Lent 2 • Genesis 17:1–7, 15–16 • March 4, 2012
By Paul Devantier
We have all had some strange requests during our lifetime. Many pastors tell stories of someone in their life who once said to them, “You should consider becoming a pastor.” And at the time, they may have thought the suggestion made no sense at all. And everyone can tell a story of being asked to do something that, at the time, seemed strange or out of place. “You want me to be the head of this board at church? You expect me to take on this new position at work? You really believe that I could become an expert in the use of technology? Are you really asking me to marry you?”
So now imagine Abram, age 99, no children with his wife Sarai, age 89, being told—not just asked—told that he would be the father of nations. Among other things, it simply helps to illustrate how God often works. He works in ways that, at the time, make no sense at all. He demonstrated over and over again that the laws of nature and what we would call “normal” and “expected” do not confine him. After all, he set everything in motion. He has the power, if he wills, to bring about the extraordinary. He is fully capable of the unexpected and the impossible. But he acts not just to demonstrate that he is the God of all things. He does so in order to carry out his plan for the eternal salvation of the children he has created.
Imagine the range of emotions Abram may have had. “No way,” may have been his first thought. “How could that be?” And no doubt he had no inkling of what God was really saying. He could not have understood what God Almighty had in mind any more than an infant understands the significance of baptism. Practically speaking, it just didn’t make sense. But then it wasn’t Abram’s plan, it was God’s. And spiritually speak- ing, Abram, who was renamed Abraham, was ultimately lead to trust God’s plan.
This was not Abram’s first encounter with God. The covenant God chose to have with his people had been earlier revealed, but Abram and Sarai were convinced that the time for the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise was long gone. The covenant was now becoming real, sealed, and intended as the sacred pledge that would foreshadow the gift of salvation God planned through Jesus Christ.
Abram did not know at the time, but we know, that this God moment with Abram was the beginning of the gift of descendants that would lead to the birth of the ultimate descendant, Jesus Christ. Abram would come to be known as “Father Abraham.” It was the beginning of what would be remembered with great thanksgiving for all generations. The Apostle Paul says:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Rom 9:4–5)
Abram was told by God that he would be the father of many nations, but he was told first by God to be “blameless.” That was as impossible for Abram as it is for us. Still, that is God’s will for all of us. We read in 1 Peter, “…as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1:15–16).
Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God actually declares us to be holy. That’s what salvation is about. That was the plan of God He was revealing in a dramatic way to Abram. While the newly named Abraham could not have known the depth of God’s plan for salvation, Jesus said that Abraham did “see:” Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad (Jn 8:56).
Abraham did not earn or deserve the stupendous honor of becoming the father of nations. We don’t deserve to be part of God’s plan and to be declared holy because of the work of Jesus Christ. But we are made holy, nonetheless. Paul tells us this in Ephesians.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Eph 1:3–4)
And that just doesn’t make sense. It’s so outside of what we might expect. We can almost identify with Abraham. What God has declared to us is hard to believe. It’s strange and out of the ordinary. But it is true. Through Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ, we can stand before God “holy and blameless!” Imagine that!