Michael Youssef - Counting Stars Renews Your Vision
All of life, if you think about it, there are all sorts of covenants, and all sorts of agreements, and all sorts of contracts. Most of them are agreements between two equals, in marriage, a husband and wife, two equals stand and make an agreement or a covenant before God. He is the witness, the primary witness, and then the congregation is a secondary witness. In business, thanks to lawyers, even if we're exchanging a few dollars, we have a hundred-page document to sign. In the Bible, we often see God making covenant. God speaks as the covenant-making God. He makes covenant with people, but the covenants that God makes with man far from two equals.
Indeed, it is a covenant of two very unequal. It is a covenant where God does all of the heavy lifting. It's a covenant where God takes upon himself 100% of the responsibility. For example, we see that God made a covenant with Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, where he promised Jesus the Messiah will come. Then we see him making a covenant with Noah after the flood. And here in Genesis chapter 15, we see him making a covenant with Abraham. Now, I want you to turn with me to chapter 15 of the book of Genesis. When Abraham was still not sure, even though God said, "I am your shield, I am your great reward," the Lord can sense that he's still not certain. But God's so gracious, even when we are not certain. He's saying, "How could this happen when Sarah and I are not getting any younger"?
And so, God does something so stupendous. God does something so magnificent. He does something so unprecedented. He does something that is unheard of. God does something beyond anyone's imagination at that time. Not only that he makes a covenant with Abraham, but God commits himself and his honor in a tangible demonstration of how God is gonna keep his Word no matter what. But there's something here I want you to learn from Abraham. I don't want you to miss. I want you to see how God was not offended by Abraham's candor. God was not offended by Abraham unloading of his burdens before the Lord. God was not offended when Abraham poured his innermost in the presence of God, his innermost thoughts, what he was thinking and how he's feeling. He poured it all out to God and God was never offended.
Don't you think God knows if you got volcanoes inside of you or not? Don't you think he already knows that it is unhealthy for you to repress how you really feel or what you're thinking? Do you think that God will fall off his throne if you come clean and unload on God of how you're feeling and what's going on? No, because God already knows what's inside of us. He longs for us to verbalize it. He longs for us to speak it out to him, for that is the mark of an honest relationship with God. Now, they can be polite with God and only say polite things. No, no, no, he already knows what's inside. Look with me, verse 8. Genesis 15:8. Here's Abraham with uttermost respect to God, but he's pouring out. He said, "Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will possess these promises"?
Now, I wanna ask you a question. Does this represent unbelief on the part of Abraham? No, absolutely not. I know in Luke chapter 1, verse 18, when God supernaturally promised Zechariah the priest he's gonna give him a son, and that being John the Baptist. And he didn't believe it so he was struck dumb until the baby is born, and then finally God let his sight. That's unbelief. But not all asking, not all questioning is unbelief. On the cross, Jesus, the second member of the Trinity, who he and the Father have been one before all eternity in intimacy, he hung on that cross, though he knew the answer, he asked, "Why"? Sometimes, to ask why is not an unbelief. God understands our weaknesses. He really does. He understands our weaknesses more than we do.
In fact, that is why the Apostle Paul said, "Even when our conscience condemn us, he is greater than our conscience". Oh, to be sure, God does not wink at our disobedience. He does not wink at our sin. He does not wink at our failure, but he gives us the strength to overcome. Like the man in Mark chapter 9, verse 24, he came to Jesus crying out and said, "I believe; help my unbelief". That is a true, genuine pouring of the heart to God. And that is why in response to Abraham's query, God enacted a covenant with him. God actually gave him a tangible, a tangible sign when he made that covenant with him. God gave him his Word, but he realized that this man is weak like we all are, so he graciously gave him a sign. God sometimes does that. When he makes a covenant, he gives a tangible sign. When he made a covenant with Noah after the flood, he gave him a tangible sign, the rainbow.
When Gideon came to him twice, not sure, uncertain, God graciously twice took care of that fleece. He said, "I want it wet," he did it wet. "I want it dry". God is so gracious and he's merciful. God responded to Hezekiah's request in 2 Kings chapter 20 by making the shadow of the sundial move backward. Now, there are times in my life, and I testify this to the graciousness of God, when I'm not absolutely sure if it is God or it's me. And before I run headlong, I cry to God, "Just show me a sign. Just let me know that this is you and I'm ready to obey". And God graciously every time gives me a clear sign. Covenant in its basic definition, the word "covenant" means promise.
In this case, a promise that is made by God to Abraham. I personally prefer the word "promise" than the word "covenant". See, the word "covenant" sometimes comes across as, "Well, let's make a deal. God, you do this, and I do this, and if I do this, God would you do this"? It doesn't mean that. Sadly, many of us don't keep our side of the bargain, but not so with God. Why? As we see here in Genesis 15, because God's covenant of promise is unilateral. It's unilateral. God took it all upon himself. First, all of God covenants are unilateral. When he makes them, he makes them unilaterally. Secondly, all of God's covenants are eternal, not temporary or just for a season. They are eternal. Thirdly, all of God's covenantal promises that he makes are based on his grace, not on our performance. What a great God we worship. What a great God we worship.
So, his covenants are unilateral, eternal, and dependent on his grace. Let's say those together. Unilateral, eternal, and based on his grace. Here is a fact, none of us deserve the promise of God through Jesus Christ for salvation. I know I don't. None of us, and that is why I want you to look at these three characteristics. The Bible tells us in Galatians and in Romans that all of the promises, all the seven-fold promises that God gave Abraham, all of them fulfilled in Jesus Christ. And the descendants of Jesus Christ are numerous as the star and the sands of the sea. First, it is one-sided covenant. It's unilateral. You may know that an oath, or a promise, or a covenant, or a contract is executed in different cultures, and different countries, and different parts of the world differently.
For example, in Africa, there is a tribe called the Hausa tribe. Hausa tribe, for example, have no word for a contract or covenant because when they do make a covenant, what the two parties of the covenant, they spit at each other's feet. And so, the Bible translators who were trying to translate the Bible that God is a covenant-making God, so basically they wrote down and said, "He is the one who spits at your feet," and then they began to understand what it means. In America, we go to court and raise our right hand and say, "I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth". In the old days, it used to be a Bible.
Now they moved the Bible, but nonetheless, that's a way by which we make a promise. In Abraham's day, a covenant is made based on a ceremony. This what was done in that day. And look how gracious God is that he did something not strange, not unusual, not something Abraham can never understand or comprehend. No, he came down to Abraham's level, to what is familiar to him, to what he knows it happens when people make contract. And what do they do? They cut an animal in half. That's the ceremony. Now, I couldn't show you illustration because out of fear that the PETA group would go after me and be added to... I got enough list of people who don't like me, so I don't wanna add to the list, but use your imagination. They cut the animal in half and they put the two halves across from each other, and the two contracting parties would walk in the space between those two halves.
That's how covenant was conducted in those days. And so, God says to Abraham, "I'm gonna do it the way you understand it". And so, he cuts the animals in half, but instead of Abraham and God walks through the space, he noticed something I told you stupendous, it's unprecedented, unheard of. God alone walks in the middle. He takes the full responsibility. The reason they do this ceremonially, as we study in history, is because as if to announce to the world or those who are witnessing the covenant that if any of us will break the covenant, what happen to that animal will happen to him. As a matter of fact, the shedding of blood was a clear indication of the seriousness by which a covenant is taken.
Now, if you look at verse 17 of Genesis 15, you'll see what I'm talking about. God alone passes through the pieces, by himself, while Abraham just sitting tight, trying to keep the wild animals and the bird away from the sacrifice. Not only did God come down to Abraham's level, but God assures Abraham that he is not an only covenant-making God, but he's a covenant-keeping God. What a gracious God we have. And that is why Hebrews chapter 6, beginning at verse 13 says, "And so after waiting patiently," don't miss that one, "after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised". God shows Abraham the refiner's fire and then he shows him the blazing torch, all of the symbolizing of God's perseverance.
So, God's promises are unilateral. Secondly, they are eternal. All of his promises are always eternal, always eternal. They are unchangeable. They are unshakeable. Listen to me, God is not sitting in heaven, when a person repent of their sins, and become born again, and adopted in God's family, he writes their name in the Book of Life with a pencil, and the moment they mess up, he turns the pencil over and erases that name. And then they repent and come back to God, so he writes their name back. And then they mess up again and God erases, and on, and on, and on. No, no, no! God loved us and he loved us to the end. His love is eternal. The name of every believer in Jesus Christ, all his children whom he adopted, are written in the Book of Life by no other than the blood of Jesus Christ himself, and nobody can erase.
But the reason I'm sure is because God's love for us was always there before we were ever born. His love for us was always there before we ever responded to his love. His pure grace is what caused us to respond in obedience. It is his gracious love that caused us to be delighted in loving him back. It is his pure grace and love that caused us to delight in serving him. You see, God's love is not dependent on whims and moods. God's love is not limited to a moment of time or a space. God's love is always for better, for worse, our worse and his better. No matter what we do, his love and promise of love is everlasting. Oh, to be sure, the scars of our rebellion, the scars of our disobedience will always be there. It's like a mommy that says to her little boy, "Don't touch the stove, you'll burn," and the boy tries it and he gets burnt.
And he said, "I'm sorry Mommy," as they were going into the ambulance to get some medical help. "I'm so sorry". Of course the mom forgives him, but that scar might stay for life. You see, those scars of our disobedience will always be there to remind us of our disobedience, but it doesn't mean that God does not forgive us. Please listen carefully. Don't let anyone mislead you and tell you that the God of the Old Testament is the God of wrath, but the God of the New Testament is the God of love. That is a lie from the pit of hell. It is the same God in the Old Testament who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament. All you need to do, take them to this passage here in Genesis chapter 15. Take them to Genesis. Show them before the law was ever given, and show them the incredible love and grace of God that he poured on Abraham.
Here, you see the promise of God to Abraham, and to you, and you, and you, and you is unilateral. It's eternal. And when you see the promise of God to Abraham, you understand why we have one true God, consistent throughout the Scripture. First of all, God exercises his love by choosing us, and electing us, and bringing us to himself. Then, his love is being exercised as he perseveres with us, with our foolishness and with our disobedience. He continuously perseveres with us. For God's love is a steadfast love, not an emotional and changeable love, and he gets mad at us when we're not good, and he gets happy when we're good. No, that is a human image of God.
I am convinced that the reason why we have a messed up view of God is because we have a messed up view of love. We really do. I hear people always talking, "I'm in love. I'm out of love. I'm in love. I'm out of love". It's like, "I'm in the shower. I'm out of the shower". That's not how God loves us, because God's love is unilateral, because God's love is eternal. And that is why the Bible said he took our infirmity. He carried our sorrows. He removed our sins. He took upon himself our deserved punishment. And he did all of this not so that he may forgive you one day and turn on you the other, so that he can change from day to day, from season to season.
No, it's for eternity, all the way to heaven. That's why Paul can say, "Who can separate us from the love of God"? and in the end it says, "Nothing will separate us from the love of God". God is not changing depending on our faithfulness or lack of it. No, when you take time, when you really take time, and I plead that you would at some point, and you just reflect on the unbelievable, unmerited love of God. His love, and therefore his covenant of promise, is unilateral. His love, and therefore his covenant of promise, is eternal.
And thirdly, his love, and therefore his covenant of promise, is totally undeserved. Totally undeserved. But I know human nature the way it is, human pride the way it is, human arrogance the way it is. We want take credit for only what God could've done. I know that. I know that. What did Abraham do to deserve this magnificent act of unilateral and eternal grace? Nothing. He was an idol worshiper in Ur of Chaldeans. What did I deserve? What did you deserve? What did you do? What did I do to deserve the love of Christ, the forgiveness of my sins, and the assurance of eternal life? Nothing. As a matter of fact, I can only speak for me, I did something that is worse than nothing, and that is I rebelled against God. I shook my fist at God. I falsely accused God. If it's anything I deserve, it'd be judgment. But instead, I received grace, upon grace, upon grace.