Every Picture Tells a Story
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Every Picture Tells a Story

Hebrews 11:17–28  (ID: 1937)

Hebrews’s “gallery of faith” beckons us to trust God fully in the face of worldly opposition. Abraham, for example, offered his son Isaac to God, trusting His word. Isaac in turn believed God’s promises, blessing his own sons. Later, Joseph left burial instructions in faith that God would return his people to the promised land, and Moses demonstrated faith by looking to God instead of the pleasures of Egypt. Their examples challenge us to live lives likewise marked by faith.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Hebrews, Volume 3

Fix Our Eyes on Jesus Hebrews 11:1–13:25 Series ID: 15803

Sermon Transcript: Print

Hebrews 11; we begin at verse 17.

I’d like to have a wall in my house given over simply to pictures. I don’t have one. We have a couple of places that approximate to it, but I’d like just to have a wall for pictures. Some of you do, I know, because I’ve been in your houses. And indeed, there was one memorable home where the couple have now moved since I conducted the funeral service for the lady years ago, but I can remember going to this home for the first time and being struck by the way they had taken a huge area of the house and turned it over simply to portraiture. It wasn’t that the husband and wife were stuck on themselves. There were very few photographs of them, actually. But they had photographs that went way back down through the corridors of time―grandparents and great-grandparents―and then they had come all the way up to the contemporary life of their own grandchildren. And there was profit in simply standing there and having them recount the various details of why a picture was there, and what it meant, and who that person was, and where this scene had unfolded. And that is particularly the case, of course, where the individuals whose photographs or pictures appear there have been individuals of faith. Because every picture literally tells a story that we do well to pay attention to.

And it is, in one sense, that here in Hebrews chapter 11 we have one of those walls, as it were, where the writer has given us these wonderful portraits of individuals down through time. God has determined which ones should appear in exactly what place, and the purpose of the writer is that we might attend to this gallery of portraiture and that we might learn by observation. He is particularly concerned because those to whom he writes are in danger of throwing away their confidence. They are in danger of being so overwhelmed by the circumstances that they face that they may capitulate to the culture around them and give up. Some of them have been tempted simply to lie down, as it were, on the grass, to take the baton of faith that they were supposed to put in the hands of a subsequent generation and throw it down on the ground and say, “I’m finished.” And the writer has been encouraging them by various means to ensure that, as he says at the end of chapter 10, “we are not … those who shrink back and are destroyed, but [we are] those who [continue] and are saved.”[1] And he is about, in chapter 12, to encourage them to turn their gaze not to the portraiture of chapter 11 but to turn their gaze to the only ultimate place where it should be―namely, focused on the Lord Jesus himself.

“But for the time being,” he says, “let me take you down through the corridor here, and let’s pause before each of these paintings, because they are essential for our own edification and encouragement.” And as we view them, they beckon us to daring exploits, and they encourage us to patient endurance. Because the fact is that despite the passage of time and the geographical separation between the initial readers and ourselves, many of us come to worship this morning in a similar experience to those to whom the letter was first written: tempted, buffeted, tried, discouraged, fearful, wondering if we can make it through another week, and looking very much to hear from God himself a word of direction, a word of encouragement, a word of strengthening, a word of rebuke, whatever it might be. And that, of course, is why we turn to the Scriptures.

So, we’re on a field trip, as it were. We parked the bus, we came in the gallery. There will be a bunch of snotty kids at the back that won’t pay any attention to it at all. They’re always there; they’re always fiddling with wrappers and candy and stuff, and no matter what the teacher says to them, they never pay attention. Despite the fact you tell them there will be a test on this, they never take any notes, and they always get close to the swots at the back of the bus later on so they can find out what you’re supposed to know so they can write up their paper afterwards, although they never paid attention to any of it. Now, none of you are like that. You’re not those who shrink back and do those things. You are “those who [continue] and are saved.” So you’re gonna pay attention with me to these various pictures.

And what I want to do is to stop briefly at each one. And if I’m taking too long, then hopefully it will become apparent to me, and I’ll move—you know, like the guide said: “Let’s pick it up! Let’s move along! There are others coming behind.” And it may be that someone will have to do that for me. We’ll wait and see.

Abraham’s Faithful Obedience

But the first picture here in verse 17 and following is grounded in Genesis 22. And indeed, it would be helpful for you to turn to Genesis 22 to see just exactly what it is that the picture contains. Genesis 22:9: “When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.” Picture number one.

Now, try and visualize it just in your mind’s eye for a moment. You have the words in front of you, but just try and think about what this would look like. Can you see the altar made out of rough stone and the wood being placed on, the way that wood needs to be placed in order that when it is kindled it will burst into flames? You see the son, who is now grown to manhood, being bound hand and foot and placed on top of the altar? Then can you look and see the way the artist has captured, as it were, the glint of the sun on the blade of the knife as it is poised in the hand of Abraham, ready to drop down into the very lifeblood of his only begotten son? That’s the picture.

Abraham refused to allow his obedience to God’s command to cancel his trust in the promise.

Now, why is it there for us? What is the point of emphasis? Now, we need be in absolutely no doubt about that, because the writer to the Hebrews gives us the commentary notes in much the same way that you get notes when you go to a gallery, especially if they’re trying to sell you the paintings, and they have a little description as to what is there and the significance of the scene. He tells us that the real issue here in this dramatic scene was not the moral incongruity of a father about to kill his son. In other words, the response to this scene is not supposed to be first of all a response of sentimentalism: “Oh dear, oh dear, what a dreadful situation to get oneself into,” or “Oh, I feel so dreadfully sorry for the father and for the son.” That is a different consideration altogether. The issue before us here is the issue of Abraham’s faith.

Now, in Genesis 21, God has said to Abraham, “It is going to be through your son Isaac that all of your seed will be reckoned,”[2] which being interpreted means that “Isaac is the key to the promises I have made to you.” What were the promises that he had made to him? He had promised Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed.[3] He had promised Abraham that his posterity would be as numerous and as uncountable as the sands on the seashore.[4] That was his promise. Now here comes his command: “Take your son, your only son, to the place that I tell you and kill him.”[5] Now, is that not a direct contradiction? “Here is the key to the future of my promises. Here is the promised son for whom you have waited all this time. Now I want you to take this same son, and I want you to kill him.” The fulfillment of God’s promises depended upon Isaac’s survival. If Isaac was to die, how could the promise be fulfilled?

But Abraham took him and was about to do with him what God told him to do. He refused to allow his obedience to the command to cancel his trust in the promise. He didn’t say, “Oh well, I guess that puts an end to all the other stuff.” No! By faith he said, “God has a plan in this. His promise is that through Isaac all the nations of the earth will be blessed, that in his seed will be all the posterity of the future. God wants me to kill him. Fine! He must be going to resurrect him. He must have a plan to raise him up from the dead.” How do we know that’s the case? Because if you read in Genesis, he says to the servants who are with him, “Now, you guys have come far enough. If you will stay here, Isaac and I will go forward, and when we’ve done our business, we will return to you.”[6] Is that not an expression of faith, from the lips of an individual who knows that the reason for his journey onto the hillside is in order to take a knife and drive it through his son?

Now, I don’t want to make more of this than it is, but I don’t want you to miss the point. When the command was given to Abraham, he set about obeying it. And although it was in direct contradiction to the promise God had made, he did his business, and he determined to let God do his. And loved ones, that is true at so many junctures in our life. There’s hardly a week passes that somebody doesn’t come to me and say, “Is it true that God elects people to salvation?” Yes. “Is it true that he has promised to save his own?” Yes. “Is it true that we are supposed to preach the gospel, and that as a result of our preaching of the gospel, men and women will come to repentance and faith?” Yes. “Oh, well,” they say, “isn’t that a bit of a problem, that God has promised to do this and he’s commanded us to do that? Well, how does the promise fit with the command?” The answer is, that’s not my problem! And it’s not yours either. Our problem is, obey the command! Leave God to fulfill the promise. And indeed, he has purposed that in our obedience to the command there is the very fulfillment of the promise—by faith.

Stand and look up at this scene, and you’re looking there at a man who waited all of these years for the gift of his son, who had changed his whole life on the basis of God’s word to go into a place that he would tell him of. And the fulfillment of the promise is before him on all these sticks, and his hand is above him to kill him, and he is about to do it because his faith is such that he reckoned that if he were to kill him, God would raise him from the dead.

Now, why is it here? It’s here for the encouragement of the readers! Their faith is faltering. How does your faith, when it’s faltering, get made strong? By looking in on itself? No, not at all! No more than plants get strong by digging in the ground and pulling them up and seeing how the root structure does. That’s no help to them at all. You’ll kill ’em! Don’t be going digging in the ground to see if you still have a faith. You know you have faith! God granted it to you. You are stimulated in your faith by looking at the examples of others who are holding the course along the journey.

Obey the command. Trust the promise. That’s portrait number one.

Isaac and His Sons

Let’s move quickly to the second one, Isaac and his sons. We stand here and we look: “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.” Now, I’m not gonna delay on these, because we dealt with them in the studies in Joseph. But for those who may be unfamiliar, Genesis 27 is where you need to look. And indeed, you can read the whole wonderful story there of Jacob getting the blessing that was due to Esau. And if you remember from Sunday school, Jacob was a smooth man, and Esau was “an hairy man,” as it says in the King James Version. And they got up to a little bit of jiggery-pokery by making Jacob appear hairy, although he was very smooth, and so on. And the whole story unfolds in Genesis 27 with us looking at it and saying, “My, my, this has more to do with the deception and the deceit of Jacob. What a rascal, Jacob! And I don’t really fancy his mother that much either. Goodness, what a pair they were when they got together!”

And yet, what does it say in the commentary notes here in Hebrews 11? It just simply records it. And when you read the story in Genesis 27, Isaac does not recant of his blessing going to Jacob. He doesn’t change his mind. He doesn’t change his plans. He recognized that Esau, as his firstborn, should have received the blessing. Jacob, by his deceit, received the blessing, and God used Jacob’s deceit to accomplish his ultimate purpose. Whose deceit was it? Jacob’s. Was God responsible for it? Not an iota. Did Jacob and his mother cook it up? They absolutely did. Did it take God by surprise? Not for an instant. It actually unfolded the eternal plan of God—human responsibility, divine sovereignty, and amazing mercy all interwoven in the unfolding package of his purposes. No wonder when Paul, pondering such things in Romans chapter 11, comes to the end of it, he says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his paths beyond finding out!”[7]

Raymond Brown, who was at one point the principal of Spurgeon’s College, reflecting on this, has the most choice sentence―two sentences, actually―that I want to read to you: “Although [Jacob] was so desperately unkind to his father, so pathetically misled by his mother, so astonishingly jealous of his brother, yet God helped him, used him and blessed him.”[8] He was desperately unkind to his dad, pathetically manipulated by his mom, astonishingly jealous of his brother, and God says, “I’m gonna bless him, help him, and use him.” Then says Raymond Brown, “God’s blessings are given not because we deserve them, but because we need them.”[9] Wouldn’t it be dreadful if we only received God’s blessings on the basis of our deserving? How much blessing would there be in your life? There wouldn’t be much in mine. But God blesses on the basis of our need, not on the basis of our deserving.

Jacob and His Grandsons

Look at the next picture, quickly: Jacob and his grandsons. You can see this in Genesis 48. He has the boys on his knees, and then he takes the boys off his knees, and then they bow down before him.[10] It is a wonderful scene. He’s now an old man. If you were painting this, you’d paint him as an old man with a weak frame. His face would be wizened, his shoulders would be a little crumpled, all the lines of life would have been creased into his face like one of those pug dogs, and all the sand of the desert that had weathered him and beaten him over time. Oh, I wish I could paint! If you could paint, and you’ve never painted religious pictures, paint Hebrews 11. Here’s a series of religious portraits that’ll be fantastic! But if you could paint this picture, you would paint this old man, wouldn’t you? And somebody would say to you, “Now, make sure you get his staff in there. Make sure you get that thing that he’s always carrying around with him. Because he had it with him in Genesis 32, when he crossed the Jordan. And make sure you get something of the picture of his blessing, as it were, graphically descending upon these his grandsons.”

And again, remember, you would get this picture of his hands crossed—how, again, in this great mystery of God’s providence, Jacob fiddled it so that he would get the blessing that was to be Esau’s. And now, he switches hands on his grandchildren’s heads, and at the protest of his son, who says, “Dad, you’re putting your wrong hand on the wrong head,” he says, “Don’t you worry about that! I’m doing what is right to do, and it will become apparent.”

What a wonderful blessing to be a grandpa that can bless his grandchildren. What a wonderful privilege to have had such a grandfather. Some of you are children here this morning, and you go to Grandpa’s house, and you make memories. And if in the grace and providence of God there are memories like this in your environment, then you will one day be thankful, even if today you wonder.

Joseph and His Bones

We gotta keep moving. Next portrait, we stop and look at Joseph and his bones. Joseph and his bones. “By faith Joseph,” verse 22, “when his end was near…” You can read of this in Genesis chapter 50. I still can’t get over the fact that of all the things that might be said of Joseph, the one thing that is mentioned of him in this record is the fact that he “gave instructions about his bones.” He lived this great life, he did all the things, you remember, from the story, and yet, when the writer writes of him, he says, “Joseph … spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.” Why does he mention this?

Well, he mentions this because it’s within his purpose. The people of God were buffeted. They were getting ever smaller in number, it would seem. They were saying to themselves, “I wonder if there is a future.” And so he says, “Listen, there’s a future. Abraham says there is, Isaac says there is, Jacob says there is. And there is a future, as well; Joseph says so!” Because those people were trapped. Those people could see no way ahead. And Joseph said, “God will take you up, and when he takes you up, make sure you take me up.[11] So don’t put me in a very elaborate tomb here in Egypt, which I could obviously have. But just keep my bones in the box.” So in years to come, the people would ask, “Why are the bones in the box?” And they said, “The bones are in the box because we’re going to the promised land, and Joseph wanted us to be reminded of that.” And he reckoned that by his faith, he would speak in this way. And you perhaps recall our studies, then, when we talked about preparing for death.

Moses in the Basket

Now, I’ve gone through these last three quickly, because you’re familiar with them. And if you’re not, then simply take the boxes of tapes on the story of Joseph, and you can have it unfolded for you in a little more detail.

Let’s pause for a moment before these five pictures of Moses, which begin in verse 23.

First of all, we have Moses in a basket. That’s the first picture. If you read the record in Exodus 2, it’s clear that the basket closed, so that it wasn’t an open basket where he was lying looking up at the stars, but it was a closed basket, because it says that they “opened [the basket] and saw.”[12] Actually, you could do a picture not of Moses in a basket but of Moses in a cupboard, because when you read in Exodus 2, it says that his mom and dad sequestered him away and kept him out of sight, hidden for three months, and when they could no longer hide him for three months, then they put him in a basket and put him by the bulrushes.[13]

It’s a great story, if you haven’t read it for a while. I hadn’t read it. I have it in my mind from Sunday school. But I reread it, then I was just walking up and down, I was so jazzed by it. Such an amazing story, if you think about it. The king establishes an edict: “Drown all the Hebrew boys. Keep the Hebrew girls.”[14] So, they have a baby―that is, Amram and Jochebed.[15] Unfortunate names, but nevertheless. This Mr. and Mrs. have a baby, and they look on this boy, and there’s just a stamp of something on him. And so the edict says, “You’ve gotta kill him, drown him,” they said, “Forget that! We’re gonna keep him. And we’ll keep him and hide him.”

And so they hide him, and for three months they manage to keep him in the house, then they put him in the basket, put him in the bulrushes, send his big sister to kinda stand around the bulrushes while Moses is in the basket. She’s standing around the bulrushes, down comes this big entourage out of the Egyptian headquarters, and suddenly, she’s in the company of Pharaoh’s daughter. Pharaoh’s daughter pokes her nose around, opens the basket, finds the boy, says, “Oh, I’d like to take him home with me.” Quick as a flash, the big sister says, “Hey, how about this? How about I get a Hebrew woman to nurse him?” “Oh,” says Pharaoh’s daughter, “that’s a splendid idea!” So she runs home, gets Moses’s literal mother to be his nursemaid. She looks after him, weans him, gets him to the position where he needs to be, then he goes into the custody of Pharaoh’s daughter.[16]

God is so good, isn’t he? Takes care of all the details―baskets and cupboards and bulrushes, and mothers and sisters and stepbrothers, and all of these things under his control. Don’t be lying awake in your bed worrying about everything. Don’t be tossing and turning, trying to replay the video of the last twelve months, the last twelve years, the next six months, whatever it might be: “Oh, what will I do? And where will I go? And what will happen?” Listen: relax. Lie on the floor, and rest in the fact that your Father knows best. He “moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.”[17] The deceit of Jacob―Jacob’s own deceit―is in the unfolding plan. The strange experience in the bulrushes is part of his purpose.

That’s the first little picture that we have, and it is a picture of not Moses’s faith but the faith of his mom and dad. And it is a reminder, in passing, how important it is for us as young families to establish the parameters for our kids in such a way that they grow up with this kind of history.

Moses’s Midlife Decision

You just bump one picture down, and you find another one of Moses. Now all these years have passed. Now he’s about forty years old. You say, “My, he looks handsome there, does he not?” Because this is Moses in a midlife decision. We could say a midlife crisis, but that’s just cute. It’s a midlife decision. Verse 24: “When he[’d] grown up,” he “refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” What’s that all about? Well, it was an act of faith. What was the act of faith? The act of faith was this: that here, now, in Pharaoh’s establishment, he had everything that represented security to him. Outside of the precincts of Pharaoh’s establishment, there was nothing that represented security. There was only obscurity. There was only emptiness. There was only impoverishment. There was only slavery. What would encourage a young man to make such a crazy decision, from an earthly perspective? Why would somebody give up so much to embrace so little? The answer is, because he realized that he could not identify himself with the Israelites and also with the Egyptians at one and the same time.

It is a fixed principle, loved ones. We cannot be the friends of the world and the friends of God at one and the same time.[18] That’s what James says. He heard that from his brother, Jesus. And those of us who are trying to play that middle course know how empty and futile it really is, because we are neither happy as a friend of the world nor are we happy in the company of God’s friends, because we’re a walking contradiction.

And Moses, now in the maturity of his life, makes a radical decision—the kind of radical decision that some who are here today need to make. Because your background is relatively similar to Moses’s. You were nurtured by a mom and dad who loved you and cared for you. They gave you the foundations of faith. They protected you. They provided for you. And for years you have lived buoyant, as it were, on the faith of the surrounding family experience. But now you’re your own man. Now you’re your own girl. Now you’re mature, and you’re at that point in your life where you have to determine for yourself: What is your choice? Are you going to live as a friend of the world, or are you gonna live as a friend of God? Are you going to live by the world’s standards, laugh at the world’s jokes, employ the world’s methodology? Or are you gonna do what is absolutely crazy to your non-Christian friends? And that is take your stand with Jesus Christ, go absolutely against the flow, nail your colors to the mast, say, “I don’t care who knows; this is my life from this point on. I am thankful for my past, but this is my day, and this is my time, and this is my decision.”

The same Holy Spirit who implants faith within a life implants the boldness to verbalize that faith.

You see, there are many people who continue to believe that they can have a private faith in Christ, in God, without any public confession—that they can come to Parkside Church as sort of private believers. They have a card, you know. They never show it to anybody. There’s no identification. They just privately believe. They never tell anyone, they never profess it, they’re unprepared to be baptized, they never make much of it, they never verbalize their faith. Let me tell you something: the chances are you’re not a Christian. The strongest chance is you do not believe. Because the same Holy Spirit who implants faith within a life implants the boldness to verbalize that faith. And when I do not verbalize my commitment and declare my choice and make public my confession, I call in question all of this private stuff that I hold on to in myself. What does Romans 10:9 say? “If you confess with your mouth [that] ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God [has] raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

How about your public confession? It’s not enough that people simply infer that we are Christians, that we are believers. Because to the witness of our lives there needs to be added the testimony of our lips. When you plant bulbs, if you plant a good bulb, you get nice flowers. You plant a dead bulb, you get nothing. You plant the bulb of faith in the life of an individual, you get a confession of faith. And Moses, “when he had grown up,” said, “Here it is. I’m with these guys.” “Choose you this day whom [you] will serve,” said Joshua. “But as for me and my house, [I] will serve the Lord.”[19]

Moses Chooses Treasure over Pleasure

Now, the remaining three pictures, we’ll just glance at them. Because you have Moses in a basket, you have Moses with a midlife decision, then you have Moses opting for treasure versus pleasure. If you read verses 25 and 26: Egypt offered him social status, physical satisfaction, material gain. He could have reasoned that by remaining in Pharaoh’s courts he would be able to exercise an influence on behalf of the people of God that he would never be able to do if he went and joined himself to them. However, he renounces his privileges of Egyptian citizenship; he identifies with this crummy little group that has no political rights at all. He chooses ill treatment, and he chooses disgrace, we’re told, “for the sake of Christ,” in much the same way that the mighty apostle Paul, who had all the right kind of background, the law degrees, and all the kind of sophisticated pageantry that marked his life, said, “And all this stuff, I count it as dung for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ.”[20] It was like stuff that comes out of a horse that you try and avoid when you go to the parade or the circus. That’s pretty graphic. In fact, I can get a little more graphic, but I won’t. He doesn’t say, “It was kind of okay, and I decided just to move it to the side of my plate.” He said, “I wouldn’t even stand in it. I wouldn’t even get near it. That’s what I viewed it.” And that’s what this guy does.

People who looked at him said, “You know what? You got it made. You got a great family background. You got a heck of a deal when you went in there with Pharaoh’s daughter. Now you got a big chariot, big house, big stuff, and the chances are you’re gonna be the head guy in Egypt. Stay there.”

He said, “I can’t stay there.”


“Because I can’t be a friend of the Egyptians and a friend of the Israelites at the same time.”


“Because the Egyptians are killing the Israelites. I’m either a slave with my people or I’m an apostate.” And what was the problem in Hebrews? Apostasy. People who were saying they were one thing and living as another. He says, “I can’t say that I am an Israelite and live as an Egyptian. I can’t say that I’m a believer and live as an unbeliever. Because if I do, then I call in question the profession of faith that I’ve made.” And when you stand and look at that portrait, you understand it.

Moses Chooses the Invisible over the Visible

Moses, in verse 27, opts for the invisible rather than the visible. I don’t know how I would paint that. But “he left Egypt,” we’re told in verse 27. Whether this is a reference to him going into the wilderness in Midian after he killed the Egyptian or whether it is that the historical thing gets a little ahead of itself here and this is a reference to the Exodus is not as significant as the fact is that “he persevered because he saw him who [was] invisible.” In other words, he gave up the immediate for the ultimate. He recognized, as Paul says, that we set our eyes―2 Corinthians 4―not on the things that are seen but on the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are permanent.[21] That’s the hardest lesson for me to learn. That is the hardest thing to learn. Because everything that we see, touch, handle, and know seems to be that which we should have and which makes us significant. And Paul says, “That is the most insignificant part of it all. It’s the stuff you can’t see.” And all the things that Moses could see, he turned his back on.

Moses Beneath a Bloodstained Door

And finally, in verse 28, we have a picture of Moses standing underneath a bloodstained door. Moses underneath a bloodstained door. I don’t have time to go back to Exodus 12 and to recount with you there the story of the Passover. It is a most amazing story. Moses is sent to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go.”[22] Moses responds, you will recall, in the wilderness by saying, “I have a brother who’s really good at this kind of stuff.” God says to him, “Who made your mouth?”[23] Moses said, “Okay, I have the point.” And then he begins to go to Pharaoh. Every time the plague comes, Pharaoh backs off. Every time the plague backs off, Pharaoh changes his mind again.

And eventually, it comes to the plague of death for the firstborn. And God comes to Moses, and he says, “This is what I want you to do, Moses. I want you to get a lamb without blemish. This will be costly for many families, but I want you to do it. I want you to bear the cost, and I want you to pay attention to the instructions. I want you to kill the lamb. I want you to take the blood and put it in a bowl. I want you to get a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the bowl, take the hyssop, and sprinkle the lintels of the door with blood.”[24] Doesn’t sound very plausible. Does it challenge the intellect a little? Does it sound ridiculous? “And then when the angel of death comes, we will see which houses have the blood on the doors, and that angel will pass over those homes, and the firstborn will not die. But those who will not put the blood on the doors, the firstborn will die. Now do it, Moses!”[25] Moses said, “Fine. Consider it done.” And he sets the Passover up. And the angel of death comes and passes over, and God fulfills his word to his servant. Could Moses make sense of the promise? Not particularly. Could he understand the command? Without question.

And here we are, in anticipation of this evening. And Jesus says, “I want to let you know that in this bread that I break and in this cup that I pour, it’s to remind you of the way in which by my death I have liberated you from the bondage of your sins. It will remind you of the way my people came out of Israel many years ago, and it will allow you to anticipate the future.”

And today, people look at the picture, and they say, “You’ve gotta be crazy. Are you telling me to believe, as a result of the shedding of the blood of the Lamb of God, that there is forgiveness for my sin? Surely there’s a better way I can do it! Surely I can give some money here, or become a faithful servant there, or perhaps I can become diligent and religious or, what, all these other things… Give me a decent, sensible way, and then I will believe!” There is no other way. The only way in Egypt was the way of the bloodstained door. And the only way in Cleveland this morning is the way of a bloodstained cross. And it is by faith. By faith.

Can I ask you… Just imagine now the continuum of this portrait gallery in Hebrews 11, and God has added to it all down through the corridors of time—another face here and another face there. Is your face in the group? You say, “Well, I’m sure I didn’t get an individual one with a light on the top of it.” No. Neither did I. That’s a dead certainty! But I’ll tell you what: I’ll settle for finding my face with a magnifying glass in a huge big group. And when I find my face, I will be able to rehearse nothing of that which I brought to the gallery, but only to rehearse all of the grace of the master artist who paints the picture according to his plan.

The only way in Egypt was the way of the bloodstained door. And the only way for us today is the way of a bloodstained cross.

And incidentally, it’s not like the church directory, which gets obsolete before it’s even produced. It’s not like the church directory, where you look in and say, “Oh, they’re gone. Oh, they’re gone.” Once you get your picture in, it never goes. Why? Because God is faithful. You say, “But I made a hash of it.” I understand that. God is faithful. “I’m a doubting Thomas.” I understand that. God is faithful. “You know what? I’ve been manipulated by my mother, I’ve been horrible to my father, and I’m really jealous of my brother.” Say, “You know what? You could have your picture right up beside Jacob. The two of you are just the same.” Don’t let the devil tell you that you can’t get your face in the gallery, or once God by his grace puts your picture on the wall, that somehow or another he’s gonna take it off again. He who began the wonderful portrait of your life will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,[26] because he is a faithful God.

Let’s pray:

Father, out of all of these words, I pray that you will encourage those who follow you, that you will pick up the fainthearted, strengthen the weak knees. I pray for those who are living with the idea of a kind of private faith, secret discipleship. I pray that you will show us that either our discipleship will destroy our secrecy or our secrecy will call in question our discipleship. Some of us need to make choices, decisions about where we stand. Grant us grace to do so. Thank you for the pardon for our sins, for the peace that endures, for your presence that cheers and guides us. Thank you, O God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, and our God. Thank you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

[1] Hebrews 10:39 (NIV 1984).

[2] Genesis 21:12 (paraphrased).

[3] See Genesis 17:1–8; 22:18.

[4] See Genesis 13:16; 22:17.

[5] Genesis 22:2 (paraphrased).

[6] Genesis 22:5 (paraphrased).

[7] Romans 11:33 (paraphrased).

[8] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: Christ above All, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1982), 212.

[9] Brown, 212.

[10] See Genesis 48:12.

[11] Genesis 50:25 (paraphrased).

[12] Exodus 2:6 (NIV 1984).

[13] Exodus 2:2‒3 (paraphrased).

[14] See Exodus 1:16.

[15] See Exodus 6:20.

[16] See Exodus 2:4–10.

[17] William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).

[18] See James 4:4.

[19] Joshua 24:15 (KJV).

[20] Philippians 3:8 (paraphrased).

[21] See 2 Corinthians 4:18.

[22] See Exodus 3:10.

[23] See Exodus 4:10–11.

[24] See Exodus 12:1‒7.

[25] See Exodus 12:12‒13.

[26] See Philippians 1:6.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.