************ Sermon on Genesis 15:6 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on May 9, 1999

Genesis 15
verse 6
"Covenant and Response"

I Darkness
A Our passage starts off with darkness. God's first words to Abram are, "Do not be afraid, Abram." Abram was afraid.

Why was Abram afraid? Partly it was a delayed reaction to all the excitement of the events related in Genesis 14 the capture of Lot and his family, Abram's pursuit and defeat of those who captured Lot, the offer of the King of Sodom to treat Abram as his king, and Abram's decision to give Melchizedek a tenth of all he had. "Do not be afraid, Abram."

Abram's fear also arose because of an overwhelming sense of awe in the presence of God. The normal reaction to an encounter with God, the living God, is fear (cf Gen 21:17; 26:24; 28:17). God is so holy and so awesome that mortal sinful men can only tremble in His presence. We see this same reaction when Gideon met the Angel of the Lord (Judges 6:22), when Isaiah realized he had seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Is 6:5), and when Zechariah saw the angel (Lk 1:12). "Do not be afraid, Abram."

Finally, Abram's fear also arose because of the foreboding presence of dread and evil. There was darkness in the air. "Do not be afraid, Abram."

B We also have to point to the darkness of Abram's despair. Abram had won a military victory that had given him the opportunity to take possession of the land of Canaan by military force. He had chosen, however, not to take the land that way. Instead, he held to God's promises that he would be the father of a great nation that would inherit the land. Yet nothing seemed to come of that promise. God's words were beginning to sound hollow to Abram because Abram had no child. How would there be a great nation if he and Sarai remained childless? How would the land become his through future generations if he had no descendants?

Abram left his country, his people, and his father's household. He parted company with his nephew. Yes, he had formed a temporary alliance with Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner to defeat the four kings but now he was all alone again. Thanks to Abram the Canaanites had their land and houses and families and cities again but he had nothing not even so much as a single small field.

In this light listen to Abram's cry or complaint in verses 2 & 3 of our Scripture reading:
(Gen 15:2-3) But Abram said, "O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" (3) And Abram said, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir."
It looked to Abram like he had better adopt as son his servant Eliezer. That seemed to be the only way he would become a great nation and inherit the land. Abram faced the darkness of despair.

C A little detail that escapes the attention of most people is that the events of Genesis 15 take place in a vision. The vision was not a dream, for Abram was not asleep, but it did contain some dreamlike images. Actually, some of the images are the stuff of nightmares. The sun went down in Abram's vision. He fell into a deep sleep. A thick and dreadful darkness came over him. In the darkness Abram could hear his own choked, anxious voice reminding God that he was "childless." Abram saw and chased away the vultures, cold-eyed birds of prey wanting to get at the carcasses of his sacrifices. He heard a dismal prophecy from the Lord that his children's children would be slaves for four hundred years. Things were looking dark indeed.

II Light
A Conquering all of this darkness is the unmistakable presence of a light. First of all, we see the light of God's presence. God says, "Do not be afraid, Abram." Then notice what He says, "I am your shield, your very great reward" (vs 1). Now we know why Abram does not have to be afraid. God is his shield. A shield is used by soldiers to protect themselves against the spears, javelins, swords, and arrows of the enemy. Abram's shield is the Lord. Unlike most shields which guard or protect only from the front, the Lord's protecting care is all around Abram. God is his refuge and strength.

And God is His "great reward." The King of Sodom offered Abram all of Canaan on a platter. But Abram said no. His reward is the Lord Himself to know Him and to be known by Him, to love Him and to be loved by Him, to walk with Him and to talk with Him, to serve Him. Abram's reward after defeating the four kings is not a piece of the earth but a living, loving relationship with the King of heaven and earth!

B The light of God's presence is not the only light shining in the darkness that surrounded Abram. God took Abram outside and showed him the light of a hosts of stars. "Look up at the heavens and count the stars if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be." Abram wouldn't have to adopt Eliezer as son. A son coming his own body will be his heir. And his descendants will be as numerous as the stars of heaven.

C And then three times God repeats the promise of the land that Abram's descendants would take possession of it (Gen 15:7, 16, 18). This promise, though nice, was not enough for Abram. It is not that he was struggling with unbelief. Rather, he was struggling with the mysteries of God and His ways. So he begged for God to reveal Himself more fully.
(Gen 15:8) "O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?"
In response the Lord revealed Himself more fully by the strange ceremony that took place between the carcasses of a heifer, goat, and ram.

We need to see the ceremony as a covenant ceremony. The ceremony described is one that was commonly used in the ancient Middle East. Animals were cut in half, and the halves were placed opposite each other. The contracting parties in the covenant then passed between the pieces, vowing to keep their word to each other and calling upon themselves the fate of the dead animals if they were to break their word. In other words, they asked to be torn in two like the dead animals if they did not keep their word.

Abram was not required to pass between the animal halves. Instead, in his vision Abram saw a "smoking firepot with a blazing torch" pass between the pieces by itself. That smoking firepot with a blazing torch represents God. So God alone goes through the covenant-making procedure. Abram plays no role in keeping the covenant and its promises. God alone makes the promises. God takes upon Himself the task of fulfilling the duties or obligations of both sides. God alone is the one Who guarantees the covenant promises will be kept.
When you take out a mortgage the bank agrees to loan you a certain amount of dollars. In return you promise to pay back so much a month with interest. Failure to pay results in certain penalties higher interest, loss of property, bad credit rating, and so on. God, so to speak, not only agrees to give you the loan, but He also agrees to make the monthly payments and to suffer the penalties if payment is not made.

Think of what this means. It means that from beginning to end the covenant is one of grace. God makes the promises. God gives the guarantee. God puts Himself under a curse, so to speak, if the promises are not kept.

The full significance of what God did for Abram is not really seen until the New Testament. There, in Christ, the covenant of grace reaches its highest expression. In Christ God keeps the covenant promises and suffers the covenant penalties. For it is Christ Who perfectly obeyed the law in our place and it is Christ Who also bore the curse of the law in our place.

III Believing Response
A Abram encountered the light of the Lord in the darkness of his discouragement and despair. Notice the result:
(Gen 15:6) Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Abram stood in a right relationship with God. In New Testament language, he was saved, he was redeemed, he was washed, he was cleansed. There is no doubt that he was a child of God.

B How did Abram get this right relationship? How was he declared righteous? To use a New Testament term, how was he justified?

Abram was not justified by his works. And we can point to Abram's many good works. It was a good work to leave his country and people and father's house at God's bidding. It was a good work to separate from Lot in such a kind and generous way. It was a good work to rescue Lot and all the others from the hands of the four kings. It was a good work to turn down the offer of the king of Sodom. It was a good work to give Melchizedek a tenth of all that he had. Yet none of this is mentioned in our text as the reason why Abram was in a right relationship with God. Our text simply says,
(Gen 15:6) Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Now get this, brothers and sisters: if Abram, after years of holy living, is not justified by his works, then neither are we.

C Abram was not justified by ceremonies either. He was not justified by circumcision. He was not justified because he cut into two the carcasses of animals and arranged the halves so he could walk between them. None of this is also mentioned in our text as the reason why Abram was in a right relationship with God. Our text simply says,
(Gen 15:6) Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Now get this, brothers and sisters: if Abram is not justified by ceremony and ritual, then neither are we. We are not right with God because we are baptized, or because we profess our faith, or because we take the Lord's Supper.

D Abram was not justified by his faith either. I want you to note that Abram's faith was imperfect. Remember how he lied about Sarai and said she was his sister rather than his wife (Gen 12:10f)? Remember how he had a child through Hagar because he got tired of waiting for the Lord (Gen 16)? Remember how he sent Hagar and Ishmael away once Isaac was born (Gen 21:8f)? No, Abram's faith was not perfect. And, Abram's faith did not justify him. Faith, in other words, is not some kind of good work that God rewards with righteousness.

E How was Abram justified? How did Abram get a right relationship with God? The answer, the only answer, is grace. The God Who walked by Himself through the carcasses of the animals, the God Who sent His one and only Son to keep not only the obedience demanded by the Law but to also suffer its penalties, credited Abram with righteousness. He did this out of grace which is to say, it is free.
Topic: Grace
Subtopic: Of God
Title: He Gave It To Me

Legendary Spanish artist Pablo Picasso was virtually unknown when he painted his famous portrait of American writer Gertrude Stein in 1906. Picasso gave the portrait to Miss Stein since, as the artist himself recalled with a smile, at that time in his career "the difference between a gift and a sale was negligible." Some years later, the portrait attracted the interest of millionaire art collector Dr. Albert Barnes, who asked Miss Stein how much she had paid Picasso for it. "Nothing," she replied. "Naturally, he gave it to me."
God, out of grace, freely gives the most priceless gift of all: forgiveness, eternal life, all the riches of heaven. He gave it to Abram, and He gives it to you and me too.

F At the same time, though, we learn from Genesis that God gives salvation only to those who have faith.
(Gen 15:6) Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Abram believed the Lord and the Lord credited him with righteousness. But we need to properly understand the role of faith here: Abram was not right with God because of his faith but only through his faith. Abram's faith was the means that God used.

In faith Abram believed God's promise. Abram believed a promise which to human eyes seemed impossible to be fulfilled. He believed God's promise of a people that would possess the land even though he and Sarai were old and past the age of bearing children. Abram believed and his faith was the means God used to justify him:
(Gen 15:6) Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

One of the few good things to come out of the Columbine massacre was the story of Cassie.
Topic: Conversion
Subtopic: Examples of
Index: 835
Date: 5/1999.101
Title: Cassie's Conversion

Cassie was totally anti-Christian 2 years ago. She was involved in witchcraft and very suicidal. Her parents forcibly dragged her into the youth pastor's office. When she walked out, his reaction was, 'Wow, she's a lost cause.' About 6 months later Cassie walked back up to the youth pastor and said, 'You'll never guess what I did today. I gave my life to Christ!' [We know she did this only because of God's grace.]
From that point forward, Cassie was a radical evangelist on her campus.
The Columbine killers knew about Cassie's faith. One of them pointed his gun at Cassie and asked her the life-or-death question: "Do you believe in God?" She paused. The gun was still there. "Yes, I believe in Jesus," she said. That was the last thing this 17-year-old Christian would ever say. The gunman asked her "Why?" She had no time to answer before she was shot to death. Cassie entered the Columbine High School library to study during lunch. She left a martyr.
All of this was reported at Cassie's memorial service. A video was shown of her testimony. And over 75 kids, by grace, made first-time commitments to Christ.
We can say the same thing about Cassie that the Bible says about Abram: Cassie believed the Lord, and He credited it to her as righteousness.

There are times in every believer's life when the forces of darkness threaten to overwhelm. That was true for Abram. That was true for Cassie. The darkness of fear, of despair, of discouragement, is overcome only when we, by grace, come to God in faith.

So I need to ask: do you, by grace, share the faith of Abram and Cassie? Do you dare to believe the impossible? Are you willing to put your life on the line? Abram did. And so did Cassie.
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