February 21, 2016
Text: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
How Am I To Know?
The bible tells us that without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. But what is faith, and where do we get it?
The biblical definition of faith is found in Hebrews 11:1 that says: “now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” Chapter 11 then goes on to tell of men and women who did great things by faith- not in their own ability or foresight- but by trusting and believing God who is willing and able to be faithful to His promises. One such person is Abram. We know him best by the name God gave him: “Abraham”. Pray.
We will begin the story in Genesis, chapter 12. Here we find God calling Abraham to: “go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And (if you obey by faith), 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 you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earthy shall bless themselves.” Imagine being given a promise like that early in life. Pretty exciting and scary all at once. Only one thing- when God told this to Abram, Abram was not 25- but 75 years of age.
Throughout the bible people have argued and made excuses for why they couldn’t do what God asked them to do-great people of faith like Jeremiah and Moses to name a few. But when it came to Abram, the bible simply says that he went as the Lord told him. At the age of 75- he just got up and took everything and everyone with him- his family, his servants, his herds of sheep and goats, and left the land of his father and his fathers before him. His response was not a “I’ll go ahead with a few things to see how things go- and if it looks promising I’ll call everyone to come join me- no- he just packed up everything and left by faith. Says something of his family also.
It would have been one thing if God had told him where he wanted him to go from the start. But God didn’t tell him where- only to get going and God would guide him and show him the way once he was on the road.
It was quite common for farm families to move to a new farm in March years ago. They would pack up their household goods and furniture, their machinery and their livestock-everything they owned- and move to a different farm. I remember as a young boy- watching a neighbor and his family do just that. Living on the same farm my dad was born on and grew up on, I can’t imagine doing that- and so I can’t imagine Abraham leaving his home and setting out like that.
He left not knowing anything for certain except that God would guide him. And you can’t be guided if you are sitting still. You have to be moving. Proverbs 3:5 says: “trust in the lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
And so they left by faith- trusting a faithful God to take care of them and show them where they should go- and one day they found themselves in the land of Canaan,. There God appeared to Abram and told him that He would give his descendants this land-good news right? Only thing was, the reality was he didn’t have any descendants as of yet- not even one son- and on top of that, the land was already owned and occupied by people who probably wouldn’t want to leave and- besides that, Abram wasn’t getting any younger. But what appear to us as huge obstacles to us are trivial or non-existent to God. Never-less- by faith- Abram responded by building an altar there to worship and thank God for his promise.
A famine came to Canaan- and Abram and family headed for Egypt in search of better pastures and food. What comes next is a long series of events that I won’t go into detail now- both good as well as bad choices were made by Abram.
Finally, things settled down and he had time to collect his thoughts and think of all that had happened since he had left his homeland so many years ago. And he began to reminisce of home and began to wonder- how did I get here- and why?
It is here that our text for today begins. “the word of the lord came to Abram in a vision and told him:- “fear not- I am your shield-your reward will be very great.” Words of reassurance he needed. The Psalmist would often use the title: “shield” as a title for God. The apostle Paul later wrote to the Ephesians encouraging them to: “put on the whole armor of God” and take the shield of faith with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one.” No doubt Abram was being plagued with fears and doubts. Who would blame him? He had left all- believed all by faith- but now years had passed without one visible sign of the fulfillment of God’s promise to him- that is, except God’s word that never fails.
So Abram got to thinking- and said to God: “Lord- I was just wondering how you will fulfill your promises- will it be through my servant Eliezer of Damascus?” It was an honest question. To be childless meant they had no one to take care of them or carry on their name. To be childless was to have no future.
It was not uncommon for childless couples to adopt a trusted servant to be their son and heir. That is what Abram was asking and considering- should I adopt my trusted servant Eliezer? But God told him- no- your own son will be your heir. God then took Abram outside in the coolness of the evening and there in the clear evening sky God told Abram to look up into the night sky. And looking up, Abram saw a sky filled with stars. “Abram” God said- “try and count them if you can- your descendants will be like that. I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.”
Abram had his eyes of faith opened wide. He no longer thought of God’s promise as analogies or metaphors- but now understood them to be a literal promise. And there in the clear, night sky- Abram saw with the eyes of faith he had not seen before. He now understood that his trust was to be in God- and not the promise. God was his future- and it didn’t matter how or why- only that God was willing and able. He trusted God to be faithful. He worshipped the giver- not the gift. And the bible says that Abram believed the Lord- and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
What came next is interesting- Abram- whose faith was reckoned to him as righteousness- asked an often thought question- but seldom voiced- and asked God “but how am I to know?” It is a question posed by a man who trusted God but wanted a handle to hold onto.
So God made a covenant with him. A covenant is different from a promise. Webster defines a promise as: “An oral or written agreement to do or not to do something.” Webster defines a covenant as: “a binding and solemn agreement made by two or more individuals to do or keep from doing a specified thing.” Until this time, God had given a promise- a promise that God is faithful to keep. Now God was including Abram in partnership-a covenant that both are agreeing to keep.
God told Abram to take a heifer, a female goat, and a ram, all three years old; a turtle dove and a young pigeon- cut them in half and place them opposite each other in two parallel rows with space wide enough for two people to walk between. When that was done, then Abram was to walk with God between and through those sacrifices as a sign of mutual agreement to uphold their agreement- and in the event of one of them breaking their covenant, they understood that they would die as the sacrifices did.
God invites us to enter into a covenant with him. On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified on a cross for our salvation- and on the third day defeated death once and for all. If anyone be in Christ- they are a new creation. The old has passed away- behold, the new has come. To be in Christ by grace through faith means that wherever Jesus goes, by faith we go with Him. When Jesus died on the cross, our sins died with Him. And when Jesus rose from the dead- we who are in Christ will rise on the last day also.
How can we know? How can we have assurance that we know that we know, that we know? From I John we read the promise and covenant we have from God that says: “He who has the son has life, he who does not have the son has not life. I write this to you so that you will know.”
God has created us with the ability to think and reason. But Faith is not merely believing and accepting the teachings of God intellectually. Faith can only come from a living relationship with God- responding in trust to God’s faithfulness. It is a covenant that involves two people- God and us.
The bible says that all have fallen short of the glory of God. Who oh lord can save ourselves? Their own soul could heal? Our shame was deeper than the sea- your grace is deeper still. For when our hearts were far away, Your love went further still.
How will I know? Come to Jesus-come as you are from wherever life has brought you at the moment. “Come all you who are weary and heavy laden- and I will give you rest.” And there- close to Jesus- you will know. Amen