August 6 & 7, 2016
A man was out hiking by himself, when he stumbled down the side of a cliff. As he plunged toward his death, he desperately grabbed the root of a tree that was jutting out from the otherwise barren wall. As he clung tightly to the root, the man looked down. His fall would have meant certain death! He looked up, but realized there was no possibility of climbing back up. As he could think of nothing else to do, he looked toward the sky and yelled, “Is there anyone up there? If there’s a God in heaven, get me out of this mess, and I’ll do anything that you ask!”
A voice boomed from the sky, “Yes, I’m here, and if you wish to be saved, all you need to do is have faith. Simply let go of that root, let yourself fall, and I will catch you in My hand. No harm will come to you.”
The man looked down again to what seemed like certain death. He paused and yelled back up at the sky, “Is anyone else up there?”
I re-tell this story to illustrate the NATURE OF FAITH. While the story is intended to be humorous, it packs a punch of stern reality! The “Law-message” is 3-fold: First of all, like the man in the story, all too often we only call upon the LORD in the midst of a crisis – hanging on for “dear life!” Secondly, we think we can strike up a “bargain” with God – “get me out of this and I’ll do whatever You ask!” – but after the crisis is over, our promise is unfulfilled and quickly forgotten. And thirdly, when God tells us “let go… I will take care of you” – we want to consider other options; including the idolatry of asking, “Is anyone else up there?”
The Scripture readings this weekend point us to the example of Abraham: “By faith Abraham (at the age of 100)… was enabled to become a father because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise.” (Hebrews 11:1) and “Abram believed the LORD, and (the LORD) credited it to (Abraham) as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)
Note that it does NOT say Abraham did what was right and the Lord rewarded him. It does NOT say Abraham was better than the others and the Lord gave him special treatment. In fact, God’s Word shows us a very human, sinful and fearful Abraham who got impatient with God and TOOK MATTERS into his own hands. Twice he lied about his wife, Sarah. In today’s OT reading, he suggested to God that Eliezer, his servant, might be his heir. In the next chapter, we read how he took his wife’s maid, Hagar, and had a son, Ishmael through her, thinking that Ishmael would be the “heir.” All of these, showing his LACK of FAITH in God’s promise; and yet God’s Word points us to Abraham as “Abraham believed the LORD and (the LORD) credited it to him as righteousness.” “By faith, Abraham…” did have a son (the son of promise) through Sarah, and through this undeserved gift, God faithfully fulfilled His eternal promise that through Isaac and his descendants, Jesus would be born as the Savior of the World!
God’s Word gives us the example of Abraham to assure us that faith is only available as a GIFT – undeserved and freely given by a gracious God! As we read Hebrews 11 – “the heroes of faith,” God’s Word does NOT direct us to the quality of faith in these “heroes” – but always DIRECTS US TO THE OBJECT of faith – Jesus Christ.
God’s Word tells us that faith was “credited” to Abraham. This sounds like a bookkeeping term. In its use here, it is really much more than a calculation of debits and credits. It is a word that has to do with the DECISION that GOD HAS MADE. God’s Word so clearly starts it: “The wages of sin is death, but the GIFT of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the GIFT of God…” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
This saving FAITH is God’s gift to us (just as it was to Abraham). In today’s Gospel reading, as Jesus is teaching His disciples, He points us to WHAT HE DOES FOR US, as He says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to GIVE you the kingdom…” (Luke 12:32) God gives the GIFT of FAITH so that we might RECEIVE His precious gift!
There will be weak moments in our lives, when we may feel like we are “hanging on for dear life.” As noted, God’s Word records for us many such times in Abraham’s life – as it also does for all of the “heroes of faith” as recorded in Hebrews 11, and the rest of Holy Scripture. In this respect, we, who live today, are “ONE UP” on Abraham – we have the definite advantage! Whereas Abraham could only trust what God would do for him in the future, we have the DEFINITE ADVANTAGE of knowing a God who has already acted in the past, giving us His only Son, Jesus Christ, who lived, suffered, died and rose again FOR US. This is what CREATED the FAITH and SUSTAINS us so that we too can “believe the LORD and have it credited to us as righteousness.”
God strengthened Abraham’s faith in an interesting way. He said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then He said to Him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5) To strengthen Abraham’s faith, the LORD pointed him to look at the stars – (every night?) – God directs our eyes, not to the stars, but to His Son, Jesus Christ and to the cross which symbolizes all that He has done for us. In FAITH, we look back to the already-accomplished work of Jesus as recorded for us faithfully in God’s Word.
We must be constantly reminded of God’s promises and faithfulness. That is why we meet regularly for worship and Bible study; come OFTEN at Jesus’ invitation to the Lord’s Supper; encourage one another daily. This is why we visit the sick, reach out to the unchurched, give offerings for the work of the Lord as well as out-reach beyond our community. “Reaching the Lost and Strengthening the Saved” – That is why we SEEK to point others to Jesus Christ and what He has done and continues to do for us so that they too might “believe the LORD and have it credited to them as righteousness.”
Looking forward to worshiping with you this next weekend – and continuing to grow together in the faith this week in daily prayers and devotions.