Is God Going To Let Me Down?
Topic: Sunday Sermons Passage: Genesis 15–17
Is God Going to Let Me Down?
October 24, 2021
I was in a high stakes meeting. I was under a lot of pressure to make this deal happen and I wanted to make sure everything was on the up and up. After an hour of negotiations, I was ready to seal the deal. With the terms set we were ready to make this thing official, so as any serious-minded individuals would do, we pinky swore.
I was 8 years old and I had just brokered the largest baseball card exchange in the history of my street. We had to end it with a pinky swear because one of my neighbors would have to go home and bring the rest of his cards tomorrow.
As people we make promises. Some are small. Some are big. Some are to ourselves (Any new Years resolution makers here?). And some are to others.
But we also tend to do something else, don’t we. We break promises. Some in small ways. Others in big ways. Some to ourselves (Again, resolution makers). And some to others.
As a pastor in this church, I know how some of us have been hurt by broken promises. I know specific details. But as a human being, I may not know the details, but I know for certain that many of us have been hurt by broken promises. How can I know that? It’s such a common experience in this broken world isn’t it?
Some of us have been wounded by a close friend who has betrayed our trust. Some have walked through a spouse breaking their marriage covenant. And many of us have felt the pain of breaking promises to others, to God and to ourselves.
This morning, we approach two towering chapters in Scripture. They are not usually someone's favorite bible verses. I personally have never seen them stitched onto a pillow. But laying in the words of these chapters, these pages of this book, are a universe-shattering promise from God to Abram, his people, and us.
Now in this series, we have encountered the word covenant before. And in a few moments, I’ll go into more detail on what makes a covenant a covenant. But what I want us to acknowledge at this moment is that God is a covenant-making God.
Chris just preached on Noah and how after the flood God made a covenant. Noah sacrificed animals, God made a promise, and he gave a sign (visible word) in the rainbow. He promised to never destroy the world in the same way, to never curse the ground for man’s sins again, and to maintain the seasons, day and night, seedtime and harvest. And in today’s passage, we will see another covenant made by God.
So we see in the early chapters of Genesis that Yahweh, the creator of all things, is a covenant-making God. But it begs a serious question from us. With all of our experiences of broken promises, we must ask this morning.
Is the covenant-making God, The covenant-keeping God?
Or maybe to put it in a more visceral and probably more honest way, Is God going to let me down?
Are his words, just words? Will he let us down as many have before? Or is he as fickle as I am toward others?
Often, we have a dour and frankly graceless view of God as he is revealed in the Old Testament. I hope this morning by his grace and through his Spirit, He will obliterate that view in our hearts.
1. What is a Covenant
Now this morning, our passage is too large to read in one sitting. As Chris did two weeks ago when he encouraged us as a church to read the full text later, I want to do the same. I want to actually encourage you to do it tonight, as a family. We are looking this morning at Genesis chapters 15 and 17.
But before we dive in I must answer the question, what is a covenant?
O. Palmer Robinson defines a covenant this way in his book The Christ of The Covenants.
“A covenant is a bond-in-blood. It involves commitments with life-and-death consequences. At the point of the covenantal inauguration, the parties of the covenant are committed to one another by a formalizing process of blood-shedding. This blood-shedding represents the intensity of the covenant. By the covenant, they are bound for life and death.”
Covenants are bloody affairs. And the covenants of the bible are divine covenants made by a sovereign God. That is what we are talking about today.
The covenant to Abram is presented to us as readers in 3 parts. The covenant is in part introduced in Genesis 12, It is formalized in Genesis 15 and it is marked by a seal in Genesis 17.
2. The covenant-making God is gracious and gentle
Chapter 12 verses 1-3 say this.
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
These are promises of blessings to Abram that are a part of God’s covenant to him. And since God made these promises in chapter 12 Abram has seen in the subsequent chapters God blessing him materially and blessing him with safety. But Abram is wrestling with something by chapter 15. We find Abram fearful. God tells Abram,
“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
What is Abram fearful of? I think we find it in the next verses when he says,
2 …“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”
God has promised Abram to make him a great nation. As a matter of fact in chapter 13 God told Abram his descendants would as numerous as the dust on the earth (meaning a lot of descendants!) Here is the problem for Abram. In chapter 15, where we are today, Abram is somewhere between 75 and 85 years old! Abram is wondering, “God you made these promises but I don’t know how that’s going to happen.”
What do we see from God when Abram is despairing regarding the promises He has made to him?
I think if we were honest with ourselves we might expect God to say something like, “Do you know who I am!? Who do you think you are questioning me?! I promised! That is enough!”
Is this what God does? No. God is far more gracious and gentle than we think.
He takes Abram out to a field and has him look at the stars in the sky. And God makes the promise of many descendants once again. If you can number the stars then you can number your descendants. Now, this is no Casselberry Florida light-polluted sky. If so, Abram would have counted, one, two. Two descendants.
No, Abram can see innumerable stars. This is a view of the heavens.
Think about that. God remakes the same promise to Abram but tells it to him in a new way. How gentle is that! Sometimes I need assurance. Do you?
And the way God assures Abram is a wonderful gift. Every night Abram can look up to the sky and see all of those stars and remember God’s promise to him.
Now after God restated his promise to Abram, Abram believed and God credited it to him as righteousness. We could preach sermons upon sermons over these words. Aron focused on Abrams faith last week and this week I’m on a mission to answer the question, Is the covenant-making God The covenant-keeping God. So I will just note this.
Is your view of salvation like this passage? Abram has questioned God. God has graciously restated a promise to him. Abram believed this promise. God has declared him righteous. Abram has saving faith. That’s it. There isn’t obedience. And then promises.
It was promises, faith, salvation.
Like in the book of Exodus. God called the Egyptians out of Egypt. He saved them. Then he gave them the law to obey. He didn’t give them the law first, watch for a few years to see if they were the obedient type (spoiler: they were not) and then save them after they proved themselves.
God is more gracious than we tend to believe. At this point in the sermon, I think I want to let the cat out of the bag. As I was preparing this message I had two people in mind. One was someone who hasn’t surrendered to God yet and the other was a Christian. What both of these people had in common was this, They both believed far too little of God’s grace. Whether you think you need to get your life together first before approaching God or that now that you are saved you need to keep in his good graces, It is the same temptation. I need to earn his love.
Can I tell you a scandal? It’s so scandalous that our law abiding, love earning hearts can’t fathom it on their own.
God wants you.
Not a better version of you. Not you after you get your act together.
You. Right now. You.
You’re a mess. I don’t mean that self-righteously. I mean it as a fellow mess.
Yes God calls us to obedience. But it’s an obedience that we walk in because we are saved, not to make us saved.
Do you have doubts right now? How can you know if God will really take you with all of your failures and sin? Do you wonder if God will let you down? Look what happens next to Abram.
God reminds Abram what he has done by bringing him out of Ur of the Chaldeans to this land to possess it. And Abram asks, “O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it.”
How can Abram believe he will have descendants as numerous as the stars in one moment and in the very next ask God how will I know I will possess this land you have promised?
Now was this Abram doubting God? I honestly don’t know. I don’t know what Abram was thinking at this moment. But I know this about God, He is so gracious and gentle with his people.
God’s reaction is one of the most important moments in the history of the world.
3. The Covenant making God is responsible
God tells Abram to go get some animals together. A cow, a goat, a ram, a turtle dove and a pigeon. We don’t have in the narrative God explaining to Abram what to do next so I think we can assume that he understood what was happening.
It was a practice at this time when making an oath with others to perform this ceremony. That means Abram knew he was to cut the mammals into two. He was to spread them apart into two rows. Blood would be smeared across the grass. Abram knew that Yahweh was going to make a covenant with him.
I wonder if Abram was thinking as he was trying to track down a turtledove, “what have I gotten myself into!” Remember, covenants are bloody affairs with life and death consequences. Abram would know that he would have to walk between these animals while making the covenant. In effect they would be saying if I don’t uphold my end of this covenant may I be ripped apart like these animals.
In the old Testament, the phrase to make a covenant is literally “to cut” a covenant. This was a blood bond.
And just as it is getting dark. As the hour approaches for this covenant to be made. A wonderful thing takes place. A deep sleep fell on Abram. Abram is alert because he witnesses what takes place but at the same time he is unable to participate. And God speaks to Abram telling him the future and making specific promises to him.
And then God passes between the animals. Represented as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch Yahweh passes between the animals. Yahweh uses similar imagery to present himself to the Israelites when he was with them in the day as a pillar of smoke and by night a pillar of fire.
God cuts a covenant with Abram where God is the only one responsible.
What does this mean?! God is saying to Abram, that if any side of this agreement breaks the covenant, I will pay the price myself.
As Abram saw the torch and the pot pass between those torn apart animals the Covenant making God was saying to Abram and in future descendants, I will not let you down. Even though you will fail, I will not!
Can you imagine if Abram was to have walked between those carcasses? What hope would he have?
4. The Covenant making God transforms and affirms us
We get to chapter 17 through Abram’s failure in chapter 16. He tries to have the promised child through a woman other than his wife. What do we find in Chapter 17, does God reject Abram.
God made a covenant. He is going to keep it.
But here is where we find the real covenant promise. See God has promised to Abram all sorts of wonderful benefits. Land, a great nation, influence, and to be a blessing to the nations. He adds to that in chapter 17 that Abram descendants will be kings which makes Abram and Sarai royalty. But God ends a long list of promises with the true treasure. He simply says this at the end of verse 8 regarding the offspring of Abraham.
“…and I will be their God.”
Friends, be stunned by these words. What’s the heart of God’s covenant with Abram?
Relationship. It’s promised, everlasting, eternal relationship.
And it’s through grace and relationship that God transforms us.
It’s here in chapter 17 verse 1 that we first see God call himself El Shaddai. It’s commonly translated in English as God Almighty but the original meaning isn’t entirely clear. It appears to, in this context, to mean something like I am enough. Why the new name? It seems at moments where our understanding is small God is gracious to disclose more of himself. His very name is a reminder that he is not just the covenant-making God but the covenant-keeping God.
Everyone else gets a new name too. Abram which meant Exalted Father, is now Abraham Father of many nations. Sarai, which meant my princess, is now Sarah which means princess.
Why? Relationship with God gives us new identities. These names we affirming of the promises God has made and at the same time realities of what God has declared. Abraham would not see the many nations but nonetheless, he is the Father of many nations. Sarai was no longer someone's princess but she was now a princess. She may not see the courts of David, the throne room or the palace but she was nonetheless a princess.
God is transforming the very people he has made promises to. Not because they have done anything. But because they are in a relationship with him.
We find in the chapter the long-awaited announcement. Abraham and Sarah will have a child in a years time. His name would be Isaac. God will not let them down.
God gives a sign to seal this covenant which is circumcision. I think Chris talked enough about circumcision in the Hebrews series. We all remember the slides! No, there were no slides..
But it’s important that we acknowledge this. The sign of circumcision didn’t save Abraham, he was already counted as righteous for his faith. But the sign of circumcision was a permanent sign in the body of the covenant God cut. It was a mark of people who belonged in a relationship with God. This matters and we will come back to it in a moment.
5. The covenant making God is the covenant-keeping God.
I want to return to the question at hand. How can we know God won’t let us down. We have seen that God is more gracious and gentler than we tend to believe. We have seen that God has made a bond in blood and made himself responsible. And we saw that at the heart of God covenant is relationship. This relationship transforms and affirms us. But we can be left saying that God might have kept his covenant to Abraham but what does that mean for me?
When God walked through those animals he saw you.
We are spiritual descendants of the promise of Abraham.
Galatians 3:7-9 says,
7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Did you catch that? God preached the gospel to Abraham when he said, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” The Gospel!
When God made his covenant with Abraham he had you mind too. When God made a covenant to be in a relationship with Abraham and his descendants he was thinking of you! And he knew then, thousands of years ago, what it would cost to have you.
The covenant making God is the covenant-keeping God. It was the covenant-keeping God who sent his Son to earth. And it was the covenant-keeping God who came to earth. It was the covenant-keeping God who walked with a band of misfit disciples. It was the covenant-keeping God who touched the lepers, healed the sick, brought back to life a little girl, forgave the sins of prostitutes and tax collectors, and walked on water.
It was the covenant-keeping God who at the right time set his face towards Jerusalem. It was the covenant-keeping God who like a lamb went to the slaughter. It was the covenant-keeping God who on the night that he was to be betrayed took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”
Did you hear that? Jesus’ blood had two covenantal purposes. He walked through those animals while Abram watched those many years ago and now he would have his very body torn for the curses we should have incurred. And at the same time, his blood would be poured out to mark a new covenant.
The covenant-keeping God went to the garden and sweat blood as he looked at the wrath we deserved. The covenant-keeping God willingly went with his accusers. The covenant-keeping God was whipped, tortured, mocked and abused. And that next day, on that wooden cross outside of Jerusalem, Jesus cut a new covenant in his blood.
Why? Because he was coming after you. God had planned from Genesis that he would come on a rescue mission for you.
How do you receive this scandalous gift of forgiveness, mercy, grace, and relationship? You accept it through faith.
So, will God keep his promises? Look at the cross of Christ and tell me he won’t.
So let me say it clearly, God will not let you down.
I said we would come back to circumcision. Do you remember how God gave the rainbow when he made a covenant with Noah? It was a visible expression of the promise. Do you remember him taking Abram out to see the stars at night? A visible reminder. Do you remember the name changing in chapter 17, It was declaring it is as good as done. And circumcision a reminder on the body of God’s people that they were his people and he was their God.
The new covenant made in Christ’s blood comes with a visible word to the church. It is the baptism of new believers. I told Chris a week ago as I was looking at this passage that God was giving me a longing and faith that we would see baptisms. So we filled the baptistry. Am I going to be embarrassed if no one is baptized this morning, no way. But let me tell you why I so desperately hope to see baptisms.
Because to be baptized is to say I am in a relationship with God. It’s a person receiving the gospel of Jesus. Being blessed through Abraham. It’s someone receiving the love of the covenant-keeping God.
And it’s public. It’s to the church. Just as Abram could look at the sky and remember the covenant made to him. Noah could look at a rainbow. And the Israelites carried in their own body a reminder. We as a church, when we see someone baptized, we get to rejoice with joy inexpressible and say, “God will do it!”
As the band comes back up here to lead us in worship, I’m going to do the unusual step of calling for ministry immediately. If the ministry team and the elders could come forward.
I want to appeal to you all this morning. I’ve prayed that God would give new faith today and I prayed that he would strengthen faith today. If you are not in Christ right now, can I plead with you my friend. With all my heart, don’t resist him any longer. God loves you. And he wants you. He died for you. And if you will accept it, he will never let you down. If the Lord is tugging at your heart please come up here, I want to pray with you, and if you want to accept his love, we want to baptize you this morning.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ, God knew the mess he was getting in when he saved you. He knew you would fail to obey time and time again. He didn’t die for a perfect you. The perfect one died for you. He wants a relationship with you, and relationship with him will transform you. We are going to have the elders and ministry team up here. We want to encourage you. Affirm what God is doing in you. And pray with you. Please come up here so we can do that.