After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir." And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir." And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
And he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess." But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other. But he did not cut the birds in half. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. Then the LORD said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. (ESV)
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Doing Nothing Is Hard Work
Thursday of Lent 3
12 March 2015
Our God is the God of the hopeless cause. Indeed, He often allows the trouble we are in to become worse, just so that His salvation is the more obvious and the more obviously attributable to His gracious care. Jesus dallies in Galilee while Lazarus was dying, knowing full well that His delay would be fatal to Lazarus. He only goes to Bethany when it is time to show "the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (Jn 11:4). He wants to demonstrate that He is the master of life and death and that through Him come into existence the things that do not exist (Rm 4:17).
Just when things become hopeless for us, do we then finally dare to hope in God's rescue. This is what Paul means by hoping against hope (Rm 4:18). Only when God reduces his force to three hundred warriors does Gideon's victory become a matter of divine rescue. What choice did Gideon have but to trust the victory to God when he struck an army with a few platoons? He, like Abraham, had to hope against all hope. Abraham was reduced to old age and Sarah to barrenness waiting on God to fulfill His promise. Then Abraham could not claim that Isaac was his project, his creation. If Sarah had conceived in her youth in the normal course of nature, like many a father, Abraham could have crowed about his fathering of a child and how he had brought about the fulfillment of the promise. Of course, both Abraham and Sarah plotted an end run around God's demand of patience through the birth of Ishmael; with lamentable results. What a mess we make of things when we try to help God out.
Waiting patiently on God's promised rescue can be a painful experience. It is a cross of suffering. We suffer ridicule from those who counsel action. We struggle with doubt, because we fear that God has abandoned us. But God has simply declined to work on our timetable. He is demanding the hard work of hope. Hope is audacious, yes. Especially if it remains hope; if it remains walking by faith and not by sight. It means letting God gain the glory by doing that which reason claims is impossible. It takes considerable courage to let God gain the glory. It is not mere self-control, but allowing God to be in control. That letting God is hard work; doing nothing is great labor. Paul said about Abraham: "He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God" (Rm 4:19-20).
"Do you see how Paul recounts the obstacles, as well as the high spirit of the righteous man which surmounts all? 'Against hope' (Rm 4:18), he says, was that which was promised. This is the first obstacle. For Abraham could not look to any other person who had received a son in this way. They that were after him looked to him, but he had no one to look to, except to God. And this is why he said, 'against hope.' Then, 'his body now dead.' This is a second obstacle. And 'the barrenness of Sarah's womb.' This is a third, yes and a fourth obstacle.
"For God neither gave any proof nor made any sign, but there were only bare words promising such things for which nature did not hold out any hope. Still Paul says, 'he did not waver.' He does not say, 'He did not disbelieve,' but, 'He did not waver,' that is, he neither doubted nor hesitated though the hindrances were so great. From this we learn, that if God promises even countless impossibilities, and he that hears the promises does not receive them, it is not the nature of things that is to blame, but the unreasonableness of him who refuses the promises. 'But but he grew strong in his faith.'
"See the wisdom of Paul. Since this discourse was about those who work and those who believe, he shows that the believer works more than the other, and requires more power, and great strength, and sustains no common degree of labor. For they counted faith worthless, because it had no labor in it. Insisting then upon this, Paul shows that it is not only he that succeeds in self-control, or any other virtue of this sort, but he that displays faith also who requires even greater power. For as the one needs strength to beat off the arguments for excesses, so the faithful also need a soul endowed with power, that he may cast aside the suggestions of unbelief. How then did he become 'strong?' By trusting the matter to faith and not to reason, or else he would have fallen. How did he come to thrive in faith itself? By giving glory to God."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 8
Almighty God, You have given us the promise of the gospel in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to hope against hope that You will fulfill Your promise. Give us an unwavering trust concerning Your promise and strength in faith so that we might give glory to You alone. Amen.
For families that are childless, that the Lord God would grant them the gift of children, according to His gracious will
For Dave DeYoung, who will be undergoing surgery on Friday, that the Lord would grant him strength and healing
For Ken Hennings, President of the Texas District of the LCMS, that the Lord would grant him every blessing in his labor
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015