Five dead animals, a smoking fire pot, a flaming torch, and the eternal covenant of God - Part 2
Series: My Preaching Bucket List
April 09, 2017
I’m supposed to start with a fancy introduction, and many times I do. But I have so much to share with you this morning, you’re just going to have to show me grace.
In lieu of an introduction. I’ll give a brief review.
Last week I preached part 1 of Five dead animals, a smoking fire pot, a flaming torch, and the eternal covenant of God.
We learned of God calling Abram out of his land. We learned of God’s promises to him: land, seed, and blessing. And we stopped at the most important verse of all the OT…
Genesis 15:6 (ESV) — 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
And the main point of my first message was…
This verse tells us the way man is made right with God has never been works; it has never been the keeping of the law. It’s by faith, by believing in His promises.
And aren’t you glad that’s one of the things we get from Genesis 15:6? It’s a game changer.
But have you thought about something else? Yes, God accepts us based on our belief in His promises, but the NT, the Gospel, makes it clear that you must believe in someone particular to be saved…
John 14:6 (ESV) — 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Acts 4:12 (ESV) — 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
How could Abram, and anyone else before the cross for that matter, be made right with God if Jesus is the only way? How do we reconcile this?
To answer this question we go back to the promise God gave Abram. He promised him land, seed, and blessing.
Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV) — 1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The progression from land to blessing isn’t arbitrary.
To make a name for Abram land came first. Once you’ve got the land then you can work on the seed, or offspring who will make a great nation inhabiting the land. And then comes blessing. This is where our antennae go up.
God said Abram would be blessed but more importantly for us he would be a blessing. In fact, all the families of the earth would be blessed “in” him.
Very clearly, God indicates this blessing the whole earth thing has something to do with Abram’s offspring. His descendants.
Are you ready? Look at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel.
Matthew 1:1–16 (ESV) — 1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, … 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
Boom. There it is. The promise God made to Abraham pointed forward 2,000 years to the birth of Jesus.
So now we see Genesis 15:6 in full color, 4K, HD, 3D, 1080p, and whatever else.
Genesis 15:6 (ESV) — 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
When God made his promises to Abram, he was really preaching Jesus! Ergo, Abram’s believing in God’s promise was really the same as believing in Jesus. So the way folks got saved before Jesus came is exactly the same way as after.
That is how all the families of the earth have been blessed, through Abram. Jesus is in the line of Abram, and it’s through his life, death, and resurrection a way has been made to be right with God!
This verse also tells us that the way to salvation, the way to be made right with God is belief in his promises, and his promises point to Jesus and his work on the cross.
Now you see why this verse stands out from every other in the OT. It certainly caught the attention of those who wrote the New Testament.
Paul (who gave us most of the NT) wrote a lengthy discourse on our star verse in his letter to the Romans.…
Romans 4 (ESV) — 1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” 9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. 10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. 11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, …18 In hope [Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” 23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
He also used our verse to lovingly reprimand the Galatian believers. They had given in to a group of folks calling themselves Christians who taught in order to be saved you had to be circumcised. They believed the gospel involved keeping the law in addition to belief in Jesus.
Galatians 3:1–8 (ESV) — 1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”
This takes me down a little rabbit trail. To me, this deals with the teaching among some in our faith community who say you must believe in Jesus AND be baptized to be saved. For them, there is no salvation without baptism.
Let’s process what Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, taught. Circumcision was the sign of God’s covenant. It was an outward way to demonstrate the Israelite’s covenant with God. Very clearly, Abraham’s faith made him right with God before gave the order for circumcision, in the same way he was made right with God before the Law was given.
Baptism is the outward way of demonstrating our belief in and entering in to covenant with Christ. If you say that one must believe and be baptized, how is that different than those who bewitched the Galatians into believing one must believe and be circumcised?
When it comes to being made right with God, it is belief in Jesus and NOTHING.
Is there any doubt that it is belief in the promises of God that saves us and not works? Abraham believed God and he counted it to him as righteousness, as being right with Him. Period. You cannot take anything from that or add anything to it.
Genesis 15:6 also caught the attention of Jesus’ half-brother, James…
James 2:14–24 (ESV) — 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
In today’s terms = I will pray for you.
17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
Did James really go there? Did he just undo everything Paul taught? Did he just wipe out what we learn from Genesis 15:6?
It seems that way, doesn’t it?
It appears as if James and Paul and Gen. 15:6 are at odds, but they aren’t. They just teach different sides of the same truth.
One commentator says…
James was concerned with the demonstration of faith in Jesus through works of mercy. Paul was concerned with [being made right with God] through Christ alone and not by ritual works of the law, such as circumcision, apart from faith in Christ… [James taught] faith without deeds is good to no one. He was not implying that the deeds of faith are [required] for salvation. Rather, the deeds of faith demonstrate the validity of the claim to be a believer; without them the claim is empty or “dead”…
…there is no real contradiction between James and Paul regarding faith, for Paul’s teaching about faith and works focuses on the time before conversion, and James’ focus is after conversion. … Paul was fighting against tradition which promoted a false works salvation. James was fighting against a “lite” faith which minimized the necessity of works after coming to Christ. Paul says works cannot bring us to Christ. James says after we come to Christ they are imperative.
We are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is not alone. If we truly have been made righteous by God through faith, it brings such a cataclysmic change in us that there will be evidence in our lives. If we have been made righteous by God, we will do righteous things, and for James they weren’t things related to the keeping the letter of the law so much as keeping the heart of it.
And the heart of the law is this…
Matthew 22:37–40 (ESV) — 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
James and Paul give us a healthy tension. Tension is needed for us to stay balanced.
Conclusion: Thirty five years ago, one summer night I sat on my bed in the little house we lived in on main street in a little town called Rockford.
As I sat there, I began thinking about my future self. I thought about how one day many years in the future I’d think back to that night. I concentrated hard. I often remember it. When I do, I look backwards to me looking forwards and there is a connection that spans time and space. It’s freaky.
Look back at Genesis 15:1…
Genesis 15:1 (ESV) — 1 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.”
Of great interest is the phrase “the word of the LORD.” We think of the word of the Lord as his written word or maybe an impression upon our hearts, and it can be those things. But this word, this word of the Lord, came to Abram in a vision. A vision is something you see, isn’t it? Not just hear.
And then look at verse 5…
Genesis 15:5 (ESV) — 5 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.”
The word is a “he” that brought Abram outside. So the word of the Lord here is a person!
Now look in the NT, in John’s gospel…
John 1:1 (ESV) — 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:14 (ESV) — 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
And now look at John 8:56. Here Jesus sparred with the Jews over the idea that those who keep his word will never die. His foes brought up Abraham as a case in point. He kept God’s word and died. In the middle of this dialogue Jesus dropped a bomb…
John 8:56 (ESV) — 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
The Jews were like, you’re not even fifty, how can you say that?
Connect the dots. The Word of the Lord (pre-incarnate Jesus). The Word became flesh (Jesus with meat on him). Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day.
Jesus, in John 8:56, was talking about Genesis 15:6. He was there. Abraham rejoiced to see the day when it was revealed that faith in God’s promises made one right. Jesus is the embodiment of those promises.
The pre-incarnate Jesus is standing in Genesis 15:6 waving at Jesus incarnate on the cross 2,000 years later. There’s a cosmic connection.
That’s why Palm Sunday is such a big deal. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey like the king he was. He was worthy of that worship. He’s the one who came to Abram. He’s the one in whom all the families of the earth are blessed. He’s the one whose day Abraham rejoiced to see. He’s the one in whom all the promises of God are bound up.
We haven’t even got to the good stuff yet! But we must close.
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