Lent 2a

Preached: February 24, 2008

The Lord's Promises Move Us in Faith
Genesis 12:1-8

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Savior. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit works in our hearts and lives is Genesis 12

The LORD said to Abram, “Go from your land, your people, your father's house to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you. I will make your name great. You shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you. Whoever curses you, I will curse. In you all peoples of the earth will be blessed.”

Abram went just as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was 75 years old when he went out from Haran. Abram took his wife, Sarai; his nephew, Lot; all their possessions they had acquired; and the people they had gotten in Haran. They left to go to the land of Canaan. They came to the land of Canaan, and Abram went through the land up to Shechem at the Oak of Moreh. The Canaanites were there in the land.

The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your seed I will give this land.” There he built an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. He proceeded from there to the mountain range east of Bethel. He pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called out the name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:1-8)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow believers washed clean in Jesus' blood:

During my second year at the Seminary, in the Fall of 1992, I was driving the fifty miles back to school early one morning. All of a sudden my car was slowing down. I stepped on the gas. It just slowed down some more. The engine had stopped. So I coasted off to the shoulder, turned the key, but the car didn't start. I had run out of gas. Whether it's a $100 cluncker or a quarter-of-a-million-dollar Lamborghini, without fuel it doesn't move.

The Lord's promises are what move us. Whether you want to call his promises the fuel or the engine or whatever other metaphor, it's his promises that move us in faith. They moved Abraham, so that he left his home and moved to a strange land. And still today, the Lord's promises move us in faith. That's our theme today. Now this faith, moved by the Lord's promises, trusts the Lord even without visible evidence. And it acts with godly obedience.

A. Faith trusts the Lord without visible evidence

1) What powers faith?

How would you like to start a new life at the age of seventy-five? Many people are well into retirement by then. They want to spend that time with family, not leave family behind for some strange country. What gave Abraham the strength to do this? Was this some blind leap of faith? Was this wishing upon a star? Was this some super-human feat of self-determination to overcome whatever obstacles to achieve his goal?

All those answers are human-centered. They imagine faith to be some sort of blind jump into the unknown that we talk ourselves into, or some sort of wishful hoping that what we want to be true comes true, or some sort of self-motivation that trusts our inner strength and follows our heart. Have faith in yourself!

All those answers are wrong, sinfully wrong. Maybe our movies and culture talk about faith in these way, but that is not the way our God talks in his Word. As we meet Abraham in the text, his faith does not come from a blind leap or wishful hoping or self-determination. His faith comes from the Lord's promises.

The Lord's promises power Abraham's faith. The Lord's promises bring Abraham to trust what we cannot see, to believe what seems unreasonable. Why? Not because he wants it so bad or takes a blind leap, but because the Lord God, the Savior-God, has promised it. He is trustworthy. He is reliable. He is faithful. He does not change his promises. For he is the Lord. The Lord's promises move Abraham to trust what the Lord says even without visible evidence. His promises power Abraham's faith.

2) What promise had the Lord made to Abraham?

What had the Lord promised? Picture these promises as a wedding ring with seven stones. The seventh promise is the large diamond, like in our modern-day engagement rings. It's the focal point of the ring. The first six are like gems in the wedding band that goes around it, to accentuate the diamond.

Our eyes are drawn to the center diamond, the seventh promise, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 NIV). Here is the promise of the Savior. Just as the Lord had promised Adam and Eve that the Savior would come, born from a woman, to crush Satan's head and remove the curse of sin, so he promises Abraham that this Savior would come from his family and replace sin's curse with the Lord's blessing.

How could that be? Abraham had no children. Sarah his wife was barren. They were too old to have kids. Abraham was seventy-five and Sarah was sixty-five. But faith trust the Lord even without visible evidence, even if it seems impossible. --not because Abraham wanted it to happen, but because the Lord is faithful. The Lord's promise moved Abraham. It powered his faith.

What's more, how could a mere human being crush the devil's power? Even the perfect man and woman fell before Satan. How could a mere human being remove the curse of sin and death that Adam's disobedience brought? The Lord God himself had pronounced that curse and death sentence. How could a descendant of Abraham bring blessing to all people in place of God's curse unless that descendant was God himself? This too Abraham believed though it seemed impossible. He believed without visible evidence, because the Lord had promised.

Abraham believed the Lord's promise that the divine Savior, the God-man, whom we know is Jesus Christ, would come from his family line to take away the curse of sin and bring blessing in its place.

The other six promises made in these verses -- “(1) I will make you into a great nation and (2) I will bless you; (3) I will make your name great, and (4) you will be a blessing. (5) I will bless those who bless you, and (6) whoever curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12:2, 3 NIV) -- all these promises are centered around that wonderful diamond of the Savior. The rest of the Old Testament Bible history of Israel shows how these promises worked to fulfill the promise of the Savior: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 NIV).

3) How is your faith moved to trust the Lord?

The Lord's promise is what powers your faith. Just as the his promises moved Abraham in faith, so his promises move you. This isn't blind faith, even though we don't see visible evidence. It isn't blind faith, because it trusts that the Lord has seen and so his promises are not blindly made. He will keep his word.

So this faith needs the Lord's promises. This faith does not come by wanting something badly enough. It does not come by self-determination. It comes only through the promises. Go to his Word and Sacraments to hear his promises. Guard his promises in your hearts. Cherish them. Treasure them.

And what a key time in the church year for you and me to have God's greatest promise, the diamond front and center. That's why we have midweek services in Lent. Not so that people can have another option of when to attend church during the week. Not to try and stress you out with more responsibilities. But rather to doubly hold before your eyes the greatest promise of all. The one promise that moves us. The only promises that saves us.

In Lent, come and see that descendant of Abraham carry the cross for you. Our bonds, our stripes, our pain, our death, he suffers all for you. See the divine curse against us hurled down on Jesus as he takes our place on the cross. See his holy, precious blood flow red to pay for your sins, to ransom and redeem you to be his very own. Remember the words of the Apostle Paul, “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.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” (Galatians 3:13, 14 NIV). This is what God promised in the Genesis 12: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3 NIV). The Lord is faithful. His promise is his engagement ring to you. Jesus is your groom. He has washed you in his blood and dressed you in the wedding gown of his righteousness. He keeps his promises.

B. Faith acts with godly obedience

1) What did Abraham do in faith?

Such faith acts. The Lord's promises move our faith to action. His promises moved Abraham to act in faith. He left his country, his people, and his father's house. He took a 350 mile journey to an unknown land, driving his flocks and herds with all the problems that entails. He lives and stays in that land even though it will never be his, for God has promised that one day his descendants will have it. But for the rest of his life, Abraham wanders as a stranger about this land, inhabited by the Canaanites. But God's promises move Abraham's faith to act with godly obedience. He did just “as the LORD had told him” (Genesis 12:4 NIV), the text says. His faith acted by obeying the Lord.

And his faith acted with godly obedience as he worshiped the Lord and proclaimed his Word. That's what it means to call on the name of the LORD. He not only called on that name in pray, but also called out that name in worship and in proclamation, letting others know that the Lord keeps his promises. Notice how the text points out his faith acting with godly obedience in these ways. “He built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him” (Genesis 12:7 NIV). And when he moved on we are told again, “There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD” (Genesis 12:8 NIV)

2) What do the Lord's promises move us to do?

So the Lord's promises move us in faith to act with godly obedience. Don't try to think up knew ways to show your faith. What did Abraham do? He did just as the Lord had told him. That's how our faith acts as well. Do as the Lord has told us.

He hasn't told you and me to leave home and family. But he has told us to honor and obey our parents and others in authority. He has told us love one another, to show kindness, gentleness, patience, to forgive others even as the Lord has forgiven us, to love enemy and pray for them. Maybe we think it would be easier if he would just tell us to go a far country. But just as his promises moved Abraham to act, so also his promise move us to do what we might think we just can't do. Go to his promises for the power and then act with godly obedience, obeying everything the Lord has said.

Such faith acting with godly obedience loves the Lord above all, keep his name holy, and worship him gladly hearing and learning his Word. Just as Abraham built an altar to proclaim the name of the Lord, so also we come here each week to gather around our Lord's name, revealed in his Word and Sacraments. As you gladly come here to cherish your Lord, you are proclaiming his saving name, just as Abraham did

So come. Hear his Word. Receive his promise in Jesus' body and blood. Come and worship. Sometimes it's hard to come. Sometimes the devil tempts to do other things. Sometimes we come reluctantly. Sometimes even though we're hear, our minds are wandering.

But as your faith acts in godly obedience to come and hear his promises, as you fight to listen and call your mind back to pay attention, those very promises your hearing are moving your faith, making you willing, leading you to gladly hear and learn his Word and receive his Supper. As you keep on hearing his promises and taking them to heart, you will not run out of gas on the road of life, rather his promises will continue to move you forward in faith.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313