Wednesday, March 30, 2016

ABRAHAM: The Runaway Slave


“I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai” Genesis 16:8.


Have you ever felt like quitting the church? Have you ever felt like taking your bat and ball and going home? Have you ever met anyone who used to come to church but quit? People quit coming to church for any number of reasons. It might have been a conflict of opinion with someone in the church – sometimes the preacher! So they take their worship and their personal opinion elsewhere. They leave. They might then start attending the church down the road or even across town. But sometimes people leave the church altogether!

In the following we’re going to look at a woman, a pregnant woman, who left the church altogether. She met with a bit of conflict. So she ran away. However, the Owner of the Church went after her. This all happened some 4,000 years ago. However, we today can learn a lot from it. The general gist of what we’re looking at is: Don’t turn your back on church just because someone wronged you!

The Rescuer

“The Angel of the Lord found her” Genesis 16:7. So get the picture: wilderness, barren wasteland, no houses, and there’s nothing to eat. And there was a pregnant woman walking through this wilderness. She stops by a spring of water and it is here she meets her rescuer.

Who is this Rescuer? What does He look like? Whatever He looked like, He’d be a sight for sore eyes! No doubt this woman would have been doing a fair bit of crying. I’m sure as she walked along the trail she’d be talking to herself, just as you or I might if we thought no one was around for miles! Well anyway, this Angel of the Lord knew her name. He calls her by her name, Hagar, and He asks her two questions: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”

When you think about it, there was time when Adam, the father of the human race, ran away. But the LORD God came after him, didn’t He? The LORD God walked in the garden in the cool of the day. And what did the Lord God say to Adam, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9. “Where have you come from, and where are you going? – Where are you?” It sounds very much like the same question, doesn’t it? Now then, are we to imagine that the all-knowing God didn’t know everything about these two runaways? Adam, where are you?” And “Hagar, where have you come from and where are you going”?

Have you ever had anyone put a question to you in such a way that it has arrested your soul? Do you know what I mean? The question is like a hand that reaches inside and grabs you by your heart! “Neil, where are you?”
“I’m sitting in a chair writing this!”
“Where have you come from? And where are you going?”
“I’ve come from inside my house to sit out here with my laptop and when I’m done here I’m going back in there again!”

Scripture says that God’s Word is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It’s the discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, Hebrews 4:12. The question: Where are you Adam? was a sword designed to pierce Adam’s heart! I put it to you, so was the question put Hagar in our text!

So then, let’s say you were asked those questions right now, how would you answer? Where are you? Where have you come from and where are you going? Sure, you might answer: “I’ve come from Home and I’m going to my mum’s house or my sister’s house” or whatever. But that would be to miss the point of the question, wouldn’t it? I put it to you that the Angel asked Hagar those two questions so that she would realize how lost she was! Hagar, like Cain before her, had gone out from the presence of the LORD who was with Abram. She was fleeing from the Lord every bit as much as she was fleeing her mistress Sarai!

So then, I hope you can see that the Angel of the Lord in our text is wielding the exact same sword as the One who spoke to the runaway Adam. Hagar and the rest of us, like Adam our father, are lost! That’s where we are until we are rescued by the LORD – lost! We’re all runaways, like Adam, like Hagar, runaway slaves!

The ex-slave-trader, John Newton understood this when He wrote:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see?

Where has Hagar come from? “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai” Genesis 16:8. She’s fleeing from the mistress who became despised in her sight. Hagar is a runaway slave. And where was Hagar going? We’re not told, but it looks like she was headed back toward Egypt from whence she came.

So, we understand then, that the One rescuing Hagar, i.e., the Angel of the LORD is none other than the LORD Himself, presumably in the form of a man. This Angel of the Lord then is the same Person who spoke to Adam in the Garden. He is the Logos, the Word who became flesh, John 1. He is the preincarnate Christ, the Second Person in the Trinity, the Mediator between God and men.

Notice that He says in Genesis 16:10, “I [i.e., the Angel of the LORD will multiply your descendants.” And notice Hagar’s response to the whole incident in Genesis 16:13 “Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are the God who sees.’” Literally that reads: “And she called the name of Jehovah, the One speaking to her, ‘You are a God of seeing.’”

So, the Angel speaking to her is Jehovah and Jehovah is God. Therefore this Messenger of Angel of the LORD is the LORD Himself. So the LORD Himself is the Rescuer and He rescued Hagar who was with child.

The Runaway

Notice how the Angel of the LORD addressed Hagar at the beginning of Genesis 16:8, “And He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid’” He didn’t say, “Hagar, Abram’s wife.” No, it’s “Hagar, Sarai’s maid.” So Hagar was fleeing from Sarai, her mistress. Hagar, therefore, was a slave, a bondwoman as she’s called in Galatians 4.

A slave or a bondwoman, of course, was one who worked but received no wages. We take it that Hagar was a servant or slave Pharaoh gave Abram in Egypt, Genesis 12:16. And you’ll remember that Sarai gave Hagar to her husband Abram to be his wife of sorts. Sarai was hoping that Hagar would conceive a son for Abram and her. However, the plan backfired when Hagar began to despise Sarai. And likewise Sarai began to despise Hagar and she dealt harshly with Hagar. We can only guess how Abram and Sarai felt when they noticed Hagar had run away. What about the great program to bring about the birth of the Savior of the world? Well, it was all up in the air. Hagar the slave had high tailed it!

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Lord would be happy to see the back of Hagar. I mean, this isn’t what the Lord had in mind when He promised Abram offspring, was it? There’s that. And what about another issue we’ve slightly touched on? What about the issue of slavery? Doesn’t the Lord know that slavery is supposed to be wrong? Didn’t God create all men equal and all of that? Well, what does the Lord in His Word say about slavery? Perhaps some other time we could look into the issue of slavery in greater depth. But for now, where the Bible has little, or perhaps nothing, to say about the “abolition” of slavery per se, it does however have a fair bit to say about relationships between masters and slaves and slaves and masters.

Well first off in Genesis 16:9 the Angel of the Lord said to Hagar, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Hagar is a runaway slave and the Angel of the Lord is telling her to return! Why? The Lord’s Apostle Paul sent the slave Philemon back to his master. Why? And Paul also in Ephesians 6 tells slaves to serve their master as if serving Christ. And in the same chapter he tells the slave-masters not to threaten their slaves. And again in Colossians 4:1 he says, “Masters, give your servants [i.e., slaves] what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

One of the things Sarah is remembered for is recorded in 1 Peter 3:6: “Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord or ‘master.’” The word used for “Master” is kurios in NT Greek – adonai in Hebrew, which word may be translated “lord”, “master”, “Owner”, “possessor”, “potentate” “sovereign” and so forth. Sarai was Hagar’s “mistress”, i.e., her master or lord (in the feminine). I labour this point because we’ve lost sight of the meaning of “lordship” in today’s society. In turn, our cloudy understanding of lordship causes us to miss a lot of what the Bible teaches!

There was the so-called “Lordship Salvation” debate going on in some Christian circles not so long ago. Some people believe they can have Jesus as “Saviour” without necessarily having Him as “Lord”. In other words, they believe they are saved from their sins but meanwhile can live as sinfully as they like! This is all part of the issue in the churches of so-called “Carnal Christians.” However, we live in an age where people find the very idea of lord and master repulsive! Women want their wedding vows changed (and wimpy men let them!) “I will not have this man to rule over me,” she says. And the man says, “Yes my mistress, whatever you say. ‘Cause I’m not too keen on the lord and master business either!”

As Christians, we need to be careful here, don’t we? We’ve all seen movies and perhaps have read books about the Blue and the Grey. We all know about the American War between the States, i.e., the American Civil War. We’ve all heard that during the war the North (under Abraham Lincoln) artfully turned it into a fight over the issue of slavery and thus began to win the propaganda war. And we’ve all heard about William Wilberforce (the Christian) and his fight to abolish slave trading. But don’t miss the point in our text here! It’s wrong to run out and capture and bunch of men and women and their children and hold them in captivity as your slaves only to mistreat them. That’s what the wily old Devil did, didn’t he? He successfully hatched a scheme to make Adam and Eve and all their children, including even you, me, Abram, Sarai, Hagar, i.e., everyone his slave, didn’t he? He hates us, he, as it were, beats us and mistreats us. He treats us very harshly!

Look at Job, Satan destroyed his house, his livestock, his family! He gave Job painful boils all over his body – head to foot! He left poor old Job sitting in a pile of ashes trying to scrape the boils off! Of course, God permitted Satan to do this to Job and his family. But it was Satan, the hard-taskmaster who did it with pleasure.

Now then, why am I telling you all of this? And what does it all have to do with the text before us? Well, it has everything to do with the text before us! Hagar is deliberately turning her back on the household of God. She is fleeing back to the kingdom of the world. In today’s terms, she’s quitting the church (as it was back then) and is heading back to live in sin city. Why? Because she despises her mistress!

Take note that Hagar started despising her mistress long before her mistress treated her harshly. Sarai did ask her husband Abram to do something about the whole thing. However, Abram shirked his responsibility and handed the problem right back to Sarai. It was only THEN that Sarai dealt harshly with her. So, this is no innocent slave being worked to death and physically abused by her mistress. No, this is a slave who had begun to abuse her mistress! To be sure her mistress may not have handled her unruly behaviour very well. But Sarai had done the right thing. She had appealed to her husband as head of the house, but to no avail. However, I hope you can see that Hagar is at fault, not Sarai. How do we know for sure? We know for sure because the Angel of the LORD in Genesis 16:9 told her to “Return to her mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.”

We’ll pick up on this some more in a moment. But for now, think about it, while on this earth there is only one of two masters you can serve! As Jesus in Scripture says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other” Matthew 6:24. Of course Jesus there goes on to say, “You cannot serve God and mammon [or riches]” But let me ask you: If you are serving mammon or riches, who are you really serving? Well, for a start you would not be serving God now, would you? So, who would you be serving? Well, we might begin to answer that question by saying “SELF!”? If I were a slave or a servant of riches, I’d be serving SELF, i.e., my own selfish desires. So, I suppose that chasing after the things of this world would be a form of self-serving. But what about that line we say in the Lord’s prayer? “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from [SELF!]” It’s not just SELF you need to be delivered from. It’s EVIL, as in THE EVIL ONE – SATAN.

Listen to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked according to the course of this world, [according to SELF? No!] according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” etc. Ephesians 2:1-2. And, 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” Satan took all of mankind into bondage when he captured Adam and Eve in the Garden.

Adam was created to serve God. And Eve was to serve God by serving her husband Adam, as if she were serving the Lord Himself. However, both Adam and Eve of their own free will and accord no longer wanted God to be their Master. They wanted to be their own master. They wanted to serve themselves. But what really happened was that they exchanged masters. When they were fleeing from God they fleeing to Satan, for “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”

Like Hagar, all who have ever lived since Adam, are runaway slaves! Mankind are slaves running from the Master who loved them! They are running from the One who sent His Son into the world to conquer the Devil and thereby rescue His people. But, even in our own day we hear them say of Jesus Christ “We will not have this Man to rule over us!” It’s true, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.”

So the Angel of the LORD would approach all runaways with the words: Who is your master? Christ or Satan? Return then to the household of faith!

The Remedy

Do you see the picture here? The Angel of the Lord is rescuing the runaway slave. Consider again the words He spoke to Hagar: “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai!”

If that was all Hagar was doing then why is the Lord so keen to have her go back? What was really happening here? Hagar could just have easily answered the Angel of the Lord with these words: “I no longer             want to serve my mistress and her God in Abram’s household and I’m going back to serving Satan!” With a child in her womb, Hagar was turning her back on the household of God! She’s, as it were, left Eden and she’s back in the wilderness!

And the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness. Hagar, like the woman at the well, if you only knew who it was who was talking to you! For the Angel said “Return to your mistress Sarai, submit yourself under her hand.” If the Lord recognized Hagar’s marriage to Abram as legitimate He would have surely said, “Return to Abram and submit yourself under his hand!” But no, again, like the woman at the well it was “The one whom you now have, even Abram, is not your husband!”

The One who spoke to Hagar was the One who became the great Redeemer. The whole Bible is a record of the history, HIS-STORY of redemption. Redemption has all to do with the purchasing, the redeeming of who? It’s SLAVES, even runaways who are redeemed at the market, even Calvary! If you think redemption has to do with saving “the lost” then you’re saying the same thing. It is lost slaves, even runaways who are being saved, rescued, redeemed!

The One who spoke to Hagar went on to become the One who said these words to His disciples, “Whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” Matthew 20:27-28. He came as a Slave and gave His own life as a ransom for MANY, not a few! And if you’re one of the many then He has ransomed you. He has redeemed you. He has rescued you, bought you. He has purchased you. Therefore He owns you! And He placed His brand upon you when you were baptized.

However, He didn’t purchase you from Satan, because stolen goods don’t belong to thieves! He rescued you from His own justice, from the punishment you were due for your sins. You’ve escaped the stripes or lashes because Another took the lashes as your substitute! “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”


It’s my hope that you’ve understood the text before us. It’s my hope you can see there’s no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the family of God. Hence the Angel of the Lord telling Hagar to get back to where she once belonged! The moral of the story is: Don’t turn your back on church just because someone has wronged you! For to turn your back on the Lord’s people is to turn your back on the Lord. For the Lord’s disciplines His slaves, His servants, through the elders of His Church.

In a sense, to run from His Church is to step out of Eden and into the wilderness. It is to remain as a runaway slave. Therefore return to your Master, even Jesus Christ, and submit yourself under His hand. And how do you submit yourself under His hand? In the case of Hagar, she was to submit to Sarai. As the Lord says elsewhere through His Apostle, “Servants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh ... as to Christ ... as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with good will doing service as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free” Ephesians 6:5-8.

Have you got the picture? Just as wives are to submit to their own husbands, as to the Lord, so slaves are to serve their masters as if they were serving Christ their Master. And what about the masters? Masters of slaves are to realize they have the same Master as their slaves, Ephesians 6:9. Therefore, they should not treat them harshly, even when despised, as was Sarai by Hagar.

This speaks volumes to the church today, doesn’t it? For we are all slaves or servants of Jesus Christ. We are the Church and the Church’s husband, our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ laid down His life for His bride. He shed His own blood for His slaves.

So, is all this lord & master business making sense to you yet? Or do you still think you are your own master? There’re only two masters on earth, not three - Christ or Satan! So take your pick who you’re going to serve And remember, to serve self is to serve Satan.

And just a word of caution: If a woman has a husband who beats her and treats her harshly, or even if anyone has an employer who treats them the same way, then ring the police! When Sarai dealt harshly, as we’re told, with Hagar, we’re not to think of physical torture. So don’t think for a minute the Lord would send anyone back into those type of conditions. The Lord, in time, will deal with all unrepentant wife-beaters and sweatshop operators etc. For the Lord and His Gospel is about setting captives free!

However, with regards to the Lord’s Church, how many people do you know who’ve done a Hagar? Someone or something in the church has upset them? So they wander back into the wilderness. Where have they come from and where are they going? I’m sure you’ve learned enough to answer that. So if you meet any runaway slaves on your travels, tell them about your Lord and Master. Tell them about the great Redeemer, the One who rescues runaways such as you and me. Remind them of His wonderful remedy.

Think about it, if Hagar had asked the Angel of the Lord, “Where have YOU come from and where are YOU going? What do you think the Angel of the Lord would have said? You know the answer to that. The Angel of the Lord might very well have answered, “I’ve come from heaven and I’m going to hell and back to rescue all of My beloved slaves!”

So, if you come across any of His runaway slaves in your travels, tell them about your Lord and Master Jesus Christ! Tell them to return to Him, and submit themselves under His hand. Therefore, you need to tell them to return to His Church. For He dwells in His Church by His Spirit, speaking to us by His Word. Tell them not to despise the Master.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

ABRAHAM: Count the Stars


“Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be’” Genesis 15:5.


The general gist of what we are looking at in the following is: Every Christian is a star, but only God can count us!

The Lord has already told Abram of His plan to make Abram “a great nation” in Genesis 12:2. “You shall be a blessing … And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” 12:2b&3b. So what’s the problem? Well Abram’s wondering where his descendants are going to come from. He has no children. He’s not getting any younger and neither is his wife Sarah. And to complicate matters we’re told in Genesis11:30, “Sarai is barren.” Yet the LORD has stated that through his descendants, not only will Abram be blessed, but so will all the families of the earth.

We see then that the Lord has already promised Abram a future blessing. He already knows something of the magnitude of this blessing. He already knows that this promised blessing has to do with making restitution for his sins. He already knows this because he’s been building altars of sacrifice around the place, (see e.g. Genesis 12:7, 8; 13:4, 18). He already knows his sin needed to be paid for – the sacrificial animal was a picture of that. He already knows that the animal he places on the altar is merely a substitute for himself. He already knows that the promised blessing has everything to do with the removal of his sin. And he already knows because the Lord has already revealed it to him! So, what then is the problem?

The Problem

Can’t Abram just believe the promise and get on with it? Isn’t that how the Old Testament saints were saved, i.e. through believing the promise of salvation? So here we meet the problem face to face. It’s subtle, so pay attention! I put it to you that there’s a difference between believing IN the things a person says and actually believing in that person. It’s the difference between believing in a promise or believing in the one who makes the promise! I said it was subtle, didn’t I?

Let me see if I can explain this further. New cars come with a manual, don’t they? – an instruction book. If you follow the instructions in that manual your car should run great. Follow the manual or instructions for anything, washing machine, video-player, TV, automobile, whatever, and you have a money back guarantee you’ll have no problem. In other words the instruction manual is a sort of promise, isn’t it? It’s promising that if you put the nuts and bolts on the right way and press the proper switches the thing will work!

Now, I don’t have to tell you that the Bible is a manual of sorts. And I don’t have to tell you lots of people use the Bible as a manual. They get results – from a well-ordered family to a well-ordered society. You only have to trust in the promises of Scripture and put them into practice to see that they work. But here’s my point: Do you know the person who wrote the manual for your car? Do you know the person who wrote the manual for your washing machine, toaster, video-player? Maybe you trust in the Bible – as your manual! Maybe you’re just trusting in the promises the Bible makes – do this or that and you’ll be all right! But are you trusting in the One who wrote the Bible?

If you’re still having a problem seeing how you can separate the promise from the promise-maker, then consider the Mormons. You’d hardly meet a nicer bunch of people than the Mormons. Some of you will remember the Osmond family who were big in the seventies and eighties. They were a musical band of pop-singers (if you don’t know!). The Mormons exemplify a great deal of what the Bible teaches, don’t they? But who would dare say that the Mormons know the One who wrote the Bible? Jesus addresses this very thing where He says to the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” John 5:39-40. The Mormons, (unlike Christians who are Trinitarian and therefore worship one God), are tri-theists and thus worship three gods. Thus the Mormons have another Jesus, i.e., a Jesus different to the One revealed in the Bible!

So, what does all of this have to do with Abram? Well, up till now he’s been trusting in the promises of the LORD. The LORD has promised him land, and He has promised him descendants. And the Lord has promised that all the families of the earth shall be blessed in Abram! So, here’s Abram’s problem then: How is this promised blessing supposed to come to pass without an heir, i.e., without a son from his own loins? His redemption, his forgiveness of sins, his eternal life, his blessing depends upon this heir. That’s what the promises are all about. That is how Abram understood them.

Abram’s problem then is this: Where is the substance of the promise? Where or who is the One in whom I’ve to put my trust? “I know he’s to be somewhere in among my descendants. But how can this be since I personally don’t have any!” So Abram starts going on to God about his servant Eliezer having to be his heir. And that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to him. It’s like when the angel Gabriel told Mary the mother of Jesus that she was going to conceive. “How can this be?” she asked, “Since I do not know a man.” Mary was also reminded that Elizabeth her relative who was called barren conceived a son in her old age. “For with God nothing will be impossible” is what she was told. Abram, in our text, is suffering something of the same problem as Mary. He knows what God’s planning to do because God has already told him. However, he’s struggling to understand how God is going to execute His plan. So the issue of offspring is weighing heavily on Abram’s mind (e.g., Genesis 15:2-3).

So let’s look a bit closer at what’s going on and see if we can find the solution to the problem.

The Promise

We’re going to see, in the words of a couple of the commentators that, “Abraham’s faith was faith in the God who had promised, [and] not merely in what had been promised.” The Lord has come to Abram in a vision. The whole of Genesis 15 records what happened in that vision. I’m not going to digress too long to talk about the nature of visions in the Bible. We’re more interested in the contents of the vision than the nature of the actual vision itself. However, we do need to make a couple of general comments on the nature of this vision because it does have an effect on the way we are to understand its content.

Before His Church had His completed written revelation, i.e., the Bible, the Lord used other ways to reveal Himself and His Plan of Redemption to His people. The Plan of Redemption as it is revealed is called the Covenant of Grace by theologians. God reveals Himself in His Covenant of Grace. The Bible, i.e., the Scriptures, is the record of this. Jesus, as stated earlier says, “These are they which testify of Me” John 5:39. And as the Apostle Paul says about Jesus, “All the promises of God are in Him Yes and Amen” 2 Corinthians 1:20. And he also says, “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” 1 Timothy 2:5. We should keep in mind that Christ is the go between God and men. Christ is the One who represents God before men. And He also is the One who represents men before God. He alone is the Mediator.

So then, in the Old Testament Christ the Mediator mediated between God and men in various ways. God was making Himself known to Abram by that method of revelation known as “vision.” Let me read a portion of Scripture which might help us. Then we’ll get into the more important content of the vision. The Book of Numbers 12:6-8, “Then He said, ‘Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision, And I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the Lord...’”  So we see then, Abram is a prophet of God because the Lord has made Himself known to him in a vision, (see Genesis 15:1). The curious thing about this passage is that the Lord seems to be making Himself known to Abram in a vision and in a dream! In Genesis 15:12 we’re told, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram.” However, there’s something we need to remember from the Numbers 12 passage: When the Lord made Himself known face to face, (literally, mouth to mouth in the Hebrew), the revelation was more clear than in a vision or dream. Face to face revelation is plain as opposed to dark sayings or riddles in vision or dream. It’s the difference between truth by parable and truth by verbal proposition. However, the Lord is revealing Himself to Abram in a vision and also a dream.

Abram’s mental faculties would be heightened and intensified by a power-surge from the Lord. Yet because of the nature of the revelation, Abram would still be straining his eyes to see. The Apostle Paul says what I’m trying to say in these words, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face” 1 Corinthians 13:12a. The element of mystery is gone when the Lord makes Himself known face to face. We see then in Genesis 15 that the LORD is making Himself known to Abram, as it were, in the dark. “Oh for a match to strike for a glimpse of my Lord’s face!” Alas Scripture says, “The just [i.e., the justified, the righteous] shall live by faith” Romans 1:17.

If you were to think about it, one might get the impression that Abram’s more interested in what the LORD has promised than in the LORD Himself. We’ve already noted Abram’s concern about not having any offspring of his own, i.e., descendants whom the LORD has promised him. Therefore we might be forgiven for being all the more suspicious of this in light of what the word of the Lord says to him in Genesis 15:1 “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” We noted above that some wish to translate this: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your reward shall be very great.” And we must admit that it is possible to translate the Hebrew that way. But surely context has everything to do with it? The question before us is this: Was it the LORD HIMSELF that Abram wanted or was it the LORD’s reward? Was Abram trusting in a promise or was he trusting in the LORD? Did he believe the things of God or does he believe in God? Does he have faith in the manual or does he have faith in the one who wrote it? We’ve already seen that this is not the same thing! It’s the difference between believing God because He gives you things and believing in Him because of who He is! It can be the difference between following the teaching but not the teacher. This is why I don’t like the translation, “I am your shield, your reward shall be very great.” Because translated thus, look at what it makes Abram to be saying in the next verse, “Lord God, what will you give me, seeing I go childless?” It makes Abram (whom the New Testament calls the “Father of the Faithful” out to be interested mainly in what the LORD has promised him and not so much in the LORD Himself! “Abram, your reward shall be very great” “O goody! What am I going to get? Let me see, I wouldn’t mind some of those descendants You promised me seeing I’m childless.”

There are people who treat God like the great ATM in the sky. They punch in their secret code while they make sure no-one’s looking over their shoulder. They make the impersonal transaction and they’re off to spend their inheritance. However, real Christians want to talk to God face to face. They’re interested in Him. They want to talk to Him and God in turn is interested in the real Christian.

Notice in our passage that the “Word” of the LORD is conversing with Abram. He’s concerned about Abram, “Abram, do not be afraid.” Does this sound like someone you know? The One who says to His disciples, “Fear not!” The One who says, “Lo, I am with you always – I am your shield.” The One who is called Immanuel “God with us.” It is He who is talking to Abram. It is He who is Abram’s exceedingly great reward! He is the Word who would become flesh and walk on this earth for some thirty three years. He is the One who would one day say to Thomas, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” He is the One talking with Abram in this vision. He is the One who makes known God. He is the One IN whom Abram is trusting. He’s the One who is making Himself known in this vision and speaking to Abram in a dream as God.

So, how do we know positively and absolutely Abram’s trust is in the writer of the manual rather than the manual itself? Genesis 15:6, “And he believed IN the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Your Bible might have decided to leave out that little insignificant word. But believe me, the word “in” is in the Hebrew without dispute! And as we’ve seen, it makes the whole difference between Abram believing in the promises, and believing in the One who makes the promises. Abram, as we’ve seen before, didn’t put his faith in riches – even when those blessings and riches came from, or were to come from, the LORD. No, Genesis 15:6, “Abram believed IN the LORD.” Here is that great doctrine taken up in the New Testament, i.e., the doctrine of Justification. The great doctrine which was rediscovered at the time of the Reformation. It’s the doctrine which is the very heart of the Gospel of Salvation!

But just one last “kick at the cat” as they say, before we begin to tie things in a nice bow. And you’ll probably want to take me outside and clobber me for saying this! But what we’ve looked at is the difference between clinging to the old rugged cross and clinging to Jesus! I love that old hymn. It’s one of my favorites. However, if you’re clinging to a lump of wood – then let go!

Lots of people the world over know what Jesus did. But the question is not: Do you know what Jesus did? But rather do you know Jesus Himself? And of course, we learn more about Him through the things He did while on earth. We learn things about God through the things that He has made, which is to say that we can know something of the Creator by studying His creation. However, Paul in Romans 1:25 speaks of those who worship the creature or creation rather than the Creator. So, subtle as it is, using the same line of reasoning, I believe we need to be careful to believe in the One who makes the Promises, and not just the promises themselves.  It’s not “Whosoever believes Him’ but rather it’s “Whosoever believes IN Him shall not perish but have everlasting life!” Abram believed IN Him and the LORD accounted to him for righteousness.” He believed because the Lord had made Himself known to him, which is to say that the One who wrote the Book appeared to him, albeit in a vision and a dream.

The Profusion

We have a question left unanswered. Why was Abram so concerned that he was childless, i.e., that the LORD had given him no offspring? Well, I put it to you that Abram was keen as mustard to share his reward! He wanted EVERY family in the earth to be blessed with his blessing. Abram loved God and he loved his neighbor as himself. But he needed a son in order for the blessings to flow to all the nations. Because that’s the way the LORD had already promised to him that it would happen.

Genesis 12:3b, “And IN you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The blessings on the families or nations would come through Abram and his offspring. As the Apostle says, “Those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” Galatians 3:9. Abram’s chomping at the bit to see the promised blessings poured out on the whole world! As Jesus said, “Your father Abram rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” The Day when Jew and Gentile, ALL the nations would know His God – in whom he was trusting.

And Abram along with all the saints in heaven long for the day, “When the earth shall be covered with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Had Abram been interested more in the promises than the LORD Himself, surely the LORD would have rebuked him? But instead look what our gracious LORD did for our father Abram. In Genesis 12:4 the LORD reassured Abram that Abram would produce a son from his own body. And in the very next verse says, “Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’” And you thought heaven was practically empty, didn’t you? You thought that most people were going to hell, didn’t you? Well, all I can say is what the LORD says, “Count the stars – if you are able to number them”

Well, in Abram’s eyes you are a star! How does it feel to be a star? Every time Abram looked at the starry skies he’d see you in heaven. I’m sure if you read Psalm 19 right about now it would begin to make a great deal of sense. Let me try you with the first couple of verses, “The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals KNOWLEDGE.” Whether you’re in Scotland or upside down in Australia look now to heaven! As Abram looked at his descendants (including even you and me) in the stars do you think he knew our names? No, but the One in whom he put his trust knows our names! The Psalmist says of the LORD, “He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name” Psalm 147:4. The Lord in Isaiah 40:26 says, “Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, Who brings out their host by number; He calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing.” Jesus Christ says to His Father, “Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” In John 17:12b.

Oh yes if you look at the night sky you’ll see that by far the majority stay put. However, you will see one or two moving about the place. Jude speaks of them where he says, “[They are] wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” Jude 13. But what about the vast majority? Well the prophet Daniel says, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.” Daniel 12:3. So count the stars – if you are able to number them.


Arithmetic was never one of my strong points. But I don’t think all Abram’s spiritual children have been called into the church yet. In fact I don’t think we’re anywhere near the number of the stars in heaven. So we can see that we’ve still got lots of work to do. So keep on telling your neighbors about Christ. And if they say to you that the church is just about dead, you tell them what the Lord told Abram. “Count the stars if you are able to number them.” But keep your eye on the One Scripture calls “...The Bright and Morning Star.” Make sure, like our father Abram, you are believing IN the LORD!

Sunday, March 27, 2016


The word “Easter’ is mentioned in the King James’ version of the Bible, And when he had apprehended him, he put him [Paul] in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.” Acts 12:4. It has to do with the word “paschal’ as in “Paschal Lamb”.
The very first Easter took place at the time of the last Passover, i.e., at the time when “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” was sacrificed. The Lord’s Supper, as instituted at that time by Jesus, supersedes the Passover (pascha).
Google the word “Easter” and you’ll get many sites wishing to tell you that it’s a word that belongs to the pagans and reference to their gods, one in particular. Others argue against this understanding of the word. Regardless, Easter means Resurrection Day.
However, more to the point where do Easter eggs come from? From chocolate rabbits? Hen’s eggs morphed into chocolate eggs which morphed into chocolate bunnies which (at least in Australia) are morphing into chocolate bilbies!

Leave my Easter alone, I say! For me Easter is Resurrection Day. Therefore, it is not some pagan god’s day. And the rest of you can eat all the eggs you want, boiled or chocolate. Knock yourselves out! You can eat all the chocolate bunnies (or bilbies) you want too! But for me this is the day that the Paschal Lamb physically rose from the dead.
Today’s the day that I can say
I know my Lord is risen.
He has the key that set me free
From Satan’s dingy prison.  
I took a look into the Book
And saw that it is written,
That Ne'er-do-well, is going to Hell,
The Serpent's head is smitten. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Scattering the Good Seed

Attending primary school in Scotland in the 60s meant that you would see yourself with your classmates in church at least twice a year, Christmas and Easter (and maybe “Harvest”!) Jamestown Parish Church and Alexandria North in the Vale of Leven were the leading venues. I remember that they used to get one of the older kids to read a few verses of Scripture. Their accents would invariable change whenever this happened. It was strange to hear them pronounce the Ts, but even stranger to hear the Thys, Thous and Thines.

Anyhow, I began thinking about all of this last week because of the first line of a hymn we must have sung and some of these church services: “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land…” It was rattling around in my head. I couldn’t remember what came next. I’d had a tough week and had to deal with someone who had just discovered that his wife had been having an adulterous affair. Heartrending!

Now, it seems to me as a Christian that God tends to meet us when our life is on the skids. He sits with us in the rubble and ruins of our life that has just caved in. There among the dust and debris He draws near to us. Here He gets our attention. Now we are ready to listen. It is with people in this demolished condition that I like to sow the seed of God’s Word. The field has newly been ploughed. The land awaits the scattering of the good seed.

Now that I’m an adult I’m in the habit of attending church every Sunday. This particular Sunday I didn’t make it to my regular church (which is a twenty-five minute drive) but instead went to a church next to where I live. They had a guest preacher visiting from America, one Kevin Harney. Guess what he was preaching on? Yes, scattering the good seed, i.e., sharing the Good News about Jesus. Kevin described a town parade in the States where, as the floats passed by, kids would throw candies (lollies) into the crowds containing many children. Some of the kids on floats would be stingy and throw out one candy at a time to particular children while others would just chuck out handfuls indiscriminately into the crowds. He used this to illustrate The Parable of the Sower:

“A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” Luke 8:5-8a.

Kevin asked what farmer in his right mind would scatter valuable seed willy-nilly on rocky ground or ground full of weeds, yet this is what the Lord would have us do with His Good News! He said none of us are smart enough to always recognise good soil!

Lesson for me: Stop being so selective. Stop trying to be a soil-specialist! And stop being like one of the stingy kids on the parade float but rather “scatter” the Gospel!

“We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land…”  

Friday, March 4, 2016

Sixty Is the New Thirty!

Is it just vanity or is there something else at play here? I’ve almost clocked-up sixty years on
the age-odometer. However, I feel as healthy as I did in my thirties! I do at times see some old guy looking back at me from the mirror, but like that verse in James’ Epistle, I immediately forget what kind of man I just saw. In other words, unless I have reminders (mirrors, doctors, workmates, friends etc.) I behave physically as I did when I was in my early thirties, nay, I’m stuck at around the age of twenty-five! And there’s the rub! What is it with mirrors and people that they feel the need to let me know that I’m no spring-chicken anymore?

Is age really only a number? Are we really as young as we feel or is there more to it? Look, Moses was eighty when the LORD had him walk up and down a mountain – a few times! Of course Moses lasted extremely well. He died at age one hundred and twenty! Most of us only get three score and ten years, i.e., “The days of our lives are seventy; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years…” (Psalm 90:10a). There you go. Nowadays you’re doing well if you last eighty years on this earth!

So, back to my original question: Is it just pure vanity on my part to be viewing myself and treating myself as if I’m still a thirty year old? I do a pile of sit-ups and push-ups and run a few kilometres most mornings. It all goes downhill from there because people keep on asking me that great philosophical question: “Why?” How would a thirty year old answer this? Would he/she even be asked such a silly question? Would he/she not just reply the obvious, “Oh, I exercise just to keep fit”? Then why do I have to answer that question any differently? “Well, you see, it’s because you’re sixty! And most sixty year olds don’t do what you do.” Then what on earth is wrong with them?

Do sixty year olds ordinarily need hip-replacements by that age? New nee-joints perhaps? I’m sure some of us do, but what about the rest of us? And here’s the rub: It’s all to do with mind-games. When I’m running I play these mind-games big time. “Why are you doing this? Why don’t you slow down? You’ll do-in your knees running on concrete. Take it easy. Just walk the rest of the distance…” And on it goes.

Are sixty year olds more prone to injury? Recently I was running behind a nineteen year old who was a few metres from the finish line on a smooth running-track when, for no apparent reason, he snapped both his fibula and tibia (fib & tib)! I saw the x-rays. Ouch! Clean breaks! If running is bad for sixty year olds then it’s just as bad for healthy nineteen year olds!

Okay, things wear out. The Second Law of Thermodynamics attests to that. The blades on the lawnmower get blunt with use, the tyres on your car lose their tread (where the rubber meets the road!) with use, the toaster, the blender, the dishwasher, the washing machine and your running shoes all wear out with use. However, however much the human body may be likened to a machine, it is not a machine! In fact using your body, rather than wearing it out, instead makes it more able to be used. It’s disease and injuries that wear the body out, not use!

During the winter months when I lived in Canada I used to have a rest from playing soccer. Come spring I was back out there with the rest of them, kicking and getting kicked! As the season progressed I would grow fitter. The fitter I got the less I felt the kicks to my body. Again, the more one uses one’s body the less prone one becomes to injury and maybe even disease!

And now I come to the moral of the tale: Healthy body, healthy mind! Age really is just a trick of the mind. There are twenty year olds who behave like some eighty year olds. “Couch potatoes” is how some people refer to some people who don’t exercise their bodies. How old is a “couch potato”? Well, they’re only as old as they feel. Well, so am I. Sixty IS the new thirty!