Pentecost 2c -- God's Names
Preached: June 6, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Through this word from God recorded in Genesis 17, the Holy Spirit brings us the comfort of our almighty Savior.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty (El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי). Walk before me and be complete. I am confirming my covenant between me and you, and I will make you increase very much.”
Abram fell on his face, and God said to him, “Behold, my covenant, yes mine, is with you. You will become the father of a multitude of nations. You will no longer be called by the name Abram. Your name will be Abraham, for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17:1-5)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
He claimed to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” Sports Illustrated crowned him the “Sportsman of the Century.” His nickname was “The Greatest.” He was the three-time World Heavyweight Champion, Muhammad Ali.
But where is that left hook followed by the hard right to the face that brought down George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle? Now at age 68 and debilitated by Parkinson's disease, Ali is no longer the powerhouse he was. How the mighty have fallen!
“Time, like an ever-rolling stream, Soon bears us all away; We fly, forgotten, as a dream Dies at the op'ning day” (“O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” Isaac Watts, Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 441:5).
But there is One whose power does not fade. His strength does not fly away. For he is not simply mighty; he is almighty. El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי, God Almighty. He needs no help or aid, for he is all-sufficient. He is the source who provides all for everyone and everything. He is El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי, God Almighty, the Omnipotent, the all-powerful. He can do anything. Remember that theme.
What hope and what strength that name brought Abraham, and what hope and strength it brings for you and me today. For El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי, can do anything.
In the 1940's there was race, a race to get the mightiest weapon this world had yes seen. The United States had the Manhattan Project. Hitler had his heavy water experiments. After the war it was learned that Hitler was much farther away from developing the atomic bomb than some had feared. But what if he had gotten the bomb first? What would the world be like today? Might and power are good in the hands of an ally, but in the hands of an enemy -- what terror!
“I am God Almighty” (Genesis 17:1 NIV) El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי). Are these words of a friend of a foe? We like to think of ourselves as the good guys, but God's Word has some disturbing news for you and me. For you see, it's not you or I or some governmental or ecclesiastical organization that sets the standard, but God does.
“Walk before me and be blameless” (Genesis 17:1 NIV), he says. Do you always walk before God continuously, never wandering from his path, never straying away, always loving him above all, always fearing him with that holy, childlike awe and reverence, always trusting him first and foremost? Is his name continually on your lips as you call on him in every trouble and fervently, reverently pray to him who is your Hope, your Strength, your Glory? Is his name on your lips as you praise him before others telling of the wonderful things he has done giving him thanks in all circumstances? Is his Word deeply rooted in your heart, the foundation of all you say and think and do, cherished as your most precious treasure? How we have failed!
That word, often translated blameless, has the idea of being complete, perfect, no mark or blemish, nothing lacking. Now some can rightly claim to be blameless in the eyes of man. They have a good reputation and no criminal record. But what about in the eyes of God? The Almighty sees into the dingy corners of our hearts. He knows your secret sins. Nothing is hidden from him. And blamelessness before God is all or nothing. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10 NIV). “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthews 5:48 NIV).
Yes, in the international court you are not guilty of genocide as Hitler would have been. But have you loved your neighbor as yourself, never feeling prejudiced, never showing favoritism, never uttering a mean-spirited word? Have you loved your neighbor as yourself, even if that neighbor was your enemy? In God's courtroom our own record of wrongs is as damning as Hitler's.
Why didn't this name God Almighty, El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי, bring terror and despair to Abram's hearts and to ours? How can it be a name of hope? Only because of the covenant.
He says to Abram, “I will confirm my covenant between me and you . . . As for me, this is my covenant with you” (Genesis 17:2, 3 NIV). Notice that all this flows from the Lord. I will confirm . . . as for me . . . my covenant. This is not a two-way contract or a mutual agreement. This covenant is a promise, an unconditional promise, based entirely on the Lord's gracious, good will. He takes the initiative. He makes the oath. He binds himself. He promises.
What is this solemn promise or covenant? The Lord sums it with these words to Abram, “You will be the father of many nations.” (Genesis 17:4 NIV).
Twenty-four years earlier, the Lord had promised him, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 NIV). For you see, through Abram's family the Savior would come. Adam and Eve had brought the curse of sin and death into the world. The woman's offspring who would crush Satan's head -- he would come through Abram's family. His blessing would overcome the curse.
But when the Lord made that promise Abram was seventy-five and childless. Now at the age of ninety-nine Abram and his wife Sarai still did not have a child together. It seemed hopeless, for Sarai was eighty-nine and barren. It was impossible for them to have children, impossible for Abram to be the father of many nations and one of his descendants to be the Savior. Impossible. But God had promised, and he is El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי, God Almighty. He can do anything.
The Apostle Paul explains, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.' Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead -- since he was about a hundred years old -- and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:18-21 NIV). He is El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי. What a name of hope for you who believe!
Abraham lived by faith in the promise of the Savior. That, dear friends, is your faith as well. That means Abraham is your father. Biologically Abraham became the father of a few nations, at best. But God's covenant wasn't for him to be father of a few but of many nations. For you see, all whose faith trusts God's promise to send the Savior to remove the curse of sin and death -- all those believers whose hope is in Christ Jesus (as Abraham's was), they are Abraham's spiritual children, no matter what nation they come from. That includes you, dear friend. The Apostle Paul makes this clear, “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring -- not only to those who are of the law but also those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: 'I have made you a father of many nations.' He is our father in the sight of God” (Romans 4:16, 17 NIV).
This covenant is for you dear friend, for you. Jesus came from Abraham's family line for you. Galatians 3 says,“ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13 NIV). As Jesus hung on the cross, he undid the curse your sin earned for you. He took your curse and gave you his blessing in exchange. How could this be? How could the sinless, spotless, Lamb of God, who truly was blameless, perfect, complete, die in the place of guilty sinners? He is God Almighty, El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי, he can do anything. What hope that brings us! What hope because of his covenant, his promise.
For you see, that blameless, perfect, complete record of goodness and righteousness that belonged to Christ, God freely credits to you. That was Abram's faith. He trusted God's promise that Christ's righteousness was credited to him. Through faith in Jesus, you, sinner though you are, even you are blameless in God's sight. For the blamelessness of Jesus counts for you. Keep believing this. Keep building your hope on it, for El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי, can do anything.
How this changes the way we live! Why would we not walk before him who has loved us so dearly? Why would we not strive to blamelessly do his will all the days of our life? See what he has done for you! He didn't make any sort of covenant with our ancestors. But nonetheless, through Baptism he brought you into his family. He washed away your sin. He clothed you with Jesus' righteousness.
Look to him for the strength to walk before him and be blameless. For he is God Almighty, El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי. When you feel weak, alone, powerless, when evil seems so strong, enticing, and oppressive, remember your God is, El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי, God Almighty. He will take care of you. For he can do anything. Don't think you need to compromise with the world to make it through this life. Don't conform to the world. Don't camouflage your life thinking you have to blend in. Rather live boldly for your God. Walk before him in all you do. He will take care of you. For he is El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי. He can do anything. Even the laws of nature must submit to him. Look at Abraham. He became a father at the age of a hundred. For El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי can do anything. Trust him. Trust him to take care of you.
And just as the Lord changed Abram's name to Abraham, meaning father of many, in order to strengthen his faith in the promise, so also the Lord gave you a new name, his family name, when you were baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. His Baptismal promise to you strengthens your faith. In the Lord's Supper as well, he again brings his promise to you to strengthen your faith. The body of Christ and the blood of Christ given for you to eat and to drink. His covenant of forgiveness is truly for you. Believe it for he is God Almighty, El Shaddai, אֵל שַׁדַּי. His power does not fade with time. He is still the greatest. He can do anything.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.