Genesis 12:1-9: Our Hope is Abraham’s Hope

Father Abraham, we call him—but not so in the beginning.  Long ago, God called a man, named at the time Abram, to trust beyond the stars.  Beneath a starry sky and glimmering night, God proclaims several promises to this old citizen past his prime.  In his closing years, Abraham is seventy-five, and Sarah is a decade his junior.

Well, no matter, for by divine decree, God declares His destiny to this odd couple.  The almighty, Ancient of Days, prompts this pair to step out in faith and courage.  Two older folks, who haven’t filled a single crib, are to bring forth a progeny to people a nation.

Despite the burden of age, Abraham trusts what God tells him.  Did anyone consider this possible?  Not Sarah, nor any friend, family, or foe, but Abraham does.  So begins his journey of faith.  Yes, Abraham believes—he, not another, will become the patriarch of many.

God made grand and solemn promises to the patriarchs.  To Abraham, He vowed an entire land and descendants as far as his eye can perceive.  In the founding father of Israel, God shall bless the earth’s peoples, not only those with his DNA.  From among his offspring will come God’s blessing to redeem this world from our sinful fall and its disastrous effects.  Through him, God will descend to restore every nation and people.

The problem is this: God requires Abraham, including his posterity, to cling to those promises without confirming proof.  God refuses to fulfill His pledged commitments in easy ways.  Ponder God promising Abraham an unfamiliar land, to leave Ur and, later, Haran to embrace his new home.  Of course, Abraham can’t produce or show a deed for the property, nor did God give Abraham something to prove this.

The Lord’s first utterance to Abraham is not “build,” “serve,” or “have faith” but “go.”  Abraham must kiss his sedentary life goodbye.  Unsure where he will arrive, he walks by faith, only possessing the ground by God’s promise (Hebrews 11:8).  So, he lives as a stranger in a foreign landscape, banking on an unseen oath from God.  Confidence or stupidity, risk or reward?

God expected Abraham to trust in Him, not based on sight, emotions, works, or any other earthly prop.  God spoke His grand promises and asked Abraham to journey forth, trusting in Him.  Such spoken pledges are adequate for God—and must be for Abraham—and us!  So, God’s voice sounded, “Go,” and Abraham went, with neither deed nor map, taking Sarah with him.

God both hid and unveiled Himself in His Word of promise.  The prophet Isaiah later relays, “You are a God who hides himself” (Isaiah 45:15).  To say God is hiding doesn’t mean He is absent.  No, He’s present but not seen.  So, God shows Himself to us when He speaks, visible only to our eyes of faith, prompting us to believe.

God permits Abraham to dangle and live in impenetrable darkness, often frustrating him and his wife, Sarah.  The ancient couple lacks insight and can little comprehend how God will meet his promises.  In cowardice and unbelief, they soon scheme to help God.  One time, this resulted in Abraham sleeping with Sarah’s servant, Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael.

Despite their weakness, God won’t forsake His vow to Abraham.  Except catch what God does—fulfilling His sacred prophecy of a son when Abraham assumes things are too late, impossible, and hopeless for a human.  Only when his son’s birth can be by God and nothing else.  In the end, St. Paul clarifies, “in hope [Abraham] trusted and so became the father of many nations, as God told him, ‘So shall your offspring be’” (Romans 4:18).

God saying something does everything.  The Word of God confronts Abraham, first speaking the promise.  The rhythm of faith strums in our souls, leading us to trust Him and His Word, though its fulfillment may be lacking.  This, Abraham later preached to Isaac and Jacob, and they to their households.

Remember, God never goes back on His promises.  This truth, likewise, supports and carries us through our troubles.  In our dark times, we can trust what God speaks, doing what He says.  Cling to God’s promises since His holy Word abides forever, no matter how obscure our path or forlorn our hope (1 Peter 1:25).

How will Abraham become the father of many peoples and places?  Why he can’t father one son, let alone other countries.  Consider his circumstances: a landless man except for a burial plot.  Abraham can claim nothing of his own and only lived in God’s land through the sufferance of pagans.  Oh, but the divine Word sallies forth, “In you, all the families of the earth will find blessing.”  God only gave Abraham His Word.  Not riches, a deed to the promised property, nor hope.  So against hope, he believes.

Our human reason and faculties will not support such faith and confidence.  What our senses experience drives us to despair over God’s lacking goodness and favor, with sin and weakness surrounding us.  Around us, marriages crack and break, children are born with absent fathers, and rebellion is rife against God’s order.  In the Church, we find too many weak and failing sinners.

Tell me why God deigns to dwell here in our humble congregation.  The almighty Creator of heaven and earth shows us no deed, legal right, or the trappings of power.  Much of our faith requires us to believe against hope.  Why should God allow our pastor to forgive our failings in Holy Absolution?  Does he give us the Lord’s Supper in our mouths, where we receive the body and blood of Christ?

Can we prove God gives him the authority to preach, teach, and absolve sins?  Does he have the legitimacy to lavish us with such heavenly riches?  Yes, since his power isn’t from himself but from God.  Abraham relied on God “in keeping with the promise He spoke to him” (Romans 4:18). 

God intervenes.  An old, weathered couple, vacant of life’s joys, become parents.  In their arms, they behold a son—and through him, an entire nation: Israel, God’s people.  Life is born anew from good-as-dead flesh.  Today, the voice of God’s promise assures us we are blest and a blessing to others through the Seed given to Abraham, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

“Well enough for faithful Abraham,” you argue, “but we’re unrecognized and unheralded.”  None of us will reach his status.  No one who lives behind gated walls and drives fine cars will come to our homes, eat with us, and share the hospitality of a meal.  Why should we expect God to commune at our table in this humble, earthly house built by human hands?

Our Lord Jesus Christ, likewise, lived a landless existence with no place to lay His head.  Born in our flesh, He dwelled among us, traveling from sea to mountain cliff, from town to city.  Today, He journeys from heaven to give Himself to us in the Word, and in bread and wine to eat and drink for our forgiveness.  Our Lord’s Word grants us this promise, as He did so to Abraham.

Paul writes in Romans: God counted not only Abraham’s sins as righteousness for him, but for us (Romans 4:23-24).  God wants us to understand and be sure He will come to us from outside ourselves for His saving purposes.  In Jesus, God descended from heavenly heights to offer life to the world, for Abraham and us—sustaining us on our wilderness journey toward our eternal home.

God treats us the same as He treated Abraham.  This fallen creation may cause us anguish and deny us consolation, yet God, our Father, comes in Christ.  Being creatures of the earth, He comes incarnate in our earthly guise to deliver heaven’s love and grace.  Amid the darkness of our doubt, He opens God’s heart to us.  So, Jesus trudged to the cross to suffer our transgressions and rose from death to give us life.

Against every hope, Abraham strained forward in faith, not seeing its fulfillment.  So we, too, by the power of God, can trust Him to count us as righteous, though we can’t prove this, nor may we sense this.  By faith, we believe we sit at the same Table with Abraham and his descendants, since God is the Lord of the living, not the dead.  Abraham stands with us as a faithful follower in our Communion.

What gives us hope more remarkable than our dreamings?   This: God does not credit our transgressions against us.  The Apostle Paul says the Father hands them over to Jesus.  Does Christ crave our sins and evil for Himself in a twisted, sick way?   Does He yearn to explore the deeps of our wretchedness and sorrow, a voyeur longing to plumb our hurtful depths?   No, our Lord doesn’t need this grief for Himself, yet still, He presses toward the cross.

Our Savior takes our sin not because He must, not for His own sake, but for ours.  So Isaiah prophesied.  Pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, Christ bore our punishment, making us whole.  In His wounds, we find our healing (53:5).  God promised these blessings to Abraham, given to the world—and so to you!

Lent is a season of hope amid our hopelessness.  Our heavenly Father sent His Son, Jesus, possessing no worldly treasure, yet blessing the nations by giving Himself into death for them.  Christ came to earth not to conquer the land but to sacrifice Himself for our sins.

With Abraham, we journey from this world to the new creation that God’s Son will call forth, from our earthly homes to His heavenly city.  God promises this to us as He did for Abraham.  With those promised blessings, we are still traveling toward our ultimate home as part of the whole Church throughout the ages.  Yes, our hope is Abraham’s hope, Jesus our Lord.  Amen.