August 30: The Baptism of Mabel Foster and The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. –Hebrews 11:23-28

Seminary is a unique time in the lives of most married couples. It creates a kind of connection with the other students there that is different from many educational settings. Unless a church is paying for you to attend, it can be rather expensive since some of the better seminaries are private and don’t get government or denominational money. The result of all this is that by the end of seminary, most couples don’t have any money and aren’t graduating into jobs that pay much. There’s the financial pressure of trying to time the end of a property lease along with a move, and a host of other difficulties that occur especially around graduation.

We had some friends who were called to a small church in the deep South. That wasn’t terribly far from Orlando, and they didn’t have many possessions, so they thought they’d move themselves pulling a trailer without a top behind their car. It literally looked like the Beverly Hillbillies leaving Tennessee for southern California, with all their things piled high and held together with makeshift ropes and bungee cords with hooks.

Sometime later we ended up together at an event, and everyone told their stories about moving to their first church. This couple with the piled-high trailer said that they didn’t think to check any weather forecasts before leaving in the hustle and bustle of packing, and found along the way that a massive tropical storm had come inland from the north Florida coast. There they were at night in some tiny south Georgia town speeding along with all their worldly possessions exposed, trying to beat the storm to shelter. In their haste they said they went fast around a corner in that little town and heard something fall off the trailer and hit the street, but because of the impending storm, they didn’t even stop. Since I know hymns fairly well, I just blurted out, “Now that’s what I call letting goods and kindred go!” (from Luther’s A Mighty Fortress). We all had a memorable laugh.

History has documented a number of people who famously traded wealth (goods and kindred) for the sake of a life of faith in Jesus Christ. Many have been inspired by the story of St. Francis of Assisi who came from a wealthy family. He was seized by a passion for God and a love for the poor, so he tossed his wealth all away, literally, in the case of his expensive clothes, leaving naked from his father’s angry rebuke. Francis donned a simple robe and devoted himself to a life of preaching and prayer.

There is an even more famous person who traded having his best life now for his better life to come: Moses. The passage above reminds us that even before he was of age, a crisis of faith arose for him, and his parents chose to hide him instead of abort him. The King’s edict was that the parents could save their lives by aborting their male sons. But they weren’t afraid and kept him alive. Probably the most striking verse in this passage is v. 26, He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.

It’s striking because it shows an implicit loyalty to the Messiah by Moses’ looking ahead in the long purposes of God to that day when the true King (not Pharaoh!) would come. This is the King through whom believing Jews and believing Gentiles would finally be set free from all slavery. And that King is Jesus Christ, who shed all his great wealth and position to enter our fallen world that we may be free from sin and worldly riches. Though we may endure reproach because of it now, we will enjoy all the wealth of the universe in the treasures of the New Earth. And that’s the gospel!

Come hear it preached and enacted in baptism and the Lord’s Supper this Sunday!

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. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 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. –Hebrews 11:13-16

There is an incident burned into my brain. See, I grew up in the country, and when country folks of ruddy neck want to get rid of things, they sometimes have a ditch in the woods to deposit such items. For those who really know, there is even what appears to be a small parking lot back in the woods littered with old cars that don’t run anymore. Such was the case in the adjoining property with my dad’s land.

The owner had several old trucks back in a clearing, and some kids who lived down the road thought it would be fun to toss bricks through the windows of those trucks. When discovered some weeks later, the owner heard that my brother and I had engaged in the vandalism. (Mind you, they were worthless junk, but still they were his worthless junk.) The owner came into my dad’s shop and began accusing us of the wicked deed with harsh language and demands. I was horrified as I overheard the conversation, but my dad said he would talk to us about it and get back with this merciless prosecutor at a later time. The man barked out words that are hard to forget: “I hope you’re ashamed of those hoodlums you call sons!” To which my dad replied words now indelibly imprinted in heart, “No, I’m proud of my boys, so you go find your way home.”

The line in the passage above, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city, is about as powerful a statement as I can imagine. In relation to His children—most of whom had so disastrously sinned in their lives at some point—God is not ashamed to be called their God. How come? Because they were seeking, not just for a homeland, but for a homeland in the future beyond this present life. They were not satisfied to believe that their descendants would inherit the land. No, they were looking for an inheritance that they would share. Why is it that God is not ashamed to be called their God? Simply for the fact that they desired something better than what they could see (they greeted them from afar) and they desired a better country.

I think that’s remarkable. This point is, of course, that God is not ashamed because He had prepared that city for them. The writer introduced the City of God in the verses just prior to these. Where is this city? Certainly it is much more than poor, beleaguered Jerusalem! It is the “heavenly Jerusalem” (12:22; Rev. 3:12, 21:2, 10) –which isn’t the immaterial heaven most people today think of:  It is coming down from heaven to earth as part of God’s whole project of recreating, and so reuniting, all creation. Hope in that, and God is not ashamed to be called your God.  And that’s the gospel!

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday.

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. 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. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 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. –Hebrews 11:8-12

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my most powerful memories is being on the “Million Dollar Highway” between Silverton and Ouray, Colorado, at night. At one of the highest elevations of this awe-inspiring road, we stopped and got out of the car. Without any artificial light even at the horizon, and in that dry, mountain air, I could see what looked like an entirely different sky than anything I’d ever seen before. As a boy, I enjoyed lying on the grass in rural Pontotoc County looking up at the stars, but this was a whole new experience in Colorado. I couldn’t help but feel confused that anyone would look up at that vast expanse and doubt that only someone as great as God could do such a thing.

In the passage above we’re told that the descendants of Abraham, i.e., the descendants of the eternal covenant of grace, would be as many as those uncountable stars above. The Bible doesn’t spend much of its space trying to prove God’s existence on the basis of the extraordinary things of creation. It certainly says that the creation is evidence of God—even to the point of being condemning!  But creation is more of an illustration of what God does and is capable of doing than proof of His existence.

Abraham and Sarah have a faith that is celebrated in this passage. It’s not simply that they thought they heard an alien being speaking to them and decided to go with it. Rather, it is that the Creator God is the absolutely trustworthy one who can give life where there is none, and keeps His promises, and they believed it. Part of that promise was about land. Imagine the contrast: Abraham was promised a homeland even though he was a nomad with no fixed home, and remained that way until they died. The closest thing they had to an abode in the Promised Land was a grave!

And the writer to the Hebrews tells us that what got them through was a forward-looking to a city with foundations, founded not by people, but by God. This is the first mention of the city in Hebrews, but it will be a major theme until the end. When the original audience hears about an important city, they obviously think of Jerusalem. David’s ancient capital with Mount Zion, the Kidron Valley and the temple has been a focal point for them. But this was an Old Covenant shadow of the New Covenant reality, and somehow Abraham and Sarah knew that. From Abraham to the Messiah, people of faith had that mindset. We have the benefit of Revelation 21 and 22 to understand that the New Heavens and the New Earth are what Abraham and all the faithful had as their goal. The original audience of the book of Hebrews doesn’t have Revelation, but they do have a great deal of evidence for this mindset.

They must learn—we must learn—that the faithful today, those pleasing to God, are only those who look to the One who has guaranteed a land that is fairer than day. Faith enables this standing. It is a righteousness that comes by faith alone that all God has promised is true. And it is true in Jesus Christ. And that’s the gospel.

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!