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Faith in God’s Promises
Genesis 15:1-6


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost—August 11, 2013

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our text is today’s Old Testament Reading, in which the aged Abraham is told by the Lord that he, and his equally aged wife Sarah, will yet have a son, and Abraham has “Faith in God’s Promises.”

A few years ago, “Trail” magazine, the best-selling hiking and mountain climbing magazine in Great Britain, published a route for making a safe descent from Ben Nevis mountain in Scotland.  At 4,400 feet, Ben Nevis is the highest and most challenging and treacherous peak in Great Britain.  Because it is often shrouded in dense Scottish fog, climbers often get lost, and some have even lost their lives.  So, the detailed map and step-by-step instructions in “Trail” magazine were supposed to help climbers get down safely, even through the fog.  The only problem is, due to several publishing errors, the route shown in the magazine actually leads right off the edge of a cliff.  The Mountaineering Council of Scotland issued a warning, “Anyone following that route in poor visibility would walk straight off the edge.”

Some 25 years before the events of today’s Old Testament Reading, God had called Abraham and had given him detailed, step-by-step instructions: “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Like the mistaken map in “Trail” magazine, it might have seemed that there must be some mistake in this directive from the Lord.  Abraham was a wealthy, established man in his native Haran, and, at age 75, wasn’t he a little old to be starting all over again and moving to a new land?  But, as today’s Epistle Reading from Hebrews says, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country.”

However, considering that at the time God first called Abraham he was 75 and his wife Sarah was 65, even more than being a bit old to be starting a new life in a new land, didn’t they seemed more than a bit old to be starting a new family?  As the Lord had promised, “I will make you into a great nation.” 

The modern medically documented record for a natural pregnancy is a woman 56 years old, so for Sarah at age 65 perhaps that didn’t seem completely impossible.  Over the ensuing years God repeated this promise again and again that Abraham and Sarah will have a son, but by the time we get to today’s Old Testament Reading, Abraham is about 100 and Sarah about 90.

For their part, Abraham and Sarah still believe God’s promise, but they had come to interpret his promise, that he would continue their line, must be fulfilled in some other way than a natural birth.  And, so, they took the initiative to do something that we know from other ancient sources was very common in those days.  They made plans to adopt one of their male servants to be the legal heir. 

You can hear the pain in Abraham’s words as he says, “I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus . . .  You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”  Abraham had followed the map God gave him, he had followed God’s directions, but he felt like he had fallen off the edge of a cliff.

There are times in our lives when we feel like we’ve been led off the edge of a cliff, either by someone in our lives, or even by God himself.  You’ve worked hard and put in many years serving your employer, only to find yourself laid off or facing the uncertainty of reductions in force.  You committed yourself in marriage and tried to make it work, only to have your marriage break up.  You’ve thrown yourself in a job or a business, only to find yourself struggling.  You or a loved one have done everything possible to fight a disease, only to have the disease finally prevail.  You’ve followed the map, you’ve done what you’re supposed to do, but you feel like you’ve fallen off the edge of a cliff.

“Then the word of the Lord came to [Abraham]: ‘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.”

Why did Abraham believe in the Lord and trust his promise?  Not because Abraham was a superior saint or any less a sinner than you and me.  The book of Genesis records in painful detail his many faults and failings and doubts and sins against the Lord.

As St. Paul says in Romans, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one. . .  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Abraham was not a superior saint, but, like all of us, he too was a sinner, he too had doubts, and he often fell short in many ways.

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”  Why did Abraham believe in the Lord and trust his promise?  Not because everything was just peachy perfect in his life.  He was already retirement age when the Lord told him to sell everything and move far away and start all over.  His wife devised a scheme for him to have a child through her maid, Hagar, but then she became jealous of Hagar and her son Ishmael, and their messed up family was more like “Survivor” than “Happy Days.”  But, most of all, Abraham and Sarah had the ongoing hurt and disappointment we see in today’s reading, not having a child.  As we read a few chapters later in Genesis, “Abraham . . . said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?’” 

What are your hurts and disappointments?  What are the things that have wrong in your life?  Like Abraham and Sarah, your life isn’t peachy perfect either.

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”  Why did Abraham believe in the Lord and trust his promise, to yet give him and Sarah a son?  Not because it made sense according to human reason and understanding and experience.  As St. Paul says in Romans, “[Abraham] faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and . . . Sarah’s womb was dead also.”  From the logical human perspective, for the two of them to yet have a child was ludicrous.

However, from the logical human perspective, for the Almighty God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe to care personally about you, is also ludicrous.  But, God says in his Word, “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” 

From the logical human perspective, for this God to become a man, born into the world as a baby in a stable, growing up as a humble carpenter from a little village in a far-off corner of the world, is all ludicrous.  But, God says in his Word, “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. . .  The mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body.” 

From the logical human perspective, for God himself to die on a cross, to pay for the sins of the world with his blood, is ludicrous.  But, God says in his Word, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross. . .  You were redeemed with . . . the precious blood of Christ.” 

From the logical human perspective, for your Savior Jesus to come back to life and ascend into heaven and promise that you too will rise to eternal life with him, is ludicrous.  But, God says in his Word, “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. . . Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out. . .  I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.”

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”  Why did Abraham believe in the Lord and trust his promise?  St. Paul says in Galatians, “[God] announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’”  Abraham believed in the Lord and trusted in his promises the same way you do, by the power of the Gospel, which was proclaimed to Abraham in advance. 

Immediately after the Fall into sin, God had promised Adam and Eve that one of Eve’s descendents would crush Satan.  If you saw the movie “The Passion of the Christ” you may recall how this was symbolically portrayed at the beginning of the movie, when Jesus is pictured crushing a snake in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Abraham was well aware of this promise, going back to the Garden of Eden, that someday God himself would come into the world, born as a human, to defeat Satan and make humankind right with God again.  So, when God called Abraham and proclaimed to him, “All nations will be blessed through you,” Abraham understood that God had chosen him and his line to be the forbearers of the promised Savior.  By the power of this Gospel, God gave Abraham faith, faith to trust God’s Word and promises, faith to trust in the promised Messiah as his Savior.  Jesus himself described Abraham’s faith in him as the promised Messiah this way: “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” 

“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”  St. Paul explains in Romans, “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for [Abraham] alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”  By the power of the Gospel, God gives you faith, faith to trust God’s Word and promises, faith to trust in the promised Messiah as your Savior.  

Why do you believe in the Lord and trust his promises?  No because you are a superior saint.  Not because you life is just peachy perfect.  Not because it makes logical sense according to human understanding.  As today’s Epistle Reading from Hebrews says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” 

Like Abraham, you believe in the Lord and trust his promises because you have been called by the Gospel, called to the promised land.  “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”

Abraham “did not know where he was going,” but God did.  If you read the story of Abraham in Genesis, beginning in chapter 12, it seems sometimes like an odd route through life that the Lord laid out for Abraham.  It seems at times that Abraham’s route through life is like that map in “Trail” magazine, some kind of mistake.  But, 12 chapters later, here’s how it all turns out: “Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. . .  he breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.”

It may seem sometimes like an odd route through life that the Lord has laid out for you.  It may seem at times that your route through life is like that map in “Trail” magazine, some kind of mistake.  But, your way through life is like that trail down Ben Nevis mountain, often shrouded in fog.  An old saying goes, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”  To us, the future is shrouded in a fog of the unknown.  That is why we must rely on the Lord and trust in him to lead us through life.

To us, the future is shrouded in a fog of the unknown, but God knows the end of the story, and, in his Word he gives you a sneak preview: 

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.”

“And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love him.”

“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’  So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.’” 

“’For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

St. Paul sums it up this way in Romans: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.  This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’  The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”

Just as God was faithful and fulfilled his promises to Abraham and led him through it all to the promised land, God is faithful to you and will fulfill his promises to you and lead you through it all to the promised land of heaven.

Amen.

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