The Seeds of Promise

Devotional Thursday April 30, 2020

Genesis 12:1-9  Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the Lord and called upon the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on, still going toward the Negeb.

Today, we’re going to look a little more at this theme of fulfillment in God’s plan, the already and not-yet, continuity between the testaments, and our recognition of God’s plan.   The church began all the way back in Eden when God made Adam and Eve to serve him and be in fellowship with him (the Immanuel Principle—God with us.  This is the metanarrative of the entire Bible, namely how God is restoring Immanuel.).   Through each successive covenant in the Bible[1], God’s plan is revealed more fully.  God revealed his plan to Adam and Eve when he created them.  It was simple, you can enjoy all  of what I have made for you all you have to do is obey me.  The covenant of creation is synonymous with the covenant of works (see footnote 1 for brief explanation). 

Yet God didn’t punish our original mum and dad immediately.  Instead, God showed grace in extending mercy to his people.  It was God who offered the first sacrifice and clothed them with it, covering their shame, Gen. 3:21.   That was the inauguration of the covenant of grace, but it didn’t replace the covenant of works it merely extended grace to those who would become true partakers of it.   By and large, the true partakers of the covenant of grace are also members of the visible covenants, i.e. Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and New. 

At this point I should say that this is a distinctly Reformed and Covenantal position to say that the New Covenant is visible.  Baptism is the sacrament which makes one a visible member of the New Covenant.  It inaugurates a person into the covenant with all of its privileges and benefits.  Abraham received the promises of Genesis 12, he was inaugurated into this relationship with God but there wasn’t yet a covenant.  That had to wait until Genesis 15. 

Which begs the question, why was there a need for this covenant?  Was it to make sure God held up his end of the bargain?  No, it couldn’t have been God is always faithful.  Was it to make sure Abraham held up his end?  Read through Gen. 12 and 15, Abraham didn’t have an end to hold.  The covenant was given, with its  incredibly bloody ceremony, to reassure Abraham (at that time Abram) that God’s promise is still valid and sure even in the absence of visible evidence.  

Then in Genesis 17 Abraham is given a sign of the covenant, circumcision.  It is to be applied to every male in the household, 8 days old and older.  They all receive it at that time and wish they were still eight days old.  Genesis 17 not only gives a sign, or sacrament, of the covenant it also gives a stipulation, verse 1, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” 

We all know the story—Abraham never manages the blameless part.  And praise God for that, because I know I can’t be blameless.  I’m a lot worse at it than Abraham, in some ways I’m more like David that way.  This call to be blameless shows us that God’s covenant people are responsible to live according to God’s righteous commands (the covenant of works) even if we can’t keep them.  Our inability doesn’t excuse us from our responsibility.  The sacrament of circumcision points back to God’s faithfulness to extend grace to his people. 

Just like he did when he offered that animal for the skin for Adam and Eve.  Just like he did when he came to Abram in Ur and promised him a people, a place, God’s presence (Immanuel), and the program of redemption to come through his family.  Just like the covenant ceremony in Gen. 15 pointed to God “being Abram’s shield” (15:1) by walking through those pieces of animal alone while Abram slept.  Essentially that was saying the curse for disobeying the covenant, death, being torn in two, I will suffer if either of us break this covenant.  It was pointing forward to Jesus who fulfilled all of the OT covenants as well as the covenant of works for us.

Circumcision was given to Abraham to confirm in God’s man’s heart the covenant promises of Gen. 12.  The promises were all received in seed form for Abraham, with an aspect of the already but not-yet.  These promises were essentially the same as the New Covenant, especially when we consider the fourth, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”.  It was the seed of the New Covenant given to Abraham, which included Isaac and even Ishmael, to be administered on the eighth day. 

The  eighth day marked a beginning of a new week, but also pointed to the New Covenant.  The covenants don’t replace one another, they expand one another and reveal God’s plan more clearly.  So now our children receive the sign of baptism because they receive the promises of the covenant in seed form, but they are called to walk with God by that sacrament, too.  Just like Abraham was in Genesis 17, “walk before me and be blameless”.  Circumcision on the eighth day was another way God revealed his plan in the shadows of the OT to bring all to completion through Jesus.

May we all rest in God’s perfect plan today and take heart that God’s promises will be fulfilled and are yes and amen in Jesus.

Looking forward to seeing many of you on Sunday! 

Pastor Matt

[1] The covenants in the Bible are:  creation/Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Sinai/Mosaic, and the New Covenant.   There are theological covenants as well, though not explicitly mentioned in the Bible by name the concept is clearly taught, and upon which salvation depends, they are: (the covenant of) works, grace, and redemption.

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