Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Great Prophecy (Genesis 14.17-24)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 4, 2011
Some Music Used
Prelude : "Sing We Now of Christmas/God Rest Ye"
- Tanja Bechtler, cello (arr. Brandt Adams)
Advent Candle Hymn: "We Light the Advent Candle" (Grindal)
Song of Praise: "Here I Am to Worship" (Hughes)
Offering of Music: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" - Tanja Bechtler, cello (arr. Jay Rouse)
Hymn of Sending: "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (MENDELSSOHN)
Postlude: "Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying" (Burkhardt)

A Great Prophecy
Text: Genesis 14:17-24)


(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Last week we began talking about Abraham, which may seem like an unusual topic for the Christmas season. I chose Abraham because he, too, was waiting for the birth of a child. He, too, was trusting in God’s promises. He, too, had moments of doubt and wandering from God. He, too, experienced God’s faithfulness through promises graciously kept anyway. And he, too, found himself with Sarah, his wife, marveling at a newborn son, miraculously conceived and delivered.

My hope is that hearing Abraham’s story will help you and me enter more easily and fully into the Christmas story and into God’s promises and faithfulness towards us today.

Last week we left off in Genesis 12, with God making the first great covenant promises to Abraham, promises for land, descendants, and blessing in order to bless the whole earth. I shared how those promises were and are fulfilled and deepened in Jesus. God offers us an eternal home with Him (land), adopts and grafts us into His people (descendants), and offers us salvation and callings as the followers of Jesus (blessing) in order that we might share that Good News in the world.

Abraham’s story, like our own, was not a steady mountaintop experience of the presence of God or Abraham’s own human faithfulness. Rather, he faced some real hardship and also had periods of wavering faith. Immediately after our text from last week, Abraham faces famine and then war. I’ll briefly tell you about that and then we’ll see how God reminded Abraham of His Word and Promise.

War and Famine (chs. 12-14)

Famine

We left off in Genesis 12 with Abram reaching the place God had showed him. But then there was a famine in the land and Abram took his family to Egypt, where the waters of the Nile offered Egyptians some buffer against drought and famine. Abram lied for protection (and advantage) there, offering Sarai up as his sister. Indeed, she was taken into Pharaoh’s house and Abram treated well, but God struck Pharaoh’s house with plagues (sound familiar??) and the truth came out. Abram and his household were sent away with all that they had gained. It was a great foreshadowing of Moses and the Exodus, where God worked to deliver His people through plagues, despite the moral failings of His chosen leader. Though Abram’s story came first, I recall to you that Exodus story of God’s faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness.

Then, in Genesis 13 (vv. 3-4), Abram gets back to Bethel, where he had built the altar and worshiped in 12:8. He and Lot divided their herdsmen and families and Abram gave Lot the choice of where to go. Lot chose the more choice land (though he eventually moved to the city of Sodom), and Abram settled in the land of Canaan. And then, at the end of chapter 13, God renewed the covenant promises to Abram, promising land as far as he could see (vv. 14-15) and descendants as numerous as the dust of the earth (v. 16).

War

Then, in chapter 14, we read about the “war of the kings.” After a local clash of kings resulted in the defeat of all of the Jordan River valley and the capture of Abram’s nephew, Lot, Abram went after the victorious king and defeated him, rescuing his nephew and the possessions of the local kings. While Abram was not involved in the local clash, his victory in the course of rescuing Lot provided the responsibility to deal with the spoils of war. He was approached by two different local kings, who provided two distinctly different approaches to those spoils.

One of the local kings – the king of Sodom offered Abram a reward of the goods he recovered. Abram refused his offer, saying that the Lord God Most High had made him rich. But then, Melchizedek, the king of Salem, offered Abram bread and wine and blessed him in the name of God Most High. Abram received the bread and wine and gave Melchizedek a tenth of his possessions.

Precisely at the moment when Abram could have forgotten God, he was reminded of God’s authority and offered a choice to remember or forget God’s place in his life. Abram was at a seeming peak of success – rich, locally powerful, and in a place of influence. In a way, he was experiencing a version of the covenant promises of land, wealth, and influence. What would he do? Who would get credit?

Melchize…who?

Who was Melchizedek? We know he was king of Salem, presumably the region where the city of Salem or Jerusalem was later built. We can translate his name – it means King of Righteousness or “the Righteous King.” We know that he not only knew the real and living God, but was considered a priest of God before the priesthood was even established with Moses and Aaron. He was a godly King who also functioned as a priest of God and whose kingdom was known as “Peace.”

And he was a messenger from God to Abram. He was a preacher and a prophet as well as a king, because he reminded Abram of who God was and of the faithfulness of God to keep His promises. He recalled Abram to the covenant and to living faith in what God was yet to do.

Two kings come out to Abram after his victory. The king of Sodom invites Abram to keep the spoils of battle and become richer yet. (It also would have put Abram in his debt (v. 23)). The king of Salem, Melchizedek, invites Abram to worship and give thanks to el elyon, “God Most High.” Listen to his words again, offered after coming to Abram with bread and wine, and a blessing:
Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.
Who is God of heaven and earth? Who gave Abram the victory? Who has brought Abram to this place? Who is faithful? El Elyon… God Most High.

A Great Prophet

Why do I focus on Melchizedek as we are trying to get ready for Christmas? It is because we need that reminder of what it’s all about. Abram, the father of God’s people, wandered and was faced with trial and temptation. And God spoke through a preacher/prophet to remind him what it was all about. Later, God’s people (Abraham’s descendants) would wander and be faced with trial and temptation. And God would send preacher-prophets to recall them to the covenant promises, to trust that God would do what He said He would do. The last human prophet was John the Baptist, who would announce Jesus’ coming in the days before his public ministry began. But in this season, I think more of Gabriel, who was sent to a young Mary and Joseph, to invite their trust in God in the midst of miraculous and confusing words about the birth of a child. They, too, could have chosen other paths, other explanations, to “put her away quietly” – but God sent a messenger to speak of God Most High. Listen to Gabriel’s words to Mary in Luke 1:30-35…
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.” … Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.”
It may be that those are the words you need to hear most this morning. Not the specific words to Abram or Mary, but the reminder that “the Most High God” is still on His throne and invested in your life. You need to know that the God in whom you trusted all those years ago still knows you and loves you and sees you and wants you. You need to know that, though you may have wandered and been tempted and even failed, that God still loves you and has a plan and purpose for you. You need to know that the Most High God invites you to turn, trust, and follow. You need to know that God’s promises are good, for a home, for a people, and to be blessed to be a blessing.

There will always be the other voices, like the other King who spoke to Abram. But God’s invitation stands. Come and trust in the Most High God, Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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