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

Remember your creator

Public Profession of Faith of new members

Scripture Readings

  • 2 Timothy 3:10-17
  • Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8

Introduction

My dear young friends,

Today is one of the most important days in your life:  Today, before God and his congregation, in the Name of Jesus Christ, you made profession of your faith in God.  You did it publicly, so that all might know that you love the Lord Jesus Christ.  This public profession of your faith will now be followed-up by repeatedly sitting at the table of the Lord where you will declare that you remember that He died for your sin, that He rose to give you new life, that He called you to serve Him with all your heart, mind and soul; you will also proclaim to the world that you are waiting for his return and that you long to be with Him into all eternity.

You would want to get some wise words today; some ideas that will keep you on track as a young Christian till the day of Christ’s return.  We can go to some people of fame for advise.  Like:

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. (Charlie Chaplin)

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. (Abraham Lincoln)

Only those are fit to live who are not afraid to die. (General McArthur)

Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood. (Helen Keller)

But we should go to the Bible.  The verses I chose to preach from today is from Ecclesiastes.

It’s all in vain

It is generally accepted that king Solomon, or at least someone who were close to him, wrote the book of Ecclesiastes.  It was maybe a collection of his thoughts when he became an old man – even after he strayed from God.  Solomon, although an exceptionally wise man who got what he had as a gift from God, did not end up dying as a wise man.  We read this about Solomon:

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. (1 Kings 11:4, 9–10, NIV)

It seems then that Solomon entered the last stages of his life as a man who lost his vision of life and on God.  The first verse of the book of Ecclesiastes begins like this:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV)

To him wisdom became meaningless, pleasures became meaningless:  he tried out wine and laughter – that was meaningless!  He tried out great projects – houses, gardens, parks, silver and gold, women (ending up with 1,000 altogether!) – yes, he says, “I denied myself nothing” (Ecc 2:10), but even that seemed meaningless in the end.  He found out that both human wisdom and folly, both hard work and laziness lead to nothing but meaninglessness.

He even got to the low point in his life to argue that there is not much difference between the righteous and the unrighteous:  both comes under the judgement of the Lord (Ecc 3:18-19).  His life spiralled down into what seems like a depression;  it seems he became lonely with no one to cheer him up, so he writes about the value of having a friend:

If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:10, NIV)

Squandered opportunities

It was not that the king did not know better.  No, he was privileged to have it all in his hand, but somehow he let go of it.  Listen:

Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. (Ecclesiastes 4:13, NIV)

There was a time that he stood in the presence of the Living God who chose him to be the king of Israel.  He made certain promises to God, but now it seems that he had not been not sincere.  Now he understands the value of being honest with God:

When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfil it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfil your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfil it. Therefore fear God. (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5,7 NIV)

After living in a period of extraordinary wealth in which he accumulated chariots and horses, and the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills (1 Kings 10:26–27, NIV), he ended up saying:

Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands. (Ecclesiastes 5:15, NIV)

Someone said the shroud of death has no pockets.  Solomon understood that very clearly.

He ended up saying that instead of searching of riches and pleasure, his time would have been better spent with those mourning the death of a loved one.  He says, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:3, NIV)

There is still meaning in life

In amongst all this pessimism and meaningless Solomon found something which is worthwhile and meaningful.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24–26, NIV)

Then, apparently much later in life, he gives this testimony:

You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. (Ecclesiastes 11:9, NIV)

There is almost a sadness in this verse.  This wise king who had everything going for him, wasted his opportunities, his gifts, his talents – he was just a bad steward of the things God apportioned to him.  Now, at the end of his life, he looks back and instead of thanking God for all he had, he fears God’s judgment.

We have to understand that God did not put us on earth to never experience joy and happiness.  It is also wrong to think that to follow one’s dreams is sinful.  No, all of us received from God talents, skills, friends, family and opportunities to enjoy the time God appointed for us on earth.  What is more unattractive that a lemon-faced Christian!  As a matter of fact, the fruit of the Spirit are all things which make the children of God so much different that those who do not believe Him:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23, NIV)

We are not meant to be locked up in cloisters and monasteries where we have to renounce all pleasures and joys.  Paul writes about people who just can’t help themselves but to add to the Gospel, making rules of “Do not handle!”, “Do not taste!” and “Do not touch!”  What sort of life is that?  The word “joy” is repeated over and over again in the Bible.  The Christian, of all people, should be joyful and happy.

But for the Christian joy does not lie in getting drunk of be given to all sorts of worldly pleasures.  The concept of joy in the bible is always connected to the child of God’s life in the presence of God.  In his letter to Timothy Paul writes:

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22, NIV)

Worldly pleasures, or sinful pleasures are a killer.  This is what got Solomon where he found himself:  his joy abandoned him, and his life was filled with regret and sadness.  Ask about every adult here today about their regret about sin and the pain it brought in their hearts and their relationships with one another and above all, their relationship with God.

Remember your Creator

There is a remedy against spiritual nothingness and meaninglessness.  It would be horrible to live a life, to have had all opportunities, skills and talents, and then, when one is old to then say, “I find no pleasure in life.”

The good advise of a man who seemingly threw it all away is this:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV)

What does this “remember” mean? It surely means more than to remember someone’s birthday, or to remember when the exams start.

The Biblical “remember” has something of “constantly keeping in one’s mind”, so that one’s path is determined by what you are thinking about.

To remember our Creator is exactly that:  to always understand the God created you.  He created the world, time, talent and opportunities.  To remember this is to then direct one’s way in obedience to the Creator to please Him in all one does.  This is why the Bible teaches:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. (Colossians 3:23, NIV)

So, when you now start your journey as communicant members of the church of Christ, you must remember your Creator.

But the “remember” of the Bible constantly takes the people of God back to the salvation of God; through Christ and his Spirit he re-created us.  To remember God is to remember his acts of mercy.  Our minds should be filled with thanksgiving for the fact that Jesus Christ took our punishment upon Him when He died on the cross.  It also means that our minds must be filled with thankfulness that his resurrection means our new life.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1, NIV)

The days of trouble

Just briefly this warning:  the opposite of remember is to forget, or at least to delay – tomorrow, or later.

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”— (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV)

There are millions of people who found the way to eternal hell just because they thought there would be another day.  Besides, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

But the reality is also that constant delay may lead to a day that the delight of the Gospel will not be the pleasure of your soul.  O, the number of old people I come across who repeat these words, “I find no pleasure in the Gospel!”  The brain has become misty and foggy; the heart is hard and the mind stubborn.  What tragedy then that they unwittingly repeat the words of Solomon, “It is all meaningless; all comes to nothing!”

Conclusion

You have made a good choice to make profession of your faith now while you are young.  We praise and thank God for you.  It is with excitement that I recommended you to the elders for membership.  Your knowledge of the things of our Lord and the Scripture is exemplary.  I look forward to work with you in the body of the Lord – for his glory.  I plead with the congregation to stand by their commitment to set a godly example for you, to pray for you and to encourage you in your walk with the Lord.

But you will eventually move on, leave school, meet friends and chisel out you career, and get married.  I plead with you in the Name of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer:  “Remember your Creator!”  Do this and life will never be meaningless.

AMEN

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 August 2014

Abraham, the father of all believers (5)

The battle belongs to the Lord

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Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 7:1-10
  • Genesis 14:1-24

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

It was told of Charles William Eliot, once president of Harvard University, who had a conversation with a campus labourer who said: “There is not much difference between men, but the little difference there is makes all the difference in the world.”

There was not much difference between Abraham and those around him living in Canaan.  But the difference between him and other leaders made all the difference for the rest of history as we know it.  Abraham was not a special man, with an extraordinary skill-set;  he was just a man who trusted the God who called him out of the futility of worshipping idols, and he trusted the God promised to carry him all the way till those promises were fulfilled – even long after he died.

Things did not always work out for the man of God and his wife.  Their life in more than one way is our experience as Christians every day.  They expected fertility, but they found famine.  There were conquering armies and disputatious stockmen. Maybe Sarah had dreams of a peaceful home, instead she experienced temporary exile.  Abraham possibly had visions of many little children running around, instead he found himself preparing for the battlefield to rescue his nephew. If anyone of us received the promise of Genesis 12:1–3, we might have felt being deceived – at face value at least, nothing seemed to come to fruition.

Abraham and the first war in the Bible

It is almost as if the first verse of Genesis 14 takes us back to the world out of which Abraham was called.  It is sort of a reality check.  The first king mentioned in that verse is Amraphel, king of Shinar.  It was from this valley that Abraham had come.  In coalition with two other kings he descended onto the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah and three other cities in the Jordan valley and brutally subjected them.  For twelve years long they became servants of the northern kings, but in the 13th year they rebelled.  This invoked the anger of their oppressors which then went on a rampage by taking far more territory that previously had.  At first the folk in the Jordan Valley thought they could stand against the northern kings, but soon they realised their weakness against the superior armies and withdrew in humiliation.  They lost their cities and livelihood.  The people were taken into captivity – which included the nephew of Abraham, Lot.

This was not just a little localised squirm between insignificant personalities.  It was a major shift of political powers of international importance which, in terms of land mass, covers an area inclusive of all of modern day Israel, Lebanon, Syria and parts of the present day Iraq.

Lot, who in the previous chapter, chose go and live in the green Jordan valley where everything looked so attractive – and remember he went there because he had many possessions – lost everything.  He went there to increase his possessions but ended up with nothing.  This holds a great lesson for us.  In a way I think Lot’s history is a practical outworking of what God said in Genesis 12:1-3:

“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, NIV)

Lot was not under the blessing of Abraham anymore.  Yes he was of the same family line, but he deliberately chose to move out from under that blessing.  Now he found himself with nothing, destined to serve as a slave to godless people.

Abraham – and the Most High God

It seems that at that stage Abraham had gained influence in the Promised Land.  For security reasons Mamre and his two brothers, Eschol and Aner, allied with Abraham, who had trained 318 men as soldiers.  This number reminds us of the small army of men with Gideon.

Without hesitation Abraham mustered his men and went in pursuit of the armies of Kedorlaomer and his allies to rescue his nephew.  Abraham had no political ambition, although it would have been the perfect opportunity to claim his stake on the land if God would allow him the victory.  God had already promised him the land, he had no need to fight for it.

As Christians we have no need to go into military battle for the world; Christ defeated the powers of this world on the cross and He declared that all power and authority have been given to Him.  We don’t go into battle with destructive weaponry; we don’t don’t demand of people, facing the barrel of a gun, to repent of die. We don’t blow up buildings – we don’t need any military power to achieve what God wants us to do.  Christians may not find themselves involved in a holy war with real armies and battle gear.  It is not by power and by might, but by the Spirit of God.

Abraham did not blame Lot for what happened to him.  He did not say that he should sleep on the bed he made.  The case was not lost; rescuing Lot was possible, and maybe he might come to his senses to trust God once again in and with his life.

For all practical reasons the pursuit was doomed even before it began: who in his right mind would go after established armies with a handful of people with no real war experience.

But for Abraham the cause was right.  It was God’s will that he rescue Lot – and that was the end of the argument.  The God who rescue him from slavery of sin, made promises to him, and he trusted that God to bring him home safely.

He also trusted God for wisdom as to how he should plan and execute the rescue.  David more than once said God taught him to battle against his enemy:

He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. (Psalm 18:34, NIV)

With the wisdom which God gave him he pursued the armies where they were going to the north, even north of Damascus.  God gave him the mercy to rescue the goods and people stolen from Sodom and Gomorrah.  He brought back his nephew Lot too.

The battle belongs to God.  It was not the strength of military expertise of Abraham or his courage that brought about the victory.  It was God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, who delivered hi enemies into his hand. (Genesis 14:19-20)

What grace it was to Lot!  You would have thought that he would not go back to Sodom, the evil place.  One would have thought that even Sodom and Gomorrah would have repented to worship the God of Abraham.  But it apparently made not impact on them.  Lot settled there again and the sin of Sodom compounded. Their next visitation as not from hostile earthly kings, but from the holy, just and righteous God.

Abraham and Christ

On his return, as he went past Salem, two very important people came out to meet Abraham.  If I were in Abraham’s shoes I would have thought, “Rightly so! I have just routed the armies of the enemy, gained some international recognition as a military leader. I have put my life on the line while these folks did nothing!”

In the Valley of Kings these two kings met with Abraham. The first was Melchizedek.  He was also a priest of God Most High.  With him had bread and wine.  He was king of righteousness, while at the same time, as king of Salem, he was king of peace. As priest he was ministering, not to one peculiar people, as the Levites afterwards did, but to mankind at large without any distinction.

He blessed Abraham.  This was the first person Abraham came across in the Promised Land whom he could relate to: they served the same God.  The Bible gives us very little about Melchizedek, but God sent him to Abraham for encouragement.  I don’t think it’s beyond comprehension to think that these two men spent wonderful moments of fellowship in the Lord:  the Valley of Kings that day became the Valley of The King – God Most High.

God revealed something to Abraham in his meeting with Melchizedek:  there is something great about who that man represents.  By faith he saw something that is hidden to the unspiritual eye:  Abraham was not great, even after his victory; Melchizedek and who he represented was great! We need to go to Hebrews 7 now.  Verse 2:

First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” (Hebrews 7:2, NIV)

It is by the righteousness that God provides through the priesthood of Jesus Christ that peace comes to us.  The writer of the Hebrews explains to us that Christ is priest in the order of Melchizedek: not according to the tribe of Levi – Jesus was born from the tribe of Judah. He met the righteousness of God by being far more than any earthly priest could be:  he was sinless and there was no need for him to make atonement for Himself.  He was an end to the earthly priesthood of intercession by the blood of bulls and calves: his won perfect sacrifice of body and blood brings peace to us.  He is is “the great High Priest” that once ministered on earth, and is now passed into the heavens to offer incense before the throne of God. In Him alone, after Melchizedek, were combined the offices of King and Priest: He and he only is “a Priest upon his throne.”

By faith, this is what Abraham saw on the Valley of the Kings.  That’s why he give gave him a tenth of all of the loot.  One does not give something like this to human beings – only to God.

Did you notice that Melchizedek did not offer sacrifices when he met with Abraham?  He had bread and wine to feed the hungry and weary soul just back from war.  In this he also exemplifies our Lord who feed us on the signs of wine and bread: his body and his blood – and we look back to his victory on the cross, and we look forward to the eternal rest when He comes again.

Abraham went on his journey as happy man.  God sealed his promise to Abraham through the ministry of Word and sacrament.  But there was another choice to make.

Abraham and the anti-Christ

While still in the Valley of the Kings, another king arrived.  It was Bera the king of Sodom.  Although he was in no position to deal with Abraham, he made him an offer. The devil is good at this.  He even tried to trick Jesus into giving Him what rightly already belonged to Him: the kingdoms of the world. Communists are good at this game too: they often want you to sit down around the negotiation table so that they can discuss how to deal with the things belonging to other parties.

Keep in mind Bera was a defeated king.  That part of his people now in the custody of Abraham and their possessions only existed because of Abraham, but he insisted on getting his people back in exchange for their possessions which he thought Abraham could keep.  If Abraham went into a deal with him this could be held against Abraham in the future.

But after his dealings with Melchizedek and the vision of God’s Kingdom in Jesus Christ, Abraham did as God requires of us in our conduct with the world:  no deals!  There is no fellowship between light and darkness.  There is no harmony between Christ and Belial.  What does a believer have in common with and unbeliever?  What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? (2Corinthians 6:15-16)

Abraham had made up his mind:

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ (Genesis 14:22–23, NIV)

Give the devil no honour.  Abraham’s honour was the glory of God who delivered his enemies into his hands.  If his allies, Mamre, Aner and Eschol wanted something of the lot, they could take it, but he would not take a thing.

Does it surprise us then that in the next verse God appeared to Abraham and said:

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1, NIV)

There is a real possibility that the church of Christ, and of course members individually, find themselves in compromise with the devil:  but one’s spiritual life suffers as a result.  The spiritual life of the church suffers when we make deals with the world:  God’s Spirit cannot minister to us the riches of God’s grace if there are certain corners of our lives we have compromised because we are not walking in the pure light of God’s Word.

Conclusion

There was this day that all of this became very clear to Abraham: it was either Christ – as the king and priest Melchizedek ministered to him the righteousness and peace of God, and they ate the bread and drank the wine – all pointing to the One who would fulfil everything, according to the same order as that of Melchizedek, as the perfect priest, king and prophet of his Father by giving Himself a ransom for many to bring them to God.

… they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:15–16, NIV)

May God give us such a vision:  that we would be satisfied with Him, that we would feast on his promises, that we would not compromise ourselves with the devil – that indeed we, like Abraham, would march out in the power of the Lord Jesus, for the battle belongs to HIm.  To Him all glory in heaven and on earth.  AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 17 August 2014

Abraham the Father of all believers (4)

Alone, but with God

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 6:13-20
  • Genesis 13:5-18

Introduction

A Sunday school teacher asked if any of his students could remember an instance in Scripture of anyone making a bad decision.

“I do,” replied a boy, “Esau made a bad decision when he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.”

A second said, “Judas made a bad decision when he sold his Lord for thirty pieces of silver.”

A third replied, “Ananias and Sapphira made a bad decision when they sold their land and then told Peter a falsehood about it.”

A fourth observed. “Our Lord tells us that he makes a bad decision who, to gain the whole world, loses his own soul.”

Something of this last example happened in the life of both Abraham and Lot.  It was Abraham’s idea to lie about Sarah in Egypt to save his own skin.  By the grace of God, he and his whole company, including Lot, was saved from this lie, and brought back to the land of promise.  Being back to where he belonged Abraham called upon the Name of the Lord. From the whole framework of the Scriptures one can deduce that Abraham made confession of his sins.  In the tone of the lost son he went back to his father’s house only to realise that, as one commentator puts it,

“Swine-husks are often the hors d’oeuvres before the fatted calf. The only way to get back into the will of God is to go back to the very cause of the departure, confess it, forsake it, and return to the place of fellowship.” (Donald Grey Barnhouse)

Lot was with Abraham and went through the ordeal in Egypt.  But later had to make a choice:  he pitched his tents near Sodom.  He gained the world, but lost his soul.  That seems the difference between Abraham and Lot: Abraham went back to the place where he worshipped the Lord; Lot went to the place which seemed good and green and lush – but endangered his walk with the Lord.

The privileged Lot

The custom of the middle east was to adopt the son of your brother when he died.  I see no reason to think that Abraham committed as sin to bring Lot along into the Promised Land in the first place.  He had done what was culturally demanded of him.  It is therefore reasonable to think that Lot shared in the blessings of God which he made to Abraham – not by his own choice in the first instance, but by God’s provision for him.

In a sense, then, Lot was in a very privileged situation:  the childless couple, Abraham and Sarah, had someone in their household who shared what they had as if he was their own.  Lot was first in line to inherit if Abraham died, because women did not have a particular high legal standing those days.

It might even be that Abraham looked at Lot like his own son.  Remember, Sarah was barren.  It was quite possible that Abraham interpreted God’s promise to him to have many descendants as something that will come about through Lot.  At face value it was the only possible way.

In many respects Abraham specially care for Lot.  The very fact that they both became rich tells the story of care from Abraham’s side.  Instead of keeping everything to himself, he shared with Lot.  Abraham was the older man, Lot the younger who had the future and therefore he had to be set up well to be in a position to take it further should Abraham die.

The grand plan of God

Man proposes, but God disposes.  Abraham and Lot’s plans were not the plan of God.

It must have been a hard decision for Abraham to one day face Lot with a proposal to part ways, but the tension between them became untenable.  We know the awkwardness which sometimes creeps into a relationship: at first it’s hard to talk about, but in the end everyone knows that the festering sore has become impossible to ignore.  Maybe Abraham and Sarah spoke about this many a time when they couldn’t sleep.  Did they discuss the consequence of parting ways with Lot and what it would mean in terms of the promises of God? At that stage it seemed that Lot was the only one through whom the promises would become a reality.

So, he approached Lot:

Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.” (Genesis 13:9, NIV)

In this Abraham still held on the that of the promise: the whole land will eventually belong to his descendants.  It was the how it would happen that changed.

Surely Abraham would have had the right to make the first choice. Lot was only the junior partner, yet he got the first choice.  But Abraham had learned in Egypt that God’s choice would be the best for him.

Now the theme of Abraham’s life is developing.  When, many years later, God tested his obedience to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac, on the mountains of Moriah, he said:  “God will provide.”  This is the language of faith, the language of one who has seen and experienced the hard knocks of disappointments of own decision-making.

There on the heights of the Judean  mountains, looking down on the Jordan valley with its green pastures and all its promises, both men stood: they had choices to make.

A bad choice

The Bible pictures Lot as a man without real principles.  The first choice he could make was to submit to the leadership of Abraham and order his herdsman to stop the quarrelling.  He chose to follow material wealth and comfort above the company of the chosen friend of God and the blessings it would have brought him.  To him everything looked like the garden of Eden, and even Egypt with it’s green pastures all along the Nile River, constantly fed by a life-giving stream of water all year round.

Isn’t it interesting that for shallow Christians things can sometimes appear to have both spiritual as well as worldly value?  It’s like with the seed which that fell on the rocky ground:  it sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow, but when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and they withered because they had no root. Of these people the Lord said:

But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (Mark 4:17, NIV)

We know this very well; the church has such members.  They understand the power of prayer, but only when they are in need – you see them at days of prayers for rain or a national disaster, or when death and sickness have come near them.  When the blue skies return to them, they disappear.  They sit on two chairs and talk both languages – they see Sodom but think it is the Garden of Eden; they live in Egypt, but have friends in Paradise. If tempted by the devil they would have jumped from the mountainside trusting that angels would be there to catch them.

The promise of the evil one is a hollow promise: the green pastures soon turn into the salt pits of God’s destruction upon this world.  The argument goes that they can serve God there too.  Don’t the green plains of this world need witness too?  The question is:  Did Lot witness for the Lord while he was pitching his tents there?  Do you witness for the Lord when you go there, or is it just a very convenient way of saying you can’t really make a choice to follow Christ with an undivided heart?

Both men, Abraham and Lot were rich, but Lot’s riches owned him and dictated his actions – he wanted more!  What Abraham owned did not posses him – he was content with God’s choice for him.  Lot eventually lost everything – even his wife – and fled the city with his tail between his legs: humiliated and only just alive. Paul writes:

… Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.(2 Timothy 4:9–10, NIV)

The word for “go one his way” is the same word used in Luke 8:14 for the seed that were choked by life’s worries.  I think there is a similarity here: Demas, once a co-worker with Paul was not whole-heartedly in it: he loved the world and eventually deserted Paul and went his way.   Don’t go there!  Peter writes:

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time (or: the rest of your life) in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1–2, ESV)

Wandering off can be a process.  First, Lot just look towards Sodom.  There was something in this “looking”; Abraham also saw what Lot saw, and he knew what Lot knew looking at Sodom.  Lot’s looking was driven by a heart that saw worldly riches and pleasures.  Secondly, he then chose to go and live “near Sodom”.  Why? He also knew it was a utterly wicked city.  He would not initially mix with them. Thirdly, it did not take him too long to find himself living right in the midst of them.  2Peter 2:7-8 says he was tormented by the lawlessness of the people of Sodom, but it seems his wife and daughters were not.  Then, the last in this downward journey, he became part of them.  Genesis 19:1 suggests that he became an elder of Sodom as he sat in the gateway of the city.  The next time we see him as a refugee fleeing for his life, having lost everything but his life.

There is nothing this world has on offer which is lasting.  The pie in the sky when you die does not apply to believing Christians; it applies to half-baked Christians, and those who reject the authority of God in Jesus Christ. Don’t go there!

Man proposes, but God disposes

After Lot’s departure Abraham found himself alone – but with God.  If ever he had hoped that God would bring his promised blessings to fruition through Lot, he now needed to rethink everything from scratch.  One can only wonder what kept his mind ticking in sleepless nights ahead of him. He was getting older, his wife was barren and there was no successor in sight.

We have an interesting text straight after Lot left Abraham:  the Lord commanded Abraham to look up.  Lot had also looked up; Abraham’s looking up was not what the world had on offer for him.  The text says:

“Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward … Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (Genesis 13:14, 17, ESV)

Yes, Abraham did lose Lot, and he probably did not get what he would have chosen for himself, but he gained the renewed assurance from the God of glory who saved him from worshipping lifeless idols that his promise still stands. Interesting, when Jacob was fleeing from Esau he slept in Bethel.  His head rested on a rock.  This was nothing compared to the green pastures of the Sodom valley.  It was dusty, dry and rocky country – but it was God’s country!

Abraham stood on the rocky outcrops and what he saw was probably not much to be desired.  But God was with him.  There he could build an altar to the living God.  He once again learned to trust God – even if his soul was downcast and he longed to have Lot with him.  But he was dependent on God to provide every step of the way.

Look up!

For us who live on this side of the cross of Jesus Christ, who is the fulfilment of all the promises of God, the One who has gone ahead of us to prepare our heavenly promised land, there is also a “Look up!”  Hebrews 2:9 says:

But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9, ESV)

For our journey we have the heroes of faith, including Abraham listed in Hebrews 11, but we have the One who fully completed the race and has overcome in the most definite sense, Jesus Christ, our Lord and we, lookto Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV)

Him we consider so that we will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:3). The world we are living in speaks to us in a conflicting discord of voices. They come from without and within—from the world, the flesh, and the Devil.  If we listen to them we become confused and ineffective as Christians. The cure for that is to lift up our eyes to Jesus and listen to Him only.

More than that, Abraham went back to the tree of Mamre, that place where he built the first altar to the Lord, the place where the Canaanites worshipped their gods of fertility.  God promised him that land. At time it was filled with evil, but Abraham worshipped God.  It reminds us of something Jesus Christ said when He visited Samaria, which is geographically not far from Bethel:

Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. (John 4:35, ESV)

Look up! To inherit this land of promise means to see that the harvest is ripe.  There’s work to do.  But Christ also said:

And look, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Look like Abraham; see what he saw by faith.  We are not alone. Jesus said, “Look, I am with you.”  The land, the world, is not settled yet.  There’s work to do.

AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 10 August 2014