Obeying God When It Hurts

Genesis 17 is an important chapter of the Bible. God further strengthens Abraham’s faith by bringing greater clarity to his promises in the Abrahamic Covenant and by giving him a sign and seal of the covenant, namely circumcision. If you want to learn more about circumcision and what it meant you can listen to this.

For now I would like to highlight something from my sermon from yesterday that often get’s overlooked in Genesis 17 (cf. Gen. 17:18-27), namely:

ABRAHAM’S REMARKABLE OBEDIENCE

Abraham’s obedience is remarkable here for at least three reasons:

First, because he obeyed when things didn’t go his way. God just told him a plan that was different than what he had expected and hoped for. And instead of being angry at God and kicking and screaming at God’s sovereignty he submitted to God.

How hard is that for us? When things don’t go your way and you are frustrated with God’s will what is your response? Give God the silent treatment (i.e. stop praying), skip church, start sinning. We all so easily succumb to sin when things go wrong, don’t we?

But Abraham obeys God by circumcising his WHOLE household. He has the attitude of Job here, who after suffering the loss of his health, his house and his family said, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15)Or in the words of Horatio Spafford who lost his own house and wife and children, “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul. . .It is well with my soul.”

Secondly, this is remarkable obedience because it was painful. No doubt it was painful to be circumcised at 100 years old during a time before anesthetics! And could you imagine the reaction he got from the men in his household? “Get that sharp object away from me!!!. . .what are you crazy?!?!”

But beloved, sometimes obedience to God is painful. It might mean persecution at work. It might mean paying your taxes even when things are financially difficult. It might mean patiently persevering with your husband or wife’s sins and not giving up on your marriage. It might mean denying yourself sexual pleasure until God is pleased to give you a spouse.Acts 14:22 says, “through MANY tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” BUT REMEMBER, whatever suffering we face in this life, it won’t be worth comparing to the glory that awaits us!

Thirdly, this is remarkable obedience because it’s immediate. We read in v. 26 and following, “That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised. And all the men of his house, those born in the house and those bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.” Abraham obeyed God, THAT VERY DAY! According to Genesis 14:14 he had at least 318 men born in his household!

Here’s the point: Delayed obedience is disobedience. Parents, you know the frustration of telling your toddler to come inside for dinner and after the tenth warning they finally come. Or you know the frustration of telling a teenager to clean their room and you come back a few hours later and it’s still a mess and they say, “Chill out, I’m getting to it.” It’s frustrating! And I’m thankful my parents put up with my delayed obedience!

But in many ways we all are like toddlers and teenagers. We often treat our sins this way, where we know that something is sinful and yet we resolve to “improve our behavior later.” Or we only want to obey God when it’s convenient for us. That’s Satan’s lie, “enjoy this today, you can always obey tomorrow when it’s more convenient. . .just have a little pleasure now. . .you can improve your behavior tomorrow.” Beloved, delayed obedience is NOT obedience. Whatever obedience you are delaying, put your sin to death and obey God today!  Why? Simply put, in the words of Paul: “You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19) Respond to God’s grace with thankfulness!

THE MOST REMARKABLE OBEDIENCE OF ALL

Beloved, you have been given the greatest gift that anyone could ever receive in Jesus.

He is the to whom the promises made to Abraham ultimately pointed. He is the one who was born in a miraculous way of a virgin woman. He is Abraham’s offspring in whom all the nations are blessed. And he is the one who supremely displays remarkable obedience. As obedient as Abraham was, he was still a sinner who needed God’s grace. But Christ is the one who obeys PERFECTLY in a remarkable way for us.

His obedience was immediate. It was always his delight to do the Father’s will, even when it was inconvenient for him (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:29).

His obedience was painful. No one suffered like our Lord (Isaiah 53). The pain of circumcision that Abraham and his household experienced ultimately foreshadowed the pain of Christ’s circumcision on the cross, where he was cut off from the land of the living and forsaken by God the Father (Isa. 53:8; Matt. 27:46; Col. 2:11-12).

And no doubt He obeyed, even though things didn’t always go his way, in one sense. No doubt the Son was one with the Father in the eternal plan of salvation and sovereignly ordains all things. But no doubt like us, in his humanity, he experienced the same fears and frustrations that we all experience when things don’t go our way. He was despised and rejected, he was acquainted with grief. He was mocked and beaten and spit upon and died on a cross. And when he thought about the cross in the garden of Gethsemane, in the mystery of the incarnation, he was sorrowful and afraid of God’s sovereign plan, and yet, he prayed, “not my will but your’s be done” (Luke 22:39-44) And he trusted himself to his Father’s sovereign and good plan and suffered the wrath of God in our place (Matt. 27:45-50).

And because of his obedience, even unto death on a cross, God the Father highly exalted him and seated him at his right hand and gave him the name that is above every name. . .that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:6-11).

Beloved, Jesus went through all of that remarkably painful, inconvenient obedience for a sinner such as you and me.And so, why should we respond with remarkable obedience in our life? Because of what Christ has remarkably done for us. We don’t deserve God’s mercy and love, but he has graciously poured out his love upon us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

And as much as you have sinned, God forgives you completely of all of your sins and declares you righteous in his sight through faith (Rom. 8:1; Col. 2:13-14; 1 Jn. 1:9; Eph. 1:7, 2:8-9; 2 Cor. 5:21). And he has given you the Spirit of Christ so that you are not left to your own strength to obey (Ezek. 36:25-27; Gal. 3:13-14; Phil. 2:12-13; Gal. 5:16). And so, beloved, let us give thanks to God for his grace to us in Christ.And relying on the Spirit’s power let us love him with all of our heart, mind soul and strength, even when it’s hard. And where we fail, let us continually seek refuge in the “blood and righteousness” of Christ alone and look forward to his return where we will be “saved to sin no more.” Amen!

Loving Those Who Are Undeserving

Abram Rescues Undeserving Lot in Self-Sacrificial Love

A couple weeks ago I preached on Genesis 14 in two parts. In the first part I focused on verses 1-16 and the fact that Abram rescues his nephew Lot from the four eastern kings when he very easily could have had the attitude that he sort of deserved to be taken captive for his foolish and selfish decision to dwell near Sodom, a place that was notoriously wicked (cf. Gen 13:10-13). At this point in Genesis 14 he is now dwelling in Sodom when he and his family and all his possessions are taken captive by the foreign kings (Gen 14:12). But Abram walks by faith and love. He trusts God’s promises to bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you (Gen 12:1-3). He trusts that God will give him a people and the promised land in due time as he waits patiently for God’s good timing. And so, being fueled by God’s promises, he pursues Lot’s captors in order to rescue his “kinsman” (lit. his brother) in love (Gen 14:14, 16). In other words his love arises out of faith in God’s promises. Furthermore, his love is a love that is risky, inconvenient, costly, and towards one who is undeserving. And God ultimately wins the battle for him as he rescues his nephew/kinsmen with only 318 men against four kings and their military (Gen 14:14-16, 20). Abram is Lot’s kinsman redeemer. Christian, does any of this sound familiar?

Christ Rescued Us Who Were Undeserving in Self-Sacrificial Love

Abram is a type of Christ here. Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers and sisters (Heb 2:11). As Abram was to Lot, so Christ is to us. In the words of Iain Duguid, “Jesus did not sit idly in Heaven waiting for us to deserve to be redeemer. If he had, eternity would have gone by without our redemption. Nor was our redemption risk free and painless. Christ was willing to leave the glories of heaven and come down to us, taking the form of a servant in our midst” (Duguid, Living in the Gap Between Promise and Reality: The Gospel According to Abraham, 45).

Thanks be to God,that Christ left the glories of heaven to come after us! And as our servant-King he came and conquered all the powers that we were in bondage to. He conquered all the temptations of the devil by trusting God’s Word. He conquered all the desires of the flesh by never once sinning. He conquered all the temptations of the world by obeying his heavenly Father perfectly. All of those things which formerly enslaved us Jesus conquered on our behalf through his life, death and resurrection.

Once again Duguid writes, “Jesus was willing not only to take risks for the sake of his undeserving kinsmen, but also to suffer great agony for them on the cross. But there on the cross, as in the person of Melchizedek, righteousness and peace met. There we find not only the proof that Jesus loves us, but also the pain-filled means by which he powerfully delivered the undeserving people he had chosen for himself, even in the face of their estrangement and ingratitude toward him” (Duguid, 46).

How great is the love that God has shown us in Christ! In the words of Paul the Apostle, but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). And because of his perfect life, his sacrificial death and his glorious resurrection, those of us who look to him by faith alone have been freed from our bondage to sin and death and the devil. We are free in Him! We have been forgiven of all of our sins entirely. We have been given his righteousness through faith. We have been given his Holy Spirit as a gift so that we are enabled more and more to put to death our sins and live for God! And we have been given the hope of one day being delivered completely from all of our sins and sufferings in this life when he returns.

In Gratitude, We Are To Love Those Who Are Undeserving in Self-Sacrificial Love

How then shall we live in thankfulness to God for the salvation that we don’t deserve? Jesus commands us to love one another as he has loved us (John 13:34-35; 15:12-13). And what does that look like? Well we typically ask ourselves two questions when determining if we are going to help someone? 1. Does this person deserve my help? 2. Can I help this person without any risk or inconvenience to myself? (Duguid, 44) But how can we who have been saved eternally when we were so undeserving treat others this way? And how can we who were saved through the precious blood of the only Son of God only help others when it won’t bring any risk or inconvenience to us?

Who has God placed in your life right now who is difficult to love and is undeserving of your love? Is it a spouse, a son or a daughter, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker? No doubt it can be a great struggle to love certain people. But where we find strength is the same place that Abram found strength, relying on the Spirit’s strength given to us through the gracious promises of God in Christ. And so, we need to meditate every day on the fact that we don’t deserve God’s love and yet he has poured out his love upon us in Christ and nothing will ever separate us from his love towards us in Christ (Rom 8:31-39). These gracious promises must be the foundation of our life as Christians. And we especially need to hear them proclaimed every week in public worship on the Lord’s Day so that it fuels a courageous self-sacrificial love in us toward others.

No doubt there are times when we have to exercise great wisdom in order to know when to administer “tough love” or when to withhold certain things from someone so that we don’t enable that person to remain enslaved to sinful habits. But we must never forget that we are to love others as Christ has loved us. And so, may we love those who are undeserving. May we be inconvenienced for the sake of sharing the love of Christ with others. And may we always point them beyond ourselves to the one who first loved us. Amen!

(If you’d like, you can listen to my sermon “Loving Those Who Are Undeserving” or other sermons here at our church web-site)

Faith After Failure

Here is the first point of a sermon I recently preached on Genesis 13. The context is that Abram just failed a test of adversity in Genesis 12 when he forgot God’s promises and walked by sight instead of by faith. That got him into a worse situation but God came to his rescue and demonstrated his unchanging faithfulness to his promises. Here then is how Abram responded after that failure, a lesson that we all need to learn:

As Chapter 13 begins, we see how Abram dealt with his failure. And what’s the first thing that he did? He went back to square one. He didn’t mope around in Egypt or look for somewhere else to dwell. Rather, he returned to the Lord and retraced his steps. And so, we read in v. 1ff: Gen. 13:1  So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. . .3 And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, 4 to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the LORD. So Abram returns to the promised land and calls upon the name of the LORD.

Beloved, what kind of faith do you have? Does failure lead you away from the Lord or does it cause you to return to the Lord in repentance and faith? Trust me, I know that after some moral failure it is easy to just spiral downwards, where you’ve sinned in some way and you are acutely aware of that fact and so it leads you to perhaps become depressed and to sulk, or it leads you to sin even more in the same way or in some other way. Either way, you feel so terrible that you avoid God altogether, as if that’s going to help. How many of you have ever been there?

I believe that David understood this feeling when he said in Ps. 32: 3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. You see, when we are aware of our sins and failures we sometimes feel sick within and we just turn inward and avoid God which only makes it worse. But then David goes on to say: 5  I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. 6 Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; You see, now is the day when we find God in forgiveness and grace in Christ. The opening of the Psalm says: 1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity.

Our God is a gracious God. As we sang earlier the words of Psalm 103, “Good is the Lord and full of kind compassion, most slow to anger, plenteous in love; rich is his grace to all that humbly seek him, boundless and endless as the heavn’s above.” Beloved when you sin and fail like Abram did when he didn’t trust God’s promises, you need to remember that God is merciful and gracious. He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9). It would be unjust for him not to forgive us in Christ, because Christ is our advocate and the propitiation for all of our sins (1 Jn. 2:1-2). And so, return to God in Christ without delay. He is like the prodigal son’s Father to us. He runs to us in forgiveness in Christ. Nothing will separate us from his love for us in Christ, even our own failures (Rom. 8:37-39).

And so, that’s the first thing that we learn from our text, that the life of faith after failure returns to the Lord to seek His forgiveness and to worship Him once again as our Lord. A genuine sign of maturity in the faith is how quickly you return to the Lord in repentance and faith after you have failed.

(If you’d like, you can listen to the rest of this sermon on Gen. 13, entitled “The Life of Faith After Failure,” here under “morning sermons”).

The Tragedy of Choosing Heaven over Hell but not Heaven over Earth

I recently preached on Genesis 13 where Abram faces a test that is just the opposite of the test he faced in Genesis 12. In Genesis 12 he faced a test of adversity, namely famine. There we see Abram struggling to walk by faith. After just receiving God’s amazing promises to him in Gen. 12:1-9, He fails to trust God’s promises and to call upon the name of the Lord when famine comes his way. It’s as if he has already forgotten those promises and immediately goes into survival mode in order to fix things himself. He walks by sight in Gen. 12 and gets himself into an even worse situation when the Pharaoh takes Sarai as his wife. But regardless of his faithlessness, God is faithful to his servant Arbam and the promises that he made to him. He brings him out of Egypt with his wife and family and incredible wealth. But then when he returns to the promised land he faces another test, a test of prosperity. Now he has too much stuff. The land where Abram and Lot are dwelling cannot support the both of them and so Abram gives Lot a generous offer to have a share in the promised land. But Lot looks up and sees that the Jordan Valley, which is either outside the promised land or just on the border, looks better than the promised land. And so, instead of choosing the promised land and trusting God’s promises, Lot now walks by sight and head’s towards Sodom and Gomorrah, while Abram remains in the land of Canaan trusting God’s promises by faith. Commenting on Lot’s choice in this episode, R. Kent Hughes writes:

“Lot was the kind of man who would certainly choose Heaven over Hell if given the choice, but not Heaven over earth. Material prosperity was the bottom line. He was the example of believers who choose professions for their children or encourage marriages that will elevate the family’s prosperity and power–with no thought of what it will do to their soul and the souls of their children. Lot’s descendants testify to this as they became enemies of God’s people.” (Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, 201)

It is indeed a tragic thing to see God’s covenant people in the church today making choices like Lot’s based merely on what they see rather than walking by faith and trusting God’s Word. Besides what R. Kent Hughes mentions, I think of those who move their family for a great job opportunity with no regard for whether or not there is a faithful church in that area for their family to worship at. Or I think of the person who takes a great job opportunity locally with no regard for whether or not it will allow them to attend to the public means of grace on Sunday. I also think of parents who allow their children to miss the means of grace on the Lord’s Day in order to play in a sports tournament. They’d rather be prosperous in this world than walk by faith and place their hope in the glories of the age to come. Instead of trusting God’s Word which tells us that we need to be at church every week to worship Him and to receive his grace for the trials of this life, they choose to place their trust in money, job security, and social status.

O that God’s people would learn the lesson of Lot! Lot went from dwelling near Sodom (Gen. 13) to dwelling in Sodom (Gen. 14) to sitting in the gate of Sodom, most likely a reference to his status as some kind of a noble (Gen. 19), to giving his daughters to the men of Sodom in marriage (Gen. 19). Sodom was a place where the people were “wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Gen. 13:13). But Lot saw (like Eve saw) that it looked pleasant to the eyes and was a prosperous place. And so, he took the bait and swallowed it hook, line and sinker. And the consequences for his family were tragic.

In what ways is God challenging you to walk by faith instead of by sight? The truth is that we all need to learn the lesson of Lot over and over again because we all still fight against our old sin nature even though we are saints in Christ through faith. Do you not know that, not only the sufferings of this present age, but also the prosperity of this age is not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed when Christ returns? (cf. Rom. 8:18). As John Newton once put it, “Savior, if of Zion’s city, I through grace a member am, let the world deride or pity, I will glory in Thy Name. Fading is the worldlings’ pleasure, all his boasted pomp and show; Solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion’s children know.” Amen!

(If you’d like to hear my sermon on Genesis 13, “The Life of Faith After Failure,” that inspired this post you can listen to it here under “morning sermons.”)

 

The Struggle to Walk by Faith

Here is a sermon I just preached on Genesis 12:10-20 called “The Struggle to Walk by Faith.” You can listen to it at our church web-site here. I hope it encourages whoever reads it or listens to it. I was greatly encouraged meditating on God’s faithfulness to Abram and preaching this text from God’s Word.

Well last week we saw how God is faithful to his promises to his people. We saw this in that he preserved Shem’s line all the way down to Abram, the one who would be blessed by God and be a blessing to all the nations. In spite of the rebellion at Babel and the dispersion of the nations, God graciously chose to call Abram out of the world so that he might continue his redemptive plan to unite one people under his great name. And we saw how even though it was a simple call, it was a very difficult call for Abram. You’ll remember that Abram was in his seventies, and God asked him to leave his country, his people, and his family and to go to an unknown land. But even though this would be a very difficult call to obey, God promised Abram: “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.  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” (Gen. 12:2-3). So Abram responded to these promise in faith and obeyed God’s call. He went to the land of Canaan where he began to build altars to the LORD and worship him as a pilgrim in the land. And so, we were left last week with a picture of Abram’s remarkable faith and obedience, one that challenged us to have faith in God’s promises and to live thankful lives as well. But this week we get to see a different side of Abram. We get to see that as great as he was last week, he’s not much different from you in me in that he struggles to continually walk by faith and trust God’s promises. And so, notice with me our theme: The Struggle to Walk by Faith. And we’ll see this as we look at the following two points from our text: 1. Abram’s Failure; 2. God’s Faithfulness

1. Abram’s Failure
Our story begins with v. 10 where we read: Now there was a famine in the land. So here is Abram and he has just arrived in the promised land and immediately his faith is put to the test. God promised him a land and a people. And not only is Sarai barren, but now the land is barren as well. No doubt this would have been a great test for Abram’s faith. He has God’s promises, and yet what he sees is a land that can’t support him and his family. And so, what is he to do? Well he does the most natural thing one could do. He starts looking around for a place where HE can provide for his family. We go on to read in v. 10: So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. It’s stressed that the famine is real. And so, it’s not just that he’s tired of eating the same old meal for dinner, it’s that he and his family are really starting to go hungry. And the future is uncertain. But he sees that there is food in Egypt and so he figures Egypt is his only certainty of survival.

But what is wrong with this picture? What is Abram forgetting? He’s forgetting God’s promises. It’s not that it’s such a bad idea to go to Egypt to get food for his family. Later in Genesis when there is a famine in the land, God will provide for Jacob and his family in Egypt through Joshua. But here, Abram is pictured as having no regard for God’s promises as they aren’t even mentioned. You see, he hasn’t denied God, he’s just forgotten about Him. It seems as though he has bought into the philosophy that “God helps those who help themselves.” And often it’s the case in the Old Testament that going down to Egypt is the alternative to trusting in the LORD, and we see that here. He doesn’t call on the name of the LORD. Abram’s not really walking by faith in God’s promises here. Rather, he is walking by sight. He sees that the grass is greener in Egypt and so he turns his back on the promised land, at least temporarily, and heads south to Egypt. No doubt it was a natural choice, but not a wise one. Because immediately God’s whole promise is placed in jeopardy. Remember, God promised him not only a land but also a people. And through his offspring all the nations would be blessed. But Abram put’s these promises in jeopardy not only by leaving the land of promise but by his plan when he gets to Egypt.

Notice his plan in v. 11 and following: “When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” 

So Abram, is worried about being killed when he gets to Egypt because his wife is beautiful and surely the Egyptians will want her as a wife (i.e. his philosophy is “better defiled than dead”). Now, you may be wondering about Sarai’s beauty because she is sixty five at this point in her life. And so, you may be thinking would the Egyptians really find her so attractive? But we have to remember at least two things here. First: the standards of beauty in the Ancient Near East are not necessarily the same standards that we have today. And secondly: remember that the patriarch’s and their wives had a longer lifespan than we do today. Sarai lives to be 127 years old. And so, she may have been more like the equivalent of a thirty or forty year old woman today.

Either way, Abram is greatly worried about this. And so, his plan is to be deceptive by telling a half-truth about his wife. It was true that Sarai was Abram’s half-sister as we find out later in Gen. 20:12, but he’s not being completely honest here. But once again this seems to be the natural choice according to human wisdom. His fears are not completely unfounded as it was common in those days for men to take wives, especially evil rulers, even as we saw with the “sons of God” in Genesis 6. Later, even King David would commit such an evil act when he sinned with Bathsheba and disposed of her husband. And so, he has good reason to be afraid. And even though it appears that he is willing to give up his wife in order to save his own skin, it may just be that he sees it as a way to stall so that they both can escape later. Remember that Laban, who was the brother of Leah and Rachel, was pretty good at stalling when it came to giving his sisters in marriage, so that Jacob would end up working for him for 14 years. And so, it may be that he is totally selfish here, or that he has a plan for him and Sarai to escape later.

Either way, once again, Abram is forgetting that the God whom he served was greater than his problems. God didn’t need Abram to help him fulfill his promises. God said:  “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.  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.” And then when Abram arrived at the promised land God said: “To your offspring I WILL give this land.” So God never mentioned to Abram, “I’ll do my part if you’ll do yours.” He simply said, “this is what I am going to do. Now, just trust me, and you’ll see me do even the impossible for you, in order to keep my Word” because nothing is impossible with God and nothing can ultimately thwart his promises.

Now how does this relate to you and me today? Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? According to the New Testament those who have faith in Christ, are children of Abraham and are heirs according to the same promises (Galatians 3). Only we have even greater reason to trust God. Abram saw these promises in seed form but we have received the promises in full flower. We see the big picture of Christ’s incarnation, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension and his future return. And so we rejoice in the following promises of God in Christ:

Eph. 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

Rom. 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who 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?

1Pet. 1:3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

We have such sweet and precious promises in God’s Word. In Jesus Christ, all of the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen”. And yet, like Abram, we so easily struggle to walk by faith, and we walk by sight instead. What is it in your life right now that is causing you to doubt or forget God’s promises? Is it something at work that is troubling you, perhaps a co-worker that get’s on your nerves, perhaps your computer crashed and you lost a bunch of files, perhaps your boss is always so negative. Or is it family drama? Perhaps your parents are domineering, perhaps your children are so rebellious, perhaps your brother or sister always teases you. Or is it that you are single and are struggling with loneliness? The list could go on and on. What is it right now that you are struggling with? We all go through trials in the Christian life. And when we go through trials like this it tests our faith. And we tend to go into survival mode (what am I going to do to get myself out of this mess?) before we cast all of our anxieties upon the Lord in prayer and trust in his promises by faith. But God allows us to go through trials for a good purpose. It’s not that we are to view these things as good circumstances in and of themselves, but that we are to trust that God has a good purpose behind all of our trials. This is what God’s Word teaches us:

James 1:2  Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Rom. 5:3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

You see trials mature us in the faith. They cause us to come to the end of ourselves and to trust God and to look to Him alone for grace. They wean us from putting our trust in idols, whether it be our own strength, money, sex, power, you name it. God brings us through trials so that we might give up on our idols, trust in him alone for joy and peace, and it increases our hope of heaven.

And so, in the midst of the trials of your life, you need to cling to God’s promises by faith and cast all of your anxieties upon him because he cares for you. Jesus encourages us in Matthew 6 that God cares for us as a Father cares for his children. And so, we need not be anxious about our life ultimately. Paul tells us in Rom. 8: “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. . .31  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who 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?. . .38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

Beloved, you can trust your heavenly Father, that behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. In Psalm 66 the Psalmist records: 10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 11 You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; 12 you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. And so, trust that God is always with you in trials and is for you in Christ. He has brought you to a place of abundance in Christ and one day you will no longer walk by faith but will walk by sight in the new heavens and new earth. God is always faithful to his promises. And we see God’s Faithfulness in our text: 

2. God’s Faithfulness 

Abram carries out his plan as we go on to read, but what happens is not what he had expected. He probably figured that just some joe schmoe Egyptian would want Sarai as a wife. But we read: “14 When Abram entered Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 And when the princes of Pharaoh saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh. And the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.” WHOA! So Pharaoh ends up taking Sarai into his house to be a part of his harem. This is not what Abram had planned. No way can he expect to negotiate and stall with Pharaoh himself and later escape with Sarai. Sarai is now destined to live as one of Pharaoh’s many wives and to be buried in Egypt as a mummy. Abram’s plan was NOT A-Team caliber. He wouldn’t be able to say like Hannibal, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Rather, this was a disaster. And Sarai is probably sitting in Pharoah’s palace thinking, “Great plan honey! Now what!”

However, besides this unexpected tragedy, he unexpectedly prospers. Because he just gave up his sister to the Pharaoh and the Pharaoh is so pleased, Abram becomes rich: “16 And for her sake he dealt well with Abram; and he had sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male servants, female servants, female donkeys, and camels.” Now, female donkeys and camels might not seem all that great to us today, other than at the zoo, but as one commentator notes, “female donkeys were far more controllable and dependable for riding and therefore the ride of choice for the rich. . .the camels (note the plural) had just been introduced as domesticated animals and were a rarity. . .prestige symbols for show by the rich, not for utililty.” And so, this commentator notes that, in modern terms it’s as if he’s given multiple BMW’s in the female donkeys and multiple Ferari’s in the camels, and this on top of all the food and male ad female servants! (R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, 193)

So in spite of Abram’s lack of trust and deceitfulness he’s inundated with these luxuirious gifts, while Sarai is probably freaking out as she hangs out with Pharaohs harem. And as great as these gifts were, they would only be a reminder to Abram of the loss of his wife and they would pale in comparison to the eternal blessings that God had promised him.

But the good news for Abram is that God wasn’t about to let his promises go unfulfilled right after calling Abram. And so, he sovereignly and graciously intervenes to save Abram from his faithlessness and the mess that he has got himself into. We read in v. 17: “But the LORD afflicted Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife.” So much for being a blessing to the nations! Because of Abram’s failure to trust God’s promises he ends up bringing a plague on Pharaoh and his household (literally a skin disease).

Now at this point in the narrative you should start to notice that there are a lot of similarities here with Israel. Remember that later in Genesis it will be because of a famine that Jacob and his twelve sons and their family all end up in Egypt. And even though it’s good at first, eventually they’ll be stuck in Egypt, afflicted by the Egyptians. But God will plague the Egyptians with the 10 plagues. The Egyptians then let them go with great wealth and so they travel back to the land and eventually make it back and worship the LORD in the promised land. All of these things Abram goes through here. And not only does he go through it here, he’s going to go through it again (Gen. 20) and Isaac his son will go through the same experience as well (Gen. 26). All of this foreshadows the Exodus account. In the Bible God’s people are constantly learning to trust God and that God is faithful to his promises to save and preserve his people and his promised land. And the Israelites would have received great comfort from these accounts of the patriarchs. They would have seen that God is faithful to His promises in every generation.

One difference however in this story is that unlike the Pharaoh that Moses faces, this Pharaoh quickly realizes what is going on and releases his captive after one plague. Abram doesn’t even have to tell him, “Let my Sarai go!” God simply sends a plague and Pharaoh is ready to let her go immediately. In fact, he rebukes Abram: “18 So Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife; take her, and go.” Literally he says in four Hebrew words, “here. . .wife. . .take. . .go” (virtually the same words that the Pharaoh will say to Moses, Ex. 12:31-32). The abruptness expresses his anger and frustration. And Abram’s silence in the matter indicates that he knows that he is guilty.

And so, we read in v. 20: “Pharaoh gave men orders concerning him, and they sent him away with his wife and all that he had.” It’s really remarkable that he didn’t just kill Abram for wronging him. This would have easily been worthy of death in those days. But Pharaoh knows, that God is with Abram, and so in spite of Abram’s lack of trust, in spite of his deceitfulness, in spite of him putting the whole plan of God in jeopardy, he is able to leave Egypt alive, with his wife and with a bounty of luxurious goods. In fact he goes from severe famine in Genesis 12:10 to severe riches in Genesis 13:2 (the same Hebrew word is used to describe each situation, highlighting the reversal of his circumstances).

Beloved, do you not see how AMAZING God’s grace is to Abram? Is this not a perfect picture of 2 Tim. 2:13?: “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” Now that shouldn’t lead us to test God and to have a sinful attitude that says, “well, I can do whatever I want, because God will bless me regardless.” That’s not the point of this story. In fact, it’s worth noting that Abram’s new found wealth will bring more drama to his life later. We’ll see this first in the drama with Lot’s herdsmen and then later with the Egyptian Hagar, whom he most likely acquired here. And so, we shouldn’t test God and think it’s ok then to just live however we want. Rather, it’s his kindness that is meant to lead us to repentance and to a greater amount of trust in Him.

And doesn’t the faithfulness of God in spite of your sins and failures comfort you? It comforts me to know that even when I screw up royally, God will not abandon his promises to me in Christ. I can continue to trust God and walk by faith. The only thing that causes us to worry and fear in this life is when we start to doubt or forget God’s promises and to walk by sight. But beloved, NOTHING will ever separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our LORD. Your God is a promise-keeping God. He made a promise in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would one day crush the serpents head. He made promises to Abram that he would bless him and give him a people and a land. And he made promises to you in Christ that he would never leave you nor forsake you. And he is always faithful to his promises.

And you can be sure of that because of Jesus. Jesus is the one who perfectly trusted his Father’s will. He too went down to Egypt when Herod tried to kill him so that the prophesy would be fulfilled “our of Egypt I have called my Son” (Matt. 2:7-15). And he is the perfect servant of the LORD who always trusted his Father’s will. When he was hungry for forty days in the wilderness, and Satan tempted him to forsake his Father’s will and to take short cuts to glory, he resisted by trusting and obeying God’s Word (Matt. 4:1-11). Instead of turning stones into bread he said, “man does not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Later he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). And yet, it wasn’t easy for him. He didn’t just face hunger. He faced rejection and ridicule, he faced sorrow and grief, he would be mocked and tortured and ultimately die on a cross as a criminal and suffer the wrath of God, even though he was innocent and without sin. But he continued to trust his Father through it all. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2: “22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”  

And he did it, so that if you have faith in his person and work you might be forgiven for all the times that you and I have failed to trust God’s promises and have gone ahead in sinful survival mode. And because of his life, death and resurrection, you are now viewed by God in Christ as one who has always trusted and obeyed. And therefore, he will never leave you nor forsake you. He forsook his only begotten Son on the cross and purchased you as his adopted child so that he will never forsake you. And just as he raised Christ from the dead, so too will he raise you and me on the last day when Christ returns in glory to deliver us from all of our trials and tribulations!

What are we to do in the mean time? We are to look to Jesus and trust God’s promises to us in Christ. We are to walk by faith and not by sight. We are to walk in hope. And we are to walk in love towards God and each other because of the love that he has shown us in Christ. We’ve gone from severe famine to severe riches in Christ. And so, expect trials to come your way in the Christian life. Don’t be surprised! Rather trust God’s promises to you in Christ and walk in faith, hope and love, because nothing will ever separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen!

 

Hymn Favorites: “The God of Abraham Praise”

As I prepare to preach on the call of Abram in Genesis 12 this Sunday, I am reminded of one of my favorite hymns: “The God of Abraham Praise.” You can listen to the tune with the lyrics here, or simply read them below:

The God of Abraham praise,
Who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days,
And God of love:
Jehovah! great I AM!
By earth and heav’n confessed;
I bow and bless the sacred name,
For ever blest.

The God of Abraham praise,
At whose supreme command
From earth I rise, and seek the joys
At his right hand:
I all on earth forsake,
Its wisdom, fame, and power;
And him my only portion make,
My Shield and Tower.

He by himself hath sworn,
I on his oath depend;
I shall, on eagle’s wings upborne,
To heav’n ascend:
I shall behold his face,
I shall his power adore,
And sing the wonders of his grace
For evermore.

The goodly land I see,
With peace and plenty blest,
A land of sacred liberty
And endless rest;
There milk and honey flow,
And oil and wine abound,
And trees of life for ever grow,
With mercy crowned.

There dwells the Lord our King,
The Lord our righteousness;
Triumphant over the world and sin,
The Prince of Peace
On Zion’s sacred height
His kingdom still maintains,
And glorious with his saints in light
For ever reigns.

The whole triumphant host
Give thanks to God on high;
Hail Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
They ever cry:
Hail Abraham’s God and mine!
I join the heavenly lays
All might and majesty are thine,
And endless praise.