Abraham, the Father of all Believers (9)

See, I make everything new

Scripture Readings

  • Romans 4:16-25
  • Genesis 17:1-19

Introduction

When I went to high school I met a giant.  He was in year eleven and stood six foot and 10 inches tall in his shoes.  When he finished school at the age of eighteen, he was a full seven foot tall.  In the new language it is 2.13 meters.

Andrew Hall’s hight came in handy at the end of school days when he could close any school classroom window without ever reaching out for a stick.  He would take the rugby ball and just through it where he wanted on the rugby field.

Andrew met a girl about six inches shorter than him.  Their car was a Mini, with no back seat; the front seats were mounted on extra long rails, which made them look like they were filling all of the Mini.

Interestingly, the seven foot tall Andrew Hall had a nickname which he carried into the rest of his life:  Tiny.  I heard his boy were also called by that name.

Abram

Abram’s name, unlike that of Tiny, was not something given to him to mock him, although it would have been quite easy to do so.

In the time of Abram it was the tradition to, when, introduced make much of the name of every person.  Names meant something.  It was common to ask this question, because it was important to the people of the middle east. It would go like this:  “Good morning, what is your name?”  “Abram.” “Well that means ‘father of many’.  May I ask how many children do you have?”   “One.”  “One?”

It is not impossible, because of his riches, that Abram met many traders in his tents.  These questions would be asked over and over again, and every time Abram faced the surprised faces of his guests.

He was now ninety nine years old, and still there was only one child.  And in the back of his mind, Abram knew that that son, was not the son of the promise.  He held on to the promises of the Lord, but his name, “Father of many” began to sound like the seven foot Tiny’s nickname.

Between the year Ismael was born and now, thirteen years passed by and not a word of the Lord.  Was it impossible to think that Abram was thinking of getting himself another name to spare him the possible ridicule?

God Almighty

And then God appeared to him again.  Abram and Sarai was that old that if they had given up hope to have a child of their own, getting one would all the more point to the glorious power of God who can do what no man can.

It was the first time God introduced Himself by this Name:  El Shaddai! This name revealed something about the Person of God that made Abram fell flat on his face.  Like Daniel and John:

While He was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. (Daniel 10:15, NIV)

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. (Revelation 1:17, NIV)

Abram was unable to bear the sight of the divine glory.  He humbled himself in reverence before the holy God who bowed down from heaven to speak to him personally.

Our fellowship with God may never lead to familiarity.  If we ever thought that we can get God to our level, we need to ask ourselves if we indeed know the glorious God of creation and re-creation.  It is a sickness of our time that reverence for God has flown our the back door when we gather for his worship.  No, in worship we are gathered in the throne room of the Creator of the universe who is holy, clothed in majesty, glorious in power and great in limitless wisdom, power and might.  It is only when we understand what it means to bow in adoration, giving Him the glory of due his Name, that we will find meaning worshipping Him.

God Almighty speaks to Abram.  He is the all-sufficient God who always does enough in completeness.  He is enough in Himself; He is self-sufficient; He has everything, yet He needs nothing.  He calls us into covenant with Him and therefore He is enough for us, we have enough in Him, because He satisfies all we need.  David says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I will lack nothing.” The Psalmist confesses:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25, NIV)

Facedown before the Almighty God Abram is commanded to blamelessly walk before God.  The holy God demands that those who believe in Him and walk in a covenant relationship with Him would reflect something of his own character.  “Be holy as I am holy.”  The right attitude of a sinner living in a relationship with God would be the same as that of David:

Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. (Psalm 19:13, NIV)

It calls for integrity, honesty, it is to set God always before us, and to think, and speak, and act, in everything, as if we are always under his eye. It is to have a constant regard to his Word as our rule, and to his glory as our end in all our actions, and to be continually in his fear.  Listen to these verses:

As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy. (Psalm 123:2, NIV)

If Abram thought his name was embarrassing because he had only one son at that stage, what God had to say would change his life.  Abram’s name would change from “father of many” to “father of many nations”.  Not only was the covenant something God promised, but now it would be established and sealed with a sign. How God would do this would be spectacularly impossible for any human being:  a man of almost hundred, and his wife ninety, will have a son.

Sarah

Sarai’s name was changed too.  She was now a princes, the mother of many kings; the mother of many nations.  It all had its beginning with one son.  God honoured the marriage between Abraham and Sarah to fulfil his promise to them.  Not Ismael, who was born from a marriage not blessed in the first instance by God; not a son born out of the plans made by a man and his wives, but a son born when all seemed so impossible, so that God would receive all the honour.

Isaac

Within a year, the barren princess Sarah would give birth to a son.  God gave him his name:  Isaac! Verse 17, I think, does not tell us that Abraham mocked God if God could not do what He said he would.  No, I see a man flat on his face on the ground, in joy, laughing as laugh of jubilation.  Yes, there was initial unbelief, because he was still thinking that maybe Ishmael would have a part in it.

Abraham’s unbelief is met with the confirmation of God, “Yes your wife Sarah will bear you a son.” Ismael will be blessed, but not in the same way.  The name Isaac, which means laughter or joy, will bring joy to millions others whom God by grace will include into his covenant. All believers in every age should be looked upon as Abraham’s spiritual seed, and that he should be called, not only the friend of God, but the father of all believers.  Years later Paul writes:

As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (Romans 4:17, NIV)

God’s covenant with Abraham was everlasting in an evangelical sense. The covenant of grace is everlasting. It is from everlasting to everlasting in its consequences.  In his body Abraham got the irreversible sign of circumcision, the very organ used to procreate and bring forth seed, is now externally marked:  Abraham became the father of all who believe because in him God established the covenant from which “The Seed”, Jesus Christ would come.  The covenant had an internal blessing which was by the Spirit of Christ’s seed to gather children for God in every age.

Christian

By the same grace God showed to Abraham, and through the same covenant we get a name change too.  By faith in God and his Son Jesus Christ we become children of God and we are called “Christian” – we belong to Christ.  God promised to his people:

The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. (Isaiah 62:2–3, NIV)

John and James, disciples of Jesus, had a name change too.  First they were “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), then John became the apostle of love.

Paul writes that every family in heaven and on earth derives its name from the Father (Ephesians 3:14–15).  John even refers to disciples of Christ who went out for the sake of the Name, forsaking everything to bring glory to Christ (3John 7)

I make everything new

For Abraham and Sarah that day was a new beginning:  a new name, a new sign, a new promise, a newborn son – all by God Almighty, who says what He does, and does what He says.  And it ultimately pointed forward to Christ, whose name is Immanuel, and Jesus, the one who saves. Because of his death and resurrection we hear:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

This Christ, the seed of Abraham, now seated on the throne promises:

“I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5, NIV)  He also promised:

 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17, NIV)

Conclusion

We have real names, and we have nicknames.  But what really counts is the name we received when we believe like Abraham and Sarah:

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. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him 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. (Romans 4:20–24, NIV)

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 21 September 2014

Covenant Baptism

Broadly speaking, there are two main views on baptism:

  • Covenant Baptism (some may call it paedobaptism, because it implies that infants of together with their covenant parents should be baptised).  The mode of baptism is sprinkling of water.
  • Believers Baptism (some call it credo-baptism, because only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour are baptised, usually adults.  The mode of baptism is immersion into water.

This paper explores the Presbyterian understanding of Covenant Baptism.

Covenant Theology represents an understanding that there is unity between the Old and the New Testaments.  What is promised on unfulfilled in the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New Testament – one is not possible without the other.  The New Testament thus does not replace the Old testament; neither does it exist as a separate part of the Bible alongside the Old Testament.

All the prophets testify about Him [Jesus Christ] that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:43)

“Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:45–47)

The church of the New Testament is not a separate entity from the church of the Old Testament, but a continuation of it, albeit in more glorious form.  The ceremonial signs of the rituals of the Old Testament found their fulfilment in the Person of Jesus Christ and have ceased after the cross and resurrection of our Lord.  However, what they signalled still stand, but now understood in and through the Head of the new covenant and his perfect work as Priest, Prophet and King.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household. (Ephesians 2:11-12, 19)

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17, NIV)

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:11–14, NIV)

Jesus did not come to rip up the Old Testament, He came to fulfil it.  As a matter of fact, during his ministry He very often used the Scriptures of the Old Testament as his authority.

The church of the both the Old and the New Testament (Israel) has Abraham as father.  God made a covenant with him after He called him out of the slavery of sin.

“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 12:1–3)

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28–29)

God’s promise to Abraham states clearly that through Abraham the nations and peoples of the earth will be blessed.  This was made possible through the death and resurrection of Christ and by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

So then, he [Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (Romans 4:11–12)

About the covenant God further said that it will be for the generations of Abraham as an everlasting covenant.

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Genesis 17:7)

“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.” (Romans 4:16) (The the “promise” in this verse is reference to the covenant – see also Acts 2:39, Eph 2:12)

The Bible is clear about the fact that this covenant is not one of works, but one of grace.

“Under what circumstances was it [his righteousness] credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before!” (Romans 4:10)

The sign of the covenant in the Old Testament was circumcision.

This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Genesis 17:10–11)

Abraham had not be circumcised when God gave him the sign, so not Ishmael and other men in his household.  They were all circumcised after God commanded it:  Abraham being 99 years of age, Ishmael 13 and later Isaac on the eight day.

On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised, and his son Ishmael was thirteen; Abraham and his son Ishmael were both circumcised on that very day. And every male in Abraham’s household, including those born in his household or bought from a foreigner, was circumcised with him.” (Genesis 17:23–27)

First then, those who had not been circumcised before God instituted the sign were circumcised, irrespective of their age; later, all males born into a family were circumcised on the eight day – which means that the circumcision was later almost exclusively administered to babies boys, apart from cases where new convert families were added.

To not keep this ritual meant breaking the covenant.

“Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:14)

Even when Moses neglected this ordinance God became angry with him and wanted to kill him.

At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,’ she said. So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said ‘bridegroom of blood,’ referring to circumcision.)” (Exodus 4:24–26)

The other sacrament the Lord gave his people, was the sign of blood of the Passover lamb.  Both the sign of circumcision and Passover were signs accompanied by blood and pointed forward to the blood of Christ, God’s Passover Lamb.

Exodus 12.  Numerous other parts of the Old Testament.  This was a perpetual sacrament which was later replaced by the Lord’s Supper.

Those who converted to the God of Israel from other religions, together with the males in their household, including infant boys, had to be circumcised before they were allowed to partake in the Passover.

A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it.” (Exodus 12:48, NIV)

As with many things during the time of the Old Testament which were incomplete, and about all sacrifices were accompanied by blood, or alternatively, by water – water being the sign of ritual cleansing.  Circumcision was sign of initiation into the Old Covenant and was a sign of blood (Genesis 17:10)  It was done once.  The New Testament replacement of this sing was baptism, a bloodless sign.  The sign was replaced, while the covenant remained.:

In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NIV)

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38–39, NIV)

The Passover Lamb was the perpetual sign, done repeatedly, and was a sign of blood (Exodus 12:22).  The New Testament replacement is The Lord’s Supper, a bloodless sign:

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27–28, NIV)

The Greek work used in some verses of the Old Testament does not indicate immersion, but sprinkling.

“Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew (bapto) of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” (Daniel 4:33)

Purification acts in the Old Testament were done by sprinkling or washing, and is some cases “bapto” is used.  This washing did not include washing with soap and water to physically clean hands or feet or body, but signalled purification.

Then the anointed priest is to take some of the bull’s blood into the tent of meeting. He shall dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle it before the Lord seven times in front of the curtain.” (Leviticus 4:16–17)

A priest in the Old Testament took blood of an animal and “sprinkled” it on the altar to ceremonially cleanse it.

Then the anointed priest shall take some of the bull’s blood and carry it into the tent of meeting. He is to dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle some of it seven times before the Lord, in front of the curtain of the sanctuary.” (Leviticus 4:5–6) [This act of the priest happened consistently with all offerings.]

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.” (Hebrews 9:13).

Any person who touched a corpse had to cleanse himself.  For the Israelite this happened in the courtyard of the Tabernacle where there was a big bronze holding basin (Exodus 30:17-21).  The ritual was done by sprinkling, not immersion – and yet the word used is “bapto

When one of them dies and falls on something, that article, whatever its use, will be unclean, whether it is made of wood, cloth, hide or sackcloth. Put it in water; it will be unclean till evening, and then it will be clean.” (Leviticus 11:32)

When Naaman of Aram came to see Elisha he had to purify himself by washing himself in the Jordan.  This is exactly what God commanded in Leviticus 14:7

“Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields.” (Leviticus 14:7)

In the New Testament “bapto/baptitso” is interchangeably used for another Greek word “nipto”, meaning “cleanse”.  For those who were still Jews this washing had ceremonial meaning:  unbaptised hands were unclean hands.

The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.” (Mark 7:3, NIV)

But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. (Luke 11:38, NIV) (His hands were “unbaptised!)

Not all instances of the word “baptise” or “baptism” in the New Testament mean to immerse.  In fact, more often than not the word has a spiritual meaning.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. (1 Corinthians 10:1, NIV)

… long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolises baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:20–21, NIV)

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:37–38, NIV)

Charles Hodge, renowned theologian comments:  “But the Egyptians who were immersed were not baptised; and the Israelites who were baptised were not immersed.”

When believers in the New Testament were baptised by the Holy Spirit they were not immersed but filled.  Even the tongues of fire which sat on them pointed to the purifying “sprinkling” of the promised Spirit of Ezekiel 36:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)

The baptism of John was not the baptism which Jesus commanded. John did not baptise in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  John was the last Old Testament prophet, preparing the people for the arrival of the New Testament period.  John called the people of God to repent; he did not baptise them to become part of the people of God.

“From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’ (Acts 13:23–25, NIV)

Those who were baptised with the baptism of John were re-baptised, because they were not baptised in the Name of the Holy Spirit.

[Paul] asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19:2–5, NIV)

As commanded by Jesus after He completed his mission (death and resurrection, and gave the disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit, for whom they had to wait before they started their mission to the world, the apostles introduced the New Testament baptism as a sign of Covenant at Pentecost when people were baptised.  On Pentecost Day and after Jews who had been circumcised previously were baptised.  To understand New Testament baptism, we should not start with John, but with the command of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

God in the Old Testament made promises of a new era to come, when the Sprit of God would be poured out and the sins of the people would be forgiven.  The work of the Holy Sprit is connected with purification and rebirth.  He is “poured out” on the people, “put in” the hearts, like oil on the head of the anointed prophets and kings.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:25–27, NIV)  See also Ezek 37:14, 39:29, Isaiah 44:3, Jeremiah 33:8, Joel 2:28-29.

Both the work of Christ, who gave his blood to wash away our sins, and the work of the Holy Spirit comes together in this verse:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19–22, NIV)

When on Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out the promises of a new era came into being.  What was symbolised by ritual washings of purification, and what was promised about a new heart and a new spirit was fulfilled on that day. The Spirit was promised:  “I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11, NIV)

Peter explained to the people that Joel 2:28-32 was fulfilled. The pouring out of the Spirit took place.  This pouring out had to do with cleansing and rebirth.  In Acts 1:8 it was called “receive”; in other places it is referred to as being “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 9:17)  They were baptised with the Holy Spirit which symbolically sat like flames on their heads, symbolising the cleansing of the Spirit in the same way as the sprinkling of the water in the Old Testament signified.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26–29, NIV)

  • In Peter’s sermon on Pentecost day things are connected:
  • All the promises regarding the Messiah were fulfilled in Christ
  • Forgiveness of sins is possible because Jesus Christ died and was raised from the dead
  • Rebirth is possible because the Holy Spirit was poured out (or put in the hearts of the people/the people received the Him
  • Repentance of sin is necessary (Acts 2:38)
  • Baptism as a sign of inclusion into the Covenant family of God was necessary (Acts 2:39
  • As with the Old Testament Covenant, children were included into the covenant by the sign and seal of baptism (Acts 2:39
  • Now more than just the Jewish people are included (Acts 2:39)
  • God anointed all his people to be priests, prophets and kings by giving them his Holy Spirit.

Three thousand people were baptised on Pentecost Day.  In keeping with what is taught in the Old Testament about “cleansing” and receiving the Holy Spirit, it is reasonable to assume the following:

  • The three thousand were not immersed in water.  The sign of being received in the family of God was by sprinkling of water.
  • The place where the people gathered when they received the Spirit was most probably not too far from the temple courts (Acts 2:46; 3:2,8; 5:20-21,25,42; 24:18; 26:21).  Jerusalem was a city with very scarce water supplies which depended upon rainwater stored in tanks and cisterns.  To assume that they were immersed is to read back into the text.

As in the time of the institution of the circumcision as the sign of the Covenant in the Old Testament, when those who had not been circumcised were circumcised, irrespective of their age, so those baptised in the New Testament were mainly adults.  Whole families were baptised in the New Testament.  Every Covenant God ever made with his people included children:  Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses.

  • Of the EthiopianAs they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?” (Acts 8:36, NIV)  The text states that it was a desert road.  The water referred to in this text could not have been a lot.  It stretches the text to assume that the Ethiopian was immersed.  It is fair to note that the expression “with” in Greek could in certain contexts be translated as “in”.
  • Of PaulImmediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised (Acts 9:18, NIV).  As Paul was baptised in the house of Judas in Straight Street in Damascus at a time when there were no other water supply than from wells or cisterns, it seems logic to assume that Paul was not immersed.
  • Of Cornelius“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptised with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days. (Acts 10:47–48, NIV)  Cornelius, his relatives and close friends were all were gathered in the house. Could they have been immersed when they were baptised.  In what?  Who were the relatives?  Only adults, but it might have included whole families of his relatives.
  • Of the jailer:  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptised. (Acts 16:31–33, NIV) The context leads us to believe that every person in the family of the jailer were baptised – this is in keeping with what happened with covenant families in the Old Testament.  Further, they were still in the building of the prison when they were baptised; immersion could hardly take place there.
  • Of LydiaWhen she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts 16:15, NIV).  In all fairness, they were near a river and could have been immersed.  This however would be out of step with the rest. Besides, it included the members of her household, which could have included children.

In the old Jewish Church every proselyte from the heathen brought his children into the Church with him.  If only one of the parents is a Christian, the children are said to be “holy,” or “saints,” which is a common designation of church members in the New Testament.

For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14, NIV)

Baptism in the early church, as we have seen, happened in the most unusual places and circumstances. As the Gospel spread and congregations developed and they gathered under the leadership of elders and ministers, whether in house churches or dedicated buildings, it become custom to administer the sacraments when the covenant people of God, the congregation was gathered.  Administering the sacraments was never meant to be something private; it would destroy the covenantal character of the family of God.

It is therefore proper that baptisms should be administered within the worship service, where the whole covenant family of the Lord can witness it, rejoice in it and vow to accept and to set a Christian example to those who are baptised.

Practise in the Reformed Churches all over the world, which also do not subscribe to paedo communion, is that children of believing parents are baptised, but are not given the right to sit at the Table of the Lord.  They are baptised members, but not communicant members.  Only after they have made profession of their faith in the Lord in the gathered community of the Lord, do they become communicant members, giving them access to the Table of the Lord.

It is therefore the task of the whole congregation, but more specifically the parents to train their children up in the understanding of the Bible.  They need to understand the call of the Gospel based on God’s promises to them once made when they were baptised.

Baptism does not saved anyone, but provides the basis for the promises of God as seal and sign of his grace to be accepted when baptised members reach a stage when they can understand, and indeed, give public testimony that they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and that they commit their lives to service in his church.

Sessions are also tasked with the responsibility to see that training take place, and that other activities are put in place to nurture their baptised members into communicant members.

Only those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives, who repented of their sin, whose desire it is to walk in accordance of the Word of God, led by the Holy Spirit, may be baptised.  Their children should be baptised too, as we saw above.  No baptism should take place before the Session is satisfied that these requirements are met.

The Presbyterian Church of Australia has as confessional document The Westminster Confession of Faith.  It states:

Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptised

Ministers of the Presbyterian Church, when they are licensed or ordained and inducted to a charge make certain vows. One of them is:

Do you own and accept the Westminster Confession of Faith, as amended by the General Assembly, and read in the light of the Declaratory Statement contained in the Basis of Union adopted by this Church on the 24th day of July, 1901, as an exhibition of the sense in which you understand the Holy Scriptures, and as a confession of your faith; and do you engage firmly and constantly to adhere thereto, and to the utmost of your power to assert maintain and defend the same?

At the last General Assembly (2013) of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, at which all congregations are represented through their presbyteries, the Assembly reaffirmed the following:

Motion 83:  “That the Assembly:  Declare that the understanding and practice of infant baptism is so integral to the history, the purity of worship and the structure of covenant theology in the westminster confession of Faith that no potential office bearer should sign the formula if the Church’s stance on infant baptism is not accepted.  Furthermore, those who have signed it but hold exclusively to credobaptistic views should remain silent on their views or resign.”

As minister of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, I signed the declaration which states that I understand the Westminster Confession of Faith as an exhibition of the sense in which I understand the Holy Scriptures, and as a confession of my faith.  I vowed to engage firmly and constantly to adhere thereto, and to the utmost of my power to assert maintain and defend it.  I am bound, not only by my conscience and understanding of the Scriptures, but also to the vows I made before God when I became minister of this Church, and once again when I was inducted into this charge.

It would be dishonest of me to do otherwise.  I therefore would find it impossible to administer the Sacrament of Baptism in a different manner, or by a different mode.

“Jesus, Thank You”

Communion celebrated

Communion

Communion

On Sunday 14 September the congregation celebrated Communion – what a blessed time we had.

The symbols of bread and wine became real as they pointed, not only to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ where He paid for the sins of lost sinners by dying on the cross of Calvary, but also pointing us to his return.  The words of Jesus in John 6:51 became real to us:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51, NIV)

We understood from the Word that God has called us to service in witnessing discipleship to the world as we heard the Word:

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:27–28, NIV)

We did not only look back to the cross-wrought salvation of Christ, but to coming future with Him when He returns:

I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29, NIV)

It was therefore fitting that we should sing:

  • “Light of the world” (CCLI Song # 3266032)
  • “Consider Christ” (CCLI Song # 1980516)
  • “Oh, the mercy of God” (CCLI Song # 1930937)
  • “How deep the Father’s love for us” (CCLI Song # 1558110)
  • “Glory and power (See Him coming)” (CCLI Song # 4289410)

Abraham, Father of all Believers (8)

The God who sees

Scripture Readings

  • Acts 10:30-48
  • Genesis 16:8-15

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

There are certain types of people I don’t particularly like. There are those who openly hate God and mock his Son, Jesus Christ. I add my voice to that of David when he says,

Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? (Psalm 139:21, NIV)

Then there are pedophiles.  And dishonest people.  And because of what I have seen about the ISIS people, who in the name of their god behead people, sell children and women as slaves, and brutally kill the husbands, I made up my mind that there is at least a certain kind of Muslim that I don’t like.  It is probably because of this that I don’t particularly like Hagar.

Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, who became the father of the Arab people, and most Arabs are Muslims.  In my mind I made this jump from what I see today about violent Muslims around the world to project my dislike on Hagar of Genesis 16.  What I conveniently forget is that Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, received his so-called visions in 610 A.D. – this was about 2,300 after Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael.  Interestingly, after Mohammed got his visions he and his followers were mostly resisted by Arab people.  Huge wars were waged before Islam finally took root in most Arab peoples, about 200 years later.

True, Hagar was not Abraham’s first wife.  Her son, Ishmael, was not the son of the promise.  The blessings to Abraham and Sarah would reach to the end of the world through their children, Isaac and Jacob.  Out of them the Christ would be born, and through his death and resurrection salvation has come to all peoples on earth, including the sons of Ishmael.  They, like all of us, must bow before King Jesus and receive salvation from Him to be saved.  Salvation for them is indeed the only possible way in which we would meet each other as brothers and sisters.

The apostle Peter learned this lesson very early in his ministry after Pentecost, as read about it in Acts 10:

“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Acts 10:34–36, NIV)

Hagar, the refugee

We dwelled on the terrible, sinful mistake Abraham and Sarah made to include Hagar into their family line.  This was not the plan of God, and dreadful consequences followed their disobedience.  Sarah’s full wrath and jealousy descended upon Hagar.  Knowing that Hagar became her rival, expecting the child of her husband, the Bible says Sarah mistreated Hagar.

Abraham though he could get of this by washing his hands and pretend nothing happened.  “Do with her whatever you think best.  She is in your hands!

Then, one day, Hagar was missing. Neither Sarah, nor Abraham went looking for her.  She was on her way back to Egypt where she was originally from.  She took the known highway down from Beersheba to Egypt.

I don’t think the absence of Hagar from the tents of Abraham andSarah necessarily brought peace between them.  They knew she was pregnant and that the blistering hot sun could kill her.  The Bible does not tell us that they showed any mercy to her.  She disappeared, running away from her master and mistress – something which was possibly, from a legal point of view, not the smartest thing to do: slaves had no rights, she had no legal ground to stand upon, and could be severely punished if found – which is probably why she wanted to go back to Egypt as soon as possible.

Her fleeing the tents of Abraham signalled her flight away from the blessings of God through Abraham.

The story of Hagar running away from the tents of Abraham is in many ways the story of every sinner:  we run, not going somewhere in particular, but surely away from God.  Without a sense of direction we find ourselves deeper into a desert, alone, forgotten, forlorn, without hope, with no future.  Paul describes this in Ephesians 2:

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:3,12, NIV)

The worst part is that we find ourselves on a road we reckon will rescue us from what we are running away from.  We think we dealt badly by God and other people, so we don’t even think of calling upon Him.  Our natural instinct is not to seek God – sin prevents us from doing so.

Hagar found

In some ways, because I don’t really like Hagar, my sinful nature would think that she should have been left to die.  But there is something amazing in this text.  Forgotten by Abraham and Sarah, lonely in the desert, without hope for a pregnant women to ever survive her escape, the Bible reads:

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. (Genesis 16:7, NIV)

Without going into a deep theological discussion about who the Angel of the Lord is (there are good and well-documented articles to read in this subject) most theologians believe the this Angel is the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity.  Wherever we read about “The Angle of the Lord” in the Old Testament, it is in connection with the salvation of people.

In any case, angles were messengers of God, and God sent this angel to find Hagar.  Why?  She was lost and needed to be brought home.  Arthur Pink makes a lot of finding people at wells in the Bible, but let’s just think for one moment the meaning of the well here points to.  First, it points to life.  God directed the steps of Hagar to the well where she would find water.  He caused the well to be there in the first instance, then He caused her to be there.  The water meant life to her, in the same way as Jesus Christ is life to the sinner.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37–38, NIV)

His mission was to seek and to save the lost.  So He comes after the sinner, not to condemn, but to save.

The grace of God is shown in the two questions asked to Hagar:

  • Where have you come from?
  • Where are you going?

When Jesus spoke to the women at the well in John 4, He also asked questions.  They were meant to take her to the point of admitting her sinfulness before God.  She wanted the water Jesus was talking about, and Jesus was about to give her it for free, but she needed to own up to her sin.

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. (John 4:16–17, NIV)

The question of the Lord is not meant to hurt, but to set free.  This is true to every sinner.  Sometime we want the are Jesus gives, but we are not willing to own up to our sins – the very reason Jesus came into the world for and the very reason He gave his life.  So, the question is still very applicable for everyone who hears the searching grease of Christ.  The Heidelberg Catechism, in its second question and answer nails it right on the head when it states:

What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?  First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance. 

This is the purpose of the question, “Where have you come from?”  My dear friend, let’s own up before God and confess our sins to Him who knows everything about us.  We leave our past with Him, and in truth He sets us free from our past through the blood sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ.

The next question exposes our spiritual bankruptcy.  Fact is we are at the point of dying without a future, hope and we are terribly exhausted – spiritually.  Hagar had nothing left of her own resources to make her keep going.  So, be a man today, and answer this question honestly before God.  What is your future?  God asked the same question to Adam and Eve in Paradise:  “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) Are you sure you are on your way to God’s heaven?  Or should you today admit that your sinful flight is taking you further away from Him – which will eventually end up in a never-end death in hell where you will cry out like the rich man for just a drop of water (Luke 16:24, while you now have the life-giving well in front of you?

Make the most of God’s grace now presented to you.  Paul writes:

“In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2, NIV)

Hagar owned up to her past.  She admits, “I am running away.” O, what great verse this is.  Hagar was in distress purely she was running away from blessing.  Like the lost son she needed to go back home; it is just so much better there: it is where life is.   Say this to God today, admit your sin before Him because He wants you to go home ad have rest.

In more than one instance going back calls for restitution.  Hagar was after all the “servant of Sarai” (Genesis 16:8) by God’s will.  But we can make restitution because God has given us forgiveness through his Son.  We can and should love others because we have be given love.  Paul writes to Philemon about Onesimus his run-away slave:

Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. (Philemon 15–16, NIV)

What is the basis for Paul’s plea with Philemon?  “I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love.”  (Philemon 9, NIV)

So, based on the forgiving grace of God, who is at work in both you as sinner and those whom He sends you back to, go home!

Hagar restored

Hagar received blessing from the Lord.  In her case it had to do with her son and his descendants, and as such, we can’t just draw a straight line between what He promised her and us – other than to say we are blessed through Abraham, the father of all believers, through the Son of Abraham, Jesus Christ.

Hagar’s reaction on what happened there at the well of Shur is preceded by God’s grace.  Two things stand out:

  • God hears
  • God sees

The name of the unborn son is given in advance:  Ishmael, which means “God hears“.  Every time Hagar, Abraham and Sarah would address this son, they would be reminded of this fact.  Hagar never prayed to God to come and save her – He did so out of grace.  But to his saved child He gives this promise, “If you call on God, He will hear.”

Further, Hagar called this well, “The One who sees“.  God saw Hagar in her misery, the outcast one without hope and about to die.  His seeing meant that He did something to save her.  The same thing happened in Egypt with the people of the Lord, then in bondage:

 “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land … (Exodus 3:7–8, NIV)

God saw and He heard – not that they were crying to Him for help.  Their cry was a cry in slavery.  They forgot the Name of their God.  Moses had to ask God by what Name would should he appeal to the children of Israel, for they have forgotten the Name of their covenant God!  “I AM” was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:15).

Hagar saw the God who hears – and who saves!  My dear friend, listen to this:  God sees and knows your misery, and in seeing, He gives you the promise sealed up in Christ.  His name is “Jesus, for He will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Conclusion

What do we learn from this passage in the Bible?

The grace of God is:

  • seeking, hearing, finding, rescuing, restoring
  • triumphing over catastrophic human sin – just look at the cross of Christ!
  • calling us to come back home
  • providing the strength to face difficulties
  • extends to all types of people in Jesus Christ of all nations in Abraham through Jesus Christ, descendants of Hagar included
  • extends to all, not only to those I like

Like Peter in Acts 10, we need to learn this lesson.  What is the answer to the problem of ISIS and those who brutally murder people, including the people of God?  The grace of God.  And for this reason we as the church of Christ is called to proclaim to the them the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

May God give us the grace to be obedient.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 September 2014

 

Abraham Father of All Believers (7)

Do not be wise in your own eyes

Scripture Readings

  • Galatians 4:21-5:6
  • Genesis 16:1-7

Introduction

Dear fellow believers,

Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England, had his portrait done by Sir Peter Lely.  Lely had the skill of painting away the not so flattering features of the royals, but when commissioned to do Cromwell’s painting,  the instruction of Oliver was clear:

“Mr Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.”

If the Bible was my book and I had a say in what should be in it, it would be thinner and it would focus on the beauty of the glory of God only.  I would omit chapter 16 of Genesis.  Chapter 15 is good, because is records God’s grace to Abraham and his offspring.  But chapter 16 exposes the ugliness of what happens when a hero in faith relies on his own understanding.

But the path of faith is not walked by perfect feet.  Certainly, it tells about the glory and grace of the omnipotent and all-wise God who shows compassion towards fallen sinners; but, it includes the stories of fallen man like us.  Now I can understand how the holy God, through Jesus Christ, reaches out to me and make me his child: and all of that by grace!

Sarai speaks

Up to this point in Genesis, the Bible does not record any spoken word of Sarai.  The account of God’s dealing with Abraham excludes any direct dialogue between God and Sarai, and Sarai with Abraham.  It seems as if she was, included in the words and actions of Abraham, was the silent, believing partner.  Even in the story of what happened in Egypt where she was given into the house of the pharaoh, not a word of Sarai was recorded.

Then, after the mountain-top experience of her husband where God revealed his unilateral agreement of grace to Abraham and his offspring to make him the father of all believers, Sarai speaks.

Surely her husband had shared with her all the things God communicated with him.  She was included in the deal.  She thought about it. But she had a few of her own ideas about it.

She was barren

This was the first thing she spoke about: “The Lord has kept me from having children.”  Or, “The Lord restrained me.

She thought about what God said to Abraham, she looked at her own inability, and she understood (for a human point of view) that God would exclude her from what is going to happen to Abraham.  She, at this stage, did not protest her barrenness; she took it as something which God allowed to happen.  One could say that she, in all humility before the will of God, submitted to the idea that she will never have any children.

It seems a natural thing to look at your circumstances, weigh up the impossibilities, and then look at all other possibilities.  That’s how human nature works.

Perfectly acceptable custom

In those days it was perfectly okay and acceptable to give your personal slave girl to your husband as a surrogate to bear children if your proved to be barren.  Any child born out of that union would be regarded as the child of the first wife.

Sarai looked at this option.  She might even have thought that it was by the providence of God that she and Abraham had to go to Egypt so she could get Hagar as a slave: she was Gods hand-picked choice to bear the child of the promise.  There would be no shame in this arrangement; as a matter of fact this was an arrangement that would take away the shame from both Abraham and Sarai, because in those days there was a stigma to barren women.

Willing to stand back

In perfect submission to her husband and all which God promised to him, Sarai was quite willing to play second fiddle, stand back and disappear on the background. If this was God’s will for her life, so be it.  What as picture of submission and humility.

God’s kingdom be built

She said to Abraham:

The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.” (Genesis 16:2, NIV)

In these words Sarai thought in some way she would be included, although not directly.  “I could built my family through her.”  It was the second option, but rather this than nothing!

It as surely the desire of Abraham too that Sarai would be included into God’s plan for all who would believe. Just imagine, God called this man and his wife, she agreed to be with him wherever he goes, whatever the circumstance, whatever the cost. But in the end she was not part of it, God had to launch “Plan B”: get Hagar into his plan, because He overlooked one small bit of detail:  Sarai was barren.

Abraham acts

Did God really intended Sarai to have direct part?

Maybe, at this point of time, Abraham went through all the encounters he had with God. “To your descendants I give this land.”  “Your descendants will be be as many as the the stars and the sand of the seashore.”  It’s about Abraham’s seed; Sarai is not explicitly mentioned here. The more he thought about it, the more it became clear to him:  “I’m the father; Sarai is barren; there’s another women in the house.  God allowed her to part of the family.  She is an Egyptian, and did God not say all the nations of the earth will be blessed through me?  This is from God.  I’s my second choice, but it could be God’s first choice!”

Mutual agreement

Abraham agreed to what Sarai said.”  Abraham was an honourable man; what he did was not without the consent of his lawfully wedded wife.  I suppose they talked about it, weighed up the pros and cons, and in the end a day was set for Abraham to formally take Hagar as his secondary wife.

This happened “ten years after they arrived in Canaan” (verse 3), still waiting for the promises of God to come true. I don’t think the inclusion of this line is in the Bible for nothing.  It is almost as if Moses wrote it there for us to understand that all possible human recourses were exhausted.

Sarai gave away her rights to Hagar, and Abraham did what he did for one thing, and one thing only:  they wanted to be obedient to the Lord to see his promises come true.

Hagar fell pregnant.  What a relief! It worked! It would still be better if this was a boy.

By faith?

Sarai

Sarai’s actions seemed plausible and laudable. But her actions speak of unbelief.  Her answer to her barrenness did not keep in mind the power of God.  Further, it seems as if Hagar had no say in the whole scheme.  She was treated the way you would expect of unbelievers.  It might have been politically correct to do pass on your maidservant to your husband as secondary wife, but it was not according to the plan of God. Sarai’s polygamous solution was conventional and proper in the eyes of everyone, but God.

Further, her words, “I can build my family through her” (verse 3) completely kept God out of the picture.  God could not do it, now I will have to step up and do it! Faith flew out the backdoor.

Someone comments:

It was wrong against God, Whose word had been given and Whose time should have been waited. It was wrong against Abraham, leading him out of the pathway of patient waiting for God’s will. It was wrong against Hagar, and did not recognize her individuality and rights in the matter. It was wrong against Sarah herself, robbing her of a high privilege as well as leading to disobedience

Abraham

Like Adam in the Garden, listened to his wife.  Although already legally married to one wife, Abraham here acted like the unbelievers in the country they came to live.  God’s calling for them was to be holy and different from the nations and their customs, but here he used the customs of heathen nations to justify has actions to become the husband of more than one wife.

Once he had followed the voice of God in Ur and obeyed.  He heard God’s promises spelled out to him over and over again.  In the shadow of chapter 15, where God explicitly, in a very unambiguous way, demonstrated to him that all is in God’s hands, he still fell back on his own wisdom.  There was no direction from God to take Hagar as his wife.  Instead, now he listened to the voice of his wife.

The language in this chapter is almost identical to that of chapter three.  There Eve said to Adam and he agreed; here Sarai said to Abraham and he agreed.  There Eve took and gave to her husband; here Sarai took and gave to her husband. Both Adam and Eve partook willingly; here, both Abraham and Sari partook willingly

The consequences

Hagar

Up to this point Hagar was treated like a commodity, a soulless baby machine.  She was dragged into this drama to solve the problems of the childless parents, and she was used for nothing else.

Little wonder then that she, after falling pregnant, despised Sarai.

This is what happens when we take things in our hands, and not wait upon God.  Someone said, “He who believes should never be in a hurry.”  If we are, we have to face the consequences.

One consequence is sin comes into our lives and dominate it.  At first there was just Abraham and Sarai; now it was Hagar first, then Abraham and Sarai.  What seemed to be background music, now became in-your-face-noise.  The fruit of our schemes become unwelcome quests, but we just can’t rid of it – it’s pregnant!

Hagar was treated badly – yes she was mistreated, the same word used for cursed.

Bitterness

The easy-going Sarai now became an erupting volcano. Bitterness sprang up, the blame game began:  “Your are responsible for my wrong.”  Even the fact that Hagar despised Sarai became Abraham’s fault.  She realises that what she and Abraham had done can only be judged by God, but she put it in such a way as she expected God to punish Abraham.

Too late!

This is where we see that Abraham was actually no hero.  Like Elijah who in one chapter saw the glory of God in victory of the Baal priests, and in the next find himself in the bush, wishing that he was never born, here we see Abraham falling from the heights of his experience with the living God falling to the depths of humiliation and weakness.

Your servant is in your hands. Do with her whatever you think best.” (verse 6) Yes, but she is pregnant with your child! What a love triangle; what a disaster! As a strong husband he should have assured Sarai of his love and that she was first. He should have accepted the full blame and responsibility. He should have dealt kindly and firmly with Hagar.  He didn’t. He should have sought the face of God in prayer, apologised to his wife and cared for the woman now carrying his baby.

It is interesting that neither Abraham nor Sarai referred to Hagar by name:  she was just “the servant”!

A commentator writes:

“The thing that shouts loudest here in the story is that there was not an honorable character in the lot. All were ignoble. Abram was the worst. He was pathetic, passive, impotent, and uncaring of either woman. Neither woman had any compassion on the other. Sarai was worse, but you get the idea that Hagar would have done the same if she could. Notwithstanding, Hagar was the prime victim. And Sarai was a not-so-distant second.

All of this started when one becomes wise in one’s own eyes, not trusting God.

Conclusion

Before we condemn Abraham, Sarai and Hagar, we need to be honest before God here.  Aren’t we just the same?  One moment on the mountaintop of grace, the next we take things in our own hands, and when it blows up we blame God for it!  Or we blame one another.

We learn from this to always trust God who is powerful, all-wise and perfect in his ways.  Never can we do God’s work for Him.  We’ll be sure to mess it up.

God honours marriage. Let’s leaner this from this story.  God has never intended for marriage to be between more than just one man and one wife.  The mere fact is very clear from what Paul later declared:

After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:29–31, NIV)

In matters spiritual beware of what might look like good advice, but not tested by the Word of God, even if that comes from those closest to you.  Even Job’s wife enticed him to curse God and die.

We need to confess to God that our plans are not his plans.  We need to submit to Him and ask Him to teach us patience, which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

If we in the process wronged anyone we need to go back and beg forgiveness in the Name of Jesus Christ.

If in the process we have set things in motion which will have consequences beyond our control, we need to beg God’s forgiveness and pray that He will somehow teach us how to best deal with it.

As church, the body of Christ, we need to ask Him to keep us within his will, love his Word, keep praying for his guidance, not embark on any program if it may in any way be against his declared will in the Scriptures.

We need to go on our knees and thank God that He did not abandon his plan of salvation even in the face of disbelief and disobedience, but that He brought it to fruition by sending Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Redeemer through the true son of the promise, honouring the marriage of Abrham ans Sarai.

Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them. (Proverbs 26:12, NIV)

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. (Isaiah 5:21, NIV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. (Proverbs 3:5–7, NIV)

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7 September 2014

Abraham the Father of all Believers (6)

God’s unilateral agreement of grace

Scripture Readings

  • Galatians 3:6-18
  • Genesis 15

Introduction

Dear family of God,

It is impossible for the sinking swimmer to negotiate with the lifesaver agreements before he is rescued.  At that point in time the lifesaver is in charge; the troubled swimmer is in need.  To survive he needs to obey the commands shouted out to him; he has to trust the lifesaver with his life.  There is no time for doubts; he does not have the luxury to question the credentials of the lifesaver or his equipment.  If he wants to survive he has to cooperate because it is a matter of life and death.

When God calls us into a relationship with Him the Bible calls it a covenant relationship.  In this relationship we, as the sinking sinner, have no say, other than to, against all odds, stretch out our hands to the saving God who delights in saving us and making us his children.  That obedient stretching out of our hand is faith.  Faith is not a form of good works; it is what you do when you know you deserve nothing else but to sink into eternal hell, and then see the saving hand of the Saviour.  At that stage faith does not ask questions, or it cannot doubt – it is the only possible option to survive:  all preparations for the rescue operation are done; God does not initiate a rescue plan with flaws in it.  It is complete, and God has to be trusted for it.

To then stretch out our hand is what the Bible calls faith.  To not do so is called unbelief which leads to eternal condemnation.

Do not be afraid

I am your shield

Our chapter begins with, “After this …”  It clearly takes us back to chapter 14.  There Abraham rescued his nephew, Lot, from the hands of the mighty kings.  One might think that those kings could get it in their hearts to call another campaign in retribution to punish Abraham.  But God assured him that he should not be afraid.  He promised to be his shield.  In seeking righteousness according to the principles of God’s kingdom and for the sake of Christ, Christians expose themselves to the hatred of the world.  We must remember:  Do not be afraid, God is our shield.  The enemy might be able to destroy our bodies, but they will never be able to touch our souls.

The son of the HMAS leader, who converted to Christ, declared in an interview after he very strongly spoke out against Islam, that his life might be in danger, that he might be hunted down for what he is saying, but he is confident that they will never silence his testimony and they have no right on his soul.  May God protect him.

I am you reward

Abraham decided to not take his award for the campaign against the mighty kings, and he gave it all away to the king of Sodom.  Although he put his life in danger to rescue Lot, he put his trust in God to provide for him.  God had already promised him all of the land to the west, eats, north and the south.

In this verse God assured him that He is Abraham’s reward.  God is our portion; or put it the other way round, our portion is God.  The elder son in the parable of Jesus did not understand this, although he lived with is father while the younger brother squandered is inheritance.  While refusing to call his lost brother “brother”, but rather refer to him as “this son of yours”, he complained with his father that he never got anything, not even a goat to celebrate with his friends, but his father said:

‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’ (Luke 15:31, NIV)

To be joyful in the Lord we, by faith, need to embrace this reality:  God is our portion.  In Christ our reward is sins forgiven, and life everlasting with Him in the world to come.

What if circumstances proves different?

Personally I think that Bible translators gave us a translation leaving us with the idea that Abraham did not believe God.  Verse two in our translation begins with “but”, whereas it can and should rightfully be translated as “and”.

Abraham did not complain with the Lord in a “but” sense; he accepted God’s blessing upon him, but he wanted to know how this is going to work out.  His language is almost that of the man who prayed, “I believe, help me to have faith.”

His reply to the Lord, “What can you give me?” is not a challenge to God as if God’s promise was meaningless.  It was more with a sense of anticipation that he asked this question.

When I was involved in the Inland Mission, more than once I found myself in a financial predicament.  In those times I would constantly ask God if He wanted me to continue with the work; and every time I was assured that He indeed wanted me to continue.  That assurance did not put money in my pocket to pay for diesel or the rego.  God taught me not to doubt Him and it became a matter of faithful anticipation of his provision every time I opened the mailbox.  At one time the rego ran out and I needed about $650.00 to renew it.  I prayed about it and later went to the post office knowing that God will provide.  I got a letter in the mail for a ladies group, which read, “We thought you might need money to your rego.  Please accept this donation.” Rego was due that day, and the amount was $650.00.

Abraham did not question the Lord in unbelief; rather he, with anticipation asked, “How?” With him he only had his financial manager, Eliezer of Damascus.  Was he the one God would use to fulfil his promises?  No children of his own yet?  No, not Eliezer,

This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” (Genesis 15:4, NIV)

Look up to the heavens and look at the stars.  You cannot count them. and the Lord said to Abraham:

“Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5, NIV)

Looking at the mighty and glorious display of the handiwork of God clearly visible in the night sky, Abraham believed God.  If God could call of that stars into existence out of nothing, surely giving Abraham an offspring in not such a great deal.

Abraham believed God.  This takes us back to the previous chapter where we first read about the king of righteousness.  We then understood that Abraham, in his meeting with Melchizedek, had a glimpse of the ultimate King of Righteousness and Peace, Jesus Christ.  What seemed humanly impossible is possible with God, and every promise God made with Abraham, and every step He took Abraham through would point to Christ who is the eternal High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek.  Abraham was still on his maturity in faith, but the light, although dim, was burning.  He had to learn more for God.

God took him back to his salvation from the futility of serving idols and who brought him to that point in his life:

“I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” (Genesis 15:7, NIV)

God used his covenant Name, YHWH.  He is the creator of heaven and earth.  He holds nations in his hands; He holds time in his hand.  He had all the right to give Abraham and his offspring any land He wanted to. Little wonder then that Abraham called out: “O, Sovereign Lord!” Lord of Lords!  God of gods!  “Show me how this is going to work out.  Give me a sign.”

So, what if circumstance proves different?  Trust God.  Don’t give up.  The Almighty God of gods is working out his eternal plan.

God’s Comprehensive (unilateral) agreement of grace

How would God accomplish his plan with Abraham?

Through sacrifice

God ordered Abraham to bring a heifer, a goat and a ram, together with a dove and a young pigeon.  The bigger animals were of perfect age – three years.

In ancient times kings made agreements by cutting animals in half and then walk in the middle between the different parts as a sign that if they were not faithful to the agreement the lot of the animals would be their lot.

What God introduced here is his covenant of grace sealed in blood. The animals mentioned here are those that were later used in the later sacrificial system.

Through suffering

At first it seemed that God was not in it.  In waiting for God birds of pray descended upon it.  God later made it clear to Abraham that these birds symbolised the Egyptians who would enslave his descendants. The dreadful dark clouds we read about which Abraham saw in this vision stressed the point even further.  The deep sleep of Abraham symbolised that time where it would seem as if Israel was forgotten, and that God had forgotten his promises to Abraham. God wanted Abraham to know that through much suffering God will call his people back to the promised land.  All of this called forward to Christ who was God’s suffering servant who saved by suffering himself to free those who are in bondage of sin.

A limited time

In all of this God gave Abraham two promises:  the time of slavery will be limited, and the oppressors will be punished.  For those who are currently brutally oppressed in the Middle East and Africa, this should be comforting.  Let’s all remember this, God will avenge the blood of those who are beheaded because of their testimony of Christ.  The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of what is happening behind the scenes and why:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. (Revelation 6:9–11, NIV)

Back to Abraham’s vision.  Why wait?  Why can’t God give him what He promised there and then?  Because of God’s long-suffering, patience and grace.  The Amorites, then living in the land, still had time to repent.  if they didn’t, their sin will reach full measure.  Then God will make the descendants of Abraham return.

God’s grace alone

With Abraham still looking on, and with the darkness of night approaching, something happened:  there was a smoking pot and a blazing torch passing between the pieces of the animals. God often appeared in smoke, like on the mountain when He gave them the Law.  He also appeared to his people leading them through the cloud column by day and the pillar of fire by night.  This was God passing through the cut animals.  He was alone.  He did not ask Abraham to be with him, as was the custom when people made an covenant. There was nothing Abraham could bring to make the agreement valid.  It rested upon God alone.  He saved by grace, and whoever believes in Him will not be ashamed.

Our Lord went through Gethsemane alone, He walked the streets of Jerusalem as the despised, and there on Calvary’s Hill He took the punishment alone. The curse of covenant-breaking which was ours, He took on Him, and his body was broken, his blood was shed like the animals of Abraham.  Abraham was an onlooker; God’s covenant was one of grace.  And so it is today.

The Gospel to us through Abraham

We read from Galatians 3 this morning.  Paul writes:

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.” (Galatians 3:8, NIV)

How did this work out?  Let’s hear from Paul again:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16, NIV)

Yes, God did give the Promised Land to Abraham and his descendants, but they were merely custodians of the land for as long as God prepared they way for the Messiah to come, for from them He was born.  After Christ fulfilled  his work of salvation the prominence of Israel as God’s sole covenant people was superseded by the Church.  Listen:

He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:14, NIV)

And Jesus commanded his church to evangelise the nations, baptise them and teach them all the things He commanded.  All who believe in Christ are now children of Abraham according to the promise.  We in Wee Waa, not from the Jewish line, by faith have become children of Abraham:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28–29, NIV)

Conclusion

This is our Gospel:  Not relying on us, not asking anything from us, God made an agreement, one-sidedly, by grace to make us his children.  Through Christ, the blessings of Abraham are ours – but only because of Christ.  Take it by faith, and be saved by grace.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 31 August 2014

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