State of Our Country:
Has everyone figured out who they are going to vote for this Presidential Election? Not that we should talk about politics in a sermon, but sitting on the outside – as most of us are – it is hard to KNOW – capital KNOW – who the candidates are. We have been traveling this road for a while now in America, putting up ads that tear down the other side, but this time we have party members that don’t like the candidate and have no problem saying it. Wouldn’t it be great if we knew the presidential candidates? Like, really down deep knew them, instead of hearing what they want us to hear or what gets votes. I will say that one candidate in particular seems to have a façade, and sometimes tell the truth – even if it hurts him in the campaign, but I’m not sure I know him...
Problems with the Bible:
Do you ever have that problem with Jesus? With God the Father? It seems if you read the Bible through, there are some tough passages in there that don’t make sense – I was reading Leviticus that other day and the Lord said to the Jews that they could own non-Israelite slaves, and that they were their property and would pass down to generations of Israelites? (Leviticus 25) Or how about the desolation of towns in the Promised Land, men, women, and children? (Ai, Joshua 8:24-29) Does a just and righteous God do that? Or how about the New Testament? Ananias and Sapphira in Acts...Yes, they lied to the Church about giving it all (and only gave some of the proceeds of the land they sold), and only gave some, but they fell down and died because of it? (Acts 5)
I’m not sure I want to know this God of the Bible...but this God of the Bible is Jesus. This God of the Bible is the Holy Spirit, who dwells inside all believers. This God of the Bible is who sent down a part of Himself to walk the earth as Jesus, to suffer and die for the whole world’s sins (for your sine and my sin), to create a bridge between sin and holiness, and has a relationship with me and all believers for eternity. Maybe we should look a little further...
The Basis of Our Faith:
Let’s examine the basics of the Christian Faith. The Triune God created us. We rebelled. He sent Jesus down to show us how we should live, and to suffer and die for us. He rose again the third day to vanquish spiritual death and relate to us one to one, for Jesus’ blood was the ultimate sacrifice and covers our sin against the Holy Father, who can’t be near sin. All we have to do is believe that, and we are in relationship with the Triune God: that is God the Father, Jesus Christ the son, and the Holy Spirit. There is peace, comfort, and guidance through this world...
But where do we get that from? And does it require us to believe in something that isn’t logical or reasonable?
If you read the Gospel of John in the New Testament, it is primarily about believing that Jesus is the Son of God, and that belief will save your sins, give you a “new” life, and your soul will be with God forever. Remember John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” But that’s not all.
If you believe in Jesus, you have a relationship with God, through Jesus, and you get the Holy Spirit as a deposit, indwelled in you. You have the armor of God, as Paul states in Ephesians, and you have the peace that surpasses all understanding, like Paul states in Philippians.
But that’s where it gets sticky...because people have to believe...
If you want to go back to the beginning, it is a good practice for most of the world of investigating. For example, for police officers, especially homicide officers, it is a good practice to find out all the facts, essentially the background, so you will come to a better conclusion.
In the New Testament, there are four places where Abraham is mentioned from the Old Testament. It is all on his faith. Abraham, according to Paul and James, was the first to believe God and that alone was what made the connection with God.
The Old Testament v. The New Testament:
We have Jesus, though, and people in the Old Testament did not have the revelation that we know have. They had a partial revelation, but not Jesus. They didn’t have the Holy Spirit. They didn’t have the New Testament. My Old Testament seminary Professor, Dr. Robert Gibbs, says the Old Testament is a story about the people “knowing” Yahweh or God (as best they could with the revelation they had). Most of you know the story of Abram, renamed Abraham by God. It is in Genesis in the Old Testament.
Abram was from Ur in the Land of the Chaldeans, and God made promises to Him of many descendants and the Promised Land. It was before the Israelites (after all, Jacob (who God renamed Israel) was the son of Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s child), and before the instructions or laws that God gave to the Israelites.
Ur was located in Mesopotamia, which is modern day Iraq. Abram didn’t know God, yet God said “Go” to a land faraway, and didn’t tell him anything else. Instead of thinking “what just happened and who was this being that spoke,” Abram and his clan did what they were told and traveled to what is modern day Israel. He traveled around the Fertile Crescent (up the Euphrates down next to the Mediterranean Sea, and missing the desert between modern-day Iraq and Israel). It was years before he went to the Promised Land. There were many trials and tribulations (Abram actually went down to Egypt because of a famine in the Promised Land because he couldn’t see that God would take care of him and his family). No, Abram – God changed his name to Abraham – was not a perfect man – no far from it. But he was chosen by God and God promised him the He would provide Abram a son, an heir through Sarai (she was named Sarah by God).
With that, we go to Genesis 15.
Background to Genesis 15:
Though the LORD had called Abram, the LORD didn’t reveal as much to Abram – at the time – as He did to Moses (the “burning bush”), the prophets of old (“they spoke the Word of the Lord”), and ultimately, Jesus. But the LORD said “Go,” and Abram went anyway, and sort of relied on the Lord for most of the travel. When they got to the Promised Land, next to the Mediterranean Sea, Abram and his cousin Lot separated. It was then that the LORD said to Abram, (I am summarizing) “Look now, north south, east and west. I will give you this land, and will make you as many descendants that it is as the dust of the earth.”
After Lot became captive to Five Kings in a battle for, amongst other towns, Sodom, Abram went with his clan and fought the battle and won. The King of Sodom, grateful, said take the goods, or booty from battle, for yourself – but Abram would have none of it. He let the men who went with him take their share, but would have none for himself, because of a vow he took before God.
Now, listen to what the Scriptures say:
Genesis Chapter 15:1-6:
Genesis 15:1-6New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
God’s Covenant with Abram
15 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 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?”[a] 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord[b] reckoned it to him as righteousness.
1. Genesis 15:2 Meaning of Heb uncertain
2. Genesis 15:6 Heb he
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
15:1 – Yahweh was telling Abram that he would reward Abram for keeping his vow and taking nothing from the King of Sodom. You remember Sodom, don’t you? It was where Lot lived and where wicked events happened, so much so the LORD brought fire down upon the whole valley that Sodom lay in in Genesis 19. Yet, do not read over this and forget it: the LORD says, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus said “don’t be afraid” ten times or more in the New Testament! We are supposed to Trust in the LORD!
15:2-3 – But Abram wanted specifics...in fact he wanted answers to the promises the LORD had given him about land and specifically, an heir. You see, Abram was getting older and had no children – which were a must in the patriarchal society Abram lived in.
15:4-5 – God came and answered his question: He would have an heir, and his descendants would scatter the earth like the stars did the night sky.
15:6 – And now the most important part of this sermon, and your life on this earth. Based on a God who doesn’t say His name, who doesn’t appear to Him, and who says some things – like bearing a son late in age – that seem far-fetched, Abram believes the LORD, and the LORD counted it to him as righteousness.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. And “Trust” is also a term that goes with the Hebrew word ('aman) in its active character, instead of “believe,” and maybe that fits right, too.
Righteousness meant in the Old Testament being true to one’s social obligations and commitments, but it is bigger than that. It was his faith that made him righteous – believing God! That was the start of Abram’s relationship with God, of “knowing” Yahweh. It was Abram’s faith that made the LORD enter into a covenant with him that night, and which – if the New Testament is to be believed – assured him a place in Heaven.
It is actually Paul in the New Testament that sheds light on this for believers in Christ. In two letters that Paul undoubtedly wrote, Romans and Galatians, and in Hebrews, one of the letters that is attributed to Paul, he talks about Abraham’s righteousness (in Hebrews the writers talk about Abraham’s faith).
In Galatians, Paul is talking about Law or Faith. In it, he cites Abraham as one who believed, and it was reckoned to him a righteousness. Listen to the words of Paul:
Galatians 3:1-12 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Law or Faith
6 Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” 7 so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” 9 For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
But there it is again, this belief! Let’s take a detour to Reason and Faith.
Reason and Faith:
Those who grew up in the “modern era” – and for us older people, that is anyone who was born before the 1980’s (those who grew up after the 1980’s are called the post-moderns), will remember that reason was the king, and had been for a while. In fact, it was Western people like St. Thomas Aquinas, a theologian of the 12th Century, that started by taking philosophic (reasonable) thinking and applying it to religion and faith. For Aquinas, he sought to bring the two together. Later on in history, it was the thought, especially since the Renaissance in the 1600’s, that with reason everything is possible, including religion. In fact, Martin Luther, who brought in the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s, believed the Holy Scriptures and reason would suffice!
Therefore, the thought is, there must be a reasonable explanation for God! And there is ample evidence of facts that go straight to proving what the Bible says (about some things) is true. For example, the Hittites were for a time believed to have not existed, except in the pages of the Old Testament. Then, in 1906, archaeology findings noted that the Hittites were a real people, and discoveries, including historical records, proved that the Hittites had an empire about 2,500 B.C.
But lest we go too far down this road, I caution you: it is deep, and there are many who have languished over it, with no solution that appeals to all Christians. For some, reason is not enough, you have to take a “leap of faith” to get to God.
I think we are all different, with different minds, and different thoughts. However you get to believe in God is an issue between you and God. Whether it is “trust” or “belief”, God will reckon you as righteous if you trust or believe that Jesus came as the Son of God, died for your sins, was raised on the third day to conquer death, and is your personal Lord and Savior. That is “knowing” the Triune God!
Like doubting Thomas, one of the disciples, that had to touch Jesus after He was raised to believe, there are those that have to have an otherworldly encounter to believe, and some that do so without it. In John 20:29, Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
And with that, I have a story to tell you about Muslims dreaming of Jesus.
Uwe Siemon-Netto, a 79 year old Lutheran and a journalist, has written on something that still has Christians puzzled. It seems that Muslims are seeing Christ in Dreams and coming to be baptized. Some call Him a figure-in-white. But they are coming and believing in Jesus. This is while ISIS is growing and making it a death-toll to believe any way other than Radical Muslim! While I thought this was silly, at first, I did some research on it and there are Muslims who come to faith in Europe and the Middle East who go on to be Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and even Baptists!
Did you know that God said, in the Old Testament, that He would come and visit with some of his people in dreams and visions? In fact, God spoke to Abram that night of his confession in a dream speaking of the 400 years that his offspring would serve as slaves in a land that they were aliens, that God would judge the nation that enslaved them, and afterward his descendants would come out with great possessions (all of which came true with the Israelites slavery in Egypt!).
We have the Word:
Unlike the Muslims in some parts of the world, we have freedom, the knowledge of Christ, and the Holy Bible and books to read about the relationship God wants to have with us. With some of the 12 disciplines of faith (inward: Meditation, Prayer, Fasting, Study; outward: Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, Service; Corporate: Confession, Worship, Guidance, Celebration) at our side, this trip to believe (whether it’s trust, belief, or some blend of the two) is ours for the taking. Some of you have begun it! I think growing closer to God is a lifelong road, once you are on it! We are “knowing” God as we walk.
I have a book that I bought for seminary called Devotional Classics. It is a book, edited in part by Richard J. Foster, which compiles Christians from every age since Jesus walked the earth and every belief that has tried to walk the Way. From the Contemplative, Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, Evangelical, and Incarnational Traditions, there are both men and women who have made their presence known through Christ.
Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjold (1905 – 1961) is one of them. He was born in Jonkoping, Sweden in 1905. He was a man of deep faith, quiet, strong, and unassuming. Dag’s father had a distinguished political career in Sweden, and Dag served as Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1953 to 1961, when he died in a plane crash while on a peace mission in the Congo. After his death, a personal friend went to gather his belongings, and there amongst the things in his apartment was a note to his friend with a diary. The diary had just been between Dag and His God. The note said (I am plagiarizing a little) if you find this worth publishing, then do. What was published is the book called Markings. It is a diary of the world of devotion and the world of politics intertwined.
In the book is a poem I’d like to read. It is of someone who believed God and trusted God in all he did. It goes like this:
Hallowed by Thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
Give us peace with Thee,
Peace with men
Peace with ourselves,
And free from all fear.
Bring it to the Congregation:
So here we are, in the 21st century, and most of this sermon is review for some of you, although it is my hope that you have been blessed – at least by the illustrations. But the question keeps coming at you daily, especially now. Do you believe? You see, the Greek – which most of the New Testament is in, stressed continually believing – and that part is hard. But believing or trusting in God, day in and day out is challenging, but worth every ounce of it to have love and have the relationship with God – knowing God - that brings peace in chaos.
Where are you on this trek? Are you seasoned, or just beginning? Are you wondering what a relationship with this Triune God is? Are you in the midst of a season in the wilderness?
But you say, those are spiritual concerns – maybe there is some more real world pain out there, too... Is there not enough money coming in to pay the bills? Are you hurting, in pain, maybe constantly? Or even worse, a loved one in pain, hurting, terminal? A husband, wife, child? Is the world as you see it falling down around you? Is there darkness that’s beginning to drown out the light...deeper and deeper...until there is nothing but sadness and depression? Do you wish for heaven and a respite from this world?
Relationship and Peace:
Whatever it is, its chaos. Like possibly the presidential election where I started this sermon – where there’s maybe no clear winner. You need the peace that comes from a relationship with Jesus. By believing or trusting in Him, you are declared righteous with God and a relationship can begin anew. Knowing God is knowing Jesus. Maybe you just need a reminder that, with belief...trust...the faith that is yours will make it all okay in the midst of chaos.
You know, God will see you through this time if you have a relationship with Him. If He declares you righteousness, not because of yourself, but because you believe or trust in Jesus. God will make the bills, the pain, and the hurt go away...eventually, and give you peace in the meantime. Through the body of Christ – indeed, this church – you will get healing and comfort, till we all go home to the Father.
You just have to believe...
Let us pray.
I preached Believe in Jesus – Faith (Genesis 15:1-6) on October 2, 2016 at Kendalia Community Church