In the last lesson, God had given a great victory over those who had captured his nephew Lot. In this episode, Abraham had met this shadowy person named Melchizedek, one greater than Abraham who blessed him for his belonging to the Most High God, the Possessor of Heaven and Earth. Lot returned to Sodom for a short while and Abraham returned home.
The journey of Abraham is part of God’s great and unfolding drama of the redemption of creation and the human beings he had created in His image. The final conclusion of this redemption will occur in the kingdom of God, a land God has reserved for his people. Here they will have eternal life, a life marked by its quality as much as its unending duration. We will then have fellowship in strife less love with each other and with God. We shall realize the fullness of being the children of the most influential Being in the universe.
Exposition of the Text.
In this lesson, we shall see further development of God’s promise to Abraham. Yahweh appears to Abram in a vision and promises to protect Abraham’s life as well as reminding Abram that God was his great reward. His reward was to be far greater than the stuff that human beings lust after. This is more than material blessing, even though God had blessed Him in that way.
Abram recognizes who has appeared to him and instead of addressing Him by His name Yahweh, but rather by His tile as Lord God. It is almost the response of a child about to ask his father for something. He emphasizes the relationship he has with his father. In this case, Abram addresses God as his superior and himself as God’s client. This implies a contractual obligation between benefactor and client. The benefactor was honored in return for his obligation to take care of his client. So this tells us that Abraham is reminding God of His promises to Abraham. He had heard the promise of his having children and was asking God after many years when he might expect this to happen. This is understandable because Abraham was in his eighties at this point and Sarai his wife past seventy. ‘he reminds God of the obvious. He had no heir, not even Lot who had left. Was he going to have to leave all his goods and promises to a foreigner, his servant Eliezer of Damascus? Surely God meant more than that.
God answers Abraham’s inquiry by giving Abram more clarity on the promise. Neither Lot nor Eliezer was the heir. God says that Abraham would physically become a father and not an adopter of an heir. Here is the first direct promise of a physical descendant. And this seed would become himself the father of many. He led Abraham outside and asks Abraham to count the stars if he could. He had earlier compared Abraham’s descendants as being more than the dust of the earth. I don’t know how many stars there are. I surely cannot count them. But God did not just make a little promise to Abraham. What Abraham was asked to believe was simply staggering. From Abraham’s current situation it would seem impossible.
How does Abraham respond to this promise? It says that Abraham believed God. And it says that God counted this belief for righteousness. The New Testament brings out the staggering implications of this verse. In particular, Paul in both Roman’s and Galatians make much of this statement.
Paul saw this verse as the very foundation of his argument that we are justified by faith alone and not by works. This promise was seen as a gift to Abraham from God and not a reward for Abraham’s good works. Abram is declared righteous in this passage simply on his believing the promise God had given to him. We can see from Abram’s life so far that he was not perfect. And we shall see down the road that he was not perfect then either. The promise Abram received was God’s free gift to Abram which is called grace.
It is important to understand exactly what grace means. If a person works hard for an employer, he receives his paycheck as a contractual obligation. One earns a paycheck. In no way can a person who has worked for the paycheck be seen as having been “graced” with a paycheck. If we were to use this language to describe one’s receiving a paycheck in would be saying that the man god paid anyway, even though he was lazy and did not really earn it. Paul takes pains to tell us that our salvation in Jesus Christ is a gift of God and not of works. This is one of the most revolutionary ideas that has ever come down to us. It is a staggering promise which is just as staggering as the promise given to Abraham that he would be the father of countless descendants despite his age.
Paul encourages us not to waver in faith but simply believe that God has promised great things for us despite all appearances, in spite of out wickedness and rebellion against God. We should have no expectation of God favoring us so. In fact, there is nothing we could ever do to earn God’s favor and we now it. How many people have thrown themselves against the rocks of despair trying to earn salvation?
Paul was one such person. He belonged at one time to the sect of the Pharisees who tried to rigorously apply the principles of the Law, Writings, and the Prophets to his life. Not only this, but he was the strictest of the strict. If any man could have earned salvation, it was Paul. In fact, he called his conduct blameless as a Pharisee. There was only one problem, and it was a big one. He had become in his zeal one who actively fought against what God had been doing in Christ. Far from being righteous and deserving, he had become the chief of sinners. In fact, instead of deserving salvation, he had become the least qualified to earn it. But Paul recounting his salvation experience dismisses his former life with the word, “but”. “But God, who is rich in mercy” came to him and saved him anyway. It is all by God’s grace and not by our works at all that we are saved. We have no reason to boast.
Martin Luther, the great reformer of the faith was used by God to bring back the message of salvation by grace though faith alone. The church had lost the message of Christ in that it started to emphasize meritorious works. There was till grace, but it was mixed with works. The church became the mediator of grace as though it were managing a bank account. The saints because they did far more good works than was necessary for their own salvation could deposit these extra works into the church’s bank account, making a loan of grace available to those whose works were insufficient. The church had made quite a bit of profit over the trafficking of grace.
Luther entered a monastery with the hopes of earning his salvation. But the harder he tried, the worse a sinner he felt himself. He would go to confession several times a day and felt guilty over whether he was sincere with his confession. He beat himself with whips, fasted, slept naked outside in the snow, and scrubbed the entire monastery with a toothbrush in the attempt to earn favor with God. It was only when he realized that righteousness was a gift from God through faith that Luther felt the weight of the world fall off his shoulder.
The promise of God seems too good to be true. Surely God wants something in return. We have a hard time to simply put forth our hands and receive God’s staggering promise of salvation in Jesus Christ. God reckons our faith for the righteousness that we are incapable of. He accepts it as payment in full. No saint earned this. Christ paid for it all in His own blood on the cross. He bore all of our unrighteousness and suffered the wrath of God for our sins. This costly gift of God is offered free of charge. And even the necessary faith to receive this promise is God’s gift of grace.
The staggering promise of God to Abraham is a type of God’s staggering promise to us in Jesus Christ. Believe this promise and you will be reckoned as righteous in the presence of God. We also learn from God’s promise to Abraham that it was also fulfilled in Jesus Christ. According to Paul in the Book of Galatians, Isaac was not the promised seed in the ultimate sense, but Christ. Through Abraham’s line, a Son was born by the name of Jesus Christ in a manger in Bethlehem. He was the seed through whom all of the nations would be blessed. We can say that some of Abraham’s physical descendants have in some way been a blessing to humankind in various ways. But there has also been a lot of strife between the children of Abraham as well. Only in Jesus Christ is this promise fulfilled to Abraham.
The New Testament tells us that this promise to Abraham was even more stupendous than the promise of a son, as great as that was. It was through Abraham that the completion of God’s plan of redemption would be fulfilled. Adam and Eve lost a garden plot, but we have the promise of the city of God. Adam and Eve lost the privilege of walking with God in the cool of the day, but to us the promise of being with the Lord forever in one eternal day. Adam and Eve ruled over the animals, but we shall judge angels and rule and reign over the entire universe with Jesus Christ. We shall be a part of God’s family that outnumbers the stars of heaven and the dust of the earth. We shall know life without end and limits. It is in Jesus that we have this hope.
So I would encourage us all to remind ourselves of God’s great promises that He has made and not waver in faith. God has gifted us greatly in Jesus Christ. We sing “Not the labors of our hands, can fulfill thy Law’s demands”. No amount of zeal can save is. We must simply “to the fountain fly”. We need to be washed by the Savior. What a great promise God has given us. Let us simply believe what God has promised like Abraham did, and all is ours. For God will reckon our faith into righteousness so that we might be “faultless to stand before His throne”. What a great God we serve! Let us give thanks for his marvelous promise. Amen.