Summary: This message is the next in an expository series through Romans.
“Father Abraham Had Many”
November 23, 2008
My parents are “slides people”. What I mean is this: go to the Harvey home in VA, and you won’t find photo albums. No, early on, my dad decided to use slides to document the Harvey family goings-on. I remember as a kid many times we’d get out the screen and the old projector (this in the days before carousel projectors). There was always this smell associated with the experience; I don’t know if it was the screen or the projector warming up after a period of disuse, like a furnace that’s been dormant for the summer waking up for winter usage. But that’s how we reviewed our memories. Then I married Karen, and she’s a family photo album person, and so we’ve got books filled with pictures to remind us of the memories that we’ve made.
Imagine the surprise we’d feel, though, if we were to one day open up the family photo album and find a bunch of strangers inhabiting its pages! “Who are those people, and how did they get into our lives?” Something like this is what’s going on when we get to today’s passage, because Paul makes the bold suggestion here that Father Abraham, revered by the Jews as the patriarch whom God used to bring about the very existence of the nation, has a family photo album filled with non-Jews—and further, that there are a whole lot of Jews who do not find themselves in that family album!
Paul has argued that his doctrine of justification by faith is buttressed by Old Testament examples and teaching. Now he supplies proof that that is the case, using “Father Abraham”, and supporting his usage of Abraham with the words of David, the king. Here were two of the most revered men in Israel’s history, two men who walked with God. If the evidence from their lives could be marshaled in support of Paul’s case, the case would be made even more strong.
Let’s consider a preliminary question: is there value in this argument for us? We are not Jewish. We live 20 centuries removed from the situation. How can we relate? In a couple of ways; Paul
• Elaborates more on his doctrine
o Justification is that which involves God justifying the ungodlike
o Faith is faith in the God Who created the world and raised Christ from the grave
• Demonstrates that justification by faith is God’s one/only way of making man right with Himself
o The Jews have a rich spiritual heritage of men who were justified by faith
o There are not two programs: works for Jews, and faith for Gentiles
o Jews do not have a separate way to come to God (as some teach today)
Why Abraham? He was “the rock from which Israel was cut. The basis of the Hebrew nation was the covenant promises God had made to Abraham, and that scenario takes place beginning at the end of Genesis 11 and stretching through Genesis 22.
Four “faith episodes” of Abraham’s life:
1. God’s calling and blessing of Abraham (Gen. 11/12)
2. God’s promises to give Abraham the land of Canaan and to make his posterity large (Gen. 13/14)
3. God’s confirmation of the promise of a son, when Abram was 99 and Sarah 90 (Gen. 17)
4. God’s testing of Abraham, and upon passing the “Isaac test”, reconfirming His covenant (Gen. 22)
These episodes are paralleled in Hebrews 11, when Abraham is said, in each, to have obeyed “by faith”. The Jewish people took great pride in the establishment of their nation, that they were the specially-loved people of God come into being under miraculous circumstances (the birth of Isaac, the child of the promise, to Abraham and Sarah when she was well-past childbearing age). Abraham was “father Abraham”, and to the Jews, he was their father on the basis of blood-relationship. Paul in this text suggests that Abraham is the father of a great nation, of course, but that that nation is the nation of those not born in the bloodline of Abraham, but rather those born in the “faith line”, you and me and all of those who place faith in God’s promise, Whom we know as Jesus Christ. Further, the Jews regaled Abraham for his obedience to the law of God, when in fact it was not his obedience to God, but his faith (which then issued in obedience) with which God was pleased.
I. What did Abraham do? - :1-5
How was Abraham justified? Two possibles that Paul sets forward: by works, or by faith. Problem with the first idea: Abraham would have grounds to boast before God, but Paul doesn’t even let this crazy notion gain a foothold; there’s no way a human being could possibly be justified in boasting before God. The unrighteous can in no way establish their own righteousness before God.