Advent in America has its special dangers. I can think of three.
- The danger of covetousness or greed. Everybody shops. And shopping exposes you to a thousand things you don't need and didn't want until you saw them.
- The danger of depression. 'Tis the season to be jolly, but that just makes things worse when you're lonely or sick or discouraged.
- The danger of tension. Everyone seems in a hurry. There are so many gifts to buy and guests to serve and decorations to put up; and all under the pressure of deadlines.
What We Need in Advent Season
What we need in advent is some deep, quiet, unshakable truth from God's Word to give us our bearings, keep us on course, provide ballast in the ship, and to help us walk down Nicollet Mall unmoved by covetousness, freed from depression, and relaxed amid the frenzy. We need a solid insight into the meaning of Christ's coming that will keep us sober in a world intoxicated by the love of things. The overarching truth of these advent messages is that Christ's coming confirmed the covenants of God. Romans 15:8 says, "Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs." I hope everywhere you go this advent season you will repeat to yourself again and again: His coming confirms the covenants! His coming confirms the covenants!
Or as Paul says it in 2 Corinthians 1:20, "All the promises of God find their yes in him." Everything promised to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, and their descendants is confirmed and secured by the coming of Jesus Christ. If the sin of man and the righteousness of God were an obstacle to the fulfillment of those covenant promises, the sacrifice of Jesus has removed the obstacle for ever. So his coming confirms the covenants. He is God's yes to the covenant promises. And if you are an heir of those promises, Jesus is God's yes to you. And the motto of your advent season can be: His coming confirms the covenants for me.
Three Things to Learn from the Abrahamic Covenant
Concerning God's covenant with Abraham, this morning I want you to take away three things.
- That you who hope in Jesus Christ and follow him in the obedience of faith are descendants of Abraham and heirs of his covenant promises.
- That these promises to you are more spectacular than anything you will see or hear this season.
- That these promises are sure, rooted in God's unchanging truthfulness and confirmed by Christ's coming.
1. Those Who Are Truly Abraham's Descendents
First, you who hope in Christ and follow him in the obedience of faith are Abraham's descendants and heirs of his covenant promises. God said to Abraham in Genesis 17:4, "Behold, my covenant is with you and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations." But Genesis makes plain that Abraham did not father a multitude of nations in a physical or political sense.
Therefore the meaning of God's promise was probably that a multitude of nations would somehow enjoy the blessings of sonship even though physically unrelated to Abraham. That's no doubt what God meant in Genesis 12:3 when he said to Abraham, "By you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." From the very beginning, God had in view that Jesus Christ would be the descendant of Abraham and that everyone who trusts in Christ would become an heir of Abraham's promise. So it says in Galatians 3:29, "If you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise." Or as Romans 4:16–17 says, "The promise is according to grace in order to be guaranteed to all Abraham's descendants, not only to [the Jews] but also to [Gentiles] who share the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all, as it is written, 'I have made you the father of many nations.'"
So when God said to Abraham 4,000 years ago, "Behold, my covenant is with you and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations," he opened the way for anyone of us, no matter what nation we belong to, to become a child of Abraham and an heir of God's promises. All we have to do is share the faith of Abraham—that is, bank our hope on God's promises, so much so that if obedience requires it, we could give up our dearest possession like Abraham gave up Isaac. We don't become heirs of Abraham's promises by working for God but by being confident that God works for us. "Abraham grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised" (Romans 4:20). That's why Abraham could obey God even when obedience looked like a dead-end street. He trusted God to do the impossible.
Faith in God's promises—or today we would say, faith in Christ, who is the confirmation of God's promises—is the way to become a child of Abraham; obedience is the evidence that faith is genuine (Genesis 22:12–19); therefore Jesus says in John 8:39, "If you were Abraham's children you would do what Abraham did." Children of Abraham are people of all nations who put their hope in Christ and, like Abraham on Mount Moriah, therefore don't let their most precious earthly possession stop their obedience. You who hope in Jesus Christ and follow him in the obedience of faith are the descendants of Abraham and heirs of his covenant promises. That's the first thing I want you to take away this morning from God's covenant with Abraham.
2. The Most Spectacular Thing to Hope In This Season
The second thing is that the promises that come to you as part of Abraham's covenant are more spectacular than anything you will see or hear this season. Just consider Genesis 17:7, "I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout this generation for an everlasting covenant to be God to you and to your descendants after you." The heart of the Abrahamic covenant is that God will be God to us. He will be our God. The longer you meditate on that deceptively simple truth, the more spectacular it becomes. Jeremiah tells us what it means. He quotes God: "They shall be my people and I will be their God . . . I will not turn away from doing good to them . . . I will rejoice in doing good to them . . . with all my heart and with all my soul" (32:38–41). It boggles the mind to try to imagine what it must mean if the God who made the planets and stars and galaxies and molecules and protons and neutrons and electrons rejoices to do you good with all his heart and with all his soul. If God is God for you, then all his omnipotence and all his omniscience are engaged all the time to do good for you in all the circumstances of your life.
Paul says in Romans 4:13, "The promise to Abraham and his descendants [is] that they should inherit the world." In 1 Corinthians 3:21–23 he says, "All things are yours whether . . . the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's." When Jesus was approached by the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection, he said (in Matthew 22:31–32), "As for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead but of the living." The Sadducees had not stopped to ponder or muse over the meaning of "I am the God of Abraham." They didn't realize how spectacular it is for the creator of the universe to say to a human being, "I will be God to you . . . I will be your God ." So Jesus tells them: When God is your God, you cannot die. "He is not the God of the dead but of the living." The Sadducees were utterly naïve to think that death could end the fellowship between God and those to whom he had said, "I am your God!"
It is a spectacular promise that ought to fill your minds all through this advent season. Then when you walk down Nicollet Mall, the call of covetousness will have no more power over you than a peddler trying to sell pieces of the castle to the children of the king. And the burden of depression will sprout wings and the yoke of obedience will become easy and the vastness of the truth that God is your God will swallow up the tension of these last days and leave a great calm like a deep, peaceful ocean after the sinking of the enemy ship.
First, then, you who hope in Christ are the descendants of Abraham and heirs of the covenant promises. Second, the covenant promise that God will be your God is spectacular beyond imagination. It means that God engages all his omnipotence and all his omniscience all the time to do good to you in all the circumstances of your life with all his heart and with all his soul.
3. The Sureness of the Promises
Now, third and finally, this covenant promise is sure, rooted in God's unchanging truthfulness and confirmed by Christ's coming. "A thousand years in thy sight, O God, are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night"' (Psalm 90:4). If the living God had made his spectacular covenant promise to you personally four days ago, would it not still be today an utterly overwhelming power in your life? Well, 4,000 years are like four days to him. And if you trust him as the living God, his promise will have that power in your life.
Don't throw up your sinful hands here in despair. The only candidates for the blessing of Abraham are sinners. That's why Jesus had to come to confirm the covenant. Not even Abraham could have enjoyed the blessing of Abraham if Jesus hadn't come. Abraham, too, was a sinner. While Mary carried the Lord Jesus in her womb, she sang a song and said, "The Lord has shown strength with his arm . . . He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever" (Luke 1:51, 54–55). The child in her womb was the remembrance of God's mercy as he had promised it to Abraham. Mercy, mind you! Christ confirms the covenant because in his life of obedience and innocent suffering he settles the accounts of the children of Abraham, so that God can be just and yet say to me a sinner: "I am your God." "If he did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not with him freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). That spectacular promise cannot be bought or earned. But it can be believed. And if you believe it, everything changes.