Will you please join with me in your bibles as we read through portions of Genesis chapter 15, which will be our foundation for meditations in the Gospel this morning.
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. 7 And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” 8 But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
Now jumping over to verses 17 and 18:
17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates
Let’s Pray: Lord, thank you for your precious Word. What a privilege it is that we get to read it, and dive into the deep treasures that you have preserved in them for our good and your glory. Lord, let not my failings and lackings come in the way of your people seeing the precious nature of your revelation here. Let us in this time that is ahead of us, glean from these scriptures a high view of you and what you have done and continue to do for us. We ask this prayer in your mighty holy name, Lord Jesus, Amen!
Most of us, even those that are not athletically inclined, know of the famous American swimmer and Olympian Michael Phelps. If you didn’t know that he is the most decorated Olympian of all time, you might have at least seen him on a box of Wheaties. At just the age of 27, he was the most prolific American swimmer of all time, worth a whopping 80 million dollars. But, at the end of the 2012 London olympics, by which time he had won a mind boggling 18 gold medals, Michael spent 5 days in a hotel room, alone, unable to eat, unable to sleep or even to get out of the bed. Michael wasn’t happy. Not only was he not happy, Michael was afraid. Michael was depressed. All his accomplishments, all his gold medals, all his accolades had led to this - 5 days - in bed - scared and depressed - with no hope for the future.
When we begin to read Genesis Chapter 15, we find God’s chosen servant Abram - an example and foreshadow for all who trust in the one and only God - scared and depressed - with no hope for the future. Yet, just as in the case of Michael Phelps, one could argue that at the beginning of Chapter 15 we find Abram at his strongest, wealthiest, most powerful and most successful.
In fact, Chapter 15 begins with a phrase that points back to how enormously successful Abram was:
“After these things…”.
After what things does the author mean? What happened right before Chapter 15 that serves as the context for Abram's state of mind?
Genesis Chapter 14 holds the answer for us. In this chapter we see some of the most momentous events in Abram’s life since he has been called away from his ancestral lands with the promise of being made into a great nation. In Genesis 14 we see the account of how the 4 kings of the north have defeated the southern city states that had rebelled against their rule, and in the process, enslaved and taken away the people of Sodom. One of these inhabitants of Sodom is ofcourse Abram’s nephew Lot. And now Abram, a mere nomad, living in tents and with no great army, goes on this extraordinary campaign of battle against these mighty kings of the Land and restores the freedoms and fortunes of his nephew and family, among others. One person, Abram, becomes a terror and threat to the mightiest kings of the Land. And as we come to the end of Chapter 14 we see that Kings such as Melchizedek and the king of Sodom offer him homage and blessings. Yet Abram doesn’t need this homage from the kings of the Land. His riches and blessings are from the Lord. He isn’t beholden to anyone. At the end of Chapter 14, Abram is not just a wealthy man. He is a man of power and authority, whom the rulers of the Land fear and honor.
It is this Abram we find at the beginning of Chapter 15. It is “After these things..”, that the word of the Lord comes to Him.
Yet the word of the Lord to Abram is not one of congratulations for his victories. Rather for comfort in his fears. Because, Abram, after all his victories and all his newly gained power and authority, is crippled with fear.
So the question is why is Abram afraid? He should be feeling in control after all these wonderful victories over the mightiest in the Land? Yet he is scared? Why? Is he scared of retaliation? Is he scared that the Northern kings will come after him for humiliating them? I am not saying that those thoughts might not be going through Abram’s mind. But I think the word here shows us that the reason why Abram was afraid is quite different. It is not the kings he just defeated, it is not retaliation. To truly understand his fears let’s focus on verses 2 and 3 of Chapter 15. In this passage we see what Abram’s fears are? When God prompts Abram by saying “Fear not”, he responds, speaking back to God for the first time in his recorded life:
“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”
And then for emphasis he repeats:
“Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
What do these verses tell us about Abram’s fears? It tells us that Abram’s fears are about his future. He is specifically afraid that because he has no child, no one to pass on his legacy to, a servant in his household, Eliezer, will inherit all his wealth, power and authority.
Often what we are afraid of, reveals to us: where our Hope rests. And if we go to this next slide, we can see from the very same passage “What Abram is basing is hope on”? A child, an heir, an offspring. In Abram’s mind the promises of God in his life can only be fulfilled if he has a child. But at this age, and especially at Sarah’ age, a child is impossible. The most likely scenario is that this servant of his, Eliezer, will be his successor. But in Eliezer, Abram’s name will not be remembered. Because Eliezer is not Abram and Sarah’s son.
Like Michael Phelps, and so often like many of us, on the eve of his greatest success, when people look at him from the outside and think, Wow! He has got it all, Abram, sits outside his tent, brooding and disappointed over the fact that he has no hope for the future. Because his hope lay in having a child. And Abram, who at this point is in his 80s, fast approaching his 90s, is childless.
If you have been reading Abram’s life so far, it is very clear that his hopes for a future have become so colored by who God had made him in this world: a rich, powerful man, that the prospect of losing it all had spiraled him into a terrible state of depression. While acknowledging that God is the one who has made him rich and powerful, as we see at the end of Chapter 14, in his heart, in the deep recesses of his mind, he is hopeless about his future.
And, it isn’t just here, we see this. Even earlier in Abram’s life, instead of trusting that God will come through for him, often when Abram faces a problem, he turns to solutions that take him far away from God’s stated will in his life.
It was God’s will in Abram’s life that he goes to the promised Land and settles there and God promises to bless him there. But the very first famine, the very first sign of trouble, Abram gets out of dodge. Abram abandons his trust in God’s provision and goes to Egypt to fend for himself.
It was God’s will in Abram’s life that he be a faithful and loving husband to Sarai. But again and again we see Abram risking Sarai’s life by lying that they are not husband and wife, and in the process enriching himself. All because he is afraid that people will treat him differently if they learn that he is married to Sarai.
So what we are seeing at the beginning of Chapter 15, is not merely a moment of weakness for Abram. Abram has been living a life of decreasing trust in God's providence for him for a while. To the extent that even though he acknowledges to the world that all he has is from God, in truth, he lives like he has no hope in God.
Isn’t this how we often live? Let’s not kid ourselves. Don’t we often live like we have no hope in God? It might be in regard to our health, or in our work, or in our family lives. When our spouse is sick, when our child is troublesome, when our church is not perfect, when Silicon Valley becomes too much to handle, don’t we often, in our innermost thoughts, act like we have no hope in God.
Abram’s state of mind at the beginning of Chapter 15, is very often our own state of mind. We struggle and often fail to put our hope in God. So when theologians say that Abram is a prototype for all the faithful, oh yes he is! Because he is as prone to trust in the world and lose his hope in God as we are. We are so much like Abram!
But why do we struggle like this? I often wish my Christian walk was a story of steadily hoping and trusting in God. I wish I didn’t have fears, nor hopelessness. Why do we tremble when we think of our future? Why, like Abram, in the light of all that God has already done, we live like He needs to do more to prove himself regarding his care and providence towards us.
I think we falter in our hope in God, because we don’t fully understand what hoping in God means. Because our definition of hope is so inferior and so insecure.
John Piper gives a good example of this. He says that when we say “we hope”, there is no sense of surety in what we hope for. If I say to you I hope to see you tomorrow, I am also acknowledging the likelihood that I won’t see you tomorrow. If we say, I hope this soldier returns home safe, we are also acknowledging the possibility that he may die on the battlefield and never return home safe.
Our hope, this world’s hope, is accompanied by an implicit acknowledgment of the fact that what we hope for may not happen.
And we hope in this manner, because experience has shown us that this is true. Sometimes what we hope for happens. But often our hopes are dashed and we are driven to despair. Abram, like many of us, goes to God with this inferior, insecure hope. A hope, that is partly acknowledging, that what we hope for is likely not to happen.
Such hope makes sense if it is regarding this world. But is this the kind of hope that God calls us to in Himself? I don’t think so. God calls us to a hope that fills us with confident expectation. A hope where we trust for God to always work out his plans for our good and His glory.
But how are we to have such a distinct hope? How are we to confidently hope in God, when the world disappoints us in more ways than one, everyday. What is so special about our hope in God, that it should stand in considerable distance from the kind of hope we experience everyday in this world?
Once again John Piper helps us to see the distinction by pointing us to the fact that hoping in God is nothing like the hope we can have in this world. He says that the hope of this world is produced out of logical or mathematical certainty. We can be sure in our hope that the sun will rise tomorrow, because there is a statistical record of it happening again and again for many millennia. However, the universe is full of stars dying out or being obliterated due to catastrophic events. So while we can be statistically or probabilistically certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, our hope still leaves room for the fact that things can go horribly wrong, and the sun can die leading us all to a certain death. There is nothing inherent about the sun that can fill us with confidence that it will definitely rise tomorrow. Our hope in the Sun’s rising is based in a mathematical probability rather than the character and nature of this fiery ball.
Yet, is this how we are to hope in God? Is our hope in God to be based merely on the fact that God has a track record of doing good. It can be a big part of it. But that is not the reason we hope in God. Our hope in God is borne out of a moral certainty about who God is. It is born out of our faith in who He is. When we see and perceive the truths about God, our faith in him is born and restored. We hope in God not because of what He has done but because of who He is. Our hope in God doesn’t exist because of logical or mathematical calculations about how God operates, rather because of having moral certainty regarding who He is. Assurance of hope exists when we have faith in who God is.
I hope you just noticed what I said: “Assurance of hope exists when we have faith in God”. This is the link between faith and hope. When the writer of the epistle to Hebrews says that “Faith is the assurance of things Hoped for”. He acknowledges two things:
- First, that Hope alone doesn’t produce assurance or conviction. And we have already seen this reality in the kind of hope this world offers.
- And second, Faith is what produces an assured hope. A hope that is unlike the hope of this world. A hope that is born out of moral certainties about who God is.
Hope in God is a result of our Faith in God’s essential and inherent attributes.
However, the question remains, how are we to have such faith fueled hope? How are we to be restored in our hope in God? How are we to be strengthened in our faith in Him?
Thankfully Genesis 15 doesn’t leave us without an answer. Because we see that Genesis 15 exists not only to show us that our hope is often inferior and insecure but also to show us that it is God who ultimately restores our hope in Him.
For this let us look at “How God restores Abram’s Faith?” in verse 5. The passage says:
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
In responding to Abram’s hopelessness and faithlessness, God makes a grand statement about himself:
“Abram, look up, look towards the heavens.”
Abram didn’t live in an urban sprawl like ours, he lived in an open piece of land, by the oaks of Mamre. When he looked up, there was no air and light pollution that obstructed the heavens from his eyes. And what he saw were beautiful specks of light, dazzling like diamonds. As a man living in the ancient near east, he couldn’t even start to fathom what they were. He knew they lit his path in the night. He knew they showed direction. But he knew nothing of what it was or how they work.
And then God says to Abram: “Count them if you can”.
Which is ridiculous, because of course he cannot. I am sure as soon as God told Abram to count the stars, he didn’t start counting them, because he knew it was futile. These stars are innumerable.
God is not telling Abram to gaze up merely to show these innumerable beautiful stars. It isn’t a Math lesson either. He asks Abram to look up because God is making a point about Himself. This ancient man who knows nothing about what these lights in the night sky are, looks up, and through the word of God, he doesn’t merely admire them, but grows in awe of it’s creator.
He realizes that this God, the one who called him out of Ur, is the creator of these stars. He is the sovereign God who not only created them but as the author of Genesis says: sets them up to be signs in the sky. Signs not merely to guide the ancient man’s ways through the wilderness, but point him to his sovereign creator. God is not just the maker of these stars, he preserves them, he aligns them, he is sovereign over them.
Suddenly Abram perceives the reality that the God whose presence he stands in is the Sovereign Creator of the whole universe. There is nothing that was made that was not made by Him. There is nothing that exists, that exists outside His sovereign will.
And when this God, whom Abram now sees and perceives clearly for who He is, says to Abram: “Your offspring shall be as numerous as these stars”, Abram believes.
Not because God reminded him of what He has already done for him. But because God opened Abram’s eyes to have sight of the big, sovereign God who creates out of nothing, and right now communes with Him.
This God, when he talks to Abram, restores his faith and hope in Him. And that brings me to my first point for the day: It is God’s word that restores our Faith in Him.
And this was not just true for Abram, our prototype in faith. But it is true for us, even today.
Today we have the privilege of holding these scriptures, God’s word for us, in our hands. This privilege is afforded through the grace and mercy of our Lord and Savior. I am not saying that God doesn’t speak to his children today, like he spoke to Abram. But it is through this word, through the bible, that God now primarily speaks to his children. It is through the Bible that we, like Abram, can hear the Word of God and see Him for who He is. A big sovereign God.
When it comes to restoring our Hope in Him and removing our fear for the future, It is God’s word that becomes the medium and means through which we gain sight of Him. We learn about His essential natures. We grow in moral certainty about who He is. And we recover our assurance of Hope in Him.
And we see this work of God in Abram’s life coming to fruition as the first part of Genesis 15 ends with this promising statement about him:
“And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”
Abram’s restored hope and faith in God was what made him righteous before God. Once again, as it was true for Abram, it is still true for us today.
While, Prophet Isaiah tells us that our righteousness, the one borne out of our own good works, is like filthy, dirty rags to God. Moses tells us through the life of Abram, that Faith in God and our trust and Hope in him is what truly makes us righteous before God. And this is the fundamental truth of the Gospels. That no good work, no great deed makes us right with God. Nothing we can do changes God’s view of us as sinners rightly deserving God’s wrath to children who are welcomed to his embrace with the call: “Well done, you good and faithful servant”. Only Faith does.
I imagine a few days ago the dearly departed Pastor and theologian Tim Keller heard these welcoming words from His master. What a wonderful and glorious future we have to hope for.
So, once the word of God restores our Hope in Him, are we left alone to our own measures to continue in this Hope? Not really, because the rest of this chapter shows what happens when we try to keep this hope on our own. Immediately in the very next verse, Abram approached God with hopelessness, once more.
Lord you say that I am to have this land to possess. But how is that possible? He cannot understand how it is possible because he has forgotten, once again, the lesson he just learned about God, that He is the sovereign creator of the Universe.
So then, what does God do for Abram. How does God restore Abram’s hope in Him? Again? He has already revealed to Abram who he is, but now God enters into a covenant with Him. Referring to vs. 17 and 18, theologian John Sailhammer says that “The act of dividing the animals and walking through the parts appears to have been a form of ancient contractual agreement.” And God engages in this mundane looking human act with Abram in order to restore his Hope in Him.
What is God doing here? What is God up to in verses 17 and 18. I think two things are happening:
- First, God is acknowledging that Abram has once again forgotten who He is, and hence his hope in God will always waver.
- Second. God, despite this reality, comes down to Abram, in a way he understands through his ancient customs, in a way that is so human, to make a covenant with Him. A covenant in which God proclaims that despite Abram’s forgetfulness, God will be faithful to Him and his children for many generations to come.
If you don’t already see it, this is the Gospel. Through the human incarnation and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, he makes a covenant with those that put their trust in Him. Just as God came down to Abram’s level to make a covenant with Him, Jesus comes down to us, in human form, to make a covenant with us. A covenant in which God’s faithfulness towards us doesn’t depend on our faithfulness back towards him.
We might struggle everyday to trust in Him. Our Hope in him might be like a reed shaken in the wind. But, as the Psalmists say, His faithfulness towards us is everlasting. And this doesn’t mean that God leaves us to our own means to find our way back to Him either.
The work of God on the cross is so, that through the Gospel we also, like Abram, have entered into a covenant with God. This is the covenant of Grace. And it's regarding this covenant that Paul proclaims in Romans 5:20: “...where sin abounded, grace abounded much more…”
This covenant of Grace is manifested in our hopelessness by working in our hearts to draw us back to God, in order to restore our Hope in Him.
You may ask me where do you see this in the Bible?
And I will point you to Romans 15:13, which says: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
Prophet Ezekiel tells us in Chapter 36 verse 26 that the Holy Spirit is the promise of this new covenant. And right at the heels of that Paul tells us in Romans 15:13 that it is by the power of this promised Holy Spirit that we will abound in Hope.
God’s promise to Abram in his covenant in Genesis 15 was Land. But, God’s promise to his church, through the covenant he made with us on the cross, is the Holy Spirit.
And this brings me to my second point for the day: The Gift and Promise of God’s new covenant, His Holy Spirit, enables us to abound in Hope.
The Holy Spirit does the supernatural work to preserve our Hope in God.
We cannot do it on our own, we will fail if we try. And it is evident from the fact that immediately after God makes his covenant with Abram in Chapter 15, Abram and Sarai, once again in chapter 16, go back to their old ways. Not trusting God for a child they take matters into their own hands, and Ishmael is born. Not God’s promised son to them, but a result of Abram abandoning his hope in God.
But what Abram didn’t have, and what the church has, through this new covenant of Grace, is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And it is this presence of the Holy Spirit in us that revives and restores our Hope in Him. A kind of hope that generates moral certainty about who God is and his good plans and works towards us.
What a wonderful gift we have on the cross. What a gracious God we have in the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. All glory be to this God.
I am almost done here, but before we enter a time of reflection and partaking from the Lord’s table, let me quickly remind of you of two applications of knowing what we know from today’s teaching:
- The Fight for Gospel Hope happens through God’s Word. So read and love the Bible, and the truths in it. Make the word of God your belt, as Paul tells us in Ephesians. A belt's job is to keep what we wear firmly on us. Without it what we wear can come apart. Without it, for a Roman soldier, his weapons and protective covering won’t stay on Him. Do you want to have a continuous awe for who God is so that you may never waver in your hope in Him? Then be in this word constantly. It will lead you to the truths about who God is, and that will revive your Hope in Him. The Word of God will keep your Hope in God.
- Second application. Because it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately helps you abound in your Hope in God it is an obvious conclusion that we need to focus on our relationship with the third person of the Trinity. When you feel hopeless and afraid, pray to the Holy Spirit, that he may abound you in Hope. Also, take great care to not grieve the Holy Spirit, as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4. How do we not grieve the Holy Spirit? Paul tells us, by living a Holy and Righteous life. While your Holy and Righteous living doesn’t help you in your justification before God, it surely helps in you preserving your faith. A person who lives in disobedience to God, has lost their battle for Gospel Hope. If you heard the word today and are telling yourself, my life constantly feels like that of Abram’s at the beginning of Chapter 15, then I will encourage you to also ask yourself, “what unrepented sin in my life keeps me apart from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit”. God calls you to repentance. The Holy Spirit works for us powerfully when we lead a Holy and Righteous life. And when the Holy Spirit dwells within us and fills us with his power, we will be restored to our Faith and Hope in God. It will truly make a great difference in our life.
This brings me to my third and final point for the day: Fight for Gospel Hope, everyday, with His Word and his Spirit. It is a daily fight.
We are about to embark on one of the most precious sacraments given to the Church. The Lord's supper. There are many ways to see and perceive the significance of this sacrament. But I want to remind you what our Lord told his disciples the first time this great tradition of the church took place in Luke 22:18, Jesus said: “For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
This table we are about to partake of is a reminder of our great Hope in God. In fact our greatest Hope. That His Kingdom will come, that His will be done. And that day we will join our savior in an eternal fellowship. This is what the Gospel Hope is ultimately about. An eternal fellowship with our Savior. The Lord’s supper reminds us of that promised fellowship. This is the Gospel Hope.