Monday, October 7, 2013

God's Big Family; Genesis 15, Ephesians 2:12-19

Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday. We celebrate God’s big family, recognizing that we have brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world. You often hear that all people are God’s children, but this is only true in that every person on the planet is created in the image of God. This should cause us to respect and give dignity to all human life, but not all people are truly part of God’s family. In fact Galatians 6:10 tells us that we are to do good to all people, but especially to those who are of the household of faith. You see being created in the image and likeness of God is that every person is designed to contain God, just like a glove is designed to contain a hand. Every person has the potential to be a member of God’s family. As the children quoted last week, “For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Yes, the Spirit of God has been poured out on all flesh. Yes, Jesus is the gift given to the world, but there are those who refuse to open the gift. And we can only open the gift because the Spirit moves in our hearts to do so. Scripture’s definition of what it means to be a child of God is one who believes in and receives Jesus. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, that is Jesus, to them He gave the power (or the right) to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name.” Most translations say “the power to become the children of God”. See, we are not all automatically children of God. It is the right or power given by Jesus to those who receive Jesus. In fact, earlier in this very chapter it says that Jesus came to His own people, the Jews, and they did not receive Him. Those who receive Jesus are born, as the passage continues by saying, “not of blood or of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” God decides who His children are. Those who receive Jesus receive the full inheritance of the Father. If we are in Christ, we have the full blessings, benefits, and privileges that go with being a true child of God. We have been adopted into God’s family. This is the difference one has when one is a part of the household of faith. Last week we talked about a covenant between us and God. We saw through history that it was and still is impossible for us to keep that covenant, but God has always kept the covenant with us. Our Old Testament passage this morning shows that from the beginning, God promised to keep the covenant so that God would always have a family. God promised Abraham that not only was God going to give Abraham a family, but God was going to make a family for Godself through Abraham and that this family would include people from every nation, tribe, and tongue of the earth. All peoples would be blessed through Abraham. God originally made this promise to Abraham back in chapter 12, but by the time we get to Genesis 15, over 20 years have passed and Abraham has seen nothing happening. So God comes to Abraham again, and the promise becomes a covenant. A covenant is a binding legal agreement so strong that if one were to break it, the penalty would be death. Covenants were made between nations, and when a nation conquered another nation, a covenant would be made to state what each nation would provide for the other. Covenants were made between families. Marriages were often part of covenants or covenants themselves—“’til death do us part”. We have several examples of different covenants made throughout the ancient Near East. The word covenant is the word “to cut”. The cutting of animals and walking between the pieces of the dead animals was the symbol for agreeing to the covenant. Walking between the animals was the sign that you were saying to the other party, “may it be so with me as with these animals if I break the covenant.” The written covenant followed a particular pattern. It was always initiated by the party that had more power, status, wealth, etc. It opened with a prologue in which the higher party introduces themselves and states the relationship to the other party or parties. This was followed by stipulations, laws, and blessings and curses—the things that would happen to the other party should they keep or break the covenant. Witnesses were named, and the covenant ended with a call for review or remembrance. God makes a covenant with Abraham. God opens the prologue by saying, “I am Yahweh who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to inherit it.” God then tells Abraham to prepare the animals. The stipulations that God gives is that Abraham will have an heir from his own body, his descendants will be as difficult to count as it is to count all the stars in the sky, and that his descendants will receive land “from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates.” God lets Abraham know his descendants will be enslaved for 400 years, but that Abraham will not experience this and will die in peace at a “good old age”. God also lets Abraham know that when his descendants are freed, they will come out with a great possession. Everything God promised in Genesis 12, God reiterates here. But as this covenant is made, some interesting things happen. After Abraham has prepared the animals, vultures come in to eat the carcasses and Abraham has to drive them away. These birds would have made the sacrifices unfit. Jewish scholars have written about the symbolism of these birds—things in our lives that make the sacrifices unfit. They could be thoughts that cause us to doubt the meaning and power of the covenant. Thoughts like, “God’s promise isn’t good enough. I’m unable to receive God’s promises. There must be more than to do.” We have to drive such thoughts away. Next Abraham falls into a deep sleep and experiences a horror of great darkness. This is more than a nightmare. Many scholars and I believe that Abraham experienced the depths of darkness within his own soul, the evil of which he was capable, and how horrible life would be without the grace of God. Abraham may or may not still have been asleep, but after Abraham’s terror has passed that God speaks. And as God speaks, God seals the covenant by appearing as a smoking oven and burning torch, which pass between the animals. As God does this, God finishes speaking the covenant. Notice that Abraham does not pass through the animal pieces. God alone takes on the full responsibility for keeping the covenant. God knew that neither Abraham nor his descendants could keep the covenant, except for One descendant. That One exception was Jesus Christ, who kept the covenant completely, yet also took the full punishment for the covenant which we broke time and time again and still break upon Himself. Jesus received the death penalty, but rose in triumph so that God promises would be made complete. We will remember and celebrate the New Covenant we have in Jesus in just a few minutes in the Lord’s Supper. God did keep God’s promises, and all nations of the earth have been blessed through Abraham’s seed, Jesus Christ. In Revelation we see that there is a great multitude too hard to number comprised of people from every ethnic group, language group, and family group. We are made sons of God and brothers and sisters with all those who believe. As our New Testament Scripture says, “We who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” We are members of one household, the household of God. We become members of the household of faith by the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Through the faith we have been given, we simply thank God for keeping the covenant with us. Open the wonderful gift that you have been given, and know that you are a member of God’s big family.

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