Look at the Stars
Sermon 1741 Genesis 15.1-6 April 18, 2021
There are advantages and disadvantages living anywhere. One of the great things I discovered, upon moving into Southern Nevada was, as a friend of mine said, “Hey, driving down to the dam is just like driving into the Idumean wilderness!” Our landscape very closely resembles the Holy Land’s. Just add eight inches of rain and you have it. Sea of Galilee? Lake Mead. Mount Hermon? Mount Charleston. Cedars of Lebanon. The Spring Mountains Ponderosa pine. Sheep. Lions. Got it covered. Trees planted by springs of water? Cottonwood trees! Those are the advantages.
But there is one big disadvantage, the story of God’s Covenant with Abram. If Abram were living in Henderson and God, having made that magnificent promise to him, now takes him outside to look at the stars and count them, if he can, God would not have been able to complete his sentence. “Fourteen” would be Abram’s answer. “I can see fourteen stars. So, am I, like, going to have one son, three grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren before my line ends?” Light pollution!
Well, let’s imagine instead of standing in our Henderson backyards we are hundreds of miles north of here, in the midst of the desert, far away from any lights. The nighttime sky looks like an angel dropped a bag of flour on the floor of heaven.
Look at the Stars
1. A promise which is beyond time (1-5).
2. A promise which brings about faith (6).
Abram had been a busy boy. He had just rescued Lot and the entire cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (yes, that Sodom and Gomorrah) from being captives of a northern king. Having been offered a king’s ransom, Abram refused to take even a wooden nickel from the disgusting and perverse king of Sodom. But you know how that is. You do something very noble and refuse the reward—say, you find someone’s purse, stuffed with hundred dollar bills and you return it to the owner. She offers you two hundred dollars. “No, that’s fine.” You walk away. It won’t take more than a couple of hours and a little voice inside of you is saying, “You chump, you should have taken the money! It was enough that you returned the purse. Most people would not have!”
Well, Abram was feeling like a bit of a chump now, because the LORD comes to Abram and tries to cheer him up!
“After this the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward (1).’”
God is telling Abram he did the right thing. He didn’t need a reward. The LORD—and remember, this is the LORD, the God who promises to send the Promised Savior into the world, no matter what, and the embodiment of that Promise, the Savior himself, Jesus Christ—the LORD is all the reward you need, big guy! Abram has had it. The LORD made that promise so long ago, and he hasn’t fulfilled it yet!
“But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir (2-3).’”
So much time has passed, Abram felt he should take matters into his own hands. He made his chief servant, Eliezer, his heir, the legal executor of his estate in case Abram, who wasn’t a spring chicken anymore, might die. Somebody had to keep the ranch going. Too many paychecks to walk away from. Somebody had to look after Sarah. Smart guy, that Abram. You and I would have done the same thing, sort of like making a will, just in case. But you will notice Abram doesn’t even let the LORD get a word in edgewise. That’s hard to do. He immediately brings it to the LORD’s attention that the LORD hasn’t given him any children.
I would expect the next words coming from the LORD would be, “Why you little bag of dust and ashes! Do you know who you are talking to? If you don’t change your tune, I’ll….” and then the LORD raises his hand to strike Abram down like you or I raise the fly swatter to get that one pesky fly that has come in from God knows where.
But the LORD doesn’t do that, does he? He answers Abram’s complaint. The son I am promising you, Abram, won’t be a legal fiction. It will be your own son, your biological son, a son coming from your own body. Abram was going to the LORD with a heart full of bile because he didn’t think the LORD was fulfilling his promise. When we think the LORD isn’t fulfilling his promises of sins forgiven, a growing faith and daily bread, pour out the bitterness of our heart to him. He will not swat us down. He will honor that request because it comes from a heart which trusts him for every good thing. No one else in the world can help us. That’s why we are going to the LORD in prayer. He is honored and will answer.
And as the LORD has done so often, he attaches a sign to his promise. Look at the stars. This is a promise which is beyond time.
The passage of time is what is irking Abram. Getting older fast and no kid. The LORD gives him a sign beyond time, the stars. What is time? I suppose we’d have to say the succession of events. G after F after E after D after C after B after A. When these events closely follow each other, we say time flies. When there is not a close succession of these events, time drags. That’s why an hour in the classroom was always harder for fourth-grade Donnie Pieper to endure than an hour on Saturday afternoon. But the stars don’t change. They are always there. Up until rather recently they guided sailors. In anticipation of cyberwarfare connected with actual warfare, our naval cadets still learn to navigate by the stars. They are steady. They don’t change. That’s the LORD’s promise. It is steady, changeless, and, when you think about it, the promise of a Savior is beyond time. Jesus will rule you and me forever in heaven. The one similarity between heaven and the casinos is no clocks!
Does that mean impatience is a sin? Yes, it can be. Does that mean Christians should always wait in line for their turn to come? Not if that line is like a row of lemmings headed towards the cliff. The art of Christian living is not to get caught up in the moment, swept away by the excitement of the day. All we have to do is turn on the cable news to see what that means. We take a longer view of things. With the mind of Christ we look at the eternal consequences of our thoughts, words and deeds. And, so often, we are so, so grateful that we have a Savior who died once for all time for the sins of the world.
There’s another reason the LORD told Abram to look at the stars. Abram had faith. He had trust in the LORD. That’s why he was so ticked at the circumstances he was facing to begin with. It seemed like the LORD wasn’t living up to the trust Abram had placed in him. God gave Abram a promise which brings about faith.
“Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness (6).”
How do little ones get better at walking? They keep trying. They keep walking. How do teens get better at sports? They practice, practice, practice. They keep doing it. No Olympic athlete is getting ready for the 2020 games in Japan this summer by taking a break from their event.
How does a person get a stronger faith? The ironic answer is “by believing more.” Yet that lines up exactly with what we see in other aspects of life. It grows by growing. It goes by going. Take the Lord’s Supper. One of the blessings of the Lord’s Supper is that it increases our faith. It does that by giving us yet another promise of God to believe, to trust. “Given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” We believe what God offers and promises. Our faith grows by believing. Abram needed a stronger faith. Oh, he had a saving faith, a complete faith, a perfect faith, just the way he was. Abram is like you and me, whether we are ninety-one or nine. We believe in Jesus and are saved. We are going to heaven. There is no grading of faith. We all are A+ when it comes to the Lord, because our faith depends on whom we trust, Jesus!
But Abram needed a stronger faith to resist the temptations of impatience and doubt. Sound familiar? So God gave him a promise with a sign that would always be there for him—look at the stars. Every time Abram looked up in the nighttime sky he would see those stars and remember the LORD’s words to him. “From your own body.” “So shall your offspring be.” He believed the LORD. The Holy Spirit increased that faith in Abram’s heart as it was nurtured by the Word of God.
Oh, I have to explain how that promise of God wasn’t a motivational trick. You know the kind. You see it in almost every sports movie. The coach challenges the team or a particularly gifted, but troubled player. The player or team takes it to heart and excels beyond what the coach dreamed they could do. The inspiring story he told them may not even be true, but they thought it was true and that was good enough! It’s like when Dorothy and Company finally get the brain, the heart, the courage and the home they always wanted. It was within them all the time! The Wizard of Oz couldn’t give them that.
No, God wasn’t making empty promises. Every star in the sky, the countless hosts of heaven, represented every believer that would ever live, every believer who would ever believe in the Promise that God had given to Abram. “Through you I am going to bring the Promised Savior into the world.” Adam and Eve were included in that number. So was Noah. So were Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her husband, Joseph. So was Peter, Paul, Luke and John. So are you and me. The New Testament says God counts every believer as a child of Abram because we have the same faith in the same Savior he had. His faith looked forward to the Savior who was coming. Our faith looks backwards to the Savior who came. As for the number of the stars, that was no exaggeration, either. The insinuation was that Abram couldn’t count the stars. They were beyond counting, they were so many. Even with today’s science of estimation and statistics, that is still the case. The stars are countless. So it will be with the souls in heaven. There will be so many, well, let’s let the Apostle John tell us what the Holy Spirit showed him. “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands (Revelation 7.9).” There are going to be a lot of people in heaven. That’s why God would change Abram’s name. Abram means “Father.” Abraham means “Father of many nations.” Jesus would make that change a reality.
But how can I leave the story of God’s Covenant with Abram without mentioning this? “The LORD credited it to him as righteousness.” How do you and I, sinners to the core, stand before a holy and morally perfect God? The world says, “By works.” The world thinks you earn your way before God, whether by living the perfect life, or by trying your best, or by at least wanting to do good. I think that covers it. That’s what the Bible calls “works,” human effort, human endeavor. Many Christians fall into that trap by making faith a work, something they can do, they can choose, they can create. Others say it is faith AND what you do, like faith is like Major League Baseball in extra innings. Faith gets you to second base, but it is up to you to get home. If that doesn’t thrill baseball fans, think how unenthused God is about it! That’s why the Bible consistently rejects “works” and even goes out of its way to show faith has nothing to do with works. “It is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2.8-9).”
Works do not justify us before God.
Faith justifies us before God. What does it say? “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” If it were by works, you don’t need credit. Works demand wages. I never liked a boss who handed out the Friday paychecks like he was doing you a big favor. But it is by faith. God credits, freely gives, righteousness to the one who does not work, but who simply believes the words and promises of God. By faith in the promise, God treated Abraham as if he were a perfectly righteous individual, fit for heaven and a worthy friend of the Lord.
This was not written solely for Abraham’s benefit and praise. This was written for you and me as well. The Holy Spirit knew God would declare all people, not just Abraham’s flesh and blood, the Jewish race, but also the Gentiles, people who worshipped wood and hoot owls, God would declare all people not guilty of sin because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the proclamation of that promise the Holy Spirit would make that declaration theirs. He would create faith and strengthen faith through the promise. He did it for you. He did it for me, so
Look at the Stars
1. A promise which is beyond time (1-5).
2. A promise which brings about faith (6).
No place is perfect. No snow here, but because of light pollution, no stars, either. But I tell you, every time I am driving through the desert, I open the sun roof. Every time I am on vacation somewhere else, I put a chair outside after ten o’clock (that’s when the mosquitoes go to bed in Wisconsin) and I look at the stars. So pure, so steady, so reliable. That’s like my Jesus. That’s like your Jesus. And because of his work as our Savior, that’s the same way God looks at us. As the days go by and C follows B follows A, that purity, that steadfastness, that reliability, that becomes more and more a hallmark of our character and lives here on earth as well. The Lord never touches a person without changing them. Just look at the stars and see what I mean.