Like Father Abraham
When I taught World Religion at Navarro College and we came to the heart of the semester focusing on the world’s three great monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three were labeled the “Religions of Abraham” because all three claimed Abraham as their father. More than half of the world’s population today identifies with these three religions. So, it makes sense that we should ask a fundamental question: In the primary source where Abraham is introduced to world history, what does it say that Abraham did to be declared righteous before the true God?
This takes us back to Genesis 15. Abraham had just rescued Lot, his nephew, from a gang of powerful Ancient Near Eastern kings who attacked and plundered Sodom. Like many of us, after this great victory, Abraham went from way high to way low, and he expresses his discouragement as the chapter begins. The great “I AM” appears to him in a vision and declares he’s Abraham’s “shield and great reward” (Gen. 15:1), but Abraham shuns this declaration and goes straight to his frustration. God promised in Ur of the Chaldees to give him a son, and now he’s getting on in years, has had intercourse with his wife countless times, and there’s no baby. As a result, it looks like Eliezer, his trusted servant from Damascus, is going to be Abraham’s sole heir. So, Abraham blurts out, “Look, you’ve given me no ‘seed!’ (Gen. 15:3).
The LORD strongly rejects any idea about Eliezer, and then takes the Patriarch outside. “Look up at the sky and start counting. See those multitudes and multitudes of stars? That’s how many descendants you’re going to have.” Moses states God’s words simply and clearly, “So shall your seed be!” (Gen. 15:5). Now, from a human perspective this was impossible, but Abraham heard God’s promise, and then the text declares, “And he believed the LORD, and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6).
Remember this all took place more than four hundred years before the LORD wrote on the tablets at Sinai and Moses gave them to the Jews. So, when we ask how was Father Abraham declared to be righteous before God, it’s definitely not based upon the Mosaic Law. It’s all because of the fact that the patriarch heard God’s promise with his ears and believed it. The Apostle Paul reminds the Galatians and he reminds us that Abraham was right before God based solely on his faith, not his obedience.
“Just as Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness, so, get this: Only those who have faith, they are the sons of Abraham. For the Scripture, foreseeing that God would declare Gentiles righteous based upon their faith, announced in advance the Good News to Abraham when it said, ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ Here’s the point: Those who have faith will be blessed right along with Abraham, the man of faith.” Genesis 3:6-9
Orthodox Jews stress that salvation is earned by obeying the Law of Moses. Moslems work hard to fulfill the five pillars of Islam, and many Christians strive by their church attendance, fulfilling the sacraments, or by adhering to their church’s standards to earn acceptance before God. All of us need to get back to the basic fact that Abraham was justified by faith in God’s promise alone, and now we have a lot more reason to believe.
Abraham’s descendants have become a multitude and his ultimate son, Jesus, is the most widely known person in history. It’s time to listen. The son that was sacrificed for our sin was not Isaac or Ishmael, but Jesus. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, Jesus was lifted up and became the cursed one for us, so that God could pour the blessing of Abraham upon all who will believe.
LORD, open hearts to understand that faith in Jesus is not joining just one of the big three religions. It’s simply trusting a person—Jesus, your Son, who alone can give us a new birth and make us part of your family.
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