Monday, December 06, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Lessons and Carols

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Lessons and Carols”
First Published: November 27, 2007

Derek and I will begin our sermon series on the famous “Nine Lessons and Carols” from King’s College, Cambridge, this Lord’s Day. Derek will start off in the morning services with the First Lesson: “God tells sinful Adam that he has lost the life of Paradise and that his seed will bruise the serpent’s head.” The reading is from Genesis 3 and I think Derek is titling the message something like “Christmas from afar.” The point is that the Christmas story begins with “the Fall” and the first promise of God. Until we understand our sin and need we can’t understand the glory of grace and the gift of Christ.

Then, on Sunday evening, we’ll consider the Second Lesson: “God promises to faithful Abraham that in his seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” The reading is from Genesis 22, in the beautiful old King James Version. Actually it is just verses 15-18.

“And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, and said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply
thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.”

These are hugely important words. As far as we know, the last words God ever spoke to Abraham. In them, the Lord emphatically reaffirms his covenant promises to Abraham in order to give him assurance. Indeed, the passage makes clear that one consequence of Abraham’s heroic obedience in being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac was God’s special word of assurance to him. The reward of Abraham’s obedience is assurance, and the Lord honors him by reaffirming and expanding his covenantal commitments to him.
Specifically, God reiterates four things.
  1. “I will greatly bless you.” God confirms his unchanging covenantal favor.
  2. “I will greatly multiply your seed.” God confirms his promise to make Abraham a father of nations (cf. Genesis 22:20-24).
  3. “Your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.” God forecasts the conquest of Canaan and the church’s inheritance of the world (Romans 4:13, Matthew 5:5).
  4. “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” God reaffirms his purpose in blessing Abraham: that Abraham might be a blessing.
In this word of confirmation, the Lord employs shocking language: “I swear by myself.” He must witness to himself for there is none higher. Hebrews 6:13-18 explains and applies the meaning of this glorious Old Testament passage in detail. The great stress of the passage is the certainty of God’s promise and thus of our assurance.

“For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, "Surely I will bless you and multiply you." And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.”

Come expectantly this Lord’s Day as we prepare to feast, all month long, on the grand story of our redemption.

Your friend,
Ligon Duncan

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