God’s unilateral agreement of grace
- Galatians 3:6-18
- Genesis 15
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?
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.
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)
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