Hoping Against Hope (Romans 4:16-25)

OK… at the risk of leaving some people behind on this one, let’s start off by being a kid again in summer Vacation Bible School and sing together – “Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you, so let’s all praise the Lord.” The first verse in today’s devotional says that Abraham is the father of us all, and indeed he is the father of all those – Jew or Gentile – who have been saved by God’s grace through faith. Just as God is one who has brought to life that which was dead physically (Christ … and as we’ll see in a moment, something else!), God has brought to life all of us who were spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins.

Not only did the Christian classic song “Father Abraham” come from today’s devotional passage, so also did the English language idiom “to hope against hope.”  The meaning of this occasionally-used phrase is one of continuing to hope for something when the situation appears entirely bleak. For example, Redskins fans might say of the coming season, “We’re hoping against hope that the Skins will at long last win a Super Bowl.” So you see, this is an expression of hope rendered where there is no substantive reality to have such!  (Okay… you know I’m just kidding … I love them deep, deep, down somewhere in my soul … or should I say that I’m hoping against hope that I do?!).

If you want to keep score, there are two reasons why Abraham should have no hope, but only one reason as to why he should hope against hope.

The first reason for Abraham to feel hopeless was the mirror. When he looked into it, he had my common and similar reaction, “What’s a young man like you doing in a body like that?” He was almost 100 years old. And yes, people lived longer then, but, well, let’s just say that the procreation train had already departed the station!

But there was an even worse reason for Abraham to lack faith. If the mirror experience wasn’t bad enough, when he turned around, there stood Sarah! Oh boy. Yes, a babe in her younger years … but, that was a while ago. Now at age 90, when it says that her “womb was dead,” that is not metaphorical speech!

But, Abraham has ONE good reason to have faith:  He had a promise from God about being a father of many. And that promise was ultimately one from which he did not waver. He believed that the God who called things into being – like the created world – could bring life to the dead situation of their bodies; and since God had said it would happen, he believed it would indeed transpire. This faith in God’s promise was credited (imputed) to Abraham’s account as righteous – declaring him justified! It was not works, circumcision, or the Law that did it – it was faith.

You gotta love it when the Scriptures give you the application and don’t just leave you to figure it out on your own. And the passage says that this was not a one-time thing, but rather that it applies to all of us today.  Christ took our imputed sins, and being delivered over to death paid for them and was raised again. As we believe in this work – understanding these cross words – our faith credits Christ’s righteousness to our account, and we have justification. Whoohoo!

Romans 4:16-25

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”  He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

It Just Feels Right to have to EARN IT! (Romans 4:1-15)

I used to say that a challenge in our culture for people accepting the Gospel message of God’s extravagant grace was the American work ethic that you’ve got to earn everything that you get. But now, with the rise of a substantial entitlement society, it is not like there is a commensurate rise in people taking hold of the freely offered Gospel. Probably the associated ideas of righteous living and yielding one’s life to a control outside of self are concepts equally difficult for both extremes!

Let me help you through this passage today, as it is not as difficult as it at first may appear. As with many Scriptures, it is helpful if you understand what came immediately before what you are reading. The final portion of chapter 3 (verses 21-31) says that in Christ there is a salvation from sin that is a righteousness (the thing we need) obtained through faith (the way it has actually always been). But Paul anticipates some objections that might be made by Jewish people in regard to valued elements from their revered history. They might ask, “Well what about stuff like good works, circumcision, and the Law – aren’t these things good for something? And aren’t they really important to something like SALVATION?  Hmm?”

So Paul begins to answer this anticipated objection by saying, “Let’s look at Abraham.” Hey, if there is anyone who should be OK with God by some means other than faith, surely it is this incredible guy. But Paul will shoot down their objections 1-2-3 … refuting that Abraham got any merit for salvation from (first) the doing of good works (verses 1-8), secondly circumcision (verses 9-12), and thirdly the Law (verses 13-15).

Paul blows up the idea of works by pointing to the moment of salvation for Abraham in Genesis 15 where the Scripture says that he believed God – not that he DID ANYTHING! – and that faith was what gave him righteous credit. And David is quoted as affirming the same principle.

Then, regarding circumcision – a subject I hate preaching about, but which was a big deal to the Jewish people – Paul points out that Abraham was credited (with imputed righteousness) BEFORE the rite of circumcision was given – like, 14 years before, to be exact. So that didn’t earn him any merit.

And finally, regarding the Law – again a big, big deal to the Jews. Well, it gets even sillier to believe that this contributes to salvation, because the Law would not be given to Moses until about 430 years after the time of Abraham’s faith. For example, that is a longer span of time than it has been to when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth or the King James Bible was authorized! Beyond that, we have already written in this series that the Law brought condemnation, not grace.

Christ has done the work for us on the cross. Our part is to receive the gift in faith. This righteousness is imputed to our account, and we have justification – we are declared righteous. And we don’t earn it.

Romans 4:1-15 – Abraham Justified by Faith

4:1  What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

The Childless Father Abraham (Genesis 15:1-21)

Down in my neck of the woods locally in what might be called River Rat Country along the Potomac border of Maryland and West Virginia, so many of the long-time locals have unique nicknames. And no, I’m not just talking about “Bubba and Cooter.” Guys often got their names very early in life and have been unable to outgrow them – like one kid named “Pockets.” I don’t think anyone in Williamsport actually knows what his real name is – hopefully his parents remember. They named him that because he always had his pockets full of stuff when he was a tiny kid. And then there was this other boy everyone simply called “Tubby.” You would think that he was a rather rotund fellow, but the last I saw him he was rather small in height and weight for his age – which I am guessing was dissimilar to his shape as a toddler. There are tall guys named “Shorty” and chubby guys named “Tiny.”

There was likewise a fellow in the ancient Near East who had such an unusual name relative to his appearance and circumstances. It was “Exalted Father” (Abram). The problem was that, until age 86, he had no children; and beyond that, the child came through a means other than his wife. And then, before his second child was born 13-14 years later, God came along and changed his name to “Father of Many” (Abraham). This name changed actually occurs two chapters after our passage today:

17:4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.

Imagine what it was like for him when he used his credit card at the local Home Depot. The cashier would look at it and say, “So, Father of Many, of how many are you the father?”  And Abraham’s face would turn as red as if burnt in the desert sun. (I’m not sure if she then said, “You can do it, we can help.”)

Though it must have been difficult at times to sustain, on the bottom line at the end of the day, Abraham had a promise from God that his offspring would number like the stars of the sky. And his faith was solidly placed in that promise that it would indeed happen. This faith was “credited to him as righteousness.” It was imputed to his account (to use the word from last week).

The content of his faith in God’s promise secured for Abraham his standing with God, so it would be true to say that he was indeed justified (declared righteous) by faith. And that is a definition of our word for this week – justification: it is a declaration of righteousness applied due to faith in God’s revealed truth.

There were a lot of circumstances to challenge Abraham’s confidence. Years of childlessness did little to bolster any natural security that this was going to happen. At the beginning of today’s reading, Abram simply states his reality – that without children to inherit his estate, it would fall to the steward of his household, a guy named Eleazer. But God restated his promise (originally given in a covenant in chapter 12), and Abram believed in it. God reaffirmed the covenant, and though the fulfillment would ultimately come, there were to be even more challenges of passing time and circumstances.

So over the next several days, while talking about our cross word of justification, we are also going to see the incredible reality of Abraham’s faith … along with God’s reward.

Are you waiting for something in your life? Are you feeling like you’ve been put on hold by God? Stay faithful with the last word you had from him, do what is right and in keeping with biblical holiness, and God will be faithful to you and reward you in ways beyond your imagination.

Genesis 15:1-21—The Lord’s Covenant With Abram

15:1  After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 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.”

8 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 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.”

10 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. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi <river> of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”


Today is the big day for figuring out the word search puzzle. For those viewing this on a devise, you may have to go to your computer. and probably the best and easiest thing to do would be to print it out and work on it in that fashion.

There are two final puzzles … find all 68 words from this list and there will be 17 letters remaining. These letters can be unscrambled to make a phrase in the first puzzle. The 17 letters in the second puzzle spell out one long theological word. The first person to get the answer to one or the other (or both) is a winner. Email the answer to me at randy@tristatefellowship.org

The words:

Adoption / Agape / Aloes / Assurance / Atonement / Blood / Curse / Dark / Deity / Efficacious Grace / Elect / Eloi / Eternity/ Evil / Expiation / Faith / Fall / Favor / Finish / Forgiveness / Freedom / Glorification / Glory / God / Good / Gospel / Grace / Hell / Holiness / Hope / Imputation / Innocence / Jeshua / Jesus / Judgment / Justification / Lamb / Law / Love / Mercy / Nails / Noon / Open / Payment / Peace / Propitiation / Pulse / Pure / Ransom / Reconciliation / Redemption / Restoration / Regenerate / Righteousness / Sacrifice / Salvation / Sanctification / Satan Denied / Sin / Sonship / Thief / Tomb / Torn / Tree / Truth / Veil / Vicarious / Wrath

PUZZLE 1 – this is fairly easy

puzzle day 21a

PUZZLE 2 – this one is difficult!

puzzle day 21b