Foundations, Futures, and Fatherhood

Scriptures: Genesis 15:1-6; Luke 3:1-9

One of the assertions that I made last week was that there was a movement early in the church – actually, in the first century or two, and even these days with some churches – to get rid of the Old Testament, because we are New Testament people. There were many that had struggled to show God, or see the same God in the Old Testament that they see in the New Testament.

But one of the assertions that Presbyterians make is that it is the same God who is unchanging. His love and grace and mercy flow throughout the entirety of scripture, from the beginning to the end. We saw that in the way He treated Adam and Eve, even as they sinned and threw themselves away from Him.

They were not cursed by God. The serpent was cursed by God. The land was cursed by God. Adam and Eve were disciplined but they were not cursed, because God loved them as His children. You see God was no capricious despot but a God of righteousness and order who respected human personality. He would not change and His favor was sure.

But as we see through the Old Testament, particularly with Israel, it would benefit by that favor only in so far as they were obedient to the divine will. And that really hasn’t changed much for today. We need to be obedient to God’s will as we seek to follow Him and serve Him in Jesus Christ.

God wants a personal relationship. And that’s made clear. He walked in the garden with Adam ever evening, and they talked. He called Abraham and told Abraham to follow Him. He didn’t have to call Abraham. Abraham was no prize. One of the things I know most about him is, he was a generous with his nephew Lot, and things like that, but he was also a chicken.

There are two times recorded in the Scriptures – he had a very beautiful wife – and instead of being really proud of his wife and saying, “This is my wife, this is my woman,” when he met a few kings, and she was so pretty, he was afraid the kings would like her a lot, and kill him so they could have her. So he said, “This is my sister. Do what you want.”

The first time I’m could understand. The second time – I was telling Pauline, I said, “You know, I just don’t get it. The second time, you already have the example of the first time. It’s not going to turn out well.”

He had his faults. But he followed God’s leading. He followed God’s will, and it was counted as righteousness to him by God. God could have called anyone, or, as John said, created children from the very rocks, to be His people.

But He didn’t. Instead, He called people out, and set them apart, and He made them a great nation. And through them, He made even greater peoples, the people of God, the children of God, through Jesus Christ.

I love this passage and story. I like to read the Old Testament in its context. I believe in preaching from the context. Every once in a while, though – not everything in Scripture points to Jesus Christ, but I have to say, in this case, it does. It deals with the covenant, and it deals with the people of God.

If you look in your translations, most of the translations are talking about, it should say “the Lord God said.” And if you were to look at the Hebrew, you would see that it actually is a compound word. It says Yahweh-Elohim.

And this is important, because the use of Yahweh has a special meaning to the Jews, other than it being the holiest name and therefore unspeakable. In fact, these days, it used to be the vowel pointings for Adonai were used for Yahweh so the person who was reading it wouldn’t say Yahweh, they would say Adonai. And that was read by some scribe and they didn’t understand that so they wrote Jehovah. They put the vowels for Adonai in between the letters for Yahweh and that’s where we get Jehovah.

But the Jews understood, Yahweh is used when emphasizing the personal relationship between God and humans. And as frequently happens in the Holy Spirit’s work, I was listening to WDLM this week, and there was a guy speaking about Genesis 3, which I just preached on last week.

And he mentioned the fact that it used Yahweh-Elohim there, the God, the Creator God, the power of God, in Yahweh. In chapter 2 and chapter 3. Except, when the serpent speaks of God and when Eve answers the serpent. Then it just uses the word Elohim. He went on to talk about sin – basically the serpent was deceiving and saying that God didn’t care. And in our sin we said we cared more for ourselves than about God.

But the fact is that when you see this compound word, it’s talking about a personal and special relationship. One Jewish site I looked at added that this word Yahweh is also used when emphasizing God’s mercy and lovingkindness. When you see the word Yahweh, it’s telling you that God is good. It’s speaking of His grace and His mercy.

We see that in this passage today. In this passage, we have God making promises, and more than promises to Abraham. God has called Abraham out of Ur. They’ve been traveling together for a long time, with Abraham following God’s leading. But as Abraham gets older, he gets more desperate about an heir. What good is all the land promised him and all the wealth and blessings if there are not children to pass it to?

I know that today, some people would have a problem relating to this. We have a culture that, while it worships the young forever, seems to despise children. There is even talk sometimes about women who are pregnant, about their being invaded, that fetuses are parasites. They have an understanding of children that just is amazing in its 180 degree wrongness.

The fact is that children are a blessing. Children have always been considered a blessing through time, in the day of Abraham and beyond. It wasn’t just that if you didn’t have kids – the greatest joy is being able to pass on your love, your knowledge, your wisdom, and your achievements, on to your child, for them to carry on. But in those days, was going to care for them in their old age, if they didn’t have kids? Kids were a blessing and are a blessing,

Abraham is worried. He doesn’t have any. And Sarah – Sarah at this point is barren. So he questions God. Not because he doesn’t believe in God – he has been following Him for years – but because he’s human and he’s afraid.

And God makes this promise to him. And I read beyond verse 6 because they’re something that is important in terms of the covenant. God didn’t must make a promise to Abraham. And even though God is faithful to his promises; we know God is faithful to his promises. He was faithful to his promise to Adam and Eve about the serpent being crushed, in Jesus Christ.

God made a covenant Abraham at that time. He said, “This is so serious, I am so serious about this, that I’m not just going to say ‘I promise.’ We’re going to do something to seal this, so that you know that I will not fail.”

In that day and age, when two parties got together and made a covenant – whether it was an equal covenant, or an unequal covenant of a sovereign and vassal, a lot of times what they would do is they would take an animal or two, and in a ritual, if you will, they would cut them in half and they would set them apart and the blood would flow between those two animals, and then the two participants would walk through the blood.

This symbolized the fact that these two leaders, these two sovereignties, these two people were dedicating their very life’s blood to the fulfillment of this covenant. If one party failed, their life was forfeit. Their life was forfeit if they broke the covenant.

What’s critical to understand here is, God told Abraham to divide the animals and let the blood flow. But then when the time came to walk through, Abraham didn’t walk through. He stood aside in his vision while God, in the form of a torch there, walked through the blood Himself.

God took on both halves of the covenant, in terms of responsibility. God essentially said, “I love you so much, Abraham, that I am not only going to fulfill my promise to you, but if you fail in your part, I will suffer your consequences, and I will die for you.”

And of course Abraham, being human, failed in his faith at times. Israel failed in its faith at times. We fail in our faith at time. We sin. And that covenant still holds.

It’s retroactive for us, because Christ has already come. God shed his blood on the cross, to pay the price for our sin, our failures. Then he was raised again that we might be new creatures, have new life, be new children of God, raised up from the stones if you will, as John said, because we were dead. We were dust, until Christ came back and gave us new life in him.

All of this is presaged in this passage in Genesis today, in this covenant that God made with Abram (he hadn’t even changed his name yet!) as God shows his grace and mercy. God knew what was going to happen. And He shows the grace and mercy that He is full of, and faithful to, as He told Abraham. “This is how much I love you.”

God was the father of Abraham. God was the father of the nation of Israel. God is the father of the people of God today in the Christian church. He is a faithful father and a loving father, and one who shows his grace and mercy, constantly and continuously.

He fulfills his promise to Abraham, and through Jesus Christ, the entire world. I tried to think, this weekend, about just how many people. I was going to say millions. Then I was thinking, no, we have two thousand just here. Tens of millions. Then I was thinking, maybe a hundred million. But I’m willing to bet that it’s billions of people, who are the descendants, in a figurative sense, of Abraham. “As many as the stars are in the sky.” Because God is good, and God is faithful, and God is merciful.

I hope that you understand God’s mercy and grace, in that personal way. That you know Yahweh. Not just Adonai, which is Lord. Not just Elohim, which is God the Creator, God of gods and power. That you know Yahweh. That He is your father and your Lord.

That He is someone who you want to follow, somewhat like Abraham did, that He is someone you want to know more about, and learn about and love, ever more deeply. And it will take sacrifice. Abraham had to leave his home, he had to leave Ur and he went to a land that he didn’t even know where he was going.

A lot of times I don’t know where I’m going either, but that’s because I get lost. He didn’t know where he was going, because he had never heard of the place God was taking him. But he believed.

Sometimes God will take you places that you don’t know. But if you believe, you will be blessed. If you are faithful, you will be blessed. Never forget the covenant that God made with you, the same one we celebrate when we have Communion, through Jesus Christ, his body broken for our sins, his blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. May you know the joy, the assurance that comes from being a true child of God.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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