By Paul Koch –
I still remember the words, we used to sing them when I was in Sunday school, and I’m sure most of you know them as well. “Father Abraham had many sons, and many sons had father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you so let’s just praise the Lord!” And then you start getting into the hand movement and all sorts of fun. Not only is that children’s song fun to sing (if that tune gets stuck in your head good luck getting it out) but it is a profound statement of our faith.
If we are the children of Abraham then who is this ancient father of ours?
Well he is a descendent of Shem one of the sons of Noah who escaped the flood in the ark. His name was originally Abram which means something like “exalted father” and he lived in a place called Ur. When his father died he took Sarai as his wife and moved to Haran. When he was 75 years old God called him to leave Haran and head off to the land of Canaan the Promised Land. His story is simply amazing; he flees famine, has a personal audience with the Pharaoh, he rescues his nephew Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah. And Abram is even blessed by mysterious king called Melchizedek.
And though we know all this about his movements and his family trials and tribulations we don’t actually know all that much about his character. We don’t know at all why God chose him. It doesn’t say that the Lord came to Abram because he was upstanding and righteous. It doesn’t say that he was the best candidate to carry on the promises of God; that we has some great preacher or teacher. In fact we find him quite often really wondering about his future. In Genesis 15:1-6 God comes to him again and says, “I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But he doubts such a word. For he looks at himself, he looks at his situation, he is growing old and his wife is barren and he no longer believes that he will have any children at all and this servant of his will be the heir of his household. Though his name means “exalted father” he no longer thinks will be a father at all, let alone an exalted one.
Now it doesn’t take much imagination to see how we are related to this man. I don’t mean by tracking down our lineage and tracing our ancestry, I mean we find ourselves in very much the same position as Abram. We too have been called by our God. We too have been given his blessing without any merit or worthiness on our part. God did not look upon you and declare that you were good enough, that you were trying hard enough, that you were special enough and so he decided to make you his own. No, your inclusion in this family of God is found solely in his decision, his mercy, and his choice outside of your ability of character. In fact our God comes to you and finds that you are in bondage to sin, death and the power of the Devil. And he comes and sets you free, he gives to you life and hope and the promise of an eternal land flowing with milk and honey.
So by the grace of God alone you are called his children, even saints or the holy ones. And yet like Abram we struggle to hold firm to those words. I mean we hear what he has said but the world mocks such a notion. And really who can blame them. I mean all they need to do I take a good hard look at our lives. Examine how we behave, the grudges we hold the gossip we speak the lies that permeate our lives. The world sees us and they laugh at the notion of our identity as God’s children. Oh sure they may see some good stuff we do, but the unchristian-like activity we pursue doesn’t go unnoticed.
But it is not just the world that causes us to doubt the Words of God’s promises. We have an inner struggle as well. A battle exists right inside each and every one of us. When we take a good hard look in the mirror what do we see? Do we see the sin; do we see the failure in our lives? I bet you do. Even the most upstanding of Christians cannot escape their own guilt and shame. And it is here that the ancient enemy slithers into our lives to play his games. He whispers into your ears and he says, “Look at yourself, look at your sin. God has given you everything and look how your repay him. He has sent his son; he has paid the price, why do you live like you do? Certainly, he says, you know that you are not really his children. In order to enter the gates of paradise you must show some improvement, you must be better, do better try harder.”
Satan’s victory is not found in getting us to sin. His goal is not to have us backslide into unbecoming practices for a Christian. No, his great attack is to have us doubt the promise of God. Doubt that we are forgiven already. Doubt that we are free even now. Doubt that we will inherit the kingdom of God.
The doubting of God’s Word is the great work of our ancient enemy. Doubt plagues us; it plagues all God’s children as it plagued Abram. But God is not hindered by our doubt. He simply doubles down on his promises. He promises Abram that his very own son will be his heir and if that wasn’t enough he then he leads him out into the night air. There God directs his attention to the heavens that stretch out above him. Imagine the sight, no ambient light from a nearby city, an unobstructed view of the fast expanse of the night sky. And he says, “Look toward the heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.”
And Abram believed him. He trusts in the promise. He who began to doubt hears again God’s Word and believes it. And it is by this faith, that simple faith in the Word of God that declares Abram to be righteous. Notice it was not his actions; it was not his work or character or his good intentions. It was by faith, by faith alone that he was reckoned as righteous before God. Of course as the story unfolds we find that his name is soon changed from Abram to Abraham that is instead of “exalted father” his name becomes “the father of many.” This unknown man from and unknown region is chosen by God to become the father of God’s own people. Sarah his wife would give birth to Isaac who was the father of Jacob who God would call Israel. It is a lineage not of works but of faith, not of earning God’s favor but deliverance always by the merciful hand of God.
And so it is with us. We who hear the doubts of our world, we who feel the uncertainty in our own hearts, we hear the accusations of the evil one, declaring us to be sinners worthy of judgment and yet our God continues to double down with his promises. He who sent his son to be judged in your place, he who died and rose for your salvation has washed you in the waters of baptism. In those waters he has declared that you have already been judged, you have already died, for now you live a new life in Christ alone. Sin is not your master; guilt and shame have no claim over you. So when Satan accuses you, when the world judges you, you can tell them to shut their mouth – for you are the children of God.
Over and again his Words come at you. God never abandons you to your own strength or cleverness. No, in the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Supper in the very Word’s spoken even now you are given life and salvation. This is our sure hope, a hope that lies in the Living Word of God, a hope that fills us with his gifts so that we might still sing, “Father Abraham had many sons and many sons had father Abraham, and I am one of them and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord.”