Untitled Sermon (3)
For those who don't know me, my name is Benjamin Hankin. Our family has enjoyed being a partner here for just over 2 years and we are so thankful God has called us to serve here with this wonderful body of believers.
With Mark being away on vacation, I was given a promotion for the week from children's ministry and Team Kid Jr, to what we call over you all over here across that hallway, Team Adult. Sorry there are no snacks or drinks being handed out. And if your looking for a craft, as we normally do over there, afterwards I can show you how to turn your program into a paper airplane or something.
I want to invite you to open your Bibles to Genesis chapter 15, where this morning we will be looking at the whole of this amazing and important chapter. It is here that we see a God who was quiet, is now about to get extremely personal again with His creation.
So lets dive in! Unfortunately we are not going very far, we have these three words right off the start, “After these things”. We as an audience reading need to ask the very simple question, after what things?
To appreciate where Abram is at during the beginning of this passage, we need to take a look back before moving forward. And in the interest of time I will give the super fast cliff notes version since we have a lot to cover today. In Chapter 12 and 13 God spoke to Abram and made promises to him. Make a nation of him, give him the land that he sees, bless those who bless him, curse those who curse him. Then we come to 14:1 Roughly 10 years after the first contact from God. These 5 kings from the area around the dead sea, say that they want to rebel, these 4 kings from Mesopotamia utterly obliterate the area. All of this would have been a footnote in history if not for the words “and they took Lot”. Abram gets word, saddles up 318 men who are like his private green berets, grabs his allies and they ride off like a old western posse to the rescue. They dont just win, one version translates the word defeats as “slaughters” the armies of the kings. They take Lot, his whole house/family, and all the loot and head back. In response to this victory as he is heading heading home, he meets two kings. In response to the great victory that they had, Abram celebrates giving a tithe to the Lord through Melchizedek, while denying the self seeking King of Sodom a foothold in his life.
So from there we move on to our passage chapter 15. where we see a beautiful and powerful interaction between God and Abram. During this interaction we will see these three things
God’s Covenant, it is here that God is going to set forth what He is going to do for Abram
God’s Confirmation, here we will see God not just making promises, but Him confirming to Abram that He will be the one to fulfill every part of those promises.
God’s Covenant Continues, here we are going to see how we today are apart of this great family that God is bringing unto Himself, How we today are apart of this promise to Abram.
I. The first point is that we will see God’s Covenant. These are the promises that He is making to Abram. First off we are going to see Him address Abrams physical safety, followed by his line of succession, and then lastly God address his future home.
----So Read continue in verse 1,
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
One aspect of this passage that is amazing, is the number of firsts that we see happen in this passage. This is the first time we see the words, “Fear not”, the first time for “The Word of the Lord came to..” and “also the first for God to say that He will be a “shield” for someone. While this may be the first time seeing them, as you see from the slides, it certainly is not the last.
As for this verse, if you think about it, it's kinda crazy that God would start off that way in His conversation with Abram. Abram is coming off this major victory! He is coming off of the great victory over the kings, rescued his family, stood up for God in the face of a self seeking king, joyfully gave of his riches to a priest king as a tribute to God. The last thing that we would ever expect to hear from God or anyone are the words “fear not”. But God knows His people, and being that He created us, He certainly knows us far better than we know ourself. God knows that when Abram returns home and when things settle down, he is going to begin thinking about the safety and security of the people, he may be thinking about the possible revenge that will come from the 4 kings whom he defeated. Questions like: Will they come back, what are we going to do? The human side of him may also begin thinking about the great sum of money and spoils that were handed over. Remember he is nothing but a house that is traveling in another's land, rendering him essentially homeless. What and why God feels the need to tell him to not fear, the Bible does not state.But one thing that is certain is this. All too often when we have mountain top experiences in serving or meeting with Him, we need to be on guard because on the other side of that mountain top there is a valley. And it is during these points when we are most susceptible to attacks from the enemy. And so I can almost see God wanting to head off that valley before Abram ever hits it.
----Lets read, verse 2 and 3
But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir."
And Abram in his response shows not one of unbelief, but Abram shows himself to be at a point of doubt. For him, the problem of a promise of a great reward or anything else that God has for him means nothing if there is no one to continue it. Abram looks at his age and sees he is long past the years of childbearing. Abram does a very human thing, and “offer God a way out” he is going to try and help God out as if HE needed it. And for us today looking at this passage, I want you all to think about something. This is an extremely rough place to be in life. You may have felt God’s leading at some point, started to follow and then end up waiting with no answer. You have been praying for something for a while, and find that there is no answer or reply. You know that God is clearly guiding your steps in a certain area, but there is no end in sight to where He is leading. It is this spot where our doubts can turn to fear and anxiety. Its here where if we are not careful and look to God for the answers, they will turn to unbelief. I want to share with you this from writer Henry Drummond: “Christ never failed to distinguish between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is I can't believe; unbelief is I won't believe. Doubt is honesty, unbelief is obstinacy. Doubt is looking for light; unbelief is being content with darkness.” Keep looking to the one who is light and keep trusting that He is faithful to guide you, allow Him to be your strength during these periods of unrest that occur in our lives.
As we look back at Abram, we the reader see him turn to the world for an answer to this problem. He offers up to God a solution, the culture of the day allowed for a couple with no suitable heir to adopt into their family someone who was in their house and continue the line through them. Thats why we see him offer up Eliezer to God as an option.
So God responds.
And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
We have to give God a lot of credit here. The amount of patience He shows in dealing with those who serve Him is amazing. His reply is very simple and practical. He meets Abram where he is at and tells him it is not going to be Eliezer, and reassures him that he will provide an heir of his own line. And God tells him to open his eyes and look up. I have to imagine that He did not just mean the starlit sky, but look up to God. Because if I am Abram at this point, the rest of my life I now have a practical reminder from God every evening that God is going to provide. My eyes during the night would not leave that sky. And I feel in all of this, God is simply telling Abram this… Abram, you could never realistically count them, you only look up and see them as something beautiful in the sky. But Abram I created them, I know each star by name, they are precious to me. And Abram, each star that represents one of your descendants, I know them too. I knew them in their mother's womb, I even knew them by name before I laid the foundations of the world.
At this moment, there were no words from our forefather. Not from his mouth, he spoke from his heart.
And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
If this were after the time of Christ on the cross, we would use terms like “he accepted Christ into his heart” or that he is a “Believer” now. And here is the something for us today to look back on. For Abram none of his previous actions were considered to have been counted as righteous. It was not his faithfully leaving Haran at God's call, it was not the heroic act involving Lot, it was not his tithe to Melchizedek who served God, and it was not the altars that he built for God. It was his faith, it was him simply believing that God is who He claims to be. Paul writes in
In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness."
Abram’s faith is what drew him close to God, not any act that was previously done or in the years after. God back then, and even now today. He doesn't want our acts, He wants our hearts. Let our actions be driven by our heart for Him..
And here we arrive at the last part of the promise or covenant that God is setting up.
Verse 7 and Abrams reply in 8:
And he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?"
What a change in this man. Simply put, God promises to provide a home for this wandering family and Abram has moved on from the point of doubt to a place where he is essentially saying “God I know you are able to do what you say, but I just don't know how you are going to do it.” And in a way, he is also asking for a sign from God.
2. This is where we enter into the second point of today, that a covenant set in place by God, needs to be confirmed by God.
Lets read the remainder:
He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete." When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites."
God is ready to “seal the deal”, sing on the dotted line, make it official, throw in whatever other terms you want tol. But remember, there were no lawyers to draw up contracts, and no wax seals with ring imprints like during the medieval times, no signet rings stamping approval as you would in Rome. People during this period needed a way to make it official and binding. There was no paper or any other writing and they needed a way to essentially “sign on the dotted line” or in this case as it was called, cut a covenant. In “cutting a covenant”, animals would be split in half, and placed evenly on two sides, with a path down the middle. The blood would pool in the center area and come down the path. Then both parties would walk down the middle reciting the covenant that they were to keep. In doing so they were stating that if I failed in keeping my end of the deal, let what was done to the animals be done to me. And so when God told Abram to gather the animals, he knew exactly what was coming. Abram faithfully sets it up and keeps watch over it until the evening hour when the covenant would normally take place.
So God puts him to sleep, and depending on your version, Abram is overcome with a deep and dreadful fear or a dreadful darkness. Essentially he has come into the presence of the Lord and like all people who enter that place, they feel weight upon themselves. We see Isaiah in “Woe is me, for I am undone!” As he is overcome with the same emotion, just as Moses in was afraid and hid his face. This is a holy reverent fear that we see Abram overcome with. Matthew Henry writes “Holy fear prepares the soul for holy joy; the spirit of bondage makes way for the spirit of adoption. God wounds first, and then heals; humbles first, and then lifts up.” And it is during this period when Abram is overcome, that God is going to lay it all out for Abram in verses 13-16 and 18-21, what is going to happen to the people that will come after Abram. Abram is told he himself will pass after a good long life. He also is promised a land, but that the land will not be given to them until a lot of hardships pass. God promises 400 years of affliction for his lineage as well as traveling in a land that is not theirs. The thing to take from this part is that God’s promises are not always an easy. There are hard roads that we have to walk when we follow and believe in God. Scripture is very clear that following God is not easy. Verses like , , and essentially guarantees that we will see trials in our life. But the thing to remember when we go down the hard roads as we live out God’s promise in our lives is that it is far better to be on the hard and tough road with God, than the easy one in the world. Look no further than Christ’s words recorded in and 14.
"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
And it is at this moment we see one of the most beautiful displays of love in the Bible. And if we did not understand what we are reading we might miss it. In verse 17, with Abram most likely on his knees and in a position of being in the fear and awe of God, watches God in the form of a holy purifying fire pass down through the path…. Alone. This is God alone saying that He will take on the full weight of the covenant, this is God saying to Abram that he has no part in this other than to continue following and believing in Him who sealed the deal. This is God saying to Abram, let what was done to these animals be done to me the Holy, Mighty, All Powerful God Lord Master over all Things, Creator of the world if I fail in my keeping this covenant with you Abram. It was in this moment, that a God who had been silent and distant from His creation for roughly 430 years, became personally involved with His people and began the process of bringing them back to Him.
3. As we enter into the final point here today, we sitting here in the year 2018, cannot fall into the trap or line of thinking that the Old Testament is something distant from us. When you think about it timewise, yes it is, in terms of our faith , this passage is as near to us as yesterday. And this is not just a covenant that the physical line of Abraham are a part of. This was the start of a God drawing a people who were destitute in their sin with no hope of redemption and destined for separation from Him for all of eternity. God Himself was building something and it was not upon us doing, saying, going, serving. It was not built upon the shaky foundations that man is able to built, no this is the solid unchanging rock that God builds upon. We read in that this was the type of foundation that Abram sought out.
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.
Listen, Abraham is not a perfect man. He certainly had his flaws, we saw today that he had doubts, he most certainly had fears, he ran when the things got rough previously, and he will mess up again. But what makes him different and an example to us today is that through it all. He never let go of the faith that he had in his God. He placed his faith in the person of God and built himself up on the foundations of the Holy One. And for us, the very same God who revealed Himself to Abram calling out as “I am your shield” and “I am the Lord”, the very same God who generations later revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM”, is today revealing Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ. “I am the one true vine”, “I am the way”, “I am the truth”, “ and “I am the life”. Just as Abram heard God and believed, we too need to see how God is showing Himself and do the same. When we read and see God’s “I am” statements, for us as believers we need to follow them with our “I believe” statement. And when we truly believe in and follow Christ, we find ourselves counted among the stars in the sky and part of this promise given to Abram.
The Apostle Paul writes in
just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
In , Paul continues about our relationship to Abram through Christ.
But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
The very same God who was willing to take the full brunt weight of the covenant with Abram, the very same God who said to Abram this is my unconditional love for you, I am going to be real and personal. I am going to guide and care for you. I am not expecting you to do anything other than be faithful and follow Me, I am going to bear this weight and let what was done to these animals be done unto me if I fail in seeing my promises to you fulfilled. That is the very same God who 2000 years ago made it clear that the only true path to salvation lay through the Son as He revealed Himself saying “I am the way”. God is drawing people back into a personal relationship with Him. Our salvation and place in the family of God, in much the same way as Abram, is not dependant on you trying to earn your way into it. And if you think you need to get your act straight, clean yourself up, or prepare yourself prior to accepting Christ, read . Apart from the Gospel message, we could not now nor never do anything that would endear us or to God or get us ready. We are a sin depraved people with the Gospel message permeating through our whole being. That's why the God who took the oath and went down the blood path that night, is the very same God who sent His Son to hang on the cross this time shedding His blood. All so mankind could fully be welcomed into a personal and loving relationship with Him. Christ’s shed blood on the cross opened the door for a multitude to be welcomed into promise that was given to Abraham that day. And because of the promise, and the shed blood, the Word of the Lord no longer needs to come to people as we read. The Word of the Lord now walked and talked with people in the form of JEsus Christ. The Word of the Lord no longer needs to come to people, because the Word of the Lord now lives in each and every person who calls upon the name of God and accepts Christ into their life!
As we close our time in the Word and move to a time where we reflect upon this message and respond, I want to share two last passages of Scripture with you. The first coming from Christ’s brother James in chapter 2:23
"Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"—and he was called a friend of God.
And the second from Paul in ,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
You see, when Abram accepted what God was doing and believed in Him fully, as James writes, he was called a friend of God. When we take the message of the cross and the full forgiveness of sins that comes through accepting that Christ died and rose again for all mankind, and apply it to our hearts and lives. We are not called a friend of God, we are considered far greater than that, we are called sons and daughters of the most High God. We are not friend, but family adopted into His family and heir to the promise given.
Time of INVITATION!