Reward, Rejection, and Role Models
March 17, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Luke 13:31-35 Philippians 3:17 – 4:1
Have you ever made a plan for your life?
You know what I mean. At some point many of us have sat down with a parent, school guidance counselor, or career counselor, faculty advisor, or mentor and mapped out how to get from where we were, to where we wanted to be. If you want to be a nurse or a doctor, the classes that you take and the experiences that you need, are very different from those needed to become and engineer or a tool and die machinist. Some of us sat down with a military recruiter and discussed our skills and education, and what training options were open to us. In some cases, in both our civilian and military careers, there were rewards that were promised for reaching our goals or at various points along the way.
But in real life, the path from here to there is never as easy as it looks when you sit down to plan. We fail required classes, lose time because of circumstances that are beyond our control, school takes longer, and costs more than we planned, and recruiters are known to be less than truthful or to omit important information. Through it all, reaching the promised goals and rewards that we had in mind at the beginning, can be a lot harder, cost more, and take a lot longer than we probably imagined when we started. And on top that, along the way we sometimes face detours brought on by marriage, divorce, children, tragedy, unemployment, disaster, and other things. We might even decide to change our career destinations and goals along the way, causing us to take several steps backward and start a part of the plan over again.
Life is like that.
It’s complicated. And our spiritual life is no different.
So how do we get from here to there? From where we are, to where we want to be?
And for that, let’s begin with the story of Abram, who would later become Abraham, a man who, for three for four thousand years, the followers of God have lifted up as a hero of the faith and a role model for our spiritual lives. And, as we look, we discover that even for Abraham, the path from here to there was anything but a straight line. We begin this morning as we read a story from Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 as God repeats a great promise to Abram.
15:1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so, a servant in my household will be my heir.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
7 He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”
8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”
9 So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”
10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.
17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
God reminds Abram of his promise to give him a great reward, and Abram’s response is very much along the lines of, “What can you possibly give me that I care about?” Even if God blesses Abram with land, and animals, and riches, what good is it if he has no children to inherit it when he dies? And God specifies that he intends for Abram’s descendants to be as countless as the stars in the night sky.
And Abram believed.
But even in his belief, Abram had doubts, and he asked God how he might know… for certain… that God would do as he had promised. And in reply, God follows a formula that was well-known in the ancient world. It was the formula for the execution of a covenant (a binding contract on steroids). This sort of covenant was often made between parties of differing strength such as a dominant military power and a much weaker nation. And God was making this same sort of binding agreement with Abram to reassure him that God intended to keep his promise.
Abraham would receive the reward that God had promised and the covenant that was established between them would continue to bless his descendants for thousands of years. But not everyone was interested in keeping the covenant, maintaining their part of the contract, or being faithful in the way that Abraham was faithful. Despite their power, position, and authority, some of Israel’s leaders were renegades that refused and rejected their covenant with God and Jesus points to those types of renegades as we remember the story contained in Luke 13:31-35.
31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
The differences that we see in this passage are sharp and the are intended to be so. Jesus is warned that Herod wanted him dead and Jesus responds by saying that he would continue to do what God had called him to do until he reached his goal of entering Jerusalem. But Jesus continues by reminding the Pharisees that it was the leaders and the people of Jerusalem that had already established a reputation for killing God’s prophets and stoning the people that God had sent. This is exactly what is happening again. God had repeatedly wanted to gather the children of Israel together to comfort them and protect them, but they weren’t interested.
The people did not want what God had to offer.
They had rejected the covenant.
And Jesus says that the house that they had inherited, God’s house, was an empty house. The people of Israel would not see the blessings of God until they recognized the messiah that God sent to them.
But what does that mean for us? If Abram or Abraham was a role model of faith, and if the leaders of Israel were examples of what not to do and how not to live, then what teaching, or what advice, can we follow to prevent us from rejecting God’s blessing?
And in answer to that question, we read Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 3:17 – 4:1) where we hear these words:
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
Paul’s answer is simplified and boiled down about as far as you can get. Just as you have looked up to us, find other role models that live like we do and watch how they live. That’s simple. Find good quality role models that look like Paul and his friends and watch how they live. But Paul also warns that there are a lot of people out there, and we can probably assume that he also meant that there are a lot of leaders out there, that live as the enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ. Notice that he did not say that they represented themselves as the enemies of Jesus, but that the proof was to be found in how they lived. Just as the leaders of the people of Israel, including the leaders of the church, had rejected Jesus and turned their backs on the covenant that they had with God, in the same way we know that sometimes the leaders of the church in the present day wear the label of Jesus Christ and claim the name of Jesus Christ, but live as enemies of Jesus. The people that we are to follow, and after whose lives we are to pattern ours, are the people who look like, and who live like Paul, the disciples, and Jesus. The enemies of the cross of Christ have their minds set on earthly things like food, alcohol, drugs, sex, money, power, pleasure, and the things of earth. But the followers of Jesus know that their true citizenship is in heaven and as a result, they live lives that reflect the values of that nation and not the values of the nations of earth.
We live in a time and a culture that is far removed from that of Abraham and from that of Jesus and Paul, but the lessons that we learn from them remain the same. God wants to bless his people and, as he always has, God continues to keep his promises. But God will not bless those who reject him and turn their backs on him. And so, if we want to receive the blessings of God, then we must search for, and choose, role models who live their lives like Paul, the disciples, apostles, and Jesus. Stand firm in your faith. Do not sell-out to the desires and lusts of the human body. Do not set your mind on earthly things but remember that heaven is our home. And the citizenship of our hearts must be revealed to the world through our lives and our actions every day.
It all boils down to this:
You are a child of God.
Act like it.
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