11th Sunday after Pentecost August 5, 2018
Romans 4:1-5, 4:16-5:1
16, 394, 427:1-5, 40
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Prayer of the Day:
Almighty and everlasting God, through Your Son You have promised us forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Govern our hearts by Your Holy Spirit that in our daily need, and especially in all time of temptation and trial, we may seek Your help and, by a true and lively faith in Your Word, obtain all that You have promised; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and rules with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever. Amen.
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
Have you ever noticed how the highs and lows in our faith life often follow one after another? One day your faith feels strong as the Lord has brought some great blessing or victory into your life, but the next you are down and out, feeling like the Lord is so distant from you. One day Elijah is calling down fire from heaven, the next day he is hiding in a cave from wicked Queen Jezebel telling God he wished that he was dead. One day David is killing Goliath, the next day crazy King Saul is trying to pin him against a wall with a spear.
It was even this way for our Lord Jesus Christ. One day He has a huge crowd following Him after He fed them loaves and fish, the next day they abandoned Him because His teaching was “too hard.” On Palm Sunday, the crowds are waving palm branches for Jesus shouting “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” but by the end the week the crowds are shouting, “Crucify Him!”
Such is our journey of faith. The Lord fills His children up and then He empties them out. Martin Luther argues that this is because the Lord does not want us to become puffed up with pride and conceited as we have one victory after another, but He wants us to always look to Him for our strength and salvation. Think about it. If God only gave you victories in your life, you would begin to think that this was heaven and you wouldn’t need your Savior. Suffering and hardship brings us to our knees as we lift our eyes to the Maker for help.
This was the case with father Abraham as well. In Genesis chapter 14 we read of how Abram, with three hundred eighteen of his train servants had just won a huge victory against five kings. Then Melchizedek, the king of Salem and priest of God, had a feast with words of blessing for Abram, and gave Abram a tenth of all his possessions. What a high!
But, as chapter 15 begins, we read, “After these things…” After this great victory, Abram returned to his tent. In his old age, he, like so many of us do, began to think about the future and FEAR filled his heart at what he saw around him—or a what he DIDN’T see. Though Abram had won that great victory, he returned to his childless home.
Listen to Abram’s fear as he tells the LORD about what he SEES. “Lord GOD, what will You give me, SEEING I go childless, and the heir of my home is Eliezer of Damascus?” And again, “LOOK, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born of my house is my heir!”
When God called Abram, He told him, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This was the promise of the Savior. The Savior was to come from Abram—but Abram had no children. Sarai was childless and in her 80s at this point. FEAR filled Abram’s heart that the promised blessing would be transferred to the family of one of his servants.
What do you see that fills your heart with fear? One of our members, in tears, talked about watching society decay around her, fearing what this may mean for her children. Maybe you, like Abram, are aging and you find your body and mind don’t work the way they used to. SEEING this you fear what this means for you. Maybe you see your health failing and you fear what new pain or disease tomorrow will bring. Maybe you see your church shrinking before your eyes and you fear what it will mean for the future of your congregation. “Change and decay in all, around I see,” the hymn-writer says. Like Abram, we FEAR what we see around us.
As Abram struggled in fear about what he saw and didn’t see, the LORD makes an impossible promise. Verse 4 starts out with, “And behold.” Anytime the Holy Spirit uses the word “behold,” He has something he wants you to look at closely and to pay special attention. As aged Abram worries about having no child, we read in verse 4, “And BEHOLD, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’” I call this as an impossible promise. It’s impossible because God was promising a child from the aged body of Abram. A body that now likely in his 80s, which had been unable to produce a child. Impossible!
But God goes even further. He brings Abram out of his tent where he was fearing the future and points him to the stars. “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them. …So shall your descendants be.” Not only would this old man have a child, but his descendants would be innumerable as the stars in the sky. Impossible!
But this is our God. He promises the impossible and delivers every time. He promised that a virgin would give birth to a Son who would be God-with-us, and on Christmas the Son of God was born of the virgin Mary. Christ promised that after He was killed, He would rise from the dead on the third day—and He did. He has promised that you who believe in that Son will not perish, but have everlasting life—and you will!
As you dwell in your tent of fear, get out and count all of God’s promises to you. When you fear being alone and abandoned, look at the shining star of Hebrews 13 where He says He will never leave you nor forsake you, or Matthew 28, where Jesus says, “I will be with you always.” When fear strikes you because of adversity, let the star of Romans 8 shine brightly over you, as God promises His children to make all things work together for good.
When fear strikes you because you see so much sin in your life—your judgmental thoughts toward other people, your unloving words to your spouse, or your actions toward your children or neighbors, get out of your tent of fear and guilt and listen to 1 John 1 where God says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Turn from those sins and look to your Savior who died to take them all away. Let the light of Isaiah 1 shine, where the same LORD who promised a child to Abram, promises you, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
And when you see death in yourself or in your fellow believer, let the word of the light of the World shine on you as He promises, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25) Or what God promises us through Paul, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) So, dear friends, leave your tent of fear and look at the shining promises God has made to you!
We now come to a very important verse in our text, and, in fact, a very important verse in all of Scripture. God spoke His Word and made His promises. Then we read, “(Abram) believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Though Abram was a believer, like us, he was weak and fearful. The Holy Spirit used the Word of God to create faith in this promise of God. And though Abram saw nothing around him to make him think he would have a child, faith grabbed a hold of this promise and Abram believed that God would do what He promised. And God accounted it to Abram for righteousness. Though Abram had done nothing, though God had made all the promises and created the faith, God credited Abram’s spiritual account with righteousness as though Abram had done it all!
This is the marvel of the Christian faith! A man who did nothing, had nothing, is promised everything and given everything by God’s grace. God credits Abram’s spiritual account with righteousness. Abram is declared to be “right in God’s sight.”
The Apostle Paul writes of this verse, “now it was not written for his sake alone…but also for us.” (Romans 4:23) God the Holy Spirit recorded this verse FOR YOU! God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The same way He saved Abram, He does the same for you.
Paul goes on to build on this verse, “It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.” (Romans 4:24-25) You believe in the same God as Abram believed. Even though Abram’s body was as good as dead for producing a child, Abram believed in God who promised He would. This same God raised up our Lord Jesus from the dead. By His death, your sins were paid for. By His resurrection, God has declared you to be “not guilty”—justified. Though you see sin in your body, through faith in the risen Lord, God has credited you with the same righteousness as Abram. Though you did nothing, God gives you everything. YOU are now right in His sight.
The result? Paul tells us in Romans 5, verse 1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through faith in the impossible promises of God, faith which God created in you, you are “right in His sight” and at peace with God. Praise Him for His grace and favor!
There may be many ups and downs, highs followed by lows in our Christian walk. Abram defeated five kings, but returned home to find he still had no child. God took Him out of his tent of fear and pointed him to the stars in heaven, making amazing promises to him of a child yet to be born—from whom the Savior Jesus would eventually come. God wishes to take you out of your tent of fear and point you to the Star of David, His Son Jesus Christ, through whom all His promises to you are “yes and amen.” So what the LORD said to father Abram in the opening of our text, He says to you, “Do not be afraid…I am your shield, and your exceedingly great reward.” Thanks be to God! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.