In this message based in Genesis, Pastor David Platt begins the Chronicle of Redemption series by discussing how faith in the promises of God has always been central to God’s redemptive plan. Throughout this sermon, Pastor David Platt outlines the parallels between the promise given to Abraham and the promise fulfilled in Christ. Just as Abraham had faith in the promise of God, Christians today are to trust in the all-encompassing promises of an all-satisfying God.
- God will form a covenant people.
- He was transformed by the sovereign grace of God.
- God will form a new covenant people.
In Genesis 12, 15, and 17 God Makes His Covenant with Abraham
If you would, please open your Bibles to Genesis 12. We’re going to be going to three different places in Genesis. They’re very close to one another. We’re going to be in Genesis 12, Genesis 15, and then Genesis 17, so let’s be ready to kind of turn together, but we’ll start there in Genesis 12:1.
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. 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. 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.”
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.
Now, let’s turn over to 15:1.
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.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 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.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
Let’s go to 17:1.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Greetings from India*. I am here with a team from our faith family, and we are traveling to different cities, different communities, literally all over the country over a few-day period. In fact, one of the ways this is so cool, is that you and I, as we’re studying the Word together today from India, and I want to show you why this is so cool. If you’ve got a Bible, which I hope you do, then you’ve already got them open to where we’ve been reading from Genesis 12 and 15 and 17.
I want you to hold your place in Genesis 12 with me and turn over to James 2, where we were studying this last Fall, and I want to show you something…James 2:14–26…just as a reminder. Obviously, this last Fall we were studying James together, and James pretty much messed us up and set us on a course that has led to this whole “Radical Experiment” picture. I want to remind you back in September of what we were studying and how that affects where I’m sitting right now. So, if you have a Bible, look with me at James 2:14. I want to show you something that just shows you how good and sovereign God is. James 2:14–26. James 2:14:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to him, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving him the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
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. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 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. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
You remember when we were studying this passage…again, we spent three weeks on this, and during that time, God opened our eyes as a church to how the gospel inside of us has a radical affect on the world around us. That in a world where 26,000 kids are dying every day of starvation or preventable disease, that the gospel compels us not to sit back and turn a deaf ear to these realities. That the gospel compels us to do something about that. That we don’t just say to our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world, “We wish you well; we’re praying for you,” but do nothing about their physical needs.
So, four months ago on the day that we were studying Abraham, I presented a proposal to you from the elders and leadership of our church for us to take the next couple of months and begin a process of radically re-looking at how we were spending our resources…how that would affect the budget and how that would affect our spending immediately. Then, there was a proposal put on the table that day for us to take excess money we had…if you remember, we had over $500,000 that we had taken in over what we had spent, because we had really been conserving on our spending, and the thinking had been, “We’re going to save this $500,000 for a rainy day.” We said, “Why are we saving for potential future need when we’re surrounded and our brothers and sisters are surrounded by present dire need?”
So, the proposal we put on the table that day was to give that $525,000 to Compassion International for work in India. We know India…41 percent of the world’s poor, and many kids…the infant mortality rate…many kids not making it to age five. They have these programs, Child Survival Programs, that are set up where we could partner together with Compassion in a local church, gospel-centered, in these different communities in India, and we could sponsor 21 different programs all across this country.
So, that was four months ago. We were studying Abraham, and we said, “All right, we want to give our resources for the sake of urgent spiritual and physical need around the world, particularly in India.” The cool thing is, four months later, I’m sitting here in India, and it just so happens that our Bible reading this week leads us to study of Abraham and how faith leads to radical sacrifice. More than anything, I wanted to share with you from God’s Word from this place this week, because I want you to know the effect that your faith is having on people that we had the opportunity to meet this week.
We just met with a whole group of moms and their little babies that they were holding in their laps. These are moms and babies that are living today and thriving today as a result of the grace of God and your faith as a church. I just want to encourage you as a church…us as a church…that faith is working itself out, and I want to encourage you today as we’re walking through the Bible with this picture of Abraham. So, go back with me to Genesis 12.
A little bit more about where I’m at right now. I’m in West Bengal, India, which is a state in India of about 82 million people. It’s less than .3 percent evangelical Christian, which means, right now, I am surrounded by well over 81 million people who have little to no knowledge of the gospel, including some of the ladies that I just met. Now, they have knowledge of the gospel; they’re hearing the gospel for the first time. We just heard testimony from a lady who had never heard of Christ until she got involved in this program, and now has come to Christ.
So, that’s kind of the spiritual climate here. It’s a tough area. They say that this area of India is kind of the graveyard of missions. It’s got a rich history in missions. This is right near Calcutta, which is where Mother Teresa spent her life in ministry. William Carey, the father of modern missions, spent his life in ministry not too far away from here, but it is a tough, tough area. Mostly predominately Hindu, and physically…extreme poverty. Just as a reminder: India, 600 million people live in deep poverty in this country, and 300 million live below the bread line, meaning whatever is necessary for food during the day, there’s 300 million people who are struggling to find that. I’m thankful to be a part of a faith family that is saying, “We want to put our faith into action in a context like that.” So, all of that to say, come back with me to Genesis 12.
What I want us to think about is this memory verse that we’ve got for this week, Genesis 15:6. If you know it, say it with me. Genesis 15:6, talking about Abraham, says, “He believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” So, what does it mean to believe God? What I want us to think about is what it looks like for Abraham to believe God.
In Genesis 12 and 15 and 17, we see the covenant that God is making with Abraham; the promises God is making to Abraham. As we see through those promises, “What does it mean for Abraham to respond in faith?” Then, just like we talked about at the end last week, “How does that point us to Christ and the promises we have in Christ and the covenant God has made with us through Christ?” Then, “What does it mean for us to believe God and to put faith into action, much like Abraham did?”
The Promise to Abraham …
In Genesis 12 God Promises A Covenant People
God will form a covenant people.
So, I want us to start by thinking about God’s promise to Abraham, and then from that move to Abraham’s response to God’s promise, and then think about Christ and our lives. So, we’ll start with the promise to Abraham, which is really three-fold. When you look at Genesis 12, 15, and 17 all together, you see all three facets of this picture in each of those different texts. It starts off, the promise to Abraham…God will form a covenant people. He’ll form a covenant people. Start in Genesis 12 with me.
You know that there’s a major shift between Genesis 11 and 12, here, with the Tower of Babel to God’s promise to Abraham. Tower of Babel, you have people doing whatever they can to make their own name great. Instead, when you get to Genesis 12, you see God saying, “I’m going to make my people great. I’m going to make the name of Abraham great.” In Genesis 11, you see people dividing in their sin over their zeal for God’s name, and the nations are divided from one another in Genesis 11. When you get to Genesis 12, the nations are united.
This picture of the blessing of God coming to all nations. So, when we see God come to Abraham in Genesis 12, and He says, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you, and I will make you a great nation. And I will bless you and make your name great,” the picture is that God is entering into a covenant relationship with Abraham and all who would come after him. The thing is, this is deeper than God just making a covenant with Abraham and Sarah, and even deeper than God just making a covenant with the people of Israel.
This picture right here is the plan of redemption by which God’s going to reform all of creation, transform all the nations, and what God is doing here is going to have a huge effect on you and me. John Stott said, “It may be truly said, without exaggeration, that not only the rest of the Old Testament but the whole of the New Testament are an outworking of these promises of God.” He said, “These are perhaps the most unifying verses in the Bible. The whole of God’s purpose is encapsulated here.”
What God is doing amidst a pagan, sinful people that we’ve seen from Genesis 3 to 11 is He is forming a people for Himself. You get to Genesis 15, and we saw God say to Abraham when he was looking up in the sky, “So shall your offspring be.” Then, in Genesis 15, He sealed the covenant with a ceremony that kind of seems a little odd when you first read it. You start thinking, “What’s going on here?” There’s a couple different interpretations that people have proposed for what’s going on in that covenant ceremony, but really what it most likely is, it’s a picture of something that was very common in that day when people entered into an agreement or covenant with one another. They would take animals. They would sacrifice those animals, put the sacrifices on both sides, and the two people who were making the agreement with one another would walk through the middle. The picture was them saying, “If we break this covenant, may we be cursed just like these animals are. Curses be upon us if we break our vow; our promise to one another in this covenant.”
Then, you see these birds of prey that are most likely symbolic of other nations, particularly Egypt, that would bring about suffering and really persecution toward the people of God in the Old Testament. That would lead toward what we see with the slavery of the people of Israel in Egypt, but the picture is God condescending to enter into this covenant with His people. To say, as He walks through, in this picture of a smoking firepot and just this blazing light as a symbol of His presence, and He walks through these dead animals, the picture is God saying, “Curses be upon me if I break this covenant with you; if I break this commitment to you.” It’s an incredible picture of God saying, “I’m making a unilateral commitment to form a people for myself, and I’m going to be faithful to this people, despite their unfaithfulness.” We’re going to see in the rest of the Old Testament that God has promised to be faithful to a covenant people. This is something that we’re going to see.
We’ve already seen a covenant with Noah in Genesis 6. We see it here with Abraham. We’re going to see it with Moses. We’re going to see it with David. Then, ultimately, we’re going to see it in the New Testament with Christ. That’s what even Old Testament/New Testament means. “Testament” means “covenant.” We have the old covenant and new covenant. What we’re going to see is that God has chosen to relate to His people through a series of covenants, and it’s going to be huge for us to understand what’s going on in these covenants.
God will give them a promised inheritance on earth.
So, first, God will form a covenant people. The second part is God will bring them to an inheritance that they would have on earth; to a promised land. He’s going to give them a land. This is what we saw from the very beginning of Genesis 12. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I am going to show you.” When we go to Genesis 12:7, He says, “To your offspring I’m going to give this land.” Then, you get over to 15, and He says, “I’m going to give you this land.” He gives specifics in verses 18–20 of the areas that He’s going to give to them.
He’s going to give them the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, and the rest of the biblical story is going to revolve around this land, this place that God is bringing His people to. So, it’s part of the covenant that He’s going to establish a people, and He’s going to bring them to a place, an inheritance on this earth.
God will use them to accomplish a global purpose.
A land where they would dwell, and the third part of God’s initiating this covenant with His people is that He’s going to use them to accomplish a global purpose. From the very beginning, God is calling a people to Himself, the nation of Israel, but it’s deeper than that.
He is saying, “I’m going to make your name great, and you are going to be a blessing, and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” So, the picture of God’s covenant and God’s purpose from the very beginning is overwhelmingly global. He is promising to use Abraham and the people of Israel to be a blessing to all nations, to be evidence of the goodness and the grace of His character, show His glory to all the peoples of the earth. Literally, all the families or the people groups of the earth will be blessed, like we’ve talked about before.
In Genesis 17 God Promises to Make Abraham a Father of Many
So, that’s the promise God gives to Abraham. He says, “I’m going to form a covenant people. I’m going to bring them to a promised inheritance on earth, and I’m going to accomplish through them a purpose. I’m going to make my glory known through them in all the world.” That’s why, when you get to Genesis 17, God changes Abraham’s name. He was Abram, and He changes it to Abraham. Abram means “exalted father.” Abraham means “the father of a multitude.” Then, it gets even more interesting.
Turn over to Genesis 17 with me. Right after God talks about how He’s going to change Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “father of a multiude,” I want you to see what verse 6 says. This is really important. God says to Abraham, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations.” Listen to this phrase: “…and kings shall come from you.” There’s a lot we’re going to unpack, even in the next couple of weeks, throughout the rest of Genesis. Genesis ends with a picture of one who would come through the line of Jacob, through the line of Judah, who would have the obedience of the nations.
They would belong to Him, and He would rule with a scepter. The picture is a king who would come through his line, and it’s pointing forward to King David and then farther forward to King Jesus, who’s going to come. The obedience of the nations will belong to Him. I want you to see, down in Genesis 17:15–16, what God says to Abraham about Sarah. He says, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
So, the picture is God is going to send a king, and one day his kingdom is going to expand to all people groups, to all nations, and all families of the earth. This is the picture that’s set up in the very beginning of this covenant with Abraham. A covenant people, a promised inheritance on earth, a global purpose, and God is going to send a king through this line, and that kingdom that belongs to that king will be expanded to all the people groups of the earth. That’s the promise of God to Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, and 17, in a nutshell.
The Faith of Abraham …
So, how did Abraham respond to that promise? This is where we come to the verse we mentioned at the start of this message. “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” I love Genesis 15:6, just in its context. It is such an incredible scene. God had promised back in Genesis 12 that He was going to give Abraham offspring, but it’s still not happened. So, Abraham is saying to God, “God, you said this, but the heir right now in my family would be a servant in my household. I don’t even have a son. You told me that my offspring is going to be great and be a great nation, but nothing has happened.”
So, God brings him outside. He says, “Abraham, look up at the stars in the sky, if you can even begin to count them.” He says, “So shall your offspring be.” You know what Abraham says? He doesn’t say a thing. Genesis 15 doesn’t say Abraham said anything. He was speechless. There’s nothing but stars and silence, and in the middle of stars and silence, we get verse 6: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
These Verses Show How Abraham Trusted in God
In his heart, his mind, and his will, Abraham said, “I believe you, God. I trust that this is going to happen,” and this is the picture of faith that we see Paul, numerous times, and other points in the New Testament talk about. This is what it means to be saved by faith, to be made righteous before God, to be reconciled to God, and to be in a right relationship with God through this kind of faith. So, when the Bible says, “Abraham believed God,” what does that mean?
He was transformed by the sovereign grace of God.
I want you to look at four facets of this that we’re seeing in this story. First, for Abraham to believe God means that he was transformed by the sovereign grace of God. I want you to think about this with me. This whole story started at the end of Genesis 11 and beginning of Genesis 12. Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldeans. This is a pagan people in a pagan place. We have no indication whatsoever in Genesis 11 or 12 or anywhere else that there was something in Abraham that caused God to say, “I need to make him the father of my people.” The initiative is completely with God. You see it in Genesis 12:1–3. Five times God says, “I will do this.” You see no emphasis on what Abraham is doing in this picture. It’s all based on the gracious initiative of God. God is saying, “I’m going to bless him.” It is God calling out Abraham. Why Abraham? We know Job was living around this time. I’m sure there were other people that, maybe, even were better people. Why did God choose Abraham?
What we’re seeing here is that it’s nothing more than the sovereign grace of God at work. He called out Abraham. He chose Abraham by His grace, and that’s the story we’re going to see in the rest of Abraham’s life. Let’s admit it: this father of faith in the Bible is not always the most stellar character. This is a guy who’s willing to lie on a couple of different occasions in order to try to protect his life. This is a guy who almost gives his wife away to the king of Egypt. This is a guy who struggles with his faith numerous different times, but the picture is that this is intentional. God is showing us that the picture of His covenant is not going to be based on what is found in man and what man can produce on his own. It’s going to be found in the grace of God, and the picture is that Abraham’s entire life, his faith itself, is evidence of God’s grace in his life. He was transformed by the sovereign grace of God.
He trusted in the sovereign guidance of God.
Second facet: what does it mean for Abraham to believe God? It means he trusted in the sovereign guidance of God. Trusted in the sovereign guidance of God. I want you to think about the promises God is making to Abraham here. All of them are made in contexts that seem hopeless otherwise. God is saying to Abraham, “You’re going to be the father of a great people” when the reality is, between him and Sarah, number one, they’re old, and number two, Sarah is barren. Can you imagine a woman almost 100 years old walking into a maternity ward? This is not the picture you would dream up. It seems hopeless.
Also, a land that He’s going to bring them into that’s going to belong to them? This is a land that’s possessed by Canaanites. They were a powerful people, and this blessing is going to go to all nations? The guy who’s willing to sell or give his wife away to the king of Egypt at one point is going to be a blessing to all nations? On every front, this seems like it’s not going to work, and Abraham struggles with that. When you get to Genesis 15, for example, you see Abraham being honest in his struggle before God. He says, “All I have is a servant in my family,” and you can almost picture Abraham looking around. All of his servants have children. They have boys and girls that are clinging to their garments, and Abraham is sitting there alone, and Sarah is sitting there alone. They’re barren. I know my wife and I, for about five years, struggled with barrenness, and we were wondering, “Why not? We want a child. Why is God not blessing in this way?” Abraham struggled for at least 25 years between the time this promise came to him, and when he actually received an heir in Isaac.
So, in the middle of wrestling, I want you to look with me real quick at Genesis 15:1. In the middle of this wrestling, I want you to hear what Abraham prayed. It says in Genesis 15:1, “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.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God…’” If you underline that right there, especially that word “Lord” because that’s the title for God, “Adonai,” which means “the sovereign one.” It’s the title for God that acknowledges He is in total control.
Abraham, even when darkness was totally around him when it comes to the line that he would produce, acknowledged God was in control. He doesn’t even have a son. A land that he’s going to inherit is filled with Canaanites. He knows God is sovereign. He struggled with his faith. There’s not a confidence in Abraham at every single moment of this journey, but ultimately, he is known in Scripture for trusting in the sovereign guidance of God. This is a picture of what it means to believe God. Even in the middle of darkness, he trusted that God was still in control.
He was willing to take radical risks.
The third facet of Abraham’s faith: he was willing to take radical risks. “Abraham, leave your country. Leave your people. Leave your family. Leave everything that is familiar and comfortable to you.” That was the call in Genesis 12. He was leaving everything that was familiar for everything that was foreign. He didn’t even know where he was going. God said, “Go to the land I will show you.” Talk about radical risk! Then, you get to Genesis 15 and, even when God is confirming this covenant through that ceremony, He talks about how for 400-plus years, the people of Abraham, his line, is going to experience suffering. For four generations, they’re going to experience suffering. They’re going to be servants of another nation. It’s the picture of the slavery that they’re going to experience in Egypt. There’s going to be a lot of costs involved in this picture. That’s not even mentioning Genesis 22 when Abraham is commanded by God to sacrifice his son. The picture we see in Abraham is that he was willing to take radical risks. I want you to think with me about why. Why he was willing to take radical risks.
He wholeheartedly believed in radical reward.
It leads to the next facet of his faith: he wholeheartedly believed in radical reward. He was willing to take radical risks because he wholeheartedly believed in a radical reward. Abraham is not taking blind leaps of faith here. He is stepping out on the dependable, proven, always faithful Word of God. He believed in the reward that was found in the promises of God…a land, people, a blessing to the nations. In the middle of all of that with the struggles that Abraham would walk through in this process, he believed that God’s promises were true. He trusted that God’s promises were good, and God was going to be faithful to them.
Which really leads to the deeper picture of his reward; his reward was the promises of God, but also the God of those promises. You get to Genesis 15:1, and God says, “Abraham, I am your shield.” Some translations say, “I am your very great reward.” Then, you get to Genesis 17:7–8, and God says, “I will be your God.” When Abraham realizes that satisfaction and sustenance in his life are found in God alone, and when this God makes promises to you…when the sovereign God and King of creation makes promises to you, then taking risks makes total sense because you know the reward is great.
He was willing to die living by faith.
Which leads to the last component of what it meant for Abraham to believe God; it meant that he was willing to die living by faith. I take that phrase from one of my favorite verses in Hebrews 11 when it’s talking about Abraham and others like him and their faith, it literally says, “All of these were living by faith when they died.” I love that phrase. They were living by faith when they died. Living by faith is a great way to die. The reality is Abraham would not see the fulfillment of these promises. Even in the short-term, he would not see the people of God, this covenant people established in this land. That would come way, way, way after Abraham.
The promises we’re going to see that unfold in the rest of the book of Genesis, and then the picture of redemption we’re going to see in the book of Exodus…Abraham didn’t experience any of that, but he trusted God, and he died living by faith, which really points us to the fact that what Abraham believed in and the promises of God were even deeper than what was going to happen in the rest of Genesis, into Exodus. Even Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, as they enter into the Promised Land, and Judges when a king would come, eventually, for the people of God, and King David.
The Promise through Christ …
God Promises to Form a New Covenant People In Christ
God will form a new covenant people.
The reality is all these promises were pointing to something much, much, much, much greater. Just like we talked about last week, every story in Scripture whispers the name of Christ and points us to the redemption that comes through Christ our Redeemer, which is where I want you to think about the promise that comes through Christ that Abraham is pointing to, because Abraham’s life and his faith are pointing to a day when God will form a new covenant people. Old covenant, Old Testament…God will form a new covenant people.
In this Abrahamic covenant, the picture we saw in Genesis 15 is God coming down and, through the picture of a smoking firepot, His presence going through the middle of these animals and saying, basically, symbolically in that picture, “If I am not faithful to this covenant, then curses be upon me.” Even greater than that, when you get to the new covenant, you see a picture of God becoming a man and, literally, taking the curse of our sin upon Himself so that we might be His people.
This is exactly what Galatians 3:13–14 talks about. Listen to this…we don’t have time to turn to it, but just listen to Galatians 3:13–14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles…” to the nations “…so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.” We’re going to talk in the days to come a lot more about what it means to be a new covenant people, but suffice to say Jesus said in John 8:56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
Abraham knew, maybe not all the details, but he knew that God was doing something for people. It was greater than what he could imagine even in his own life. God was going to form a new covenant people, not just a promised inheritance on earth.
God will give a promised inheritance in heaven.
God would give His people a promised inheritance in heaven. The picture of the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, is wonderful, and it’s all throughout Scripture, but it is incomplete. Communion with God, God’s people in God’s place would only be complete in its full and eternal reality through Christ, and through the promise of heaven.
This is even said of Abraham over in Hebrews 11. Looking back on his life, look at what the author of Hebrews says about Abraham: “He desired a better country…a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called his God, for God has prepared a city for him…an eternal city where we will dwell forever with God.” This is the picture of the new covenant in Christ that guaranteed eternal life. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God will gather together a chorus of global praise.
Inheritance in heaven, and in that place, God will gather together a chorus of global praise. From the very beginning of the picture of the nation of Israel, the picture is God saying, “Through my people I’m going to bless all the people groups of the earth. My kingdom is going to expand to all the people groups.” That’s the promise of Genesis 12:3. God is saying, “All people groups…every single people group on the earth…is going to be blessed.” This whole picture of a new covenant people, and the reality is, when we get to the end of the Bible…this is a verse we quote a lot around Brook Hills…Revelation 7:9–10. “And I looked before me, and I saw a multitude that no one could count, from every tribe, every nation, every language, every people, gathered around the throne singing, ‘Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb who sits on the throne.’” The picture is, just like God promised in Genesis 12, there is coming a day when, literally, every people group will be represented around His throne having experienced the blessings of salvation, singing His praises. The only way that’s possible is because the King has come in Jesus. He is the promised King.
You get to the New Testament, and Matthew virtually opens the New Testament with the word “Abraham.” From the very beginning, we have this picture of Abraham because Matthew is intentional to show us that Jesus is the king that was promised through the line of Abraham. He is the promised King, and His kingdom will one day be enjoyed by all people groups. One writer said, “The missionary mandate of the church does not begin with John 3:16 or Matthew 28:18–20 or Acts 1:8, but with Genesis 12:1–3. The desire of God and the promise of God was that one day every single people group will gather around His throne and sing His praises.”
Which means that the thousands of people groups that I am surrounded by in India right now, many of whom right now do not have knowledge of the gospel…the promise of God in Genesis 12 is that every single one of these people groups is one day going to experience the blessing of God, and you and I are the covenant people of God who have the privilege of taking that blessing to them. These realities in Genesis 12 and 15 and 17 are not just Old Testament stories from 4,000 years ago. They are alive and totally applicable in our lives today.
The Faith of Christians …
Which leads to the faith of Christians. I love Romans 4 when Paul talks about Abraham’s faith, and he said, “Abraham believed God. It was credited to him as righteousness,” but then he says…listen to this…Paul says, “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were not written for him alone, but also for us. For us who believe in Jesus who raised our Lord from the dead.” The reality that Scripture teaches is you and I are credited as righteous in the same way Abraham was…by faith. By believing God. So, what does it mean for you and I today to believe God? What does it mean for you and I to experience faith in the same way Abraham did?
Let’s receive and rejoice in God’s grace.
Well, first, my encouragement to us is let’s receive and rejoice in God’s grace. Abraham trusted in the sovereign grace of God; let’s do the same. Let’s receive it. If you have never received the grace of God, then I urge you today to believe God. Believe God when He says that He loves you, and believe God when He says that He’ll forgive you of your sin, and believe God when He says that He will make you a new creation. Believe God when He says that He is the Lord and King and Authority over your life, who deserves all of your worship and satisfies all of your desires. Believe God and receive His grace.
Then, once we receive it, rejoice in it. Just think about this! You and I are part of the covenant family of God. We’re a part of the plan of redemption that began with Abraham. You and I are part of the same line of people that have been redeemed by grace through faith. I am overwhelmed by that reality, particularly, where I’m sitting right now, because I’m surrounded by 81 million-plus people who have little to no knowledge of the gospel, and for generations have had little to no knowledge of the gospel. I think about my own life and the reality that I was born into a context where I’ve heard the gospel from the first day of my life, practically. I was born into a context where the gospel is prevalent everywhere, and I had nothing to do with where I was born. I was born into that context only by the grace of God. Did you have anything to do with where you were born? The reality is every single one of us, even listening to this, was born into a context where we would hear the grace, the gospel of God, and there are, literally, millions of people who were not born into that context, so why me? Why you? Why Abraham? Why us? The reality is it’s all the sovereign grace of God that has made salvation possible in our lives, and with that grace comes great responsibility. We’ll get to that in a second.
Let’s receive and rejoice in God’s grace. We are a people who are saved, not because of what we have done; our very faith is evidence of His grace. The very fact that we’ve heard the gospel and responded to the gospel is evidence of His sovereign grace. So, let’s receive and rejoice in His grace.
Let’s trust and obey God’s guidance.
Second, let’s trust and obey God’s guidance, just as Abraham trusted in God’s guidance. Let’s do the same thing in our own lives. I don’t know what’s going on in your life, and what details right now are not working out the way you had thought they were going to work out.
Maybe, I’m guessing there’s quite a few couples or families across our faith family that maybe are even walking through the same kind of barrenness that we see here in Genesis 12 and 15. Couples that are struggling with that picture. I mentioned Heather and I struggled with that, and know the pain involved with that. Maybe it’s other things. Maybe it’s things where you’re waiting on something to happen in your life, waiting on God to do something particular in your life, and it just doesn’t seem to be happening on the timeline you had planned, and you’re wondering why not.
I think about even talking about barrenness, Heather and I, you know, are in the process of adopting another child, actually from not too far away from where I’m at right now, in Nepal. It’s kind of up the road, in a sense, and if I could be totally honest with you, we’ve hit some snags in this process. We’ve done just about everything we can do, but Nepal, very unstable picture right now government-wise and other ways, and as a result, we’re not hearing anything from there.
Heather and I, as we’re praying, we’re saying, “God, I don’t understand why there are children in great need in that country. The poverty level and infant mortality rate there is very high. There are children in great need. We want to adopt a child. Why is this not happening? Why is this not moving through?” It’s a point where we’re saying, “We need to trust in the sovereign guidance of God.” I want to encourage you this morning. I don’t know…I hope this is a word for some of you in what you’re walking through right now in your life.
Trust and obey God’s guidance. He is sovereign over all things, and He knows what He’s doing. Even if it’s years of waiting on what you’re wanting to see, you can trust in Him.
Let’s continue to take radical risks.
Third, my encouragement to us as a church in light of this picture of Abraham and what it means to believe God, let’s continue to take radical risks. When we see Abraham forsaking it all, we see a picture of what Jesus calls us to do…to renounce everything. “Give up everything you have and follow me.” This is what it means to believe God.
I think about William Carey. I mentioned that his life and ministry were spent not too far from here. 1793, he moved from England to India, and he spent the next 40 years here. He left his family, his land, and his comforts. Forty years he lived here; never once went back on furlough. Spent 40 years of his life here. His first wife passed away. His second wife passed away. Went through all kinds of suffering. Twenty years after he got here…after 20 years of ministry…he was translating Bibles, doing all kinds of work.
What happened, there was a fire in his home in Serampore. He was actually out of town in Calcutta. There was a fire there. It burned up a dictionary he’d written, numerous grammars he’d written, ten Bible translations that were in process of being printed, and one translation that he’d been working on for the last six years, burned up. He found out about this, so all of this work, just gone after 20 years…not everything that he had done, but so much of what he’d done. He found out that there had been a fire, and this is what he said, “In one short evening, the labors of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God. I have lately brought some things to the utmost of perfection of which they seem capable, and contemplated the missionary establishment with perhaps too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low that I may look more simply to Him.” That I might…the picture here…believe God, that God is our reward. Carey’s kind of mantra was “expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Don’t miss the order there.
Expect great things from God. Believe God. Trust God to give good things, and when you do, that overflows in radical risk. Attempt great things for God, because you know He’s trustworthy, and you know He’s good.
Let’s continue to believe in radical reward.
Let’s continue to take radical risks as a church and let’s continue to believe in radical reward. Think about it. What more do we need? We have the all-encompassing promises of God. He will be with us. He will guide us. He will give us everything we need at every moment.
We have no need to hold onto the things of this world. We have no need to live according to the ways of this world. We have everything we need in the all-encompassing promises of God, and even deeper than that, we have an all-satisfying God who is our shield and our great reward, and these pictures that we’re walking through of sacrifice in our church and in our own lives, let’s dig in deeper and deeper and deeper in the days to come, because we’re confident the reward we have in God is great. Let’s be, as Abraham, willing to take radical risks because we wholeheartedly believe in a radical reward.
Let’s give our lives demonstrating our faith.
Let’s receive and rejoice in God’s grace, trust and obey His guidance, take risks, believe in reward, and finally, let’s give our lives demonstrating our faith. Let’s spend our lives demonstrating our faith. Another name that’s common around here, among Christians in India, is Graham Staines. I’ve mentioned him before, but in 1999…this is a missionary who had been here in India for 34 years…he directed a leprosy mission.
After 34 years, he was in his car with his two sons, Philip, 10 years old, and Timothy, 6 years old, and they were all of a sudden mobbed by a group of radical Hindus. That group set the car on fire, and Graham Staines and his sons were burned to death in their car. His wife, Gladys, and daughter, Esther, were left behind. I want you to hear what Gladys, his wife, his widow said a few days later…words that were published all across the newspapers in India.
She said, “I have only one message for the people of India. I am not bitter, neither am I angry, but I have one great desire: that each citizen of this country should establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who gave his life for their sins.” Everybody thought that she and her daughter would move home, but they said, “No.” They had given their life to India. They knew God had called them to India. She said, “My husband and our children have sacrificed their lives for this nation. India is my home. I hope to be here and to continue to serve the needy.”
Maybe most incredible, her daughter Esther, 13 years old, was asked about what had happened to her dad, and she said, “I…” 13-year-old. She said, “I praise the Lord that he found my father worthy to die for him.” It’s good to die living by faith. So, as a church, as a new covenant people of God, transformed by grace…a God who is sovereign, that we can trust…let’s take radical risks. Let’s wholeheartedly believe in radical reward, and let’s spend our lives living by faith. I look around this community that you see behind me, and there is evidence of your faith all over this community, and the other communities that we’re going to be around during this time we’re in India.
There’s evidence of your faith in the lives of moms and kids and dads who have heard the gospel, who have come to Christ in this picture. Kids who are living and thriving as a result of the grace of God and the faith of God in you. So, what I want to say to us, the church, from this context is let’s press in and, in days to come, let’s spend our lives and spend His church demonstrating our faith. In just a little bit, you are going to celebrate new members that have come to our faith family; have joined in covenant relationship with us over the last year. Over 400 folks over this last year, in 2009, that joined and locked arms with our faith family.
What I pray is that as we affirm our covenant with one another…not a covenant in the sense of God and covenant with Abraham or Moses or new covenant, but the picture of how we’re committed to one another as a church. I pray that it’ll be a picture of us saying, “We want to lock arms together as the new covenant people of God, with the promise of eternal life before us. We are together not going to live any longer like this world is our home, holding onto the ways of this world. Instead, we are going to give ourselves to the global purpose of God. Whether that is in that community right around our church building, whether that is in inner-city Birmingham or in starving places in India, we’re going to spend our lives for His name’s sake, and we’re going to look forward to the day when we will experience the fullness of the blessing of God to Abraham with a multitude that no one could count singing His praises from every single people group in a global chorus of worship.”
Father, I thank you so much for the privilege of pastoring this faith family. I thank you for the way you have worked in this faith family for many, many years, and even over the last four months, I am in awe of what I’m seeing around me right now as the fruit of what your Word has done in this room in Birmingham, Alabama, in the lives and the hearts of men and women all across this room. So, God, I pray for your blessings on us as a people. God, that you would bless us as The Church at Brook Hills so that all the people groups of the earth be blessed.
Bless us so that people around us in our workplaces and our neighborhoods would be blessed. So the people in inner-city Birmingham, as we look toward adopting a community there and multiplying the gospel there, that it would be blessed, and God, so that people in India and people groups all across the nations would know that you’re good because of what your Word is doing in your people, and because the people called The Church of Brook Hills believe you. Believing you, we look forward to a day when we will gather around your throne and sing your praises…Christ forever praised by all people because He has promised new life to us, made us a new people, brought us into a new place, and we gather together to sing His praise for all of eternity. Toward that end and until that day, we pray that you would keep us faithful and help us to believe you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
* Note: This sermon was preached via video while Pastor David was in India.