Genesis 15: 1-21 (p.10)
Philippians 3: 17 – 4:1 (p.981)
Luke 13: 31 – 35 (p. 873)
Abram and Sarai were very old indeed but God insisted that they would have a child and their descendents would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Faith and hope of the highest magnitude was needed here. Against all the odds Abraham believed and God reckoned it to him as righteousness, ie. It brought him into a right relationship with God.
Not only that but God also insisted that Abram would possess the land of Canaan. They needed an extraordinary happening or vision to convince Abram in this instance that God really was going to be faithful and fulfil this promise as well.
The vision that ensued was pretty extraordinary.
Assurance comes via a mysterious dream in which a torch and a smoking fire-pot pass between the pieces of sacrificial animals that Abram had cut in two. The origin of the symbolism is probably from the Hebrew idiom that when you make a covenant you "cut" a covenant.
What is implied is that if either one of them breaks the terms of the covenant they will share the same fate as the animals that have been cut in two! Jeremiah 34: 18 spells this out and it appears that the parties to the covenant had to walk between the parts of the severed animals.
God in this vision is represented by the torch and the fire-pot passing between the severed animals in this vision thus sealing his part of the bargain. Human beings are frail beings who constantly need signs and reassurance, and using the symbols of the cultural practices of his day God reassured Abram.
Throughout the whole of the Jewish and Christian tradition Abram or Abraham as he became known is held out as an example of great faith.
But in the church at Philippi there were people who were anything but great examples. Soe of them were enemies of the true church for they were self centred and cared only about their own wants and needs who condoned immorality like adultery and showed no commitment to the rest of the community – they just wanted to fill their own bellies as Paul puts it by revelling in the loose living of the society in which they found themselves.
Their end is spiritual destruction.
Paul reminds the church that whatever people living around us may be doing, our citizenship is in heaven. We belong to God and so should act accordingly. The gauge of our true fidelity to the gospel is how we act and what we say.
Matthew 7:15-23English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
A Tree and Its Fruit
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thorn bushes?17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
These words ought to frighten the living daylights out of Christians who presume on God’s Grace and think they can do whatever they like and God will forgive them anyway.
Not so. The offer of God’s Grace is always there but our repentance must be real.
Our faith, our example and our assurance is vested in Jesus Christ who in Luke’s gospel here sets his sights on Jerusalem in full knowledge of where that will lead.
His answer to the Pharisees is enigmatic and prophetic.
“I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow and on the third day I finish my work” (v. 32)
On the third day. I do believe that was the key phrase from the story of the changing of water into wine from John’s gospel and the meaning is the same. The third day is the day of resurrection.
Paul in Philippians speaks of how our frail bodies “the body of our humiliation” as Paul calls it in verse 21 will be transformed into the body of his glory on the last day, by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
Let me end in the words that Paul ended this particular address to the Philippians and address it to you, for actually through the Spirit this is addressed to you as is all scripture.
Therefore my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. (4:1)