Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph: The Heritage of Faith
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Hebrews 11. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we are going to be in Hebrews 11, this morning.
We are continuing in our sermon series on the Heroes of the Faith, looking at the Old Testament individuals mentioned in Hebrews 11, who were commended for their faith in God.
And what's remarkable about each one of these individuals, and what I want to make sure we keep in the back of our minds, is that they are real people just like you and me. We have the tendency to elevate these individuals, as though they are these super saints who can do all of these extraordinary things. But they’re really just ordinary people, but who believe and trust in an extraordinary God.
And my hope for us, in this series, is not that we would seek to become like these heroes, but that we would grab hold of the faith that made them the heroes they were. God continues to do extraordinary things, today. And by faith, we too can walk in whatever God has laid out for us.
But I just want to recap our definition of faith that we started off this series with, and that is, that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
That’s Hebrews 11:1. Faith is not this thing that we can just muster up ourselves, but it’s something that God produces and works in us. Faith is confidence in the future because of what we’ve seen God do in the past. And then, faith means that we don’t need to see it to believe, but that believing is itself seeing.
And we’ve been working off of this definition, throughout this series. And we’ve looked at a few of these individuals, already, all of whom teach us something about faith.
Last week, we looked at Abraham, who teaches us about the testing of faith—that faith in God leads to testing which leads to greater faith in God. And this morning, we are going to look at what Abraham’s descendants—Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—teach us about faith, and that is, the heritage of faith.
And our roadmap for this morning, if you are a notetaker, is that we will see the blessing of the heritage of faith, the hope of the heritage of faith, and the perseverance of the heritage of faith.
So, let’s look at Hebrews 11:20-22: “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.”
When I was in Bible College, we were all asked, at some point, to share our testimony of how we became a follower of Jesus. And there were a number of us, whose testimonies began this way: “I was born into a Christian home to parents who also grew up in a Christian home.”
Growing up, I always thought my testimony was boring and unimpressive. I would hear these testimonies of new Christians who had lived rebellious lives, before God got a hold of them. And I just remember thinking that their testimony sounded better than mine, which sounds ridiculous, now.
But it wasn’t until I listened to the testimonies that began the same way that mine began, that I realized that there has never been a time in my life when I did not know God. I may not have been as rebellious, but I could say that I belonged to a heritage of faith. And that is impressive in it’s own right.
As I came to this passage of Scripture, I became aware that I was reading about a heritage of faith. I was reading about a man who passed down his faith in God to his son, who passed it down to his son, who passed it down to his son, who passed it down to his son. And it just goes down the family line.
1. And so, the first thing we see in this passage, as it pertains to the heritage of faith, is the blessing of the heritage of faith.
Isaac pronounces a blessing on his sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob pronounces a blessing on his grandsons. And Joseph blesses the people of Israel, in a sense, by telling them of the exodus that was to come.
But then, notice that they pronounce these blessings “by faith.” Faith, as we have seen it expressed over and over, throughout Hebrews 11, is the conviction that God is the Creator and Ruler of all things, as well as, the Provider of eternal salvation through Christ.
Faith is believing that God will continue keep His promises, in light of all the times in the past that God has kept His promises.
So, when these blessings are being pronounced upon their children and their grandchildren, they are not just speaking positive things into their lives, hoping that everything will work out. No, they are trusting in God with things unseen.
They don’t know what days lie ahead for their children and grandchildren, but they are entrusting them to God, knowing that God will continue to be faithful.
By faith in God’s yet unfulfilled promises, Isaac and Jacob and even Joseph were passing down the spiritual blessings of Abraham, which were far better than any worldly blessings. Even though there was not a shred of tangible evidence that God would be faithful to give their descendants, what He promised to Abraham, they believed God’s promises and passed them down.
And what this does is it confronts our idea of “blessing.” You see, we tend to think of blessing as material more than spiritual. There are many Christian parents today who hope that their children and grandchildren will succeed materially more than they will succeed spiritually.
And the reason I believe we tend to think in this way is because it’s tangible. If you are materially successful, then you are blessed. But if you spiritually successful, then what good is that? You can’t see it or touch it or spend it.
There are many Christian parents who would love to hear that their children or grandchildren have this budding career as a doctor, but who, if that same child or grandchild said that they were moving to Iran to be a doctor on a mission field, would say that they're throwing their life away, and that someone needs to try and talk some sense into them. That’s a tragedy.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s good to rejoice with our children and grandchildren when they graduate from College with honours and when they land their first job and when they succeed at what they're doing. We should be supporting them in what God has gifted them to do.
But church, we must desire our children and grandchildren to walk with God, first and foremost. We must desire our children to succeed spiritually more than we desire them to succeed materially.
In his book, God in the Dock, C. S. Lewis writes, “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”
And we read in 1 Corinthians 15:3, what the apostle Paul says is the first thing for the follower of Jesus. He says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
In other words, the gospel is the first thing. And when we don’t make the gospel the first thing, and instead, we start making secondary things, first things, even though they're important, we begin to lose sight of what's ultimately important.
When I get to be old and grey, I would love to have a family picture with all of my kids, and Lord willing, all of my grandkids and great grandkids, and I would love to be able to say that each one of them is walking with God.
That’s a heritage of faith. When you look at a family picture with the grandparents and kids and grandkids and great grandkids, and each one of them is walking with God, that’s blessing.
It’s not material; it’s spiritual. It’s God doing the work of drawing your children and your grandchildren and your great grandchildren to Himself. It’s God showering you with His grace, so that even in your inability and your weaknesses, God is saying, “I’ve got them. You just need to trust me with them.”
But what do we do when our children and grandchildren are not walking with God? What do we do when we’ve done seemingly all we can do, and there's no fruit in the lives of our kids? What do we do when a heritage of faith is not necessarily our reality?
2. And this is where we see, secondly, the hope of the heritage of faith.
Look at Hebrews 11. “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.”
Despite all of their spiritual ups and downs, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph exemplified faith in God, as they reached out for divine favour towards their children. Despite their weaknesses, they knew in whom they could trust. And I just want to draw your attention to some of those weaknesses.
Turn over to Genesis 26. Abraham and Sarah have both passed away, their son, Isaac, has married a woman by the name of Rebekah, and God gives Isaac the promise of Abraham that he will have many descendants.
But then, you get to Genesis 26:6. And here is what it says: “So Isaac settled in Gerar. 7 When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, ‘She is my sister,’ for he feared to say, ‘My wife,’ thinking, ‘lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,’ because she was attractive in appearance. 8 When he had been there a long time, Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out of a window and saw Isaac laughing with Rebekah his wife. 9 So Abimelech called Isaac and said, ‘Behold, she is your wife. How then could you say, “She is my sister”?’ Isaac said to him, ‘Because I thought, “Lest I die because of her.”’ 10 Abimelech said, ‘What is this you have done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.’ 11 So Abimelech warned all the people, saying, ‘Whoever touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.’”
What's fascinating about what Isaac does here is that Abraham, his father, did the same thing back in Genesis 20. And so, you see the same pattern of unbelief in Isaac. And yet, we read that, “by faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.”
If you turn over to Genesis 27, you can read about how Jacob cheats Esau out of the blessing of the firstborn. And yet, “By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.”
And then, in Genesis 48, Jacob is about to die, so he blesses Joseph’s two sons, putting the younger son before the older son, which displeases Joseph. And yet, “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.”
If there is any hope for us and this heritage of faith, it’s found in the fact that God is sovereign and I am not. God is God and I am not.
If it were up to me, or to Isaac, or to Jacob, or to Joseph, as to whether or not our children and grandchildren receive spiritual blessing, they would be lost. And the reason why is because you and I make terrible gods. We don’t have the ability to save anyone. At best, we can be examples of faith to our children, but if it were up to us to save them, we’d fail.
But here is the hope for us: It’s found in Proverbs 22:6. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
I just want to clarify that this verse is not guaranteeing that our children will be saved, but that there is a hope we can grab hold of, that if we do the best for our children with what we have, when they are old, they will not depart from it. It’s not necessarily guaranteeing them salvation, but it’s giving us a hope to grab hold of.
When I was a kid, I memorized a lot of Bible verses. I went to a private Christian school, I went to church, and I went to Vacation Bible School in the summer. All year round, I was getting the Word of God and memorizing it.
But when I was teenager, I just kind of plateaued. I didn’t really grow much more after that. I guess I figured that I had all the biblical knowledge I needed to get by. And it took me going to Bible College for me to really understand how little I knew about God and the Bible.
But during my teenage years, my mom was constantly praying for me. It’s not like she ever said anything, because she didn’t need to say anything, I just knew that she was praying for me—that she was praying this verse over me.
And there came a point in my life, when God brought me back to the training I had received when I was younger. There came a point when all of those Bible verses I had learned started to work on me.
The hardship for many of us is that we might see our children grow up to have no interest in the church and no interest in Jesus and no interest in the Bible. And at that point, it’s the work of God that will bring them back.
I’ve seen it in some families, where Christian parents push and push and push their kids towards the things of God, and there is just no desire for it. And our only hope is that whatever we’ve trained them in, God will one day redeem.
Turn over to Isaiah 55:10-11. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
We were just talking about this very thing at our Bible Study on Wednesday evening. The Bible verses that we learn as children have the potential to stick with us until our dying breath.
It’s amazing! If you grew up going to Sunday School or Vacation Bible School or somewhere where you memorized Bible verses, then there is the potential for those Bible verses to stick with you throughout your life, and for the Holy Spirit to bring those verses to your mind in times of need.
It’s one of the reasons why I printed off copies of 100 Verses Everyone Should Know by Heart, because we need to get the Word of God into our minds. Those sheets are on the back table, and I encourage you to grab one, if you haven’t done so already.
As parents and as grandparents, we need to be instilling the Word of God into our children and our grandchildren. We need to be giving them the Word that brings life with the hope that it will not return void. And we need to pray that God will draw our children and our grandchildren to Himself through the training they received when they were younger.
3. There is hope of the heritage of faith. And this brings us to our final point, and that is, the perseverance of the heritage of faith. Our task is not over when our kids leave the house.
Look at Hebrews 11, again. “By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.”
There are two references to death in this passage that are crucial to our understanding of the heritage of faith. Both Jacob and Joseph blessed their descendants, as they were just about to die. And this reveals to us the importance of dying well.
I have seen a number of older Christian saints, as of late, get to the end of their lives, and they’re crotchety and they’re impatient, and I look at that, and I know where they're coming from, because they just want to go home to glory. But God still has them here to make His glory known.
And I just think about how it doesn’t take long to ruin a Christian testimony. I listened to a podcast, last week, and the guy giving the talk said that he is keenly aware of how he could destroy his life of ministry in 5 minutes. It takes years to build up that credibility, but it only takes a few minutes to tear it all down.
And it’s in these times when we must persevere—that even when we are dying, we are still a blessing to our children and grandchildren, that we are still passing on our faith in God to the next generation.
When we think of our wayward children or wayward grandchildren, do we have faith that they will one day be brought back to the gospel?
Joseph had faith that the Israelites would carry his bones back to Canaan, and it would be 400 years before this would happen. Joseph didn’t know how long it would take, but he had faith that it would happen.
Do we have the same faith? Are we entrusting our children and our grandchildren to God for Him to sovereignly work in their lives, or do we think that we make better gods?
Here is the good news: God’s ways are not man’s ways. Man’s ways are according to human choice and human merit. Good people who make the right choices are in; bad people who make the wrong choices are out. But God’s way of salvation is according to His choice and purpose.
God sent His Son to this world to redeem broken humanity. We all fall short of God’s standard. We are all in need of God’s rescuing grace. And when we put our faith in Jesus, all of our sins are dealt with, and all of our years of rebellion are dealt with, and we are saved.
There's nothing we can do to earn it. There's nothing we can do to add to it. And it’s the only thing that will change the hearts and minds of our wayward children and grandchildren.
But it begs the question: What are we living for? Are we living for the material, or are we living for the spiritual? Are we passing on this faith in God to the next generation? Are we giving them the Word of God? Are we praying for them?
This is the heritage of faith. It’s a desire to see the next generation grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Do we desire it?
I just want to say that if you don’t have this heritage of faith, if your testimony is not that there was never a time when you did not know God, this is not to say that you are a lesser Christian or that there is no hope for you. What this passage is laying out for us is the glory of God in preserving for Himself a people to proclaim His name among the nations.
This makes God look glorious. But do you know what else makes God look glorious? When men and women, fathers and mothers, turn away from generational sins, and turn to Jesus Christ, and begin a new heritage of faith that starts with them. This too makes God look glorious.
So, don’t think that this is all out of reach. If you put your faith in Jesus today, you can begin that heritage of faith that will work itself down through the generations. But it has to start somewhere. It has to start with us.
Each one of us needs to take careful inventory of our lives, so that we might re-order our priorities to the unseen and the eternal, and doing so not out of legalism, but out of love for God and the sure hope that the best is yet to come.
May God continue to increase our faith in Him, as we trust Him with our heritage of faith. Let’s pray…