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Genesis 15:1-21 - THE ULTIMATE COVENANT - Part 3
The covenant in this text is very distinctive and truly amazing!!! As we have covered before when we talked about covenants, BOTH parties committing themselves to a relationship would pass between the pieces of dead animals, sharing equally in the implied threat to the one who broke the agreement.
If ya didn’t notice here In God’s covenant with Abram, only one of the parties pass between the pieces: God Himself walks between the animals in the form of a blazing, smoking torch, foreshadowing the pillars of cloud and fire of Mt. Sinai.
The One who would give the law there, showed that grace comes first, for this was a totally one-sided covenant. It depended entirely on God for its fulfillment. Can we see how truly amazing this was??!! God, the Ever Living One, was saying: “I would rather be personally torn apart than see my relationship with humanity broken or give up on the relationship that I have promised to establish through Abram’s descendant.”
In what way could God have demonstrated His commitment more graphically to Abram? How could His love and commitment have been displayed any more vividly? The only way would have been for the figure to become reality, for the ever-living God to take on human nature and taste death in the place of the covenant-breaking children of Abram. And that’s exactly what God did in Jesus Christ.
On the cross, God took on Himself the full burden of making the covenant effective, in spike of our weakness, in spite of our sin, and in spite of our failure. In Jesus, God Himself bore the punishment of being almost literally torn apart by the whips, the thorns, the nails, and the spear for our sins so that He could be faithful to His promise to be our God and so that we might have the incredible gift of being His people.
THAT is how Abram’s weak and questionable faith could be reckoned to him as righteousness. It’s not that his faith somehow made Abram righteous - far from it: in the very next chapter we will see Abram’s faith falter and fail once again.
The whole point of faith is that it’s power doesn’t rest in itself but in it’s object: God Himself, the God who does the impossible, who gives children to the elderly and infertile, who gives a land to a people that didn’t even then exist, and who takes broken and sinful people like you and me - and like Abram - and Himself atones for their sins.
The animals that Abram were told to cut up were the same sacrifices that God would later establish for His people under Moses at Mount Sinai. Yet these sacrifices too were but shadows and symbols pointing forward to the blood of the covenant, the blood of Jesus, now poured out for us on the cross.
Without the shedding of that blood, there could be no remission of our sins.
By faith, Abram trusted God, and God placed the covenant curse for Abram’s sin COMPLETELY on Jesus! By faith, Jesus’ perfect trust was reckoned to Abram’s account as if it were His very own.
Where Abram had many questions and fears, and sometimes didn’t live on the basis of the faith he professed, Jesus always trusted perfectly in His Heavenly Father’s wisdom and plan for his life, even in his darkest moments - the times when he too learned obedience through what he suffered, as the writer of Hebrews put it in Heb. 5:8 - “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”
In exactly the same way, we too can find salvation and blessing in Christ. Your salvation doesn’t depend on your living a life righteous enough to please God; it doesn’t rest on your paying personal penance for your many and varied sins.
Your salvation rests on Christ’s being torn apart to pay for your sins and His perfect holiness reckoned to you as you simply took Him in faith.
That’s how Abram was saved, and that is how you I are saved.
Maybe you have never taken that step of putting your faith in Christ? Perhaps you still think that you can bring your own righteousness to the table and please God through your own obedience?
Maybe you attend Church regularly, you give to charities, and are upright, pure, and chaste in your lifestyle.
In terms of the Genesis 15 picture, though, you still want to walk between the pieces of the animals on your own. There is no salvation to be found there. You can’t measure up to God’s standard of perfect holiness, any more than Abram could have.
You need someone else to walk that road in your place, and there is only one person who ever has or ever could have: Jesus Christ Himself.
All you have to do is transfer your trust from yourself to Him: receive His death as the atoning sacrifice for your failures and accept the robe of His perfect righteousness to cover your nakedness before God.
The recording of your life of inner sin and disobedience can be erased with Christ’s perfect obedience. Yet even this faith is something only God can work in your heart, not something you can do yourself and offer to God as proof of your righteousness.
So what do we do when those questions of God’s goodness and trustworthiness press in upon us, as they will and do in this fallen world?
We look again to the cross, the ultimate sign, where Jesus Christ proved once and for all God’s undying love for us, and where He paid the full price of all our sins.
Even our sinful doubts and questionings about God’s goodness were covered there, and the perfect faith and trust of Jesus Christ, which never wavered from His Father even for an instant, is now credited to us as if it were our faith.
This is why we have the Lord’s supper as a precious gift - a sign and seal of God’s faithful commitment to His covenant promise.
Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim the fact that the sign of Genesis 15 became a reality in Christ: that God in human form was broken for us and for our transgressions, so that our relationship with Him, broken by our sin, might be restored.
In this way, God feeds our faith and strengthens our assurance that, at the end of this life’s journey, He stands ready to welcome us into the fulness of our heavenly inheritance.
This is how He stills our questions and fills us with hope and new strength for our challenging journey of faith.
So let’s celebrate that together as we take communion.