Sermon: Walking the Bloodpath

Please pray with me:

Sovereign LORD, I pray that out of your glorious riches you will strengthen us with power through the Spirit in our inner being so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. I also pray that all of us gathered here, being rooted and established in love, may have power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand as we hear God’s Word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God:

After this, the Word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the Word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son of your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the LORD and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will take possession of it?”

So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat, and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two, and arranged the halves opposite each other. The birds, however, he did not cut in half. Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a land not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. Yet I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go down to your ancestors in peace and will be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation, your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. On that day, the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.

This is the Word of the LORD. Thanks be to God.

Can God be trusted?

Trust involves placing something valuable in the hands of another. Trust requires something being entrusted and someone who is being trusted. Here is what I mean:

In a few short weeks, Pastor Olga and I will get to meet our new child for the first time. Imagine that Dave and Annette Owen decide they want to come by and visit to see the new baby. During their time with us, Annette asks if she can hold our baby. This is a moment of trust. Do I trust Annette to hold this precious newborn child? Notice that at that moment, the question is not whether I believe that Annette exists (I do) or even if I like her (I do). The question is whether I trust her, whether I am willing to place this child who is most precious to me in her hands. Also notice that this is different than if she asked if she could hold my favorite coffee mug or borrow my car. The level of trust required depends on what is being entrusted. And everything depends on who you entrust with what matters most.

When the Bible talks about believing God, believing in God, or having faith in God it is talking about trust. Like with a newborn child, believing in God involves taking what is most precious – our life, our future, our very soul – and place it in his hands. When it comes to what matters most, the question is not simply ‘Does God exist?’ or ‘Do I like God?’ but ‘Can God be trusted?’

Abram faced this question in our passage this morning. A few chapters earlier, God had promised Abram land and offspring. But so far, Abram had been forced to wait. He was promised the land as far as his eye could see, but it was occupied and had already experienced famine. He was promised children as numerous as the dust of the earth, but so far remained childless. His life was dry and barren and he had been living on nothing but promises. Even after God granted Abram a great victory that allowed him to rescue his nephew Lot, we can sense some exasperation in Abram as God comes with yet another promise.

After this, the Word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

What can you give me, LORD? My future is dry and withered. No matter how much land  you give or how often you protect me, I still remain without a child of my own. Abram has trusted God, left home, country, and family. Abram has trusted God, placing his entire future in his hands. But will God keep his promises? Can God be trusted?

The LORD responds by giving another promise – numerous descendants for Abram, his own flesh and blood. He even shows Abram the stars in a vision to impress upon him the vast number of children that will come from his family. We are told Abram believed God. God then promises land, but one question remains:

Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will take possession of it?

Can God be trusted? Abram placed what was most precious – his life and his future – into the hands of the LORD. As we saw earlier, the more precious something is the more trust it requires to place it in someone else’s hands. And everything depends on who you trust.

For some of us this morning, the question “Can God be trusted?” is painfully real. Some of you might be thinking, “Pastor Stephen, I have trusted people before and been burned badly. I trusted the wrong people and I am afraid to trust again. You say God is good and will do as he says, but how do I know He can be trusted?” Some of you have already placed your trust in the LORD, but, like Abram, find yourselves waiting and aching for the promises to be fulfilled. “LORD, I trusted you with my child, but here I am, waiting.” “LORD, I trusted you with my work, but here I am, waiting.” “LORD, I trusted you and surrendered my will to yours, but life is dry and barren.” Some of our doubt comes from the pain of our past, some from the long wait of the present, and some from the crafty lies of the serpent, Satan.

You are not alone. You are not alone in this room and you are not alone in the family of faith, for Abram, too, groaned for the promise of God to come true.

Can God be trusted?

The Bible’s answer is yes, because, as we will see in the LORD’s response to Abram, he  is far more committed to his promises that we ever imagined.

In response to Abram’s question, God makes a covenant. On that day, the LORD made a covenant with Abram, it says in verse 18. What is a covenant? A covenant is a set of promises that bind two people or sets of people into a relationship. It is a contract, but more than a contract. The one place we still see covenant very clearly is in marriage.

In a marriage, two people come together and make promises. These promises bind them together into a new lasting relationship. Both sides make promises. In the case of marriage the promises are equal to each other, because they are equal partners in the union. As a side note, this is why marriage vows actually need to be promises. A vow needs to vow something. To have and to hold, to love and to cherish – those are actual promises. When couples want to simply stand up and simply tell everyone how much they feel for each other, those are not wedding vows. A covenant, whether in marriage or elsewhere, contains promises that bind two parties together. What makes marriage such a excellent example of a covenant is both the strength of the bond between the man and the woman and its permanence. The two become one flesh until death parts them.

The God’s relationship with his people takes the shape of a covenant. Thus, it is no accident that one of the most common images of this relationship is marriage. The LORD is the bridegroom and his people are the bride. In history, this covenant relationship between the LORD and his beloved begins here with God’s covenant with Abram.

God makes a covenant with Abram. Literally, the Hebrew says God ‘cuts’ a covenant with Abram. At the time of Abram, when a covenant was made, there was a ceremony involved. Animals would be taken, cut in half, and placed a certain distance apart so that the blood of the animals would pool between the pieces. That was the blood path. What usually happened was that the king would declare all his promises to his subjects – land, protection, prosperity – and then walk through the blood path. (Stomp, stomp, stomp) By walking through the king is saying, in effect, “Let what was done to these animals be done to me if I break a single word of my vow.” Then a representative of the people would say their oaths, their promises – faithfulness to the king, obedience, service – and then walk through the blood path. (stomp, stomp, stomp) They said, in effect, “Let what was done to those animals be done to me if I break a single word of my vow.” To walk through the blood path was to say, “I would rather die than break my word to you.” These vows and this ceremony sealed the relationship between the two.

Notice again what happens in Genesis 15. Abram is told to bring animals – heifer, goat, ram, dove, and pigeon. He cuts them in two and places the pieces opposite each other. He creates the blood path. God makes incredible promises and tells Abram to make the blood path, to cut a covenant. God demonstrates his commitment to his promises by walking the blood path. God is saying, “let what was done to these animals be done to me if I break but a word of my promises.”

This is why again and again, the people of God call upon the LORD to remember his covenant. When they wait and groan like Abram, they ask God to remember his promise, remember his commitment to keep his word. This is the basis of the psalms of lament, which make up the majority of the prayers in the Bible. Whenever the question arises of whether God can be trusted, the people of God remember the covenant, remember God’s powerful and complete commitment to do everything he has promised. Can God be trusted? Though the LORD of the universe, who spoke a word and worlds came into being, though seated on high, he stooped down to walk the blood path so that our lingering doubt would be removed and  you and I would know for certain that he can be trusted.

If only he walked the blood path and cut the covenant with our Father Abram, that would have been enough. But there is more.

There is a problem. What about Abram? God has promised everything, including sweet communion with him to Abram and his descendants forever. But what must Abram do? What promises will he make? Listen to Genesis 17: When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Can Abram keep this promise? Can he truly be blameless, sinless and perfect, faithful in all things before the LORD? If Abram walks that blood path and he breaks his word, he is done for. (stomp stomp stomp) “Let what was done to those animals be done to be if I break but a single word of my vow.” If the covenant is a response to the question, “Can God be trusted?” it also raises the question, “Can we be trusted?”

If we are honest with ourselves, we have not been faithful and blameless. We know it deep down in our hearts. Many of us have tried, worn ourselves out trying to earn God’s approval, worn ourselves out try to do enough, be enough, have enough good deeds to make everything right in our world and before God. But this frantic activity has been one more way to avoid come face to face with God, because we are afraid. We know, for all our effort, we will be found wanting. Others of us have given up trying. Our list of sins and screw ups is so long that it doesn’t even seem worth beginning. We might have even avoided church because we didn’t think we were good enough to be here.

Who of us can say we have kept our word completely, that we have ‘walked before God faithfully and been blameless?’

As Paul says quoting the psalmist, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.

Neither the zealous religious person nor the person who has never darkened the door of a church before is righteous before God. Neither the do-gooder or the no-gooder or any of us in between can walk confidently down the bloodpath. This is the problem. If Abram puts but a pinky toe in that blood path, it is over. He would be promising to be blameless before God, but it is a promise he cannot keep, and the consequences for breaking his promise is death. But that is not what happens. Listen to verse 17: When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.

Abram does not step a foot down the blood path, but instead smoke and fire pass between the pieces. Smoke and fire are consistent images for the presence of God – think the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night that led the Israelites through the wilderness. Only God passes between the pieces, only God walks the blood path. Not once, but twice – fire and smoke. This is the amazing thing about the covenant with Abram here – God walks through twice, not only for himself, but also for Abram.

Abram does not walk through, but God walks through for him. In doing so, He says, “Abram, if you or your descendants ever break a single word of this covenant, let what happened to these animals happen to me.” Let the result of your covenant-breaking fall upon my shoulders. Let me die in your place.

In the blood path, we see the gospel. Not only does God, in the covenant, commit himself to keeping all his promises, but he commits to keep our promises as well. He passes between the pieces and promised that should we break his word, should we turn our backs on him, he would die in our place.

Generations later, God kept his promise. He kept it not only by blessing all the world through the seed of Abram – Jesus Christ, but also by walking again the blood path for us. “Let what was done to those animals be done to me if you break but a word of the covenant.” God came as the man Jesus Christ and took that death upon himself. By walking the blood path for us, he opened a new path for us – out of death, out of sin, out of destruction – into life, into the presence of God, into eternal blessing and peace. As Paul says in Romans,

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Can God be trusted? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Not just with your favorite coffee mug, your car keys, or even your newborn child, but with everything. In fact, he is far more trustworthy than we are. Will there be hardship? Yes, God even promised this to Abram that his descendants would be enslaved and mistreated, but they would be delivered. Will we sometimes be forced to wait? Yes, even Abram and Israel were forced to wait four hundred years to finally enter the promised land.

But God will keep his promises. When doubt creeps in, remember the covenant. Remember the blood path. Remember the grace of the gospel when Jesus walked the blood path for you.

Can God be trusted? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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