Lent Five Sermon| March 9, 2008| Rev. Rolf Preus| Genesis 12:1-3
Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
They call Judaism, Islam, and Christianity the three “Abrahamic” religions because each of these religious lays claim to Abraham as their father. The Jews claim Abraham as their father through Isaac. The Muslims claim Abraham as their father through Ishmael. The Christians claim Abraham as their father through Jesus Christ.
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are familiar names to us Christians. We teach our children all about these famous patriarchs. They grow up learning about how God told Abraham leave his homeland to go to a land He would show him. Abraham left his home and family and followed God’s call to where he did not know. They learn how God promised a son to Abraham and miraculously gave him one. They hear God command Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah. They see how God spared Isaac at the last minute, providing a ram in his place. This signified how Jesus gave His life on the cross as the substitute for all sinners. They learn of Jacob’s ladder that reached to heaven. God is at the top and Jacob is at the bottom. The ladder foretold how God would become a man to reconcile this world to himself. When our children learn these stories, they are learning their own history. Abraham is the spiritual father of us Christians. The promises that God gave to Abraham belong to those who share the faith of Abraham. As St. Paul wrote, “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29) Abraham was a Christian. He was a Christian some two thousand years before anyone was called a Christian. Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56)
When we think of the great nation that God promised would come from Abraham we might at first think of the ancient nation of Israel that came to its pinnacle of greatness during the reigns of King David and King Solomon a thousand years after God gave the promise. But that nation was divided by civil war and later taken away into captivity. It never regained the greatness it had under King David. By the time Jesus was born another thousand years had gone by and that great nation had fallen far from its former glory. It had become a mere province of the Roman Empire. When Jesus came into this world as the son of David there was no prestigious throne for Him to claim. Herod called himself the king of the Jews, but his hold on power was rather tenuous. Nobody ruled in that part of the world without the say so of Caesar. God had promised to bless those who blessed Abraham. It did not look as if that blessing would amount to much. Those who cursed the physical descendants of Abraham appeared to be able to do so with impunity. And there were precious few that blessed the Jews. The Jews suffered persecution after persecution.
There are two extreme positions that Christians have taken in regard to the Jews. The one is to demonize them as Christ killers who should be persecuted for crucifying Jesus. It is true that God destroyed Jerusalem and its temple because that city refused to acknowledge her God when He came to her in the person of His Son. But it is just as true that God has destroyed and will destroy every proud nation that opposes Him and His Christ. It was all sinners of all times who bear the responsibility of Christ’s suffering and death. St. Paul says that He “was delivered up because of our offenses,” (Romans 4:25a) and that includes everyone. There is no place for Jew hatred among us Christians. Jesus was born a Jew of a Jewish mother. All of his closest disciples were Jews. The first Christians were Jews. The first ministers of the church were Jews. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were honored by God himself. God chose that nation as His own. He gave them His holy word. From them the Savior of the world was born. When our Lord Jesus Christ cried over the destruction of Jerusalem He taught us to love his brothers according to the flesh.
The other extreme position is to promote the false doctrine that Jews who reject their Savior are still God’s chosen people. They are not. Many so-called “conservative” Christians teach that God still has a covenant relationship with the Jews. They teach that the State of Israel that presently exists in Palestine is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. They argue that God’s promise to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” applies today to the Jewish people and the Jewish State of Israel. This is not true. When God promised to bless those who blessed Abraham and to curse those who cursed Abraham He was not talking about favoring one political entity over another or one race or ethnic group over another. When God said to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” he was talking about the blessing that Christ Jesus – the Seed of Abraham – would bring to the world. He was not playing political favorites as if to suggest that if America does not support Israel’s right to exist God will curse her. Those who bless Abraham are those who bless Christ, Abraham’s seed. Those who curse Abraham are those who curse Christ. The Bible says not one word about the modern day State of Israel. The promises that God gave to ancient Israel He fulfilled in Christ. Those who have Christ are the true children of Abraham.
Abraham is not the spiritual father of modern Judaism or Islam. These religions both teach salvation by works. Abraham didn’t believe in salvation by works. He trusted in God’s grace. When God called him out of the land of Ur, out of his father’s house, out of the idolatry in which he was raised, God did so by grace alone. Why did God choose Abraham? We can no more answer that question than we can say why God loves us. He just did. He chose Abraham. He called Abraham. He promised Abraham wonderful blessings. He would be the father of a great nation. His name would become great. People all over the world would be blessed through him. And why should God do this for a man who did not seek after God but worshipped idols? God should do this because God is gracious. A gracious God does gracious things.
That’s what Abraham trusted in. He trusted in the grace of God. He trusted in his own Descendent who would bring that grace to a fallen sinful humanity. Listen to how St. Paul describes the faith of Abraham, our spiritual father.
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (Romans 4:1-5)
How could Abraham leave everything he had known and loved to go wherever God told him to go? He had God’s promise. He trusted in God’s promise. He did not trust in his works. He trusted in Him who justifies the ungodly. Abraham was ungodly when God called him. He was an unbeliever. God promised Abraham a Savior. Abraham trusted in the promise
Jesus tells us that Abraham saw His day. Two thousand years before Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, He appeared to Abraham. The God whom Abraham worshipped and trusted was the Triune God, the God we Christians confess. Abraham looked forward in faith to the coming of the Savior. With the same faith we look back to the coming of that Savior. He is the God who identified Himself to Moses as I AM. He is the God become man, Abraham’s God and Abraham’s heir. He came to become Abraham’s Savior and ours. He is the High Priest who, with His own blood, entered into the Holy of Holies once and for all, redeeming the entire world of sinners. He cleanses His people, leading them away from reliance on their works that yield only death. He sends His Spirit who confirms us in the true faith and keeps us in this faith until we die.
God blesses those who bless His church. God curses those who curse His church. The chosen nation of God is not the State of Israel. It is not the United States of America. Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The chosen nation of God is the Holy Christian Church. It is made up of those who share Abraham’s faith. They also receive the blessings that God promised to Abraham. They are from every nation in the world. They are joined and knit together in a fellowship unseen by human eyes, but created by God Himself.
The church of Christ has suffered terrible persecution over the centuries, but those who have cursed the church have suffered the penalty that God promised Abraham they would suffer. Where is the ancient Roman Empire under whose cruel tyrants our Christian fathers were put to the sword and sent out into arenas to be ripped apart by lions? It is consigned to history books. The church marches on as her persecutors fall. The power of the Turkish Empire fell. Islam could not overpower Christianity. She never will. The power of Communism fell. The false promise of a Worker’s Paradise that became a hell of earth for millions could not destroy the faith of Christians throughout the Soviet Union. Long after every enemy of Christ’s church has been swept away into the dustbin of history the children of Abraham will remain.
Those who bless the church will be blessed by God. This is what God promised to Abraham. The reason God has so richly blessed America for so long is because in this country Christians have been free to preach the pure gospel and to worship the true God and to confess and proclaim their faith openly, without any persecution by the State. God continues to bless those who bless Abraham. Every nation that has blessed the church has been blessed by God. Every nation that has cursed the church has been cursed by God. We do not always get to see this. But then, Abraham did not live to see God’s promises to him fulfilled. But they were.
Christians must live under the cross. Our glory is not in our own achievements that we can see, but in the blood and righteousness of Jesus that are hidden from our sight. His blood washes away our sin. His righteousness is ours by faith. Just as Abraham believed God and God counted it to him for righteousness, so it is for us. The faith that trusts in Christ alone for salvation is the faith that receives the righteousness of Christ. This is the blessing God promised to Abraham and to his descendents.
God, not the world, does the blessing. We need to remember that. When you stand on your faithful Christian confession you will often be cursed rather than blessed. We refuse to join in worship with those who teach false doctrine. We reject the standards of the popular culture and insist on biblical standards instead. We claim that the truth matters and that Jesus is the only way to heaven. We insist on the true faith once delivered to the saints.
When you take a firm Christian stand you face opposition. The world will never bless the church. But God does. Indeed, God rules this world, rewarding and punishing, building and destroying, cursing and blessing all for the sake of His holy church that He by grace has called out of the blindness of idolatry into the Promised Land. Amen.