The Covenant Confirmed
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The Covenant Confirmed

Genesis 17:1–27  (ID: 1083)

Through delays, waiting, and testing, Abraham’s life taught him about God’s character, and Abraham responded with obedience. In this message, Alistair Begg reviews the confirmation and consecration of God’s covenant with Abraham. God’s covenant with us has been revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ. How we respond to that promise reflects the faith we have in His power to bring about all that He says He will.

Series Containing This Sermon

Venturing in Faith

A Study on the Life of Abraham Genesis 11:1–22:24 Series ID: 22101

Sermon Transcript: Print

Father, in the stillness of the morning, may your voice alone be heard. In the stillness of the morning, as we wait upon your Word, speak to our waiting hearts, we pray. Help us with our distracting thoughts, and grant that as this time is spent around your Word, you will be pleased by your Spirit to make us different on account of it. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

I wonder if you recall when you learned to swim. Some of you find that an embarrassing question because you’ve never learned to swim, and already someone has nudged you, saying so much as “I told you you should’ve learned to swim. It would get embarrassing sometime.” Some of us have even been taught to swim by people who couldn’t swim themselves, and that is a quite shattering thing to realize when you suddenly come to the awareness that the hand that supposedly supports you and holds your chin up in the water, if anything were to break loose in the seashore, then it would be best that you’d learn to swim very quickly, for the person who’s supposedly teaching you would be in dire straits, because they themselves cannot swim. But it is a great thing to learn to swim—however well we may swim or not, just the feeling of making it from point A to point B without, for the first time, your feet go down and touch the bottom of the pool or touch the seabed.

Prior to that great achievement, some of you will have shared with me the duplicity in which I used to engage—deception whereby I would have my feet firmly on the bottom of the pool, but I would move my arms as if I were swimming, and people from their vantage point would say, “My, isn’t he coming along very well and doing nicely!” From their perspective, I was swimming. If they could’ve looked below the water, then, in reality, they would’ve seen that I was walking and playing at swimming.

Now, I mention that this morning because some of us, when it comes to the realm of faith, to all intents and purposes, from a certain vantage point, appear to be resting on the promises of God as surely as a swimmer may entrust themselves to the capabilities of the water to uphold them. But underneath is the evidence of reality, so that by Sunday by Sunday, activity by activity, from a certain vantage point, people would say of you, perhaps of me, the same they would say of the child in the pool: “My, isn’t she doing very well? Isn’t he coming along quite terrifically?” But you know, and God knows, that if they were once to see beneath the surface, they would encounter not reality but unreality. They would confront not faith but self-effort; not trust in God but trusting, perhaps, in procedure or in religion or in external frameworks, but not resting on the promises of God.

One way to discover whether a person is swimming or walking is to move them out of the shallow end. Right? Take them from the three-feet end, if they’re four-foot-six, and put them in the nine-foot section, and suddenly, things take on a totally different complexion—especially if the little guy has been kidding the life out of you. One of the evidences will be that if they know it’s nine foot, they won’t go in there. Why? ’Cause they’re not swimming; they’re walking on the bottom. And when God calls his people forward on a great venture—an adventure of faith—those who are not walking by faith in the shallows will not jump into the deep water. For there it will be revealed to all, and especially to themselves, the fact that they have an outward form, but they have no internal reality.

You remember one occasion Jesus said to the disciples—he met them in the morning along the shore, they’d been out fishing all night, they hadn’t caught a single thing, and following a brief discussion, he turned to them, and he said, “Put out into the deep water.” And you remember Simon Peter’s response: “Lord, we were out all night. We’ve done it. We never caught a single thing. But because you say so, we will do it.”[1] And so they did it, and they were absolutely overwhelmed by the response which they discovered. They took God at his word and were overwhelmed by the response.

God is speaking to us in these days, as a fellowship and as individuals, about faith. God is calling us in the realm of faith. God is asking some of us who are paddling in the shallows and hardly have the water above our ankles to move out into deep water. God is directing us as a group of his people into realms that we’ve never been before. And as we’ve looked at the life of Abraham, we’ve been discovering again and again that to walk the path of faith is to learn lessons, receive challenges, and, in all, it is to move forward. For if you may recall from an earlier study, the callings of God never leave a man where they find him, for to remain where he is after God has bidden him to move forward is to move backwards even though he make no actual movement.[2] So we are either going forward and deeper, or we’re going backwards and shallower. And what is true of us individually will ultimately—because we are the sum of individuals—be true of us as a congregation. That’s why these studies are energizing. They are there in the Word of God not to dispirit us but to encourage us, to enliven our vision, to quicken our faith, and to take us forward.

It’s some twenty-four years since we began our studies in Abraham—at least in the chronology of Genesis, that is. Some of you feel that it’s twenty-four years since we began even our studies, but it’s not as long as that. We began in chapter 11, you will recall, and we’ve now reached chapter 17. And at the beginning of chapter 17, Abraham is ninety-nine years old. Just let that sink in for a little minute, will you? Anybody here ninety-nine? Put up your hand. Not anybody here who feels like ninety-nine. Anybody ninety-nine? Anybody who’s ninety? Okay, I won’t go any lower for fear of embarrassment. But the chances are that most of us—even we may be born a little sooner than some of the others—we’re still quite a long way from ninety-nine. And it is a reminder to us, just in passing, that when we’re walking on the pathway of faith, there is no retirement. There’s no retirement age in the kingdom of God, in the purposes of God. And here we see his servants, later on in their lives, still moving forward.

And throughout all the delays, the waiting, and the testing, Abraham had been learning one significant lesson. Well, we could say he’d been learning many lessons, but it might be summarized as one, and that is, he’d been learning that when God says yes, he means yes. When God makes a promise, he keeps his promise. He’d been learning that God is not the author of unfinished business. He’d been learning that what God begins, he will bring to completion. And the pledge of it all to Abraham and to those who would follow Abraham in faith was the covenant which God made with his servant.

God is calling us in the realm of faith. God is asking some of us who are paddling in the shallows and hardly have the water above our ankles to move out into deep water.

And when we come to chapter 17, here we are at the confirmation of the covenant of God to Abraham and to Abraham’s succeeding generations. And I want you to notice just two things in relation to this this morning: first of all, the confirmation God declares, and then, secondly, the consecration God demands.

The Confirmation God Declares

Now, when you look at 17:2, you find the very word “confirm” right there. “I will,” says God, “confirm my covenant between me and you.”

Now, if he’s confirming it, already the covenant has been enacted, because you cannot confirm what has not already taken place. So to what portion of Scripture do we look for the origin of the covenant? We look back just two chapters into Genesis 15. And we overlooked this deliberately in dealing with chapter 15, looking directly at verse 6 concerning the faith of Abraham. But if we had read on from verse 6, we would read there of the very somber setting that goes right through from verse 9 and on. In verse 12, it says, “As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.” And “then the Lord said to him, ‘Know for certain…’” That’s a lovely phrase, isn’t it? “‘Know for certain’”—for sure, absolutely definite—“‘that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. [And] I will punish [them]. … [But] you, however, will go to your fathers in peace,’” and so on. And “when the sun had set and [the] darkness had fallen,” the “smoking firepot,” the “blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces” of the creatures that had been cut up—“a heifer, a goat … a ram, … a dove and a young pigeon.”[3] And there in verse 18, “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, ‘To your descendants I [will] give this land,’” etc.

Now, from there we moved last time into the disaster of chapter 16. God comes, and he makes a covenant with his servant. He renews it in absolutely rock-solid terms. He doesn’t say, “This may happen.” He says, “Know for certain.” And then, in the very next encounter, we discover Abram and Sarai taking matters into their own hands and the dreadful situation that emerged in relation to that, which we looked at last time. Following that, God comes and confirms what he had said before the disaster.

Many times, when we have let people down in human terms, or when we have been let down by personalities, by friends, by loved ones, we’ve said, “That’s the end of it. Forget it! I made an attempt to reach out. I did my best. I told them what I would do. But they’ve turned their back on me. They’ve requited [sic] my love. They are no longer part of my existence.” But God doesn’t treat his children that way. Despite the mess of chapter 16, the message of chapter 17 is “My ‘Yes’ means ‘Yes.’ Abram, I said ‘Know for certain,’ and I mean for you to know certainly.” The covenant that God made with Abraham has extended right through, merging into the new covenant, which is now ours in the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is precious to all who are on the path of faith.

Now, when we look at the confirmation of this covenant, there are a couple of things that stand out. First of all, the nature of the promises contained in it. And you can note these essentially from verse 4 to verse 8. We’ve dealt with them before, and therefore, we needn’t dwell on them. But for some who pick the study up at this point, it’s important for us to know to what we refer when we speak about these promises.

First of all, he reminds Abraham in verse 4 and then in verse [5] that he will “be the father of many nations.” And also, “kings will come from you,” for “I have you made you a father of many nations.” Do you notice the tense there? Past tense? For when God says something will happen in the future, he may then speak about it in the past tense, because it’s certain. So he said to Abraham, “You will be this,” and then, immediately, “I have made you this, because my word is my bond. Therefore, it will be.”

You take Romans 8 just as an illustration in the New Testament of the work of God within our lives. And Paul picks up in that tremendous passage where he speaks about the fact that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ, neither hell or persecution or famine or nakedness or the sword.[4] And he goes through there in chapter 8, and he speaks of all that God has done for the believer in justification and in sanctification and in glorification, and in all of them, he speaks in the past tense. He says, “You have been glorified.”[5] Now, glorification, for us as believers, is when we come through to see Christ face-to-face—either if he returns first, then we will go up to meet him in the clouds in the air,[6] or if we go through death, then to see him, but we will be glorified in his presence. Paul says, “You have been glorified.” How can he refer to it in the past tense? Because the God who made the promise in the beginning of his work of salvation is the God who regards everything now as absolutely complete. So it’s not in question as to whether one day we will be glorified. God says, “Know for certain.”

So the promise there is this “father of a nation” and “kings will come from you.” And then, in verse 8, he’s promised the land of Canaan as an “everlasting possession” for the people. And then, in verse 7 and 8—and this is the crux of the covenant—he says, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”

Now, whatever we may deduce from that, we must at least be prepared to admit this: that when God spoke to Abraham, he spoke to him in very personal terms; that if you had met Abraham in the street and said to him, “What do you know of God?” one of Abraham’s responses would have been “He is my God.” Not “There is a God” but “He is my God. He has covenanted himself to me. I know him in a personal way.” Now, as we sit in this church building this morning, some of us are prepared to admit that there is a God, but can you say, “He is my God”? That the Lord is a shepherd, but can we say, “He is my shepherd?”[7] There is all the difference in the world between knowing someone intellectually and knowing someone experientially, between knowing about somebody and knowing somebody. And the crux of the covenant then, and remains so now, is the fact that the issue lies in the one who made the promises.

Now, the promises that are given could be easily sidestepped by us because we have the disadvantage of having read the end of the story. I read a book just recently, which I’ve had on my shelf for ages, called Sir Gibbie, and I almost made the mistake of reading the cover—the back cover. And I’d read the first two lines, and I thought, “Wait a minute; I’m not going to read this.” Because on that back cover—and this is a warning to you, to those of you who get the paperback version: don’t read the back cover. Because if you like reading fiction without knowing the end of the story, then if you read the back cover, you’ll be disappointed. Because the back cover gives you an inkling of what the story is going to end like. And if you have a modicum of intelligence, as you all do—far more than that—then you’ll know what the end is before you start. And so all the way through, you lose some of the impetus of it.

Now, the same is true in relation to Abraham. We know where this story’s going, because we’ve read ahead in the book. But try and put yourself in Abraham’s sandals for a minute. Try and stand where Abraham was. Try and think of it as it comes to him as a ninety-nine-year-old man with a ninety-year-old wife, and listen to the most incredible things he’s being told. One: “I have made you a father of nations.” Response: “A father of nations? I don’t even have any children.” “Out of your nations, kings will come.” “Hmph.” And he looked at himself—Paul says with his body “as good as dead”[8] and his wife not much better (that’s a very loose translation)—but the two of them sat across the dining room table from one another and looked at each another and said, “Do you hear what’s being said? Not only that, we’re going to live in Canaan, and we’re going to have the whole place?”—despite the fact that Canaan was full of all kinds of rebel and marauding groups who had no interest in God Almighty, nor in any interlopers coming in even to live there, let alone own it. And God says, “You’ll have it. And I will be your God and the God of your descendants.”

The promises of God must always be seen in the light of the character of the God who makes them.

These promises are unbelievably incredible. And from the human perspective, if we were to write one word over them, what would the word be? Impossible. It is impossible! Impossible is not in the vocabulary of God. It is questionable whether impossible is in the vocabulary of faith. And yet we have decided so many things are impossible. There are people we have never invited to worship with us. Why? Because from our human perspective, we’ve decided it’s impossible that they would come. There’s no such thing. We have ceased remembering some of our loved ones who don’t share our faith in Christ. We’ve given up on it. Why? We think it’s impossible. Some of us, as we look at this venture of faith in terms of the land and the move and the money, what have we written right across it? What does God write across it?

I love that little chorus:

Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?
Do you have any mountains you can’t tunnel through?
God specializes in things thought impossible;
He can do just what no other can do.[9]

And what some of us need are some impossibilities to stretch our faith, some bridges that have broken in the middle, some walls that are too high to scale, some problems that are too hard to answer, some water that seems too deep to swim in. Because at that point, there will only be one way forward, and that is to rest on the nature of what God has said.

Now, what was going on in Abraham’s mind? Well, verse 17 tells us: “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed.” Some of you are encouraged by that, right? “He laughed,” and he “said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” It’s a pretty good question, you’ve got to admit.

Now, the key thing about the promises of God is that they must always be seen in the light of a vital truth, and that is this: that the promises of God must always be seen in the light of the character of the God who makes them. The character of the one who promises is vital to our expectation of the fulfillment of the promise. Isn’t that right? I mean, if you’re playing around with little kids when you were a little kid at school—I remember distinctly, as it comes across my mind right now, playing with a with a boy outside my grandmother’s home, and he told me, “If you can get this soccer ball away from my feet, I’ll give you all the money that I have in my pocket.” And because I wanted to know how hard I needed to try, I asked him how much money he had in his pocket. And he took the money out of his pocket, and I remember distinctly, he had half crowns. And I won’t try and translate that now. It’s a very sad thing for someone translating the pound into American dollars at the moment. But anyway, he had a bundle of money which he jingled. And as he dribbled round with the ball, he jingled the money in his pocket. And I took the ball away from him! And he ran into his garden and in his house and slammed his door. He promised me all the money in his pocket! What good was the promise with a character that wouldn’t back it up?

So when we come to the promises of God’s Word, we need to see them in the light of the character of God. And the reason that sometimes we’re fearful to walk out on God’s promises is because we don’t know God. You see, if we don’t know God, we don’t know how much we can ask of him. If we don’t know the magnificence of God’s power, then we will be meager in our expectations. The measure of our belief in the promises of God is almost directly related to the extent to which we understand the character of God. So the question “Do I know God?” moves from the realm of theology into the realm of the heartbeat of my everyday life.

What may we expect of this God? Well, he reveals his character, and this comes through in the names of the participants. The nature of the promise is then seen in light of the names of the people who participate in it. And notice first of all the name of God himself in verse 1: “I am God Almighty”—in Hebrew, El Shaddai. So God’s power—as this phrase of God, El Shaddai, is used in the Old Testament—God’s power is always set in opposition to man’s frailty and man’s weakness. So Abraham was frail, but God was El Shaddai. Canaan was full of people who would rebut their advances, but God was El Shaddai. Sarah was ninety years old and had never borne a child, but with El Shaddai there is no barrenness.

And this morning, the same is true. The promises of God, we come to them in the light of his character. Jesus said, “I’m going to go and prepare a place for you, and I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”[10] Now, what possible reason do you have for believing that promise, save that it is grounded in the character of a God who when he says “Yes” means “Yes”? So, you see, the promises of God to us as we try to lay hold of them and as we read our Bibles, some of us—and we want so much these promises to be true in our lives, but somehow, there’s no registering of them, because we don’t know the God who made them. So first we need to meet God in Christ; then the words that God spoke in Christ become revolutionary. That’s why, for example, you go to funerals of people who have never known Christ, never named him, hardly given him a thought, and what happens? People trot out all these promises, and they kind of rattle with a metallic ring around the crematorium or the funeral parlor, because in our hearts, we’re saying, “This isn’t reality!” For the promises are for those who know the person. Do you know the person this morning? Do you know God for yourself? El Shaddai?

What of the name of Abram, changed to Abraham? You’ll notice it in verse 5. One word is added which adds a syllable to the word. The syllable simply means “multitude.” And his new name is a tangible reminder not of what has happened but what is about to happen. And we dealt with that as we looked at that phrase at the beginning of verse 6: “Your name will be Abraham.” (At the end of verse 5; I beg your pardon.) Why? “For I have made you a father of many nations.” And then Sarah’s name is changed—just one letter, but enough to remind her that she will be an important princess (for that’s what the word means) upon whom a royal line will depend. So you might imagine—and I imagine these things. If you don’t, then you’ll forgive me my imaginings. But I imagine Abraham and Sarah calling to one another. And she calls out from the kitchen, and she calls him Abram. And he calls back, “That was yesterday, Sarah. For I’ve been given a new name, and I’ve been given a pledge of God’s promise, and so have you. And our names are interwoven with God’s purposes.”

Right through to the name of the son who was to be born in verse 19: “And you will call him Isaac,” which is variously translated “laughter,” or “He laughs,” or “May the Lord smile upon him.” So if you were called Isaac, or if you are called Isaac, your name can mean either “laughter,” “He laughs,” or “May the Lord smile upon him.” And choose whichever one you feel is best. Because those who didn’t know the details of verse 17 would have assumed that his name meant “May the Lord smile upon him.” But those who understood what happened in verse 17 would know that the reason Isaac was to be called Isaac was because his father laughed. So every time he called out to his son, “Isaac!” he remembered how he laughed. And every time he called out, “Sarah!” he remembered how God had made her a princess. And every time she called on her husband, “Abraham!” it was a reminder of God’s covenant to them. Does that make sense?

Now, in the same way, as we look forward… And incidentally, why did Abraham laugh? Many people with greater ingenuity than myself have preached sermons on “Why did Abraham laugh?” I don’t have the strength to attempt that. But it seems to me that his laugh was either a laugh of incredulity or a laugh of joyful worship. John Calvin, writing of it says, “Not that he either ridiculed the promise of God, or treated it as a fable, or rejected it altogether; but, as often happens when things occur which are least expected, partly lifted up with joy, [and] partly carried out of himself with wonder, he burst out into laughter.”[11] It’s one of those times when you’re either going to burst into tears or burst out laughing. And Abraham, he’s my kind of guy: he burst out laughing. But by these names, God confirmed his promises.

I want to ask you this morning, those of you who are in Christ—think about it for a moment: Hasn’t God done the same for us? Hasn’t God confirmed his promises to us in the names that he has given? He gave to his Son the name Jesus, “for he shall save his people from their sins.”[12] He gave to his Son the name Immanuel, “which being [translated] is, God with us.”[13] And so when we think of the Lord Jesus Christ, we think of him as our Savior, and we think of him as the one who is with us every day we live. And so when we say his name, it confirms the promise, the covenant, that God has made with us. That’s why the name of Jesus is so very precious.

And he’s given us new names too. We were once called strangers.[14] We were once called rebels. We were once called enemies.[15] But now, in Christ, we’re called sons, and daughters, and heirs, and joint heirs with Christ,[16] and friends of God.[17] So, your Father

  owns the cattle on a thousand hills
And the wealth in every mine;
He owns the rivers and the rocks and rills,
The sun and stars that shine.
Glory to Jesus; only tongue can tell.
He is my Father, and I know him well,
And he owns the cattle on a thousand hills,
And I know that he cares for me.[18]

Why? ’Cause he gave me a whole new name.

Remember Andrew? Came to follow Christ; first thing he did was he went and got his brother, whose name was Simon. And he took Simon back to Jesus, and Jesus looked at him, and he says, “Your name is Simon, but you shall be Cephas,”[19] which, being translated, is Peter. And the word “Simon” means “shaky one” or “variable one” or “changeable one.” And God looked into his eyes and said, “That’s what you are, and this is what you will be.” Praise God that’s what he does in people’s lives! It’s not about having a little Christianized experience, getting a suit, adopting an external framework of existence, going to church, going through a rigmarole. It’s being made brand-new from the inside out. It is knowing God as a revolution in our lives.

And I ask you again this morning, under God: Do you know God? Do you know him? Small surprise, then, that life crashes over you as billows in the tempest of a sea. For the reason you were made was to know God. The names that have been given to us are precious. We’re meant to dwell upon them, and we’re meant to live up to them.

The Consecration God Demands

Now, finally, and briefly—and I’m not using the word as an encouragement to those of you who have ants in your pants. I had eight pages under the first point and three under the second, so I do mean briefly. Will you notice that the covenant that God makes with his people demands response? The consecration God demands.

There’s a sense in which chapter 17 can be dealt with under two phrases that are almost identical, of three words each. Notice in 17:4, the Lord comes, and he says, “As for me, this is my covenant.” And then he outlines the promises in verses 4–8. And then in verse 9, he comes, and he says, “As for you…” And then he confronts Abraham with the stipulations to be applied.

And we might summarize that by looking first of all at the attitude that’s required. And when we speak about attitude, we’re often talking about that which no one else can see. Oh, yes, we display our attitude in our activity, ultimately. But it’s what we are before God on our own. It’s what we are before God in our cars and in our closets and when no one is with us. That’s where we discover our real attitude.

The attitude that’s required of those who are under God in this way is first of all that of humble adoration. You’ll notice in verse 3 and then again in verse 17, we have a significant phrase. And even setting it in its Eastern cultural setting, there is reality to it: “Abram fell facedown.” It is the opposite of somebody standing, as it were, with a questioning heart. It is the heart of someone who has bowed beneath the power of God.

In the summertime, as the family returned from a little while up at Lake Chautauqua, we pulled in for petrol at a station on the road. And as we pulled in to fill up the thing, the tank, we looked beyond the fence which enclosed the petrol station, and there were a group of young people. And they were bowed on the ground with their foreheads on the grass and their hands in front of them like this, and they were turned to the east, towards Mecca, and they were calling out prayers.

As I looked upon them, and even as I think of them now, there was such a turmoil in my heart how to respond, what to make of that—on the one hand, to say, “What devotion!”; on the other hand, to say, “What a disaster to turn to something that cannot answer.” But I think, more than anything else, I got the impression in my own spirit, “When’s the last time you bowed with your face to the ground before God?” And would to God that those of us who know God, who know Christ, would that we would learn to bow down, to come before him and say, “El Shaddai, you are almighty! You are my Savior! My very life depends upon you!” That perspective will always be seen when we are before God in prayer. And when we do not pray, we say that prayer is supplemental rather than fundamental. And God says it’s fundamental.

And secondly, that their attitude should not only be one of humble adoration but that it should be an attitude of faith that doesn’t settle for second best. Isn’t it interesting that in Abraham’s response to the promise of God, he immediately applies it to Ishmael in verse 18? God came to him and told him these things, “and Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!’” And Abraham twists and he turns the promise, and he applies it to Ishmael, and he says, “God, I can see that you’ve made a really great promise. And I can see that Ishmael, if only he could come under your blessing, is the man to fulfill it all.” God wasn’t talking about Ishmael. Isn’t it a shame that we so easily settle for adequacy when God’s purpose for us is abundance? God says, “I will do this, perform this, lead you there, provide that.” Faith never settles for second best.

At Capernwray Bible Institute a few summers ago, where I had the opportunity of doing an international week, I learned a chorus along with my family, and from a young Liverpudlian guy who works for Intervarsity Fellowship in the northern part of England. And he taught us this chorus, which some of you may know, which goes like this: “My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing that he cannot do.”[20] And he had all of us young people from Germany and from France and from all over the place, and all the children that were a part of it, singing this chorus. And it’s fixed indelibly in my mind—even the actions, which are kind of bizarre. But it’s true: our God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing that he cannot do. And that’s the God who made the covenant.

Isn’t it a shame that we so easily settle for adequacy when God’s purpose for us is abundance? Faith never settles for second best.

Finally, the activity which is then to be revealed as the outworking of that attitude of our hearts. The Living Bible paraphrases verse 9, “‘Your part of the contract,’ God told [Abram], ‘is to obey its terms’”—an obedience that would affect generations; an outward mark, a seal, upon the bodies of these men, which wouldn’t indicate the threshold of their manhood as among modern Arabs but would be an indication of the fact that they belonged to those who were in the covenant of God. And their circumcision was an indication of three things: one, their commitment to God’s people; two, the discarding of their previous heathen ways; and three, the submission of their lives to God.

So, when we look this morning at these verses, and we take it, and we seek to apply it in our day, I believe this is what God is saying to us, for this is what the Scriptures are saying to us: God’s purpose for us in redeeming us, in drawing us to himself, is that, one, we might be consecrated to his purposes; two, that we might be controlled by his power; and three, that we might be committed to his people. And to the degree that the Chapel family and those who become members of that family through faith in Christ and in commitment to it live in the light of this, there is no limit to what God may choose to do in this place and through this place out into the ends of the earth as we affect generations for God. And the faith that we lay hold of in this generation will dictate that which a subsequent generation lays hold of in turn. And if we are prepared now to settle for second best, then we will pass that mentality to those who will follow. Therefore, it’s crucial that in my Sunday school, my kindergarten, my Bible class, whatever I may be involved in amongst the family of God, we’re saying, “God’s part is fulfilled to us in Christ, and our part is to live consecrated and committed and empowered.”

Can I ask you: What are you going to do about this message? What do you plan to do with this this morning? Another sheet in the file? Maybe read it when you go away for a few days and have a vacation? Do you know what it says? God “went up from” speaking to Abraham. Listen to this: and “on that very day Abraham took” and circumcised these folks. When God says, “Go,” he means go now, not tomorrow. When God says, “Give,” he means give now, not tomorrow. When God says, “Come,” he means come now, not tomorrow. And I exhort you—some of you as a fellow member on the pathway of faith—that God would write this in our hearts and make us different. And I encourage you—some who look onto the pathway of faith—that today and not tomorrow will be the day when you lay hold upon the promises of God and become a member of his covenant family.

Shall we pray together?

Father, thank you this morning for Abraham. Thank you that he was so real. We can identify with his laughter, with his rebellion, with his questions, and we want so much to be able to identify also with his obedience. We pray that you will make us captives today so that we may know your liberty. We pray that we may render up the sword of our rebellion that we may know what it is to live in your service. Come to us, Lord, in our weakness, and give us your power; in our waywardness, and set us on the path; in our disinterest, and stir us up by the Holy Spirit, so that this place may be as a beacon set on a hill, that people may not talk about it but talk about the covenant-keeping God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob, and the God of all who come by faith in Christ. For we pray in Christ’s precious name. Amen.

[1] Luke 5:4–5 (paraphrased).

[2] Attributed to Graham Scroggie.

[3] Genesis 15:9 (NIV 1984).

[4] See Romans 8:35.

[5] Romans 8:30 (paraphrased).

[6] See 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

[7] See Psalm 23:1.

[8] Romans 4:19 (NIV 1984).

[9] Oscar C. Eliason, “Got Any Rivers You Think Are Uncrossable?” (1942). Lyrics lightly altered.

[10] John 14:2–3 (paraphrased).

[11] John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, quoted in C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1., The Pentateuch, trans. James Martin (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1869), 225.

[12] Matthew 1:21 (KJV).

[13] Matthew 1:23 (KJV).

[14] See Ephesians 2:12.

[15] See Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21.

[16] See Romans 8:16–17.

[17] See John 15:15.

[18] John W. Peterson, “God Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills” (1948). Lyrics lightly altered.

[19] John 1:42 (paraphrased).

[20] Ruth H. Calkin, “My God Is So Big” (1959).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.