Advent 2023: The Patriarchs

03 Dec 2023

Advent 2023: The Patriarchs

Passage Gen 15, John 8:39-42

Speaker Ben Tanner


Transcript (Auto-generated)

This transcript has been automatically generated, and therefore may not be 100% accurate.

So I'm just going to read out our first reading. And now it's Genesis 15. You can find it on your service sheets. After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision. Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield, your very great reward. But Abram said, sovereign lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus. And Abram said, you have given me no children. So a servant in my household will be my heir. Then the word of the Lord came to him.

This man will not be your heir but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir. He took him outside and said, look up at the sky and count the stars, if indeed you can count them. Then he said to him, so shall your offspring be. Abram believed the Lord and he accredited to him as righteousness. He also said to him, I am the Lord who brought you out of ur of the Chaladaeans to give you this land and to take possession of it.

But Abram said, sovereign lord, how can I know that I shall gain possession of it? So the lord said to him, bring me a heifer and a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon. Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other. The birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then the birds of prey came down on the carcasses but Abram drove them away.

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, know for certain that for 400 years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and ill treated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves and afterwards they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation, your descendants will come back here for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen a smoking brazier with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said to your descendants, I give this land from the wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates. The land of the Kenites. Kenazites, kadamites, Hittites, perizzites, Raphaelites, Amorites, Canaanites, Gerkozites and Jebusites. This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God.

Thanks be to God. Thank you so much, Hannah, for reading that. Please do have it in front of you on your service sheet. Let me lead us in a prayer as we have a brief look at that passage. Our father, I pray now.

I pray that by your spirit you would speak to us. Lord, we need that. We can't hear from you unless you're at work in that process. I can't preach your word unless you're at work in me. And so I pray for your help, too.

Ask it in Jesus name. Amen. This week, I've had two conversations with two different people that have gone almost. They've been almost uncannily similar, and they both went like this. I used to be somebody of faith.

I used to be involved in church. I was confirmed, one of them said. But since then, I've looked at what's going on in the world at the moment, what's going on with Israel and Gaza, and I can't possibly believe in God anymore.

And we had some chats about it, but it did get me thinking, how is it that we are going to keep going with God when the world around us feels so hard? Shakespeare described the world. In fact, he described Scotland, but he was talking about the world more generally, like this. It says, each new morn brings new widows wailing, new orphans crying, and new sorrows strike heaven on its face. I'm murdering Shakespeare there by my reading of him.

But how is it that we're going to have faith that when those days come, the new widows mourning, the children weeping, that we're going to keep going with Jesus? Where are we going to go when we have those dark and doubtful moments? I think that's one of the great things about Advent, because Advent takes us to some people who are waiting on the promises of God, but didn't necessarily see them straight away. Certainly in the case of Abraham, he didn't see them straight away. And in fact, Abraham is a lesson for us in what we do when.

When actually the doubts are very real and the world feels like it's not a good place to be going. So up to this point, God has made Abraham a promise. He's done so back in chapter twelve, he's promised him that he's going to be a father of great nation. He's got this wonderful promise. Then in chapter 14, he's just done this kind of.

He's had this kind of battle where he's had to kind of go and rescue his nephew lot. And he's a bit fearful and at the start of chapter 15, we see God comes to him in this incredibly powerful way. The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, and he said, do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield and your very great reward. And it's as that word of God comes to him that it almost opens the floodgates.

The floodgates of all Abraham's doubts, frustration, and hurt. But Abraham said, sovereign lord, what can you give me? Since I remain childless, and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus. And Abraham said, you have given me no children, so a servant in my household will be my heir. We know as a church family just how painful child loss and.

And infertility can be. Here is a man who is in deep agony. You've made me this promise, God, and yet I have no children. In fact, if anything, it was even worse for him, because it was not just I have no children, and there is that pain, but I have nobody to inherit my lands other than a servant in my house. There would have been all sorts of questions this would have raised in Abraham's mind.

So what does Abrams doubt look like? What does our doubt look like? Well, it looks often kind of twofold. So we see here in verse five, it looks like him saying, you, God, you have given me no children. And then later, in verse seven.

Sorry. Verse eight, sovereign lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it? So it looks like a problem with God and a problem with me. Doubt. For Abraham looked like saying, this, God, I know you've made promises, but right at the moment, it feels like you're not being the God I expect you to be.

It feels like you're not giving me what I need. It feels like you're holding out on me and my friends. If you've not been in this place in your life, then you will be at some point where you say, God, I kind of know what you're saying, but you're not actually living up to your end of the bargain. Or at least it doesn't feel like that right at the moment. I want to be trusting you, but it feels like you're not there or good or powerful enough.

It feels like. It feels like there's a problem with who you are, God.

Abraham voices it, but he also voices, I think, the other side of doubt that often comes, which is less there's a problem with you and more there's a problem with me. You see, I can kind of know cerebrally in my head that you're good and you're there, but I can't kind of feel it. You see, Abraham, he voices that first thing. You're holding out on me in verse three. And then in verse four, God meets with him.

He explains his promise once more. And then we're told in verse six that Abraham believes God. It's credited to him as righteousness. And yet he's still not totally there, is he? He still says, but how do I know that this is truly going to come true?

Now, logically, he's there, speaking with a vision of the word of the Lord. God is right there with him. God is making incredible promises to him. It's not that he doesn't understand the promises, is that there's a difference between mental ascent and feeling it. Abraham there in this moment of doubt.

Abraham, sorry.

And I've got to be really honest with you. I expect that in our christian life, all of us will have times when we feel like this one or both of those things. And so what does God do? What does God do when we are struggling, when we are doubting? Verse three, Abraham said, you have given me no children, so a servant in my household will be my heir.

And God said, how dare you?

You doubter. Yeah, he will. Is that what your bible says? No. You see, there are kind of two ways that we fall off the horse when we think of doubting.

One is that we come to it and we think, I'm doubting, which is a horrible sin, and I can't possibly be right with God. And how can God like me? How can God. And this is awful. That's one way that we fall off the horse.

But God doesn't seem to deal with him like that. What does God do? He doesn't judge him. He turns around and he reiterates his promise. He says, listen again to my promise.

In fact, let me show it you even more detailedly. Come on outside. Look at the stars up in the sky. That's going to be the kind of descendants that you're going to have. And by the way, it's going to be through your own offspring.

Now, we're told that Abraham believed God, and it's credited him as righteousness. We've already seen. This isn't the belief that is wholeheartedly going, yeah, I've got this. I know this. So what does God do?

He reiterates his promise, and then he looks and he sees even the smallest, the smallest faith, and he credits it as righteousness. If you are doubting here today, if the world around you is causing you to say, I'm really struggling with this God, and you're pouring it out to him, and you're believing in him, even if it's only cerebrally. God looks at you and he says, I'm going to credit you as righteous. I don't want to leave you there, but I'm on your side. Let me repeat to you my promises.

Let me say again what I have said before makes this promise. He says, let me say again what I've said before. Let me draw your attention back to where I've already brought you. Verse seven. He said, I am the Lord who brought you out of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.

He says, look, as I am drawing you back to my promise, let me show you ways in which that's already come true. Let me show you how I've been faithful to you in the past.

Abraham says, I need to know this in my heart. How do I know that I'll gain possession of it? And say, the Lord makes him a further promise, a promise that speaks of his descendants, who will be slaves for 400 years in a land not their own. Is this sounding familiar to anybody? We've just been in it, haven't we?

Just looking at this promise being fulfilled. Exodus, God draws Abrams attention both to what he has done to a promise that he's going to fulfil in the next few years, that we, in hindsight, can look back and say, he has done it. He's been faithful.

That's what he does to Abraham. That's what he does to us, doesn't he? Says, okay, doubting one. Come back. Look again at my promises.

Listen again to the things that I have fulfilled in the past when I promised that my people would be slaves for 400 years and then set free. Read exodus. See that coming true right in front of your face. I have been faithful in the past, but more than that, more than that. He says to Abraham, verse nine, bring me a heifer, a goat, a ram, each three years old, and along with a dove and a young pigeon.

And Abraham knows what's going on here, which is why he gets them and then cuts them in half. It sounds a bit weird. It looks a bit gory. Basically, in those days, a contract, a covenant, would be literally cut. That's the phrase that's used.

And it comes from the idea of cutting animals in half. Now, why on earth would they do that? Well, nowadays, if you're buying a house, say, you get to a point where you sign an agreement that says, I am committing to buying this house and somebody else signs something saying I'm committing to selling this house. And then you get that bit that you kind of exchange contracts and at that point there are all sorts of fees that you're both kind of admitting to. If you pull out at that point, right, it protects you by saying pulling out and breaking this covenant between these two people is going to cost both the parties.

In those days they did the same. The difference was they didn't write it down. What they did is they cut these animals in half. And then the terms of the covenant were said they would walk down between the animals and what would happen is the idea would be that you would say, if this covenant is broken, may it be to me as these animals are. May it be my entrails that are poured out, my blood that is spilt on the ground, my death that will come forth.

So God makes his promise to Abraham and then darkness comes. Interestingly, we don't have time to go into it. I'm trying to be brief. It's nighttime and then it's even darker than that. Darkness falls and then a deep and terrifying darkness.

But in that darkness what happens is Abraham is asleep. How is he going to walk through the animals? How is he going to enter into this covenant?

Well, he doesn't. God comes as this visible picture of God. We've seen it in, in Exodus recently. There is this visible burning pot smoking. It enters and it walks through the broken animals.

It's as if God is saying this covenant that I am making, this promise that I am making is entirely dependent on me. If this covenant gets broken, it's not you, Abraham, who's going to bear the weight of it. No. If this covenant gets broken, it's on me, my brokenness, that's going to come forth.

And that's important for us as doubters because we've seen that that covenant was broken, haven't we? We break it all the time. We don't love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all mine and strength, don't love our neighbours, ourselves.

So what does God do with people like me, of little faith, with people like me of sinful heart? Covenant breaking once more at a time of supernatural darkness. There was God.

Any this time he was nailed to a cross. There his blood dripped to the floor, blood and water flowing from his side. There he expired. There he became as dead as those halves of the heifer back here. God enters in.

God takes the covenant. Curses that were written here so that you don't have to. So that I don't have to.

And in so doing, he shows us that he is a God who is merciful to those who doubt, who can draw us back to his promises and show us that all his promises have been fulfilled. In a yes and amen. In Christ Jesus.

Say what I must draw to a close, but it might be that we are here and we are doubting today. It might be that we see the brokenness of the world around us. What does this passage invite us to do? Firstly, it invites us, like Abraham, to bring that to God. Lord, you, Lord, are I.

But he invites us. Look once again at my promises. Listen once more to my word. Open it. Don't close your bible.

When you doubt. Open it all the more. See the God who has fulfilled his promises.

But perhaps also remember. Remember that promise fulfilled. This time last week, I and a number of others stood here. We gave you bread dipped in wine. And what did we say?

The body of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, keep you in eternal life. Every time we rehearse it, we see again. There. Jesus took the covenant. Curses for you.

If you're doubting, keep coming back to him. Keep looking at his word. Keep taking communion. Keep talking with others, because God is kind to those who doubt and praise God that he is. Let's pray.

Father, thank you so, so much that in this broken world that so often causes us to cry out, Lord, it feels like you're letting your end of the bargain down. Thank you so much. That in Christ you say, no, no. I have provided for you, and I will continue to provide for you. Be merciful to us.

When we at doubt, draw near to us. Don't leave us in a place of head knowledge, without heart love.

But, Father, help us to be merciful to one another as well. Help us to remind ourselves of your promise of your covenant of Christ's cross, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.