Abraham and Sarah had been blessed. They had experienced many years of marital camaraderie and intimacy, enjoyed a full life with many wonderful memories, and were looking forward to their retirement years. Just as they were making plans to sleep late during the week, go fishing on the weekends, and do some traveling — God called.
Through the years they had entertained many friends and neighbors in their home, but they had never entertained any visitors like the One who came to call them to pull up stakes and engage in an adventure that no travel agent could ever put together.
God said, “Come on.” Abraham said, “Where are we going?” God motioned and smiled, “Come on and I’ll show you.” With great faith and questions of where their trip would end, Abraham and Sarah left. That’s all we know. There is no discussion between them. No argument. No “What if?” All we can learn from God’s Word is found in verse 4 – “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him.” (Genesis 12:4 NIV)
Fast forward a few years. Abraham and Sarah and their nephew, Lot, were prospering. Vagabond prosperity if you will. They had no home. No mailing address. They traveled through Canaan land. They were making their way through Shechem when they were interrupted by the Lord once again. God said, 7 … “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:7 NIV) Abraham turned around to see who the Lord was talking to since he knew that he and Sarah had sold the baby clothes in a garage sale before they left home. The Lord said, “You Abraham! I’m going to give this land to your offspring. Just wait and see.” How do you even respond to something as preposterous as a prediction that an old man and his old wife are going to attend childbirth classes one day?
Abraham and his entourage traveled on. They left Shechem and made their way to Bethel. They pitched a tent in Bethel long enough to build another altar in honor of the One who had made their life so full, and then they traveled on towards the Negev.
After Abraham and Sarah had spent some time in the Negev, a famine hit the land. Abraham went down to Egypt to live there for a while. After a little “white” lie had gotten him in trouble with Pharaoh, Abraham and his crew went back to the Negev, more wealthy and prosperous than he had been in his entire life!
Abraham and Lot had become so prosperous that the land wouldn’t support all of their livestock. Their hired hands began to fuss at each other until finally Abraham said, “We can’t have a family feud. You choose the land you want and I’ll make do with what is left.” Lot was no fool. He saw the choice land and chose it. Abraham lived with his wife, Sarah, and all of their flocks and hired hands in Canaan.
Abraham was minding his own business when the Lord interrupted him once again. The Lord said,
14The 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. 15All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-17 NIV)
Abraham just shook his head, but he thought to himself, “There He goes again.” Abraham packed up, walked through the land as he had been instructed, and settled near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron where he built another altar in honor of the One who had made his life so full. No matter what Abraham may have thought, he trusted God and praised Him for His mighty blessings…each and every one.
Meanwhile, Abraham’s nephew Lot was in trouble. He was living in Sodom at the time. Some kings decided to join forces and raid the city. They carried off Lot along with all of his goods…all of his possessions were gone. Someone escaped the raid and went to tell Lot’s uncle, Abraham. Abraham took 318 of his most skilled men and rescued Lot along with all of Lot’s possessions. On Abraham’s way back home, the king of Sodom came out to meet him. Melchizedek, the king of Salem, who is called a priest of God, also came out to meet Abraham. One man was there to get from Abraham and another to bless him. Melchizedek said,
19…”Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” (Genesis 14:19-20 NIV)
Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all that he had and the king of Sodom spoke up as he wanted in on the gift giving. He said, “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” Abraham said to the king of Sodom,
22…”I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ (Genesis 14:22-23 NIV)
Abraham had no idea what his bold words would bring about. Would he be attacked? Would his wife and hired hands be harmed? His fear didn’t affect his faith. Abraham knew who had blessed him. He knew who had given him every day he had ever experienced. He wouldn’t back down.
The Lord spoke to Abraham once again and calmed any fears that Abraham might have held in his heart. The Lord said,
1…”Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1 NIV)
God’s voice must have allayed Abraham’s fears, but there was another issue that was lodged in the back of Abraham’s mind. Abraham said, “What about the offspring that You promised to me Lord?” Well, he didn’t exactly put it like that. Abraham said, “Lord, since I am still childless my servant Eliezer of Damascus will be my heir.” The Lord said,
4Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” 5He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars-if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:4-5 NIV)
Isn’t that awesome! I’m sure that Abraham and Sarah struggled with the promise of God to give them a child on more than one occasion since it took 25 years for the promise to be fulfilled. Oh yeah! Some of you didn’t know that did you? You knew the story of Abraham and Sarah being promised a son, but you’ve never known that it was 25 years from the time God made the promise until Abraham and Sarah held the promise in their arms.
Even though Abraham and Sarah couldn’t understand, they couldn’t figure out how it could happen, they couldn’t even conceive of their conceiving a child at their age – yet we read,
6Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:5 NIV)
Abraham believed God. Abraham trusted God. Abraham relied on God. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Abraham wasn’t an unwavering journeyman. Abraham took matters into his own hands from time to time when his faith faltered, but at the foundation of Abraham’s fiber, the tenor of his trust was belief that God was true to His promise.
I love the description of Abraham’s experience in the delivery room found in chapter 21. Take a look at the chapter with me. We read,
1Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. 2Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him. 4When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” 7And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” (Genesis 21:1-7 NIV)
Do you hear the astonishment? Can you see the amazement etched on their faces as you hear Sarah say, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
Now, I know some of you are thinking to yourself, “I thought we were in the book of Galatians? Why are we spending all of this time talking about Abraham and Sarah?” I am so glad you asked that question. The reason we are spending so much time this morning taking a look at Abraham and Sarah is because we need to understand that from the beginning God’s people have been justified, made righteous, put in right standing with God – not because of any good that they have done, but because of their placing their faith in the matchless grace of God.
” Works vs. Grace” that was the big debate in Paul’s day and it remains the great debate today. Let’s take a look at the debate in Paul’s day before we get to our predicament today. Take a look at Galatians 3:5-14 with me. Let’s read together.
6Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. 10All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” 12The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:6-14 NIV)
Did you notice that phrase in the very first sentence that we read earlier in Genesis 15:5? “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” The false teachers of Paul’s day were teaching the Gentiles that they could become part of the family of faith, but to do so they must do something…specifically, they must obey the Law and the men must be circumcised. They used Moses as the basis of their argument. Moses had received the Law on Mt. Sinai and he taught the people to obey the Law.
Paul, in his genius, went back beyond Moses to the Father of the Jewish people and showed that Abraham was not righteous because he obeyed the Law, the Law hadn’t even been given in Abraham’s day. Neither was Abraham right with God because he submitted to circumcision. Abraham’s faith and trust in God was credited to him as righteousness some 14 years before God ever commanded him to be circumcised! John MacArthur writes in his commentary on Galatians,
Abraham not only was declared righteous about 14 years before he was commanded to be circumcised, but more than 500 years before God revealed His law to Moses at Sinai, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and countless other Hebrew believers lived and died long before the written law was given by God. (John MacArthur, Galatians, page 76)
Abraham was saved, he was made right, he was approved by God because he had faith, he believed God. We are no different today. We are called to believe God. God has given us His Son as payment of our sins – He has bought us back from slavery to sin and a destiny of destruction, but we are called to believe, to agree with Him about this wondrous act on our behalf. Let’s take a look at Galatians 3:9-11.
9So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. 10All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”
Paul says that no one is justified before God by the law. Folks during Moses day weren’t justified in God’s sight by the Law – if you will remember they had the sacrificial system during Moses day which was based on sacrifices to cover the sins of the people. The people didn’t fulfill the Law, they weren’t made righteous by the Law, they were made righteous, they were saved by the grace of God through faith.
You see my friend the Law shows us our failures, our sins. Still to this day, the Law doesn’t reward us, it exposes us. I have lived here in Oklahoma City for the past 13 years. During these past years I have been a law abiding citizen, for the most part. 99% of the time I have obeyed the laws of the city, but not one time has an officer of the law ever pulled me over and given me a commendation for being a good guy. Not once has a police officer ever flashed his lights and sounded his siren, pointed at me through the glass, and announced over the loud speaker, “I want to thank you for driving the speed limit. You did a great job coming to a complete stop at that yield sign back there!” I have had the experience, on an occasion or two, when I heard sirens and saw flashing lights, pulled over and found out that I had broken the law. The officer got out of her car and she said, “Mr. Hays I’ve clocked you driving 42 mph in a 35 mph zone. May I see your license?” I had to pay for breaking the law. I’ve never been paid for abiding by the law, but I’ve sure paid for breaking it. And so it is with the Law. The Law exposes us, but it never justifies us. God alone can justify us and He has taken the steps to do this my friend in offering His only Son as payment for your sins and mine.
The question for you and me this morning is this: Will you agree with God? Will you say “Amen!” to His gracious sacrifice on your behalf? Or will you and I decide that we can go it on our own, we can chart our own course, we can be “good” as we need to be?
You and I need to make a decision this morning. We must make a choice between two options. Will we agree that there is One bigger than ourselves who has set the parameters for life, written the rules for living, and established Himself as the Sole Authority in all of our creation. Or, will we determine that we will write our own rules and be our own authority? The consequences of our choice are immense. If we decide that God is our Authority then we must come to Him on His terms, live by His will, and serve Him with all of our surrendered hearts. If we decide that we are the captains of our own ship then get ready for a free for all. If people are the authority then life is chaotic as each person writes their own set of rules.
I was in Washington D.C. this past week for five days. I was on a panel of four people and at one point we were asked to introduce ourselves to one another and give a little background. I told the group who I was, a little about my family, and that I was a pastor at Britton Christian Church in Oklahoma City. The next person that went began by saying, “I work for the YWCA in Cincinnati, but it is not ‘faith-based.” I thought it was kind of odd that the Young Women’s Christian Association was not faith-based, but I kept my mouth shut.
Later in the week, I had finished my work for the day and I told one of the men on the panel that I was going to go and work on my sermon until our next get together. He asked, “What are you studying?” I told him that I was studying Galatians when the young woman spoke up and asked, “What’s that? You have to know that I am probably the most secular person that you will ever meet.” I explained to her that Galatians was a letter that Paul had written to the people in the Church of Galatia. Like us writing a letter to the folks in the Church of Cincinnati.
Her comment saddened me all evening. Saddened me not because she was a “bad” person or because she didn’t do good work on our panel, but because she is living life with no direction, no guidance, and no hope of anything other than whatever the day brings.
I choose to believe God. I choose to trust Jesus and what He had done on my behalf on Calvary’s cross. It truly is an all or nothing proposition my friend. You either believe God and surrender to Him or you refuse His gracious offering of salvation by the gift of His wondrous grace. You can deny Him. You can say there is no God, but that doesn’t make Him go away. It’s like putting aluminum foil over your windows and saying that because it is dark there is no sun. It is like holding your breath and saying that there is no air. It just isn’t so. Whether you deny Him or accept Him – He is still God! Won’t you surrender your life to Him this morning and join Abraham in “believing God?”