The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Genesis 12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” 4 So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan. 6 Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. 8 Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. 9 Abram journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev. (NASB)
The word hope is a word that needs or suffers from nuance. It often carries with it different connotations or conditions. Hope and faith are often used as synonyms. One of my New Testament professors from back in college taught me that hope is faith that looks forward into the future while holding on to the promises our Lord has made to Christians and the Christian Church.
The first kind of hope is the wishful thinking kind of hope, which is really no hope at all. A person buys a lottery ticket, hoping, that is engaging in wishful thinking. This type of thinking does hang its hat on anything real. There’s just wishful thinking that has no power to do anything.
Soren Kierkegaard, a philosopher and the son of a Lutheran pastor and the father of religious existentialism did a great deal of damage to Christian Church and Christian faith in coining the phrase “a leap of faith” which he taught was hope, trust, faith in something, namely the Gospel for no good reason. In fact no reason at all. That’s what he meant by faith and hope.
When some others use the word hope, they mean “forlorn hope.” That phrase came about as a result of particular historical setting. During the Napoleonic wars, the British general Arthur Wellesley used British troops to reduce Spanish towns and villages held by French troops. The battle began with artillery. Once the artillery had broken through a section of the city wall, the first wave of troops would be sent through the breach. These troops were be were called the “forlorn hope” because their chances of survival were extremely low. They advanced through the breach in the wall with almost complete confidence that they would be killed.
There’s a big difference between wishful thinking, Kierkegaard’s baseless irrational hope, the “hopeless hope” of certain death, and the hope that arises in the hearts and minds of believing Christians because of the Word and promises of God.
In story and life of Abraham, God tells a different story and offers a different kind of hope. St. Paul gives us a name for this kind of hope in romans 4:18, “In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, ‘So shall your descendants be.’”
God called Abraham to hope against hope, to believe precisely because He had spoken and given a word of promise. This is Abraham’s faith. This was the faith that was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. He believed that He would be the father of many nations by virtue of his son and his heir. Abraham believed the promises given to him by the Lord God.
Promises, promises. That repetition usually signs skepticism that what has been said will be delivered. It points to a reality that an awful lot of promises in this world go unfulfilled. The Lord God made some really big promises to the patriarchs of the Old Testament. The first promise was to Adam and Eve in Genesis three, the promise of the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent.
The promise to Noah that in the ark, he and His would be saved. The promise sealed by a rainbow that He would never again destroy mankind in by a flood.
He promised to Abraham a land of his own and as many descendants as far as the eye could see. God also promised Abraham that from the descendants promised to him, there would be One through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
The problem though was that the Lord God required Abraham and all his descendants to believe the promises on the basis that God Himself was making them. The “believing the promises” part became even more difficult as time went on and circumstances changed.
The Lord God had His own time schedule. His normal way of fulfilling His promises was not easy, simple, or obvious. He issued a promise or promises, then He commanded the struggling faithful to do something, rely on something, or go someplace.
Time and time again He fulfilled His promises amidst the messes of life. And if you don’t think Abraham had his share of messes, then you don’t know your Old Testament history.
In this morning text, the Lord God promised Abraham a homeland, then instructed him to leave Ur, then Haran, and go to Canaan. The problem was that Abraham wasn’t sure where it was exactly. Abraham was simply expected to get up and move his entire household to someplace he didn’t know and where he’d own the land. But the moving instructions did not come with a deed to the promised land.
By virtue of the Lord God’s promised Abraham was a sojourner in land that he owned by way of God’s promise. Eventually, he settled by the great trees of Mamre, but he didn’t actually own that land. He basically rented it. It was only after the death of Sarah, that he bought a small parcel of land so he could bury his wife and start a family cemetery. So he bought, as you heard in Wednesday night’s sermon the “the cave of the field of Machpelah east of Mamre (that is, Hebron)” (Gen 23:19). That appears to the eye to be the only land Abraham possessed at the time of his death. The promised land in Canaan was a cemetery. That’s the promised fulfilled?
Yet, when the Lord God said, “Go,” Abram went, without a map and without a deed and he took a lot of people with him. Lot included.
God expected Abram to believe not on the basis of his sight, feeling, deeds, or any other earthly circumstances. The Lord God expected Abraham to believe for the same reason He expects us to believe. First, by the power of His word He created true Christian faith in our hearts and minds. Second, He expected us and Abraham to believe because He is the giver and keeper of His promises.
The Lord God hides and reveals Himself in the Word of promise. It was and is all there, because the mouth of the Lord had spoken.
God permitted Abraham to muddle through daily life waiting and hoping for the promises fulfilled. That frustrated Abraham and Sarah. At points they tried to take matters into their own hands. Sometimes cowardice and unbelief got the best of them.
Yet, St. Paul wrote that Abraham, “believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, ‘So shall your offspring be’?” (Rom 4:18).
How could Abraham become father of many nations? In a hundred years He couldn’t be the father of one son, let alone many nations. When he died he was landless, except a burial plot. Abraham had nowhere that was his own, except the grave where he was laid. Yet that was a promised fulfilled.
Abraham lived in God’s land only by the sufferance of pagans. Yet the promise was given and the promised was fulfilled. “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). In the blood line of Abraham the Christ was born. In the blood line, baby Jesus was circumcised and shed for the first time, His very own blood. In the blood line, Jesus bleed in the Garden of Gethsemene. In the blood line, Jesus’s head bleed as the thorny cross was pressed into this head. In the blood line, Jesus flogged back bled. In Abraham’s blood line, Jesus shed His blood on the Cross of Good Friday.
Abraham believed the promises and his faith and hope were reckoned to him as righteousness. The life of Abraham showed moments of great faith, even to the point of raising his knife over the son of the promise. His life also showed great weakness as he tried to pass his wife off as his sister twice to save his own skin.
What reason and the natural eye sees sin and weakness and the messes and brokeness of life. We see broken marriages, children born out of wedlock, and all manner of rebellion against God’s order. We see a weak and suffering ministry. A decaying and fading visible church.
These are the times of faith and hope. All the Lord God gave to Abraham was His Word. There were no riches, no land, not a deed to the promised property, not even a hope based on circumstance. Abraham had hope against hope because God made Himself known to Abraham. He was the God of mercy. He was the God of the resurrection of the dead. He was the God of His words.
To know the Lord God is to trust the Word of God. Likewise to know Christ Jesus is to know God the Father. John 14:7; “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”
In the Gospel lesson for this morning, Nicodemus was struggling to know God. He said, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” And Jesus told Him where the promises of God and God Himself would be found. God is known and found in the waters of Holy Baptism and God is found in the place where in the days of Rome a man is lifted up. John 3:14-17 “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
Lent is a time of hope in the midst of hopelessness. We are lost in our sin, in our weaknesses, and left to ourselves we would be lost forever. Lost in forlorn hope.
But our heavenly Father sent His Son, to die for our sins, to bless all nations, and to lead us into a new and heavenly promised land. Jesus didn’t even own the land wherein His dead body was buried.
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.