Covenant - God Reaching Out
Genesis opens with a wonderful account of God’s creative activity. We “see” God willing the existence of all that is not God – and the Bible tells us it was GOOD. And when God wills humanity into existence we read that that was VERY GOOD – humanity was “in the image of God”. We talked about what that means, to be in the image of God. It primarily means we were designed to be God’s image bearers on earth, doing God’s work here, God’s representatives. How was humanity to do this? Genesis 1 says there are two ways:
First – we were to manage God’s creation as God’s stewards or representatives, not as owners. We were to manage God’s creation for the glory of God.
Second – God would like the earth filled with more image bearers. The more people raising their hands to God in adoration, the better.
God’s desire has always been, and will always be, a planet filled with people who are walking in fellowship with him and living in alignment with his vision.
Then we talked about the next section of Genesis – sin. Our burning desire to, at any cost, serve self and not God. And as a result death permeates every aspect of life, and culture. Death flows through our existence like blood flows through our veins. War and famine and abuse and disease and murder and greed and lust and the list goes on and on. And still, in our self-centered, God defying little brains, we try to convince ourselves that we’re basically good. “If everyone could just be like me…”. Well, everyone IS like me and that’s the problem.
Psalm 51:5 (NIV)
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
So, first we had a world of life and beauty and piece – then we have a world of death and pain.
Two weeks ago we talked about the holiness of God – the absolute perfection and majesty of God in all that he is – which makes our sin even more DEVISTATING. For those who catch a glimpse of who God really is – holy, the reaction will be like Isaiah’s reaction when he saw God, when he “got it”. His response was, “Woe to me! I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5). When Jesus’ disciple, Peter, “got it”, he fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Go away from me for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). The question is absolutely NOT, “How could God cast eternal judgment on me?” The question is, “How can it be that this holy God would save me from his judgment?”
Today we’re going to jump ahead in Genesis and take a look at God's action to save. He is not leaving us to die in our sins and face his judgment – he has a plan to restore us rather than kill us. In Genesis 12 we read about an event that took place some 4,000 years ago. God chose a pagan man named Abram to be the one through whom he would rescue the lost. Abram was the start of a chosen people whom God would love and not hate. Over a period of 25-30 years God would “unfold” his plan to Abram and it's very important because if you, today, are trusting Jesus as the One who will save you – you're connected to this event.
Sometimes we call the agreement God made with Abram a “covenant”. The Bible is filled with different types of covenants – it can be an interesting study.
Genesis 12:1-3 (NIV)
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
LOOK AT CHART – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Jesus
This particular covenant – the covenant of Abraham – has three basic promises in it:
First – God will give Abram a massive family tree and a homeland. God is going to make sure that his desire to populate the earth with people that worship him happens. God wanted Adam to do this and he would not – he defied God and introduced the cancer of sin into life. God wanted Noah to do this but he could not – the cancer was too strong. Now God will make sure this happens through Abram.
Genesis 12:1-2a (NIV)
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation ...”
Genesis 15:5 (NIV)
[God] took [Abram] outside and 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.”
God even changed Abram's name to Abraham (Abram = exhalted father, Abraham = father of a multitude). Everytime the name “Abraham” was mentioned or thought, God's promise would come to mind. God also changed his wife's name from Sarai = my princess (limited to someone's princess – probably her father) to Sarah – princess (princess of a nation).
Second – God would bless and not abandon Abraham. God would be for him and not against him.
Genesis 12:2a (NIV)
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you...
So, how does that work? How does a holy God who cannot overlook sin (if he did he wouldn't be good or just) just bless someone? How does a holy God forgive the sins of a sinful person. Connecting with the forgiveness that God offers has always been through faith and God NEVER overlooks sin – it must be dealt with. So, what did this look like for Abraham?
Genesis 15:5-6 (NIV)
[God] took [Abrham] outside and 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.” 6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Abraham believed God and God is now friend and not enemy. And sin? The same Jesus that faced God's judgment 2,000 years ago in my place would face God's judgment for Abraham's sin 2,000 years after Abrahom. In Abraham's case, by faith he would trust God to unfold his plan in the future. In our case, we trust God and believe Jesus died for us on the cross 2,000 years ago. Forsaking All I Trust Him.
All those who, by faith, place there hope in Jesus are friends of God, not enemies.
Third – God will bless the nations through Abraham
Genesis 12:3 (NIV)
“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Galatians 3:8 (NIV)
The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”
The promise God makes Abraham before Jesus came is looking to the time when Jesus will finally destroy sin and send his followers on a mission:
Matthew 28:16-20 (NIV)
Then Jesus came to [the disciples] and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Before we finish today, I want to tackle one more thing – Abraham's roll in this covenant. Did God simply bless Abraham while Abraham sat back and did nothing? NO – God would bless Abraham as Abraham continued to believe, or trust, or have faith in God. Here's an example of this. In Genesis 22 God tested Abraham's faith by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac to him. When Abraham had the knife in his hand we find an amazing statement:
Genesis 22:16-18 (NIV)
...“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
God working out his promises to Abraham happened as Abraham continued to believe God. God will also work out his promises in the lives of those who live for him as they live for him.
But does that mean that God's plan is dependent on me? No – as God rescues his people he gives them the faith they need to follow him. While God's victory in my life must be lived out by me, in the end I cannot take credit for it. It is all God's kindness to me, his grace that saves.
In the O.T. covenant(s) we see a patient and merciful God who deeply desires to connect with his people. God shows great love in making a way for relationship and blessing. While God cannot overlook sin and could anyalate everyone, he tenderly shows his desire to bless and not curse, to give life and not death. God personaly reveals himself over and over again to those who might listen, “I have made a way!”
The Abrahamic Covenant is an amazing gift, but in its original form it doesn't really work – it asks too much from us – again we fail.
Isaiah 24:5 (NIV)
The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant.
With the death and resurrection of Jesus we finally have what we need for Abraham's covenant to reach its intended form. We now have someone who will keep the covenant for us – perfectly – that's why Jesus came. He succeeded where we cannot.
Some of you here may be living under a system that doesn't work – working for God's blessing. That's backwords – we live for God ONLY because he first loved us. Please don't put your faith in your ability to meet God's standards – you can't do it. Instead, put your faith in the One who can keep the covenant for you.
John 3:16 (NIV)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”