Sermon, March 11, 2001
of the Day... Genesis 15, Psalm 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35
we go out on a cool summer evening, we inevitably look up at the stars in the
sky. Here in the city, even in the
quieter sections of town, we can only see a few hundred, perhaps a thousand
stars, but we know there are far more. The
lights from the city, even our neighbor’s living room lights, block the
twinkle of the fainter stars. I was
amazed one night when I was camping at the top of a mountain to see how many
stars are truly in the sky.
Imagine what it must have been like for Abram.
He was a man whose life depended on the continuation of his family line. He did not know about resurrection, he did not have such
promise. For him, everlasting life
was land and sons. Even herds of
cattle or household wealth were fleeting. One
bad year or an outbreak of disease, and a family could be ruined.
When he was a younger man, he believed in local gods, household icons
that brought rain, children or crops, whatever was needed to live day by day.
One day, however, a strange new God spoke directly to him and said,
“GO”. Abram didn’t know where
he was headed, but he took his wife and possessions and followed the voice.
This God promised Abram that he would become a great nation and that the
world would be blessed through his life. After
years of following the voice of this strange God, Abram and Sara remained
Time passed and in today’s Old Testament lesson, Abram was in his seventies and Sara was in her sixties, well past childbearing age. Abram asked God about the promise. After all, he was aged and had no heirs to carry on his life. His inheritance would go to a servant in his house, rather than a son. God spoke to Abram saying, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.” The sky Abram saw was filled with millions of stars because there was no city to blot out their twinkling lights. It was an incredible promise – impossible without even one son. Yet, Abram believed the LORD, and it was credited to him as righteousness. God did not judge Abram according to an established measure of law – there was no written law at this time. Rather, Abram was found righteous because he responded to God’s Word with faith. True righteousness is having a right relationship with God – to trust in Him above all else; above our thoughts, desires, wishes and dreams; and to live a life of faith that shows that trust.
God did not stop with a verbal promise; He made a covenant with Abram.
The word covenant means ‘to cut a deal’. In those days, when two parties ‘cut a deal’, they did
not have lawyers to draw up any papers. Rather,
they sacrificed some animals by cutting them in half, placing each half of the
animal on either side of a path. The
two parties walked between the animals, holding hands repeating the words of the
covenant. By walking through the
spreading blood of the animals, each party was saying, “If I fail to fulfill
my part of the covenant, you can do to me what we have done to these animals.”
In other words, a broken promise meant death.
God promised Abram millions of offspring and the land on which he stood. So that Abram would know that He meant business, God cut a covenant with him. Abram prepared the animals – a heifer, goat, ram, dove and pigeon. Then in the darkness of night, He – the One True and Living God – walked the covenant path, saying to Abram, “If I do not fulfill my promise, you can cut me as you have cut these animals.”
When Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90, God blessed them with a
son named Isaac. Though Abraham did
not personally see the entire fulfillment of the covenant, he became the nation
of Israel through Isaac.
We flash forward 2000 years. A
man named Jesus of Nazareth was preaching and teaching the Kingdom of God.
He was one of Abraham’s offspring, but He was far more. The people thought He was a prophet, and the leaders feared
Him for the power He had over them. In
our Gospel lesson, some of the Pharisees came to see Jesus and to warn Him that
Herod, the king of the Jews, wanted him to see Him dead.
Jesus, in one of his rare moments of anger said to the Pharisees, “Tell
that fox, I am going to finish my work.”
We do not know why the Pharisees came to warn Jesus.
Perhaps they liked him and wanted to keep Him alive.
Perhaps they wanted to chase Him away.
Whatever their motive, we do know that Jesus had no intention of running.
He was going to Jerusalem to finish His work.
What was that work? He gives
us a hint in this lesson when he talks about the prophets dying in Jerusalem.
In the millennia between Abraham and Jesus, God sent prophets to help the
Israelites to live according to His promise. He desired them to live a life of faith in Him, just like
Abraham, not simply a life in this world. Two
thousand years after God made the covenant with Abraham this was not happening.
They had killed all the prophets and were living according to a set of
laws. So, God sent His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ to be cut on
the cross. Though we were unable to
keep our part of the covenant, to be faithful and trust in God above all else,
God took the punishment upon Himself. Jesus
not only completed the old covenant; He instituted a new covenant of faith.
After His death, He was raised to new life.
All those who believe in His name have a place in an eternal Kingdom.
Unfortunately, as in days of the prophets, God’s Word was not received
even from Jesus Christ. They
rejected the Kingdom of God, preferring to continue to live a life of religion
rather than faith. Jesus said to
them, “See, your house is left to you desolate.”
The shambles of religion is where they would stay, rather than under the
wings of the most High God. In
today’s Psalm, David sings, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I
seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.”
Herod, the Pharisees, and many of the Jews preferred to live in the house
they built, a temple and a law, that was no longer for God’s glory, but rather
for their own.
This problem did not cease when Jesus and His Resurrection ushered in the
New Covenant. Jews continued to
live in the Old Covenant, the one that offered only perishable things of this
world. Paul tells us that they are
enemies of the cross. They did not
accept that the Old Covenant was complete and a New, greater Covenant had begun. They sought to fulfill physical needs rather than a spiritual
relationship with God. They sought
to glorify themselves by their self-righteousness, rather than glorify God by a
right relationship with Him. They
sought a worldly kingdom rather than Eternal life in Christ.
We know, however, just as Paul and the Philippians that our home is not
on earth but is in heaven and that one day we will be transformed into His
likeness for eternity. We know that
God is faithful and that He will keep His promises.
As we look around the world today, we see children shooting children,
dishonest people treated as heroes, and people suffering because of the
injustice of man. We wonder where
God is in this world. For the Jews
in Jesus’ time, the suffering was under the heavy hand of the Roman Empire. It
is easy for us to get caught up in the same sort of attitudes as the Jews,
trying to solve our problems in worldly ways; fighting the evil with our own
thoughts, words and deeds. We
choose to act in religious ways, rather than trusting and living in faith that
God will keep His promise.
Why are we building this new sanctuary?
Is it because we are living in the faith of our father Abraham or because
we are trying to fill our bellies and glorify ourselves?
We are building a “Holy Place for Holy People”.
We are not made holy because we are in this place or even because we are
building this place. This place is
made holy because our Risen Savior has gathered us under His wings. We are forgiven, cleansed and covered in His righteousness.
When we gather together in this place we are unified in the Spirit of God
and by His presence we stand on holy ground.
God has promised great things through this place and our lives, and He
will fulfill those promises as we live a life of faith.
The Old Covenant was great. It promised the everlasting life that comes from children and land. But as pastor said last week – the promise to Abraham was small compared to the promise God gave to us. The New Covenant is greater because it promises eternal life through Christ – a promise that will never fail and never perish. Do we seek to fill our bellies or glorify ourselves in this place? Or are we living according to the example that has been given to us through God’s Word? When you go out into the world this week, remember what God truly did. He promised one man of faith that he would become a nation of people that outnumber the stars. The promise was fulfilled – Abraham was the father of millions. Yet the people still did not live in faith. So, Jesus Christ died on the cross to finish the Old Covenant, the one that only offered a perishable kingdom. He was raised to new life, ushering in that New Covenant – and eternal life for all who believe.
God has promised great things for this congregation and our ministry. Your life in Christ – your faith in God – is being manifest in this place. Your hard work, your growing prayer lives and your sincere desire to know and understand God’s Word is showing as every tile is laid and every wall that is completed. You trust Him here. Now take that with you into the world and every aspect of your life – your home, work, neighborhoods, schools and leisure activities. We are glorifying God in this place, but if we leave it here, then the world will not know the greatness of God’s promise. It is only when we take it outside the doors of this church that we truly show the world our faith. As you walk out the doors, take your faith with you and live it in every aspect of your life – trusting that God has already fulfilled His promise to you of eternal life, and He will continue to bless your life of faith.
To God be the glory – in this place and in your life – forever. Amen
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