Three days ago, Pastor John took up an exceptionally difficult teaching task. His challenge was to show us how God, having foreknown man's sinful nature and its consequences of separation from His perfection from even before Creation, resolved to take upon himself punishment for man's disobedience. But how on earth was that?
We read from the Book of Genesis chapter15 verses1 through 17. “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.1 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 who is 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.”
Let us stop here for a minute, fellows. “Abram believed the Lord, and he (God) credited it to him as righteousness.” Did Abram follow some clever twelve-step procedure for getting himself to heaven? No. He believed the Lord. Simple sincere belief by itself made Abram righteous in the eyes of God. Okay, let us go on:
“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 gain 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 country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites (the idolatrous, immoral people then in possession of Canaan) 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.”
“a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.” just what on earth was that about?
Pastor John now began to explain the meaning to us:
In western Asia thousands of years ago in Abram's time, making contracts and covenants often required walking through animals cut in two. This symbolized the expected punishment that would be upon the party walking between the split animal carcasses if that party violated the contract or covenant with the other party.
In Genesis 15 verse 17 above, in what way did God appear to Abram in his deepl sleep? As “ a smoking firepot with a blazing torch”.
So, God, not Abraham, walked between the split animal carcasses.
So, God would take on the punishment for disobedience by men of His covenants. Think about that for a minute!
So, we learn that the real purpose of the law that as imperfect human beings we cannot keep is to reveal what is in our hearts. In this way we have our noses rubbed in our imperfection and are humbled before a perfect, holy God. We read Romans chapter 3, verses 19 and 20: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”
Remember the woman caught in adultery. The teachers of the law brought her before Jesus, thinking that they had a way to trap Him. If Jesus said to kill her he would have crossed the law of the Roman occupation authorities. If he said to free her He would have contravened Mosaic law which governed all good Israelites. Jesus evaded the trap by inviting those without sin to throw the first stone, which caused all of the woman's accusers to desert the scene.” Thepoint of the law was to reveal human frailty and imperfection. So when Jesus was writing in the dust at the scene, he knew that “whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped” so did He write “please shut up their mouths”?
Looking into a mirror after a hard days work will show a begrimed face. So in the same way the law reflects our dirty selves. We are that way at birth: sinful, selfish, dirty beings. Reflect on the property laws of a toddler!
We read further in Romans chapter 7: What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful."
So, the law does not produce the sin but helps us to understand how utterly sinful we are.
The individual who truly surrenders knows that he cannot get close to God of his own. See how high truly God is, how low we are. The dregs of Judean society: prostitutes, tax collectors and so on, were often the first to understand that. If we are self-righteous experts in scripture, we've missed the point. We are far behind those who know they are broken, at the gates of heaven.
The only acceptable worship is humility before the throne. Let us not, any of us, forfeit salvation because of any temporary earthly norm or attraction.