Wednesday, November 30, 2011

As Good as His Word (Genesis 15)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Dear Fellow-Redeemed in Christ: In the good old days, you were known by others on the basis of your word. Whether you kept your word or you didn’t keep your word. Whether you lived up to your promises or you fell short on what you said you would do or wouldn’t do. That’s just the way it was in the old days, when someone’s word meant something. When someone’s word stood for something. But look at us today. We need a legally-binding, will hold up in court agreement for everything these days. Because people today promise everything and end up going back on what they had promised. That’s why there are countless shows on television where two people are hauling each other into court because things didn’t go well when it came to fulfilling some promise. That’s why the world tells us that we need a release form signed before we let anyone skateboard in our front yard or swim in our back yard. That’s why parents want to toughen up their kids and prepare them for a world that doesn’t think twice about going back on promises spoken. “Trust people only as far as you can throw them,” they say. “No money leaves your right hand unless a written agreement is put in your left hand. And when in doubt, have it lawyer-ized and notarized.” Because it’s no longer the case that a man’s word is his bond. Now we have to put down a deposit or pay bail or leave collateral or give ernest money to show that we will actually do as we have promised. These days, we are required to put something down — before we can pick anything up. That’s just the way this corrupted-by-sin world works. So we shouldn’t be that shocked when a father, in an attempt to educate his own son in the ways of the world, places his four year old on the kitchen table and then steps back four feet. And then, with hands outstretched, calls to the son to trust him and jump off the table into his father’s waiting arms. But when the son finally jumps, the father jumps back to let the child fall to the floor, saying, “Let that be a lesson to you, son. In this world, don’t trust anyone’s promises.” And all of us have had similar experiences. Someone calls on us to trust them and the story they are telling us, but ends up burning us or scamming us or taking advantage of us and our silly trust in promises made. And the good old days weren’t that good either. Because the condition of fallen humanity has always been fallen. We have always been better at making excuses than promises. We’ve always been better at doubting someone else’s word than we were at taking someone at their word. And so it was for our father Abraham. 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.” 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?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1-3 ESV) Poor, desperate, wavering Abraham and his poor, desperate, wavering faith. He knew a little about others making deals and not keeping them. Abraham had plenty of years of experience with people and their words. Doubt and deal-making had even spotted his own life. Not being honest about his wife to Pharaoh and to Abimelech. Not being honest with God when it came to his greatest fear: coming to the end of his life without a son beside him. Abraham, in his desperate circumstances, wanted to make one of his deals with his Lord. One that would look mutually beneficial. An offer the Lord couldn’t refuse. One that would secure him a son. But Abraham needed to learn that the promises that come out of the mouths of sinful people like you and me are of a very different sort than the Word that comes from the lips of the Lord. For, you see, our Lord’s Word comes and does exactly what it purposes to do. Our Lord’s Word comes and does just what he desires his Word to do — without need of collateral or bail or bond or deposit or ernest money. Abraham hears heaven’s announcement, “I am as good as my Word, Abraham. When my Word goes forth, it comes and accomplishes whatever I send it to do. And, Abraham, I am sending out a Word for you — a gracious and merciful Word — as an eternal blessing to you and to the nations. I am sending to you a son.” “In my gracious Word and promise you will find your life and your hope and your reward. Believe against unbelief, Abraham. Trust in the midst of your worry and fear and temptation to believe I don’t have your best interest in mind. Put aside you deal-making and posturing and put your confidence in my unexpected Word and promise.” 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.” 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.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:4-6 ESV) That day, the Lord performed a double miracle. The same double miracle he performed for the likes of doubting Adam and rebellious Eve. The same double miracle he performed for old Noah and his family. The same double miracle he performs for you, in the midst of the hardness of your heart and the constant temptation to follow the world and its mistaken belief that deals must be two-way contracts with up-front evidence that both parties will live up to their end of the bargain. The Lord graciously performing a double miracle. That’s the way it is, in these days before Christmas, with the sending of a Son — for us and for our future. Even when we try to do everything we can to guarantee that our hope will become a reality. Even when we plan and strategize and worry and try to bargain with the Lord, doubting that anything good will come of the days ahead unless we get things off the ground. “How shall I know that you will send me a son?” Abraham asked. And the Lord answers in the most unexpected of ways: with a flaming pot cutting a covenant, an oath, a promise — a one-way covenant that has the Lord making an oath and Abraham silent on the sidelines. For you see, people in Abraham’s time would made a deal by swearing to their part of the bargain as both parties walked between the sacrifice that had been cut in half, saying, “May it be to me as it is this sacrifice if I don’t live up to my part of this agreement.” But with the Lord and his gracious promises, it is always a one-way deal. His one-way Word. His one-way promise. His one-way covenant. The merciful miracle of his one-way grace and forgiveness — and the faith he gives to believe in his too unbelievable to believe Word. “And [Abraham] believed the Lord.” (Genesis 15:6a ESV) And if the Lord can bring forth a son from old, as good-as-dead Abraham through his Word and Spirit, the Lord can bring forth a son for you, to rescue and redeem and deliver you. From your doubt. From your fears and your nothing-good-can-come-out-of-this situation doubts. Even from your sin of not living up to what you have promised the Lord. For God sends his beloved Son for you and Abraham and your neighbor down the street. He sends his precious Word, clothed in human flesh and blood, to bear your sin and be the savior of the world. God’s Word calls us to believe what the deal-making world will never believe: that with the coming of his Son, our reward from the Lord is greater than we can count, greater than any of our silly promises to try to live up to the gift of the manger and the cross and the empty tomb. God’s part of the bargain? The sending of his Son to be your sacrifice and substitute and eternal righteousness. And your part of the bargain? To simply say, by God’s grace, “Amen. Amen. Come Lord Jesus — and save.”