Adventures in Faith - Abraham 5. How to Overcome Fear
Genesis 15 Here we discover the details of the Abrahamic covenant. Hundreds of years later the NT writers will look back on this covenant as the foundation for the Christian gospel. Genesis means "beginnings" and we discover several important "firsts" in this chapter:
1. The first use of the phrase "the word of the Lord came." This phrase is used over 100 times in the OT. 2. The first time God said "fear not" to anyone. 3. The first time God is called a "shield." Frequently used in the Psalms to describe God's protection for his people. 4. The first time anyone is said to have "believed" in the Lord. The NT uses the word "believer" for "Christian." At this point God's word to Abraham is "fear not." But what did Abraham have to fear? He certainly could fear retaliation from the defeated 4 kings from Mesopotamia. But his greater fear related to God's promise to give him a son. Many years earlier the Lord has said he would give Abraham descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth. Even then Abraham was over 75 years ago. Now he is at least 85 and not getting any younger. His wife Sarah is far past childbearing age. Even though he has just won a great victory, nothing can satisfy his deep desire for a son. Has God Forgotten His Promise? God did not seem in a hurry to give them a child. How much longer would he wait? Why had he delayed? Had God changed his mind? Was there some problem? Had they sinned? All these questions were running through Abraham's mind. God knew exactly what he was thinking. He saw the doubt. He understood the fear. Now he moves to reassure Abraham that all will be well. The time has not yet come for the child to be born, but it wasn't far off. Genesis 15 contains 2 promises God gave to Abraham. The first concerns the promise of a son and the second relates to God's promise to give him the land of Canaan. From these 2 promises we may learn great truths about God's answer to our deepest fears.
1. Promise # 1: "A Son from your own body" v. 1 - 6 There are reasons why Abraham could have doubted God's promise of a son: He was too old. Too many years had passed since the promise had been given. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Sarah also doubted God's promise. When you think about it, there was no reason to believe-no reason except that God had promised to do it. The question now is simple: Will God's promise be enough for Abraham? In answer to that question, God declares, "I am your shield." Don't think of a small shield that covers only the chest area, but rather of a shield that stretches from head to toe and completely protects every part of the soldier's body. Such a shield offers complete protection from every attack of the enemy. To call God our shield means 2 specific things: 1. He protects us in times of doubt. 2. He rescues us in times of danger. Friends, nothing can harm us without God's permission. Not cancer, not AIDS, not bankruptcy, not theft, not the loss of your job, not a terrible accident, not the death of a child, not any of a thousand other sorrows that afflict the children of God. Folks, we aren't immune to sadness. What happens to others also happens to us. The difference is this: We know that God protects us from harm so that nothing can touch us that doesn't first pass through his hands of love. That knowledge doesn't mean that we don't cry or we don't suffer. Far from it. But it is the basis for the statement that "we sorrow but not as those who have no hope." Our sorrow is different precisely because we hope in God. Our God is a shield around his people. Nothing can touch us except that which God permits. Not only did God remind Abraham of his faithfulness, he also once again promised descendants without number. He told Abraham to look at the stars. Abraham will have so many descendants that he will never be able to count them. That's quite a promise to make to an old man with an old wife who has no children and no prospects. v. 6 contains the first clear message of the way of salvation in the Bible. 3 crucial words unlock the meaning of this verse:
A. Believe - To believe God is to say "Amen" to his promises. It means to rest the entire your entire weight on the truth of what God has said or done.
B. Credited - term from the banking world - means to "credit to one's account." Just as your account is credited with an amount of money, God credited Abraham's "account" with righteousness because of his faith.
C. Righteousness - stands for the moral perfection God demands of all people. God demands perfection and only perfect people will get into heaven. You either get 100% or you don't go through the door. Here is the gospel plain and simple. Abraham believed all that God had said and in response God credited his account with perfect righteousness. That was 4000 years ago, but the same principle works today. All you have to do to be saved is believe what God has said about his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ: That he is the Son of God - That he died on the cross for you - That he rose from the dead on the third day - That he paid the price for all your sins - That he is both Saviour, Lord and God - That he will save you if you will come to him. How's Your "Account" With God? How do you stand with God right now? Are you certain you will go to heaven when you die? No one needs to go to hell. If you go, it will be in spite of all that God has done for you. If you aren't sure of how your "account" stands with the Lord, I urge you to do what Abraham did-believe with all your heart everything that God has said. Embrace the Lord Jesus as your only hope of salvation. When you do, God will credit your account with righteousness-the righteousness of Jesus Christ. All his perfection will be entered under your name in the great ledger books of heaven. All that you lack will be given to you. You will then be sure that you will go to heaven when you die.
2. Promise # 2: "I will give you this land" v. 7 - 21 With that we now pass to the 2nd great promise God made to Abraham. The first concerned the birth of a son, the second the promise of inheriting all the land. Let me summarise - 1. Reminder of past guidance from God (v. 7) 2. God tells Abraham to gather animals for a sacrifice (v. 8 - 11) 3. God spells out the details of the covenant he is about to make with Abraham (v. 12 - 16) 4. God "cuts a covenant" with Abraham (v. 17 - 21) God is making a formal agreement called a covenant with Abraham. Covenants were the most common means of making a legal agreement in the ancient world. Since written agreement were not common, most agreements were formalised through a ceremony known as "cutting the covenant." After agreeing to the details, the 2 people involved would bring animals for sacrifice. After reading the agreement aloud, the animals were sacrificed and laid in 2 parallel rows. Then the 2 people would join hands and walk side-by-side between the rows of dead animals. This signified 2 things: Joint agreement to the terms of the contract and a vow that if the terms were violated by either party, the violator would be put to death. The most important point in this passage is the fact that God (symbolised by the smoking brazier and the flaming torch) passes between the dead animals while Abraham sleeps. That means that God is taking upon himself the full responsibility for keeping the covenant. It's as if God is saying, "Go ahead and sleep, Abraham. This one is on me." None of the tribes in v. 19 - 21 exist anymore. They have all passed into the dusty pages of history books. But the descendants of Abraham remain. They are the Jews, the literal, physical recipients of the promise made 4000 years ago. When God makes a promise he keeps it. The continued existence of the Jewish race after 4000 years is one of the strongest proofs of the truth of the Bible. The Jews are here because God promised Abraham that he would make of him a great nation. Abraham never lived to see the fulfillment of that promise. In this very passage God declared that he would live to a ripe old age and then his descendants would spend 400 years in Egypt. Only then would they return and possess the land. History is truly His Story and the Jews are truly God's Chosen People. Nothing else can explain their miraculous survival across the centuries. It all started with God's promise to give Abraham a son 4000 years ago. Abraham is old but he will be older yet before Isaac is finally born.
A. Why God Delays His Answers We know God loves and has a good plan for our lives. Why then does God take so long to answer our deepest, most heart-felt prayers? From this story we may suggest 4 answers: 1. To develop our faith. 2. To develop the quality of perseverance 3. When the answer comes no one but God can get the glory. 4. No one can doubt that God has worked a miracle in answer to our prayers. This gives hope to everyone who has prayed and prayed for years without receiving an answer.
B. The Answer is a Person God's answer to fear is not an argument or a formula. It's a Person. That's why he said to Abraham, "Fear not. I am your shield." God himself is the final answer to every fear of the human heart. Why did God call himself by the name "I AM" in the OT? Certainly it has to do with his eternal existence, but there is also a word of personal encouragement in that name. Who is God to you? According to his name, he is whatever you need at the moment. "I am your strength." "I am your courage." "I am your health." "I am your hope." "I am your supply." "I am your defender." "I am your deliverer." "I am your forgiveness." "I am your joy." "I am your future." In short, God is saying to you and me, "I am whatever you need whenever you need it." He is the all-sufficient God for every crisis.
3. Moving From Fear to Faith
A. Fear focuses on the past, faith focuses on the present. Think of Abraham. The past argued against ever having a child. So did the present. His only hope lay in the promises of God for the future. As long as he looked back, he would never have faith to believe God. His only hope was to step out into the future, trusting that somehow, some way God would keep his promises.
B. Faith means trusting in God's timing-not your own. Our struggles with fear start right here. Deep down, we fear that God has somehow made a mistake in his dealings with us. We have waited and waited-sometimes for years on end. Even though we may have seen many remarkable answers to prayer, the one thing that means the most to us has not been granted. Where is God? Why doesn't he answer the fervent, heart-felt prayers of his people? God's timing and ours are often quite different. The issue is this: Is God in control, or is he not in control? If God is in control, he is never early; he is never late. He never forgets and is always on time.
C. Faith grows by believing God in spite of your circumstances. Sometimes our circumstances make it easy to believe in God; other times we have to struggle. "No matter what happens we are trusting in the Lord." That's biblical faith rising above its circumstances to lay hold of the eternal promises of God.
D. Faith is obeying God, one step at a time. God promised a child and Abraham desperately wanted to see the fulfillment of that promise. So what does God tell him to do? Round up the animals for a sacrifice. How do you get from there to the nursery? Abraham doesn't have a clue and God doesn't tell him. But Abraham now has a choice. He can choose to obey God, round up the animals, and get ready for a sacrifice, even though it doesn't seem to connect with the son of his dreams. Or he can argue with God or decide to take matters in his own hands. Faith means taking the next step-whatever it is-and walking with God wherever he leads us. Sometimes it will make sense, other times it won't. But we still have take that step if we are going to do God's will. Can You Trust God? Or better, Can God be trusted? Fundamental question: "Is God good and can he be trusted to do what is right?" If the answer is yes, then we can face the worst that life has to offer. If the answer is no, then we're no better off than the people who have no faith. Fear not, child of God. No one knows what a day may bring. Who knows if we will all make it through this week? But our God is faithful to keep every one of his promises. Nothing can happen to us except it first passes through the hands of God. If your way is dark, keep on believing.