sermon: Leadership and Covenants (Part Nineteen)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 04-Feb-17; Sermon #1362; 62 minutes
The seven "I will" promises given to our forefather Abraham were truly foundational promises, impacting the lives of multiple billions of people up to the present day. Abraham calculated, adding things up in order to esteem those things which he learned to be truly important. To Abraham, God's words were a beacon, directing him how to live his life. Abraham believed in the counsel God gave him, redirecting his steps to accommodate this counsel. Everything hinges on whether we, as our father Abraham, are willing to live by faith. When God read Abraham's mind, He found no skepticism, but found instead trust and faith, qualities we are to emulate. If we do not believe God, we will not submit to Him. We begin with faith, and the works follow. Faith motivates us to keep the law, steering us away from the death penalty which is the automatic curse for disobeying the Law. Before God established the Old Covenant, a sign or guidepost anticipating the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, Abraham realized that a promised Seed-an incarnation of God—would eventually emerge as a Savior, making possible the forgiveness of sins for all of Adam's offspring who would call on Him and follow His guidance and counsel.
We will begin in Genesis 12:1-3. These are just as a reminder that we are going to use here.
Genesis 12:1-3 Now the Lord had said to Abram; “Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12:7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
We have been proceeding through these seven “I will” promises given to Abram. It may seem repetitious at times, but I want to give you one good overall reason why it may seem as though we are moving so slowly. It is because these promises are foundational to the rest of the Bible. They are so significant that virtually the entire rest of the history recorded in the Bible, in both major and minor ways, involve God’s fulfilling these “I will” promises.
These promises provide a sketchy overview of the outward development of the Kingdom of God on earth. God’s program is going to begin formation through this man of faith, Abram. The Bible itself reveals certain stages involving vast lengths of time, in a small step-by-step manner. For example, think about these times that are involved in what we are talking about here. It was four hundred years from the Flood to Abram, roughly seven hundred years from Abram to David, and within that period of time Moses came to the forefront. From David to Christ was another one thousand years. It is about two thousand years now from Christ to the present.
These are round figures but they are reasonably close. Now within each of these large amounts of time other persons who played a part in fulfilling these promises also lived, and they performed what God had for them to fulfill. This is truly a big deal in God’s purpose. These seven verses formed the foundation of almost every thing that happens after as God works them out to fulfill His purpose.
Each of the “I wills” is stupendous in its scope as regards the impact each promise has on the histories of many nations, over thousands of years of time, involving multiple billions of people started through one man, who did not have a thing practically.
One over all theme we can see by putting the parts in a coherent order is that this creation is moving to a preordained conclusion, and directed toward that conclusion by someone—God—of awesome love, power, wisdom, and purpose. He has never deviated from these promises, not one inch.
Here is something easy for us to grasp once we get over the tremendous significance of the purpose and plan we are participating in by means of our faith in our calling. Turn to the book of Hebrews chapter 4.
Hebrews 4:11-13 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall after the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
This fundamental point is what is important to us in regard to what we must do. We have to do, in a sense, like Abraham did: live according to the Word. What is it that sets Abram apart from so many others? This quality is stated so casually in the Bible, yet it is the key to living life abundantly for all eternity.
Genesis 15:4-6 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir [Abraham’s servant], but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Why is it so important that we remember this? Because of what Abram did in terms of what would normally be considered works. What motivated Abram was what he believed and who he believed. He proved by his life’s activities why he did what he did in the living of his life. God’s words were his beacon guiding his way, they were the foundation, the reason he did what he did. The term translated into “accounting” has two related levels of thought. The first is arithmetical, such as counting even as simple as one, two, three, four, or two plus two equals four.
The second part of what that word indicates is that Abram calculated. He added things up in order to find what he esteemed as being important. Do not leave the thought with what is said here in Genesis 15:4-6. He believed what he heard, he believed when God told him he was going to have numerous, numerous descendants, and he did not have anybody yet. Abram calculated, he added things up in order to find what he esteemed as important to his life, and of course his relationship with the Lord.
This adds a second level to accounting having to do with planning, reckoning what was the right use for the information that God had given him here in these verses about the future that lay before him.
Here is what set Abram apart. He very consistently came to the conclusion that what God said was by far the most important things, so he set his mind to use it in his life, and he did not back away from using it because he truly believed it was too important for him not to use it. What he did was so exemplary he became the leader, the father, of all who follow the same path in life.
The history of mankind clearly shows this is a quality humanity as a whole will not do, they will not follow Abraham and his pattern, they will not believe what God said.
James 2:17-18 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
James is saying, if a person has faith it will produce the kind of works of which God approves.
Luke 1:66-79 And all those who heard them kept them in their hearts, saying, “What kind of child will this be?” And the hand of the Lord was with him. Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying [A converted man who is acting upon his own belief regarding what he is going to say, as well as having some inspiration of God in saying it.]; “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant [the covenant made with Abraham in Genesis12], the oath which He swore to our father Abraham; to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life. And you, child [now talking about his own son who became John the Baptist], will be called the prophet of the Highest [Jesus]; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring [Jesus Christ] from on high has visited us [He was not born yet, but he knew who was going to be born, the Savior. This man is speaking in faith of something that had been prophesied about 4,000 years ago.]; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
This was spoken by a converted man just short of two thousand years after Abram lived, and he clearly recognized Abram’s significance to God’s purpose. That is why he called him father Abraham. He is speaking, first of his own son, John the Baptist just born, whom he recognized would be the forerunner preparing the way for the Savior who is spoken of beginning in verse 70. The mention of Abram is no mere sentiment but helps confirm the fact that this man who is also called God’s friend, is at one and the same time the leader of others who faithfully follow the same course of life Abram did.
This is why it is so important to us, if we are going to be part of Abram’s spiritual family then we have to live like Abram did—by faith. I am not saying that we have to do it as perfectly as Abram did, but we must live by faith. Abram was one unusual man; he was a one of a kind.
Therefore it is at this point necessary to more specifically address the promise made in Genesis 12: You shall be a blessing, and in you [speaking to Abram] all the families of the earth shall be blessed. You think our Creator does not think far ahead? Everything hinged on whether Abram would live by faith.
How will this be accomplished since Abram lived so long ago, combined with the indisputable fact that he was just one man, without even one child at the time the prophesy was given? Do not forget that God blessed Abram and Sarah with that one child, Isaac.
We will advance in time to the beginnings of the church following Jesus’ death and the beginnings of the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles, primarily through the apostle Paul. The Gentiles were simply those who were non-Israelites. They were not descended from Abram.
Galatians 3:1-3 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
Paul is, in this context, addressing important aspects of the meaning of this “you shall be a blessing” promise. In this letter to a Gentile congregation roughly 1,800 years after that promise was originally written, this is not a congregation dominated by Israelites, but Gentiles. Recall that Genesis 15:6 states that Abram believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness, simply because he believed.
I said, when we read that verse at that time early in this sermon, to remember that statement because that significant truth would be important later. Here it is: Abram was given, gifted, graced, by God with that righteous standing even though he did nothing that would normally be considered as works that would earn him something. What he did was to actually, literally, believe God without a trace of doubt or skepticism. God was reading his mind. That is why He pronounced it. He read what he saw in Abraham’s mind and He saw no doubt, no skepticism—he believed what God said.
This is why faith in God, believing God, is so important. We act, we produce works, because we believe. It was not as if Abraham did anything right at the moment, but God’s truth became lodged into his mind. He calculated, he accounted it as being really valuable, so he hung onto it and said, “This is what I am going make my decisions based on, God's words.”
All of this follows the same basic pattern. We do what we believe, but we believe first. This is not just any old faith that one might pick up anywhere, this is faith in what God said, and that makes all the difference in the world. He is the one we are to trust; He is the one we are to have faith in. What does this faith produce? It produces knowledgeable, voluntary, willing, and loving submission to God. Specific submission is a product to a specific set of beliefs.
This is why understanding the statement in Hebrews 11:1 is so important. It teaches us that faith stands under, it tells us that faith is the substance of, or that faith is the assurance of, obedience to God. Faith in God is the foundation of obedience to God. I am trying to come at this from several different directions so that we get the point. The Bible is not complex. It is written in such a way that faith is the foundation of obedience to God. You begin with the faith then you obey what God says to do.
This is a reality: If we do not believe God, we will not submit to Him That is why it so important what God said to Abraham. He believed Him and He accounted righteousness to him. He understood, “This man is going to obey Me.”
Forgiveness, salvation, and redemption must have a beginning. These are not a matter of seeing God, but of believing what He says. When Adam and Eve sinned in Satan’s presence it was because they did not believe God. They believed their own words, their own thoughts, regarding the need for what they desired to a far greater degree than they did God’s Word, and they fell before Satan’s persuasions.
Bad choice. They simply chose to agree with Satan rather than agree with God, and they sinned. When we strip away all the stuff there, they simply did not believe God. Their own thinking overwhelmed them. Thus, Paul mentions Genesis 15:6 specifically in relation to Gentiles, to teach them that what matters in a relationship with God is not ethnicity—race—but faith, belief. So it did not matter if they were Gentiles, if they believed God they were accepted before God, because that is what He is looking for, people who will believe Him.
In this section here, in Galatians 3, verse 13, Paul also mentions the curse of the law. That statement does not concern that the law itself is a curse. God’s laws are a wonderful gift to those of the faith of Abraham who believe that they should keep them because they are assured guidance between right and wrong behavior.
Make sure you understand. The curse of the law is the death penalty for sin, the wages of sin is death. All the law does is give directions regarding what one should do, like a sign that points the way on a road. If we do not go in the direction that the law points, it is not the sign’s fault. The sign is the law, but the curse of the law happens, or occurs, comes on us, whenever we do not take the sign’s advice. So we are cursed by not arriving at where we really felt we needed to go.
These things are not complicated. We will come back to Galatians 3 again but first please turn to Leviticus 18.
Leviticus 18:1-5 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do [Did they believe Him? No they did not.]; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments [That is the contrast. Do not do as you did in Egypt and once in Canaan, do not do as those people do!] and keep My ordinances, to walk in [obey them] them; I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep My statues and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them; I am the Lord.’
In a way we live in a same kind of world. We know that the people of the world say that the law is done away. Jesus clarified that right away in Matthew 5:17-19, where He said, “Do not think that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets.” In addition to that, we are reminded here that we should not follow what the Israelite’s of old did in failing to keep His law, even though they knew the truth. Faith in God motivates one to keep His law, as James 2 clearly states.
If we do keep His law, they produce life because of whose laws they are. It is not the laws themselves that are going to produce life (verse 5), they are just signs. It is because of who stands behind and gave those laws that they produce life. They are the Creator God’s laws giving directions regarding how we are to live. It is because of Him that they produce life. God’s laws give counsel on all levels of life: physical, moral, spiritual, and relational.
What Paul is teaching in Galatians 3 is that when God’s laws are violated by breaking them, they claim our life because the curse within them claims its rights to our life, almost as if it were alive, because the wages of sin is death. Listen carefully. Therefore, because it is a reality that we sin, overcoming this curse requires something greater and more powerful once we have sinned and earned death. A remedy more influential than the curse of the law is needed to overcome the curse of the law—death.
Galatians 3:12-15 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. [Just like Abraham did. He has now turned this argument that he is giving to them to show where they are benefiting from the “I wills” of Genesis 12. It is because of that promise that came through Abraham to Jesus Christ.] Brethren, I speak in the manner of men; Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.
The reason Paul gave that is because in order to confirm to them that the covenant that God made with Abraham in Genesis12 still applies to them, regardless of their ethnicity, regardless of their race, because they have faith in Jesus Christ. This faith becomes more and more important to our lives.
Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his Seed [Jesus Christ] were the promises made [Genesis 12]. He does not say, “And to seeds,” of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.
We will recap here. Because it is a reality that we sin, overcoming this curse of sin requires something greater, and more powerful once we have sinned we earn death. A remedy more influential than the curse of the law is needed to overcome the curse of the law, which is death. That remedy, that salvation, or deliverance, from the death we earn by committing sins, is faith in Jesus Christ the Messiah.
The Messiah was also the promised Seed who was born as a human, as a literal flesh and blood descendant of Abram. Jesus Christ and His perfect works and sacrificial death is the means, the remedy that God mercifully accepts in place of our death because the sinless Jesus voluntarily took the curse in our stead. Therefore the fulfillment of the promise to Abram in Genesis 12 that he would be a blessing to all families on the earth, literally applies to Jesus Christ, a direct descendant of Abram, as being the means of redemption for all who place their faith in Him.
This merciful gifting by God applies regardless of one’s nationality, ethnicity, if they believe. Think about Genesis 15:6. He accounted the faith of Abraham as righteousness. He cleared the sins away and He called Abraham a righteous man because of his faith. That is what Paul is getting at here.
In our relationship with God we have to begin acting as Abraham did, and God will account our belief as righteousness in His sight applying the righteousness of Jesus Christ to us. Brethren, you cannot get a better deal than that!
You see what he was doing here in Galatians 3? He was leveling the field between the Israelites and the Gentiles. God willing I will get to that in my next sermon, because it is very important that we understand this. We are not better than anybody, we are blessed better than others because we believe what God says.
Galatians 3:16-19 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to the seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by hand of a mediator.
Here is what I clearly did not get before now even though it says it right in the verses. What was the law that was added to the covenant? It is what we call the Old Covenant. Try to get this straight in your mind. The promises of God given in chapter 12 are a greater magnitude, they are greater worth, if I can put it that way, than the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was actually added to the covenant that God made with Abraham. That was the big deal! The seven “I wills,” containing the promises that God was making to Abraham.
And those added laws were never intended to justify those keeping it, but to clarify—signs—and give guidance—signs—in order to keep them avoiding sin, so that they did not mess up with the covenant that God made with Abraham. It was not the Old Covenant that was really important, it was the promises that God made verbally to Abraham. They were given to give guidance so that they would not lose the benefit of the promises. Do you get it?
This promise applies regardless of when in the span of time, beginning with Adam and Eve, one placed their faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. Regardless of the time, they would be forgiven, if their faith was really in that. What I just said to you applies even though they may have sinned, then repented, before the giving of His life actually occurred.
All of the holy men and women of old specifically named in Hebrews 11, lived before Jesus Christ literally gave His life for our sins. Therefore, the knowledge of a deliverer, as Paul shows here in Galatians 3, was known from the very beginning by Abel before he was murdered. He knew it from the start.
Let me ask you a question. What gave Abel the proof that his sins were forgiven? It was the judgment that God made on the serpent. That judgment told Abel that a deliverer was coming who would crush the serpent’s head. He knew that somebody was coming to bash the serpent and his sins would be forgiven before his brother ever murdered him.
We have evidence right from the beginning that God planned, should Adam and Eve sin and the need of a deliverer was necessary, He had the deliverer in His pocket already, and His name was Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Did you ever wonder where that came from? That is where it comes from.
The Bible tell us right in the beginning. The promise that was made with Abram applies regardless of when in the span of time, beginning with Adam and Eve, that one placed their faith in the blood of Jesus Christ they would be forgiven. We go through something similar to this. We believe that we are going to be resurrected. We are not resurrected yet, but God has already said that He will do it because we are forgiven, and He has the mercy to do it. In a way it is the same basic principle, just a little bit different operation.
This truth also includes the man Abram. We will consider him a little closer now. It was the deliverer Himself, Jesus Christ, who gave the prophesies and promises in Genesis 12, before He ever became a man. Have you ever thought what Abram’s reaction might have been to that particular pronouncement made to him? This is amazing. What kind of reaction do you think Abram had? I do not know for sure because the Bible does not tell us, but he had to be amazed, humbled, almost beyond imagination.
Abram was not a dunce concerning what God promised, anymore than Noah was a dunce and in the dark regarding what God assigned him to do. Neither was David when God gave him an astounding expansion and clarification regarding what he had promised Abram, that, in this case, applied directly to David six or seven hundred years later.
God did not give us what Abram’s response was, but he did give us what David response was. All Abram did was affirmed that he believed Him. God does tell us what David responded with when God made a similar promise to him. We will get to that in the next sermon.
One thing that Abram’s life shown in the Bible reveals, he was unusually perceptive regarding spiritual things. As an example, think about how he responded when God told to him to sacrifice Isaac. How did he respond? According to what is in the Bible he immediately began to take steps to do it. That is incredible spiritual perception and faith.
With this particular “I will,” the intent is clearly spiritual and right up there with the command to sacrifice Isaac. Now Abram could clearly grasp that as God uttered each “I will,” the promises involved a great deal of time—far, far, beyond his lifetime. Here is my reasoning: Abram would have had to have concluded that if all the families of the earth are to be blessed through me, speaking as if I were Abram, I most certainly will not live to see that accomplished because I will not live that long.
Beside that, he was a humble man. He would also have to conclude that he needed that blessing himself. Therefore Abram says, “I cannot literally be the source of a blessing of the quality and magnitude He is speaking of here.” Therefore, Abram’s conclusion has to be that this promise must refer to someone born from among my descendants. He was pretty sharp, thinking things through. And he would have to conclude that the one born will be greater than I am, since He will be the source of the blessings Himself, this descendant.
Add to this. Abram is thinking this through. “The one promising the blessings to me right now identified Himself as the Lord!” He put two and two together. “This God Himself talking to me. Therefore, this one who will be born of my descendants must be God if He is going to bless everybody on earth.” Not a mere human being. No mere human being can be a blessing to all the families on the earth.
Therefore, the conclusion of what Abram had to think through (and in a way it shows us why he had so much faith), “the one born as one of my descendants will have to be my Creator God, and He will have to take on a human body and nature, so that He will truly be my Seed.” He foresaw the incarnation of God as Jesus of Nazareth.
Perhaps Noah and Abram could not express themselves as well as the verbally gifted David, so we will eventually read what David said when he was put in a similar position by God. Tune in next time.