Sermon Titled “Cutting a Covenant – God’s Beautiful Bargain” (Genesis 15) – June 23rd, 2013
This week’s sermon, based on Genesis 15, was packed with so many insights – all pertaining to the historical events of that era, and how they will eventually lead to the prophetic foretellings of what’s yet to come. In the midst of what was a fairly “heavy” message to ponder and dissect, there were also some smaller gems built in to the sermon that addressed some of the issues that many of us often deal with on a regular basis. Since this was such a loaded sermon however, I’m going to break it down into two posts: one which touches on the smaller “gems,” and another which discusses the ultimate meaning behind the covenant that God established with Abram – let’s start with the latter.
Genesis 15 starts with God visiting Abram in a vision, and reassuring him with a promise of shielding and protecting him, and a further promise of reward. Abram, grateful I’m sure for any blessing from God, is nevertheless concerned that any reward given to him would ultimately serve no purpose, since he had no child (heir) to pass it on to.
That’s when God reveals to Abram that his reward will be a son (even though he was already advanced in years), and from his son an offspring would be produced, an offspring so numerous that they would be like the stars – impossible to count. Any other man in Abram’s shoes would probably have woken from that vision and laughed it off as a crazy dream. But not Abram, he believed every word spoken to him by God, and here is the focal point (I believe) of Genesis 15, and what has become a much talked-about verse:
- Genesis 15:6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
This is such a crucial verse for believers, because it exemplifies all that Paul teaches in the New Testament, about receiving salvation by faith, and not by works. Paul talks about 1) having faith, 2) crediting (or counting), and 3) righteousness.
- Abram had already demonstrated his faith in God by trusting that God would lead him and his family to a better land, and also by seeking God’s counsel before going to war. In verse 6, we see that Abram is willing to trust God again. Hebrews 11:1 says that ” faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In Abram’s case, he didn’t understand how God could possibly bring about the birth of a son, given that he and his wife were both well beyond the age of child-bearing, but God had not failed to deliver on any of his former promises and Abram had no reason to start doubting Him now.
- In response to Abram’s show of faith, Genesis 15:6 says that God “moved” or “acted,”by crediting it to him as righteousness. There are various other instances in the Old Testament which depict an act of God crediting or counting certain actions either against ,or for, those who commit the acts. For example, in Psalm 32:2, the writer suggests that our sins can be counted against us, and will cause us to forfeit God’s blessings. Abram however, was a man of faith and as such, his faith was rewarded with a credit of righteousness.
- Taking all of this a step further, Paul says that if we have the kind of pure faith that Abraham did, we too will be credited with righteousness. It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who sacrificed His life for our sins, that God credits us with. And it is this righteousness which also saves us – not works, or anything else – but our belief in God and a simple act of faith.
In Genesis 7 and 8, God continues to speak to Abram through the form of a vision. He reminds Abram of His promise to give Abram the land of Canaan, and He makes a covenant with Abram, involving the sacrifice of a few chosen animals and birds. The sacrificial ceremony, which took place when Abram had come to from his “deep sleep,” entailed the cutting in half of the animals, and a smoking firepot and blazing torch (representing God Himself) passing through the middle of the cut carcasses. This kind of covenant ceremony essentially symbolized a promise (by God, in this case), which would result in the “tearing apart” of whoever pledged the promise, if the promise was not kept (just as animals had been torn apart). Furthermore, this was a covenant that was unilateral, meaning that Abram was not required to do anything in order for the promise to be kept.
There is much more to be said about the remaining verses, in which God speaks to Abram through another vision and shows him a glimpse of some terrifying times to come, but the take-away message for us as believers, is understanding that it is only by faith that we are credited with righteousness and saved.
In the Old Testament, God pledges to keep His promises by authenticating His pledge with a covenant involving the sacrifice of animals. When Christ came to dwell amongst us, a new covenant was made, this time involving the sacrifice of Jesus himself (Hebrews 9:22b says that there shall be no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood). This new covenant is a promise from God, to all those who believe in Him, that He will fulfill the end-time prophecies and ultimately reward us with eternal life.
One more add-on that I believe is also worth mentioning, is the fact that Abram knew that the promise of a bountiful land and immense offspring was a reward that would not be immediately realized, and yet he chose to remain faithful, recognizing that God himself was the biggest blessing of all.