Waiting on the Promises of God

  I.      Introduction

Open your bible to Genesis 15, and the first two words are, “After this.”  After what?  Ok, open your bible to Genesis 14.

II.      A Promise Given, Genesis 15:1-3

Let me summarize what’s happened with Abram recently.  In Genesis 14, Abram’s nephew Lot had settled down with his family near Sodom and Gomorrah, hardly the best decision Lot had ever made.  An intense geopolitical power struggle was going on, and I count no less than 9 kings and kingdoms that were at war.  Four of the kings conquered and pillaged Sodom, and Lot was captured and hauled off as a slave.

Slide3

Abram had a mighty army of… 318 people.  More than enough, with the Lord’s power.  Abram routed the four kings, recaptured all the possessions and people, including Lot.  And he gave all the remaining captives and possessions back to the King of Sodom, saying (in Genesis 14:22-23),

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’

Abram made it clear that if and when Abram received all the things that God had promised to Him, that God alone would get the glory.

Ok, let’s go back to Genesis 15:1 –

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.

Now God says to Abram, you have chosen wisely.  You have chosen a way that pleases me.  The Lord your God will be your very great reward.  And do not be afraid that the kings will return to attack, for I will also be your shield.

Trusting in the Lord can be hard.  We have our sense of self, our entitlements, our wants and needs, and we’ve placed them on the throne of our hearts as idols to be worshipped.  We follow our idols instead of trusting in the Lord.  We leave our church and bible study on Sunday morning, and by Sunday night we’ve forgotten what it was that resounded in our heart earlier in the day.

The Lord makes His promises to us, but we find it easier to trust in ourselves.  Sometimes it’s terrifying, to place our trust in something besides ourselves.  Sometimes it seems stupid.  “You’re building a *what*, Noah?  Dude, it’s not even raining.”

The bible tells us that trusting in the Lord will seem foolish, but we are to do it anyway.  Proverbs 3:5 should be a memory verse for all Christians,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Paul reinforced this in his letter to the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 1:15,

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

God has chosen the foolish things of this world to shame the wise, and the weak things of this world to shame the strong.

Now, after Abram’s battles with the four kings and then rescuing Lot, God comes to Abram and says, “Do not be afraid.”  Did you know that in the bible, every time God says, “Do not be afraid,” He then tells us why we should not be afraid?

This is the very first time in the bible, “Do not be afraid” is said.  I read somewhere that the bible says, “Do not be afraid” 365 times, one for every day of the year, a daily reminder from God to be fearless in our Christian faith every day.

Slide9

God tells Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram, because I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”  God gives Abram two reasons not to fear. The first is that God Himself will be Abram’s shield.  God will protect Abram.  God protects you and me, too.  We may face calamities, loss of loved ones, but these are temporal things.  Jesus says in Matthew 10:28,

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

There’s that “do not be afraid because” statement again.  God is our shield against the devil; in John 10:28, Jesus says he gives us eternal life and no one will snatch us out of His mighty hands.  God is our shield.  Psalm 3:3 we sing,

But you, Lord, are a shield around me,

my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

But the second reason not to fear, God tells Abram, is truly amazing.  Not only will God be Abram’s shield, God will also be Abram’s reward.  Not just any reward, but an exceedingly great reward.  There is no greater reward than God.  Gold and diamonds are insignificant compared to the God who created gold and diamonds.  Compared to God, all the plunder Abram just gave back to the King of Sodom is like dust.

But what does it mean to have God as a reward? How can God be a reward? We belong to Him; He does not belong to us.  How can God, the Creator of the universe, give Himself as a reward to humans, let alone a single person?

Abram may have been confused by this as well.  Maybe in his own mind, Abram is thinking, “God can’t mean that He will give Himself to me.  He must mean He will protect me and provide for me. That must be what God means.” But that is not what God means.  God means that God Himself is what Abram is seeking.  God Himself is what Abram wants.  God Himself is what Abram needs.  God Himself is the missing piece of Abram’s life.  God Himself is Abram’s exceedingly great reward.

What do we pray for?  We often pray for what we do not have but we think we need.  We pray for physical needs like food or money.  We pray for wisdom to make good decisions.  Sometimes, when we do not understand what God is doing, we pray for understanding.  We pray for encouragement when we feel the trials of life are overwhelming.  We pray for protection from those who are against us.  We pray for healing and life and health.  We pray for truth and a better understanding of God’s plan.  We pray for God to be able to use us.

  • Bread
  • Light
  • Knowledge
  • Care
  • Life
  • Truth
  • Fruitfulness

These are all good things to pray for.

Slide12

In Genesis 15:2, Abram had concerns, prayers, requests from God.  And God says, “I know.  I am going to give myself to you.  And in Me, all your needs will be met.”

Are our prayers met the same way?  I believe they are.  In the Gospel of John, we find seven “I am” statements.

  • “I am the Bread” (John 6:35)
  • “I am the Light” (John 8:12)
  • “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58
  • “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11)
  • “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25)
  • “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6)
  • “I am the True Vine” (John 15:1)

Slide13

Everything we ask, everything we imagine, everything we need or want is found in Jesus.  We all want something from the Lord, but God wants us to want Him.  We want some answer to prayer, but God wants to give us Himself.  It is in Him, that all these other things are found.  When Jesus Christ is our everything, we can go hungry, we can wander without direction, we can wonder how that bill will get paid, we can have health problems and family crises and still have a peace that passes all understanding because Christ is ours to hold.  Jesus says we will live the abundant life if we find all we need in Him.  Our minds are so earthly focused, it is hard to understand how just by loving Christ and enjoying His presence that we can have the contentment, joy, peace, and happiness that would never be ours otherwise – even were God to grant us all the things we prayed for.

It is so hard to fix our eyes on Jesus Christ alone. We want to focus on the things that come through Him and from Him, rather than focus on Him.  Jesus says, “I give everything I am to you,” and we reply, “yes, but what about my Christmas list?”  So I am in full understanding when, after God tells Abram that God Himself will be Abrams very great reward, Abram says in verse 2 –

But Abram said, “Lord GOD, what will You give me?”

Isn’t that we often pray?  “Oh Lord, thanks for everything, your promises, your comfort, your Holy Spirit.  But what will you give me?”  Abram wants a son.

III.      A Promise Believed, Genesis 15:4-6

Then in Genesis 15:4, God promises Abram that Abram will have a son of his own.  And not just a son, but more descendants than Abram can count.  God and Abram go outside and look at the stars and says that if Abram can count them all, that’s how many his decedents will be.  And Abram believed.

Let’s not overlook the importance of this statement.  Genesis 15:6 –

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Believe in the Lord, that He is who He says He is.  He is the great I am.  He has sent His son for the transgressions of our sins, and we are now washed clean in His sight.

How can we know God keeps His promise?  How do we know that when we die, that we have eternal salvation, freely available to all who believe?  Abram is a great testimony.  He believed God.  God credited it to him as righteousness.  Not because Abram was a great guy and has some nice sheep and goats, but because He believed.  And Abram, on this expression of His faith, was declared righteous.

Is this same credit is available to you and me, just by believing?  How can we believe?  By choosing to believe.  We believe by choosing to believe that God is who He says He is, that all creation belongs to him.  Romans 4 – the entire chapter – is devoted to this one sentence, that Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness.  Romans 4:18-25 –

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.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

In one of the great mysteries of this universe, at least to me, is that God keeps His promises to us.  And if we only believe that Christ died for our sins, then God will forgive our sins and credit our belief to us as righteousness.

It’s not about how fervently we pray, how many times we attend bible study, how often we do good things for those who can’t.  We do those things out of love, but it’s not our prayer or our service or our worship that gives us salvation.  It is our belief.  God wants us to believe in Him.

What did Abram believe?  Was it merely the promise of more grandchildren than he could count?  There’s more to it than that – in John 8:56, when Jesus was talking to Jews who were trying to kill Him, He says,

Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.

If Romans 4 tells us that Abram was the father of all Gentiles, then Jesus says that it was Abram’s faith in the future Messiah that brought Abram joy.  Abram, as well as countess others throughout the Old Testament, are saved through their faith in the future Messiah yet to come.  Abram believed in the coming Messiah for eternal life, and that the Messiah that would come through Abram and his descendants. It is at this point, when Abram believed the Lord that the Lord credited him with righteousness.

When we believe God’s Word, that God gives eternal life to everyone who believes in Jesus for it, like Abram, we are declared righteousness by God. There is no other way to receive eternal life. Abram believed the promise, and so was justified. Of all the ways that God gives Himself to us, this is the greatest. God told Abram in verse 1, “I will be your great reward” and now Abram has received God’s righteousness as part of that reward. No matter what happens in life, if we have Jesus, if we have God as our reward, we have more than everything we need.

The promise has been given, the promise has been believed, and now we will see the promise guaranteed.

IV.      A Promise Guaranteed, Genesis 15:7-21

In Genesis 15:7 –

Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

God has made this promise to Abram already in chapters 12 and 13, but perhaps Abram is wondering when God’s going to keep his promise.  Genesis 15:8 –

And he said, “Lord GOD, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

Abram says, “Well, ok, God, I trust you that you’re going to give me a son.  But how can I know you’re also going to give me the land?”  Abram is already 85 years old at this point, and he and his 318 men in his army aren’t getting any younger.

God then makes a covenant with Abram, a complex scene that involves sacrificing animals and dividing them in half.  Some commentaries tell me that this symbolized a way back then to seal a deal.  The two people would sacrifice and split their animals in half, then walk in between the pieces.  The thought was that, if I break my side of the covenant, may I become like this sacrificed animal and be split in two.

Now in these more modern days, we are much more civilized.  We don’t divide animals in half.  Now it’s the lawyers who are animals trying to divide the people in half.  But I digress.

But this covenant with Abram isn’t fulfilled with both partners walking between the animal pieces.  No, a blazing torch appears and passes between the pieces alone, symbolizing that God alone will fulfill His promise to Abram.  Abram doesn’t need to do anything except believe in the Lord.  The Lord makes this promise to Abram in Genesis 15:13-16 –

Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.  But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.  You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.  In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

This is a prophecy about the future.  God has delayed his promise in order to show Abram, and show the Israelites that it is not by their effort that His covenant will be fulfilled. It is by God’s faithfulness alone His promises are fulfilled.  God tells Abram that his descendants will go to a land that is not theirs and be slaves for 400 years.  When that time is up, the nation they serve will be judged.  Abram’s descendants will then come out of the land with great possessions.  Before all of this happens, Abram will die in peace.

Why is God telling Abram this?  Because the promise of the land will not be fulfilled in Abram’s time.  Abram may be getting impatient to get some of the land that God has offered to him, but God says that the promise of the land will only be fulfilled with Abram’s descendants, long after Abram is dead.  The reason for this is because the iniquity of the people dwelling there is not yet complete.

And when God walks through this covenant alone, God is saying that He alone will fulfill this covenant.  No matter how Abram sins or fails to live up to God’s standards, God reassures Abram that God’s promise will be fulfilled.

Just like our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is a one sided covenant.  God asked Abram to bring the animals, which Abram did.  But God walked through them alone.  God asks us to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life.  But God paid the penalty, bought our salvation, and guarantees it all by Himself.  God requires nothing from us except to believe in Him and have it credited to us as righteousness.  He does not demand anything of us.  Eternal salvation is a one-sided covenant which cannot be broken.

God does it all.  God does not meet us half way.  God doesn’t even meet us most of the way.  God does it all.  We do nothing.  In legalistic churches and groups, we talk about being committed to Christ, about the works we must do to secure our salvation, about have a Christian must say, believe, and do certain things.

But God’s covenant with us reveals something else entirely.  We aren’t the promise keepers.  God is.  He makes the promises to us, and He keeps them all by Himself.  We don’t give ourselves to God.  He has already given Himself fully and completely to us.  We don’t make covenants with Him.  He makes covenants with us, and there is only one name to sign on the bottom – His.

Jesus says in Matthew 11, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  There is no labor, no hard work, no effort involved.  Paul writes similarly in Philippians 1 that He who began the good work will carry it on to completion. Philippians 2 says that it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure. God does it all in us and through us.

Are you still trying to win your salvation?  Are you still trying to prove that you’re worthy enough to enter His kingdom?  It’s time to lay those burdens down at the foot of the cross.  Just trust in the Lord.  Trust in His unconditional promises to you. Don’t try to meet God half way.  Let Him do it all in you and through you for His good pleasure.

  V.      Conclusion

We talk about “accepting” Christ, but this a term not found in the bible.  What we “accept” is an understanding that God has called us and is calling us.  We realize that we are wretched and naked without God.  There is nothing we can do to clothe ourselves on our own, but we trust in the Lord, trust in the promise of Jesus that when we put on Christ, we are then clothed and beautiful.  Perhaps we do not feel our prayers being answered today, but God will fulfill each and every promise He makes.

And when we feel that when we have found Christ, our journey is not complete.  We find Christ so that we can seek Him more.  We accept Christ so we can accept Him more.  We acknowledge Him as our Lord so that He may command and lead us to pastures green, the land He promised unto Abram, and the salvation promised unto us.

Psalm 23:1-3,

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he refreshes my soul.

To God be the glory.

Advertisements

Choices We Make

We’re reading Genesis 13 and 14 today and following Abram, Sarai, and their nephew Lot around the middle east. Lot’s father had died in Ur in the land of the Chaldees, and Abram had taken Lot in with him on his journey with God. Last week, in Genesis 12, the Egyptian Pharoah asked Abram to leave Egypt, and to take his little dog, too. Genesis 13:1-4,

So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold. From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the LORD.

Abram is seeking the Lord. We don’t even know why Abram called on the name of the Lord, and I don’t think it matters. Abram’s made some goofy decisions in his life previously; last week, Abram told his wife to lie to Pharoah and say she was his sister. That was a bad decision; God is truth, and Satan is the father of lies. As Fred taught us last week, we cannot receive God’s blessings if we keep one foot in Babylon. We must follow God with all our heart. Now, we know Abram meant well; he was trying to save his own life. But that’s a lack of trust in the Lord; the Lord does not ask us to sin to accomplish His will. One commentary I read said trying to solve a problem by committing a sin is like “putting a baby in a pen with a rattlesnake and hoping that the presence of the baby will awaken a sense of compassion in the snake.” A snake is a snake. A sin is a sin.

Abram isn’t making the same mistake; he is calling on the name of the Lord. And as soon as he does, fighting breaks out. Genesis 13:5-7,

Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

Society seems to think that because we are Christians, we never have quarrels. I think sometimes we Christians think the same thing. But quarrels occur; scripture cautions us that “in our anger, do not sin.” One mark of a mature Christian is, or course, the peace of Christ within him, but another mark of a mature Christian is how he resolves conflict. With love, compassion, and without sin. Abram has called upon the name of the Lord, and the Lord has given him a problem to solve. Abram answers it admirably, Genesis 13:8-9,

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

This town just ain’t big enough for the two of us. Well, actually, there wasn’t a town, and the land was big enough. Abram and Lot had so much stuff they were crowded in the land near Bethel, and Abram gives Lot a choice. Pick any land you want, and I’ll go the other way, and then we’ve removed the source of our conflict.

Lot’s choice is going to affect history for millennia. We know Lot is a righteous man, but righteous men can make bad decisions, too. Lot chose for himself the whole plain of Jordan and set out toward the east and pitched his tent near Sodom. Sodom was already the Las Vegas of biblical times where what happens in Sodom stays in Sodom.

Let’s skip ahead to Genesis 14. In verse 1, we’re introduced to a whole lot of kings with unpronounceable names. I’m not going to attempt to pronounce them, so I’m going to ask Diane to do it. Wait, let’s just count the kings, that’ll be easier. The kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim. That’s 4 kings. And Genesis 14:1 says they went to war against the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. That’s 5 kings, and it says in verse 4 that the 4 kings ruled over the 5 kings, but after 12 years they had enough and rebelled. The 4 kings went to war to crush the rebellion. I think I’m going to root for the 4 kings because the 5 king team includes Sodom and Gomorrah. Which, coincidentally, is where Lot pitched his tent.

The four kings were very successful and routed many unpronounceable kingdoms that were either allied with the five kings or at least happened to live near them. One of those little kingdoms along the way was the Amorites. The four kings forced the five kings into retreat. In verse 8, the five kings have their backs against the wall, so they draw their battle lines. Here, the five kings are going to make their stand, in the Valley of Siddim. The five kings weren’t the brightest bulbs in the tulip patch, if you know what I mean. The Valley of Siddim was known for their tar pits, and the five kings not only were defeated, but when they tried to flee, they fell into the tar pits and got stuck. The rest fled into the hills. The four kings, as was the custom, seized all the goods in Sodom and Gomorrah as plunder. That plunder included Abram’s nephew Lot and all his possessions because he was living in Sodom.

One of the men who escaped came and told Abram what had happened. Why would one of the five kings come and tell Abram? Because Abram was friends with Mamre, Escho, and Aner who were all Amorites, that little kingdom the four kings conquered on the way to defeating the five kings. Uh oh. When the four kings were fighting against the evil five kings, they trampled an ally of Abram and took his nephew captive. I’m no longer rooting for the four kings, they turned out to be bad people, just like the five kings.

And interesting sidenote here – verse 13 says all this bad news was reported to Abram the Hebrew. This is the first use of the word “Hebrew” in the bible. I suppose because we’re not to confuse Abram with an Amorite; Abram is a Hebrew but he’s allied with the Amorites.

Abram is rich and powerful; it says in verse 14 that he has 318 trained men born in his household. Abram and his trained warriors attacked the four kings, routed them and chased them up the coastline. In verse 16 we read that Abram recovered all the goods, brought back his nephew Lot and all his possessions as well as women and other people.

A fascinating character shows up here; Melchizedek, king of Salem. Melchizedek’s name means “righteousness” and Salem means “peace.” Melchizedek is the king of righteousness and peace. He appears, blesses Abram, shares communion with him, and accepts a 10% tithe, then disappears back into history again. Melchizedek is both a king and a priest in Jerusalem. Psalm 110:4 promises our savior will be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 7 tells us that Jesus Christ is our King of Righteousness and King of Peace in the order of Melchizedek. We spent an entire lesson on Melchizedek last year when we studied Hebrews; all we’re going to mention today is that the Levitical priesthood was a temporary system; the priesthood of our savior lasts forever and ever.

In verse 17, the rout of the four kings is complete, and one of the original five kings comes to see Abram, the king of Sodom. Don’t you know he must have his tail between his legs and he’s looking up to Abram as the one who freed him. The king of Sodom tells Abram he’d like his people back, but that Abram can keep all the captured property for himself. Abram tells him he’s made a promise to the Lord not to profit from the king of Sodom; after all, Abram had no fight with Sodom. His nephew Lot was living there peacefully until the four kings attacked.

The first of those four kings, by the way, was Amraphel, king of Shinar. The plains of Shinar is where Nimrod, great-grandson of Noah, began to build the tower of Babel which became the center of Babylon. This is where the source of much of the world’s conflict has lasted for thousands of years, and scripture tells us will continue through the last days prophesied in Revelation. Because of Lot’s choice to dwell in the land of Sodom, he is living in the land of the five kings, captured by the four kings, and then Abram goes to war against the four kings to free his nephew, setting up a conflict with Babylon that lasts from approximately 1900 BC to the end of time, nearly 4000 years so far.

There’s a brief look at the history. Now let’s get a good look at the people and see if there’s a lesson for us. What was so bad about Lot’s decision? The answer lies back in Genesis 13:10-13 –

Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.

Where in those versus do you see Lot looking to the Lord for guidance? I think the 5 key words are found in verse 11, “So Lot chose for himself.” Let’s turn to 2 Peter 2:7-9, where Peter is teaching us that God will rescue the righteous while condemning the ungodly:

and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.

Lot was a righteous man, but when Abram gave Lot a choice, a decision to make, Lot chose for himself. We know Lot was righteous; yet he made a choice that was pleasing to the eyes. He chose land that would prosper himself. It doesn’t sound like a bad decision; he looked over his options and saw plenty of grass for his cattle, plenty of water for his lands, and plenty of opportunity. Sure, it was located next to Sodom and Gomorrah, but who cares? They probably won’t bother him.

But they did bother him. Here in Genesis 13:11, we see “Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east.” Lot has taken one small step toward Sodom. In verse 12, it says, “Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tent near Sodom.” That’s more than just one small step toward Sodom, now Lot has pitched his tent near Sodom. By the time we get to Genesis 19:1, we find Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city.

Lot placed himself close to sin, then closer to sin, and then in the gateway of the city of sin. Let me ask you a question about Lot’s decision that put him in the city of sin. Do you think Christians should avoid people who are engaged in sinful lifestyles?

Several of us saw The Bucket List last night. Excellent movie, and for once I was pleased to see that the upright Christian man, Carter, lived a righteous life and Hollywood didn’t make him out to be a religious wacko for a change. Do you remember the scene at the bar where the woman propositioned him? How do you think his life would have changed if he had made a different decision?

Lot is a righteous man, but righteous men can make bad decisions. Remember when Peter saw Jesus walking across the water? Jesus called to him, and Peter was able to walk across the water. And then Peter saw the waves and storm all around him and took his eyes off Jesus. Peter looked at the world around him. And then what happened? Peter began to sink because he took his eyes off the Lord.

When we are in bondage to sin, Satan has an easy time with us. Given the choice between good and bad, all he has to do is make the bad decision look like fun. Excessive drinking looks fun and loud and can lead to drinking and driving or alcoholism. A one night fling that leads to children out of wedlock or abortion and broken families. Drug abuse, excessive gambling, Satan’s work is easy.

As Christians, we are no longer in bondage to sin, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be ensnared by sin. We are aware of good and evil and we can see better what Satan is up to. So Satan doesn’t offer us such clear-cut choices between good and evil. Satan offers us a poor choice and a really bad choice. Deceived, we sometimes take the poor choice and take one step closer to Sodom.

A need to work late, a female coworker, and an over-inflated confidence in his ability to resist sin. A Christian man finds himself in an affair with a coworker. When discovered, it wrecks one or more families. How did it happen? He took one step closer to Sodom and soon he found himself sitting in the gate of sin.

A disappointment in a missed birthday or that she had to pick up his underwear off the floor yet again. A seed of bitterness takes hold, she begins to criticize things about her husband. Criticized, he works late at the office with a female coworker who tells him what a good job he’s doing.

Or a mother, hurt because her daughter doesn’t call like she used to, tells her daughter she’ll never amount to anything. The daughter, feeling down and unloved, is disappointed that her husband missed her birthday and criticizes him. The husband, criticized, works late at the office.

So many small opportunities to sin. Of course, we’re forgiven. When we accept Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. He removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. But 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, and God’s righteous people are tasty morsels if we take our eyes off the Lord. We, too, will be given an opportunity to pitch out tents toward Sodom. We will convince ourselves that we are walking with God, and not even noticing that we are holding hands with the devil.

Every choice is important, and every choice made apart from the Lord can lead to the path of destruction. Most Christians don’t pack their belongings and move to Sodom and Gomorrah. If we take our eyes off the Lord, we pitch their tent a little closer to Sodom today than we did yesterday. We skip one week of church, then we skip another. As Christians, we are to worship the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. How are we doing with that? Are we truly worshiping with everything we are, or have we found a compromise somewhere, some “rule” that we feel isn’t applicable to us? What’s the best way to evaluate how we’re doing? Ask. Go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to search you and to tell you how you’re doing.

After the Lord, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. How are we doing with that? Think about where you live. Who is your neighbor? Or where you work, who is your coworker? What are their needs? If you truly love your neighbor as yourself, why don’t you truly know their needs? You know your own needs, don’t you? Or have you found one step toward Sodom as an excuse, that you’re too busy or you’ve convinced yourself that they would rather have their privacy? What’s the best way to find out what your neighbor needs? Ask them. Ask them how you can help.

Who is your closest neighbor? I have no doubt your closest neighbor is your spouse, your covenant mate, given to each other in love. Do you love your spouse as you love yourself? From Proverbs 31 to Ephesians 5 to 1 Corinthians 13, our God tells us how we are to love our spouse. How are we doing with that, or have we allowed ourselves to pitch our tent a little closer to Sodom? Something we hide from our spouse, something we’re not comfortable talking about, a little rudeness or selfishness we’ve allowed into our marriage? What’s the best way to evaluate how we’re doing? Ask. Ask your wife how you can be a better husband; ask your husband how you can be a better wife.

In Genesis 13:14-18, Abram took a different approach than Lot.

The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.

Abram was looking to the Lord and was in a covenant with God; no matter where Abram went, the Lord had promised to bless him. Lot, instead, chose something that was pleasing to the eyes. Lot chose the richness of the world and let it appeal to his eyes. Lot settled near Sodom, or as Fred said last week, he still had one foot in Babylon. He chose for himself. Abram chose what was pleasing to the Lord, and settled for everything. We experience God’s many blessing when we keep our eyes on Him. If Lot sought the Lord’s will first, perhaps instead of settling near Sodom, he might have made a different choice. Perhaps Lot might have repented of the strife between his family and Abram’s and asked Abram if he could stay instead.

Every little choice is important; every action we do, every word we utter, every thought we have, should be in harmony with the Lord’s will. We all sin; that’s why we need a savior. But we don’t need to settle for sin. Don’t compromise. Don’t fool ourselves that we can walk with God and hold hands with the devil. That one little choice we make that goes against the will of the Lord is one step closer to Sodom. And then another choice, and nex thing we know, we’re pitching our tent toward Sodom. And then we’re sitting in the gate of Sodom, and when destruction comes we wonder how we got here.

We have a choice. We can choose to seek the Lord’s will first, or we can choose for something pleasing to our eyes or our senses. Don’t be fooled by our own righteousness; the bible is replete with examples of righteous people that make poor choices when they took their eyes off the Lord. A lifetime of good decisions can be undone by one bad decision. Lift up your eyes and look to the Lord for everything and He will protect you and bless you. Every choice is important.

Living in Hope

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, in Genesis 14, five kings joined forces. The king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the kings of Admah, Zeboiim, and Bela. For years, the five kings had been pushed around by four other kings, the kings of Shinar, Ellasar, Elam, and Goiim. Because it makes my jaw hurt to say those names, let’s call them the five kings verses the four kings. The four kings were ruthless and every year conquered more territory, until one day the five kings had had enough.

The five kings drew their plans and went to war against the four kings, and stood to face them in the Valley of Siddim. And it turned out the five kings were idiots because the Valley of Siddim where they chose to make their stand was full of tar pits. With their feet stuck, they were sitting ducks and the four kings killed most of them and the five kings fled into the hills. The four kings sacked Sodom and Gomorrah and took all of their stuff and all of their food and all of their people. One of those people was Lot, the nephew of Abram, soon to be called Abraham. Years earlier, Uncle Abram and his nephew Lot had parted company, and Lot chose to live in Sodom, not knowing that the five kings that ruled that part of the world were such idiots. And now, Lot is a prisoner of the four kings.

A messenger eventually arrived at the tent of Abram. A messenger, possibly one of the men in service to the five kings that had fled into the hills came and gave the bad news to Abram. “Hey, um, Abram, Lot’s recently moved. Would you like his new address?” Abram was not amused. Abram called out 318 trained men and went in pursuit. He caught up to the four kings and their soldiers and routed them, scattering them to wind. He recovered all of the goods and rescued of all the people, including his nephew Lot.

Then, starting in Genesis 14 verse 17, something unusual happens. Abram is returning from his victorious battle, and Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the God Most High, comes out to meet Abram with bread and wine and blesses Abram and says,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.

And blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

And Abram responds by tithing a tenth of everything, then returning all the spoils of war back to the five kings. Abram says he doesn’t even want a thread or the thong of a sandal; he gives it all back to the five idiot tar pit kings.

The idiot five kings, the ruthless four kings, Lot, Abram, and Melchizedek, priest of the God Most High. Who was this Melchizedek? He’s obviously an important person; he’s providing a blessing to Abram. But let’s look at the things Melchizedek does –

• “brought out”. Did Abram have to go look for Melchizedek, or did Melchizedek come looking for Abram? I think of the parable of the prodigal son when the father rushed out to greet the returning son.
• “bread and wine.” When a priest brings out the bread and wine, what does that remind you of? Exactly, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But how could that be, so far back in the Old Testament?
• Blesses Abram. Do we bless God, or does God bless us? Do we bless Jesus, or does Jesus bless us? We’re going to get into this again in a bit, but the greater blesses the lesser. Melchizedek blesses Abram and is the greater of the two.
• Praises God and gives thanks. Melchizedek worships God.
• Accepts a 10% tithe.

This Melchizedek seems to appear out of nowhere, blessing Abram and accepting a 10% tithe. The interesting thing is, we don’t really know that much more about him. This is the first and only time he appears. His name is also interesting – “Melek” means “king,” and “Zedek” means “righteousness.” His name means “the king of righteousness.” And he’s listed as the “king of Salem,” which means “peace.” The king of Righteousness and Peace. He has no lineage; he doesn’t descend from a line of priests. Before Moses, sacrifices were usually offered by the head of the family, so Abram would normally have been offering sacrifices to God for his family, but for some reason he recognized Melchizedek as a priest and defers to him.

Later after Moses, the 12 tribes of Israel had grown and a priesthood was created by Aaron out of the tribe of Levi. These became the Levitical priesthood for the sacrificial system of absolving sins. The kings were to rule the people, and the priests were to mediate between God and man through sacrifices.

This is consistent throughout the Old Testament, with the Levitical priesthood passing down from father to son, and the Jewish people have extensive records of these priests through history. Except Melchizedek doesn’t appear in their priesthood records, just this one event with Abram.

Most biblical scholars believe Melchizedek was a “theophany”, or a “Christophany of Christ.” A foreshadow of Christ. An Old Testament snapshot of Christ. I think we could spend hours digging into who Melchizedek was or wasn’t, but it was pretty clear that in Jesus day they considered Melchizedek a very important priest outside of the Levitical line.

We’re going to move forward through history now and come to the family of David. In 2 Samuel 7:11-15, let us read –

The LORD declares to you [David] that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him […]. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.

The Lord told David he would have an offspring that would endure forever. Obviously that cannot mean a purely human offspring, because humans die. And God’s words are never in error, and the crucifixion of Jesus is foretold here. What does David say about his future offspring? Let’s turn to Psalm 110, where David cries out to his future son who is also his Lord –

The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”

Jesus quoted this scripture about Himself, the coming of the Messiah. But let’s read a bit further –

The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion;
you will rule in the midst of your enemies.

Your troops will be willing
on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy majesty,
from the womb of the dawn
you will receive the dew of your youth.

The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.

He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.

He will drink from a brook beside the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

That’s a powerful Psalm; Jesus rules, does he not? I really only needed that one line, but I wanted to read the whole thing because it’s so beautiful. The one line is, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” David tells us that the Lord will be a priest, but not a Levitical priest. A different kind of priest. To be a Levitical priest, a Jew had to be able to trace his lineage back to Aaron, the great-grandson of Levi. A Melchizedek priest was a divine appointment.

Ok, now we can turn to Hebrews and begin our lesson now that we’ve laid the groundwork. Meredith told of the ancient Hebrews last week, and how they were encouraged to grow up in spiritual maturity. What was happening at the time was that these Hebrew Jews had given themselves to The Way. The Way, which we now call Christianity, was not an easy path. You were likely to be stoned by the Jews and fed to the lions by the Romans. The Hebrews were tempted to re-embrace Judaism along with their Christianity. They felt a comfort doing this – adding their centuries-old traditions to their faith let them get along much better with the orthodox Jews who were less likely to throw rocks at them because from their external appearance they acted like ordinary Jews. They also had a “just-in-case” philosophy – just in case Jesus wasn’t the way, perhaps they could still get to heaven by observing the law.

The author of Hebrews sets them straight. If you’re observing the Old Testament law, you’re missing out on the freedom in Christ of the New Covenant. If you’re pretending to be a Jew, you’re not being that light on a hill that Christ wants us to be for Him. The author goes point by point to show the Hebrews it was ok to let go of the old traditions and to put their faith in Jesus, and that Jesus was a new priesthood, and the new priesthood had different rules. Jesus is a better Covenant than the old one the Hebrews are trying to follow.

Ok, so let’s look at our first verse we’re going to study in Hebrews, Hebrews 6:13-14:

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

The writer is telling us that we must be patient, but God always fulfills His promises. God promised Abraham a whole lot of little rug rats, and Abraham had to wait 25 more years before he and Sarah started having children. God never lies, and because of that, God’s promises give us hope.

What was God’s greatest promise? He first made this promise to David. That’s right, throughout the Old Testament we are promised a messiah who will trample our enemies and intercede for us in front of the Living Lord. And just like Abraham had to be patient, we, too, must be patient. But we have hope, because God always fulfills His promises.

Hebrews 6:19 tells us about this wonderful hope.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

This hope is to be an anchor for the soul. Remember a few weeks ago when we were cautioned not to drift away? The bottle floating down the river until it could not be seen? If your anchor is in Jesus Christ, you won’t drift away. Don’t just toss the anchor overboard; your anchor is likely to catch on something worldly. Instead, cast your anchor upward, so it catches on something heavenly.

The Hebrews were casting their anchor, not on Jesus, but on Jewish tradition. They were concerned that since the Old Testament had instructions regarding sacrifices that maybe they were still supposed to follow the Levitical priesthood as well as Jesus. Hebrews 7:4-9 is a little convoluted on this point; so I’m going to try and unravel it. The author points out that Abraham is greater than Levi because Levi was Abraham’s great-grandson. And that Abraham paid his tithe to Melchizedek and Melchizedek blessed him, and verse 7 says “And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater.” Therefore, Abraham is greater than all the Jews, all the Levitical priests who were essentially Abraham’s children. And Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. So isn’t Melchizedek greater than all the Levitical priests? The Melchizedek priesthood is divine, but the Levitical priesthood is by man.

Ok, I see some glazed looks, so here’s a diagram. The Levitical priesthood is great. But isn’t Levi himself greater, since all the Levitical priests came from Levi? And since Levi came from Abraham, isn’t Abraham greater? And since Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek, Melchizedek was greater. And Jesus is a divine priest forever on the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus
Melchizedek
Abraham
Levi
Levitical Priesthood

The Hebrews were still focused on the Levitical priesthood and all the rules and rituals that went with it. But there was new priesthood with new rules. The Hebrews were still using horse and buggy for spiritual transportation, but they could be driving a Ferrari.

This was an important point – when Jesus came, he brought a new set of rules. The first rule he set aside was that all priests had to be Levitical. Jesus was greater than all of them, and it was no longer necessary for human priests to intervene on our behalf, to offer sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. Jesus himself sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes directly on our behalf. We have no reason anymore to appeal through human priests.

There was a story I remember from Reader’s Digest. “I told a co-worker I was concerned I might lose my job. My co-worker told me she would pray for me, and told me she keeps a list of ten people she believed needed her prayers the most. I asked her if there was room for me on her list, and she said, “Oh yes, 3 people have died.”

I don’t know about you, but I want a better system than that. The Hebrews wanted to place their faith on people. Up until Jesus, that was the best system available. But Jesus was a new priesthood, a better system.

Jesus illustrated the weakness of the Old Testament. The regulations restricting the priesthood were weak and ineffective. They required frequent sacrifice to atone for sins, and all that did was wipe the slate clean temporarily until it was time for the next sacrifice. Jesus is a perfect priest and a perfect sacrifice for all time.

What are we placing our hope in? Are we firmly grounded in faith in Jesus? Abram tithed ten percent to Melchizedek, then gave all the plundered loot back to the idiot kings. Do we tithe ten percent, and do we tithe it with a joyful heart?

I heard a story this week of an old $20 bill and an even older $1 bill, all wrinkled and worn, talking about their lives. The twenty dollar bill said, “I’ve traveled all over the world, I’ve been shopping in New York, I’ve been gambling in Los Vegas, and I’ve even been on a cruise!” The one dollar bill said, “I’ve traveled a bit, too. I’ve been to a Baptist church, a Catholic church, a Methodist church…” The twenty dollar bill interrupted and said, “Wait a minute… what’s a church?”

If we cannot tithe with a cheerful heart, perhaps our hope is not in Jesus. Maybe we’re only giving lip service that our faith is in Jesus, but our real faith is in our job, in our home, in our family, even in our spouse. Perhaps we want to withhold some of our tithe to add to our safety net or because we’re accustomed to a lifestyle that needs a little extra money.

These worldly things distract us from faith in Jesus. We may think we’re placing our faith in Jesus, but when the rubber hits the road, we want to make sure we build our own little safety net to catch us, just in case Jesus isn’t there. Just like the Hebrews wanted to fall back on the rules of the Levitical priesthood, we say we rely on Jesus, we say we understand that God will provide all our needs, but we want to hold a little something back, just in case. Is that truly placing our hope in Jesus, or are we secretly placing our hope in something worldly, just in case?

Jesus should be our hope. Nothing worldly lasts, but Jesus lasts forever. And not only does He last forever, he intercedes for us forever.

Hebrews 7:26-28 sums up perfect hope in Jesus:

Such a high priest meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, [Jesus] does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

There are five descriptions of Jesus here –
A. Holy. Jesus is holy. One definition of holy is “perfect fulfillment of all that God is and all that He requires.” Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament and fulfilled all the requirements of God. Holy can also mean “set apart” or “dedicated to the service of God.” In that sense, our bible is holy, our church is holy, they are set apart for the service of God. That is their only function. Jesus, too, was set apart and entirely dedicated to becoming our hope in salvation.
B. Blameless. Innocent. Jesus had no sins of His own He had to atone for. The Levitical priests had to offer atonement for themselves first before they could offer atonement for others. Jesus had no need to do that, He was a perfect sacrifice.
C. Pure. Unstained. Undefiled. Little imperfections in the presence of something great are magnified into something destructive. The little piece of foam that fell off the space shuttle left an imperfection that destroyed it. A balloon with a pinprick in it doesn’t stay a balloon. Jesus was pure and unblemished, and can stand in the glory of the Lord.
D. Set apart from sinners. This is a moral separation, not a physical separation. He was able to walk among us and remain free from sin and never fell to temptation. Jesus was able to walk among sinners without being a sinner.
E. Exalted above the heavens. Hebrews 1 opened up describing how Jesus is better than angels. And He is for us. Jesus has entered the inner sanctuary behind the curtain and into the presence of the holy of holies. And the glorious things is that Jesus did it for us.

Where is your hope today? Is it in your spouse? Is it in your job? Is it in your appearance? Is it in your friends? Where is your hope today?

Place your hope in Jesus and Jesus alone, because Jesus is perfect and nothing is better than perfect.