Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Genesis 15:1-6
Pentecost 12 – September 1, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
When Jesus was here in his ministry how much help do you think he needed from other people? We might first of all think, “Well, he didn’t really need any help from anybody. After all, he was the almighty Son of God. He could do miracles. He could get food for himself. He could create shelter for himself. He literally could have built a house for himself in seconds. If he could still the wind and the waves of the Sea of Galilee, he obviously didn’t really need any help from anyone.
And yet when you think about his ministry he had twelve disciples, and they were not just passive students. They also did work. Judas was a treasurer. We get the impression that Philip was someone who planned for their food and physical needs. He sometimes sent disciples ahead of him to get things prepared in the next village. There in fact were about seventy disciples or followers of Jesus. And then there were women who followed Jesus, most notably Mary Magdalene, who almost certainly saw to the needs of Jesus and his disciples.
So how much did Jesus need the help of all these people? We could say according to his divine nature he didn’t need any human help. But according to his human nature, in his state of humiliation in the this world, he depended a great deal on the help of his disciples and others.
In our text today the man Abraham offered his help to the LORD God to carry out a promise that God had made. God politely declined Abraham’s offer. He had a different plan than Abraham, and it had to happen in God’s way.
God uses us in building his kingdom in this world, but an interesting question is in reality
HOW MUCH DOES GOD NEED OUR HELP?
The LORD God came to Abraham in a vision in our text. Actually God had spoken to Abraham one time before. God had made a promise to Adam and Eve in the beginning to send a Savior, a human Descendant of Eve, into the world. Generations passed, and God selected Abraham whose descendants would grow into a large nation of people, and from that nation the promised Savior would be born.
So in that first encounter with Abraham the LORD told him to move from his land of Haran to the area of Canaan. Abraham faithfully made that move and waited for God’s promise to be fulfilled. Waiting for that promise to be fulfilled really did take a lot of faith because Abraham and his wife Sarah had not been able to have any children, and Sarah was getting past the age of childbearing.
Some time went by, and nothing happened. There was no child. There were no descendants. If you had been Abraham or Sarah what might you be thinking? We probably would have been wondering why hasn’t a child been born? How was God going to keep his promise?
So when the LORD appeared to Abraham this second time Abraham must have been anxious to ask some questions. But first of all, the LORD spoke a wonderful blessing on Abraham: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” That really is a reassuring blessing. Who of us wouldn’t want to hear a blessing like that directly from God? I’m sure Abraham was very pleased with God’s kind and reassuring words, but the truth was his mind was on something else. He said to God, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”
That’s one of those verses in the Bible that you can read over very quickly without thinking about it too much or not quite understanding what it means. What was Abraham saying to the LORD? He actually was asking God a question and then suggesting an answer or a solution to him. He was asking, “Since you appeared to me the last time and promised that I would have many descendants no child has been born to me. Not even one. So where are all these descendants supposed to come from? I think I have a solution for you. I have a servant named Eliezer. He’s my chief servant, and he will be my descendant since I don’t have a child of my own.” And that was the custom in those days in this culture. If a man did not have a male heir, his chief servant would inherit his property.
And then just in case God didn’t get what Abraham meant he stated his point quite plainly. “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Abraham wasn’t being disrespectful to God, but he was offering his help to him. He had a solution to this dilemma. God had promised him many descendants. He didn’t have a descendant, and one wasn’t expected, so he told the LORD, “Eliezer, my servant, will be my descendant.” We can almost hear Abraham thinking with a great deal of self-satisfaction, “There, that solves that problem.”
How much does God need our help? In reality he doesn’t need our help at all. But God uses us in building his kingdom. He used Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob and King David and prophets and apostles and disciples and many followers. He uses preachers to preach his word and teachers to teach his word. He uses parents to teach their children about Jesus and friends and relatives to influence their friends and relatives with God’s word. He uses all of our work and conversations and interactions with other people to get his work done, to proclaim the gospel, and build his kingdom.
I’ve sometimes imagined God using us to help do his work is something like a kind mother allowing her children to help make cookies. The mother can quite easily make the cookies on her own, but she graciously allows the children to help. The children don’t do everything exactly the way they’re supposed to, they sometimes misbehave and cause trouble, they spill some of the flour and sugar, but in the end the cookies get made, and Mom cleans up whatever mess there was.
God has never needed our help. He could have waved his mighty hand and sent Jesus into the world in a moment and had him die for our sins. But his whole process of salvation and forgiveness required centuries, the rise and fall of nations, a virgin mother, a foster father named Joseph, prophets and apostles, and countless more throughout history to get the job done.
God continues to use you and me to help him. He’s not here to talk to everyone like he talked to Abraham. He uses us to tell the gospel message of Jesus to others. He uses us to speak a word of encouragement to someone who is sad or depressed. He uses us to speak a word of correction to someone who’s sinning. He uses us to help someone in need. He uses us to teach his word to children and others who have not heard the message of salvation. He gets the cookies made and cleans up any messes we made.
The LORD didn’t seem to be offended by Abraham’s offer of help by suggesting that Eliezer would be his descendant. The LORD simply gave Abraham some more information about how the promise would be kept. He said, “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” This was momentous information. A biological son from Abraham would be born. He would ultimately be in the line of thousands of descendants from whom the Savior would be born.
And God beautifully made that promise clear to Abraham. “He took [Abraham] outside and said, ‘Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.” In plain words the LORD was saying to Abraham, “Eliezer won’t be your heir. As a matter of fact you’re thinking too small. You’re going to have your own son. And from him will come millions and millions of descendants. One of those Descendants will be a blessing to all the peoples and nations of the earth.”
God didn’t need Abraham and Sarah’s help, but he used them to produce a child named Isaac and then Isaac’s son Jacob who became the father of a nation called Israel, and one day from Israel, from Judah, came Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior.
And then in our text we have one of the most important passages in the whole Bible: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed that God would give him a son. Abraham believed that he would have millions of descendants. He believed what God promised. And then in a stunning statement God credited Abraham’s faith, his belief, to Abraham as righteousness. God considered Abraham righteous, acceptable to him.
What makes this event from the Old Testament so important for us is that it shows us exactly how God saves us from our sins. The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans uses this example of Abraham credited with righteousness from God to demonstrate to us how we are credited with righteousness from God as well. Paul makes the point that Abraham didn’t do something, some great act of righteousness, some amazing good work, to earn God’s good will and forgiveness. No, he simply believed God’s promise of salvation. And God considered him righteous.
God has made a promise to us. It’s a promise about Jesus, the Son of God and Descendant of Abraham. It’s a promise that he died on a cross to atone for our sins. It’s a promise that he raised Jesus again from the dead victorious over sin, death, and hell. It’s a promise that Jesus will come again to raise us from the dead and take us to live with him forever. We believe that promise by faith, and God credits us with righteousness. God accepts us. God saves us.
You notice that God didn’t need Abraham’s help to save him and credit him with righteousness. God also doesn’t need our help to save us and credit us with righteousness. All the work of saving us through Jesus was done before we even knew it. That’s God’s grace. That’s what it means to be saved by grace alone through faith alone.
But God lets us help bake the cookies. He uses us to proclaim the message about Jesus so he can save others. He uses us to help build his kingdom. Sometimes we spill the flour and the sugar, but God always cleans up our messes. Amen.