Cultivating Faith Series (Part 1)

Cultivating Faith:  A Man Set Apart 

Abraham lived roughly 2000 years before the time of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He lived in a world that spiraled down out of control plummeting into the depths of idolatry.  Abraham’s father Terah dwelt on the eastern side of the Euphrates River.  He raised his family in an atmosphere of idolatry.  They all served other gods (cf. Joshua 24.2).  And yet, God set Abraham apart from the wickedness of idolatry to Himself and for His glory.  God chose to preserve truth and the revelation of Himself in the earthly family of one man named Abraham.  So God called Abraham, and he had to choose to leave his country and all his familiar surroundings to occupy a land that God would show him in the future.

Now the LORD had said to Abram:

Get out of your country,

From your family

And from your father’s house,

To a land that I will show you. 

(Genesis 12.1)

Set Apart from the World

God has not called me to leave the idolatrous state of California for some earthly location that He will determine at a later date.  He hasn’t called me to leave my family or all that is familiar here in this great place.  But He has set me apart from earthly things in Christ.

  • He demands that I set my mind on things above, not on things on the earth (Colossians 3.2).
  • “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5.19).
  • Even so, God commands me not to love the world or the things in it (1 John 2.15).
  • “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul writes in Romans 12.2.
  • “Friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4.4).
  • We must “come out from among” the idolaters in the world “and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6.17).
  • “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6.14).
  • We must confess with those who have cultivated a life of faith before us that we too are strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Hebrews 11.13).

We are very comfortable in the world in which we live.  I’d say a bit too comfortable.  We should be grateful for the freedoms and comforts that we have.  We must use these as tools to reach the lost with the Gospel.  But if our world collapses and we suffer, we shall be able to strengthen and encourage one another to continue in the faith.  Is it not true that we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14.22)?

As with Abraham, we must hold onto the things of this world loosely.  The good things of life cannot keep us.  The evil will not divert us.  We desire a better, that is, a heavenly country just as Abraham did.  God has prepared a city for us (Hebrews 11.16).

“Forget your own people …your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him” (Psalm 45.10-11).  It is in this sense that we are set apart from the world.  While some of us must be more involved with the day-to-day activity of this world, we are not of it.  Prepositions are important.  We must separate ourselves from this world or be prepared to suffer the misery coming upon it.  This is the first step in the cultivation of faith.  But separation is not all negative.  We are set apart from the world in order to be…

Set Apart to God 

Abraham’s call to leave his family and country seems pretty drastic until you consider verses 2-3 of Genesis 12.  The LORD also revealed to Abraham the following:

I will make you a great nation;

I will bless you

And make your name great;

And you shall be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

And I will curse him who curses you;

And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

(Genesis 12.2-3)

Notice the five-fold repetition of the word blessing in these two verses.  The focus of Abraham’s call away from everything and everyone he knows is the fact that God had something much better in mind for him.  Abraham would be blessed and also be a source of blessing for all the families of the earth.

At the end of Abraham’s life, when he is well-advanced in age, the Bible says that “the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things” (Genesis 24.1).  Abraham’s servant reveals that the LORD had blessed his master greatly, he had become great (Genesis 24.35).  So, Abraham had been blessed with abundance in the temporal life he lived.

But it was the spiritual and eternal benefits that Abraham possessed at the end of his life which were far greater.  His faith in the revelation of God was accounted for righteousness.  He was justified before God.  All of these material and eternal blessings were communicated to his family as well.  People were encouraged and built up because of Abraham’s “follow-ship”.  Follow-ship is imperative when it comes to leadership.  Because Abraham obeyed God’s call to come out of Ur to Canaan, he was able to be a blessing to so many, even to all the families of the earth.  Every person will be blessed or cursed according to whether or not he or she accepts or rejects the promised Seed of Abraham, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Leave the world behind!  Sever all ties that bind you to it.  If you do this for Christ’s sake, you will have lost your life as far as this world is concerned.  You are dead with Christ, but you are alive to God.  You might not have the abundance of Abraham when it comes to material and temporal wealth, but you will have gained your soul and incomprehensible, daily benefits.

Christians are sensitive to sin and even the moments that we live detached from God wear us down.  We mourn over these times, and yet in spite of the mourning, we are and shall be truly blessed.  We have forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God in the Beloved One.  We are blessed with the one who cultivated a life of faith so long ago.

But not only are we blessed in Christ; we are a source of blessing to all around us.  As parents, employers, friends, and associates, we relate to other people.  We graciously promote the true joy of life in Christ with all connected to us.

Within the church and within our country, we exemplify the life of light.  Our own follow-ship becomes leadership of a godly sort.  Our prayer on the behalf of others, will it not prevail if we are godly, fervent, and righteous?  What if we simply lead one person to Christ, will that not be more than all this world could offer them or us?  Won’t that one person be eternally grateful to us for God mercifully allowing us to communicate the glorious Gospel of reconciliation?  When you think about it, all truly is vanity when compared to the eternal blessings of a life truly abiding in Christ.

Set Apart for Faith that Works

Abraham obeyed God. “Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him” (Genesis 12.4).  He didn’t hesitate.  Lot, his nephew, went with him.  But one wonders about the opinion of many others in his family.  How many thought Abraham was crazy to leave Ur and later Haran?  Imagine people asking him, “Well, where are you going?”  How does he answer?  “I don’t know where I’m going.  I just need to leave.”  When he finally leaves, how many feared for him?  But Abraham didn’t worry about the comforts of home, family, and friends.  He desired the blessing of God above all.  He believed God.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.  (Hebrews 11.8-10)

Abraham is surely the prototype for us when it comes to the cultivation of faith and obedience.  If we leave this world behind for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s, we gain so much more than we could ever hope for.  Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15.18-19).

I cannot see Heaven, but I have entered my Promised Land nonetheless.  I move through life enjoying the quality of eternal life while waiting for the appearance of my Eternal King and His eternal city.  This is why we “consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8.18).  Our obedience is fueled by our dependence upon the eternal life Christ gives.  We walk by faith and not by sight.

Some of us are way too comfortable in this world.

Jesus said that if we are, then perhaps we’ve come to Him but we don’t hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and our own life also.  If that be the case, we cannot be His disciples (Luke 14.26).

How do we hate these people, when we are commanded not even to hate our enemies?  The answer is that Jesus is using figurative language.  He means that any connection or affection that we have in this world which is more important than faith in Him is the forsaking of Him.

Our love for Christ must so overshadow our earthly ties that we act as if hate those closest to us in comparison.  We sacrifice all without hesitation for the cause of Christ.  Forsake all and follow Him!  This leads to your own personal blessing and makes you a source of blessing for others.

Some of us are determined to live for the world to come.

Just remember that Abraham’s father and brother went as far as Haran, but no further.  God renews the call while Abraham is in Haran with them, but Terah dies there.  Nahor, his brother, wasn’t willing to journey any further with Abraham.  Abraham took only Sarah and his nephew Lot.  While we don’t know about the specific reasons or even the spiritual state of Abraham’s family in Haran, they didn’t go with Abraham to the Promised Land.

A promise remains of entering God’s rest, let us fear lest any of us seem to have come short of it.

For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.  For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them (2 Peter 2:20–21).

Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”  But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.

We are not of those who draw back.  We are determined to follow in faith, to cultivate faith.  We are set apart from the world to God for faith that works!

O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Christ in the Old Testament

We focus today on three portraits of Christ presented in the Old Testament book of Isaiah:

  • Immanuel:  God with Us (Isaiah 7.14)
  • Rod of Jesse:  God Our Hope (Isaiah 11.1)
  • Key of David:  Access to God (Isaiah 22.20-25)

Immanuel

God is with us, revealed in the person and deity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  We sing to beckon the coming of Immanuel to ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.  He has appeared from our perspective.  He came to pay the ransom as the promised Messiah.  He suffered great rejection because His own would not receive Him.  Yet the promise remains.  All the nations may avail themselves of the greatest miracle of Christmas:  God in the flesh, Immanuel – the Lord Jesus with us!

If God is with you providing eternal salvation in Christ then is He not able to provide for your physical needs?  Is anything too hard for Him?  Shall we trust in the ransom Jesus paid for our eternal life and deny Him the power to heal, strengthen, and encourage us by His presence with us?  God is with us; therefore, who can rise up against us?

Rod of Jesse

Isaiah 10 is an unfolding of God’s judgment upon a tool He used to chasten His people.   The tool happened to be a rebellious nation named Assyria.  What is significant for us in trying to determine the title of Jesus in Isaiah 11.1 is the fact that God likened the judgment He would bring against the harsh Assyrians to the destruction of a forest.  Hewn stumps were left with only enough trees for a child to write upon.  There would be no hope for this nation again.

Isaiah 11 opens with the same imagery with one significant difference:  there is life in the stump!  Isaiah 11:1  states, “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.”

  1. The stem of Jesse has the sense of a stump of a tree that has been cut down.  Of course, this represents the failure of David’s line and the collapse of the nation of Israel.
  2. The new Rod and Branch of Jesse grows from the stump’s roots.  The word for Branch is netzer which calls to remembrance the prophecy in Matthew 2:23:  “He shall be called a Nazarene.”
  3. The sprig of life in the stump comes from David’s roots or family line.  Jesus is the promised fulfillment of the continuance of David’s eternal throne.  God always keeps His promises!
  4. Jesus will fulfill God’s promise literally during the Millennial kingdom on earth.  He will continue to fulfill His promise throughout eternity.

God gives victory over the grave.  Hope belongs to those in Christ.  The world is filled with the stump-like, barren countries that resemble ancient Assyria.  All writhing without hope.  There is one who extends hope to all nations – the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ – the Rod of Jesse!

Key of David

Isaiah 22 tells the story of a man named Shebna.  This man was the king’s steward in Jerusalem, a position of great power.  But he was a proud man with great authority represented by keeping the keys of the city.  He was also an evil man deserving of God’s judgment.  Isaiah 22:18 says that God “will surely turn violently and toss [Shebna] like a ball into a large country…”  there he would die.

Verses 20-25 explain that God will replace Shebna with a godly steward named Eliakim.  The Lord states that Eliakim will be given “the key of the house of David (22:22).”  God would also lay this key upon his shoulder – imagery we find in Isaiah 9.  The key of the city’s steward controlled access to the treasures of the city.  It was something that the ancients would equate with authority.

Revelation 3:7 reveals a title of the Lord Jesus:  “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.’”

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.  – Isaiah 9.6-7

The key of David unlocks our heavenly home where all the saints with Him dwell.  Access to God comes from the uncontested authority of Jesus Christ.  He holds the keys and all the world is being driven to one destination – the base of His mighty throne.  We will either reject or accept the authority of this Great King at Christmas.  We must choose.