PLEASE, GIVE US THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM
Dear Christian friends,
What are reasons people give for them going to heaven – other than Jesus alone? 1) “I am a good person.” I have heard that many times. “If people were more like me, this world would be a better place to live.” 2) Some might say, “I have accepted Jesus into my heart.” But is it really about me accepting him or is it more about Jesus accepting me? 3) Some say, “I feel saved.” A little gas gives me a funny feeling inside too. 4) “I am religious?” Mohammed said that too and so did Jim Jones. 5) But I am a Lutheran! You know something? The word Lutheran is never once found in the Bible. 6) Those who believe in the prosperity Gospel would say that my life is going well. I have plenty of money and my health is good. God is obviously blessing me. The same could be said about Bill Gates. If you haven’t heard he has no use of Jesus. Besides, it is hard to explain the story about Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man had everything he wanted. Lazarus was poor and ailing. Both died. The rich man woke up in hell. Lazarus, the penniless beggar who probably needed a doctor woke in heaven. What was the difference? Faith! Saving faith!
Today we look at that subject. These words from the book of Romans cry out, “Lord, Give Me the Faith of Abraham” and see 1) Abraham is a good example for us; 2) Abraham’s hope was not in himself; 3) Abraham looked forward to Jesus.
Abraham is a good example for us. Paul, the inspired apostle, uses him as an example.
This book of Romans is a must read, and it ought to be a slow read so we understand what is in it. I have thought to write a course on Romans to be a good God 101 course. Every teaching found in the Bible is found in the book of Romans except the Lord’s Supper. It is a good book for anyone who wants to walk the road to the Lord.
God surely wants us to go down that road. But yet Jesus once said that road is narrow. So many times we hear about people driving a car at a fast rate of speed. Too often at fast rates of speed people overcorrect and slam into one ditch or the other.
That is the story of the Jewish people. There was a time when God gave them favoured nation status. They were the children of Abraham. They got to see things no other people on this earth saw and experienced. There were the miraculous plagues and the miraculous escape from Egypt, and God’s presence among them as he led them to the Promised Land. No other nation was given laws to rule themselves like God had done with them on two tablets of stone.
Why? Moses reminded them, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors.” God made it clear there was nothing special in them or about them. Yet he gave them godly leaders - Abraham, Moses, Samuel, David and others. But when you read their history, the nation often drove off the road into the ditch.
It was sure true in Jesus’ day. The Jewish nation was his ancestry. Paul says about the Jews and Jesus in Romans 9, “Theirs (meaning the Jews) are the patriarchs (people like Abraham and Moses – the fathers), and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised!” The Messiah? That’s Jesus!
Jesus himself tried to get them out of the ditch to the road that leads to him. He once said to them, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The Jews thought Jesus was shooting off his mouth. Hold to your teaching, Jesus? Are you kidding? “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.” Jesus finally even said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. What did Abraham do? He looked for the day that Messiah would come. He looked for the day that Jesus would come. That’s what Paul says to the Romans. Abraham believed in Jesus and received all the blessings Jesus promises. No one else will do.
Do you think about Judgment Day? I do! I do a lot! I know that the day will happen in a twinkling of an eye. In other words, preparation needs to be done before that day because it can’t be done on the day since it will come in a blink of an eye. Yet when the Lord appears I always have a feeling many wayward children will be looking to find their faithful parents or spouse as if they will be carried into heaven on their parents’ or spouse’s apron strings. Maybe a good number want to find a clergyman to stand by as if standing next to him will qualify them for the world to come.
But then there are those who think the Lord owes them heaven. Hey, I didn’t do the war crimes of Adolph Hitler. I never stole money like Bernie Madoff did. Yet, who says we have any business comparing ourselves to any other person? Besides, if that is what you think, have you really looked inside? And I mean way inside - you know - where God can see?
Even Abraham didn’t rely on himself as if God favoured him because of what he had done. The Jews had a lot of admiration for Abraham. Lots of pages are devoted to him in the Bible. He is definitely a spiritual VIP. He is even listed in the Hall of Faith of Hebrews 11. That is the chapter of the Bible that lists so many great people of faith. His obedience to God is quite exemplary! 2100 years before Christ, he took his wife, nephew and father from Ur to Canaan via Haran. That’s about 2000 miles! It was another world. Why? Because God said so!
He held on to the promise that he and his wife would have a son even when he was ninety nine and his wife was anything but a child bride at eighty nine. He went to war seriously outnumbered and knew the Lord would accompany. He was even ready to sacrifice the son he and Sarah had waited for so long to enjoy all because God said so.
But Abraham came face to face with his shortcomings too. Paul says in our sermon text today, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.” People can brag about what a courageous man he was, but he had plenty of dirty laundry.
While he knew the Lord would keep the promise of giving him a son, he and Sarah tried to help the Lord out. They were not big believers in a son via a miracle. First they adopted Eliezer and then Abraham committed adultery with Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar to have the child. Besides that twice he denied his relationship with Sarah as his wife so he could save his own neck. There were plenty sins his own life that would have embarrassed him and shamed him before God. Sins daily - sins often - sins repeated - Sins that were sickening!
So often nowadays people write opinion pieces pointing out the ills of society. The world is sick with far too much crime, war, hatred and bigotry. The Malaysian airplane that no one knows what happened to it has people thinking it was more of an act of terrorism.
Years ago an editorial appeared in a newspaper that was entitled, “What's Wrong with the World?" G.K. Chesterton, a renowned lay theologian, writer, journalist, dramatist replied, "I am." How honestly correct that is! Paul said he was the chief of sinners. It is not everybody else. I am the problem too. Paul says here, “For if those who depend on the law are heirs, (In other words, if you think you are going to heaven by keeping the commandments) faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath.” If the health of our relationship with God depended on our behavior, throw in the towel.
When the doctor says get an X-ray, those words make us uncomfortable. God’s law is the spiritual X-ray. The diagnosis is not good. After John Belushi died of a cocaine overdose many years ago, someone wrote about the seductive power of cocaine. “It can do you no harm and it can drive you insane; it can give you status in society and it can wreck your career; it can make you the life of the party and it can turn you into a loner; it can be an elixir for high living and a potion for death." In so many ways that is what sin is like. Some consider it fun at times and then there is reality. There is the momentary feeling and the lasting effect.
That’s why we need Jesus. That’s why Abraham looked forward to Jesus. “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. Abraham looked forward to Jesus
I saw a statement that said that “life is like driving a car; the big window is the one you should be looking through.” When I worked as a tour bus driver people would get nervous when we were driving on narrow mountain roads. I would point in a direction to explain who a certain mountain got its name or certain features. “Eyes ahead, tour guide, if you want a tip!”
Abraham looked ahead. Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” God justifies the ungodly. He declares the world innocent in Christ. Yes, God declared Abraham innocent even though he lived 2100 years before. How? God knew what he was going to do – send Jesus.
The Savior saves by dying to pay the wages of sin. The grievous sins Abraham committed, the grievous sins David committed, the sins the Apostle Paul committed, the sins everyone did, yours and mine included. But he also lived a 100% righteous and holy life. And it yours, in fact, it is everyone’s through faith.
Imagine yourself in a hot room with all the windows closed. You can roast in the room and overheat. You can be miserable, sweat and complain. So someone comes into room and wonders why in the world you didn’t open the windows. He unlocks the windows and pushes the window open. He does that to another and then another and another. All the while the cool air was on the outside and comes into the room.
That’s what saving faith does. Jesus is the righteous one. His righteousness, his perfection is for everyone. Jesus death paid the penalty that everyone deserved. Faith is the open window that floods us with the joy and comfort God wants us to have. That’s saving faith. That’s the faith of Abraham.