This sermon is based on Genesis 15:1-21. Click here to read the text.
In the previous passage Abram delivered Lot, and with him all of the captured of Sodom, from the grip of Chedorlaomer. He then worshiped the LORD by giving a tithe to the priest, Melchizadek, and also by denying the Sodom-proposed division of goods and captives, thus displaying his loyalty to God alone and not to any worldly king. It was after these things that the word of the LORD came to Abram, saying, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Of what was Abram afraid? His reply to God seems to indicate that he is concerned about his lineage. His nephew, Lot, had gone back to Sodom and Abram remained childless at Hebron. He suggested to God that one of his household servants, Eliezer of
Damascus, would be his heir if his childlessness continued. God responded by bringing Abram out of his tent, calling him to look to the heavens, and numbering the stars if he could. “So shall your offspring be,” God said. Though Abram still had to wait patiently, the promise of God stood firm – Abram would have a son of his own and descendants who would one day rival the dust of the ground (13:16) and the stars of the heavens in number. God’s Word is an encouragement to His people in times of despair. It is a reminder to us of His past, present, and future promise, grace, and blessing. It is a call to hold on to Him by faith.
Abram believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. In the Hebrew, the word “believed” occurs in a tense that is indicative of an ongoing, habitual faith. Abram’s life was characterized by his belief in God. He didn’t just believe for this one moment, but he lived in a state of belief. That is not to say that he did not have moments, or seasons, of doubt or brief failures, but ultimately he would prove to be God’s man by grace through faith. Paul picked up on this verse in Romans 3-4, when he made the case that “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith,” (Romans 3:22-25). Paul went on to point out that Abram was counted as righteous by faith – not by works, not by ethnicity, not by family lineage – even before his own circumcision, and before the Law was given to Moses. It was all grace! Paul went on to say that it continues to be all about that grace, now fulfilled in Christ, for the words “‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 4:22-24). Like Abram, you and I are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. We are not saved by works, by religious observance, by family ties, by national citizenship, etc. We are saved by the accomplished work of Jesus on the cross and through the resurrection, which is applied to us by the Spirit and received by us through faith.
God had not only promised Abram a son, along with many descendants of many nations even, but he had also promised him the land of Canaan. In vv. 7-21, the LORD filled out His promise of land with some details. He told Abram that promise would not be fulfilled for some 400 years. In the meantime, Abram’s descendants would be immigrants in a foreign land and would experience affliction before they would return to Canaan in order to finally possess it for their own. God pointed out that this time period would be one where He would bear patiently with the Amorites until their “iniquity was completed.” We understand this prophecy to refer to Israel’s time of slavery in Egypt through the exodus and the conquest of Canaan. It
is God’s grace to Abram and his descendants that He told him, albeit somewhat vaguely, of the 400 years of waiting and suffering that were to precede occupation of the land. In passing through the sacrificed animals (v. 17), God ratified His covenant to Abram and showed that He would be with His people through their affliction.
As Christians, we are now living in a somewhat similar time. Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and has walked through sin and death on the cross and in His resurrection. What’s more, He has ascended to the right hand of God where He intercedes for His people as King of kings. He has promised through His Word that He will return and bring with Him the new heavens and the new earth. In the meantime the Church waits and to varying degrees suffers affliction. We are pilgrims and exiles in the here and now, awaiting the return of the King, and looking forward to the eternally glorious New Jerusalem. But we are not alone, for Christ continues to abide with us by the Holy Spirit. Such a time for waiting requires us to live by faith as God works out His purposes, not only in His people but also in the “World” whose iniquity is not yet complete.
Discuss and Pray – Genesis 15
- Abram was comforted by God’s Word. How are you availing yourself of the blessing of that same comfort through the reading of God’s Word in the Scriptures?
- What “works” can give you a false sense of your own righteousness?
- What does walking by grace through faith, as opposed to works righteousness, look like in worship? In discipleship? In servanthood? In evangelism?
- Discuss the fact that we are not alone, but that the Spirit abides in us and that through Him Christ is with us always, even in our sufferings and afflictions, to the end of the age. What comfort does this give us as Christians?