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- Genesis 12:1–9
- Psalm 121
- Romans 4:1–8,13–17
- John 3:1–17
Abram was called forth from Ur of the Chaldeans; he was called to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house; he was called to sojourn in a land he would never own, except for a small plot of land with a cave — a cave in which he would bury his wife, and in which his children would later bury him. And what did he find in this land? Canaanites — the cursed progeny of cursed Ham. Although their iniquity was not yet “complete” in the time of Abraham, they would later be sentenced to annihilation. Does that mean these tribes were good in the time of Abraham? Were they more Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner or were they more Sodom and Gomorrah? From God’s words to Abraham in Genesis 15, we must presume the latter.
For their iniquity, God burned Sodom and Gomorrah with fire from Heaven. For their iniquity, God sentenced the Canaanites to be devoted to destruction. For our iniquity, what will God visit upon us? Are we better than Sodom? Are we more moral than Gomorrah? Are we spared like Zoar due only to some small number of saints? Let us not delude ourselves by closing our eyes to the reality of our culture. Pornography is rampant, and children are increasingly exposed to it at younger and younger ages. Promiscuity is now not only ‘normal’, but even promoted as healthy or good. An incredible number of marriages end in divorce, and a significant percentage of children — a majority, in some communities — are born out of wedlock. Our ‘entertainment’ is increasingly explicit both in terms of sexual content and in terms of violence. We worship the gods of the marketplace — we pay greater attention to the Dow and the NASDAQ than to our neighbor, we care more for our 401(k)s than for our communities, and we decline to take God up on His outright invitation to test Him with regard to tithing. More than sixty million children have gone to their graves — or, more likely, the incinerator or even the research lab — in the name of ‘convenience’ and ‘privacy’.
Pick an empire, or a political entity, from history — any empire, or any political entity. With vanishingly few exceptions, what we do on a daily basis would make even history’s most despised and depraved blush. Our god is not El Shaddai — not God Almighty; our gods are Mammon and Moloch. We worship our wealth and sacrifice our children to ensure GDP continues to grow.
We live in a dark and blind world. The natural man is spiritually dead — totally unable to move toward or even to respond to God. Yet think of that call of Abram. He was called forth from dark Ur — a center of moon worship, which included human sacrifice. God gave Abram the faith to respond to the call, and that faith was counted to Abram as righteousness. Like Noah, Abram found favor with God — he did not win it with works. For what came first: The faith of the works? Only after he believed did Abram leave Ur, sojourn in Canaan, circumcise himself and his household, offer up Isaac, and otherwise obey the Lord. Works follow belief.
When Christ came in the flesh, He found a world just as dark and just as blind as ours. The Jews, despite having the Scriptures, did not recognize the Messiah. Nicodemus, a well-known teacher, did not recognize Christ, and could not grasp how one could be born again; he went so far as to ask how one could return to the womb to be born a second time. But what does Christ say? The Greek is deliberately vague: It can mean one must be born ‘again’ or ‘from above’. These are, of course, both true, and Christ further clarifies: One must be born of water and the Spirit. What is this other than Holy Baptism?
“What benefits does Baptism give?” “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” And do not let the enthusiasts tempt you to doubt: The Word of God promises that Baptism works forgiveness of sins and that the promises are for us and for our children. And how does our Lord and Savior here describe Baptism? As a second birth. Now, you were certainly present at your natural birth, but how much did you actually participate? At most, you may have screamed when it was over, and so some infants do at the baptismal font. But why would you think you contribute any more to your second, spiritual birth than you did to your first? Exactly.
Let the enthusiasts and the devils attempt to strip the Word of God of its promises and its comfort. We will cling to our Lord and His words, secure in the knowledge that He cannot lie, that He is ever true, that His promises do not fail.
Although we, like Abraham, find ourselves surrounded by Canaanites who worship false gods and pursue and commit abominations, let us declare with Joshua and all the saints: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” God has called us forth from a blind world and a dark culture, and, in the cleansing waters of Baptism, placed His Name upon us and made us sons and daughters of the Kingdom. Das Reich muß uns doch bleiben. The final line of our beloved hymn; a more literal translation: ‘The Kingdom must remain ours.’
It is not that we have earned anything or that we merit the Kingdom. No, the Kingdom is and must remain ours because our Lord is true and His word never fails. Not as wages due our works but as an alien and imputed righteousness due His work. There is no ‘merit of Abraham’ as the Jews teach or ‘excess merit of the saints’ as Rome contends. The devil likes to hum the same tune. All our works, and all those of our forebears and our progeny, are dust, ashes, filthy rags. Would you try to earn Paradise? Then the Law is your master and you stand condemned. But the Son was sent not to condemn the world, but to save it.
Your salvation is secure because it is not of works, but of grace received through faith. Who is blessed? Is it the one who labors for a wage — who seeks to climb a ladder to Heaven? No. The one whose “lawless deeds are forgiven”, “whose sins are covered” — he is blessed. Your sins are not counted because they were nailed to a cross with your Lord, God, Savior, and King. He was pierced for your transgressions; He was crushed for your iniquities. His chastisement has brought you peace, and by His wounds you are healed. And so the Lord, Who neither slumbers nor sleeps, Who made Heaven and Earth — He is your help, from this time forth and forevermore.
“For God so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV). It is that self-sacrificing, all-sufficient love of God for τον κοσμον — for the world — that has set you free. You, who were weighed down with sin, blinded by the world, and dead in trespass, have been forgiven. For the sake of Christ crucified, you are an heir to the Kingdom — and that is the Good News.