(A sermon for the second Sunday in Lent based on Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35)
The Lenten path is a road to glory. It was that way for Jesus. The path that he followed during the last days of his life on earth was the path to his glorification. It was a path that led to resurrection but crucifixion had to be experienced before resurrection could be known. We will do well always to remember that God’s way, which is most fully revealed in the life of Jesus Christ, is the way of the cross. It is not an easy way and there are no shortcuts. But it is the necessary way.
What can we say about God’s glory road?
First, God’s glory road is a road of faith. We will make progress on that road as we learn to trust God more. By what is such faith characterized?
For one thing, such faith is characterized by honest questions. From Job to Jesus, the Bible continually shows us that the possession of real faith does not eliminate the asking of real questions. Indeed, faith does not require us to hang our integrity on a nail outside the church door; faith allows us to bring our honest doubts inside the church door so that they can be baptized. So when God said to Abraham, “Your reward will be very great,” the patriarch could not help but think that he had heard this before. God had earlier promised him that a nation would descend from him but Sarah and he had not yet had a child and they were getting old. So Abraham asked, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless…? (Genesis 15:2). That was a good and honest question. Later, God told Abraham that he was going to give him the land to possess. Again, Abraham had heard that before. So he asked, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” (v. 8). Again, a good and honest question.
There is nothing wrong with such good and honest questions. Indeed, when it comes to conversing with God, if you’re thinking it you might as well voice it! Life with God is challenging. It takes us down some difficult roads. Doubts and concerns are bound to arise. As we give voice to them we give God the opportunity to alleviate them and to help us deal with them.
For another thing, such faith is characterized by radical trust in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Even in the face of honest doubts we can move toward radical trust. And so, after God reassured Abraham that he would indeed have many descendants, we find one of the most amazing verses in the Bible: “And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness” (v. 6). Abraham was made right with God not because he did all the right things; he was made right with God because, in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and in the face of honest and reasonable doubts, he achieved and expressed radical trust in God. True, Abraham did not trust perfectly from that moment on, but radical trust is not perfect trust, anyway. A person who has radical trust is a person who gives himself over fully to God and who deals with whatever comes knowing that his life is in God’s hands.
Sometime great obstacles stand between us and the fulfillment of God’s plan for us. Sometimes we create our own obstacles; as Pogo put it, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Sometimes the obstacles emerge from the circumstances of life. Sometimes the obstacles emerge from the opposition of the world around us. But the obstacles do arise. And sometimes they seem insurmountable. That’s when real faith kicks in.
Second, God’s glory road is a road of hope. One key to being on God’s road to glory is the constant acknowledgement and awareness that we are indeed on a road, that we are in fact on a journey. Until we get there we have not arrived! We can be the child in the back seat of the car who continually asks her father “Are we there yet?” but if we keep asking our heavenly Father that question the answer is always going to be, “No, my child, no.” But that is actually a good thing.
It is a good thing because God has a future for us. It is a future in which, as Paul put it, “He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory…” (Philippians 3:21). When God brings all things to their completion and we receive our resurrection bodies, then God’s great future will be realized in our lives. In the meantime, while we walk on this road that God has laid out before us, we are always drawn forward by the power of that great future. Our minds are set on heavenly things. We know that we belong in heaven and that one day our Savior will come and take us there.
God’s way is all about the future. Abraham had to believe in what God promised for the future. The Philippians had to believe that the day was coming when they would be all that God intended for them to be. We have to believe that God is going to keep his promises; we have to believe that he is not finished with us and with his universe yet. We have to believe in heaven and in the resurrection because those realities are what God’s great future is all about. It is heaven that makes going through what we have to go through worth it. It is the resurrection that makes the hard times in life worthwhile. It is trusting in the God who keeps his promises that keeps us pushing forward.
While God’s way is about the future, that way empowers us in the present. Thus Abraham believed in what God told him about his future heir and God reckoned that to him as righteousness in the present. Also, Abraham was able to move forward in hope because he believed that God would do what God had promised to do. Paul encouraged the Philippians, after he had assured them that God would one day transform their humble bodies into glorious ones, to “stand firm in the Lord” (4:1). They could stand firm in the present exactly because of what God was going to do in the future. So can we.
Third, God’s glory road is a road of perspective. When we accept the promises of God so that we walk the road he has placed before us in faith and hope, when we believe in his promises so that we are pulled toward his future in a way that empowers our present, then we are given a proper perspective on the living of our lives. What are some characteristics of that perspective?
First, it enables us to face the challenges of life head-on and with our eyes open. God told Abraham, “Do not be afraid, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (Genesis 15:1). That statement may mean many things, but it certainly implies that Abraham would need a shield. I am struck by the three-part phrasing of that statement. First, God told Abraham, “Do not be afraid.” Third, he told him, “Your reward shall be very great.” But in the middle he said, “I am your shield.” It is as if God was telling Abraham, “I will be your shield while you go through all the difficulties and trials that you are going to experience before you receive your great reward.” So it is with us. We are heading toward a great reward but in the meantime we must live these lives in which difficult things can and will happen. While we live in faith and hope, God will be our shield. Therefore, we don’t shy away from life. We have the kind of perspective that enables us to face it head on.
Second, it enables us to live the lives that God has called us to live regardless of the cost to us because we know that victory will come in the end. Once, Jesus was warned to steer clear of Herod because Herod wanted to kill him. Jesus’ response revealed his commitment to fulfilling his mission of healing and helping; he had to do what he was called to do. He even stated that when his work of ministry was over he knew that he would go to Jerusalem to be killed. Jesus did not deny the threat to his life. Nor did he avoid his God-given responsibility because of that threat. He pressed on, knowing that one day people would shout “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Of course, even when they shouted those words on Palm Sunday, the people of Jerusalem would mean less than they should and would say more than they meant. But the day would come, Jesus knew, when some people would say those words because they would know that his faithfulness was a reflection of his commitment to doing the will of God. His resurrection surely revealed that truth. And one day, when he comes again, when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, then everybody will say “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” and everybody will know what it means.
We need the right kind of perspective on our lives. Disciples of Jesus Christ are not called to have easy lives; we are called to live faithful lives. We are called to follow him wherever he may lead us. If we are faithful, those places will often be difficult and challenging. In a very real way, faithfulness is its own reward. And yet we are promised by our God that in the end we will know the reward of eternal life with him.
The Lenten path is a road to glory. The question we need to ask ourselves today is this: to what extent are we walking along the path that Jesus showed us and about which he taught us? Are we walking in ways that grow our faith, that increase our hope, and that enhance our perspective? Are we traveling down God’s glory road?