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Dear Friends in Christ,
Our sermon series on Abraham began on the first Sunday of June. Today is August 25th. On the first Sunday when we picked up the life of Abraham we remembered how God had called him from the city ofUr to start a whole new life elsewhere to a land the good Lord would show him. God made a lot of promises to Abraham. The first and foremost were the promises that he would become a great nation and from his family all the nations of the earth would be blessed. That means Abraham would be the father of the Jews and Jesus would come from them to be a special blessing for all the world.
You have heard that promise repeated every Sunday. A father in our congregation said to me that his son asked him, “Do Abraham and Sarah ever have the baby?” The story of Abraham and Sarah just seems to keep going and going and going. It seems slow to develop. We have been at this for nine weeks. While it takes nine months for all that to happen, we have covered about twenty five years of Abraham and Sarah’s lives. God called them to move fromUrtoHaran, but then God called them to leave Haranto go to the land he would show them. They were 75 and 65 respectively then.
Last week’s sermon addressed a section of their lives when Abraham was eighty six and Sarah seventy six. We move ahead to chapter seventeen and they aged another thirteen years. Are they ever going to have the baby?
We are getting into the home stretch. Thirteen years after their last communication God speaks to Abraham again; He says to Abraham, “Anni El Shaddai” – “I am God Almighty.” God wanted Abraham and Sarah and us to know that 1) He can do anything; 2) He is a God who makes covenants with his people.
God has so many different names. You can open the Bible to just about any page and find some interesting name where the Lord refers to himself. Every name is meaningful; every name tells us about himself. He is the LORD with all capital letters in English Bibles. In Hebrew that’s ‘Yaweh’ or ‘Jehovah.’ He is the “I AM God.” He is a personal being, not some nebulous creature. He told Moses what that name means, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” He is a God who is loving and kind and forgiving. He is a God who punishes those who push him away.
He is also the Lord (in Hebrew adonai) with a capital L but small letters ‘o-r-d. He is the ruler and master. We could spend days and days talking about the names of the Lord – maybe a good sermon series sometime.
He comes to Abraham at the age of ninety nine and says, “Anni El Shaddai” - I am God Almighty.” How meaningful to a ninety nine year old man and his eighty nine year old wife to whom El Shaddai had given the promise that from them would come a great nation who would bless all others.
El Shaddai is God Almighty who can do anything. The psalmist knows, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” He spoke through his prophet Isaiah, “Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” Job, whose troubles led him to have some serious doubts about El Shaddai, finally acknowledged, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” He can do whatever he pleases.
Yet I should remind you that he won’t do and can’t do what doesn’t please him. He cannot do what is self-contradictory or nonsensical, like making a rock he cannot lift. God has a perfect moral character. He cannot be impulsive, unloving, unjust, or inconsistent. He cannot fail to be faithful and just in forgiving sins. He cannot fail in keeping all the promises he has made. Moral instability, vacillation, and unreliability are marks of weakness. It is impossible for God to be weak. But to bring life to the womb of an eighty nine year old woman, as humanly impossible as that seems, is something he could do and did do!
This power and might that any human fails to fully comprehend is amazingly available to his children. He will use it if he is pleased to do so. He is El Shaddai, who seems so impossible for puny minds like ours to comprehend. He wants us to know him. He wants us to know that he knows us and loves and saves. He shows that love to us by covenants that he binds himself to for us to cherish.
Let me explain. In 1909, the Good Housekeeping Magazine established the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The magazine created the Good Housekeeping Research Institute where they test products that are advertised in the magazine. If they pass the testing done they are given the Good Housekeeping seal and then backed by a two-year limited warranty. About 5,000 products have been given the seal. What does the seal mean? Use the product; it is a good product; it is a tested product. If you don’t find that to be true, get your money back. Good Housekeeping stakes its name that the product is good.
The Lord did the same with Abraham. He made promises to Abraham and God gave Abraham his seal of approval. When the Lord appeared to Abraham at the age of ninety nine, he repeated promises that he had already made twenty five years earlier but now he sealed them. You’re going to be a great nation, Abraham. I am promising you a son. That son will be the beginning of a great nation who would bless all other nations. The seal that I am putting on this promise is the fact that I am changing your name. Up to this time Abraham’s name was Abram. Now it is going to be Abraham. The change in meaning is from “exalted father” to “father of many” or “father of nations.” As one commentator said about this name change, “This name change was the seal of a covenant, a guarantee that he would keep his promise. If he would fail to keep his covenant promise, the name “Abraham” would constantly testify against God.
In hindsight, we can look back and see how God did indeed keep his promise. The Hebrew nation came from him, but so did the Ishmaelite and the Edomites. Best of all is the Holy Christian church, that holy nation of which we are part whom he saves for eternity. Why? We share the faith of Abraham. He is the “father of all believers.”
But there is more to the covenant that God gave Abraham’s descendants another seal verifying the sincerity with which he will promises to keep what he says. “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” That was the restatement of the promise. What was the seal? The seal was the circumcision of all males at eight days old or older if it had not been done at eight days. God would be their God – his promise; the land would be theirs – his promise. Circumcision was the seal that El Shaddai meant what he said.
I am sure that you feel as uncomfortable to hear me speak of circumcision as I do speaking about it. I will let parents explain the questions that your children may have about the subject. Yet it was the seal of God’s promise to be their God. Any male Israelite who refused to wear that seal refused the covenant that God had made with him.
God replaced that seal with a different one to New Testament people. It is intended for all people, not just males. It is called Baptism. That’s why this text is so appropriate for Baptism Appreciation Sunday.
In Colossians 2, the apostle Paul indicates that Baptism is to the New Testament as circumcision was to the Old Testament people. God makes promises with Baptism and seals it with the washing in the name of the Triune God. It is more than a cutesy rite that the church performs because God commanded it. It is more than symbol of what happened when we came to faith as so many teach.
What are the promises God makes? There are many. In the book of Acts, “Rise and be baptized and wash your sins away.” Many misunderstand. No one is saying that there is another way to be saved other than trusting in Jesus. Baptism is the way what Jesus has done is brought to us. On the cross Jesus won forgiveness for all of us. Yet that forgiveness will do us no good unless it is brought to us. That’s what Baptism does. I like to think of it as a pipeline bringing forgiveness from the source – Jesus – to me and to you, the person.
The Holy Spirit works through baptism. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. The Spirit works in baptism to unite us with Christ. The apostle Paul says, “God saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Peter told the crowd on Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit unites us so much with Christ that in baptism we are clothed with Christ. (Galatians 3) We are so united that we died with Christ and were raised with Christ (Romans 6.) We were outside a relationship with God and came into a relationship with the Triune God because we were baptized into the name of the Father and into the Son and into the Holy Spirit.
The water applied, the word of God spoken “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is God’s seal. Everything God says in it is true.
I am speaking for myself, but I am afraid I am also speaking for you too; we don’t make enough use of Baptism in daily living. We probably don’t even remember our baptism much in our daily living.
There is a reason why the baptismal fount is so big and prominent on this altar. Many put the baptismal fount in the middle of the aisle so it is the first thing someone sees when they enter church. In fact, through Baptism we did enter into God’s church as God connected us to himself. More and more churches are putting the baptismal fount in the entry of the church to remind God’s people that’s how God’s people became God’s people. Paul said it like this, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free.”
Every time we begin a service with the words in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we are announcing that we worship the Triune God who is revealed in the Holy Scriptures. Yet we are also reminded of the great blessing God gave us as individuals when he put his name on us and promised that he would be our God.
Martin Luther once made the point that Baptism individualizes. He wrote, “Tell me, with whom does God speak and deal when you’re baptized? Is it not true that this Baptism is intended for you alone and no other person? You derive the benefit of your Baptism, not others. If they want to be benefited by Baptism, they must also be baptized personally… How, then, could God speak in a friendlier way with you and more surely and specifically include your person in the Word than he does in Baptism.” El Shaddai comes to us, each of us in such a compassionate way. Appreciate your Baptism.