The emerging message

RECAP

Genesis 17:1-7; 15-16
God appears and presents the Father of Many Nations with a condition and a promise

Psalm 22: 23-31
From a background of anguish and apparent abandonment, the tone turns to praise and even revival

Mark 8:31-38
God’s great plan of redemption through Jesus is a stretch of faith for His disciples

Romans 4: 13-25
The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’

The emerging message – ‘It’s all about faith, stupid’

God’s desire is to reveal Himself, to make Himself known. But there’s a problem – God is Spirit, and in our unregenerate state we are not. Even when we have come to know God personally through turning to Jesus and inviting him to be our Lord, there is still a gulf to be bridged. That bridge is what we call faith. It is choosing to believe beyond what we see, what we know, what we understand, what is logical or feasible to us. To see with the “eyes of the heart”.

Abraham is the father of faith, not just to Jews, but to all who look to God in faith. God appeared to him on a number of occasions and made promises that didn’t stack up and didn’t happen – or so it seemed. Abraham hung in there. God had said it – that settled it. This was a 25-year test; Abraham believed, and kept on believing, and “it was credited to Him as righteousness”.

We face trials, and seek what God is saying – and we may hear clearly. And we hang on to that word and it seems to us that nothing happens. What was all that about? The way God grew Abraham through a test of faith, is the way He grows us.

David, in Psalm 22, writes (probably prophetically) about desperate anguish and pain and the questioning of where God is in that. Where we pick up the reading the tone changes to praise, based on God’s character, never mind what it feels like. And the result of that barefaced, impudent faith to praise God in the face of the enemy is a knock-on effect of people turning to God. We call it revival.

Jesus explains to His disciples, now that they have recognised that He is the Messiah, that God’s plan for mankind will be fulfilled in His capture, mock trial and torture to death. No one wants that – but this most difficult-to-grasp purpose has to be seen with eyes of faith.

We have tried to turn faith into religious practice, as the Jews did with their complicated system to achieve righteousness. Peter teaches us that it doesn’t work that way. Look back to Abraham, He says, and you can see that salvation by faith alone began with Him. We want something more complicated, something to work at rather than – simply believing.

Sometimes the straightforward way, looks way too simple – but the straightforward response of faith is what God desires from us more than anything else.

Abraham is not just Father of the Jewish nation, he’s the father of all faith

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 22
Romans 4: 13-25

The deep roots of the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus which ‘credits righteousness’

13  It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

13  Now in Paul’s words Abraham is seen, not just as the father of many nations, but the father of all who relate to God by faith.

13  Abraham’s heritage in the sense of its geography lies between the River Euphrates and Egypt Genesis 13:14-15, Genesis 15:18. However the NT sees the promises in a spiritual sense, as world-wide and enduring as the Gospel itself, Romans 10:18. The Promised Land in Hebrews is not on a Middle East map marked ‘Canaan’ but “a better country – a heavenly one”, Hebrews 11:16.

13  The promise that Abraham would be “heir of the world” is not so explicit in Genesis. Paul is seeing a bigger picture here. Abraham is a man of huge faith, influencing faith down the centuries.So this “world” is the world of the faithful for whom Abraham is our “father” because, like Him, we are justified by the means of faith. All people of faith are blessed through Him – well in excess of two billion worldwide and growing, which Abraham might have wondered at.

For further study, read Genesis 12:3, Gen. 22:18

14  For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless… 14  A promise which is hedged about with inflexible conditions (in the manner of the law) doesn’t look like a promise anymore.
15  …because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

15  “The law brings wrath” because it demanded obedience and performance; violations were likely so the law may even have encouraged sin, Romans 7:7-11. If the law was violated, wrath ensued – it was not a system of grace.

15  People can certainly sin without the law. The point Paul is making is that can be no transgression – crossing a line – without having a benchmark of law to measure the transgression against. His argument is that the law serves to show people where they have transgressed, but living right by God is all about faith, not about rules. Keeping the rules is not the same as walking with God by faith, and it is the faith relationship He is looking for.

16  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 to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

16  Abraham had physical offspring, but ethnic descent is secondary compared with spiritual descent – “children of the promise”, Romans 9:11-13.

16  The promise to Abraham was not through the law, which would not come for another four centuries, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

For further study, read Galatians 3:16-18

17  As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”  He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. 17  God called the earth into being from nothing. And so God can speak something into being as if it already exists. God is all powerful and His words have this creative ability. And He operates outside time. Our understanding is on a ‘then – now – to be’ timeline, but in a way we cannot explain, God does not have to operate within this constraint.
18  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.”

18  “Against all hope” – from human perspective, impossible.

18  “So shall your offspring be” – The “count the stars” passage quoted from Genesis 15:5.

19  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. 19  Abraham and Sarah kept a stance of hope for a quarter-century. Both hope and faith are in this passage. Hope is confident expectation in God; He is good, His purposes are good, He is faithful, fair and just. Faith is more specific and stands on a bedrock of hope. When God has spoken something concrete, a confirmed word, through any of the ways God speaks to us, that is when hope moves into faith.

20  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,

21  being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

19-21  Abraham’s outlook changed as God spoke to Him with the original promise, Gen. 15:5, and after waiting till it was physically impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have children, spoke again, Gen. 17:5. With no naturally possible way out, he was shut up to God and “strengthened in his faith”, not weakened. His faith grew through this test.

22  This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”

23  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone…

22-23  Abraham’s experience was more than individual – it had broad implications. If justification by faith was true for him, it is true for all (and all people)
24  …but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  24  Justification in the specific faith that Jesus is who He said He was, and the resurrection really was the Resurrection of the Lord who lives and speaks to us as Lord of His church today.
25  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.  25  The core of the gospel. What we couldn’t pay for, he paid for. A justification we couldn’t earn by any amount of good works, He secured for us and still intercedes for us as those justified in Him.
Application

Abraham was counted a righteous because of his deep faith – he believed God and was tested in this over a quarter century. When we wonder where God is, in a situation that stretches our trust and patience, it is worth remembering that Abraham came to the deep – an iconic – place of faith and trust as he grew through the test. God wants to grow us!

Justification by faith, the keel timber of the Christian gospel and indeed the Reformation of the 1520s, is as old as the patriarch Abraham – and much older than the law which Moses expounded.

Judaism has tended to view Abraham as a great man of obedience to the law, an oversight of history as well as theology. Paul redresses this by showing that justification  by faith been taught by Scripture from the beginning.

Justification by faith was the great biblical discovery of the Reformation. Yet, strangely, much of the Christian church is in a muddle, with a stress on ritual and obedience and a ‘salvation by sacraments’ which is seldom overtly taught but preached persuasively in what we emphasise. Yet what was credited to Abraham as righteousness is what God looks for in His church today – faith that simply takes Him at His word.

For reflection and discussion

If you think of your own faith and values – how much is based on faith and believing and trusting, and how much leans towards observance and obedience?

Would Paul need to write to us today and remind us that we are not under law?