Faith and the Theology of the Cross

Text: Genesis 15:1-6

30 years ago, this March, Irish rock band U2 released its fifth studio album. The Joshua Tree. The album’s theme was based off the wide-open spaces of the American west. The album, which has gone on to sell more than 25 million copies, truly does bring out a sense of vast openness throughout its 50-minute length – particularly in the second track, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” It’s still up in the air what exactly the song is about. There are references to the devil, to Jesus, and heaven. But, we’ll leave it to song critics to discuss it more. Whatever it means, the song brings out this idea of searching; of longing for something you know is there…but you haven’t found it yet.

Our text today from Genesis finds Abram in a similar situation. In the Bible, three chapters pass between when God first came to Abram and called him out of idolatry, promising to bless him and make a great nation out of him. Three chapters pass, but in time it’s about a decade between these chapters, maybe a little more. It’ll be more than that, still, before Isaac is born. Isaac, the child promised in our text. As we’ll see, Abram was a little fearful about his situation, about whether the things God had promised would actually come to pass. Then God appeared to him. He reassured Abram that the promise was not forgotten. Abram believed God, and the Lord counted his faith as righteousness. St. Paul said that these things were written not for Abram’s sake alone, but for ours. Today, we confess that, like Abram, the righteous live by faith in God’s promises – and they are not disappointed.

I.

We should all know the story of Abraham, but let’s recap it for a moment. The Flood happened in Genesis 6. Noah entered the ark with his wife, his sons, and their wives. 8 souls in all. Noah’s sons were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. After the Flood, the three sons all spread out and had children. Abram is a distant descendant of Shem. Abram and his family lived in a place called Haran and they had become pagans. They were unbelievers who worshipped idols. Then, in Genesis 12, God called Abram. He called him out of idolatry to worship the one true God and to go where the Lord would lead him. The Lord promised to bless Abram and make of him a great nation. So, Abram went.

Abram went as the Lord said, but it maybe wasn’t as straightforward and easy as he might’ve liked. There was a famine, so they went down to Egypt. While they were there, Abram did do somethings that were sinful. He doubted God’s promise; yet God forgave him. God also kept His promise and blessed Abram, who came up from Egypt a rich man. He amassed a large household and many servants – but no children. Abram rightly understood God’s promise to make him into a great nation required a son. But, as time went on, no son came. Abram started getting into trouble with neighboring nations, and with no son to inherit if he were to die, Abram began to fear and doubt whether this promise would pan out. In other words, Abram still hadn’t found what he was looking for.

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.’”[1] As Abram began fearing for his future and doubting the promises of God, the Lord spoke to him in a vision. The Lord told Abram not to fear. For, despite appearances, the Lord was with him. Abram was sure that the Lord had reneged, or at least was second-guessing His promise. Abram said to God, “‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus…Behold, You have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.’”[2] What Abram meant was: God promised to make him a great nation, and so far, that hadn’t happened. Sure, Abram was wealthy; but with no son by birth, that wealth would pass from his name to someone else. No great nation.

Then the Lord said, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”[3] Abram was misled by his own conscience and felt that God wouldn’t make good. Things appeared to be the opposite of what God had promised. Abram felt abandoned. Then God made Abram another solemn promise. It wouldn’t be Eliezer of Damascus who would inherit him, but a son from Abram’s own body. Then God took him outside, and told Abram to number the stars. So, would his offspring be. Our text concludes with one of the most important verses in the whole Bible, “He believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”[4]

II.

The readings this week direct our minds to this idea: Even when it appears to the contrary, God doesn’t go back on His promises. God promised to make of Abram a great nation, and this nation would come from a son of his own flesh. The rest of Scripture – and history – tells us that, of course, this promise came true. Isaac was born when Abram was 99 years old. Isaac fathered Jacob, from whom is descended – according to the flesh – Jesus. St. Paul tells us that God’s promise to Abram was ultimately fulfilled in Christ and the great nation, now of billions, who have believed in His name. Abram believed God’s promise, even when it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. God counted his faith as righteousness. Eventually, Abram did find what he was looking for.

If Abram, that great patriarch of our faith, was fearful and doubting God’s promises, we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves suffering the same temptations. Like Abram, we have each been called out of pagan idolatry. We were all by nature born sinful and unclean, desiring to be our own “God.” But we were called out of that in the washing of Baptism. At our Baptism, the name of the Triune God was spoken over us and we were made heirs of the promise of Christ. Namely, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life that are found through faith in Him. At our Baptism, we were made heirs of the promise, and we are continually reminded of it through God’s Word – yet we are filled with doubts and fears.

Luther, considering this passage, failed to come up with an answer as to why God orders our lives in such a way. At times, we say that our suffering we endure teach us to rely on God or another lesson. Sometimes, we plumb the depths of reason and empathy to find a reason for our suffering. We know that suffering comes as a result of sin. But, more often than not, we fail to find an answer to, “Why me?” Then we begin to doubt, to fear, and to be angry that we also still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

Dear brothers and sisters, St. Paul did write, “The words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.”[5] Meaning, this passage of Scripture wasn’t written for Abram’s sake alone, but for our benefit, also. We are meant to look at Abram’s suffering and fear, and Lazarus’, and find in them fellowship. Abram suffered, Lazarus suffered, our Lord suffered, we suffer. Abram suffered, at times thinking the Lord would not fulfill His promise; then He did. So, will He also fulfill His promise to us. What promise? The promise to remove our sins from us, which He has done in Christ. The promise to bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey, foreshadowed by the Promised Land and fulfilled in the New Creation. The promise to bring us through this valley of the shadow of death, and feed us beside still waters. The Lord spoke these things and others to Abram. Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted that faith as righteousness.

God grant that we also, by that same faith, would continue to be counted righteous. Scripture does say that the afflictions of the righteous are many, but also that the Lord delivers them out of them all. At times, it does feel like we aren’t finding what we’re looking for. But, God’s promises are sure and will ever stand true – even for us. Abram believed the Lord’s promise of deliverance, God counted His faith as righteousness and did deliver Him. He will deliver us, too. Amen.


[1] Gen. 15:1, English Standard Version.

[2] Gen. 15:2-3.

[3] Gen. 15:4.

[4] Gen. 15:6.

[5] Rom. 4:23-24.

When Life Hands You Lemons

Text: Genesis 22:1-18

They say that when the going gets tough, the tough get going. This means that, when life gets you down, just well up your strength, and pick yourself up. When life deals you a bad hand, you make your own luck, right? Good people can make the best out of the worst situations. Okay, one more and I’ll be done with the clichés. People say that when life hands you lemons, you best make lemonade. All of these sayings imply that when life gets hard, if you just dig in deep, you’ll barrel on through it. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Take Abraham for example. God told him to leave everything behind and go to an unspecified place, and he did. God told him that he would be blessed, and he believed it. Scripture says Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. But, Abraham was old. His wife was old, well past the age for bearing children. They had resigned themselves to the fact that they will die childless. And then, God promised to Abraham, “’Your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him 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.’[1] God promised a son, and that is what Abraham got. Isaac.

But here in our text today, it seems that life is turned upside down for Abraham. Isaac, his beloved son and gift from God, is demanded by God to be sacrificed, as a test. Not knowing it was a test, Abraham obeyed God and went to sacrifice his son. This is because he knew the promise of God, and he believed that, even when life looks contrary to the promise of God, it is especially then that He remains true. You see, when God hands you lemons, you’ve already got lemonade.

I.

What an unthinkable request! God had just promised Abraham, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be blessed.”[2] We know that it’s a test, but Abraham didn’t. In this situation Abraham might’ve wondered if this was a trick of Satan. He could’ve said that God’s promise about Isaac is sure and clear, but then wondered why God wanted him killed. Even worse, Abraham was the one who is to do the slaying and not a robber or bandit in the woods. Maybe Abraham could’ve figured that God is going back on His Word, or that he himself committed some grievous sin against God, and for that reason God is taking back His promise.

By nature we all have a habit of thinking this way, too. Whenever our lives go to the gutter financially or personally, whenever our health or relationships fail, our conscience goes to work within us. The devil torments us inside, telling us that these bad things are the sum of our lives, or that we offended God and now He is punishing us by ruining our lives. When faced with the contradiction of a loving God and a painful existence in this world, our sinful flesh will never make sense of the conflict. Very rare is the person who goes their entire life without thinking that maybe God isn’t good, or that He doesn’t exist.

II.

In Hebrews 11 we read more about the Sacrifice of Isaac: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead.”[3] In hope, Abraham believed God. He knew that as God was able to give him a son in his old age, God would just as easily be able to raise up offspring from Isaac. Abraham believed in the resurrection of the dead, that from the ashes of the sacrifice God would restore Isaac and make good on His promises. He knew and believed that when God handed him lemons, he already had lemonade.

It’s a silly saying, I know. But it’s true. God can never go back on His Word. It is contrary to His character. The Word that He gave you in Baptism will stand true for all time. In Baptism you were given the name of the Triune God as you were washed in the water and the Word for the forgiveness of sins. In Baptism, God claimed you as His own and made a promise to bless you and keep you. God does not go back on His Word. We all struggle in our lives. We do not always struggle with the same things, nor do we share all the same suffering, but we do know one who shares equally in all our sufferings. This One is Jesus Christ, whom Scripture says, is the propitiation for our sins.

Though the world gives way around us, we have a great Lord and King who remains steadfast with us in our suffering. The Son of Man was tempted in every way, including the despair of being abandoned by His God and Father as He hung on the cross, forsaken. He bore those temptations, and the guilt of our sinfulness and despair, and died for our forgiveness. Thus, even when life appears to be stacked against us, He remains true. In His forgiveness we are made more than conquerors and His promise will always stand true, even as He says to us: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[4] Therefore, when God gives you lemons, you already have lemonade – salvation through faith in Christ, who remains beside you until the end of the age.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Gen. 15:4–5.

[2] Gen. 21:12

[3] Heb. 11:17–19.

[4] Matt. 28:20.