“And [Abram] believed the Lord and He counted it to him as righteousness.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is the Old Testament lesson read a few moments ago from the fifteenth chapter of Genesis. Dear friends in Christ: Father Abraham had no sons, no sons had Father Abraham. There were none of them, no not one, so let’s all complain to the Lord. God had promised Abraham many offspring; He promised that nations would come forth from him, that in him and in his offspring would all the nations be blessed. God had taken the promise given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, that one of the offspring of Eve would crush the head of the serpent and reverse the curse of the Fall, and applied it to Abraham. But Father Abraham had no sons, no sons had Father Abraham. And that’s a big problem. Not to the world, mind you, fatherhood doesn’t matter much to our world. Although we give it lip service on this day, a nation that has legalized homosexual marriage, that encourages the procreation of children apart from the union of husband and wife, that portrays fathers as bumbling fools, proclaims loud and clear that fathers don’t matter. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite fatherless homes driving crime and violence in our cities and instability in our homes, our country has chosen to tell fathers to take a hike.
But fatherhood certainly matters to God. Not only did God so order the world so that fathers would be the heads of their households, having spiritual leadership and the duty to provide, God also would provide salvation from the Fall and its consequences—sin, death, and the power of the devil—through fatherhood; until, of course, the Messiah would be born of woman alone. But Father Abraham has no sons, no sons has Father Abraham. God’s promise has hit a roadblock; the plan of salvation is stymied. Not only does Abraham have no son to inherit his vast wealth, Abraham has no son to inherit the next link in the chain of salvation. But before Abraham can open up his mouth to complain, the Lord moves first to reassure him. “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’” The promise of God comes to him once again, completely out of the blue, to reassure him, to comfort him, to tell him everything will be OK. But Abraham isn’t buying it. “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”
Abraham’s eyes are telling him another message: a childless marriage, a servant poised to take his inheritance, whispers in his tent, the promises of God turning to dust. “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” We cannot see the fulfillment of the promises. We read in the Bible, we hear from this pulpit great and many promises, given by God to His saints. Promises of deliverance, promises of blessing, promises of prosperity. And we look around us, and we see nothing of the sort. Lazarus, the believer, lay at the door of the rich man, a complete and total hypocrite and pagan. And it was Lazarus, who trusted in the God of the universe, who suffered, while the rich man, who scorned his Creator, ate and drank in luxury. Our eyes tell us a much different story than God’s Word does. The Bible declares that your Savior, your Lord, who you were baptized into, holds all power and all authority in His hands. But you don’t see any of it. You still suffer, you still languish, the world continues to laugh in your face. There doesn’t seem to be any difference between you and unbelievers; in fact, they seem to be doing better. You gaze over the fence and see success and prosperity filling the hands of those who hate God and refuse to go to church. So you doubt, so you despair, so you wonder what the point of following God is. You cry out with the words of our Introit: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”
God hears the cries of His people, from Abraham in his tent, to Lazarus at the door of the rich man, to you at your kitchen table as your world falls apart, before your doctor as he brings you bad news, or at the bedside of a loved one as they suffer and die. He hears our cries, He knows our afflictions. And He responds. “The Word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’” Notice what God doesn’t do. He doesn’t immediately give Abraham a son; He doesn’t remove his suffering or affliction. God certainly reserves the right to act in miraculous healing or provision immediately after you pray, and sometimes He does. But most of the time, He doesn’t. Instead, He gives us His Word.
“And He brought [Abram] outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then He said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” The response of your Creator to doubt is preaching, the proclamation of the Gospel. Dear friends, you are suffering now, in one way or another. You may feel like Lazarus, abandoned to lie in the muck; you may feel like Abraham, left high and dry by God. You may be doubting and despairing, but hear this day the promises of your God: your sufferings have an end, they have a termination. God’s promises are true, despite all the evidence your eyes try to give you. You have glory and prosperity that is much more than financial security on this earth: the inheritance of heaven belongs to you, perfect healing and victory over death. Because Christ died and rose again for you, because He bled for you and He rose in victory for you, sin cannot condemn you—it is forgiven! Death cannot defeat you—it has been defeated! And none of Satan’s threats or accusations can stick—He has been conquered! You are righteous, right with your God through Jesus, and so your suffering is temporary, your suffering will end, your suffering doesn’t have the victory, that belongs to Christ.
The resurrection of Jesus is the answer to your suffering; as Job trusted in His Redeemer who lives in the midst of his affliction, so you trust in that same Redeemer, who walked this earth centuries after Job, suffered, died, and rose again for him and for you. The destination of believers is not that of the rich man, but that of Lazarus: “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.” Abraham’s side is destination of all believers, for Abraham is the father of all who believe. “And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” God’s Word, His promises, do not return void, they are not worthless vibrations on the air; God’s Word is full of power, the power to create faith. Repent of your doubt, repent of your unbelief, repent of your despair. Repent and believe the Gospel, the Gospel which proclaims to you your crucified and risen Lord, who has already defeated sin, death, and the power of the devil, who has made you righteous. God’s Word, His promises, come washing over you like the waves of the seashore, creating and sustaining faith, reassuring you each and every week, each and every day, as you walk through this valley of the shadow of death.
Abraham believed the Word, even though God did not immediately grant him the son he desired. He walked by faith, no longer by sight, faith in the sure and certain promises of a God who does not lie. The rich man lived by sight, and he thought (correctly) that the world does the same. “I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Father Abraham, the father of those who walk by faith and not by sight, points the rich man to a lesson that he learned so long ago: it is through the Word that God does His work. “Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’” God attacks doubt through the Word, through preaching. But the rich man, even in hell, still refuses to trust the Word, responding, “No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” The world lives by sight, Christians live by faith, faith in the sure and certain promises of God. “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Father Abraham had no sons, no sons had Father Abraham. There were none of them, no not one, so let’s trust in the Lord. At the end of our text, Abraham still doesn’t have a son; the promise is still waiting for its fulfillment. But he is no longer walking by sight; he walks by faith, worked by the Holy Spirit through the preached Word. “And he believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.” Abraham is righteous not because he did anything, but through faith he took hold of the promises of Christ. He believed in the coming Messiah, his offspring according to the flesh, who would crush the serpent’s head, just as you believe in the Messiah who has come, and that faith made him righteous, right with God, because that Messiah was coming to win righteousness for him and for all. Abraham is the father of all who believe, all who live by faith and not by sight, he is your father and mine, and every earthly father who faithfully teaches his children the Word which brings faith follows in his footsteps, and should be celebrated this day and every day. The life of faith would not be easy for Abraham; he still had many years to wait, he continued to struggle with doubt, and would need the reassurance of the Word again and again, just as you need it daily. But he walked by faith in God’s promise, and when the time had fully come, God fulfilled that promise, just as a Day is coming when His every promise, already ‘yes’ to you in Christ, will be fulfilled for eternity. On that Day there will be no faith, only sight, and with Abraham you will see your God face to face. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.