When I Am Afraid Part 1
Text: Genesis 15
Proposition: When I am afraid I will trust in You.
Introduction: Genesis 15 begins with the words, “After these things”, a prompt to consider the context of what has just occurred. What had just happened was that God had directed Abram to fight on behalf of another, his nephew Lot. He had defeated four kings in a battle, rescued the captives, returned home and there met this somewhat enigmatic character called Melchizedek, a Priest King of God Most High. Abram had at God’s prompt paid a tithe of all the spoils of the battle to him and turned over the balance of the spoils to the kings who were from Sodom and Gomorrah. “After these things” refers to all this, “After these things” refers to what happened after Abram had done what God prompted him to do, it was after doing the right thing, after the high of success and victory, after good had prevailed over evil God speaks to him and says, “Do not be afraid Abram, I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” I suppose the thing that catches my eye is that God knows what is in the back of Abrams mind, He knows he is afraid. Despite the obedience, the victory, the faith… there can be fear. We can rationalize as to what causes that fear, possibly the retaliation of the four defeated kings, possibly the unwanted attention of hostile neighbors, possibly the immensity of an unknown future. Whatever the supposed cause, there was still fear.
I was doing some background reading for this sermon and was scanning through an article on Cross Cultural Medicine in The Western Journal of Medicine. It made this rather broad observation, “…social history and personal development have combined to produce a society in the Middle East in which insecurity, hostility, suspicion and rivalry are compensated by strong adherence to religious ritual, patterns of ingratiation and hospitality and limited forms of cooperation.” Abram was afraid, yet while this was still in his thoughts God speaks to him, calling him by name, assuring him in regards to the very fears that assailed him. Listen to what God did to dispel fear, turn with me to Genesis 15.
I. The Blessed Assurance… I Am Your Protection, I Am Your Reward.
I have a fridge magnet that simply says, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” That’s a pretty North American way of thinking, the Near Eastern mind is different. That same article I mentioned earlier had this observation in it, “Given the intensity and frequency of their relationships, Middle Easterners' culture is highly contextual- that is, persons seek understanding of events by examining the entire web of circumstances in which they occur. A Middle Easterner needs to know more about another person than an American does for a relationship to develop. American culture is low in context; the emphasis is on the verbal message and less so on the context in which the message is given.” So even though God gives this blessed assurance to Abram it isn’t just a “He said it, I believe it, that settles it” kind of thing. Perhaps that’s why we see Abram questioning God for more details, pointing out the context of present circumstance to God, laying out the way he sees things and asking God how that measures up to the Blessed Assurance. No children meant great defeat to the eastern mind, how could God be a shield to Abram without the evident presence of a son who would carry on Abram’s name. What point would riches be if there was no one to inherit them?
The reality of the situation was that Abram was afraid, the reality of the situation was that God knew that and spoke personally to him to address the very root of those fears. The Blessed Assurance that God gave to Abram was just that, an assurance. Nothing in Abrams life changed, there were still the potential threats and he still needed to choose his next steps very carefully. What God invited him to do was to draw close and to push away the fear. How big a shield do you think God could be? How great a reward do you think God is, not has but is? That’s the Blessed Assurance, that despite present circumstance He knows your fear, your context, your name, your need and knowing it He declares Himself as your Shield, your Reward. That was the first step in dispelling fear, the Blessed Assurance.
II. As I Believe, Perfect Love Casts Out Fear.
Do you remember that Scripture passage from 1 John 4:16, “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” That’s exactly what happened to Abram. God directed him to step outside, to look up and count the stars it says in verse 5. The problem is, it was still daytime, you can’t see the stars in full daylight. Abram had yet to get the sacrifices ready, vultures don’t come to prey on carcasses in the night, if all this was happening in one sequence of timing, and I believe the context suggests that, then it was broad daylight when God tells Abram to look up and count the stars. What’s the point? Well he knew the stars were there even though he couldn’t see them, he knew that what God was saying is that even though you can’t see my promises know that they are sitting there just as surely as the stars are there before your eyes this very moment.
Verse 6 describes Abrams response, he believed. He came know and to believe the love that God had for him. He began to abide or rest in that love knowing that he not only rested in God’s love but in God Himself. 1 John 4:17,18 says, “By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”
The ‘day of judgment’ refers to the final day when we stand before His throne but in another sense there are a number of lesser days of judgment, days when the wheels have come off, when it feels like our lives are crashing. We can also have confidence in those days of judgment, because as He is, as God is, One who is never alone in the Trinity, neither are we. As He is unshaken in the heavens even so we in Him shall never perish. As Abram believed, God reckoned it to him as righteousness. As he believed in this love of God for him, this perfect love, fear was cast out. It works exactly the same way in my life, in your life, here, today.
Perfect love casts out fear and then it locks the door behind it. God then says to Abram, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” In essence God is saying to Abram, ‘Remember where you were, what you were tangled up in and how I brought you from that to here. I did not bring you to this place to let you fall to defeat. I brought you here so that you can better see what you receive by grace as inheritance. I brought you here so that would better know Who I am…I Am the Lord. I brought you here because you are to me as my own child. I brought you here because I love you. That perfect love of God for us is most clearly seen in the perfect way that He sent Jesus to die on the cross for our sin. That perfect love is seen in the perfect Son of God, in perfect obedience dying in our place to perfectly pay the price of all our sin. That perfect love casts out all fear by securing us to Jesus in a way that nothing can ever sever.
Perfect love does indeed cast out fear, next week we are going to look at how God uses sacrifice to teach Abram how to persevere in part two of ‘When I Am Afraid.’