As I created a new sermon tab at the top of the blog, I discovered another sermon that I apparently never shared with you. It is from 2/25/2018. The message is based on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 and Romans 4:13-25. Read the Genesis passage here. Romans here.
It was preached at an assisted living facility. Audio here, it is about 20 minutes. The service is held in a large cafeteria type room, and that makes it hard to get a high quality recording. Also, there are a few loud bangs in the background – mostly at the beginning – as some workers were doing things. The transcript is below.
The Promises of God
Father Abraham. Abraham is a landmark figure in the spiritual history of the world. Christians, Jews, and Muslims all look to Abraham as a prominent example of faith. Abraham is important.
Yet, in his day, Abraham was actually not-so-important. In himself, there was not much to make him worthy of distinction. God chose Abraham in grace – for undeserved reasons. And during his lifetime, Abraham did not have an important position. He did not rule an empire. He did not command an army. He did not perform miracles.
Yet – 4,000 years later – we know Abraham. One of God’s promises to Abraham was that he would make Abraham’s name great. God fulfilled this promise!
Abraham was chosen by God to become the Father of a new spiritual family. We are children of Abraham, and we will eventually look at Romans 4 this morning (which I read) where Abraham is called the father of all who believe. But we will begin in Genesis.
A passage from Genesis 17 was read for us, and God reminds Abraham of his covenant promises to him. But we need to back up in the story.
In Genesis chapter 12, we first hear about Abraham. He was 75 years old when God first called him to leave his home and walk the highway of faith. God promised to make Abraham a great nation with many descendants through whom the entire world would be blessed.
One problem – Abraham had no children.
Fast forward to Genesis chapter 16. Abraham is now 86, so 11 years have passed, and there is still no child. Abraham and Sarah decided to take things into their own hands. Apparently, they got tired of waiting. You’ll remember that Abraham was intimate with Sarah’s Egyptian maid named Hagar, and Hagar had a son called Ishmael. This caused problems, complications, and heartache.
Even though Abraham and Sarah decided that the end justified the means, and made this unfortunate detour in God’s plan – God was compassionate with Hagar and appeared to her in a special way. God comforted and helped her. She was the victim in this situation.
And God was patient with Abraham too. He did not discard Abraham because he messed up. I probably would have fired Abraham: You’re fired!! I’m choosing a new person through whom to make a great nation and bless the world! – But in Genesis 17, the passage read today, God actually reiterates his promises to Abraham. He is the God of grace.
Seven times in Genesis 17, God says “I will.” What God says, he will do. God doesn’t go back on a promise. He is a promise keeper, not a promiser breaker. Maybe friends or family have let you down, and left a string of broken promises. Or maybe their love was conditional.
God is not like that. He continues to love us even when we mess up, and keeps his promises to us.
However, we need patience. We may need to wait on God.
It is his grace, his timing, his purposes. Abraham’s story depends on God. Abraham cannot bring the promises of God to pass. That is God’s job! — This can frustrate us. We want to make things happen – we want to hurry things along.
I’ll re-read the first verse of Genesis 17: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.” – This was the first time God revealed himself as the God Almighty in the book of Genesis.
In Hebrew it is El Shaddai. In context in the Bible, it is about God being the source of life and about God’s power.
I think Abraham needed to be reminded of God’s Almightiness – especially after the situation with Hagar. Abraham should stop trying to work things out in his own power, and let God Almighty work for him.
Isaac is finally born one year later, when Abraham is 100. Genesis 21:1 says: “Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised.” – Note the repetition. It says the same thing twice. God fulfilled his promise. But for Abraham and Sarah, it has been a long delay.
Think of your own life. Are we anxious over God’s delay? Does it seem like God has broken a promise to you or failed to hear you? We need to remember he is El Shaddai, the God Almighty, who keeps his promises.
God’s delays have a purpose. Actually, I’d say that God may not delay, per se. He is not early, he is not late – God shows up precisely when he means to – in his perfect time.
God may want to test our faith, develop our patience, or bring us to the end of ourselves. Too often, at heart, we are depending on ourselves. But God wants us to depend on him. It may not be until we realize how powerless we are, that God will step in with his power to work in our situation. He is the almighty God, not us.
(Have everyone say together: God is almightly!)
Abraham saw the beginning of the promises to him fulfilled through the birth of Isaac. But the majority of the promises God made to Abraham would not be fulfilled until he died – until long after his lifetime.
Think about that. Really think about that.
This is a conflict with our modern expectations! We want things NOW. We want instant results. We want results we can see. We live in a particularly impatient age.
Would we be willing to follow God like Abraham if we knew that most of the results of our faith would not come to pass until generations after we died?!?! – That’s an amazing faith.
God even revealed to Abraham in Genesis 15 that for 400 years his descendants would be afflicted before they began their journey to the Promised Land. This was a prediction of the Israelites future time in Egypt, before the great Exodus from Egypt led by Moses. We can read about that in the book of Exodus.
Do we have a 400 year faith? In our day, I think we struggle to have a 24 hour faith! Why hasn’t God delivered yet? We impatiently look at our wrist watch. But God’s watch is not our watch. God’s timing is often different than our sense of timing.
But besides timing, there is another important thing to consider here. We live in a very individualistic age. What is MY purpose? How does this fulfill ME? What’s in it for ME? We make ourselves the focus. But we’ve got to see beyond ourselves. We’ve got to see the big picture of life, and not miss the forest for the trees. Individual trees matter, but together they make up the forest.
Our individual lives matter, but God is doing more than what we can see in our brief moment in time. As Christians, we become a part of God’s big story for this world – the grand plan of redemption. It is not ultimately about us, and it wasn’t ultimately about Abraham either.
Most of the promises made to Abraham, not only found their fulfillment far in the future, but involved the entire world. In Genesis 12, God told Abraham: “I will make you a great nation, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” This is reiterated in different ways in the Old Testament. For example in Isaiah 49:6, God said about Israel:
“I will make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” — You and I, sitting here today, are part of the fulfillment of this promise to Abraham.
And now we will look at Romans 4 in the New Testament which talks about Abraham, Jesus, and us – you and me. Let me read Romans 4:13… “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.”
This verse in Romans is referring back to Genesis 15:6 which says: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Abraham was saved by faith, and so are we. Our faith connects us to Abraham. Romans 4:16 says that Abraham is our father in the faith – that is if we have faith.
Romans 4:16 says…”Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.”
The promises to Abraham in Genesis were looking forward to something yet in the future – the coming of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
Paul, in Romans, is looking back and points to Abraham’s faith as the faith by which everyone is counted righteous before God.
Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham by dying on the cross for the sins of the world. The whole world has been blessed through Jesus. Everyone has the opportunity to become a part of the family of God. Anyone who believes in Jesus, whether they are Jewish or not Jewish, will be forgiven of their sin and be seen as righteous before God.
Jesus is for everyone.
The end of Romans 4 makes this clear. Let me read the last verses of this chapter. (Read verses 21-25 in my Bible.) Link here for verses.
Did you hear that wonderful phrase “also for us”?
It isn’t only about Abraham, it is about us too. Even though we are sinful people, we can be credited with righteousness just like Abraham was – by placing our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is so simple. All we must do is believe. Yet faith is a struggle sometimes. It can be hard to believe. We can be filled with doubts. Or we can succumb to a self-reliant tendency. It can be hard to admit that we are powerless and sinful people that need a savior. We consider ourselves good, and think that God should accept our efforts at goodness. But no matter how good we try to be, we still fall short.
Jesus is the righteous ONE, and our righteousness is given to us by Jesus by grace through faith.
Romans 4 gives us some further encouragement. Verse 17 reminds us that we believe in the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. The following verses say that against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and he was fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised.
Admit your powerlessness, and look to the power of God displayed in Jesus! Nothingness and death are not a problem to God. God created the universe out of nothing, and out of death – Jesus was raised to life.
The creation of this world and the resurrection of Jesus manifest the great power of God. Whatever you are facing, God can get you through it.
Even though Abraham faced a hopeless situation, he still had hope and believed. Faith looks at the problems in light of the promises of God.
We can’t ignore our problems. Being hopeful doesn’t mean that we put our head in the sand, or have a naive optimism. A theologian said: “Genuine hope is not blind optimism. It is hope with open eyes, which sees the suffering and yet believes in the future.”
– Hope sees barrenness and death yet believes in life and resurrection! God keeps his promises because of his power and grace towards us. I’ll close with the words to an old hymn:
Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God
Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.
**When I prepared this message I utilized multiple sources. But I particularly remember John Stott’s commentary on Romans and a book entitled The Community of God being helpful.