The book of Genesis is full of ancient stories of the relationship between God and mankind. The stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, and Noah and the Arc tell us about the nature of our sinful nature and about God’s desire to be in relationship with us. After The Flood, God took a different approach. He focused on developing a relationship with one man, one family—Abram and Sarai. Today’s passage is one of the key passages regarding the development of this relationship.
- God appears to Abram in a vision, and makes a promise to him. (v. 1)
- Abram enters into a discussion with God. Abram does not mince words, but boldly challenges God to make good on previous promises. Abram is old, and is concerned about who will inherit his wealth. The custom of the day was that if there was no son born to the family, the family wealth would go to the head slave of the household. In Abram’s case, all fingers pointed to his head slave Eliezer of Damascus inheriting Abram’s wealth. This was contrary to God’s promise, so Abram asks God “What gives???” (vv. 2-3)
- God stands firm with his promise, and tells Abram that his very own child will be the heir, not Eliezer. (v. 4)
- Then, taking Abram outside, God points to the heavens. He promises Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. (v. 5)
- Remarkably, Abram trusts God’s promise. God “reckoned it to him as righteousness”. More on this in the Takeaway. (v. 6)
It is important to note that at this time in history, there was no bible. There are thousands of pages for us to read in the bible. Not one word from God was written anywhere for Abram’s benefit. Abram left his family’s home to be a “wandering Aramean” solely on some visions and the encounter in the desert we studied two weeks ago. That takes faith!
At the time of this story, Abram is in his 90’s. Sarai is barren and also very old. Abram is justified in his concerns about the future. God’s promises seem very unrealistic. Yet, Abram trusts in the Lord’s promise. It is this trust that God finds remarkable. He considers Abram to be a righteous person because of it.
Understanding the words “righteous” and “righteousness” have always given me difficulty. What exactly do they mean? I have two explanations to share with you.
1. A pastor taught me long ago that the word “righteousness” means “right actions”. A righteous act is doing the right thing—something that would please God.
2. I recently read a story of a person who visited the Holy Lands. Their rental car was acting up, so they took it to a mechanic. The mechanic looked the car over, and said that the car was sedeq. It was a Hebrew word which meant that the car was working as it should. Interestingly, this is the same Hebrew word that is used in our text for “righteousness”. So, like that car, when Abram trusted in the Lord’s promise, Abram was acting as he should have; as God hope he would act.
We now have the benefit of many bible stories to strengthen our faith. By trusting in the Lord, we are also reckoned as righteous (sedeq) in the Lord.
HEBREWS 11:1-3, 8-16
When reading the book of Hebrews, it is good to remember the purpose that the author had in mind. His intent in writing this was to explain how the life of Jesus fit into the Jewish framework of faith. In other words, it provided answers to questions like “Who was Jesus?”, and “What did he teach us Jews about God?” Today’s passage focuses on the meaning and value of faith. The author uses the classic Jewish model of faith we just read about – Abraham. (His name was changed from Abram to Abraham by God later, during a covenant process.)
- This first sentence is worthy of an hour-long discussion all by itself. Maybe we’ll discuss this at length in the Takeaway. (v. 1)
- Verses two and three direct attention to Abraham, who is the role model of faith both to the Jews and to us Gentiles. (vv. 2-3)
- What follows is a long list of detailed faith-acts on the part of Abraham:
- He left his homeland, not knowing his destination.
- He and his ancestors lived as nomads, waiting for the fulfillment of the promise.
- He was able to produce an heir because of his faith.
- This section is concluded by stating that all these people died in faith, all waiting for God’s promise to be fulfilled. If they ceased to have faith, they might have returned to their homeland, but they did not; they trusted in the Lord’s promise. (vv. 13-15)
- But because of their faith, God held them dear to him. (v. 16)
Let’s look at verse 1 again, starting with the second part.
Faith is putting our trust in something that we have never seen. It is one thing to put one’s trust in something tangible; something you can touch or feel. But trusting in something that you’ve never seen requires something special. That’s what we call faith. This is the thing that God treasures the most.
When we have faith in God’s promises through Jesus, we have hope. We have the blessed assurance that we can have a close relationship with God, and receive life everlasting.
We are into the heart of Jesus’ teaching ministry. He has just angered the entire established religious community at a dinner he to which he was invited. He will continue to teach and be challenged for eight more chapters before he enters Jerusalem for his final days.
If this lesson were a “red letter edition”, it would all be in red. These are Jesus’ words and teaching for us. It has a few twists and turns in it. Let’s dig into this, and make sense out of it.
- Jesus begins by assuring us that the Father wants to give us the kingdom. Give us the kingdom. We should not be afraid or worry about it. (v. 32)
- Next, Jesus gives us a little attitude adjustment. He reminds us to fix our hearts on heavenly things, and not on earthly things. Possessions can control our lives—get rid of them! Focus on God! Verse 34 is the key—God should be your treasure, not your checking account. (vv. 33-34)
- Then, Jesus’ conversation turns apocalyptic—he talks about the end times when he returns. He warns us to be ready, with our lamps lit, waiting for the return of our master. Remember, they didn’t have flashlights or light switches. They only had oil lamps to illumine the darkness. To wait for the return of their master, they would be ready with lamps lit. When he returns, and finds them ready, he will be pleased. (vv. 35-38)
- In the next verse, the master becomes “the thief” who came in the middle of the night. It is strange that Jesus calls himself a thief. But the meaning is clear—if we knew when he was to return, we would have been ready for him. (v. 39)
- The conclusion says it all—Jesus will return when you least expect it. (v. 40)
How do we “have our lamps lit” for Jesus in this day and age? How to we ready ourselves for his return? One of my favorite bumper stickers reads “Jesus is coming—look busy!” It was meant as a joke, of course, but the question remains. How do we prepare for his return? Some turn to intense bible study and try to lead sinless lives. But to me, this is exactly what Jesus criticized in the Pharisees. Doing these things without regard to others is not God’s plan. Jesus taught us to show our faith by loving everyone, even our enemies. Bible study and trying to live pure lives are good things, to be sure. But doing acts of righteousness by loving one another—loving everyone—is the best way to prepare.
Jesus is coming—be busy!