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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:God's covenant is forever
Text:Genesis 17:7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Preached:2016--9-11
Added:2016-09-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

note:  Second of two sermons on Genesis 17:2.  Sermons can be read independently of one another.

2014 Book of Praise

NKJV

Psalm 149:1

Psalm 112:1

Psalm 78:1,2,3

Psalm 105:3

Psalm 119:34

 

Read:  Genesis 17

Text:  Genesis 17:7

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Have you ever heard the children’s hymn “Every promise in the Book is mine”?

Every promise of the Book is mine,

Every chapter, every verse, every line;

All are blessings of His love divine

Every promise of the Book is mine.

But is that true?  Can I claim every promise in the Bible?  Are the promises that God has given to His people for me too?  How about the promises in Genesis 17?  Do these promises mean anything for God’s people today?

Yes, in a very real sense this song is true.  And in a very real sense the promises given to Abraham are for me too!  The New Testament tells us that we who share the faith of Abraham are counted as Abraham’s descendants and therefore share in the promises given to Abraham.  Galatians 3:9,

“So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”

And Galatians 3:29,

“If you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

So then for us who belong to Jesus Christ, there is an unbreakable link between Abraham and us.  And even more, for us who belong to Jesus Christ there is an unbreakable link between the promises given to Abraham and the promises given to us. 

That should not come as a surprise since the LORD had told Abraham that His covenant with him would be forever.  Genesis 17:7 –

“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.”

So God’s promises remain forever.  Every promise in the Book is mine.

And yet there is a difference between Abraham and us, between the promises given to him and the promises given to us.  In fact the Bible tells us that we now live in the time of the new covenant.  And Hebrews 8:13 goes as far as saying,

“In that He says, “A new covenant”, He has made the first obsolete.”

So what does that all mean?  How do we apply what God said to Abraham in Genesis 17 to the church today?  What does it mean to say that God’s covenant is an everlasting covenant?  And what does it mean to share in the promises that God gave to Abraham

I preach to you God’s Word under the following theme:

God’s Covenant is forever.

  1. The permanence of God’s covenant.
  2. The participation in God’s covenant.

1. The permanence of God’s covenant.

Before I go on to speak about the permanence of God’s covenant, perhaps it would be good to first define what the Bible means when it speaks about a covenant between God and us.  My dictionary defines such a covenant as follows:

“A covenant is an agreement which brings about a relationship of commitment between God and his people.”

A covenant is an agreement which brings about a relationship of commitment between God and his people.  Although we could add to that definition, it is a good place to start.  Through the covenant the LORD brings about a relationship with His people that would not have existed naturally and  in the covenant the LORD commits Himself to His people by way of certain promises and His people are obliged to commit themselves to Him.

We do not only speak about a covenant in relation to God and us, but people make covenants with one another also.  One clear example of a human covenant is the covenant of marriage.   In a marriage two people who are unrelated to one another will make vows or binding promises to each other and so be joined together in marriage.  In such a marriage a covenant is made by way of mutual agreement.  Bride and groom stand there as equals, both pledging their commitment to one another.

But with the covenant that God has made with us it is different.  With the covenant that God has made with us we are not equals making an agreement together.  Rather, it is God who initiates the covenant, it is God who chooses who He will make His covenant with, it is God who declares the promises of the covenant, it is God who declares what will happen to those who break the covenant and is God who determines what the sign of the covenant will be. 

  You can see that in Genesis 17.  Genesis 17:2,

I will make My covenant between Me and you.”

Verse 4,

My covenant is with you.”

Verse 7,

I will establish My covenant between Me and you …”

Verse 9,

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep My covenant…”

And verse 21.

“But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”

Notice that it is always God’s covenant and never “Abraham’s covenant” or “our covenant”.  Abraham did not sit down with God so that the two of them might work something out together that both found mutually agreeable.  Rather God – and God alone – established His covenant with Abraham and Abraham was simply told to keep it.

This is an important point because it teaches us something about our relationship with God and why we call the covenant that the LORD has made with us is a covenant of grace. 

  In the beginning, when God created the world Adam and Eve were, at least in certain respects, in a type of covenant relationship with God.  When He created Adam and Eve, the God placed them in the garden of Eden to serve Him and to care for the garden, ruling over God’s creation.  If they served God faithfully they could take of the Tree of Life and live forever; if they rejected God and ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would bear the consequences.  But sadly they did turn from serving the LORD and they did eat the forbidden fruit.  And the consequence of this was that they were punished, the ground was cursed and Adam and Eve were  driven out of the garden of Eden and away from the presence of the LORD.  The relationship between God and His people was broken.

But even there, in Genesis 3, we see evidence of God’s grace.  When Adam and Eve hid from God, the Lord GOD came down and He found them. He spoke to them and He told them not just how they and creation would suffer on account of the Fall into sin but He also gave them a word of hope and of a future.  He promised that one of Eve’s descendants would come to crush Satan under His feet and so restore our relationship with God.

And that is the beginning of the relationship between God and His people after the Fall into sin.  From God’s promise in Genesis 3:15, a promise we refer to as the “mother promise”, from this promise to send a Deliverer, come all of God’s promises.  The story of the Bible is an unfolding, a revealing, of how the LORD would have a people for Himself and how He would restore His relationship with them and the world that He had created.

And that is the background to God’s dealings with Abraham and the covenant He made with him.  In the middle of a broken and a fallen world the LORD called Abram and established a relationship with Him, promising Abram descendants and assuring him that these descendants would inherit the land.  And even more: the LORD would be God to Abraham and to his descendants after him.  Genesis 17:8,

“Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

And do you see what is happening here?  Do you see what God is doing?  Although Adam and Eve had, because of their sinful rebellion, been driven out of the garden of Eden, the LORD was preparing a new people and a new land for Himself.  He would drive out the wicked and give that land to Abraham’s descendants, the children of His covenant and God would live with them there.  It would not be the Garden of Eden but it would be something like the Garden of Eden.  And it would be a promise of something even greater to come.

And the rest of the Old Testament shows us how God’s covenant promises to Abraham unfolded.  After Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel, had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years, the Lord heard their groaning, He remembered His covenant to Abraham, He looked upon the children of Israel and, Exodus 2:25 says, He acknowledged them.  He acknowledged them.  He recognized them as the children of promise and He knew what He must do.  In fact the LORD makes this very clear in Exodus 6:2-8.

And God spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name Lord I was not known to them. I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord.’ ”

What God did, therefore, in bringing His people out of slavery in Egypt and in to the Promised Land, was on account of the eternal covenant He had made with Abraham 430 years earlier. 

  But on the way to Canaan the LORD first brought His people to Mount Sinai and it was at Sinai that He taught them how to walk before Him and be blameless, how to live in covenant holiness before Him.  He gave them the Ten Commandments and He gave them the laws: laws for making sacrifices, laws for living in the land of Canaan, laws to regulate what was clean and unclean so that Israel might remain holy before the LORD and laws for the building of the Tabernacle, the house of God.  And the Bible speaks about this as God making a covenant with His people at Sinai which He did in fact do.  In Exodus 24:7 it says,

 “Then [Moses] took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people.  And they said, ‘All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient.’”

And then listen to verse 8.

“And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.’”

And so a covenant was made with God’s people Israel at Mount Sinai.  But the important thing to understand here is that the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai did not replace the covenant He had made with Abraham and His descendants in Genesis 17.  That is the point of Galatians 3:17 –

“And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.”

The link between the covenant that God made with Abraham in Genesis 17 and the covenant He made with Israel at Mount Sinai is this:  what God gave to Abraham in seed form in Genesis 17 He explained more fully at Sinai.  In other words, the covenant at Mount Sinai is not another covenant, separate from the covenant God made to Abraham, but it builds on the covenant promises of Genesis 17, the promise of a nation, the promise of land and the promise “I will be their God and they shall be My people.”  So what we have here then is an unfolding of the covenant promises of God.

But when you read on in the Old Testament and you read how God’s people lived in the land of Canaan then you will learn that they did not keep God’s covenant, nor did they live in holiness before Him.  Instead they rejected Him, they turned to idols, they defiled the land of Promise and they disqualified themselves from living under the covenant blessings of God.  Instead they received God’s curse and they were sent out of the land and into exile.  They were sent to Babylon, back to the land beyond the River Euphrates, back to the land of Ur of the Chaldeans. 

But that is not where God would leave things.  The LORD had made a promise to Abraham, He had made a covenant with him, and the LORD would do what He had said.  And that is the context of Jeremiah 31:31-34.  Let’s read that together.

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

They LORD would visit His people in Exile, in Babylon.  He would take out their heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh, He would cause them to turn to Him and He would bring them back.  And when they were back in Canaan and back in covenant fellowship with Him, He would make the covenant new with them.  And He did that.  He did that ultimately by sending His Son, the Great Descendant of Abraham, Jesus Christ.  And when the Lord Jesus was about to be sacrificed on the cross, when He was celebrating His last Passover with His disciples, and when He instituted the LORD’S supper He spoke of the blood of the covenant, the blood which Moses had sprinkled on the people in Exodus 24.  But taking the Cup He said in Matthew 26:26,

“Drink from it, all of you.  For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

“This is My blood of the new covenant”.  In other words, the blood of the covenant that Moses sprinkled on the people at Mount Sinai, the bloody sacrifices that were offered every day and even the blood of circumcision was over, was obsolete, was a shadow that had passed.  But not the covenant itself.  Yes, in a very real sense the covenant was now new.  With the sacrifice of Christ on the cross the full promise given to Abraham could become a reality.  The LORD would no longer live in a temple made with human hands but He would live in the hearts of His children.  No longer would He only make His covenant with Abraham and his physical descendants but, as Peter said in Acts 2:39,

“The promise is to you and to your children and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

And God’s children would not simply be heirs to the land of Canaan but, as Romans 4:13 indicates, with Abraham we would be heir of the world.   And so it would be that Abraham would be the father of many nations.  And so it would be that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed.

And that is how it is today.  The covenant is still there and it is still a covenant of grace.  The LORD still says to us, “I am your God and you are My people” and He still declares that who have the faith of Abraham share in the promises given to Abraham.  God’s covenant is forever.  It is permanent.  And in that context, every promise in the Book is mine.

But if the covenant promises are still in effect, if God still says “I am God to you and to your descendants after you”, how then should we live?  We will see this in our second point.

 

2. The participation in God’s covenant. 

To be members of God’s covenant is an amazing gift of God’s grace.  When the LORD called Abraham and made His covenant with him, there was nothing about Abraham that made him worthy of this.  Rather, it was God who called Abraham, it is God who made the promises to Abraham, and it is God who fulfilled those promises. And He did so out of mere grace, out of sheer underserved favor.  Abraham had nothing to give, nothing to offer God to cause the Lord to look upon him.  But God chose Abraham and He made His covenant with him simply because He wanted to.

But Abraham could never presume upon God’s grace.  He could never say “I am God’s chosen one!  I have the promises!  Since every promise in the Book is mine and no one can take them from me, I can do what I want and I can live for myself.”  Rather, God said to Abraham in Genesis 17:9,

“As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.”

“You shall keep Me covenant, Abraham!”  In that sense there are conditions attached to the covenant.  A covenant is an agreement which brings about a relationship of commitment between God and his people.  Now it is true that God’s covenant is forever.  His covenant is eternal and He will do what He has said.  And that is still the same for us today.  God’s covenant with us is an eternal covenant of Grace where He gives the promise “I will be God to you and to your descendants after you.”  But how will you relate to God’s covenant?  How will you participate in it?

In Genesis 17 the LORD said in verse 10,

“This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male child among you shall be circumcised.; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.”

And so if one was not circumcised he would be cut off from God’s people since he had broken the covenant.  (Verse 14)  But circumcision was not all.  The physical sign of circumcision was the sign that Abraham and his descendants were not their own masters but that they belonged to the LORD.  And they must serve the LORD and they must love the LORD with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind and with all their strength.  It is not as though in the Old Testament people could do what they wanted so long as they were circumcised whereas now we must live a holy life.  In the Old Testament already the LORD commanded His people to circumcise their hearts and to respond to the promises of the covenant in faith.  God’s covenant remains and it stands firm but how will you relate to it?

  Many years later, as they were about to enter the Promised Land and receive the first fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, the people of Israel were divided into to two groups where one group stood on Mount Gerizim and the other on Mount Ebal.  Moses commanded the people to do this in Deuteronomy 27-28.  And anticipating them standing on those mountains Deuteronomy 27:9,10 says,

“Then Moses and the priests, the Levites, spoke to all Israel saying, ‘Take heed and listen, O Israel:  This day you have become the people of the LORD your God.  Therefore you shall obey the voice of the LORD your God, and observe His commandments and His statues which I command you today.”

And then Moses went on and he commanded the people to pronounce the curses from Mount Ebal, covenant curses that would fall on all those who, Deuteronomy 28:58 says, who

“… do not carefully observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD.”

But there would be blessing for all those who lived in obedience to God and to His covenant.  They would be blessed and it would be well with them.

And now what about you?  How do you relate to the promises of God’s covenant?  “Every promise in the Book is mine!”  Yes, that is true.  You and your children have been blessed beyond measure, blessed to be included in God’s covenant of grace.  And in fact you have been blessed even more than those of the Old Testament since you have been washed not with the blood of bulls and goats but with the blood of Jesus Christ.  But now how do you live?  How do you respond to the promises of God’s covenant to you?  When the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote, He was writing to God’s people, God’s covenant people, and he warned them in Hebrews 10:26-29.

“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.  Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?”

Never presume upon the goodness of God and never say “I belong to God’s covenant, I can live how I please.”  That was the sin of Old Testament Israel, and that was what caused God to punish them and to send them into exile.

But Hebrews 10 goes on and it says this in verse 39.

“But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”

And the letter to the Hebrews goes on to tell us about faith, the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.  And it directs us, among others, to Abraham.  And concerning Abraham it says this in Hebrews 11:8-10.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

That’s what Abraham did.  That is how he lived.  The LORD established His covenant with Abraham and he promised him land and he promised him descendants.  And Abraham believed God and he waited for these things.  But lifting up his eyes he lived in the anticipation of something even greater.  He lived in the hope of a better, a heavenly, country where he would live with God forever.

And that is how we must live also.  The promises of God’s covenant are huge.  And “Every promise of the Book is mine”.  But the promises call us to embrace what God has said, to receive Him as our God, to live in His covenant, to walk before Him, to be blameless and to look forward to complete fulfillment of all God’s promises.  To look forward to the day when we will be in that heavenly country, when Paradise is restored, when the LORD Himself is with us and when He will be our God.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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