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Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on July 30, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Sunday, July 30, 2017 from Genesis 15:11

Theme: We must resist those things that destroy our devotion to God’s promises for us in Christ.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

This morning’s message is on an unusual subject for a Sunday morning sermon—unusual for me, anyway. I’m sure this would be the first time I’ve ever tried to preached on vultures.

I’m not a big fan of vultures; by the way. Living here in a country setting, I certainly appreciate that God made them for a reason. And I’m glad they’re around to do their job. I would prefer not have any encounters with them as they’re doing it, though. But they do show up in the Bible in some interesting and strategic occasions; and when that happens, there’s usually an important spiritual point being made.

One of those occasions is in Genesis 15:11. It’s in a story about Abraham. It was at a very important moment in the life of this great old patriarch. He had just been called by God to prepare an offering in anticipation of an important word from God. And as he watched over that offering, and waited for that word from God, this verse tells us,

And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away (Genesis 15:11).

It’s nobody’s favorite verse, I’m sure. But there is an important spiritual lesson for you and me to learn from it with respect to our own walk with Jesus Christ. And I hope that you’ll bear with me as I try to bring that lesson out this morning.

* * * * * * * * * *

To really appreciate how the lesson of this verse is so important to you and me, we need to go back and see it in its full context in the life of Abraham.

God had later changed his name to Abraham, which means ‘Father of A Multitude’. But at first, his name was Abram, which means simply ‘Exalted Father’. His story begins in Genesis 12; where we’re told that God called him from out the land of Ur—a pagan nation; and told him,

Get out of your country,

From your family

And from your father’s house,

To a land that I will show you.

I will make you a great nation;

I will bless you

And make your name great;

And you shall be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

And I will curse him who curses you;

And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

That was an enormously important promise from God. Abram was seventy-five years old at the time of God’s call on his life; and this was a promise that God would multiply his offspring and make him into a great nation. That nation, of course, would be Israel. God would also give him a land; and that land would be what we know today as the land of Israel. God also promised that all nations that blessed him would be blessed by God; and all nations that cursed him would be cursed by God. This was a promise that every nation of the earth would be assessed by God on the basis of how they treat the nation of Israel that would come from Abram. And what’s more, we’re told that all the families of the earth would be blessed ‘in’ him. This is nothing less than a promise that the long-awaited Redeemer—the Seed of the woman that was promised in Genesis 3:15, who would crush the head of the serpent and bless this world with salvation—would be born into the world from this man Abram. And indeed, Jesus—the Savior of humankind—came into humanity from the body of this man.

But at the time of our story, poor Abram must have thought that he had been given the wrong name. His name was ‘Exalted Father’; and yet, he was not the father of anyone. He and his dear wife Sarah were barren; with him being in his old age, and her being well-past the years of child-bearing. It must have seemed very hard to see how, humanly speaking, God’s great promises could be fulfilled in him. But he was a man of great faith in God; and we know this because, when God called him to leave his father’s house and his homeland, he did as God told him.

And that brings us to Chapter 15. We’re told that after several years had passed;

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Genesis 15:1).

Indeed He had been! God had protected Abram in many ways through his journey to the land of promise. But it had still left poor old Abram with a question that plagued his soul. Verse 2 says;

What a trial it must have been to Abram’s faith in God’s promise! And what a picture this presents to us, by the way, of the kind of trial you and I often face—that is, whenever we read of some clear promise of God in His word, and are called upon to believe what God said; even though we continually see no evidence of its fulfillment.

And that’s when we read in verse 4 that God gave him a needed boost. It tells us;

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir” (v. 4).

I love this chapter of Genesis, and what it tells us of God’s merciful dialogue with His friend Abram. It’s a very intimate and loving conversation—just between the two of them. It was just what Abram needed. We’re told of something very gracious and loving that God did for Abram in verse 5;

Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them” (v. 5a).

I’m sure you’ve been awestruck by such such a sight at some time or another. I experienced such awe once up on the mountains of Denver—very far away from any city lights. I went out very late at night and looked up in the night sky and was overcome by how many stars there were. I had never seen so many stars before in all my days; and felt sure that God must have made a bunch of new ones that very evening! That’s what Abram saw. He couldn’t even begin to count them. The night sky was almost white with them all!

And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be” (v. 5b).

God gave great assurance to Abram that He had not forgotten His promise, and that He would literally keep it. It wouldn’t be through some ‘alternative’ way, either. Sarah herself would bear Abram’s child; and from that child, a great nation would be formed—with Abram’s offspring being more in number than anyone could count. There may not have seemed to be any human way, at that time, that God’s promise to Abram could be kept. But God assured him that His promise nevertheless would be kept.

And that’s when we come to one of the most important verses in the Bible. We’re told of Abram;

And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness (v. 6).

What important words! Abraham was not declared righteous in the sight of God because of anything that he himself did. Rather, he was declared righteous by God simply because he believed God’s promise and trusted that He would do what He said He would do. He believed God, and God ‘imputed’ righteousness to him—that is, God clicked open Abram’s account with Himself and uploaded complete, 100% righteousness into it.

And that verse is important for you and me today in our faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That declaration about Abram is something that the apostle Paul mentioned in Romans 4; where he later wrote,

Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:23-25).

I hope you have placed your faith in the promise of God concerning His Son Jesus—that Jesus came to this earth as one of us, lived a sinless life before God the Father, died on the cross for our sins, and was raised again from the dead to show that the Father was pleased with His sacrifice for us; and that if you and I believe in what God has done for us through Him, we are declared by God to be 100% righteous in His sight—just as Abram believed the promise of God and was also declared righteous in His sight.

We are saved by the same kind of faith that Abram showed—believing God’s promise concerning Jesus Christ, and it being counted to us as righteousness.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; we are saved by faith in what God has done for us; and because of that faith, we are destined to be sharers forever in the rich inheritance of Jesus Himself. But the assurance of that faith comes—so often—through rising up in the light of the promise, and doing what God tells us to do. And that’s what happened in the case of Abram. We go on in verses 7-8 to read;

Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.” And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?” (vv. 7-8).

I don’t believe this was an expression of unbelief on old Abram’s part. We’re already told that he believed what God had told him—so much so, in fact, that God declared him righteous. Rather, this was an expression of the need for assurance in the context of belief. It was like the man who once told Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two (vv. 9-10).

God could have provided these animals for Himself; but instead, He called Abram to do it. He called Abram to rise up and act in accordance with the obedience of faith.

Now; these animals are the basic types that would later be established in God’s law as acceptable offerings before Him; and Abram arranged them in a way that was in keeping with the way a ‘covenant’ was established in those days. Two people entering into an agreement with each other before God would divide the sacrificed animal in two; and then walk between the two parts together as a way of expressing the mutual bond of an agreement established by blood. It was sometimes called ‘cutting a covenant’ (see Jeremiah 34:18-19).

So; God was bringing strong confirmation to His promise to Abram by ‘cutting a covenant’ with him; one that Abram was called upon to prepare in obedience of faith. But after Abram prepared this offering in faith in the promise of God, that’s when along came—you guessed it!—the vultures. They swooped down to ruin Abram’s preparation of devotion and obedience! Genesis 15:11 tells us;

And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away (v. 11).

He had to. Vultures were unclean creatures. They specialized in dead things. If they made contact with these offerings, or nibbled on them, they would defile them before God and destroy them as an expression of obedient faith in God’s promise. The holy God who was establishing His promise to Abram could not pass between defiled offerings. And so, Abram kept a very protective eye on those offerings—and chased the vultures away whenever they came near. That was Abram’s important part in this great confirmation of faith.

And then—after a while, in due time—came God’s part. We’re told in verse 12;

Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him (v. 12).

That darkness and holy terror is something that is often associated with the awesome appearance of God at key turning points in human history. It was like what happened when God appeared to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai; or when Jesus was transfigured before His disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. It drew attention—in a very profound way—to the seriousness of the promise that God was about to make to Abram concerning what was going to happen to his as-yet-unborn offspring.

Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (vv. 13-16).

In due time, Abraham would have a son named Isaac. And Isaac would then have a son named Jacob. And Jacob would have twelve sons—the twelve tribes of Israel—who would then go away and live in the land of Egypt; where their offspring would dwell for around 400 years. One of Jacobs twelve sons who ended up living in Egypt was Levi; and Levi had a son named Kohath; and Kohath had a son named Amram; and Amram was the father of Aaron and Moses—who led the people of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt and back to the promised land. That’s four generations; and after that generation died off, Joshua was called by God to led the new generation of the people to take possession of the land. It was all in God’s plan that things take the time that they did; because as He said, “the iniquity of the Amorites”—an ungodly people group who were still dwelling in that land—“is not yet complete”. God has His purposes in the timing of things; and His purposes are wise, and good, and never one moment too soon or too late. And every promise He made to Abram would be completed in their proper time and order. Abram could count on it.

And God confirmed this promise through a ‘covenant’ in a very remarkable way. Verse 17 tell us;

And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces (v. 17).

The smoking furnace was like the altar at which the offerings were made; and the burning torch was a picture of the consuming holiness of God. God was illustrating to Abram that He accepted this offering made by faith in fulfillment of the covenant. And do you notice that Abram didn’t go between the pieces along with God—as would ordinarily happen in such a covenant? God went alone; which shows us that this was an unconditional covenant that God was making with Abram. It would be His doing—His doing alone; and thus it would not fail.

Verses 18-21 then tells us;

On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates—the Kenites, the Kenezzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites” (vv. 18-21).

That’s a much larger territory than the nation of Israel has, as of yet, occupied. And so, some of this promise is yet to be fulfilled. But much of it has been fulfilled already; and all of it will be fulfilled in due time.

How important it was, then, that Abram protected the offering that he prepared in obedient faith in God’s promises—diligently driving away the vultures that would have spoiled it!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ; you and I have a promise from God too. Like Abraham, ours is also a promise about a great inheritance—one that is confirmed by an unconditional covenant through an offering. As it says in Hebrews 9:13-15;

For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:13-15).

This promise is ours by faith alone. We simply place our faith in what God has said and believe it. But I do believe there are some things God calls us to do to in obedient faith to that promise. He calls us to publicly declare that we belong to Jesus through the waters of baptism. He calls us to regularly remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us through the communion meal. He calls us to repent of sin and pursue a life of holiness and obedience. He calls us to make use of the means of our growth in a relationship with Jesus—things such as church attendance, faithful reading of God’s word, prayer, and witnessing for Him in this world.

And you and I know many people who seemed to have embraced this promise from God, and who had prepared their own hearts to hold on to it by those things that God gave us. And yet, as time went by, some of those folks lost their embrace of it all and grew cold in their passion for the Lord, and weak in their faith in His promise. You’ve probably met some people who you knew, at one time, to had been very excited their faith in Jesus and very devoted in their service to Him; but who—after meeting again many years later—you found to have been completely disinterested in the faith, or to have abandoned it altogether.

I am sure that many of them never really believed at all, and were never truly in a relationship of faith with Jesus in the first place. But I suspect that, for some of them, ground was lost along the way because they—in a sense—failed to drive away the spiritual ‘vultures’ from their original obedience of faith. They failed to keep the things out of their lives that ate away and consumed their original expression of commitment to the promises of God. We have a very real enemy called the devil; and he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. We also have the pressures of our own fleshly lusts and sinful desires that we can allow to get the better of us. And then, there’s the pressures of this world that seeks to force us to deny our Savior, or that seeks to throw arguments at us to make our faith look foolish, or that seek to lure us away from our commitment to God through earthly riches and worldly concerns.

I don’t want to go too far with the ‘vultures’ analogy; and turn this into a sermon about how to specifically drive away “the ‘vulture’ of this” or “the vulture of that‘”. Instead, I’d like to simply suggest to you that these ‘vultures’ represent anything that robs us of or defiles our trust in the promises of God. And I’d like to make just a few observations about them based on the vultures that Abram encountered:

First, I notice that these things come specifically to threaten our trust in God’s promises. That’s certainly a clear lesson to be learned from Abraham’s experience. Whenever you and I are called upon to believe in a promise of God—and especially when we seek to grow in our faith in the promise of God’s eternal inheritance for us in Christ—we can expect that things will come along the way that will threaten that trust. Satan will shoot his fiery arrows at us to make us drop our confidence in God’s promises. He’ll try to convince us that it’s impossible for God to keep His promises to us; or that we’re too much of a sinner to experience them; or that the circumstances are just too much against us. And at that time—when the vultures come—don’t let go of your trust in God. Instead keep on doing the things that God has given you to do to maintain that trust. That’s the fastest way to defeat the devil’s threats and to drive away the vultures.

Second, I notice that these things come at a time when we’re waiting for God to work. That, too, was the case for Abraham. God had made a promise to him that he would be a great nation; and that the land would belong to his offspring. But after Abraham had prepared the offering that God told him to prepare—and as he was waiting for God to act—that’s when the vultures came to devour them. They come at the ‘waiting’ time—when we don’t see God acting on our behalf. They won’t come before we have prepared ourselves to embrace God’s promise; and they won’t come after that preparation has fulfilled its purpose. Rather they come during that difficult time when we’re waiting for God to work. Be alert at those times when you are waiting for God to do what He says He will do; and be on the alert. When the preparation of obedience has been made—and as it just sits there waiting for God to work—expect that the vultures will come and try to consume it.

Third, I notice that these things threatened to defile or steal away what we have obediently devoted to God. Abraham’s offering was holy to God; because it was given in obedience to God’s command and in anticipation of God’s promise. The enemy of our souls will always seek to attack such things. And let’s remember what our offering is. It is we ourselves! Paul urges us in Romans 12:1-2;

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).

The ‘spiritual vultures’ come to defile us and to steal us away from our devotion to God. When you set yourself earnestly aside for God’s use, and keep yourself in faithful anticipation of God’s promised inheritance in Christ, then expect that things will come along to defile and corrupt that commitment. Drive such things away!

Fourth, I notice that these things require that we be diligent to drive them away. Abraham had to be on the alert at all times. Those old birds were smart; and they knew when Abraham wasn’t looking. I saw this happen not long ago at our home—not with vultures, of course; but with crows (who sometimes can be rather vulture-like). Not long ago, a couple of crows ‘made themselves at home’ nearby our church building. They were always on the prowl. My son had just come showed up after work with a bag he picked up from a fast-food place. I had asked him to come and look at something with me in the garage for just a moment; and he set his bag on top of the car. And when we came back out—no more than a minute or so later—there were some crows trying to dig into the bag and make off with some fries. (I’m pretty sure they recognize the fast-food logos on paper bags, and know what’s in them.) In the same way, when we are devoted to the promises of God—and especially His promises in His word about our inheritance in Christ—we need to be constantly vigilant; always ready to protect our hearts from the spiritual ‘vultures’ that seek to rob us of our trust.

And finally, I notice that faithfully driving these things away pays off in God’s good time. Abraham did so diligently; and as a result, he was able to have the promise of God confirmed to him. His faith remained strong; and he saw God fulfill the promise of a son. In time, God fulfilled all of his promises to Abraham without any loss. I believe that, even if we have allowed our original commitment to be devoured and destroyed, we can come back to the Lord again, ask His forgiveness, recommit ourselves to obedient trust in His promises in Christ, and begin again to fight the vultures away.

Such faithfulness—even then—will eventually, by God’s grace, pay off.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear brothers and sisters; you and I have a promise from God of a great inheritance with Christ—and inheritance that is promised to all who trust in Him. As the apostle Peter put it in 1 Peter 1:3-5;

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).

But you and I are going to be tested in our trust in that promise. There will be times when it seems as if we’ll never get there. And as we strive to devote ourselves in obedient faith to that promise, the vultures will swoop down and try to defile it. But their coming is a test for us; and we need to stand strong and fight off anything that might seek to devour or defile that obedient faith. As Peter went on to say concerning God’s promise;

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).

But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (v. 2).

After all the years since God had called him, Sarah still had borne him no children. Abram still had no heir; and the only one in line to receive his inheritance was his trusted servant Eliezer. That first important step in God’s promise had still not been fulfilled; and the clock of life was ticking away closer to the end. In verse 3, he says to God;

Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!” (v. 3).

Dear brothers and sisters; like Abraham of old, let’s keep our faith in the promises of God, let’s drive away those things that seek to defile that trust, and let’s look ahead to the outcome!

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