David Jeremiah - Faith That Death Cannot Destroy
I heard this week that there were once three sisters. One was 92, one was 94, and one was 96, and they lived together in the same house, and one night, the 96-year-old drew a bath, and she put one foot in the bath, and then she paused, and she yelled out loud, "Am I getting in the tub, or am I getting out"? And the 94-year-old hollered back, "I don't know. I'll come up and see". So she started up the stairs, but she stopped on the first stair, and she shouted, "Was I going up, or was I coming down"? The 92-year-old was sittin' in the kitchen, having tea, and listening to her sisters with a smirk on her face, and she shook her head and said, "I sure hope I never get that forgetful," and she knocked on wood for good measure, and then she yelled, "I'll come up and help you both as soon as I see who's at the door". It's not funny, is it?
Let me just read these verses to you from Hebrews chapter 11, verses 20 to 22: "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instructions concerning his bones". It's a interesting thing what's in those verses, and one of the reasons why I wanted to just devote this time is to remind us that God does some wonderful things with people when they're in their twilight years.
I think of Caleb, one of my favorite people in the Bible, and the Bible says about Caleb that, when he was 85 years old, he still had the strength of a 40-year-old, and Caleb did his best work for God when he was 85. When all the rest around him were refusing to take the challenge to take the land that God had put in front of him, the Bible says Caleb chose the hardest place, and he conquered it. And the Bible says about Caleb that he was a man who had a different spirit in him. Four or five times, in the story of Caleb, we're told that he had a different spirit. Whatever that spirit was, that's the spirit we should covet as God's people. And we have just finished the story of God's intervention in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, who, during their twilight years, God bless them with a son.
Frederick Buechner reminds us again of that wonderful miracle. He writes in one of his books, he says, "Take this child born in the geriatric ward for which Medicare picked up the tab, this child named Isaac, which means 'laughter,' Abraham and Sarah laughed at first because they didn't believe. They laughed at the sheer possibility of it. Then they laughed because they were told that they would have a son when they had reached an age when they didn't even dare to buy green bananas. And after the child was born, they laughed because they did believe. They laughed that when Sarah went to Walmart, she was the only shopper to buy both Pampers and Depends. And they laughed that both parents and baby had to eat the same strained vegetables because nobody in the whole family had a single tooth".
That was too good to leave out. I had to put that in there. In this household of Abraham and Sarah, where age and amusement mingled, there was a legacy of finishing strong. In the book of Hebrews, our author focuses his attention on the twilight years that Abraham apparently passed on to his son Isaac, to his grandson Jacob, and to his great-grandson Joseph. In the case of these three men, they were all at the close of their lives, and, yet their hearts were full of expectation. Their faith was truly the substance of things hoped for. As different as these three men were from one another, they had this one thing in common: They all three were men of faith, right up to the edge of their lives. They had faith for the future, faith that even death could not destroy. They all died in faith, but before death, they passed their blessing on to their children and their grandchildren, and they looked to the future for the fulfillment of God's blessing in their legacy.
We read first in the 11th chapter in the 20th verse about the faith of Isaac: "By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come". And my mind begins to spin as soon as I read that because you know the convoluted story of that from the Old Testament. The blessing of Isaac on Jacob and Esau had reference to the realization of the divine promises, and it is particularly striking that this blessing was given at the end of the patriarch's life so that, just as his days on earth were closing, his mind was occupied with things to come, and he wanted to pass this on to his children.
And here's what it says in Genesis. Look at the screen, and you will see this passage: "Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren, and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her, and she said, 'If all is well, why am I like this?' So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, 'Two nations are in your womb, two people shall be separated from your body. One people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.'"
Jacob was the younger. Esau was the older, and Esau was the one that Isaac loved the most, and Isaac wanted to give the blessing to him. In trying to change the blessing of God, Isaac was at first acting in rebellion because it seemed as if he was going up against the Almighty. Enter Rebekah. If Isaac was failing in his physical health, Rebekah was falling behind in her spiritual health. She was a deceptive woman, and she decided to take things into her own hands. She knew what Isaac was trying to do, but she also knew that Isaac was old and that he didn't see very well anymore. She knew that he could be deceived if she were clever enough.
So you know the story. She dressed up Jacob to impersonate Esau, and the deception was successful. "Then Isaac said to Jacob, 'Please come near, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.' So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, and he felt him and said, 'The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.' And he did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like Esau's hands, so he blessed him". The sad thing about the conduct of Rebekah, who set this deception up, is the impact that her actions had upon her son Jacob. He became a deceiver, just like she was, and it took the majority of his life to get back to the place where he should have been from the very beginning. Esau threatened to kill Jacob for stealing his blessing, and Jacob left home in order to preserve his own life, and Rebekah never again saw her favorite son for the rest of her life.
God did intervene on behalf of Jacob. In the process, Rebekah's deceptive methods ultimately accomplished God's purposes, but God was not pleased with her. It never is right to do wrong in order that good may come. God incorporates our disobedience into his overall plan, but that doesn't mean he approves of it. God could have accomplished his divine purpose without Rebekah's help, but just like the bad example that was set for her by her mother-in-law, Sarah, who had used Hagar to try to help God keep his promise, in both cases, the families suffered dire consequences. Since Esau was the firstborn, he should have had both the birthright and the blessing, but earlier in Genesis, we read of the lost blessing of Isaac's first son.
Genesis 25. "Now Jacob cooked a stew, and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. And Esau said to Jacob, 'Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.' Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, 'Sell me your birthright as of this day.' And Esau said, 'Look, I'm about to die, so what's a birthright to me?' Then Jacob said, 'Swear to me as of this day.' So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils. Then he ate and drank, arose, and he went his way. And Esau despised his birthright".
The blessing and the birthright was not just some ceremonial formality. The blessing was very real. It was not just Isaac's blessing. It was God's blessing as well. And confused by Jacob's costume and nearly blind because of his old age. Isaac blessed his younger son with these words: "Therefore may God give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. And let the peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren. Let your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be those who bless you.'" And no wonder Esau wept when this happened.
Have you ever heard anything as pitiful as what you read in Genesis 27:38? "'Have you only one blessing, my father? Bless me, me also, O my father.' And Esau lifted up his voice, and he wept". And once again, our minds are stretched by this story, and, yet what we know is this: God did bless Jacob. Our text from Hebrews reminds us that Isaac blessed Esau as well. Hebrews 11:20, says, "And Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau". And although it fell way short of what he supposedly would have had, Esau also received a blessing from his father. Here's what the book of Genesis tells us: "Behold, your dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother, and it shall come to pass, when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck".
From all of this, Jacob was made rich with blessing and birthright, but if you read his story, oh, you know that he paid dearly for his deceit. And he was deceived by his own sons in the same way that he had deceived his brother. Isn't it interesting how these things pass generationally from one generation to the next? He also endured deception at the hands of Laban, his father-in-law. Sometimes go back and read that. It's almost like God was, point by point, making Jacob experience everything he had caused to happen in his family. God's blessing did not automatically give Jacob an easy life.
If you read the story of Jacob, most of his life was a big struggle. The faith of Isaac, you know, when I read these things, you know, we often think of the people in the Bible, "Oh, they had this faith, and they just lived these perfect, pristine lives, and there were no complications and no issues". Every one of the stories is convoluted. Every one of the stories is thinkin'... You know, we've said almost every week when we've been studying the 11th chapter, "How did they get in the Hall of Faith"? How do any of us get in the Hall of Faith? Aren't you glad that God blesses us in spite of ourselves?
I had a friend, years ago, who fell into sin. He was a wonderful friend, and when I heard the story, when the phone call came to my office, I was so brokenhearted. I had looked at this man as a great example, and he was a pastor, and he'd gotten in trouble. I prayed, "How do I help him"? Several weeks later, I was reading in the Old Testament. I came across this verse about David. With the exception of the thing involving Bathsheba, David pleased his God. With the exception of that one thing, David pleased his God. And you know what? We have a tendency, as God's people, to judge folks on the exception and not on the rest of their lives. God judged David not on the exception, but on the rest of his life. Did it make the exception honorable? No, but, as you know, David accomplished a great deal after that sin because of the forgiveness that he sought from the Lord.
Now, I've often remembered that story and remembered how, in our own lives as we interact with each other, sometimes we see somebody do somethin'. It's not really who they are. It's the exception to who they are, but we judge them on the exception, and we never let 'em off the hook. Maybe we should take a clue from the Old Testament and say, "With that one exception, they walked with God". Well, that's what we need to say about Isaac, a really strange story about his blessing. But notice the faith of Jacob in verse 21: "By faith Jacob, when he was dying, bless each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff".
The Bible says that Jacob worshiped God and blessed his grandsons. What a way to die. Worship in his heart, blessing on his lips, power in his hands, history is replete with the result of his blessing. If you ever have a chance, you go through and chase what happened to those who were blessed by God, as opposed to the ones that were wanting to be blessed by man. The faith of Isaac, and then the faith of Jacob, and here's the last one in our three verses, the faith of Joseph. "By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the departure of the children of Israel, and gave instruction concerning his bones".
What in the world could that mean? Of all the Old Testament characters we have learned about in Hebrews 11, there's one guy who stands out among the most decorated of them all, and that's Joseph. Once again, it's interesting to observe that this man, Joseph, is mentioned in connection with the end of his life. In spite of all that surrounded him in Egypt, he was concerned about the promises of God concerning the return of his people to the land of Canaan. You remember, Joseph was 17 years old when he went to Egypt, and he was 30 years old when he was promoted to the second place of responsibility in the land of Egypt. So he spent 13 years under the influence of pagan Egyptian culture, and he lived in Egypt until his death at the age of 110, but he never forgot who he was and where he belonged.
Despite the fact that his palaces and his great riches were all in Egypt, and even though his great achievements were in Egypt, the earthly monuments to his wisdom and skill in saving the nation from famine, Joseph knew that his future lay with the promises of God. And if Joseph could not live there in life, he wanted to go there in death, and he told them, "Don't you leave my bones in Egypt. You go get my bones, and you carry 'em up out of here, and you take 'em to the Promised Land with you when you leave". The Bible says in Joshua 24:32, that "The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel had brought up out of Egypt, they buried at Shechem, in the plot of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for 100 pieces of silver, and which had become an inheritance of the children of Joseph".
And we read in Hebrews 11:1 and 13 through 16, these words: "Now Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, they were assured of them, and they embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on this earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better place, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them".
Wow, Joseph was a man of faith. Can you believe this? Long before he died, he said, "Look, I know we're gonna go to the Promised Land. I know you're gonna be there. I don't wanna be left behind. I'm not gonna make the journey. I'm not gonna live long enough. I'm gonna die, and when I die, I want you to promise me, don't you leave my bones in Egypt. I don't want this to be the place that I'm buried. I wanna be in the Promised Land with God's people". And they honored that, and Joseph's bones were buried in Israel. I have to tell you that, as you mature a little bit in life, these kind of stories become very precious to you. You look out over the horizon that is in front of you, and you realize that there's a lot of things you need to do if God gives you time, a lot of things you need to care for.
You know, leaving a legacy to your children is a very important thing, a legacy of faith, godliness, goodness, legacy of hope. I learned from these stories how vital that is. I'm not in any way thinkin' about being old or aged or anything like that. I don't know how old I should feel right now. One man said, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were"? And I feel young, but I also know that, like all the rest of us in this room, one of these days, we're gonna see the Lord. In Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, we are reminded that God expects us to live by faith right up to the bitter end. And the last breath, when we have nothing left to give in terms of our own human energy, we find a way to bless the generation that is to come and let our blessing be a blessing of faith that will carry them on into the days of their uncertainties and be ultimately solidified and established in the years that are before us should the Lord tarry.
I don't know about you, but that's the way I want to live. I wanna live by faith now. I wanna continue to live by faith in the future. I wanna live by faith right up to the edge. I wanna, by faith, live, by faith, die, by faith, look forward to what God has for my own life and for my children and my grandchildren. The Promised Land for us is yet ahead. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph tell us how to get there, how we should act along the way. I had godly parents. My mom and dad were godly. But my father, bless his heart, my father was not... He surely wasn't... You could never say he was a stroker. He never said, "You did well".
If he came to my basketball games when I was playin', he'd see the shots I missed. He'd not see the shots I made. And when we got home at night, we talk about how I missed the layup when I was all out there by myself. Took me a long time to get over that. When my father died, I was on a cruise ship, believe it or not, in Alaska, and my son came in and told me that my father had been in a surgery that we thought was routine, and something happened, and he didn't make it through the surgery, and the first thought that came to my mind was, I don't think I ever got it right. I don't think I ever got it right.
And I made a decision that day that I don't want my kids to think that about me when I'm gone. Isn't that what the blessing is about? The Bible says that, when he was old, Jacob blessed all of his children. Go back and read Genesis 49. The whole chapter is about the blessing of one man on his children. I wanna be that kind of a man. I sense you do too, but sometimes we let little picky stuff get in the way, and then we don't do it. So let me tell ya, stop it. Quit it. Don't do that anymore. Do what you need to do, and get it right with your kids and your grandkids, and bless them. You know what our kids want more than anything else from us is they want our blessing.