Promise and Faith: Spending a Little Time with Abraham
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Genesis 12:1-3
March 08, 2020

It was probably just another ordinary day for Abraham when the Lord came calling. But once the Lord came calling, it would be a day that would change his life.

The Lord came calling with a command. “Go from your native land, where all your relatives and friends are and your father’s house, to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). The Lord came calling with tremendous promises: “I will make out of you a great nation. I will make your name great and make you a great blessing. If anyone blesses you, I will bless them. If anyone curses you, I will curse them.” And here is the most important part. “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).  

God speaks of blessing not cursing. He speaks of life and His favor, not judgment and death. His blessing would come to all mankind through Abraham.

Notice in the promise who is doing the verbs. Notice in the whole thing who is taking the initiative. The Lord says that He will do the things He promises. I will make a great nation out of you. I will make your name great. I will make you a blessing. The Lord takes the initiative. Abraham is not making this up. It is not even something Abraham could have made up. The Lord comes out of the blue, so to speak, and speaks command and promise and changes Abraham’s life; and changes the fate and destiny of human beings. All the families of the earth will be blessed in Abraham because of Abraham’s seed, his offspring.

The seed is vitally important. When Adam and Eve listened to the devil and fell into sin, God immediately promised that a son of Eve, her seed, would crush the serpents head, destroying the work of the devil, destroying sin and death (Genesis 3:15). Now the promise of the offspring, the seed, goes on. It is now spoken to Abraham. The Son of Eve would come through Abraham. And in and through this Son all the families of the earth will be blessed.

Notice the blessing here is in the passive voice. The families of the earth will be blessed by God. They will not be doing the blessing, as if they could bless themselves with God’s blessing. No. They will be blessed by what God will do and how God will deliver the blessing. It is a blessing we can only receive and trust in. It is not a blessing that we can obtain and accomplish for ourselves. But we rest assured that the Lord is the One who has promised it. And since He is the One who has promised, He will accomplish it as He promised and deliver it to us.

And so many years later, a man by the name of Nikodemus comes to talk to Jesus at night. Nikodemus is also one of Abraham’s offspring. Jesus is too. But Jesus is the promised seed, through whom the blessing of the nations comes. Nikodemus recognizes that Jesus is teacher sent from God.

Jesus tells Nikodemus, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

This giving by God of the Son is the language of blessing. It is also the language of sacrifice. The blessing comes through great sacrifice. So Jesus tells Nikodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14 ESV).

We learn later in John 12 that this lifting up is a lifting up on a Roman cross (John 12:30-33). The Son will be nailed to a Roman cross and hung there to die. And there, He will take the judgment of God against sin onto Himself and satisfy that judgment in our place. And there, He will accomplish judgment on the spiritual power that rules through unbelief and disobedience (2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2). In Jesus’s death, judgment will be executed on the devil Himself who taught Adam and Eve how to sin and brought death and misery to the human race.

Jesus will shed His blood there to accomplish redemption, so that through His blood we have the forgiveness of sins. Through His shed blood, He will redeem us from the slavery to sin, death, and the power of evil. And He will rise in victory over sin and death. He will rise to obtain the promise that those who believe in Him will have eternal life; those who believe in Him will see the kingdom of God. For believing in Him and the salvation He won is the new birth.

I know, dear Christians, that you know all this. What you know about Jesus is the blessing that God promised Abraham. And it is a tremendous blessing, indeed.

What did Abraham do? He packed up all his possessions. He took Sarai—later Sarah—his wife. He also took his nephew, Lot, and his family and all their possessions, and he did what the Lord commanded. He went to the land of Canaan.

Abraham believed the Lord’s promises and went as the Lord commanded him. He did what the Lord commanded in the power of faith, which is to say, he did what the Lord commanded in the power of the promise.

Later on, Abraham had an interaction with the Word of the Lord. The Word of the Lord came to Abraham and spoke to him (Genesis 15:1-6).

Abraham was worried because the promise that the Lord would make him a great nation had not yet come true. Many years had passed. And Sarah was unable to have children.

The Word of the Lord spoke the promise again. He took Abraham outside and showed Abraham the stars in the heavens. He then promised: “Abraham, do you see all of these stars? Your descendants shall be as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Genesis 15:5).

Then what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed in the Lord, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

What did Abraham believe? He believed the Lord with respect to the Lord’s promise. Faith in the Lord and faith in the Lord’s promises are inseparable.

Now let’s ask this. Could Abraham perform the promise? No. Only the Lord could do that. Sarah had not been able to have children, and both Abraham and Sarah were getting old by this time. Yet, Abraham believed that the Lord was able to do what He promised, even though by all human accounts it was impossible. It is the nature of a promise from the Lord that only He can do it. A promise from the Lord is not something we can do.

And this is the nature of faith. It believes that what the Lord has promised to do He can and will do. And since the promise is something we cannot do, the promise can only be believed, that is, trusted. And so faith rests in the faithfulness and power of God and what He will do.

And here is the wonderful grace and mercy of God. He regarded Abraham as completely and entirely righteous in His sight simply because Abraham believed the Lord’s promise.

This is justification by grace through faith. The Apostle Paul teaches us this in the reading from Romans: “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” (Romans 4:4-5 ESV).

A person who thinks that they are accomplishing righteousness before God through their own works of obedience to the law, through their own accomplishments, would be like someone putting God in their debt.

But it is impossible that any human being could put God in their debt. Jesus says to Nikodemus: “That which is born of the flesh, is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). The flesh is corrupted by sin. The flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of God. So Jesus says: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless someone is born from above, he is unable to see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). So the Spirit says through Paul: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in God who justifies the ungodly, that is, the sinner, his faith is regarded by God as righteousness.”

Just like with Abraham, when you and I hear the good news that God sent His Son Jesus to be the atoning sacrifice for sin, to pay the redemption price by the shedding of His blood, and that therefore our sins are forgiven in Jesus Name; when we believe this, God regards this faith as righteousness. He regards us, who are stained with sin, as holy and righteous in His sight. This is God’s grace. And it is sure and certain, because it has been accomplished by God and is delivered to us by His word.

And this faith is new birth, because this faith is worked by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel. This faith that says “Amen” to Jesus and the redemption He accomplished for us comes by the working of God through the Spirit. And the Spirit works this faith through the Gospel and absolution; through water and the word, as Jesus speaks of being born from above through water and the Spirit (John 3:6; Ephesians 5:26). And He sustains and nourishes this new birth through the continued teaching and preaching of God’s Word—with Christ crucified and risen at the center—and through the Supper our Lord instituted on the night on which He was betrayed.

We give thanks for God’s call and promises to Abraham, for it is in the fulfillment of those promises that we have God’s blessing in Christ. And we give thanks for God sending His Son to bear the penalty for our sin, so God could speak to us, “I forgive you all your sins.” For in Christ’s cross and resurrection, the promise to Abraham is fulfilled, eternal life has been won, and this life is yours as you believe this. Amen.


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