14th Sunday after Pentecost September 15, 2019
Romans 4:1-5, 4:16-5:1
16, 394, 427:1-5, 40
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (NIV-84)
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
Have you ever noticed how the highs and lows in our faith life seem to follow one after another? One day your faith feels strong as the Lord has brought some great blessing, 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.
Our Lord Jesus Christ endured ups and downs as well. 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!” but by Friday the crowds are shouting, “Crucify Him!”
So too with our journey of faith. The Lord seems to fill 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 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 this…” 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 rather what he DIDN’T see. After that great victory, Abram returned to his childless home.
Listen to Abram’s fear as he tells the LORD about what he SEES. “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And again, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Years earlier, when God called Abram, He told him, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) 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 80's 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? Do you watch the world change around you, fearing what this may mean for your 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 read the insert in our bulletin about the great need we have for pastors and teachers and fear what this will mean for the future of our church body. “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 in verse 4, Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” I call this as an impossible promise because God was promising a child from the aged body of Abram. A body that now likely well into his 80's, 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 up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them…So shall your offspring 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! Today in Lord’s Supper, Jesus promises to come and give our communicants His very body and blood in, with, and under the bread and wine. Some churches say this impossible—but Jesus has promised it and He will do it.
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 to make all things work together for the good of His called children.
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 glorious star 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 the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Though Abram was a believer, like us, he was weak and fearful. But 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 credited 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!
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 saves you also.
Paul goes on to build on this verse in Romans 4, “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 physically 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 of death, 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 will 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 very great reward.” Thanks be to God! Amen.
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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.
Scripture quotations marked “NIV-84” are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.