Faith with a Testimony (Genesis 17:1-8)
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:1-8)
The scripture you have just read today is from Genesis 17:1-8, and it is about Abraham. I have been talking about Abraham throughout this newcomer service for the past four weeks.
Abraham is very important to us as much. The most important figure in our faith is naturally Jesus Christ. Yet the reason Jesus Christ was cursed was in order for us to be blessed, and that blessing was called Abraham’s blessing. This means that the blessing God promised to Abraham has also been given to us. God said to Abraham, “I will do these things to you!” and He says He will do the same to us who believe in Jesus. Thus, if we carefully observe the promise God made with Abraham, we will come to know well what we must receive from God.
Many people are confused about their faith life. One of the reasons for that is the Bible is a very thick book. And the Bible says so many things that at times, they seem to contradict each other. But when we are unsure about what to do, the best thing to do is to look at the very basics, what is the key point. And we can find that the blessing which God is giving us through Jesus Christ is the blessing that God had already promised to this person called Abraham. Hence it is important that we examine what God said and promised to Abraham.
We are using the word “God”(with a capital “G”), and the Bible uses that word in the same way as “god”. So to put it simply, a certain god appeared to this man named Abraham. And that god promised Abraham saying, “I will establish a covenant with you! This is what I will offer you, and I want you to give me such and such.
And the scripture we looked at today is the word that Abraham received when he was 99 years old. It is when Abraham met God at 99 years of age and God was reaffirming His covenant with Abraham. The first time Abraham had met this god was when he was 75 years old. After 25 years had passed and he was 99, God gave these words which we read to Abraham, which sums up all the promises given to Abraham. God gave three great promises to Abraham. First of all, the land of Canaan which is the Palestinian region of today, is where Israel was established as a country. God promised saying, “I will give this land to you and your descendants”. Secondly, “Your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore!” However, when Abraham was 99 years old, how many children did he have? He didn’t have any children by his wife. He had only one son through his maidservant but God didn’t say that it would be through him that Abraham’s descendants would come. Instead, He promised saying, “Through the son born from your wife will come your descendants, as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore! It is your wife who will give birth to your son.” That was when his wife was 75 years old. It says that her menstruation had stopped. In other words, she was no longer able to have any children. But God said He would give him a son through his wife. And that this son would have many descendants to become a great nation. Thirdly, God promised saying, “I will be their God! I will be their King!”
These were the three promises. Simply put, first God promised to give land. Then He promised to give descendants. And thirdly He promised that He would be their King and their God. Let’s think about this, whether or not these are possible. His wife is beyond the age of childbearing. But God says that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Based on common sense, biologically and scientifically is that even possible? Is it impossible? It is impossible. Even if a man was full of vigor, it is impossible to have children if a woman no longer is able to bear children. Therefore, this promise is impossible. Next, the promise that Abraham’s descendants would take over the Palestinian region and occupy the land, is that possible? Is it impossible? Yes, it’s impossible. Is that land an empty plain? Already many nations were living in that land. If the land is to be given to his descendants, that means they have to be great in number to conquer that land. However, if Abraham doesn’t have any sons how can his descendants conquer the land? Thus, even this promise is impossible. And what about the third? God said, “I will dwell among them and be their God!” How can God be their God when “they” don’t even exist? Hence the third promise is also impossible.
In other words, this god appeared to Abraham and gave lots of impossible promises. But this man called Abraham believed them and followed for 25 years. Later on, he could’ve thought, “Oh I’ve been tricked!” However, he had already put in too much to walk away from it. He had followed for 25 years. After leaving his home country, he went through many trials. He would wish those promises were true but there were hardly any grounds on which he could believe them to be true. Now, we believe in such a God. In a sense, we might think ‘Isn’t the God we believe in a deceitful god?’
So then let’s check one thing. Is there a way to check whether or not these promises are true? Is there a way for Abraham to see those promises being fulfilled? If his descendants are going to be as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore, that number would be in the millions, wouldn’t it? It could be tens of millions. Would Abraham get to see his descendants becoming so numerous during his lifetime or not? Even if that was to happen, how long would he have to live to witness it with his eyes? He would have to live for 1000 or 2000 years to see it happen. Thus, there is no way to confirm that promise during his lifetime.
Is there a way for him to check his many descendants conquering that land? Is it possible? No, it’s impossible. He can’t see that happen. And is he able to verify that God will dwell among his descendants and be their King? Can he or not? He can’t. Promises that can make people feel heavy is to promise what is impossible. They are impossible to believe. God gave him impossible promises. Furthermore, Abraham has no way of confirming whether God would do these things or not. It is literally the same as giving him a blank bank cheque. There’s no need to rejoice over these promises because they are impossible anyway and can’t be verified.
Do you know what it is like? Let’s say I make a promise to you. I’m a pastor and my son will later grow up and get married. Then he would probably have his own child who would be my grandchild. Let’s say that I promise you saying, “I am praying for my grandson to become the CEO of Samsung. And I am sure he will! On the day that he becomes CEO I will buy each of you a brand-new car!” Would you be happy to hear that or not? Are you happy? If I were, I may not be happy. First of all, it does not seem that the grandson of Pastor Ki-taek Lee will become the CEO of Samsung. But also, would I even be in this world by then? I won’t be probably. So, it is like I’m handing out a blank bank cheque. I don’t think many people would be thrilled to hear what I just said. They’d just laugh over it.
Likewise, when this God promised these things to Abraham, normal people would just giggle about it. But Abraham actually believed them and followed Him. If his faith stopped there, if our faith stopped there, our faith would be so useless and in vain. I wouldn’t even need to encourage you to follow this God and worship Him. But then God made another promise to Abraham when he was 99 years old. It’s not in this chapter that we read. But what He promised Abraham who was 99 years old was this: “Around this time next year, you will have a son. Your wife will give birth to a son”. But if we look at this promise, He said Abraham would have a son. Is that possible? It’s impossible, isn’t it? Once again, it is impossible. So, he shouldn’t even be happy about it.
Yet one thing is possible. Abraham could check it himself. When could he check it? Around the same time next year, he would be able to confirm whether the promise was true or not. So, when it came next year and a son would be born to him, he could confirm that the impossible actually happened. Therefore, he could be sure, “Oh even though His promises seem impossible, they surely come true!” But if next year came and his wife did not have a son, then he could be sure that this God had been tricking him for 25 years and finally leave that God. So, Abraham started to wait from this time on. To him, that one year was very significant. What was he always looking at? Every day whenever he returned home, what do you think he looked at first? His wife’s belly – did it grow or not? After 6 months, it would’ve grown, wouldn’t it? But still, he couldn’t be sure. How could he be certain that his wife’s belly was growing because of a baby inside or because of old age? But one year later, his wife named Sarah actually gave birth to a baby, a son. The impossible happened right before his eyes. This is real. It actually happened. Because he had that son, that son later had children and they became the nation Israel that we know of today. We are not talking about a dream. This is how Israel came about. Abraham had Isaac and from Isaac’s two sons, Jacob’s descendants grew to form the Israeli nation of today.
Thus, it was crucial that he witnessed the fulfilment of what was impossible. Why? Do you remember there were three other impossible promises? First, “I will give you this land”. Second, “You will have many descendants”. Third, “I will be their God”. What would become of these impossible promises? Would they come true or not? Yes, he had received the testimony that they would be fulfilled. He received the testimony. People laughed at Abraham for 25 years. “Why are you following this absurd God? What kind of God can make you a great nation? How can he give you a son when your wife can’t have any children? And how can all nations be blessed through you? And how can this God, the Creator of heaven and earth, be with you? Are you insane? Don’t be deceived! You left your father’s house for nothing!” Can you imagine how painful it would’ve been for him when people said that?
So, he would’ve needed a testimony. And finally, when he saw his son being born, he received the testimony and was certain: “Whatever this God says comes true! It seemed impossible but it happened!” Although he didn’t see the rest happen before his eyes, Abraham believed. It was as though he saw it with his own eyes. “My descendants would become numerous like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore! Even if other nations live in the land of Canaan, my descendants would later conquer that land!” He had this faith. He believed, “God would dwell among us and my descendants and be our God! He will lead us!”
God also said to him, “Kings of nations will come from you! And from your descendants will come the one who will possess the gates of the enemies!” Abraham was certain that the Savior who would redeem mankind would come through his descendants. And by his assurance, this has been fulfilled upon us today. Jesus Christ did come as a descendant of Abraham and of David, and through Him we have received Abraham’s blessing. That’s how the blessing came upon us. God promised Abraham, “I will be with them and be their God!” This promise has been fulfilled upon all of us. “I will be with you and be your God!”
Therefore, the goal of our faith is not here. It is the kingdom of heaven, the eternal kingdom. When we go there, we won’t be floating around like a ghost without a body. We will go there in bodily form. It will not be a body that gets tired or decays, but we will have a body that doesn’t decay. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? It is very hard to even imagine this. It is hard to believe that a person lives after death, and that a person would never die but live in heaven. Yet this is not an obscure and vague belief.
When Jesus promised this to us, he gave us a promise that we can verify right now. What is that? He said, “When I go to the Father in heaven before you, I will ask the Father and send the Holy Spirit to you!” This means He will send the Spirit of God to us. He promised that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will guide us into all truth, help us understand God’s word and reveal the spiritual reality to us. Though we will enjoy eternal life after resurrection in heaven, the receiving of the Holy Spirit doesn’t happen in heaven. Where do we receive Him? Here, while we are on earth. If God didn’t exist and there was no resurrection, we wouldn’t receive the Holy Spirit either. But if God does exist, Jesus is in heaven, and the resurrection is true, then we also receive the Holy Spirit while we are on earth. That is why in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit we drive out demons, heal the sick and do all kinds of miracles on earth.
Likewise, our Christian faith has experiences and testimonies. It is not something vague or unclear that we would only know once we die. We don’t have to die to know what this faith is about. Through this faith we can receive testimonies while we are on the earth. Everyone, if you don’t have a testimony regarding God, then even if you might be attending church right now, you may return to the world later and have no interest in the church. You may attend the church for two or three years but leave saying, “I’ve been disappointed!” You have to have a testimony. You need to have a testimony that is unwavering. You must experience the impossible taking place right before your eyes, that is, the promise of God being fulfilled.
So, a faith life is not always like a smooth sail. You have to endeavor to experience the word. Hence you need to make an effort. You have to pray. You have to ask for the impossible. And therefore, you should have experiences. If you have an illness, you must pray for that to be healed. Our senior overseer was close to becoming blind at one point. I remember I met him for the first time and then the second time I met him, he couldn’t recognize me. At first, I thought he wasn’t good at remembering people’s faces. That was when I had returned to Korea after serving as a missionary in China. I said to him, “I just came back from China”. And he asked me, “Are you a Chinese immigrant?” He asked me that the next time when I met him. So, I thought it was because he met so many people that he couldn’t remember each person. But I found out later that for a long period of time he was close to losing his eye sight. But he prayed. He prayed for what seemed impossible, because doctors had told him it would be impossible to recover. He set his heart and prayed about this for one year and one day, as he was preaching, he started to see clearly from front to back. Because he couldn’t see properly, another person read the sermon outline instead. Our church was used to having another person read the sermon outline. He also tripped and fell over many times because he couldn’t see. Yet he prayed for the impossible. He held on to the promise of God. And now his eyesight is restored. Now he has very good eye sight.
We can have many such testimonies throughout our lives. You must have such testimonies so that no matter what others say, you can tell them, “I have met God!” If you go to other churches, you will often hear people say, “I believe in God! I believe in Jesus!” However, in our church you will hear people saying, “I met God in 1992!” for example. We say that we have met God.
We really do meet God. It is not my unilateral confession saying, “I believe! I believe!” It is about having an experience. It is about having a testimony. I bless you all in Jesus’ name to truly meet God. I’ll pray.
God our Father, help every person here to truly meet the living God. May that become a great experience and a testimony of the everlasting hope that God has promised. While they are on earth, help them to have the testimony of the truth that there is the kingdom of heaven and that we will resurrect and share in the glory of the Son of God the Father. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center