Sermon Options: February 25, 2024

January 9th, 2021

A Covenant of Faith

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

In Genesis 9, God made a covenant with Noah, his descendants, and “all flesh.” Its symbol—to remind us of divine mercy—is the rainbow.

In this chapter, God established a covenant with Abraham, the man of faith, and his descendants. Notice that God promised to make Abraham “the ancestor of a multitude of nations” (v. 4). By faith in the God of Abraham this has literally come to pass. The symbol of this covenant for the Hebrews was circumcision. For Christians, Abraham’s children by faith, the symbol of the new covenant is baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are signs of our membership in the covenant community.

I. God Promised an Everlasting Covenant (vv. 1-7)

As we look back from the perspective of history, the most important person of ancient times was not a king or conqueror, not an Egyptian pharaoh or Persian king. He was not a brilliant Greek philosopher or Phoenician mathematician, but a man of faith—Abraham. He accepted the call of God and believed the divine promise. Abraham became the father of nations and forefather of the Messiah. Today, three world religions look to Abraham as the example of faith: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The patriarch was called to have faith in the future. He became a knight of faith. (See Heb. 11:1-3, 8-12, 17-19.)

The language of this passage is as majestic as the creation account (Gen. 1:28) . Abraham is considered “the new creation” by Paul in Romans 8:23. Notice that God’s promise to Abraham is an eternal one (v. 7).

The covenant is one of dual relationship. The Lord promised Abraham’s descendants, “I will be their God” (v. 8). We believe that promise to be true not only for the Hebrews but also for Abraham’s children by faith, all believers. We belong to God, and he is our God.

II. God Makes All Things New (vv. 5, 15-16)

God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “the ancestor of a multitude.” He was destined to become the father of nations. Sarai, Abraham’s wife, had her name changed to Sarah, which means “princess.” Their new names symbolized their new relationship with God, in response to his covenant promises.

In Revelation, we are told that believers will receive a new name (3:12). We will also be given a new song (5:9). God will make a new heaven and a new earth (21:1), and at the end of time he will make all things new (21:5).

The life and faith of Abraham show us that one person plus God can make a great difference. Abraham believed God’s promises and entered into a covenant relationship with him. The world is different 4,000 years later because of one man’s faith!

The faith journey is one of growth in our understanding of God and growth in his likeness. The life of a believer is one of pilgrimage with a new name and a new goal. God keeps his covenant promised.

God is still calling people to faith and to follow. The word church in Greek literally means “the called out” people of God—in covenant relationship and on mission. (Alton H. McEachern)

The Reasonableness of Faith

Romans 4:13-25

H. L. Mencken said: “Faith may be defined as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.”

John Stott said: “Faith is believing or trusting a person, and its reasonableness depends on the reliability of the person being trusted.”

From our human perspective, God has made some rather improbable promises. Is it reasonable or illogical for us to trust God’s promises?

I. How Improbable Are God’s Promises?

God promised Abraham, at age 100, a baby. This promise appears no more improbable than promises made to us. Karl Barth quoted John Calvin, saying: “Everything by which we are surrounded conflicts with the promise of God. He promises us immortality, but we are encompassed with mortality and corruption. He pronounces that we are righteous in his sight, but we are engulfed in sin. He declares his favour and goodwill towards us, but we are threatened by the tokens of his wrath.”

II. Can God Possibly Keep His Promises?

Paul says Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (v. 21). Why? Abraham believed the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (v. 17). If, prior to making promises with Abraham, God had raised any dead person, it isn’t recorded in Genesis. But God can “call into existence the things that do not exist.” This second statement refers to creation out of nothing. Abraham believed God created everything, and in particular, life. If God can form Adam and Eve from the dust of the ground, he can form a child from the dust of an old man’s seed.

We have more reason to believe. In addition to the understanding Abraham had, when Paul said, “God gives life to the dead,” we can also think of the miracles of Jesus raising Lazarus, and especially the resurrection of Jesus.

III. But Does God Want to Keep His Promise?

Abraham certainly believed God did. God had come to Abraham on a couple of occasions to tell him. God desired to have a chosen people, and having a chosen people would glorify God. If I said a person desired glory, that statement would be an insult. But to say God desires glory is not an insult. It must be understood God only desires a fraction of the glory due him. We easily can give a person more glory than is deserved, but never will we be able to recognize even a fraction of the glory that already belongs to God! Verse 20b says that when Abraham realized keeping this promise would give glory to God, Abraham’s faith was strengthened because he knew God would keep his promise.

Likewise, we know God will be glorified by keeping his promises to us. But we have even more reason to believe than Abraham. God has made us a promise just as improbable as the one he made to Abraham. He has promised us eternal life. And to prove he can keep his promise, he has raised Jesus. To prove he desires to keep his promise, he sent Jesus to the cross. Verse 25 says, “[Jesus] was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (NKJV).

Placing your faith in a God who has all the power necessary to keep his promises and who has paid the ultimate price of sending his only begotten Son to the cross is not “an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” It is the only reasonable response an intelligent person can make. (Bill Groover)

Following the Leader

Mark 8:31-38

Following the inspirational confession of faith by Peter, the disciples receive a startling new definition of Jesus and discipleship in light of the impending passion. These passages mark a significant shift in terms of how Jesus now defines himself, his role, and the role of those who would seek to be his followers.

Jesus now wants to move from the fact of his messiahship to its meaning. That identification is now coined in his use of the term Son of Man. Only Jesus uses this term to refer to his role. The term seems to symbolize Jesus freedom to define himself in light of much speculation as to who he really is. Such freedom on Jesus behalf is exercised subject only to the will of God. This is the second time we hear Jesus predict his passion. The cross is the reason why Jesus has come and the nature of the kingdom he seeks to proclaim.

I. The Cross Is Not What We Have in Mind

We see how uneasy such proclamation is in our own lives as we hear Peter’s response to such a pronouncement. Jesus messiahship to this point has been well received by the disciples. However, now the reality of why Jesus has come is just too much to bear, and Peter attempts to keep him from such a future. Peter’s humanity in light of such kingdom realities reveals how fickle people can become when it comes to discipleship.

Most of the time, like Peter, we want to follow as long as the terms are acceptable and not too costly. Peter’s admonition contrasted to Jesus prediction reveals such a stark disparity as to the claims and demands of God’s kingdom and our conditional response.

II. Discipleship Means Following—Even a Cross

Jesus models powerfully what true following means as he denies self, takes up the cross, and follows God’s lead. Jesus response to Peter so clearly relates that Peter needs to get behind him. Such is the only place a true disciple can ever be if one is to follow. Jesus then uses this opportunity to define once again the true nature of what following him means. In light of Jesus prediction, the message is all too real. Ultimately, discipleship means giving up everything. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best in his book, The Cost of Discipleship: “When Jesus calls a man he bids him come and die.”

The message of this story is not any easier to hear today than it was then. Most of us, if we are honest, find ourselves in Peter’s camp. But Jesus is deadly serious. In this season of self-denial, we must recognize anew what it means to follow Christ. In a world obsessed with instant gratification, this text clearly presents the gospel alternative.

In Disciple Bible Study of The United Methodist Church, I ran across a quote that defines what must be our response to this Jesus who calls us: “Faith is not belief without proof. Faith is obedience without reservation!” As uneasy as it is for us to hear this story of true discipleship, we too must trust where Jesus leads without reservation!

An image that might be helpful in sharing this text is the kid’s game, Follow the Leader. As a kid, I remember everyone could hardly wait to be the leader. Such is the way of our culture. Everyone wants to lead, but few want to follow. When is the last time we saw a best-seller on How to Be a Great Follower? We seem to be preoccupied with leading, but Jesus clearly points out that being a good disciple is all about how one follows. (Travis Franklin)

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