God’s Sovereign Covenant with Abram
Genesis 15:7-21: He also said to him, ‘I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.’ But Abram said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I shall gain possession of it?’ So the LORD said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.’ Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away. As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and ill-treated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterwards they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.’ When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking brazier with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates – the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.’
If you think the prime reason that you are following the Lord today is all because once upon a time you decided that you would follow him, then it won’t be difficult for you to entertain the option of one day making another decision – during some low period of disbelief – to stop being his disciple. If eternal life all hangs on choices that you make then one day you can consider yourself a believer and the next day you can’t, and then . . . maybe . . . the next day you can think you’re one again. A woman from Brooklyn, New York, once came to her pastor, the Rev. Ichabod Spencer, and asked him if he’d come with her to visit her sister who was quite distressed. So they went to see her and she left him alone with her and the minister asked her why she was so agitated. ‘I’ve been converted three times,’ she said, ‘and I feel as if I need it again.’ He said to her, ‘Well, be careful that you don’t get converted again in the same way. All that’s happened so far has done you no good, has it?’ ‘No,’ she said, ‘none at all.’ ‘Then don’t get converted like that again. You want a religion that will last.’ We all need a relationship with God that will endure.
The living God is pastoring Abram. He has come to him with the assurance that Abram is going to father a son and that through him his offspring will be as numerous as the stars of the sky. He even takes Abram out of his tent and shows him the starry heavens; ‘If you could count them you could count the number of your descendants’ (v.5). Abram believed God’s word and his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness, but now God speaks to him again. He hasn’t finished talking to him. He has guaranteed fatherhood and an offspring, but this time when he speaks he guarantees the land that Abram is going to have as his inheritance. This land, you understand, is not ultimately some earthly piece of soil and dirt; it is a heavenly country. It will be the holy residence of all those people who have along with Abram been declared righteous by God through believing in him. It is paradise regained, life as it was before the Fall, man and God in happy communion, only much more blessed because in this new relationship it will be impossible for man to rebel and reject the Lord. This is the heavenly fulfilment that is pictured in the Old Testament in the land of Canaan being the home of all Abram’s descendants. The realization of this sign is the new heaven and a new earth, the inheritance of all who are righteous through faith in the Lord.
THE SOVEREIGNTY GOD ASSERTED TO HIS SERVANT
Please notice carefully the words with which God chose to address him. ‘He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it”‘ (v.7). Notice the various strands of these words:
i] The Lord speaking was the one who had taken the initiative. He had brought Abram out of Ur to take possession of this land. It was not that Abram grew fed up of Ur, and sickened of all her temples and idols and so he made a decision, ‘I am going to change my gods and follow Jehovah,’ and thus set off on his journey. It was not like that at all, and it is not like that with any true Christian. It was the Lord who brought us away from our idols and out of the kingdom of darkness in which we lived. He delivered us from our unbelief; he gave us a new heart and a new birth; he made us new creations. Yes we were the ones who believed his words; we trusted into him and we made this discovery of a wonderful Friend, but we quickly knew this, ‘He loved me ere I knew him.’ An anonymous writer expressed it like this:
I sought the Lord but afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him seeking me.
It was not I that found O Saviour true,
No I was found by Thee.
It was the Lord who made the prevenient definitive decision that henceforth you were going to serve him. So you can’t give up your discipleship. You are stuck with the Lord as your God for ever. If you turn away he’ll come after you. He’ll woo you afresh. He will pull the cords of love tight around you and draw you to himself again, or he might have to chastise you. He can bring you so low that you’d eat the food that pigs eat. He will bring you to yourself and constrain you to return to your father’s house. It is not possible for a true Christian loved by God from all eternity, and regenerated by the Lord ever to go back. You are the Lord’s not for the years of time alone, but for eternity. There might come a day when you are fed up with your mother, and so you decide to deny that she is your mother. Sorry! It cannot be done. She is your mother for ever. There is no back door out of which you can stroll when you feel angry with your mother and abandon her motherhood. You are her daughter or son for the rest of your days. Again, you are born in the British Isles, as your parents were before you, and you are a British citizen, under British law, paying taxes to the crown. You cannot on a certain day decide to cancel your citizenship, and tell the government they are no longer to consider you as a British citizen; you are from now on outside the law of the land. Impossible! It is far bigger than some rebellious decision you petulantly take one dark day. You remain under British law and British taxation however you huff and puff. You have to reckon on that. Again a slave cannot wake up one day and say, ‘I don’t feel like being a slave any longer. From now on I am going to do my own thing.’ Alas! He is still a slave. So it is with being a child of God. The Lord is your eternal Father. You are a citizen of heaven; you are a bond slave of Jesus Christ because God made you all those things. So act as a daughter or son, act as a citizen, and reckon yourself to be a slave because that is what you are. Behave as a disciple of Jesus Christ because this is what you will be for ever and ever. You cannot give up Christ; that is impossible; you are stuck with the Lord as your God for ever. You are going to be a Christian to eternity. So God speaks again to Abram and he says to him, ‘”I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it”‘ (v.7). That is it. There was no escape for Abram from his calling or his inheritance. The elect cannot escape from the God who loves them, and so I am pleading with you to consider that, and not dwell on the temptation to abandon him.
Let me no more my comfort draw
from my frail hold of Thee;
In this alone rejoice with awe,
Thy mighty grip of me.
You say that you know professing Christians who give up. True. Some back-slide like the prodigal son, but then after a time they come to themselves and return. So they show that God had always loved them like the father loved his prodigal son. Then there are others who give up a profession of being Christians and they never return; they never began to be in a living relationship with God. They had merely passed through a religious phase; they were stony ground hearers, appearing to be Christians but when trials and testings came they withered and died. They had never put down deep roots into the Lord.
ii] It was the covenant-making Lord who was speaking to Abram. This is echoed in those words, ‘I am the LORD.’ Where else do you hear such great words in the Bible? What is the momentous occasion when God says them? In the giving of the Ten Commandments in the inauguration of the Mosaic Covenant. ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’ (Exod. 20:2). So what is happening here is that God is about to establish a covenant with Abram. Bera king of Sodom had just approached Abram to divide the spoil with him. He was really offering to make a covenant with Abram, a treaty by which he would run to Abram’s assistance if he were attacked and Abram in turn would help the king of Sodom if he were attacked, and neither would make war on the other. Bera puffed himself up as the powerful king and he laid down the terms of their future relationship: ‘You keep the booty and I get the people.’ Abram said no to him. He decisively rejected this earthly king, but when Omnipotence is speaking to him, well, who is this speck – little Abram – to say no to the Almighty? God comes and tells Abram who he is, ‘I am the LORD,’ what he has already done in Abram’s life and what he is going to do. That is it! That is the voice of vertical sovereign irresistible grace; ‘I brought you out of Ur; I gave you this land; I am now going to enter into a covenant with you binding myself even more strongly to you. This is what I am going to do.’
Bera the king of Sodom was puffing himself up as if he were the supreme one in the world, telling Abram what he had to do. Who was this pipsqueak? Someone who had been overwhelmed in a battle by the four kings, his men jumping into tar pits rather than fall into the hands of his enemies. He had been hiding in the caves in the mountain. How undignified. Abram was the one who’d saved his hide. The king of Sodom was a mere sinful creature, and I am saying to you that all the atheists and philosophers who trouble you with their arguments and doubts are mere sinners hiding from the evident glory of God in creation and from his voice speaking in their consciences.
iii] It was Jehovah who was speaking to Abram. He does not address Abram as he would address Moses and the people on Sinai. He would say to them, ‘I am the LORD your God.‘ Yes, six hundred years later he was to give to the seed of Abram that full expression, ‘the LORD your God.‘ He does not say that here. He has not yet said to Abram that he would be his God. He will say it, but atonement must first be made, and the covenant must be ratified with the shedding of blood. That must be done and then he will say those words to Abram. We see this in chapter seventeen; ‘I will be your God and the God of your descendants after you’ (Gen. 17:7), but he does not say that yet. Here he is making a statement of his absolute sovereignty. ‘I am the LORD.’ God is the highest, the greatest, the almighty one, the infinite one, the omnipotent one, the furthest you can go, the highest you can reach, the vastest you can imagine. Nothing is impossible for him to do. The only limitations on his actions are what he wills to do. See how Abraham has addressed him in the previous chapter; ‘the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth’ (Gen. 14:22). How great he is! Have you been told of the vastness of the universe? If you travelled at the speed of light – think of how far light could travel in a year – then the universe is millions of light years in its dimensions. Our God made it by his decree. He spoke and it was done.
But Holy Omnipotence is also a personal God who deals with individuals. He had brought one man Abram out of his home town and put him on a journey to this land. Everything put together that that home town of Abram had to offer – the bazaars, the markets, the games, the food and drink, the gossip, the occasional visitors from other places – was all together inadequate and pathetic, far too juvenile to satisfy the soul of a man called by God, made by God, made for God. It is true for the people of this small town where we live. Most people surrounding us live their little lives around the home, the telly, the pub, the shops, the job and an occasional vacation. That is it. That is the sum total of their existence, and what they are looking forward to is retirement. I am saying that they have been made for God, not for retirement. They are made for eternal glory, not clubbing. They are made to know and love and serve Almighty God. This God met with Abram and told him to get out of his comfort zone. That is painful, I know. ‘Get out of your space, Abram. What a prospect lies before you Abram.’ That is what God is saying to you today. See the vastness of the universe. What must be the might of the living personal God who made it, the God you can know for yourself. Lift your eyes up and look to God. Listen to what he has to say. You’re a son of the King; God is your shield and very great reward. So there is the sovereignty God asserted to Abram.
THE ASSURANCE THAT ABRAM CRAVED
‘But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I shall gain possession of it?”‘ (v.8). Isn’t this the basic question we ask at times of uncertainty and Christian challenge? ‘How can I know?’ God comes by his Word and through his servants as they earnestly and winsomely preach to us, and he makes these great promises to us, that death is not the end, that there is a wonderful heaven before us. ‘The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass. I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life’ (Rev. 21:21-27). ‘How can I know if there really is such a place? How can I know whether I am going to enter it?’ Those are the most important questions you can ask. How can I answer you?
i] The Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God has spoken about this, saying that he has gone to prepare a place for us and will take us unto himself that where he is there we will be also. Jesus said it. He tells us that he has given his Spirit to his servants the apostles, and that they have been led into all truth. So those words I just read to you that John wrote in the book of Revelation are true. Why should Jesus lie to us? Why should the one who said, ‘I am the truth,’ invent such deceit? So you ask me, ‘How can I know what the Bible promises is true?’ and I say, because Jesus Christ is the genuine, humble, loving Son of God and he cannot be false. He chose the death of the cross; he wouldn’t go back on any of his claims. All his words and the words of his apostles are true. That is how you can be certain that there really is such a place. There was a fund manager on trial this last week in London. He defrauded the man he worked for out of millions of pounds. Every day this broker called his boss and lied to him assuring him he was making more and more profit. The judge, passing sentence on him, summed up this thief in this way, that Mr. Bomford was a complete stranger to the truth. He acted fraudulently throughout. He was a persistent and inveterate liar. My point is this, what are his lies compared to what Jesus claimed, if our Lord, in fact, weren’t telling the truth? He’s misled billions of people. He has destroyed their lives if what he did was to weave the most elaborate tissue of lies the world has ever heard. But would a liar preach the Sermon on the Mount? Would he speak in the Upper Room as he did? Or would the divine power come upon him so that he healed every sick person who came to him, and raised the dead? Would the winds and waves obey him? It is a psychological and moral and spiritual impossibility.
ii] Again, you press me as to how you can know that you in particular are going to gain possession of the new heavens and the new earth? I would remind you of these great words, that whosoever believes in Christ will not perish but have everlasting life. Let me explain to you that there are five things that you should know:
A) The first thing is this, that we are sinners. God’s law is holy and just and good and we have broken it. We have not loved God with all our hearts. We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. We are sinners. We must know this.
B) The second thing is this, that such sinners may be saved because Jesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities . . . The Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all. So know this, that sinners can be saved through the death of the Son of God.
C) The third thing is this, that lost sinners will be saved by Christ as long as they turn from their unbelief and sinning and believe in him. ‘As many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.’ ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’ ‘God commands all men everywhere to repent.’
D) The fourth thing is this, that we need the aid of the Holy Spirit to renew our hearts and to produce trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. You cannot believe into Jesus Christ by your own will power alone. ‘Unless a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ A man is helpless without the Holy Spirit giving him the energy to entrust himself to Jesus only.
E) The final thing is this, that this salvation is being offered to you now, at this moment. Today the Lord of glory is saying, ‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ Coming to him is a movement of your heart and soul as you are energized and moved by the Word of God and strengthened by the Spirit of God to cast yourself on Jesus Christ for salvation. When you have done that then you can say, ‘Now I know that I shall gain possession of the glory God has promised to them that trust in him.’ If you do not come to Christ then you will have no knowledge, and no certainty whatsoever that you possess eternal life. You know only as you go. You know only as you go to Jesus Christ the Saviour. Your knowing comes in your going to him.
iii] But I have one more answer to this question of how you can know that these promises of a new heaven and earth are true. It is because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ died. Think of it! The loveliest and the best died. The one of whom God said, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’ died the death of the cross. Why did he die? You say that good men also die. True. But Jesus Christ was the very best of men, the most perfect of men, none like him before or since. His Father loved him and yet he died that death. You don’t understand the point that I am making. Why didn’t his Father protect him? Why didn’t he protect himself? Why didn’t he walk away? Why did he die? When men from the synagogue in Nazareth wanted to throw him off a precipice he walked through their midst and none could lay his hands on him. Why didn’t Jesus at least make some attempt to escape? He made none. He turned his face resolutely to Jerusalem. He knew what would happen if he went there; he predicted it so accurately and yet he chose that death. Why? Many of you know the answer, that this is the only way atonement could be made. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. That is how God is; the righteous and holy and sin-hating God can only be appeased by the substitution of his Son Jesus Christ. He took our guilt and sin; he bore our shame and blame; in our place condemned he stood; Christ died for our sins; he loved the church and gave himself for her. Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. It is not enough that you are sorry for your sins; there must be atonement. That is why God the Son died. He loved sinners like you and me – lightweight, immature, inconsistent, embarrassing people – and we were among the ones that had been given to him in massive multitudes by God the Father before the world was made, that Jesus Christ might save us. The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. How can you know that you can enter the gates of heaven? Because of the death of the Son of God. He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in. He died; I don’t die.
More than that, he rose from the dead on the third day. The sacrifice was not merely horrible though also glorious, it was a sacrifice absolutely acceptable to God. How do we know? Because on the third day Jesus rose again from the dead. He raised himself; God raised him; the Spirit of holiness resurrected him. The stone was rolled away; the grave was empty except for the folded grave-clothes. He was seen by the women, then by Peter and then by two on the road to Emmaus, and then by the eleven in the Upper Room, and so on. He ate and he drank with them talking with them, answering their questions for forty days. Five hundred saw him. There has never been a ghost seen by five hundred people, or by eleven people here and there in a room and in the open air, by a lake and on a mountain side. Ghosts are supposed to be in rooms in semi-darkness. The risen Christ ate and drank wine and fish and bread with his friends. He was risen! He is great and more powerful than death. That is how you can know that what he says about the glorious possession that lies before you after death is going to be yours. He was raised on the first day of the week, the first fruits of them that sleep. Because he lives we shall live also. He transformed the lives of his disciples and they went everywhere telling people of the resurrection of Christ. They died in their confidence that he was alive. Their fear of death was gone; they were going to be with him.
You hear Abram’s question; ‘How can I know that I will gain possession of it?’ You find yourself asking the same question, ‘How can I know that I will gain possession of this glorious future?’ I have told you the three unanswerable grounds of assurance, that you know because the Lord Jesus Christ who cannot deceive has told us of the place he is preparing for us; you know because as you come to Christ and trust in him then you find an assurance in your heart that this is so – you gain the inward witness of the Holy Spirit of Christ; and, finally, you know because of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the good and rational reasons for believing in a new heaven and a new earth.
HOW GOD GRANTED THIS CERTAINTY TO ABRAM
Abram did not have the knowledge that we have. He never heard the Sermon on the Mount. He never saw Jesus walking on the water, stilling the storm, raising the dead. He never saw him wash the feet of the disciples in the upper room and introduce the Lord’s Supper as the disciples did. How did God minister to Abram’s lack of certainty? He spoke to Abram and that was breath-taking. He enabled Abram to believe what he had said, but how did assurance come? God did not repeat himself and argue with Abram saying, ‘Do I have to tell you again? I have told you once and that should be enough. I am going to give you the land for your possession. I have said it. Come on Abram, believe me.’ No, there is nothing like that at all. God does not badger Abram, but kindly and very elaborately creates a huge scenario, involving Abram in the most extraordinary demanding activity that he would never forget. God puts him in a coma (though he can see everything that happens), all in order that Abram could know that what God has promised him would most definitely, and most assuredly, and most affirmatively, and in all sober earnestness, and all conscience, and upon God’s word and deed actually take place. This glorious destination of Canaan and what it prefigured would become Abram’s. God was not content with the bare word giving assurance. It is like God adding to all the redeeming work of Christ, his death and resurrection and all his promises, the Lord’s Supper‘ as if to say, ‘Here in a regular feast you proclaim that I died and rose for your salvation’ and that will mean an additional means of grace.
So what happens is this; God tells Abram to bring to him a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtle dove and a young pigeon (these were all to be designated as clean animals in the Mosaic law). At first they are there in a pen, yet there is no altar, but obviously there is going to be some kind of ritual or sacrifice. Abram knew exactly what to do next. He cuts the throats of the animals, and then cuts the heifer, ram and goat in half and lays the pieces opposite one another with, say, ten metres between them. He rings the necks of the two birds and sheds their blood placing them also opposite one another. He has made two lines of the halves of these dead animals in an area the size of our church, a bloody walkway, the carcasses marking out a path – shall we say a runway. High in the heavens even from far distant mountains the birds of prey spot these dead animals and they zoom in from all over the sky for the carrion. They think of the feast they will soon be eating. Those birds were to be declared unclean according to the law of Moses, and now Abram has to drive them away. He has to do this for a time, the whole scene really getting under his skin, the smell of blood, the carcasses and the scores of birds, perhaps hundreds of them, swooping and calling to one another, diving down and weary Abram shouting and running at them and wondering what next would happen.
Then Abram finds he cannot move. A deep sleep comes over him, one in which he can see what is happening but cannot twitch a muscle, any more than Adam could when God caused a deep sleep to come upon him when he took his rib and made Eve, or that came upon Abram’s grandson Jacob when he saw a vision of angels ascending and descending a staircase joining earth and heaven. While Abram was in this coma a thick and dreadful darkness came upon him. He was filled with horror and he wanted to get away, run as far from that place as his legs could take him, but he couldn’t move. He was trapped there, more filled with sheer terror and awe than he’d ever been in his life, than he ever thought it possible to be.
That is how Abram was when God drew near and spoke to him, repeating the promise, confirming it again and amplifying it. It was not, you notice, that they were sitting each side of a negotiating table, Abram and God, with their team of delegates both bargaining for the best deal. There was nothing like that. There was one man there, only one, and that was Abram. He took the beasts there; he slaughtered them and cut them in half, dirty bloody work. He divided them up, and he then drove the flocks of vultures away for an age. Then he was rendered comatose and terrified. To the silent helpless Abram who had asked, ‘How can I know?’ Jehovah comes, the God before whom the angels cover their eyes and cry, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ and Abram was overwhelmed and silent.
How does God come? Out of the darkness a portable mini-furnace appears, moving along and hovering just above the ground, spewing out smoke. Then with it a burning torch. The two objects, one giving off waves of heat and the other illuminating the darkness, move up and down the avenue between the bloody carcasses, and Abram cannot escape. That is the form taken by God, who is a consuming fire and the light of the world. Abram has to watch God moving back and fore in this whole horrific scene; the observer is totally paralyzed and scared out of his wits. He is forced to be involved as a witness; he cannot shut his eyes and think of Sarai. What an unforgettable day, and it was thus that Abram came to know that he certainly would take possession of this land, by the word of promise and the covenant initiated wholly and completely by God.
Then God speaks to Abram, measuredly, steadily, spelling out a panorama of the history of Abram’s seed and how they were going to come to possess the land. Hundreds of years they would have to suffer as a nation, in slavery in Egypt. Horrible dark ages would be spent far from this land God had promised them. They would have to learn that by suffering they would inherit the kingdom of God, by oppression and the lash. But God would reverse all that, afflicting those who afflicted them, freeing them from Egypt. They went down to that land with nothing, but when they left it they would be loaded with the plunder of Egypt, just as Abram left Pharaoh bearing riches. Abram would not see that day; he would have died years before in good old age. Abram must not despair; Isaac his son must not despair; Jacob his son must not despair, and neither must the children of Israel. There must come a dark age during which the inhabitants of the land of Canaan would be piling up their wickedness, with God delaying his judgment on them. Then Abram’s descendants would return as the sword in the hands of God to treat the Amalekites and Canaanites righteously for their evil. The land is going to be theirs, from the edge of Egypt to the Euphrates. What is such an area? It is the whole known world at that time. The promise of God is expanding and expanding because God always gives more than he promised. This promise to Abram makes him the heir of the world, and it will expand until there is a new cosmos filled with the righteousness of Christ the son of Abram according to the flesh.
This is a picture of our own lives, and the lives of all the Lord’s people. Move forward from Abram 2000 years to Christ, the Seed of the woman and Abraham’s Seed, who has now come. He has dealt with our sin and triumphed over death and the Serpent by his death and resurrection. He has inherited all power in heaven and earth and we in him possess all things. How does all this become ours? What must I do to inherit it all? What great works must I achieve? What burden must I bear? What load must I carry? What trials must I first pass through? Nothing!
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
Naked come to Thee for dress,
Helpless look to Thee for grace,
Foul I to Thy fountain fly,
Wash me Saviour or I die. (Augustus Toplady)
I can do nothing; I have to lie utterly inert and passive as Abram was, overwhelmed with the greatness of God as he comes near. God lives, he blazes, he coruscates and I am terrified. Thou must save and Thou alone. God comes to take responsibility for what I have done. He takes up the obligation of saving me. I am locked into my impotence, and overwhelmed with fear while the Lord walks the bloody path of Golgotha. What pain he suffered for me! The Lord Jesus came from heaven alone, faced the devil in the wilderness alone, met the contradiction of sinners against himself alone. He was forsaken in the Garden, stood alone on trial, hung alone on the central cross and was buried alone in the garden tomb. You were no help to him at all. He suffered and died and was buried alone. Look unto him and be saved.
What is the Lord doing here in this awesome darkness, in the appearance of this furnace and the bright light? Who or what is this, moving up and down, up and down the avenue of the dead beasts? This is the Lord himself. He is entering into a covenant with helpless Abram and undertaking to fulfil this covenant all by himself, solemnly promising the earth to Abram and his seed, and doing so totally unilaterally. The Lord has made up his mind and nothing anyone can do can stop him. Why is he moving between these lines of dead beasts? God is saying, ‘May this be done to me if I should fail in my promise. May I be torn in pieces.’ He doesn’t make Abram walk up and down between the carcasses. He doesn’t make his servant promise anything and then hang everything on that promise because none of us ever keep our promises perfectly. What happens is this: God puts his own life on the line. Will Abram gain possession of the land? God says, ‘May I die if you don’t inherit the promise!’ Of Abram he requires nothing. Of himself he requires everything; God who spared not his own Son, will he not with him freely give us all things? He will accomplish everything so that we may enter heaven. He will not allow anything to depend on our works because sin is mixed with the best things we do. ‘Lie down! Do not move. Do not even blink! Experience my presence. See what I have done. I have fulfilled the covenant requirements. I will pay the penalty of the covenant that you have broken. I have done my part, yes, but I have done your part too!’
Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God has lived the life of covenant faithfulness, and Jesus Christ has also met the cost of covenant defiance. The wages of sin is death, but he came and he tasted that death for us. It was Christ the Son of God upon whom death and the curse fell. He walked that bloody walkway to Golgotha. He endured the horror of great darkness on Calvary that we might know the joy of the Lord. We should pay the price of our own sin, yes but we have nothing to pay, and then lovingly Christ comes. He discharges all our dreadful debt and the burden is gone. ‘Let the judgment fall on me,’ he says. We are forgiven simply because the sinless Saviour died. There is no other reason why God should pardon us. He entered the hellish judgment for us that we might enter heaven’s glory through him. That is the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and salvation consists of our receiving what he has done.
By Geoff Thomas
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