They’ve left the church basement and shed their flannel board garments.
In my mind, they are now made of flesh and bone, with tales and testimonies that span the spectrum.
From stubborn disbelief to obedient trust, they jump off the pages of Scripture and begin to take human form. Their journey is both admirable and astonishing as I read of their colliding fear and faith. I am beginning to see – they’re not that much different from me.
They fail and falter, lie and laugh in disbelief. They fear and forget – but then they remember You – the One on whom their faith rests. They recall the One whose word will never fail, the One who meets them in their nothingness and births His promises through them.
Family Members of Old
Abraham, Sarah and many other colorful flannel figures filled my childhood Sundays. Hearing stories – like Noah and Joseph – of their trust in God in the midst of daunting circumstances inspired me and often made me think these Old Testament saints were extra special or superhuman. I found it easy to frame them as Bible characters whose sole purpose was to teach me a moral lesson, rather than to see them as regular people, members of my faith family, who were transformed by God.
Like their stories, I sometimes see the circumstances in my life as one-dimensional and private – “God’s just trying to teach me a lesson.” Now, I do believe the Lord is constantly teaching us, and the truths we learn carry meaning in the context we’re in, but His work is also much bigger than a single lesson, His work is bigger than just me. In the lives of all His people, throughout all of time, God is carrying out His redemptive plan for the world. Like my Old Testament family, my life is hemmed in by the Lord’s promises, it is characterized by His redemptive transformation.
Earlier this year, as I read through the faith journey of Abraham and Sarah, I found a prominent theme stamped on their story. A theme that creates the boundary lines of their lives with the Lord.
The story of this Old Testament couple is continuously marked by the promise given to them – a promised inheritance that the Lord first declares to Abraham in Genesis 12 –
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (v. 2-3, ESV)
God promises Abraham that his descendants will inherit the land God is giving him. This promise of a homeland, of God’s blessing for generations, moves Abraham to give thanks and build an altar of praise to God. (see Gen. 12:6-8) But a key part of God’s promise leaves Abraham doubting its fulfillment – To your offspring I will give this land. How can this be? The Lord surely knows he and Sarah are past the age of childbearing. Conceiving a child is impossible.
God’s promise will have to be fulfilled another way.
Sometimes I think we want God to bypass us as instruments for His purposes. Sometimes the fact that God carries out His perfect plans through flawed people seems foolish to us (or downright impossible in Abraham’s case). Surely God can do a much better job without throwing us into the mix. It is true – the Lord does not need us to validate His reputation; He doesn’t require our assistance to perfect His plans. And yet, God has chosen us to participate with Him in His redemptive work, for our good and for the glory of His great name. Our inadequacy does not turn Him away; less than ideal circumstances do not stop Him from working through us.
In fact, impossible circumstances often provide the most fertile ground for our Lord to work; and Abraham’s story is no exception.
Trusting the Maker of the Stars
In chapter 15, Abraham has another conversation with the Lord.
‘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.’
Then the word of the Lord came to him: This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”
He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the night sky and count the starts – if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, So shall your offspring be.’ (v. 2-5, NIV)
Stand with Abraham for a moment. His body is aged, his wife cannot conceive; he’s ready to resign. The Lord leads him out into the night air and turns his gaze to the sky. Abraham looks up at the stars. A spectacle – vast, infinite, impossible to count. Abraham cranes his head back, pausing to let his eyes adjust to the black abyss above him. One, two, three, four – perhaps he made it to twenty-five. Oh Lord, to count them all would be impossible.
Gazing at the infinite stars overhead and standing on God’s unthinkable promise – both are staggering realities. Both testify that God is who He says He is and will carry out what He promises – Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (v. 6) Abraham believes the Lord – the One who made the stars and knows their number – can be trusted in the realm of the impossible.
How can this be? This question of colliding hope and uncertainty surfaced for Abraham in the Old Testament; it was vocalized in the New Testament by Mary when she was told she would give birth to the Messiah; and it is certainly echoed by each one of us throughout our lives with the Lord. We want to believe God can do the impossible, but we’d rather be left out of the equation. But, friends, that is not the Christian life. We’re not left on the sidelines to watch God work – our participation, our obedience, is wondrously included in God’s divine work. God could have sent an angel to deliver Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, but He didn’t. God chose to work through their broken (barren!) humanity, He chose to move in the midst of their impossible physical circumstances, to bring about His will. Walter Brueggemann, in his study on Genesis, expresses it this way –
“Life comes only through promise; the promise comes only in the body of the hopeless ones. Like the birth of Jesus, Isaac’s birth is announced by the angels. But the birth is not apart from the tired, aged reality of Abraham and Sarah. The promise has fleshly fulfillment.”
The Promised One, Jesus Christ
Truly, the promise that covers and characterizes the whole of my life is the person of Jesus Christ. The promise of reconciliation with God and eternal salvation comes through the person, the body of Jesus Christ.
In Him, we see God’s Word made flesh, dwelling among us. (John 1:14) Our hope is birthed in Jesus Christ, and through His bodily death and resurrection, we are promised new life and a glorious inheritance as sons and daughters of God. (John 1:12) In calling on the name of the Lord, we receive the gift God has promised to us – Jesus Christ.
The same God who brought life from Sarah’s barren body, who birthed the Savior in Mary’s virgin womb continues to move through our flawed and broken humanity to transform us into the image of Christ and accomplish His perfect purposes. What a mysterious truth and a daunting reality at times! Like our Old Testament ancestors, we can be tempted to think it’s impossible for God to work through us. Our stories perhaps seem too insignificant, our circumstances too messy; but grounds of impossibility are precisely where the Lord calls us to trust Him and to walk in faithful obedience. The God of Abraham and Sarah is our living Lord, the One whose word will never fail. His work in and through us is a constant and glorious proclamation of redemption!
As a volunteer with Moody Publishers, I read and write reviews for various books and hope a title will spark your interest. (There is certainly no obligation to purchase the book; I simply want to pass along ideas for your reading pleasure.)
This month’s title is Stages of the Soul by Nancy Kane. Click to read my review!