Abram was a man in need of answer to his prayers. His life seemed to be going in all the wrong directions. And in truth, because of his own actions, it often was. It had been years since God had called him out of obscurity and made some pretty startling promises to him. Years, but still those promises were waiting to be fulfilled. He was a stranger in a land that had been promised to him. He was the father of a nation that had yet to birth even a single child. He was old and getting older and it was getting harder to believe.
He’s the kind of guy many of us can relate to. Who here hasn’t felt much the same way at one time or other? Like the wheels are spinning but we are going nowhere. Like our hopes and dreams have grown stale, old, and died while we waited. Like God has maybe forgotten about us and left us to fend for ourselves.
And that is why God spoke to Abram. For God’s word brings peace and comfort to those who so desperately need it 1After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” God is your shield. He is your refuge and strength in a world that is ruled by Satan and the old Adam. “Be not dismayed!” A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon. He is with us still, as He will be with us always. Not just as an uninterested observer, but our active shield and deliverer.
The Lord promised to defend him in all conflicts and to bless him so as to be his Reward Himself. God comes with great rewards even for those who don’t deserve them. You see, rewards are paid not just because they are earned but first and foremost because they are promised and the Lord had promised Abraham richly. Thus God’s continued word gives promise and hope.
4And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man [Eliezer] shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” 5And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” God promises Abram that he will have a son through his body (which included Sarai through the one flesh union). A promise made and a promise kept.
The old Adam (sinful flesh) would have you believe that God breaks promises, especially when you pray and the prayer isn’t answered the way that you would like it answered. God knows your needs. That promise seemed a thing of the far-distant past, and Abram’s faith was sorely tried. It was that doubt that had led Abram into many of his worst decisions. Decisions where he tried to make God’s promises come true by his own works and accomplishments. Some of those decisions were disastrous, some merely wrong. So it is for me and you and everyone of us who try to make God work according to our will and our timetables. It never works, and more often than not it only makes things worse.
Yet God’s promise remains, Not merely a member of the household of Abram, but his own natural son should be the heir of his goods, which implies that he should also be the heir of the Messianic prophecy. Not only that he would have a son, but also, that as many as the stars are in the sky, so will be his descendants through the covenant of grace that God makes with Abram. From his descendants, the day star, the bright and morning star appears, God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.
And it is in the promise of that Word of God made flesh that you are declared righteous. 6And he [Abram] believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness. The word for believed here is the same root from which we get AMEN. Abram “Amen-ed” the Lord and God counted it and not any one of his actions as righteousness. As Luther explains: “|Righteousness is nothing else than believing God when He makes a promise.”
Or as we read in the Formula of Concord: Abraham was justified before God through faith alone for the sake of the Mediator without the addition of his own works, not only when he was first converted from idolatry and had no good works, but also afterward when the Holy Spirit had renewed and adorned him with many resplendent good works. 1
In this passage no mention is made of any preparation for grace, of any faith formed through works, or of any preceding disposition. This, however, is mentioned: that at that time Abraham was in the midst of sins, doubts, and fears, and was exceedingly troubled in spirit. How, then, did he obtain righteousness? In this way: God speaks, and Abraham believes what God is saying. Moreover, the Holy Spirit comes as a trustworthy witness and declares that this very believing or this very faith is righteousness or is imputed by God Himself as righteousness and is regarded by Him as such.2
God’s patience has a wonderful sustaining and strengthening power. The Lord God promised Abram that he would bear a son, and he kept that promise. The Lord God promised Abram that his descendants would be as many as the stars that he could see (and, of course many, many more), and he kept that promise. The Lord God promised that from the seed of Abram would come one who would save his people from sin, death and the devil, and he kept that promise. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, Son of God, descendant of Abram, declares you righteous by faith alone. God said that “the righteous live by faith” (Hb 2:4).
Abram placed his trust in the promise of the Lord with all it implied, because the Lord had accepted him into the covenant of His grace. That is the way of salvation for all sinners, the way of obtaining that true righteousness by which we are justified before God. Christ has earned blessing, salvation, righteousness for all men, and all that respond with the great and trusting AMEN (Yes, Yes it is So!) to this promise have these wonderful gifts, are pure, holy, and righteous before God, because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them. This is Abram’s story; this is your story. God gives graciously, and freely over and over again. God promises and fulfils time and again. God is merciful and forgiving every time without fail and all we can do … all we need do is join Abram in saying AMEN!
1 Tappert, T. G. (2000, c1959). The book of concord : The confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church (The Formula of Concord: 2, III, 33). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
2 Luther, M. (1999, c1961). Vol. 3: Luther’s works, vol. 3 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 15-20 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Ge 15:7). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.