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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

“Abraham – Father Of Hope And Faith”

Second Sunday After Pentecost


It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.


Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring - not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed - the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.


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.

Romans 4:13-25


In our Epistle lesson today, the Apostle Paul gave us a brief review of how Abraham’s hope in God and his faith in God’s promises led to him being credited as righteous in God’s eyes. The story of Abraham is a story of great faith, but more than that – much more than that – it’s a story of God’s provision for our sins. It’s also a story of Abraham’s spiritual experience that was marked by four great crises, each of which involved a surrender of something near and dear to him.


The first thing he had to give up was his country and his family. For “the Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.’” (Gen. 12:1) That wasn’t an easy thing to do, just pack up and leave, not knowing where you’re going, but trusting in God to lead. We like to know exactly what’s expected of us before we agree to anything. We don’t want to take any chances on committing ourselves, and then wishing we hadn’t. So, we hesitate to join the choir, or accept a job in the church, or commit ourselves to a Bible class.


People just don’t like to make commitments anymore – it’s too risky. Even in marriage, it’s popular to try out a person first to see if you’ll want to stay with them. The trouble is the whole thing backfires! Because that’s the world’s way – not God’s way – and it doesn’t work. God says, “Trust me. Follow me. I’ll show you where I want you to go.” It was quite a thing for Abraham to pack up everything he owned and leave home, just trusting in God!


The second crisis in Abraham’s life was letting go of his nephew, Lot. Abraham and Lot were close. When Abraham left Ur of the Chaldees (which today is Iraq) Lot went with him. They travelled together for a long time. But there came a time when they had to part company because they had too many herds of cattle and too many flocks of sheep. That was sad for Abraham, just as it’s sad when a friend moves away. But it got worse, for Lot not only moved away from Abraham, but he began to change. He chose to live in Sodom, where “men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.” (Gen. 13:13) And Lot began to move away from the Lord, so that he even held a position of authority in Sodom. He still believed in God, but his interests were worldly, while Abraham grew stronger in his devotion to God. And so, the two men grew apart. And that’s really sad!


Haven’t you had that happen? You have a good friend, but you grow apart, so the relationship changes and maybe even ends? I had a good friend many years ago, and we did a lot of things together as families. But as my interest in spiritual matters increased, culminating with my entering the ministry, his interest in gambling increased until that’s what he did with most of his free time. I was hurt by his changing interests, but saddened mostly by the direction in which he went. I suppose I could have kept him as a close friend if I’d gone along with him – but then I wouldn’t have been a close friend with God, would I?


It wasn’t easy for Abraham to watch his nephew slide downhill morally until he finally impregnated his own daughters while in a drunken stupor! But Abraham had to let Lot go – and be separated from him.


The third thing Abraham had to surrender was his idea that his son Ishmael would be his spiritual heir. You remember that God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation and be a blessing to all people on Earth. (Gen. 12:1-3)


Well, God didn’t move fast enough for Abraham – who was getting to be a pretty old man – so he took matters into his own hands and had a child by his wife’s Egyptian maid. That was not God’s plan.


We do things like that too, don’t we? We decide what we want to do for a living and then ask God to bless our decision. We decide where we want to live, and then ask God to bless our location. We decide whom we want to marry, and then ask God to bless our choice. Maybe we often put the cart before the horse! The Apostle James put it this way: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”


Ishmael was not in God’s plan. And God didn’t bless Abraham’s plan. Rather, He blessed Abraham with his son, Isaac, and continued His promise of blessing through him. Isaac’s birth was a miracle, and Abraham was overjoyed.


And that’s where his fourth crisis occurred. For we read, “Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’” The earlier crises of surrendering his own plans to God’s plans prepared Abraham for this fourth crisis. But can you imagine trusting God enough to be willing to sacrifice your own son? (I know, sometimes we feel like Bill Cosby’s father when he said, “I brought you into this world, boy, and I can take you out of it!” 😊 But we don’t really mean it – do we? No!


But Abraham had Isaac tied up, lying on the pile of wood, and had the knife raised – believing that God would raise him from the dead – maybe then, maybe at the resurrection of the dead. We don’t know for sure exactly what he thought, but we do know he was willing to surrender all – even his “only son, whom he loved” – to God’s will! This whole episode, of course, was a prefigure, a type, a picture of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that through his offspring all the nations of the Earth would be blessed. (Gen. 18:18) (Acts 3:25) (Gen. 22:18) The offspring, of course, is Jesus! And the story of Abraham tells us God’s plan for our salvation, which was accomplished by Jesus. How? I’ll tell you:


First, Isaac was a type of Christ – a symbol – a picture of Christ. He foreshadowed, or prefigured Christ. For as Isaac allowed Abraham to sacrifice him, so we read that “Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:5-8)


Abraham was a type of our Heavenly Father, “who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all.” (Romans 8:32)


The ram which God provided for the sacrifice was a type of a substitution – Christ offered as a sacrifice in our place. As the writer to the Hebrews put it: “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Christ Jesus, once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10)


And finally, we see a picture of the resurrection, for again in Hebrews we read: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)


God rescued Isaac and substituted a ram in his place. And God rescued us, too, and substituted Jesus in our place. Christianity in its very essence is a rescue religion – and the rescue was accomplished at an enormous cost! The Gospel tells us of a loving God who refused to condone our sins, but also refused to destroy us for them – a loving God who took the initiative to come after us, and pursued us, even to the shame and agony of the cross! And there God in Christ took our place, bore our sins, suffered our penalty, and died our death, in order that we might be forgiven.


As Paul put it in today’s Epistle lesson, “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.” (Romans 4:24,25)


Yes, we have a loving Savior who lived, died, and rose again, that we might live forever with Him and with all who receive Him as their Savior.


Thank God for His great love!


Amen.

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