Twelve men followed him. They left much behind to dedicate their lives to his teaching, to him. Eleven of those twelve held on to him even in the face of persecution and death. Why? One man, old and childless, looked up into the sky and was told to count the stars – “So shall your offspring be.” He believed. Why? 200+ sitting in this room today, singing songs, bowing heads, listening to Words from long ago, every Sunday. Why? Do you sense what is behind that question of “why”? It’s a challenge. It’s a seed of doubt. It’s the question that you’ve maybe heard from an unbelieving friend or family member, “Why do you believe what you believe? What makes you so certain, confident, that you are right and that this whole Jesus thing isn’t just some fraud?” That simple question of “Why?” then suddenly isn’t so simple. How do I explain my trust, my faith, to someone who doesn’t believe what I believe? And, I think it’s worth asking, what if I am wrong?
That thought that I, that we, might be wrong about God, about Jesus, about everything is a rather scary thought. It shakes your confidence. It fills me with fear at least – I don’t know about you. It fills me with fear because the pillars of my life built on God, and Jesus, and his Word found in that book of books, the Bible, are put into question. My trust, my faith, my confidence, in what I’ve been taught, what I believe, could it all be wrong? How does that not terrify you?
But then we come across Abram, then we look a little closer at our gospel lesson, and we hear these words, the same words, spoken by God in both lessons, “Do not afraid.” Do you know who those words were spoken to? Believers. People just like you and me. In our sermon lesson, we hear those words spoken specifically to Abram. What do you know about Abram? In the book of Hebrews chapter 11, our second lesson for today, Abram – there called Abraham – is praised for his faith.
Abram had listened when God first told him to leave his homeland of Mesopotamia. He listened again when God told him to move on “to the land he would show him.” He listened again and again trusting that God would give him and his descendants the land that he now wandered. This was a man of faith, brimming with confidence! Confident that God would be with him and bless him. But then those words again, at the beginning of our lesson “Do not be afraid.” What did Abram fear? What could ever shake this man’s unshakable confidence and trust? Listen to what shook mighty Abram. As he is speaking to God, he says this, “God, You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Do you hear it? The doubt in Abram’s voice – you have given me no children – that confidence-faith destroying question left unsaid, “What if all this is wrong?” Was that not in a way what Abram was thinking? “God you promised me something, but where is it? Lord, you have given me no children.”
Abram, this hero of faith, was beginning to lose confidence in God’s promise that his family would inherit the land he wandered, that he would have many descendants, that the Savior would come from his line. He looked back at himself and at his wife, Sarai, and he realized the truth; they were getting old. At this point Abram was in his 80s and Sarai her 70s. Despite the protracted life spans of the time, children seemed a little far-fetched.
I think it is good for us to see this lack of confidence in Abram. It reveals something to us. Something that we need to hear. That we, yes even we, who sit in church and read our Bibles daily, and give offerings, sing songs and pray, we too, can doubt. We too can mess up. We too can lack confidence in God and his promises. The question then, What do we do in those moments when are confidence, our trust is low and we are left wondering, doubting…”is this all wrong?”
Look what God does in those moments. There are two characters in this lesson. God and Abram. Notice who spoke first. It wasn’t Abram expressing his doubt and fear it was God expressing words of comfort and promise. “Don’t be afraid…I am your shield…I am your reward…” That is our God. When we are angry, when our confidence in him is low and our doubt is off the charts, when it looks like God has forsaken and left us to suffer, when our guilt over our sin drives us to hide far from him– as if that were possible – where do we find him? Where is God? He is not far off nowhere to be seen, he’s right there -“Don’t be afraid” reminding you of who he is -“I am your shield”- and what he has promised to you – “your great reward.” God gives a reason to be confident, to trust. He gives us his Word.
Yet, don’t forget that second person of our lesson There was Abram, and we hear again his response, his complaint, his doubt. “Lord…what can you give me…you have given me no children… a servant will be my heir” What a picture. God offering promise and blessing. Man questioning, doubting, “God, hold on a sec. God, I am not so sure.” Perhaps, that all sounds a little too familiar, too real as you think of doubting moments in your own life. And finally, finally, that brings us again to the crux of it all, the question of doubt, “What if it’s all wrong, what if I am wrong, what if this what we are doing today truly holds no real and lasting treasure.”
I might offer a different way for us to look at it. What if this is all true and right? What if a descendant of Abram did become our Savior? What if God had to reduce himself to nothing but a helpless child? What if divinity had to appear in a dimmed and muted way so that we might for once, be able to hear him and look straight at him and not be consumed. What if there is more to our faith than sprinkled water, broken bread, sips of wine, and bits of ink on ancient paper? And what if that man named Jesus who hung on the cross was not just a man but God himself and the Scriptures that we read from every Sunday are nothing less than his very voice speaking to us, wiping away all doubt and crying out to us “Take this, This is for you!”
With that thought in mind walk outside with Abram, stand there and look up at the stars that he looked at so long ago. Hear God speak, “Count them, those stars – if indeed you can count them…so shall your offspring be” Imagine the wonder and awe that swept over Abram as he stood there so small and insignificant before God’s creation, that vast expanse of sky. Yet, it wasn’t the stars that won Abram over, and it’s not the stars that bring us away from doubt to faith either. Those burning balls of gas do not create saving faith. No, it’s the invitation to believe. It’s the promise that God gives in his Word to Abram, to you, and to me.
Here is that promise spoken by Abram’s very own descendant, a promise kept, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, verse 12 of our gospel lesson, ““Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” We sinners do not need to know what the invisible God looks like. We do not need to hear his plan for every moment of every day of our lives. All we need to know is his heart, his will, his verdict for us. For that, there must be words. Our real need, our real treasure, the only thing that can give us hope and confidence has always been for God to speak in a way that we can somehow hear and believe, to come to us and drive away all doubt. To plant that seed of trust in this body of sin.
Thank God for God. He has spoken to each of us with a “still, small voice.” He has said something to this world through his promised Son that will never be unsaid. With Word and water, bread and wine, God comes all the way down to us, to our level, and he speaks, “Forgiven,” and he calls us “his.” So, it is in that Son, Jesus, we find a reason for confidence.
There in Jesus we see everything we need. There in Jesus we find the answer to that burning question of “What if I am wrong?” as our eyes are lifted away from our doubt to gaze upon the one who made everything right. This is why we are all here today. Jesus is why the eleven believed and were willing to die for their faith. The promise of Jesus is why Abram looked up at those stars and “believed” and we are told “it was credited to him as righteousness.” In the midst of sins, doubtings, and tremblings, Abram trusted and treasured what God promised: that a Savior would come of his offspring. Through that promised Savior – Jesus not yet born – Abram was made righteous, his sin washed away, and so he died trusting, confident that he was right.
We can’t prove that we are right. No, that is the work of the Holy Spirit by means of God’s powerful Word. What we can do is this: we can see the reality of sin and death; we can open ourselves up to all the doubt and fear of this world. Then, by God’s invitation, we can ask with Abram, “O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me?” and we can hear and believe his answer, a promise, “Do not be afraid, I give you my kingdom. I give it to you through my Son whom I love.” And it’s there in him, in Jesus, that we find everything we need. Righteousness, peace, home, eternity. He is the reason for your confidence. Amen.