Today’s reading: Genesis 17; Matthew 16; Nehemiah 6; Acts 16
About four thousand years ago, God made a covenant with a man from a tribe wandering through the desert. When God makes promises, he means to keep them!
Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram,[b]but your name shall be Abraham,[c] for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17: 4-5)
God’s pact with Abraham involves the miracle of new life from old, and a promise that from Abraham would come two great nations. From one of these, from the line of Isaac, would come the the Christ!
Covenants in the time of Abraham were traditionally sealed with blood, with something cut, a sign of commitment. The Covenant of Circumcision was a demonstration of Abraham’s commitment to God, and the acknowledgement of that commitment by succeeding generations.
Abraham stayed true to to his promise, and later would be tested even further by God and found worthy. I believe, God ultimately wants to bless us in covenant and the more willing we are to give everything to God, the more we are blessed. God asked Abraham to withhold nothing, not even his son, Isaac. God said to Abraham: I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me. (Genesis 22:17-18) When God makes a promise, He sure means business!
God would go on to establish a new covenant through Jesus, who’s father Joseph, was Abraham’s descendant. This was a covenant for all people, of every nation. A covenant of the willing! A covenant made through the blood of God’s own son, Jesus.
This covenant was proclaimed in the Old Testament: “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” (Jeremiah 31:31)
And fulfilled in the New Testament: In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)
Matthew 16:24-25 reminds me of the sacrifice we make if we choose to follow Christ: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
As a child, this evoked fear, as I could only understand it in the literal sense. As I have had decades to ponder this passage, today I see it differently.
The cross for me, represents “that thing’ in our lives that is hardest to do. There is, however, no true parallel to the act of God in the flesh, humbling himself to extreme torture and disrespect, when in an instant he could have vaporized the world. Instead, he endured extreme pain and suffering, out of love for all humanity, and in the knowledge that this was the path God choose to offer reconciliation to man. The path He chose!
The thing that is hardest for me to do is subordinate my life to God, to surrender it fully. I am invited to follow Jesus, not to a death on a cross (though it could come to that) but to a life of putting God’s kingdom (in every way) above mine. Death to self!
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed a prayer I have often prayed in circumstances considerably less arduous than what He faced. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done .” (Luke 22:42)
Our lives are not our own. We are of God, and he invites us to surrender our gifts and our blessings to His divine will and purposes.
To me God’s promise to Abraham seems like a great lesson in waiting on God. A sign for all that our dreams, without God’s hand in them, can never become what we hope. Can we sacrifice our plans for God’s plan? Are we able to wait on his timing? Lord God, please help me to do so.