Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sermon: Genesis 15: 1-21 Reckoned as Righteous

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. The theory of that saying is that you get in with a man, you make him like you, by feeding him nice things. Having wondered if there’s a similar saying for a woman’s heart, I googled it. The first page suggested 25 steps; another page said it was through her sole with a picture of very expensive new shoes!

How do we get in with God? What is it that makes us right with God? If a woman has 25 steps, then getting in with God is surely even more complicated? Think again. In fact, it’s very simple, as we’ll see shortly.

This morning we’re continuing to follow Abram as he walks with God. We’ve already seen that it wasn’t easy for Abram, and today it seems to be getting harder. Just think back to the promise of 12:1-3. We’ve summarised it in Goldsworthy’s phrase: ‘God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing.’ But what do you do when God seems to be slow? He had promised these things, but nothing seems to be changing.

How do you cope when you’re waiting on someone else? You’re ready to go, but the others aren’t. Perhaps you start to get stroppy. You get in the car and toot the horn. You jangle your keys. You open and close the door. Abram, well he starts answering back. Did you notice the pattern? God speaks (1, 7). Then Abram answers back - each time with ‘O LORD God...’ what/how? (2, 8). You’re saying this, Lord, but I just don’t see it. God, in his grace, answers Abram. So far we’ve been flying high over the passage, let’s zoom in now and see some of the details.

Last time we saw Abram refuse to take even a shoe lace from the King of Sodom. Chapter 15 comes straight after that incident. God says: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ You’ve done the right thing in refusing the King of Sodom. I’m going to look after you and reward you.

But look at how Abram responds. It’s not quite how we think we should speak to God. It almost sounds a bit cheeky. ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.’ Lord, you could give me all the tea in China, but what good would it do if I don’t have a son? The first part of the promise seems to be faltering. Without a son, it doesn’t matter how much God will give Abram. His slave would be his heir. So much for the promise of making Abram into a great nation. Has God forgotten what he said? Remember that Abram was 75 when he left his home and set off on this adventure. The clock is still ticking. The prospect of a son becomes less likely every day.

Sometimes we have false expectations of what we think God should do. God never said that things will always be easy. God never promised us a life free of trouble. But when God doesn’t seem to come through on the things he has promised - that’s even worse!

Look at verse 5. ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ Then he takes Abram outside for some star gazing. ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be.’ Sometimes we get a clear night and see some stars, but think of a time before artificial street lighting and all that light pollution. Millions of stars visible. Another picture of numerous descendants (like the dust of the earth in ch 13).

The key to the whole passage comes in verse 6. ‘And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.’ How was Abram made righteous? What ward work did he have to do? None. What feat of agility or goodness or skill did he have to perform? None. How many religious rituals of prayer and sacrifice and fasting and pilgrimage and all the rest did he add up to become good enough for God? None.

At the end of the week or month you might get a pay slip. It shows the hours you’ve worked, and your wages. You’ve earned them. You’ve worked hard for them. They’re yours by right. But it’s not how things work with God. Abram believed God, he trusted what God said, and God reckoned it as righteousness. He hadn’t done anything to deserve it or earn it. But God put ‘righteous’ in his account.

This is the point Paul makes in Romans 4. Abraham is our father in the faith, because he is just like us - we too hear the promise of God and believe it. That’s how we’re made right with God. It seems so simple. We want to earn it ourselves or at least pay it back. But it comes by faith alone.

Straight away, though, God moves on to say that he is the Lord who brought Abram from his homeplace to give him this land that he’s now in. Having sorted out the problem of a son and heir, this now highlights the second problem. The land. Abram is living in a tent. He doesn’t own even a square inch. So he answers back again. ‘O LORD God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’

Perhaps you were wondering what the strange shopping list was all about - the heifer, goat, ram, turtle-dove and pigeon. This was how you sealed a covenant in those days. You gathered the animals, killed them, cut them in two, then the two parties to the covenant would walk through the middle as if to say ‘If I break this covenant, then this is what will happen to me.’

Even though it’s Abram that arranges the pieces, he doesn’t walk through the middle. Instead it’s the ‘smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch.’ The LORD makes the covenant with Abram. He commits himself to Abram, promising not to break his promise.

The promise is sure, but even promises take some time to be fulfilled. God promises that Abraham’s descendants will possess the land - but only after a time of slavery and hardship in another land. God tells Abram about the land of Egypt, but also how God will bring them out and give them this land. The promise is sure, but there’s a time delay. The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete. God will punish the inhabitants of the land, but not yet.

The LORD made an unbreakable covenant with Abram that day. As we gather around the table today, we meet with the same Lord, who went through death to secure the new covenant in his blood. The terms of entry are exactly the same. No works could ever be enough. Believe the Lord’s promise, and be reckoned as righteous.

As Paul closes his argument at the end of Romans 4, he says this: ‘Now the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’ were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.’

The Lord has done all that is necessary. You only have to take him at his word. Believe the promise, and be reckoned as righteous.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 12th October 2014.