By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
A young man was taking a written exam to be a police officer. The exam read: You are on patrol in your assigned zone when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street. On investigation, you find that a large hole has been blown in the sidewalk and there is an overturned van lying nearby. Inside the van, there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants—a man and a woman—are injured. You recognize the woman as the wife of your Sergeant, who is on vacation in Europe. A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you realize that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery.
Suddenly, a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent. Another man is crying for help, having been blown into an adjacent lake by the explosion, and he cannot swim. Describe in a few words what actions you would take. The officer thought for a moment, picked up his pen, and wrote: ’I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.’ In all of our lives, we will face seemingly impossible situations. We will be faced with the question, “Should I have faith in God or in myself?” These situations include unexpected deaths, job loss, fractured relationships and debilitating diseases.
Abraham had faith in God when he was asked to do the impossible, that of sacrificing his son Isaac. We can have faith in God when we are faced with the impossible. How can I have faith in God when I am faced with the impossible? Note three principles that will enable you to do just that (17).
God asked Abraham to offer up his “only begotten son.” The word “begotten” in Greek means “unique, one of a kind.” Abraham had a second son, Ishmael, through Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar but Isaac was unique. Isaac was the son of promise that came 25 years after God promised them that they would have a son.
The original account of this story occurs in Genesis 22. In verse one and in Hebrews 11:17, we are informed that God was testing Abraham. However, do you know who apparently was not notified that this was a test? Abraham. Nowhere do we read that the patriarch was under any impression that his faith was being tested. Had his faith in God grown stale or was it too comfortable? Did God need to do something to get him growing in his faith? All of this is merely speculation. What we do know is that God tests our faith in Him. The Apostle Peter wrote, “that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).
Your impossible situation may be a test of your trust in God. God could be asking, “Will you trust me or yourself?” Difficult situations are opportunities for us to step out into the unknown and put our faith to the test. Your difficulty may not be from Satan but from God Himself. See it as an opportunity for you to grow closer to the Lord.
Lean on the promises of God when it seems impossible (18).
The writer of Hebrews quotes Genesis 21:12 in verse 18. Genesis 21:12: “But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called’.” God told Abraham to agree with Sarah when it came to exile Hagar and Ishmael. God assured Abraham that Isaac, not Ishmael was the son through whom He would proliferate his ancestors. This quote underlines the truth that the divine call had singled out the line through Isaac as the line through which God would fulfill His promise. The first readers of Hebrews were both physical descendants of Abraham (Jews) and spiritual descendants (believers by faith in Christ).
Abraham knew that God was as good as His word. God had made a promise to the patriarch and he believed it. God would never break His word. Abraham knew that he would have a great progeny through his son Isaac. He may not have clearly understood how it was going to happen as he stood at the base of Mount Moriah, but he believed what God had said to him.
The Bible is full of promises that God has given to His people. Are you familiar with these promises? This is why Bible reading and sitting under biblical preaching are important disciplines in the lives of believers. We are to be intimately acquainted with God’s promises to us. Difficult situations can never undo, over-ride or nullify what God has said to us. His promises are bigger and stronger than any impossible situation in which we might find ourselves. Refuse to believe your situation is bigger than what God has said. Trust God and refuse to believe your situation can overshadow His promises.
Rely on the power of God when it seems impossible (19).
Abraham expected Isaac to return with him (cf. Gen. 22:5). The text does not state how this would happen. Abraham may have expected a resuscitation. He calculated that God could raise the dead. And note that a resurrection had never occurred in God’s story of redemption. Abraham had never seen, read or heard about a resurrection. Yet he believed that God could resurrect Isaac from the dead if necessary.
Verses 19 states that Abraham “received him [Isaac] in a figurative sense.” Some translations say “a parabolic sense.” “Figurative sense” can mean “type” as well. The author of Hebrews has been using the Old Testament as a type all throughout the book. In Abraham’s mind, Isaac was already sacrificed, dead and gone and Abraham received his son back as though he had resurrected from the dead.
This was not hard for Abraham to do because he was acquainted with the power of God. Earlier in this chapter we read, “Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore” (Hebrews 11:12). Abraham and Sarah were both past child bearing years yet the power of God moved on their bodies and caused them to reproduce. Both had seen the power of God at work. They saw God secure their release from Egypt via a dream in the mind of a pagan Pharaoh. Abraham had seen God’s power destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.
Our God is omnipotent and can do anything. His power can reverse your ‘impossible situation’. Our God who is powerful enough to resurrect the dead can do anything. Paul declared in Romans 4:17: “(as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did.”
What is it you are facing today that seems impossible in your mind? Remember you may be facing a test as to whether you will trust your ability or God’s. Remember also, that you are the recipient of hundreds of God’s promises. He loves you and is in complete control of your situation. Remember that God’s power is not limited. If He is able to resurrect the dead, He can surely rescue you.
Dr. Phil Wages
Education: BA in Biblical Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological College
M. Div. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
D. Min. in Expository Preaching from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Location: Winterville, GA
Background: I was in law enforcement for 11 years (1986-1997) before I entered seminary. I came to know Christ and was called to ministry while serving in law enforcement.
Harris Connection: Dr. Harris was one my professors in my Bachelor’s studies. I had him for Greek, OT introduction and several biblical exposition classes (Hebrews, Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon).
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- Faith for the Impossible - April 28, 2016