Hope

I. Introduction

We are continuing our special series of bible studies on Advent, and this week we are going to study Hope.
I sort of felt like I made a mistake this week studying.  I loved Chris’ lesson on Joy last week.  Chris told us he relied heavily on Brad’s lesson, and he was teaching a lesson that was not his own.  And it was a powerful, well-delivered lesson.
• December 2, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 1 – Joy
• December 9, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 2- Hope
• December 16, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 3 – Faith
• December 23, 2018 – Advent thru the Eras: Week 4 – Love
• December 30, 2018 – The Authority of Scripture
Slide2.JPG
But I had already started studying Hope, and I realized after Chris’s lesson that I wasn’t on the same page.  My lesson was supposed to be about Hope, but also to bridge the gap from the 3 Eras Christ taught in the Creation Era, Patriarch Era, and Exodus Era, and continue through the Conquest Era, Kingdom Era, and Judges Era. 
By the time I figured out my error (not Era, but error), I was sort of stuck between several possibilities.  I could throw away the half-lesson I had partially finished and teach what Brad had prepared.  I could just try to blend the two of them together into a single 90-minute lessons, but then I was certain I’d have to bring lunch for everybody.
I took the 3rd option.  I kept what I had studied, brought in the Conquest Era, ignored the Kingdom and Judges Era in the interest of finishing our bible study in under two hours, and then wrapped up with my original lesson.
Funny thing about trying to teach God’s word.  They only way I know if it pleases the Lord is if the words pour out of me into the page easily.  I pray I’m bringing Him glory and honor with my hodgepodge of blended lessons, but I honestly feel this was the lesson given to me this week, so I also pray you will find the lesson revealing and brings a message from God to you.  And next time I teach, I promise to do a better job of sticking to the agenda. 
So, now we know Michael went off the reservation.  Next week, Theresa will be teaching about “Faith,” and I expect she and I will talk about many of the same things.   Theresa, since I forgot to talk about the Kingdom and Judges Era, feel free to cover them for me.
So, my first question when I started studying while off the reservation is, “what is the difference between hope and faith?”

II. Faith vs Hope

That’s wasn’t easy for me to answer.  I mean, try out these two phrases –
• I have hope the Texans will win this weekend.
• I have faith the Texans will win this weekend.
Slide3.JPG
What will be difficult about today’s lesson is that, over the centuries, the English language has completely obliterated the difference between “hope” and “faith.”  And what I’ve discovered is that in many bible translations, even the translations often exchange the words “hope,” “faith,” and even the word “trust.”
So today, we are going to take a closer look at the word “hope” and see if we can understand and apply it to our lives in the way meant in the original scripture.  Let’s start with 1 Corinthians 13:13 –
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Clearly “faith” and “hope” are different things since both words are used here, but again, we’re trying to get away from the English connotations of these words and get back to the original meaning.  Here’s the same verse in the original Greek,
νυνὶ δὲ μένει πίστις ἐλπίς ἀγάπη τὰ τρία ταῦτα μείζων δὲ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη
The word “faith” is translated from the Greek, πίστις pístis, which means assurance, belief, believe, faith, fidelity.  The word “hope” is translated from the Greek confidence, ἐλπίς elpís, to anticipate, usually with pleasure.
Slide6.JPG
What I found interesting when I was researching “faith, ἐλπίς elpís” is that it’s not always a good thing.  In James 2:19, scripture says,
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
The word for “believe” is πιστεύω pisteúō, the same root word translated as “faith” in 1 Corinthians 13.  In this context we can see pisteúō faith is confidence, but not the kind of “pisteúō faith that brings joy.
So “faith,” “hope,” “trust,” and “belief” are all very closely related.  And I’m going to stop with the study of “faith” now because that’s really next week’s lesson, and instead focus on hope, a confident and joyful expectation of things to come.

III. Hope is Not Wishful Thinking

Let me return to an earlier example –
• I hope the Texans will win this weekend.
• I hope you have a good day.
• I hope it doesn’t rain.
Slide8.JPG
That may be good English, but it’s lousy Greek.  Over the centuries, the English version of “hope” is just wishful thinking.  To desire something.  But no real assurance, just unfounded optimism.  Compare that to –

• I hope my boss will pay me Friday.
• I hope the sun will come up tomorrow.
• I hope Christmas is coming.
Slide9.JPG
Will I get paid Friday?  Sure.  Based on the fact Friday is payday and there is history that I get paid on Friday, I have a confident and joyful expectation the same will happen on Friday.  I have a confident and joyful expectation the sun will rise tomorrow, I’ve seen it in the past and it’s never failed.  My entire life, Christmas has come on December 25, and I have a confident and joyful expectation that it will happen again this December 25.
A Christian’s definition of hope is far superior to the world’s definition of hope.  Our hope is based on the promises of God and those promises will be fulfilled because they are a promise.  God never lies.  Hebrews 6:18 says in part –
…it is impossible for God to lie…
Slide10.JPG
So if God says it, by definition it must be truth.  We can trust in it, believe in it, have hope in it.

IV. Biblical Hope

The hope of Christians is found in a study of God’s Word to see a glimpse of God’s grand plan and how we fit into it.  When we begin to understand God’s plan, we see promises He’s already fulfilled, giving us faith that He will fulfill all His promises, including all promises He’s already given to us.  When we know God will fulfill His promises, we have confidence and joyful expectation for His plans for us.  We have hope.
Let’s look at Romans 8 for a while to see how Paul taught us about this hope, beginning in verse 22 through 25 –
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Slide11.JPG
Biblical hope is the joyful expectation of the future that we cannot yet see.  It encourages us to look to the future instead of today, and to place our heart on heavenly things instead of earthly things that perish.
I think this describes hope and God’s purpose for hope very clear.  Is there a tangible or material thing you’ve longed for?  You saved for a car, some jewelry, a house or apartment?  I discovered I like wanting things more than I like having things.
A few years back, I had worked a lot of overtime in single year and saved a nice little down payment for an SUV I wanted.  I’m an engineer, so first I made a spreadsheet, listed all the pros and cons, and finally whittled it down to a specific model.  One of the key features I wanted was a diesel engine.
You know why?  A co-worker bought a diesel and told me something interesting I didn’t know:  Diesel engines go 50% further than gasoline engines.  If your car gets 300 miles on a tank of gas, the exact same car would get 450 miles on a tank of diesel.
That means instead of filling up at the gas station every 10 days, I’d only have to go every 15 days.  Over a year, instead of 36 visits to the gas station, I’d only have to go 20.  I had to have a diesel.
So armed with all this spreadsheet information, I went to the dealer to go buy a diesel SUV.  And he said, “We don’t have any diesel SUVs.  But we can order one for you.  It’ll be 8 weeks.”
So I put my deposit down and waited and waited and waited.  And waited.  I was going to have the best diesel SUV on the planet.  And when the day finally came, I excitedly went to the dealership and drove off in my shiny new diesel SUV.  The thrill of having a new car lasted nearly 8 weeks until somebody ran a shopping cart into the passenger side door.  And then I started wondering what kind of SUV I was going to get to replace it.
I realized I enjoyed the anticipation, the waiting, the hoping for the arrival of something new.  And I realized that’s how God wants us to live.  This verse says
But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
I believe that every Christian goes through tough times.  What sustains us?  What keeps us from becoming mired down in depression and darkness because this world has dished up something cruel and cold to us today?  Hope.  Hope, joyful confidence and anticipation that God has something better for us in the works.   Romans 8:28 and 8:31 says,
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
God has a plan, and He is invincible.  If I am a child of God, He is with me, and no enemy shall ever prevail.  God tells me in Jeremiah 29:11,
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Slide13.JPG
God gives me hope.


V. Hope of the Resurrection

Whatever this world throws at me, I have hope for a future because Jesus is not just my Lord, but my Savior.  He rescued me from death and gave me eternal life.  He proved He defeated death by His resurrection, and appeared to hundreds of people.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 –
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;  then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
The early church suffered some horrendous persecution, but Peter reminded us that Christ proved who He was by fulfilling scripture, His death and resurrection, and that Christ our Savior died to save us.  Us!  He is coming back for us to gives us that hope and a future we so eagerly desire.  1 Peter 1:3-5,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
That’s our hope.  God has reserved a place in heaven for those who place their trust in Christ Jesus, and that reservation in heaven for us is protected by the very power of God.

VI. Hope in God

The world has a different definition of hope.  “I hope you have a nice day.”  But the world is without the hope Christians have.
Sometimes I wonder about people that have placed their hope elsewhere.  I don’t know much about the eastern religions – I don’t know where Buddhists or Hindus et their hope.  In the case of reincarnation, maybe they just have hope it’ll be better next time around.  But we know we have one life to live and then we appear before our Maker to explain how we used this life.
There are atheists.  I suppose they have hope in this life, but I’ve never met an atheist that expressed hope for the future.  Their hope is in this life.  And when health issues or money issues or relationship issues come into their lives, where is their hope?  This life, at best, has temporary blessings, but eventually moths and rust destroy everything in this life.  And eternity?  In the future of the atheist, the best that they can hope for is… nothing.  They hope nothing happens, there is no eternal judgement for sins.
And I know people who think they are Christians without hope.  Yes, there are people who think they are Christians.  Look at this survey –
Slide16.JPG
Although it varies by age, only 2/3rds of Christians “who have made a personal commitment to Jesus”, believe they will go to heaven. 
Their hope is somewhere other than the promises of God.  Perhaps if they refrain from cussing, God will think they’re good enough to go to heaven.  Or maybe if they refrain from road rage.  Or they give to the Red Cross.  Or they toss their spare change in the Salvation Army bucket.  They are trusting in their own works instead of Jesus who did it all for us.  And if we trust in own works, how can we ever be sure our works are enough?  But if our hope, our joyful expectation is in God’s works and the fulfillment of His promises, well, God’s works are always enough.  His grace is always sufficient.

VII. Hope Through the Ages

Through the Ages, God’s plan has always been our joyful expectation that we trust in the Lord.  Last week Chris brought us the message of Joy, God bringing Light to a dark work, using stars to provide a promise to Abraham that would be passed on to Isaac which was passed on to Jacob and all generations to follow.
When times are tough, trusting in God’s promises yet to come bring us joy.  At the end of the Exodus Era, God provided light to Moses in the form of a burning bush.  Among many promises given to the people of Israel was hope in a new land.  But as we enter the Conquest Era, the Israelites find that before they could enter the Promised Land, there were difficulties ahead.  Moses had brought them so far, but when Moses died, a new leader arose to complete the Journey.  The promises of God can be found in the story of this new leader, Joshua, in Joshua 1:1-4 –
Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel.  Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.
Joshua’s people had joy, but not in their present circumstances.  Their joy was in the confident expectation of God’s promises fulfilled.  In the present they had difficulties – the land promised to the Israelites were occupied by people who did not believe in God and they didn’t like the people who did.  But God gave them a promise for the future in Joshua 1:5-9 –
Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.  This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Hope begins when we realize victory is in the Lord’s hands, not ours. Joshua realized he could not conquer the people occupying the land of promise based on his own skills and abilities.  However, victory is in the Lord.  To be in the Lord, Joshua realized meant he needed
  • to be connected to God through scripture (vs. 8a, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night…”)
  • to be obedient to what scripture says (vs. 8b, “so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it”)
  • to live a life of hope which is exhibited by being strong and courageous (vs.6, 7, 9, “be strong and courageous”)
God used Joshua to sneak into the land to spy to see what they were up against.  They met a prostitute named Rahab, who helped the spies and kept them safe by using a signal of a scarlet colored rope hanging from her window.  When the spies returned to Joshua after receiving the help from Rahab they had news for him.  Joshua 2:24,
They said to Joshua, “Surely the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover, all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before us.”
God’s promises were now a reality. The hope they placed in God led to joy, because God always fulfills His promises.

VIII. Christmas is Hope

We approach the Christmas season, and the celebration of the birth of our Savior gives us hope, joy in the promises we are certain will be fulfilled.  The hope we have is confident, the hope we have is joyous, the hope we have strengthens our faith. 
Over the Eras, God made numerous promises about sending a savior for us, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  The savior would be a man, born of a virgin woman, who will crush Satan and his power.  He would be a Jew, son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He would be the son of David.  He would be born in Bethlehem.  And in Matthew 1:1-16 we see 14 generations leading up to the Messiah,
The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.  Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram.  Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon.  Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse.  Jesse was the father of David the king.
David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.  Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa.  Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah.  Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.  Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah.  Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel.  Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor.  Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud.  Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob.  Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
God’s delivery of our Savior was centuries in the making, but God is faithful and never forgets his promises.  We can see in the lineage Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.  We can even see  Rahab, the prostitute from the Conquest Era, in the lineage, both showing us the magnitude of the sins that can be forgiven and the reminder that God’s plan has always been for us to have Hope in Him.
God keeps His promises and uses very flawed people like Rahab, like you, like me, to accomplish His purposes.  He uses imperfect people because that’s all He has to work with.  In the end, the only name in this genealogy that matters is Jesus.
And in the end, in the future, the only name that matter is Jesus.  This world would be a very dark place without our future hope of our Redeemer.  But one day Jesus will return, and sin will be eliminated, and Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer will be eliminated.  Death itself will be destroyed, and Jesus Himself will wipe away every tear.  Our present hope is in our future glory in Christ Jesus.
During my study, I came across a study of a painting called “Adoration of t by the Dutch artist Rembrandt.  It was painted in 1646, and it’s a very dark painting, imagining a night scene inside a barn as the shepherds gather round to see the newborn king.
Slide25.JPG
The dark tones encourage the viewer to slow down and study the images carefully.  The savior is in the middle, in a manger.  Mary is there, Joseph is there, and the shepherds are gazing with love at the birth of their savior, announced by the angelic choir and heavenly hosts.  In the back is an old wooden ladder leaning a crossbeam, and it takes a moment to realize the ladder and crossbeam make the outline of a cross.  Even in this joyous moment, the cross looms over the baby Jesus.  The description I read about the painting then says,
“But the most significant feature is the light. Unlike other Renaissance artists, Rembrandt didn’t paint Jesus as an angel with a halo. He is a very normal, very human baby. All is dark in the painting except for the baby in the manger. The light isn’t shining on the baby; it’s shining out from him. This was Rembrandt’s way of saying that all hope and light shines from the manger, lighting up a darkened world.”
All of our hope, perfect grace and salvation for all of us, in a humble manger.
IX. Conclusion
Hope conquered fear and hate 2000 years ago at Bethlehem.  To receive that hope, like the shepherds did, we must come to Bethlehem and bow before the newborn King.  Hope is freely given to those who humble themselves and bow in faith before the Lord Jesus Christ.
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.
Hope is Born.
To God be the Glory.  Amen.

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.