Sermon August 12th, 2013 -- Genesis 15:6 -- The Biblical Hall of Fame
Abraham believed the Lord, and the Lord credited it to him as righteousness.
Have you ever heard the term 'larger than life?' Sports personalities, stars in the entertainment business, famous people of all kinds fall victim to the 'larger than life' syndrome. Famous people have a "media image." That image is how they appear to us on TV, or in magazines, or in the newspaper, or online. We determine what these people must be like on the basis of that image. We all know there’s a rea1 human being behind the glamor of what we see on TV or on the printed page. And we know that the reality is often quite different from the media image. It’s not unusual for people to be disappointed to find that a certain media personality isn’t what they expected them to be. In my opinion, there’s something about human nature that tends to make certain famous people "larger than life."
Human beings have an amazing ability to see only what they want to see. People want to see the glamor; they disregard the warts and wrinkles – physically or character-wise. They want to see the athletic ability; they minimize the drug addiction and the corruption. They want political leaders they can vote for. It’s often difficult to take an honest, unbiased look at famous people. It’s hard to be rational – unaffected by emotion. Somehow, people lose track of the fact that celebrities people are card-carrying members of the human race, just like the rest of us.
Something similar happens with Bible characters. Here too, there’s a tendency to make these people "larger than life." It seems to me that people often see Bible characters as "super saints." Believers sometimes overlook their – sometimes quite obvious – “warts and wrinkles." You know, the Bible is an honest book. It tells it like it is. The Bible is surprisingly frank about the sins of the people mentioned in its pages. It doesn’t present a one‑sided view of reality. If people sinned, it says so. If people did special things, it says that, too. God’s Word lays all the cards on the table for us to see. But, too often, we take from the Bible only what we want to take from it. Too often, we take from the Bible only what fits into our scheme of interpretation. Too often, we tell the Bible what it ought to say, rather than humbly listening to its message.
A wise Christian once said that the Bible has the amazing ability to “afflict the comfortable” – that’s the Law – and to “comfort the afflicted” – that’s the Gospel. The Bible has the amazing ability to remove the masks that people wear. It also has the ability to bring great comfort and joy. The Bible is a brutally honest book. It doesn’t make people larger than life. May God enable us to hear what He is saying to us this morning. I pray that God would enable us to hear His Word this day, to understand it, and to put it into practice.
All Bible characters – Jesus Christ is the only exception – were sinners. All Bible characters – with the exception of Jesus Christ – failed to measure up to God’s will for them. All Bible characters – excluding Jesus – were saved by grace through faith just as we are. The world that Bible characters lived in was the same kind of world that we live in today. Their struggles were similar to our own. Their temptations were very much like ours. Their relationship to God was the same. It was no easier or no more difficult to live as a believer back then than it is today. Bible characters were not super-saints. They were just like us. Every Bible character from Genesis to Revelation was saved just as we are – by faith and trust in the Triune God. They were not saved because they were super‑righteous or super-holy. They – like us – were saved by grace through faith.
But something has happened down through the ages. Too often, Bible characters have become larger than life, just like our entertainment idols, our athletes, and other celebrities. Unconsciously, we have added to what the Bible says about these people. We have made assumptions about them that are just not true. Let me give you a few examples: David was one of Israel's greatest kings. He was a great warrior ‑ and a devoted worshiper of the Lord. He wrote many of our Psalms. He was an ancestor of Jesus Christ Himself. There is no doubt about it, David was a great man in the Kingdom of God. But that’s not the whole story of David’s life, and we are being less than honest if this is all we have to say about him.
David’s faith and dedication to God were very special. But David sinned as well. He made some very serious errors in judgment. Like us, there were times in his life when he must have thought, “What I did seemed like a good idea at the time, but it wasn’t!” At one point in his life, David broke the Sixth Commandment. He committed adultery with Bathsheba. He had Bathsheba's husband Uriah sent to the front lines in war-time, knowing full well that he would be killed. King David, God's very special servant, fell, and he fell hard. If we want to be honest with the Biblical record, we have to admit David's failures as well as his successes. David was no plaster saint. He knew the depths of despair over his sin as well as the sweetness and joy of God's forgiveness. The real David was fallible – a sinner, just like the rest of us. And he was acceptable to God only by virtue of his faith in the Messiah to come – nothing else. Without God's grace and forgiveness which brought him a new start in life, David would have found the doors to the kingdom of God barred forever.
So there’s a very real tendency to paint a picture of David that’s larger than life. But an honest look at the Scriptures helps us to resist that temptation. Think about Solomon for a moment. Solomon was privileged to be Israel's king at the height of the nation's glory. God blessed him with great riches and even greater wisdom. Solomon was without doubt one of God's great men. But Solomon – like his father David – wasn't perfect. Like his father David – made some serious errors in judgment. As an older man, Solomon allowed his foreign wives to weaken his ties to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The end of Solomon's life is actually shrouded in mystery. We don't know whether he died in faith or not. The image people have of Solomon, just like his father David, is far too often larger‑than life.
We all know the story of Noah. We know that Noah and his family were the only righteous people left in a very evil world. God made a promise to Noah and he kept that promise. Noah's steadfast faithfulness, despite the jeers and the laughter of his countrymen, is a great example to the rest of us. After the flood, Noah built an altar to God and worshiped God for the deliverance He had sent. But right after that, right after that great deliverance, Noah got drunk. Noah, the great man of God dishonored himself. My point? Noah, too, wasn’t perfect. You know, the Bible could have omitted the story about Noah's drunkenness but it didn't. I’m sure that the reason was to remind us that Noah, despite his great blessings and deliverance, was human too – able to make very serious errors in judgment just like the rest of us.
And these are not isolated incidents. If I had time, I could tell you about Moses killing an Egyptian. I could tell you about the Apostle Peter and his temporary collapse of faith. I could tell you about Paul the apostle and how, as a zealous young man, he had violently persecuted Christ’s people. The Bible gives us an accurate picture of each and every one of these people, along with many others. The Bible points out their strengths, as well as their weaknesses and sins. The best corrective to the tendency to make Bible characters larger than life is a strong dose of God's pure word.
You know, there’s a commonly held view, that people have to be perfect before God will accept them. There’s a common view outside the church that Christians are "holier than thou" types. There are those who feel that if you scratch the surface of a Christian’s life, you will find that they are no different from anyone else – that their faith is a sham. There are people outside the church who delight in pointing out the sins of God’s people. They delight in saying "I saw what you just did. I heard what you said. You're really no different from the rest of us.” It's not difficult to figure out why this happens. Watch the average TV evangelist and listen to the way they make the Gospel into a new law. Listen to the Christians who say that God’s people don't drink, or smoke or go to movies or play cards. Many people have the idea that Christianity is no more than a long list of do’s and don'ts. It's only natural for those who think this way to say, "If you catch a church-going person doing these things, then they certainly can’t be a Christian." They’ll say, "If you insist on calling yourself a Christian, you're a hypocrite, because you don't practice what you preach."
Nowhere in the Bible do we find perfection among God's people. What you do find is God’s people struggling against sin, and sometimes failing to measure up to God’s standards. Sometimes God's people fall into sin, very grievous sin. If you and I could gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven by achieving perfection, I'm afraid heaven would be a very lonely place! Adam won't be there – because he ate the forbidden fruit. David won't be there – because of his adultery. Noah won't be there – because of his drunkenness. Moses won't be there – because he killed a man. Peter won't be there – because he denied the Lord. I could go on. My point is this – If it takes perfection to be acceptable to God, then only Jesus Christ fits the bill.
Obviously, perfection is not the key to favor with God because fallible, sinful human beings are called “righteous” in the Bible. There must be another way into God's presence, another way to be declared holy or righteous. Our text this morning is about of Abraham, one of God's greatest saints. Abraham, like other Bible characters, made some serious mistakes along the way. Abraham was a sinner just like all the rest of us, and yet God calls him righteous. How can that be? The key to understanding the Bible’s message is found in our text for today. Our text explains how sinful people like Abraham, and Solomon, and Noah, and Paul, and Peter can be made right with God, despite their sins. Let me read our text to you again:
Abraham believed in the Lord, and the Lord credited it to him as righteousness.
Did you catch that? All those who are acceptable to the Lord have a common characteristic – and that is their FAITH. Abraham – and every other member of God's Kingdom, then or now – trusted God. Because of our faith, and for no other reason, God declares us righteous, just as a judge declares a defendant "not guilty." It’s not a perfect life that makes us acceptable to God – it’s our faith. When God sees our faith in His Son, he takes our file, with its long record of sins, and stamps it "Paid in Full." Being a Christian is not due to a lack of sin. Christians – despite their best intentions – are hampered by sin. On our own, we can never be rid of sin’s burden. On our own, the door to God's kingdom would forever remain locked. On our own, we don’t have a key that opens the door to the Kingdom of Heaven. And yet the moment faith is resident in our heart, that locked door swings open – not because of what we have done, but because of the cross and the empty tomb.
God's people sin. They fail to measure up to God’s standards. No one except God’s own son is free from sin. So non‑believers shouldn’t be surprised to find sin in the lives of God’s people. They shouldn't be surprised to find that Christians aren’t perfect. The difference between a Christian and a non Christian is not that the Christian, on their own, have overcome sin. The difference between a Christian and a non‑Christian is faith. The Bible says that Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners. If we could enter God's kingdom on our own, then Jesus was crucified in vain. Old Testament people were saved by their faith in God's promises, by believing in the Messiah to come. New Testament people are saved by faith in the Messiah who has come to die on the cross for our sins. May God prevent us from making Bible characters larger than life. May he remind us that they, too, were saved by faith.
And now may the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in this same Christ Jesus. AMEN.
Let’s pray. Dear Heavenly Father – You have saved us by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone. Remind us that we are forgiven, not because of anything we have done, but because of what Christ our Savior has done for us – by His grace. Keep us from making Bible characters larger than life. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen