March 4 2012 Sermon
Gen. 17:1-7, 15-16
Genesis 17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,
2 that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.”
3 Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him,
4 “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations.
5 No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.
7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
15 And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.
16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”
17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”
God made a covenant with Abraham. A covenant is not a contract as we sometimes incorrectly think of it. It is not an agreement between two equal parties setting out obligations of each party toward the other. Rather, the Old Testament word “covenant” was one sided. It is what one party imposes on another or promises to give another. It is not an agreement. In the ancient world a covenant was the demands and obligations which a king or conqueror imposed upon the conquered people and it was the promise of protection and safety that the king would give the people. It wasn’t an agreement because the people didn’t have any choice in the matter. A “will and testament” was also a covenant. The king imposed his will, or a father promised an inheritance, in either case, there is no agreement between the two parties. In this case the king was God. “I am God almighty; walk before me and be blameless.” That was the requirement of God almighty. You shall be the father of many nations, that was the inheritance he gave Abraham and his descendents forever. “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.” That was the “will and testimony” God made with Abraham which his descendents would inherit for eternity. Many nations, kings and queens would descend from Abraham and Sarah. Among them King David, King Solomon, and all the kings of Judah, and ultimately the final and greatest king, the King of kings, Jesus Christ, Savior of all nations. That was Abraham’s family tree. A royal family tree; a family of kings and queens. This was true royal blood.
Their names would be new, their names would be “children of God.” God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and he changed Sarai’s name to Sarah showing that God was their Father, for it is the parents who name a child. By changing their names, God was claiming them as his children. Hence this royal family tree of kings and queens would be all children of God; true royal blood would flow in their veins.
This royal family would reign forever and ever. Jesus Christ would reign as King forever, and his kingdom would be over all people and all the world. It was an everlasting covenant; everlasting blessings. This family was God’s family; these children would be God’s children. The blessing, the benefits of being God’s children would never end. Not even at death. Death cannot rob us of the blessings and benefits of being the royal children of God. “Neither life nor death…can separate us from the love of God in Christ.” This royal blood line will never come to an end.
Now let’s look at our own family tree, a very different family tree. The family we were all born into. Genesis, chapter 5, reads, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.” Now that is our family tree, from Seth, born in the image of sinful Adam. Adam was created holy, in the image of God, but then he sinned, so Adam’s son was born in the sinful image of Adam. As God tells us in the Book of Romans, “…sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” And “The wages of sin is death.” Our family tree, our lineage, is the lineage of sin and death. Sinners we are, and we shall all die. “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” We were not born into a royal family with royal blood; but into a lineage of death with sinful flesh and blood. Our inheritance is sin and death; it is condemnation and the wrath of an angry God who will not and cannot tolerate our sinful nature.
“But,” you argue, “so was Abraham.” Yes, that’s correct. “So how did Abraham become the father of a royal line of holy people?” Because God chose Abraham. It was God’s choice; it was God’s doing. Abraham did nothing to become a child of God, but God chose Abraham so that promise of the Seed which God had promised to Adam and Eve would be fulfilled. That Seed would be of the lineage and blood line of Abraham. It was on account of this Seed, who would crush the head of Satan, that God made Abraham a royal son and head of a royal family. All of these fulfillments of God’s promise are because of Abraham’s greatest physical descendant, the promised Seed, King Jesus.
Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s royal promise. Jesus Christ is the reason or basis for the promise God made to Abraham. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the covenant. For only in Jesus could Abraham become a child of God.
Only in Jesus do we become children of God. It is God’s work in us. We cannot be children of God by our own choice. It is not your doing! You can’t just look around and say, “O, I want to be someone else’s son or daughter.” You can’t hear about some billionaire and say, “I think I will become his daughter so I can inherit his fortune.” You can’t look at a king over in Europe and say, “Tomorrow I will become his son so I can be the crown prince.” There is nothing you can do to change your family tree or who your ancestors are. We struggle to be acceptable to God, but the cross of Jesus shows that we can never be. There is nothing good or pleasing to God in you; that is in your sinful flesh. There is nothing you can do to be righteous or pleasing to God. There is nothing you can do to become his child. Even our attempts to be righteous is sin. So don’t even try. Just give up!
Then how can we become God’s children? How can we become righteous? Because Christ already did it for you on the cross. So give up trying. It’s already done for you. By his atoning death your sins are paid for. By his resurrection he has created righteousness.
Righteousness is God’s creation in you, not your doing. By his cross, Jesus Christ can change your family tree. He must first kill you with the demands of the law, that is what the cross is all about; punishment for sin, death. He must crush you with the guilt and horror of your own sinful nature, just as God punished him on the cross. He must bury you in the dirt of you own conscience, dust to dust and ashes to ashes. That you might repent of your sins, turn from your sinful life style, and confess them to God, in order to give you a new birth in Baptism, born again into a new family, his family, His royal and holy family and make you an heir of his eternal blessing. As Christ rose from the dead, God has raised you from the ash heap of your own guilt and made you a new man, with new life, and created his righteousness in you. So that now you can say with St. Paul; “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Jesus is the King who came to serve. Jesus is the King who came to die. “I have come not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” Jesus is the righteous one who “died for the ungodly,” as the Apostle Paul writes in our epistle reading. Jesus is the one who shows us God’s love for us “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” “Therefore we have now been justified by his blood…for while we were his enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”
That is the meaning of Lent and of our Meditation on the Passion and Cross of Jesus: that by his death we are reconciled to God. As we meditate on the cross of Jesus, we see in this brutal and cruel death that which made possible the covenant which God has made with Abraham and with you. As we behold the spectacle of the lashes, the jeering crowds, the spitting, the beatings, the crown of thorns, and the bloody and ugly death on a cross, what we behold is God’s punishment of our sin. As if we were looking into a mirror, we see the horror that lives in our hearts. Every blow, every thorn piercing his flesh, every nail piercing his hands and feet are your sins.
But we also see the love of God who died for us while we were still sinners. We see Christ who died for the ungodly. We see the King, descendent of Abraham, who stood between us and God’s wrath and received our punishment for us. We see our sins punished and killed on the cross to set us free from all sin and death. We see Jesus who died in our place so that death no longer has dominion over us. You are forgiven! You are freed from death! You have been taken out of Adam’s lineage and family tree of sin and death, and grafted into the royal family tree of Abraham. You are now sons and daughters of God; you are a new person; created holy and righteous in Christ.
This is God’s covenant with you; a new covenant; a new testament, making you God’s sons and daughters, heirs to his throne. The new covenant is established by Jesus on the cross. For a testament to take effect, someone must die. Jesus died. It is God’s doing; God’s work. As God chose Abraham to be his son without any doing on his part by Abraham, so God has chosen to make you his son or daughter in your Baptism where you were born again of water and the Spirit.
Today we have traced our spiritual family tree back more than four thousand years, all the way back to Abraham and Sarah. We didn’t even need the web site RoyalAncestors.com to discover that your spiritual family tree contains royalty, not only David and Solomon, but the Anointed One, Jesus Christ, who reigns eternally, and is King of kings and Lord of lords. With him, you, and all in this incredible spiritual family tree, will reign forever and ever. Amen.