God’s Word and the Righteousness of Faith

God’s Word and the Righteousness of Faith | Genesis 15:1-6
Brian Hedges | June 16, 2019

One of my first memories of seeing a movie in a theater as a kid was seeing Richard Donner’s 1978 film Superman: The Movie. Anybody ever see Superman: The Movie? This is the old one, with Christopher Reeves. I think I was just about four years old the first time I saw that film, and I don’t really remember a lot about seeing it. I know I saw it in the theater twice, both in Littlefield, Texas, a little theater there, and then again at a drive-in theater in Wilson, Oklahoma with some cousins on a summer break.

But my parents tell me, my dad tells me that the first time I saw that film, for the first hour of the movie I just kept asking, “Dad, when’s he going to fly? When’s he going to fly? When’s he going to fly?” If you remember the film, it’s an hour before you actually see Superman in the suit and he flies, and the moment when he does fly my eyes were just like big saucers, and I was just in awe of this childhood hero, Superman. It’s still one of my top ten favorite movies, and I think it’s the gold standard by which all superhero films must be judged.

I thought of that last night as I was preparing the sermon; you wonder, “Where in the world would you find a connection?” It’s simply in this, that when we read the Abraham stories, we know Abraham as the man of faith, right? Abraham is the father of the faithful, he’s the man of faith. But as you read these stories, you get introduced to Abram in Genesis 11, you read about him in chapter 12, in chapter 13, in chapter 14, and there’s no mention of the word faith, until you get to chapter 15. It’s like you get deep into the story before there’s even an acknowledgment or a recognition that Abraham is this man of faith.

Now, we’ve seen some evidence of faith, just as in the Superman movies you see some of his powers manifesting early, but you don’t really see him in the suit, right, until a third of the way through. It’s sort of like that with the Abraham stories. We’ve seen him leave Ur of the Chaldeans as God called him, and the author of Hebrews tells us that he did that by faith. We’ve seen him make some choices that show him to be walking by faith and not by sight in his relationship with his nephew Lot. Last week we saw him in the battle of the kings in Genesis 14, and how God delivered his enemies into his hands as he went to rescue his kinsman, Lot. But it’s only when we get to Genesis 15 that Abram’s faith is actually named, that it’s acknowledged.

So that’s where we’re going to be this morning, Genesis 15, and we’re going to look at Abram’s faith and, I think, learn several lessons about faith for ourselves. This morning I’m actually going to focus on just the first six verses of this chapter. This chapter is really one long conversation, 21 verses, and it really falls into two halves, verses 1-6 and verses 7-21. This morning we’re going to do the first six verses; we’ll do verses 7-21 next week.

As we work through it, I want you to see the source and object of faith, the struggle of faith, and the righteousness credited to faith.

So that’s our structure, our outline for the sermon.

1. The Source and Object of Faith

So, first of all, notice the source and object of faith, and it’s all right here in Genesis 15:1. Here’s the text. “After 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.’”

Now just notice here this opening phrase, “The word of the Lord came…” This is the first time you have that phrase used in Scripture. You’ll know if you are a Bible reader that this is a formula used by the prophets. For example, the prophet Jeremiah: “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah,” or, “The word of the Lord came to Isaiah” or another prophet. You find that formula used over and over again in the prophets. Only in Genesis, right here in chapter 15, and you find it twice here in Genesis 15. “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision.”

It’s there for a couple of reasons. First of all, it actually establishes for us that Abram himself is a prophet, and he will be called a prophet in Genesis 20:7. But it also underscores for us the Lord’s divine initiative in his relationship with us. “The word of the Lord came.” It’s always like that in our relationship with God. The word of the Lord comes! The Lord reveals himself, the Lord comes to us in power and in grace, and that is the source of our faith. The reason you believe in Jesus this morning, if you’re a believer, is because the word of the Lord came to you, because the word of the Lord has arrested your heart, and that happened in the life of Abram.

But notice what God says when he speaks. It says, “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid.’” “Fear not.” I prefer the NIV reading here. “‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward.’”

The very first thing God says when he comes to Abram here in this chapter is, “Abram, fear not. Do not be afraid.” He is immediately addressing Abram’s fears. Now what were these fears? What was it that Abram as afraid of? The text doesn’t really tell us. We can maybe speculate a little bit based on the place in which this falls in the narrative.

Abram has already been called by God, he’s already obeyed, he’s already gone into the promised land. He’s already experienced some setbacks in his faith. God has promised him a son, God has promised him land, and now Abram has just come out of a military experience. He’s been involved in a war.

We pass over these wars in Scripture without thinking very much about the cost of war emotionally, but anyone who’s ever served in active combat knows that after you come out of a war, out of that kind of experience, you have a certain degree of trauma to deal with. It may not even be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but if you have seen the carnage of war, you have to deal with that. You have to address that.

The Lord comes to Abram right after this experience. “After these things,” it says, “the word of the Lord came…” He says, “Fear not, Abram.” He’s bringing a word of assurance to Abram.

You remember that Abram, in Genesis 14, he had won the battle - the Lord delivered the enemies into his hands - but he refused to take the spoils of war. He has refused to benefit from the war. He still doesn’t possess the land, and he still doesn’t have a son. Maybe it’s in a growing anxiety in Abram’s life (“When is this promise is going to be fulfilled?”) that the Lord says to Abram, “Fear not. Be not afraid.” And then notice what he says: “I am your shield, your very great reward.”

“I am your shield,” that is, the source of your protection, and “I am your reward.” The word reward is a word that some scholars suggest is a term referring to a mercenary’s pay. In fact, it’s used in Ezekiel 29:19 to refer to a soldier’s pay from the loot of war, the spoils of war. Abram has just given that up. He has not benefited from the war, and the Lord comes and says, essentially, “Abram, you can’t out-give me. I am your reward. I am your shield and your great reward.”

This is Calvin’s comment on these words. He says, “By use of the word shield, God signifies that Abram would always be safe under his protection. In calling himself reward, he teaches Abram to be satisfied with himself alone.”

It teaches us a lesson here about the object of our faith. We learn here that God’s word addresses our fears, assuring us that he is our source of protection and satisfaction. He is our shield, he is our reward. He is the one who meets our deepest needs, and the Lord comes to Abram in the midst of his fears, in the midst of this delay. He hasn’t experienced the promises of God yet, and the Lord comes to him and says, “Abram, don’t be afraid; I am your shield, I’ll protect you. I am your reward, I will bless you. I will satisfy you. I will be for you all that you need.”

Perhaps there’s nothing more that you and I need to massage deep down into our souls than this reality, than this truth, that God is our source of protection and satisfaction, that God is our shield and our reward.

Most of you know that I enjoy reading the 17th-century Puritans. I kind of grew up around the Puritans. My dad had shelves full of these books, so I grew up reading things like The Pilgrim’s Progress and John Bunyan. But it was really only in my 20s that I started to dig deeper into the more expositional and theological works of the Puritans, and one of the very first ones I read was a little book by the Puritan Thomas Brooks. The book was called An Ark for All God’s Noahs. Isn’t that a great title of a book?

Here’s the thing about Thomas Brooks: he gave his books multiple titles. So the book had another title; it was also called The Best Wine Reserved to Last. Or (here’s the third title) The Transcendent Excellency of a Believer’s Portion Above All Earthly Portions Whatsoever. It was just a 120-page meditation on this verse from Lamentations 3: “The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.” A hundred and twenty pages of just meditating on that verse, “The Lord is my portion.”

Brooks shows that God is a present portion and an immense portion and an all-sufficient portion, an absolute and needful and necessary and pure and glorious and happy and blessed portion, just to give you a list here of 20 adjectives. There’s a page, or maybe two pages, on each one of these describing how God is the portion of the believer.

I was reading this, maybe 24, 25 years old, and there was one paragraph that just landed on my heart and captured it; I’ve never forgotten it since. This is essentially what Brooks said. It taught me that not only should I be satisfied in God, but that I could be. This is essentially what Brooks said. He said if there is enough in God to satisfy the spirits of just men made perfect, whose capacities are far greater than ours are, you know. The glorified saints in heaven are satisfied with God. If there’s enough in God to satisfy the angels, whose capacities are greater than ours; if there’s enough in God to satisfy Christ Jesus, whose capacity is infinite, the Son of the Father; yes, if there is enough in God to satisfy God himself, then surely there’s enough in God to satisfy me! God is our portion. He is our satisfaction. He is our reward.

It’s when our hearts stray from that truth that fear begins to grow. Do you know what fear is? Fear is this deep conviction in my heart that, “I have to take care of myself.” Do you ever feel that way? “I have to do it! I have to take care of myself!” I’m pondering, “How am I going to handle this situation, and how am I going to take care of that need, and how am I going to deal with this pressure, and what am I going to do if this person doesn’t approve of me?” Do you ever wrestle with those kinds of anxieties and fears?

You know what the answer to it is? It’s to believe this truth, God’s word, “Fear not; I am your shield, your very great reward.” Believe it! Believe that God gives us in the gospel not just forgiveness of sins, as wonderful as that is, but God gives us himself. He gives us himself! He is the object of our faith as well as the source of our faith. He addresses our fears, he assures us, and he will protect us and satisfy us. That’s the first lesson we can learn from this text.

2. The Struggle of Faith

But then we see something else. We see the struggle of faith. Look at verses 2 and 3. “But Abram said,” so now Abram is responding to God, “But Abram said, ‘O Lord God [or O sovereign Lord], what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?; And Abram said, ‘Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’”

These are the first recorded words of Abram to God, the first time in the narrative where we actually have Abram addressing God. No doubt he had prayed before. The text tells us in Genesis 12 that he called on the name of the Lord. So no doubt he had prayed before, but in the narrative of Genesis, as it is given to us, these are the first recorded words of Abram, the man of faith, to God, and they’re words of doubt. Isn’t that something? They’re words expressing doubt! It’s a question; it’s almost a complaint.

“What will you give me, Lord?” God comes to him and says, “I am your shield and your very great reward,” and Abram says, “What will you give me, Lord? I don’t have offspring, I don’t have a child yet.” You know what he’s doing? He’s struggling with the delay between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. That’s the struggle of faith.

Now, it’s actually because he cares about the promise that he’s struggling with the delay. If he didn’t care about the promise, if he was an unbeliever, it wouldn’t even matter, he wouldn’t be addressing God. Sometimes when we express our doubts and our complaints to the Lord, it’s actually a sign that we do believe, because we’re wrestling with these truths, and we want to know, “When will it be fulfilled? How does this apply? How does this work out in my life?”

Get this: faith does not preclude all doubts. Faith doesn’t answer all questions. Faith doesn’t give us all the answers. The life of faith often means holding onto the promise of God even while we struggle with a delay in the fulfillment of that promise.

Dale Ralph Davis tells a story about Vice-President John Tyler, who was the VP for William Henry Harrison, and how he was shocked, after only being a month in office, when Harrison died. All of a sudden Tyler, the VP, is President of the United States. The problem was, he hadn’t even received his first payment of salary as Vice-President, and he didn’t even have enough money to get from Williamsburg to Washington, D.C. to attend his own inauguration, so some friends had to give him a loan.

Here he is, he’s the President of the United States; he has the position, but he doesn’t yet have the privilege. He has the position without really enjoying any of the benefits of it.

Sometimes the life of faith is just like that. You have the promise, but you haven’t experienced the fulfillment of the promise. Eternal life, resurrection, and yet we still get sick, right? We’re promised that if we believe in Christ we will never see death, and yet we still know what it is to face cancer. What is that? It’s the delay, it’s the gap between promise and fulfillment.

In many ways, our entire sojourn of faith, our entire pilgrimage of faith as believers between conversion and the second coming of Christ, the entire pilgrimage is a pilgrimage of waiting. It’s a pilgrimage of waiting. It’s believing the promise that God has made without fully experiencing the fulfillment of that promise. That’s Abram’s situation here.

Notice how God responds, verses 4 and 5. “And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man [Eliezer, Abram’s servant] shall not be your heir.” So this is what Abram’s wrestling with. “I don’t have a son, so my bond-slave is going to inherit everything. I guess that’s the way God’s going to fulfill the promise,” you know? “Not exactly what I was expecting.”

The Lord says, No, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” “Abram, your child is going to share your DNA. Abram, it’s going to be your own child. He’s going to be your heir.”

Then God does something remarkable. He gives Abram a sign. He takes him outside, verse 5, and says, “‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’”

Just try to imagine that scene. Have you ever actually been outside of the city, out in the country, where there aren’t city lights everywhere, and you walk outside at midnight, on a clear night, and the sky is black as can be, with thousands of pinpricks and lights, stars in the sky? You just stare for about 15 minutes, and suddenly you begin to feel very small, and God seems very majestic. You begin to sense the grandeur and the majesty and the greatness and the power of this God, who created the stars and created the world and upholds it by the word of his power! It’s a wonderful exercise in faith: go outside and look at the stars.

That’s what happens to Abram. The Lord takes him outside and says, “Look at the stars. Count them, Abram.”

Astronomers tell us that there are only about 5,000 of the many thousands and thousands and thousands of stars, there are only about 5,000 that are visible to the naked eye, and only about 2,500 at any given time in our hemisphere of the globe. But even so, there’s no way he could have counted those 2,500 stars.

It was a way for the Lord to bolster Abram’s faith. It shows us the second lesson from this text about faith, that God’s promise is larger than we can imagine and is not limited by our doubts. God is telling Abram, “I’m not only going to give you a son, I’m going to give you so many descendants that if you can count the stars, you wouldn’t be able to count them.”

Now notice here what God does. This is really important for us, I think, to understand, because God doesn’t really give Abram new information. He’s already told him, “I’m going to give you offspring.” He’s already told him, “Your offspring will be like the dust. Count the dust,” right, Genesis 13. He’s already said this. It’s not really new information that God is giving him. He’s not giving him a new promise. He’s reaffirming the promise that’s already made, but what he’s doing now is giving him a sign. It’s a sign. It doesn’t change Abram’s present conditions - he still doesn’t have a son - and yet he has something. He has a revelation from God.

The commentaries were helpful on this point for me. Walter Bruggemann says, “The response of God to Abraham is not a fool-proof argument, like the brief of a lawyer; it is not an argument, but a revelation.”

Derek Kidner: “God’s sign, the starry sky, proved nothing. It was not that kind of sign, but it did serve as a visible word, a focus of the promise, somewhat as the sacraments do.” In fact, another commentator, Dale Ralph Davis, calls it “the sacrament of assurance.”

This sign of the stars functions similar to how the sacraments do for us today. What are the sacraments? The sacraments are visible signs of the gospel. That’s what they are, so when we take the Lord’s Supper every week, the Lord’s Supper’s not adding anything to the gospel that we’ve already heard, it’s not making the gospel more real than it already is, but it’s making it visible, it’s making it tangible. It’s a visible word. It’s a sign that is meant to press down into our senses, into our sensory experience, the promise of the gospel. Sometimes the word needs the sign to build up faith and assurance. That’s how the sacraments function.

The word of the gospel says, “Your sins are forgiven,” but sometimes you walk away and you don’t feel forgiven. But when you take the Lord’s supper, you taste the bread symbolizing the broken body, and you drink the juice symbolizing the spilled blood, you taste and you see, and your body derives some nourishment from it. In the same way as your body derives nourishment from the bread and the juice, so does your soul derive nourishment from the gospel of Christ. He really strengthens, he really pardons, he really forgives. That’s how the sacraments work.

One more comment here under the struggle of faith. The big fulfillment, the great fulfillment of this promise, “Your offspring will be like the stars of the sky”; the big fulfillment of that will be in the vast multitude of the entire family of the redeemed.

Now, many of you know I’m reading through the sermons of Spurgeon. I’m reading Spurgeon every week, and I’m just reading straight through the volumes of his sermons. I’m learning all kinds of interesting things about Spurgeon I didn’t know before, including some kind of interesting beliefs that maybe some people didn’t know Spurgeon had.

Here’s one that I’ve come across more than once: Spurgeon really believe - this was a deep conviction for him - he really believed that there would be more people in heaven than in hell. He talks about it when he comes to passages like this or similar. The last time I came across it was in a sermon on Revelation 7, where he’s talking about the multitude of saints in heaven, this innumerable multitude, a multitude that no man can number. And Spurgeon really believed that there would be more people in heaven than in hell, and this is the reason for it. He said, “Christ must have preeminence in all things, and you never read that there’s an innumerable multitude in hell.” He believed that all who died in infancy would be saved. He also believed in a millennial reign of Christ, where thousands and thousands, millions of people over this millennial reign, would be brought into the kingdom.

I don’t know if Spurgeon’s right about all that, but I hope he is, and it sure sounds like it’s headed in the right direction, that Christ has the glory of saving this innumerable multitude. What we do know is this, that the redeemed will be like the stars of the sky, that they will be like the dust of the earth. It will be a multitude that no man can number. Such is the grace and the mercy of God.

3. The Righteousness Credited to Faith

So, we’ve seen here the source and object of our faith, we’ve seen the struggle of faith with the promise, and then, number three, I want us to think about the righteousness credited to faith. We’ll focus in verse 6: “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed the Lord, and God counted that faith to him as righteousness.

Now, it’s kind of interesting that the way this is worded suggests that it’s not merely in reference to what has just gone before. There’s not that kind of conjunction. In fact, the commentators tell us that the verbal form of the Hebrew suggests an ongoing activity. So the idea here is that he kept believing the promise, he kept relying on the Lord.

Gordon Wenham says, “Faith was Abram’s normal response to the Lord’s words.” But the narrator, the writer of Genesis, has certainly put the comment, almost an editorial comment, right here between this word from the Lord and the next vision, the next conversation that happens in the second part of the chapter. So it’s here for a reason.

It’s showing us Abram’s response, his characteristic response, to the word of God. It was one of faith. It was one of believing. Now what is that? What is faith? What does it mean to believe?

I think maybe the best definition I’ve seen are the combination of these words, “receiving” and “resting” [Westminster Confession of Faith]. To believe is to receive and rest upon the promise. That’s what Abram does. There’s no activity here, he’s not working, he’s not doing something; he’s only receiving the word that God has given. He’s receiving the promise, he’s resting on the promise.

Now, as many of you will know, this is a very important verse in the New Testament, Genesis 15:6. It’s quoted three times in the New Testament: Galatians 3, Romans 4, James 2. One reason I’m doing a little bit less of the chapter in Genesis 15 is so that we can dig into Romans 4 for a few minutes in this last segment of the message.

I want us to see here how this principle of faith, resting and receiving on the promise of God, being credited as righteousness is directly applicable to us in our own response to the promise of God in the gospel. Let’s just look at Romans 4 for a few minutes. Look at Romans 4:3-5.

The apostle Paul here is writing, and it’s part of his large, sustained argument in the book of Romans that it is through the grace given to us in Jesus Christ that both Jews and Gentiles can be saved. Both Jews and Gentiles. They’re all sinners alike before God, and only by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross can they be saved. He uses, as a test case, as a case study, as an example, he uses Abraham, and he quotes this verse. Look at Romans 4:3-5.

“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’” No look at Paul’s commentary on this. “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a git but as his due. And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith his counted as righteousness.”

Notice here, Abraham was justified by faith, not by works. Faith is set in opposition to works. As Paul goes on to show, as it becomes clear in Romans 4, this is before he’s circumcised, so he’s not justified by his circumcision, and it’s an argument for how Gentiles can be justified even without circumcision; and it’s before the giving of the law. He’s not justified by his works, by his law-keeping. He’s justified by grace, through faith. The faith came first; all the works and law-keeping and all the rest came afterwards.

Did you catch Paul’s remarkable statement in this passage in verse 5? “And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly…” God justifies the ungodly. I think Paul here is echoing what he already said in Romans 1:16-18, where he talked about the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith, the power of God in the gospel. In verse 18, he said, “The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,” and then he builds a case for how the wrath of God is revealed against sin, both the sin of Jews and the sin of Gentiles. The wrath of God, that’s what falls on ungodliness!

Then you get to Romans 4, and it says God justifies the ungodly. How is it that God justifies the ungodly? This is the great discovery of Martin Luther, right, that we are simul justus et peccator, righteous and sinful at the same time. God justifies the ungodly. He justifies us even though we are sinners.

Abram was certainly a sinner. We’ve already seen him lying and acting in cowardice. We’re going to see him really mess up in Genesis 16; wait for that story. Abraham was not a perfect man. He was sincere, he was a believer, but he wasn’t perfect. And yet God justifies him; he counts his faith as righteousness.

Look at verses 6-8, again in Romans 4. Paul gives a second example. “...just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and who sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin,’” quoting here from Psalm 32, in reference, of course, to David’s adultery and murder of Uriah the Hittite. He confesses sin, and God put it away, God covered it, God forgave him, God pardoned him.

Now listen to John Stott’s helpful commentary on this. John Stott says, “First, God credits to us faith as righteousness (3, 5, 9, 22). Secondly, he credits to us righteousness apart from works (6, 11, 13, 24). Thirdly, he refuses to credit our sins against us, but pardons and covers them instead. One cannot claim,” Stott says, “that these expressions are precise synonyms, but they belong together in justification.” Now get this. “Justification involves a double counting, crediting, or reckoning. On the one hand, negatively: God will never count our sins against us. On the other hand, positively: God credits our account with righteousness as a free gift by faith, altogether apart from works.”

If that’s not the best news in the world, I don’t know what is! Do you hear what that’s saying? God doesn’t count your sins against you! If you believe, he counts your faith as righteousness. He credits righteousness to your account.

It’s as if you had a 100,000-dollar debt, and a benefactor comes along and says, “Listen, I’m going to pay your debt in full; and not only that, I’m going to put 100,000 dollars in your account.” It’s a double payment. He pays the debt that you already owe, and he credits your account with wealth. That’s what God does! He pays the debt of our sins, and he counts us as righteous in his sight.

You see the direct application of this to believer in Romans 4. Read verses 18-25. We’re almost done. “In hope he [this is Abram again, Abraham] believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be.’ [Genesis 15 again.] He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’” Now get this, verse 23: “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believed in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

This is for you, believer. This story about Abraham and God crediting his faith as righteousness is for you, as you believe the promise of God, as you believe that God raised Jesus from the dead, as you believe that Christ died on the cross for your sins. In fact, it is the death of Christ on the cross for our sins that gets right to the heart of how God justifies the ungodly.

James Montgomery Boice, also one of these great preachers and commentators that I read, did a three-volume series on Genesis, sermons on Genesis, first preached at Tenth Presbyterian Church is Philadelphia. Boice tells a story about a society, a group in the 20th century, that was promoting atheism, and they were promoting atheism by distributing these pamphlets that were talking about Old Testament characters. Kind of an interesting way to spread atheism, talk about the Bible.

What they were trying to show was things in the Bible should give people problems, and they were calling attention to Old Testament characters and all of the bad things they did. So, for example, Abraham, who’s willing to sacrifice his wife’s honor in order to save his life (we saw it in Genesis 12 and we’ll see it again in Genesis 20); and yet he’s called the friend of God. The pamphlet asked, “What kind of God would want Abraham as his friend?”

Or it considered Jacob. Jacob is a cheat and a liar, and yet God describes himself as the God of Jacob. Or take Moses. Moses was a murderer and a fugitive from justice, and yet God spoke with him face to face as a man speaks to his friend. Or take David. We know David’s story; David was an adulterer. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, and then to cover his sin he murdered her husband, Uriah the Hittite. Yet he is called a man after God’s own heart.

The atheists’ pamphlet was essentially saying, “What kind of God is like this, who would take these wicked people—they’re really awful people—and yet would consider them his friends?” What the atheists promoting that literature didn’t quite understand is that they were just a hair-breadth away from the gospel itself, because that is the big question of the Bible!

The biggest question of the Bible is, "How can a righteous God treat unrighteous people as his friends?" The answer is the cross. The cross. Because on the cross God treated Jesus as if he had lived my sinful life so that he could in turn treat me as if I’d lived the perfect, holy, obedient, and righteous life of Jesus Christ.

That’s the gospel, friends. The gospel tells us that we can be righteous in God’s sight not because of what we’ve done but because of what Christ has done! If we simply believe this good news, if we trust in him, the God who raised Jesus from the dead, we trust in Jesus and his substitutionary work in our behalf on the cross; if we trust this, we believe it with all of our hearts, God puts away our sins and he counts us as righteous in his sight.

Let me ask you this morning, have you believed the gospel? Are you trusting this God, this God of promise, who comes with his word and promises to be our shield and our great reward? Let me ask it this way: not only have you trusted the promise of the gospel for forgiveness of sins, but faith in this passage is characteristic of Abram, and he responds to the word of God with faith, right? He responds to the word of God by receiving and resting on the promise. Are you living your life with that kind of faith? Not just trusting God for your salvation, but are you trusting God for daily grace, grace to meet your daily needs? Maybe there’s some burden you’re carrying right now, some stress, something in your life right now that’s causing you worry, it’s causing you concern, it’s causing you heartache, it’s causing you sorrow. Are you trying to handle it all on your own, or are you looking to God, who promises to be your shield and your reward?

I’ll tell you that even last night, as I was going to bed, there were still worries on my mind, things that I have felt anxious about this week. I’m going to bed, and you know what is going through my head (as it should be)? “Fear not; I am your shield and your great reward.” I was thinking about that verse all night. Whenever I would wake up, that was what was on my mind: “Fear not; I am your shield and your very great reward.”

I need that! I need to believe that! I need to believe that to deal with my particular kinds of anxieties and stresses. You need it, too. You need to believe the promise of God, receive it, and rest upon it. Just as surely as God forgives your sins for Jesus’ sake, as surely God will meet your needs, he will protect you, he will care for you, he will satisfy you. Even though we live in this time of waiting, this delay between promise and fulfillment, yet right now God is your shield, he is your very great reward, and you can trust his promise. Let’s pray together.

Our gracious God, we thank you this morning for the good news of the gospel. We thank you that our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. We thank you that you’ve not only forgiven our sins, but you’ve given us the greatest gift of the gospel, you’ve given us yourself; that you are our God and that we are your people. You have promised to be for us everything that we need in life and in death.

Father, we confess this morning that we often struggle. We struggle in our faith. We feel doubt, we feel fear, we feel anxiety, we feel stress. So often we are trying to figure out how we’re going to handle our problems on our own, and we need this morning to hear the call of this passage to trust in you, the God who meets our needs, the God who is our shield and our reward.

So Lord, work it into our hearts this morning. Give us grace to believe. May your Spirit come upon the word, work it deep into our hearts. As we come to the table this morning, may the table truly and really function as a sign and a seal to our faith. May it be a visible word, a visible and tangible demonstration of the gospel. As we taste the bread in our mouths, as we taste the juice, may that taste remind us that, as real as this bread and juice is, so real is the grace that you give us in Jesus Christ. As truly as our bodies are strengthened and nourished by this food and drink, so truly are our sins forgiven and our souls nourished by your grace.

So help us look through the symbol, beyond the symbol, to the reality that is Christ himself. So we ask you to be with us now. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.