Obedience Can Be Painful
Scripture: Genesis 17:1–27
Obedience Can Be PainfulGenesis 17:1-27
Sunday, June 30,2013
Pastor Randy Smith
Two summers ago Kayla and Natalie asked me to join them at Great Adventure. I had never been there, but relished the opportunity to be with my daughters and enjoy an afternoon of rides. They had either passes or discounted tickets, and they told me they obtained a coupon whereby my admission could be discounted as well. It was said that I had to go on a weekend. So on a Sunday, we drove to Jackson directly after church.
Upon arriving at the gate we discovered a small miscalculation on their part. The coupon was not "weekends only" it was "only weekdays." And on my part I discovered massive crowds on a very hot August afternoon. Still, we had each other and some great rides to look forward to.
I don't know where the line is drawn, but there comes a point for many of us when our bodies can no longer handle the constant spinning and turning. I always did great on these rides, but for the first time in my life, "Batman" was an exception. I exited the roller coaster, let's just say, feeling a bit on the dizzy and nauseous side. We did some more moderate rides (a.k.a. the old people rides) and then I was talked into a roller coaster called "Superman." "It's pretty easy, Dad! You'll be OK."
After waiting nearly an hour in the baking sun, they strap you in this device that holds your body in a horizontal position. The ride concluded and returned to the starting point. I wanted more than anything to get out of this contraption. The seconds seemed like hours and it wasn't looking good for me. Then I made the mistake and glanced at the ground in front of me. As I was looking straight down only to notice a pile of someone's previously digested lunch. We'll leave it at that.
The Lord has given us His word in the Bible. He has given us commands that we are to obey to express our devotion to Him and also that it may go well with us. We know that, but like having fun at an amusement park with your kids, we all know that obedience can be difficult.
Like my ride on Superman, we have learned the spiritual road for Abraham has been a roller coaster. On the one hand he demonstrates great faith and travels across the desert to the land God's promised him. Then on the other he runs to Egypt because he has no faith that God will sustain him in the Promised Land. On the one hand he demonstrates great courage by rescuing Lot from the King of Elam and then on the other he buckles like a house of cards when he absolves himself of all responsibility when Hagar becomes pregnant. On the one hand he is exalted as an example of faith throughout the Bible and then on the other sleeps with his maidservant because he didn't believe God was going to come through when he and his wife were promised a son.
Abram has been unfaithful - like all of us, but what we continually see is the faithfulness of God continually coming through on all His promises. Last week we saw our Lord (El-Roy) appear to Hagar by the well and today as we look forward to the many baptisms, we'll see Him demonstrate His love and grace when He as El-Shaddai appears to Abram. We'll see God's promise for a relationship with Abram, but with that promise will come a responsibility of obedience that will be placed upon Abram.
1. The Foundation of the Relationship (verse 1)
Let's look at the first point, in verse 1, the foundation of the relationship.
Verse 1, "Now 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.'"
We can't be certain, but after last week's blunder with Hagar when Abram was eighty-six, it seems the Lord waited another thirteen long years before He appeared again to Abram. The promise for a child originally came when Abram was seventy-five and according to verse 1, he is now ninety-nine. A little lesson here about the Lord's timetable and our need to patiently wait upon Him.
What I want to focus on here are the two foundations found in our relationship with the Lord. When God initiates a relationship with us, these are two fundamental truths we must understand. Our Lord establishes them from the forefront before He goes any further.
First, verse 1, we must know that He is El-Shaddai (in the Hebrew), He is "God Almighty."
Let me give you an example. Last week I gossiped about our disobedient dog. Permit me to do it once again. Last week it was Kayla's gym clothes. This week it was Pastor Craig Baxter's goodies that he had stashed away in his room in our house. When we came home last Sunday after church we noticed two large empty containers that once held Australian chocolate cookies called "Tim-Tams." What's the problem with the dog's actions? The problem is we rescued this dog from the death chamber. We provide for her everything she needs to survive. And little does she know that eating chocolate can be lethal! Establishing our ownership of her is not only right, but is also in her best interest!
The same applies in our relationship with God Almighty. But when it comes to God Almighty, we act like a foolish dog and also entertain false conceptions in our mind. He exists to give me what I want. He's lucky to have me as His child. He's fine with me doing as I wish. My friends, He is "God Almighty!"
Second, and it naturally flows from the first, since He is "God Almighty" we must live a life obedient to His commandments. The call to Abram (and to us) in verse 1 is to "walk before [Him] and be blameless." Thankfully God did not say sinless. If our responsibility was to be sinless there would be no relationship. God receives sinners, but He wants us to be repentant sinners who by His strength seek to pursue a holy life. We have already seen this in Genesis. God's people sin, but God's people are convicted of their sin. God's people confess their sin and God's people repent of their sin. Importantly, God's people seek to live blameless lives before God. So far for Abram (and us) a relationship with God entails an understanding of who He is and a commitment to honor Him.
2. The Covenant in the Relationship (verses 2-8)
We have to move on to the second point.
God made a promise to Abram twenty-four years ago that he would be the father of a great nation (chapter 12). Roughly ten years later, God makes a covenant with Abram. You remember that animals are killed and split in two. God alone passes between the pieces signifying that this covenant is on Him, and He would be treated as those animals if He ever failed to keep His word. Yet immediately Abram takes matters into his own hands and tries to shortcut God's promise with Hagar at Sarai's suggestion. He falls flat, and brings horrible consequences into his life (chapter 16). It has now been thirteen years for the man to think over his failures. But God again appears to the man who let Him down and reaffirms His covenant in our chapter this morning. Since God is a God of grace, may we remember that His promises are not destroyed by our failures.
Covenants were often made between a powerful king and a weak king. The powerful king set the terms. There is no negotiating. There was an acceptance of the stipulations or be eliminated - simple as that. Likewise, we deserve hell and we are in no position to negotiate with "God Almighty." He sets the terms. Receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord who bore your sin on the cross and be adopted into His family by grace, or face "God Almighty" and give a failed account of your own righteousness. My friends, surrender is the only option!
And when we enter this covenant through King Jesus, God Almighty who was once our enemy becomes our Father. His wrath is removed, and we become the full recipients of His love. He extends His arm in this relationship. We hold it in a blameless walk. We stick close to His side like a little child. We trust and follow Him even when we might not know or understand where the road is leading.
Verse 2, "I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly." Look how Abram responds to God's Word in verse 3. "Abram fell on his face." A sign of godly fear and total humility. God continues beginning in verse 4, "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God" (Gen. 17:4-8).
It is a reaffirmation of the covenant. And did you catch the greatest part of the covenant? It is mentioned twice - verse 7, "To be God to you" and verse 8, "I will be their God." The greatest part of the covenant is that "God Almighty" becomes our God. That God Almighty even calls us friends! We don't just get His stuff. We get Him! As I said in point one, it is a relationship. Likewise in the New Covenant when we receive Jesus Christ, we get the triune God! We get the Father. We get the Son who will be with us always (Mt. 28:20). And we get the Holy Spirit who takes up permanent residence in our hearts (1 Cor. 6:19). Second Corinthians 6:16, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." These are God's covenant promises.
If you are married you entered a covenant with your spouse. You became one flesh and made a promise to never leave one another. You entered a relationship. Could you imagine how your wife would feel if you only spoke to her when you needed something. Or how she would feel if you lived only for yourself?
Our covenant with God is similar, but in many ways different. He takes ownership of our lives. He offers Himself in a relationship, but it is a relationship on the terms whereby we fully surrender and allow Him full control of our lives. There is nothing along the lines of, "I want You, but I do not want to be like You," or "Take me to heaven, but I could care less about living for you now."
So God begins with Adam and Eve. They fail. The world becomes corrupt. He moves to a new start with a new earth and Noah. Noah's life ends on a disappointing note, and the human race again turns toward corruption. Remember Lamech? "You wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me; and a boy for striking me; If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold" (Gen. 4:23-24). Now God is starting again with Abram. He gives the man a new name, "Abraham." And just what his name means, Abraham will be the father of a multitude. God is carving for Himself the nation Israel. Our God is a God of new beginnings!
3. The Specifics of the Covenant (verses 9-22)
Let's move to the third point, the specifics of the covenant.
For the sake of time, allow me to read just verse 10. "This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised." Young people, if you do not know what circumcision means, I will allow your parents the privilege of informing you later.
So God makes a covenant, and with God's covenants come a sign. In the covenant with Noah it was a rainbow. In the covenant with Moses it was the Ten Commandments. In the New Covenant it is either baptism or the Lord's Table. In our marriage covenant it is a ring. And for the Abrahamic Covenant it is circumcision. Sorry Abraham! It would be painful. It would be personal. It would signify the need to devote our bodies wholeheartedly to the Lord. If someone chose not to be obedient, verse 14, an interesting play on words, such an individual would be "cut off" from God's community.
Now, circumcision did not necessarily guarantee salvation, but when done with faith in the God who saves, it surely demonstrated a whole lot of faith! Gentlemen, would you not agree? Like our works today - we are not saved by them, but when we do what God commands (especially the hard stuff), it gives evidence of saving faith. We have ten baptisms lined up for today. They are getting baptized not to get saved, but by faith to give an illustration of their salvation.
So Sarai's name is also changed (verse 15). The promise of a son is given (verse 16). Abraham now a hundred years old laughs - we can't be dogmatic if that was in faith or unbelief (verse 17). Abraham pleads for Ishmael (verses 18). Isaac is promised within a year (verse 21). God finishes speaking and goes up from Abraham (verse 22).
4. The Obedience to the Specifics (verses 23-27)
Last point, was Abraham obedient to the specifics of the covenant? The tension in this chapter is building to this point. Verse 23, "Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all the servants who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the very same day, as God had said to him. Verse 26, "In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son."
What do we see? Immediate obedience! Despite the natural hesitation and obvious sacrifice, Abraham obeyed the command of the Lord. So you think obedience is tough? Think of a ninety-nine year old man with a command and a sharp stone in his hand.
The need to be circumcised ended when the New Covenant arrived (Ac. 15:1f). In Galatians 5:6 we read, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love." Love is the fulfillment of the law. Later in Galatians 6:15 we read, "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation." There is nothing wrong with circumcision, but it no longer has any spiritual value. Even back then it had no spiritual value if it were not combined with faith. It was never about a physical procedure, it was always about what it pointed to - God circumcising our hearts (Rom. 2:25-29) by regenerating them and making us a new creation. As Paul said in Philippians, those recreated in Christ are the "true circumcision" (Phil. 3:3).
It is only this heart that is radically changed by God Almighty that will desire to walk before Him blamelessly. And it is only this type of heart that obeys because it walks by faith in God's Word, even when that obedience comes at an apparently great cost to ourselves. First Corinthians 7:19, "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God." You see, it is that faith that realizes that obeying the Lord is not only our obligation of the covenant, but always, even when we can't see it, in our best interest.