Abraham God the covenant and us
God, Abraham the covenant and the church
Call to worship
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29)
Let your mighty outstretched arm, O Lord God, be our defence; your mercy and loving kindness in Jesus Christ, your dear Son, our salvation; your true word our instruction; the grace of your Holy Spirit our comfort and consolation, to the end and in the end, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Grace to you form God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hymn No 25: “Great is your faithfulness”
Scripture Reading Genesis 15:6-18a
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Hymn No 52: “Not unto us, O Lord of heaven”
Offering and Dedication
Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)
While the offering is taken up, elder Dagleish will do the announcements Ð (no music while he is speaking – music thereafter.)
Eternal God, every good gift comes from above, a certain sign of our Father’s love, in appreciation of which we return thanks by presenting these your tithes and our offerings, the first fruits of our labour, from hearts full of love to you for your mercy and grace. Be pleased to bless both these gifts and we who bring them, for the advancement of your Gospel and Kingdom, and the glory of your great name, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Scripture Reading Romans 4 (selected verses)
Hymn 562: “Master speak for I am listening”
Sermon “God, Abraham, the covenant and the Church”
My dear brother and sister in the Lord,
What do we mean when we say, “We are saved by faith alone”? 8 I suppose the question is, “Does faith save us?” Than of course we need to understand where does faith come from?
We are studying the work of God in and through the life of Abraham. God called Abraham and made certain promises to him. In Genesis 12:2-3 we read:
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:2-3)
To make this possible God had to provide descendants for Abraham and Sarah. It also included a land or territory.
In a certain sense we can take this blessing of God upon Abraham and his descendants as a repeat of the covenant God made with first Adam and then Noah. It was a command to have dominion, and it included a promise to provide the means to exercise that dominion.
The promise of God towards Abraham (and the other people of the Old Testament) is also described as the Covenant of grace. 8 When there is grace, there is faith. And where there is faith, works are excluded. Include works as a means of salvation, and both salvation and grace do not exist any longer.
We will come back to the question, “Does faith save man?” For the moment, let’s go back to Genesis 15 to try to understand something of God’s covenant of grace with Abraham. We will then ask the question, “How does God’s covenant of grace impact on the church today?” What is the significance of the covenant made with Abraham for the church today?
8 God, the Sovereign
We commenced our reading of Genesis 15 from verse 6 tonight. We did it purely to save some time. But one actually needs to understand this whole chapter from the beginning. Let’s look at 15:1
Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. (Genesis 15:1)
When God said to Abraham, “I am your shield”, it may also be translated as “Sovereign”. The word shield is used only in reference to the 8 protective guardianship of God. Of its eight occurrences, six have to do with the Assyrian crisis in the days of Hezekiah. Isaiah assured the king that God would care for Jerusalem like a mother bird hovering with wings spread over her young in the nest (Isa 31:5). God would protect Jerusalem in this crisis for his own sake and for the sake of David (Isa 37:35). The deliverance of Jerusalem would demonstrate to the world that God was faithful to his promises and mighty to deliver his people from their oppressors. Zechariah twice uses the same verb to describe the divine protection of God’s people in their wars against the sons of Greece (9:15) and of Jerusalem in the last days (12:8).
In all these references it is almost as if we see God in action to protect his own promise – the covenant of grace.
8 Further, all the riches Abraham had acquired by that time, could not measure up against the future display of God’s immeasurable covenantal grace. The Lord said: “I am your very great reward”. The underlying meaning of the word for reward here refers to the wages of someone who is hired.
Put the two parts of verse one together and we might paraphrase it so sound something like: “Abraham, I am your protection and your guide. Trust Me. I employ you in my service and will recompense you richly.”
And God took Abraham outside to look up to the stars. And the Lord said:
Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them. Then He said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5)
8 What did Abraham do at that point in time? Verse six follows:
Abram believed the Lord, and He [God] credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
8 Now What is the righteousness referred to in this verse? This word refers to an ethical, moral standard and of course in the Old Testament that standard is the nature and will of God. Now let’s apply it. The act of faith, which is obedient trust, in Abraham was tested against holy and perfect will, and God gave it the pass.
8 So, now we may argue that Abraham must have been some special person. He had a great faith. He was really special. If only we could have more of the sort of Abraham in our day. People with upright morals; people who would abstain from the moral corruption of our society. That is how we now jump to define faith.
But we need to go to Romans 4 to see what the Bible says about faith which is regarded as righteousness. 8 Once again, keep in mind the question, “Does faith save us?”
In Romans 4:4 we once again come across the idea of wages and reward. And immediately our idea of faith as an description of moral goodness that saves, get a knock on its head. We argued that Abraham must have been a special man, with a moral life above suspicion for God to call him and make him a covenant partner. Because here it says:
8 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)
8 Let’s stretch the argument a bit. Is it possible that our faith is displayed in the fact that we partake of the sacraments as signs and seals of God’s covenant of grace? It is possible to argue that God will look at us, partaking of these signs and then accredit to us the righteousness speaking of eternal protection and reward?
Once again the Scriptures are clear. Read Romans 4:11
And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. (Romans 4:11)
While he was uncircumcised. It seems correct to see it this way. When God spoke to Abraham in Gen 15 and confirmed his covenant of grace with him, Abraham had not been circumcised – which is the Old Testament sign and seal of the covenant. A sign and a seal can only point to the real thing, and the real thing was the covenant already made.
8 What happened in Genesis 15 was that God made that covenant with his servant. It was done by cutting animals in half, putting the halves of each animal opposite one another, leaving a path between them. Each half would represent the two parties. The blood of the animals was a sign of the contract between the two parties – if you don’t keep the stipulations of the covenant, than as was done to the animals so will be done to you. It was almost as if there was a river of blood between the two parties.
Now this is how it was done in the case of two equal parties – men towards men. But here things were different – no equal parties! God command Abraham to do the same, but now, God took the role as the sovereign here. Towards the end of the day nothing had happened, and Abraham fell asleep. God didn’t need the cooperation of Abraham. Then this act of God’s grace: He came down in fire and went in on that path of blood and consumed the blood, and most possibly also the animal parts. To this Abraham was an onlooker. He did nothing but to be consumed by the glory of God in his mercy and majesty.
It is of this act that Romans 4 refers to. It was not because Abraham was a morally upright person who got the attention of God that he was included in God’s covenant. It is the other way round. 8 Grace begins with God and end in God. It excludes the law and it excludes the circumcision (or in our case as New Testament Church) – it excludes baptism, which only a sign that follows grace – at least as a means of salvation. It certainly is present as a sign of salvation!
8 Now once again the question? How got Abraham saved? How did he get the approval of God, how did he get the righteousness from God? Did his faith save him?
Let’s look at Romans 4:19-21:
Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19-21)
It seems we have to rephrase the question. Not asking, “Did his faith save him?”; rather, 8 “What is faith?” Now we have another word here connected to faith. And it is an important word. Romans 4:18:
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Romans 4:18)
8 Hope! Faith is that act of obedience – it is not only a state of cognitive acceptance. It is an act of obedience. Abraham had hope. Why? He saw the wondrous deed of God’s grace in action, sweeping through the parts of the animals, consuming the blood. And then he trusted. And he had hope. 8 And we know that Biblical hope is that sure knowledge of what is sealed up in the blood of Christ for all eternity until his return.
The church today
Let’s read the words of Romans 4:23-25:
The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him [Abraham] alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Romans 4:23-25)
Abraham is our father by faith. By faith we are his children. We are included in the covenant. The church of today is the continuation of the unfolding plan of God with his covenant people. And we are save the same way. This time God’s covenant grace was displayed in a more grandiose and everlasting way.
There were no animals cut in halves. But there was blood. There was a lamb. And there was a cross. And forsaken by everyone, without the help and assistance of anyone, God sealed up his covenant in Christ, the perfect sacrifice.
8 My friend your faith will not save you. Faith in the general understanding of the word may include a stack of good works again. It is obedience and trust in God – and that can be called faith – which brings God’s promise of grace and salvation into action.
This is our Gospel: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
Jesus loves me, yes I know, for the Bible tells me so. Entrust your life to God. He will be your protector. The reward is rich. AMEN.
Prayer for others
Victor Jackson, Chris Bubb and MAF, Presbytery Meeting,
Hymn No 105: “O praise the Lord, his deeds make known”
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)