Sermon preached at Leeming Uniting Church on 14 February 2021. It is both Valentine’s Day and Transfiguration Sunday. Both are, in a sense, about trusting in promises. While I do refer to the Transfiguration, mostly the reference is to Abram response to God – he trusted in God’s promise more than God’s command.
Abraham was obviously the great example when it comes to faith. How did he ever develop such towering trust in God? What can we do to develop the same type of faith.
The clue, it seems, is that Abram lived by promises, not commands. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
On the day when God first spoke to Abram, God said, Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
Listen to the promises God made to him.
I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing .
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you
God directed Abram to do only one thing-“Leave”-and in response God promised eight wonderful things to him. But it did require Abram to leave his country, his people, and his relatives-in other words, he had to get out of his comfort zone. He had to give up the land he knew best, the culture he had grown up in, the familiar sights and sounds. People who walk by faith often hear God’s voice telling them, “You need to leave now. It’s time to move on to something new.”
Sometimes that word has to do with geography, as in Abram’s case. At other times, God directs his people to leave certain work situations, sever relationships, or make other difficult changes. When you walk by faith, God never lets you settle into some area of stability. Just when you reach a certain place spiritually and decide to pitch your tent and relax for the rest of your life, God says, “Leave.” This was the story of Abram. In fact, he was never allowed to settle down permanently as long as he lived.
So, Abram left his home to live off the promises of God.
We cannot live off the commands of God, but we can live by the promises. The commands of God reveal his holy character to us, but they hold no accompanying power. Instead, the grace of God flows through the channel of his promises. God must first do for us what he promised, and only then will we be able to walk in obedience to his commands. He is God -everything must begin with him.
It is true that God’s moral commands teach us where we fall short, but it doesn’t bring a solution to our human dilemma. Only the promises bring us hope –if we respond in faith, as Abram did. This is what sustained him throughout his life. And, in fact, by the time Abram arrived in Canaan, God was already adding more promises. He said, “To your offspring I will give this land”. God’s abundance kept flowing as Abram responded to the call of the original promises.
Mostly we are command-oriented. Every day we wake up conscious of God’s moral law and try to do right so God will approve of us at the end of the day. And it is a great struggle. We would do better to wake up thinking about the promises of God and what he has said he will do for us. Then his power working in us will lead us into the way of obedience and right living.
The tender love of God toward us, as revealed in His gracious promises, is the only thing that really draws us into a closer walk with the Lord.
Abram felt so close to God that “he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD” between the towns of Bethel and Ai. Abram’s heart reached out to God in worship. God had been so good to him, so generous, so affirming. Abram had not earned any promise or blessing; it was all because of grace. He could not help lifting up his heart and hands to God in adoration. And that’s how we should be, and will be, as we walk in faith.
Abram had no master plan only the trust in the promise of God. 13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
The book of Hebrews tells us that “by faith Abraham obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going”. He had no map for the journey. He simply headed west toward the Mediterranean, and that was that. God had said he would show him where to stop when he got to wherever he was going.
That would be a struggle for us, wouldn’t it? Not just in our travels, but in planning out our careers and our lives, we simply have to have a comprehensive plan. We do very few things by faith.
Abram didn’t have a clue. If you had met up with his caravan at some oasis, the conversation might have gone like this:
“Abram, where are you going?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, how will you know when you get there?”
“I don’t know that, either. God only said he would show me.”
“You have quite an entourage here. When you do arrive, who will supply all the food you’ll need? After all, if you’re going to survive in a new place, how are you going to eat”?
“I don’t know. He just said he would take care of me.”
“You don’t seem to have a security force. Who is going to protect you from the Jebusites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and all the rest of the warring tribes? “
Abram would just shake his head and wander away. Faith is happy to step out not knowing where it’s going so long as it knows that God is there. As long as God’s strong hand was holding Abram’s, everything was going to work out just fine. He simply moved ahead in faith.
We like to control the map of our life and know everything well in advance. But faith is content just knowing that God’s promise cannot fail. And that is the excitement of walking with God. When we read the book of Acts, we never quite know what’s going to happen with the next turn of the page. The Spirit is in control, and that is enough. Paul had no formula as to how he would evangelize; he was simply going by faith. God unveiled the route as he went along.
The promise at the beginning of the book of Acts is “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you”. No wonder Jesus told the disciples to “wait for the gift my Father promised”. Just as Abram and his wife Sarai had to wait with expectation for what God had promised them. Having faith in the promise is the key and the only hope for anyone.
I’m always amazed at the account of the Transfiguration. These men had walked with Jesus, they had seen miracles, they had seen the trust which Jesus placed in His Father –but there on the mountain, when the Father declared His pleasure in the Son and instructed them to listen to Him, they fell down terrified. And their first reaction – “Lets do something! Lets build a house. Lets stay here forever.”
It was a faith building exercise, a revelation of the true nature of Jesus and of His mission, and all they wanted to do was build a shrine.
Faith is so much more than the physical, it is a call to follow the promises of God.
On the Mount of Transfiguration Peter wanted to build three shrines –one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. He could probably have organized them quite well, but that wasn’t the point of the Transfiguration. Its intention was to confirm the promise of God in Jesus as revealed in the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). They didn’t see that, because they were still caught up in the motives and comforts of the flesh rather than the promises of God.
And perhaps the reason why Jesus told them not to tell anyone was because they had failed the test. They had to wait until after the resurrection before they could talk about it, once they had grasped the enormity of this revelation and its consequences for a life of faith.
Too often the search for leaders is for people who are sharp and clever at getting things done, or who know the Scriptures without understanding their intent as the revelation of God’s promise. We don’t look for leaders with the faith of Abram who are willing to trust God wherever he leads.
We forget that the Church was founded in a prayer meeting. Simple men full of faith and the Holy Spirit led it in its earliest and most successful years. They concentrated not on the secret of church growth, but on the secret of receiving the power God has promised. Because of their faith, the Lord gave them both power and growth.
Even Paul was humble enough to admit to the church at Corinth that, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:1, 4-5). We need this kind of approach to ministry and stimulation of faith in the Church today.
In fact, God has a wonderful plan for all his people. And while He doesn’t necessarily reveal everything to us He does ask that we take his hand and walk along in faith. He will show us soon enough what should be done.
Faith deals with the invisible things of God. It refuses to be ruled by the physical senses. Faith is able to say, “You can do what you like, because I know God is going to take care of me. He has promised to bless me wherever he leads me.” Remember that even when everything stands against us, the God of Abraham remains faithful to all his promises. Jesus can do anything but fail the people who trust in him.
God calls us to faith and in faith. When everything around us is confusing and doesn’t seem to be going according to plan we can still trust implicitly in the promises of God.
So today I’m inviting you to follow in the footsteps of Abraham. Begin carefully and prayerfully to search the Scriptures, asking the Holy Spirit to make God’s promises come alive to the point where they direct you and where you can live off them, even as Abraham did.
God’s plans are universal –from the beginning of time He has set in place a plan of salvation and the promise of eternal life to all who believe “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”. And He desires us all to listen to the Son He loves, with whom He is well pleased.
The first step is to trust the word of God.
God’s plans are however also quite specific, In Jeremiah 29:11, He says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
God has a plan for YOU. Don’t be afraid when you don’t know exactly what it is; how God will lead and supply for you. Rather, just hold firmly to His word, to His hand and walk in faith. There is no need to worry about what any other person might be doing or how God might be calling them. “What is that to you”, said Jesus in response to Peter’s question about John. It really doesn’t matter, because God has promised to uphold and defend you. And He will lead you in the way that you should go. Listen to Him and follow Him.