn't the Bible teach that we are justified by faith ? Yes, it does, (Romans 5:1 & 4:1-5), Paul is saying that justification is by faith, and he uses Abraham as his illustration. James is saying that justification is by works, and he also uses Abraham as an illustration. How do we resolve this? We know that the Bible doesn't contradict itself. Look at:

Romans 4:2 (NKJV) For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

"But not before God" You cannot be justified by works before God, only by faith. Well what does James mean in verse 21? There is another justification and it is by works. The term justification has two uses 1. to declare and treat as righteous. 2. to vindicate, to show or demonstrate as righteous. Paul uses the first meaning and James uses the second meaning. By faith Abraham was justified before God and his righteousness declared; and by works he was justified before men and his righteous demonstrated. It is one thing to be cleared from all guilt because of your faith in Christ, but it is another thing to have our way of life acceptable in the sight of God. There are two kinds of justification; Abraham was justified by faith in Genesis 15:6. And Abraham was justified by works in Genesis 22, which was 40 years later. Verse 24 says that this justification is by faith & works. God tested Abraham and He tests us to reveal the depth and strength of our faith. To whom, God? No, God does not test us as though He were otherwise ignorant of what lies in our heart. God is omniscient. Through trials our faith is demonstrated to others and to ourselves. Apart from this trial, how would you know how strong Abraham's faith was? You wouldn't. Through trials we are justified, or vindicated or demonstrated as righteous to others and to ourselves. Apart from trials, you don't even know how strong your faith is.

Matthew 26:31-35 (NKJV) Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: 'I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' 32 "But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee." 33 Peter answered and said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble." 34 Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." 35 Peter said to Him, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And so said all the disciples.

Did Peter mean this? Yes, I think he did. But look what happened.

Matthew 26:69-75 (NKJV) Now Peter sat outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came to him, saying, "You also were with Jesus of Galilee." 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, "I do not know what you are saying." 71 And when he had gone out to the gateway, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This fellow also was with Jesus of Nazareth." 72 But again he denied with an oath, "I do not know the Man!" 73 And a little later those who stood by came up and said to Peter, "Surely you also are one of them, for your speech betrays you." 74 Then he began to curse and swear, saying, "I do not know the Man!" Immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times." So he went out and wept bitterly.

Peter thought his own faith was impregnable until the trial revealed its weakness. Probably, no one was more surprised than he of this tragic weakness of his faith. So the first thing we see is that trials justify us, they demonstrate then strength or weakness of our faith. Abraham probably surprised himself by how much he trusted God.

2. Trials strengthen our faith.

James 2:22 (NKJV) Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?

Abraham's faith was strengthened and matured by the trial. As he stepped out in obedience, his faith grew stronger. Let me remind you, as the writer of Hebrews continues to do, that if we do not trust God in the trials, they could turn us away from God, they could cause us to fall as Peter did, and thus dishonor God. How do you handle adversity? The stronger our faith, the more useful we are to God.

3. Trials wean us from worldly things. Material possessions or positions in life don't mean much to us when we are in the midst of a severe trial. Trials tend to help us focus our attention on things above, eternal things.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NKJV) Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

4. Trials reveal what we really love. What was dearer to Abraham than Isaac was? God. If God is really first in your life, you will care more about His glory than your comfort.

5. Trials help us to be more sympathetic to those who are suffering. They increase our capacity to love.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NKJV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

So God uses trials to: show us the strength of our faith, to strengthen our faith, to wean us from the physical, to reveal what we love the most, and to help us grow in compassion to others. Abraham passed the test and was justified. He stand as an example to us all ! What about Sarah? How did she respond to all of this? I'm sure she must have known what was going on. Put yourself in Sarah's position, mothers, would you let your husband take your only child, the child of your old age, the child miraculously born to you, and let him take the child off to kill him because God had told him to? Sarah was a woman of great faith also, (Hebrews 11:11 and 1 Peter 3;5 & 6). Ladies, remember Sarah the next time that your trial is brought on by a husband who wants to do something that to you seems ridiculous. Your responsibility is to submit to your husband and trust in your God.

Believers, sometimes things in this life just don't make sense to us, and we must simply trust in the character of God. Believer, do you trust God enough to go through a trial of the magnitude of Abraham's? Why not? Do you know the character of God? He is worthy of all our trust. Trials aren't meant to hurt us, but to help us grow into the image of Christ.

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