August 8th, 2010
“Counted as Righteous”
1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."
God comes out of nowhere and makes Abraham a promise. Abraham did nothing to deserve this. When God called him to travel to Canaan and promised the land to him and his descendants, Abraham was nobody special. He did nothing to deserve God's repeated blessings and promises.
If anything, he did everything not to deserve it. Sure, he left his homeland in Ur of the Chaldeans, but as he traveled to Egypt he showed a cowardly faithlessness to his God and his wife. “Oh, please don't kill me, she's just my sister”.
But God would be his shield, his protector – from all that would harm him. And as we are Abraham's descendants by faith, so God is our shield and protector too. A mighty fortress who keeps us safe in the battle against our real enemies – the spiritual forces of evil – sin, death and the devil.
Likewise, Abraham's reward would be great. Not just earthly wealth – land, animals and influence, but a great multitude of offspring, many nations. And one particular offspring who would be born in Bethlehem and be a blessing to all nations. In this descendant of Abraham, we too receive a reward – an undeserved reward. A glorious inheritance.
2 But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"
3 And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir."
Abraham doubted. He could have answered God's first promise with a simply thank you, or a song of praise. But he pressed God for more. Especially since it seemed what he really wanted the most – an heir – was out of the question. He didn't have a son. He wasn't getting any younger. And it appeared his servant Eliezer would be a makeshift heir to Abraham's estate.
Don't we doubt God just as easily? Don't we put his promises on trial – looking for evidence that they are real? God, you said you'd never leave me or forsake me, but it sure feels like I am alone now. God, you said you'd care for me more than the lilies of the field or the birds of the air, but right now it seems like you've forgotten all about me. God, you said my sins are separated from me as far as east from west, but they feel so near to me now, closing in on me with their heavy breath of guilt down my neck.
Man has a long history of doubting what God says. “Did God really say....?” is that old satanic question that lured Eve and Adam down the road to death.
We are tempted. We sometimes fall for the same tricks. We arrogantly think we know better than God. We foolishly fear rather than faithfully follow. We fail to listen and live by the simple and precious words of God, and instead follow our own way or the ways of the world.
But God does not leave us without hope. His word comes to us again, like it came to Abraham again and again:
4 And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." 5 And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
Let me paint you a picture Abraham. Your offspring will be like the stars of the sky. You will have a son. And through that son, many more sons, daughters, people and nations. God reiterates and expounds on his original promise. Sometimes it takes patience for it to sink in when it comes to us humans. But God is unchanging in his grace and unswerving in his desire to bring Abraham blessing, and to bring many nations blessing through the offspring he promises here.
Still, none of this would mean anything without Christ. Abraham could have all the descendants in the world but they would all be lost without that one special descendant. The one born of a virgin, born to be king, born to die and rise and reign on high. Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection make us heirs of eternal life. Jesus Christ, who by his blood shed for us makes us children of God. But how does this happen? Abraham shows us the way:
6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Faith. By faith we grasp onto the promises of God. By faith we receive and believe that his good news for us in Christ is true. By faith – just like all the saints who have gone before us – that we read about in Hebrews 11. By faith, not by sight. We don't see heaven – we've not touched Jesus wounds. We can't perceive these things with our eyes and ears. But faith gives us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to believe the wonderful promises of God.
And this faith itself is a gift. God gives us the ability to hear him and trust him. He always takes the initiative, and gets all the credit. Just like he came to Abraham out of the blue, so he comes to me without any merit or worthiness in me.
But he also came to Abraham through his word. Look carefully, “The word of the Lord came to Abraham”. And here God may be found, coming to us just as certainly. Even in that word attached to water or bread and wine. The word is the thing, the carrier of the promises. The vehicle for God's grace. The pipeline of the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
Abraham believed, he had faith. And though he was not righteous, God “counted it him as righteousness”. And so God numbers us as well. All who are in Christ are one – counted righteous for Jesus' sake, just like Father Abraham. Are sins are not counted against us. God sees only, considers only our faith – and the merits of his Son, our savior.
I wonder if every time Abraham gazed at the night sky, or at the sandy beach, he remembered God's promise. And so can we. May the word of this promise dwell in us richly. May the good news of Jesus Christ continue to strengthen our faith, even as we are counted righteous before God. And may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.