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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:Believe God's promises and this will be counted to you as righteousness
Text:Genesis 15:1-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith
 
Preached:2016-07-24
Added:2016-09-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 18:1

Psalm 33:6

Psalm 147:1,2,3

Psalm 28:4,5

Psalm 56:4,5

 

Read:  Genesis 15; Romans 4

Text:  Genesis 15:1-6

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is nothing wrong with God’s promises, but sometimes they just don’t seem to make sense.  When you were baptized, the LORD made a promise to you, a promise He underlined by having you baptized in His Name.  The form for holy baptism that we use in our church spells that promise out clearly.  It explains that when we are baptized into the name of God the Father, the LORD testifies and seals to you that He is your heavenly Father and that as your Father, He promises to care for you, to provide you with all that you need.  And should trouble come your way, He promises to turn this trouble away from you or else to use it for your benefit. 

That’s an amazing promise to receive in a world where nothing seems certain, where troubles and difficulties assault us every day.   And when we receive this promise in connection with the promise of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ and a new life through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, we stand in thankful amazement at what the LORD has pledged to do for us.  We can truly say that these promises are, in a sense, even more wonderful than the promises God gave to Abram.  Even though the promises that Abram received ultimately included everything that is promised to us, what God has done and will do for us is spelled out so much clearer for us who live in the new covenant.

But reality still bites.  And the reality is that we live in a troubled and a broken world.  The reality is that we are often troubled and that we experience the pain of broken lives.  Yes, God has given us these promises, but trouble still comes.  And when it comes it often comes from the least expected places.  And when it comes we can be rattled, we can stop looking to God and His promises and instead we look down and at our own resources.  Proverbs 3:5 might exhort us to

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding”

but sometimes that is hard to remember and even harder to do.

There are times when, faced with trouble, it is as if we don’t even want to face God.  Praying becomes difficult and picking up the Bible seems to be too hard.  And although the Bible exhorts us to not neglect coming together, facing our fellow believers is sometimes the last thing we want to do.  We are tempted to stay home from church, keep away from those we are close to, go somewhere else where we can be invisible for a while.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever been in that place that the psalms describe as a dry and thirsty land where there is no water?

If you have – or if you feel like you are there right now – you are not alone!  It is, in fact, a common experience for God’s people.  Yes, your circumstances might seem to be unique, but your experiences are not!  In the Bible David went through this and he wrote psalms about it.  He asked “where is God?  And what about His promises to me?”

And Abram too had reason to question, reason to wonder where God was and what He was doing.  Abram had received promises, wonderful promises from God.  But how could God do what He said He would do for as long as Abram remained childless?  In Genesis 15:2 he asked God,

“Lord GOD, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

But the LORD is true to His promises and so He repeated them to Abram, assuring him that what He would do what He said He would do. 

And Abram believed this and the LORD accounted it to him for righteousness.  And Romans 4 tells us that this was written not for Abram’s sake alone but for us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.  For the Lord will declare you righteous when you embrace His promises by faith.

I preach to you the Word of God under the following heading:

Believe God’s promises and this will be counted to you as righteousness.

  1. Promises repeated.
  2. Righteousness credited.

1. Promises repeated.

Genesis 15 begins with the word of the LORD coming to Abram in a vision saying,

“Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

Abram had just gone through a lot.  In Genesis 14 he and his tiny army had chased down Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, had sent them running and had rescued Lot, the people of Sodom and all their goods.  At that time Abram had the chance to keep what he got, turn his back on God and try to assert himself as a great leader in Canaan.  But Abram did not do so.   Remaining loyal to the LORD he gave a tenth of all he had to Melchizadek and then turned his back on the goods of Sodom.  Abram himself got nothing out of rescuing Lot, except for gaining some powerful enemies from the countries to the northeast.  Abram is left with nothing.  Nothing but the promises of God.

And up to now those promises had been enough.  In Genesis 12 the LORD had said to Abram,

“Go to a land that I will show you.”

And,

“I will make you a great nation.”

And,

“I will bless you.”

And,

“I will make your name great.”

And,

“I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you;”

And,

“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And on the basis of those promises Abram went out.  He left his country, he left his people and he moved to Canaan.  And then when he got there the LORD said to Abram in Genesis 12:7,

“To your descendants I will give this land.”

And Abram built an altar to the LORD and he worshipped Him.

After this Abram’s faith weakened and he went to Egypt but the LORD brought him back and Abram called once more on the name of the LORD.  But then Abram’s nephew Lot separated from him and went down to live in Sodom.  And the LORD appeared to Abram and He said to him in Genesis 13:15 and following,

“all the land which you see I [will] give to you and your descendants forever.”

And,

“I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth.”

And,

“Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.”

But now what?  Ten years had passed but Abram still had not received what God had promised.  And it was after these things, after giving these promises and after Abram came back from rescuing Lot that the LORD came to Abram in a vision and said to him,

“Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

“I am your shield, Abram.  Nothing is going to hurt you. You are safe with me.  And I, the LORD, am your reward.  I am everything for you, and I will do everything for you just as I have promised.”

That was an incredibly comforting thing for God to say!  Here was Abram, 85 years old and, it appears from what follows, struggling to grasp how God was doing what He had promised, and God said to him, “Don’t be scared.  I am your shield.  You are safe with Me.  And you are blessed in Me.  With the LORD you have life, you have peace, you have communion and you have all the blessings for now and the future.”

And if Abram considered all that had happened since he had left Ur of the Chaldeans he would have seen that the LORD had been faithful, that He had been a shield around him, that He had blessed him exceedingly.  Abram was a wealthy man and he had flocks and herds and servants and tents.  And not only that, he was well settled and he was living in peace.  But Abram had a problem.  He had believed God, taken Him at His word, and he had gone to Canaan.  But how could God fulfill His promises for as long as Abram had no son?  And so Abram said to the LORD in verse 2,

“Lord GOD, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”

You need to understand Abram’s problem here.  Abram is an old man by now and his wife is well advanced in years also.   And not only is Sarai past the normal age for bearing children but, but she is barren – she has never had and it appears she never will have a child of her own.   Although the LORD had promised them descendants like the dust of the earth he still had not received a single child.  And Abram dearly wanted a son.  He wanted a son not just to take care of his sheep and his donkeys when he died – Eliezer of Damascus, a favored servant in his house could do that.  Nor was Abram set on having a little boy to run behind him and call him Daddy simply for the joy of it.  Abram wanted to see God’s promises fulfilled, and Abram could not see how those promises would be fulfilled unless he had a son. 

We get that, don’t we?  We understand the problem.  Should Abram die, who would be there to continue the line of God?  The line that had included Adam, that had included Seth, Enoch, Methusalah, Noah and Shem?  The line that was to go on from Abram to include thousands more until the Great Son of Abram, Christ Himself would be born?  How could this plan of God and how could God’s promises be fulfilled for as long as Abram had no son?  What was God doing, anyway?  Why was it taking so long?  Why can’t Abram have a son, why can’t he have one now?

And we get that, don’t we?  We understand the problem.  Because we sometimes feel the same way.  It is all very well for God to gives us the wonderful promises of His Word, but why then do we get discouraged?  Why don’t things turn out the way we hoped?

But the LORD knows these things.  He knew what Abram was going through, He understood his struggle.  That is why He had already said to Abram in verse 2,

“Fear not.  I am your shield and I am your reward.”

God would watch over Abram.  He would care for Him.  And He would see to it that not one of His promises would fail to eventuate.

And then God did something special.  Having promised Abram that Eliezer would not be his heir but that one from his own body would be his heir, the LORD took Abram outside and He said to him,

“Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.”  (Genesis 15:5)

Look at the stars, Abram and start counting!  Can you do it?  Check out the cluster of the Pleiades.  See the belt of Orion.  Trace out the Great Bear and the little bear with your finger.  And then count the stars in between and above them and below them.  And then lift up your aging eyes and look even deeper into the heavens.  Do you see those clouds of stars?  How many are there, Abram?  Do you know?  Could you ever count them?  So shall your descendants be!

The LORD was gracious to Abram when He told him to look at the stars.  The LORD had already told him, admittedly ten years earlier, that his children would be like the dust of the earth, but now God tells him to look up and to see the stars.  And looking at the stars Abram could see beyond those stars to the One who made them.

And so can we!  One of our problems is that we look down too much.  One of the things wrong with us is that we look at ourselves, at our problems, at others who are the cause of those problems, at how things don’t seem to change, and then being consumed with these things we lose hope, we feel as if we had might as well give up, pike out, raise the white flag and disappear.  In his commentary on this chapter James Montgomerie Boice wrote,

“We look at ourselves and say, “I don’t see how I can do that.  I don’t see how I can believe what God is promising.”  If we were in Abram’s shoes, we would say, “I don’t see how I am going to have children at my age.”  The problem is that we are looking at ourselves.  [But] we are not the one who gives the promises.  God is.  So we need to stop looking down and start looking up.  We need to have our minds stretched by God’s greatness.”

And isn’t that so true!  God asked Abram, “Can you count the stars?”  Abram could not, of course.  But God could!  And not only could God count them: He made them!  And if God could do so great a thing as to make all those stars, surely He can be trusted to do what He said?

You have received so many promises.  Promises in your baptism and promises that are written in Scripture.  You have received the promise of John 11:26 that

“whoever believes in Me [Jesus Christ] shall never die.”

You have received the promise of 1 John 1:9 that

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

You have received the promise of Hebrews 13:5 where God says,

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Do you believe these things? 

James Montgomerie Boice also wrote this in his commentary:

“The ultimate question in life is whether you believe God.  It is not a question of whether you believe in God.  Many people say they believe in God.  There has to be a God, in their opinion.  But this does not mean anything to them.  The real question is whether you believe God, who makes promises, and whether you live by what God has promised.  Has God spoken?  If so, has God spoken clearly?  Wise is one who answers yes to those questions and lives by faith in those promises.”

2. Righteousness credited.

Abram was one of those “wise ones”.  Abram believed God.  Despite the fact that nothing had changed, despite the fact that he’d already waited for years, and that both he and Sarai were old, Abram believed God.  He took God at His word.

Abram believed God.  The Hebrew word that is used here, which is the same word from which we get the word “Amen” from, the Hebrew word says that Abram was certain about this, he was fully assured.  It was not just some sort of a wishful thinking on Abram’s part.  God had told Abram to look at the stars and to know that so shall his descendants be.  And Abram believed it.  He was fully assured that what God said was true.  The Lord would do what He had promised. 

And because Abram believed God, God accounted it to him for righteousness.  Notice that the Bible does not say that Abram’s faith was the ground of his righteousness.  It is not as though God finally found something good in Abram himself and therefore recognized him as righteous.  Rather, since Abram trusted not in himself but in the Promise-Making God who made the stars and knows their number, the LORD declared him to be righteous.  Right with God.  An heir to eternal life.

And the LORD promises the same for you and me.  God has given us amazing promises in His Word, promises that – if made by anyone but God Himself – would be too good to be true.  And the most amazing promise of all is that

“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  (John 3:16)

And similarly, Acts 16:31 -

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

And Romans 10:9,10

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

We might wonder at this promise.  We might ask, “Is that all?  Is that all it takes to be saved?  Simply to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?  Don’t I have to do something?  Don’t I have to go to church, obey the 10 commandments and so on in order to be saved?  But God says “No.”  Those things will come later, once you are saved.  But to be saved, to be declared righteous by God, all you have to do is to take God at His word.  To trust Him.  To believe Him. 

That’s what the Bible says.  Do you remember John 1:12?

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”

That is what the apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 4.  Romans 4:5,

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”

And to demonstrate this point, Romans 4 calls our attention to Genesis 15:6.  Romans 4:20-25 says that Abram

“did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

And then come these beautiful words in Romans 4:23-25.

Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

It was imputed.  Credited.  Accounted to us for righteousness.  God has fulfilled His promises to us in His Son Jesus Christ and He has promised that He who has begun a good work in us will bring it to completion.  And He says, “Trust Me in this.  Take me at my Word.  And this will be accounted to you for righteousness.”

It is not as though anything has changed yet. Abram is still an old man and Sarai his wife is still barren.  In fact Abram and Sarai would have to wait in faith for another 15 years before Isaac was born. 

And in our lives too, it is not as though everything necessarily changes in an instant.  We still live in a troubled and a broken world.  We still experience trouble and the pain of broken lives and broken relationships.  There are still days when praying is difficult and picking up the Bible seems to be too hard.  There are times when we just want to leave, run away.  Away from our problems, away from our homes, away from our church, away from those who are close to us, to go somewhere else, to be invisible for a while.  But then God says “Get up, go outside and look at the stars.  Do you know who made them?  Do you know who put them in their place?  Do you know who has done these things?  And even more, do you know that the One through whom these things were made, do you know that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Seed of Abram, came to this earth and was hung on a cross for us?  Do you know that He died, do you know that He rose again, do you know that He now sits at the right hand of God, and do you know that one day He is going to return?  And if God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  (Romans 8:32)  Therefore trust God.  Believe Him.  Hold on to His promises.  Take Him at His Word.  And this will be counted to you as righteousness.  Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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