Teach me to Pray: The Help of the Saints

INTRODUCTION

First Byron is known as a Bible church, a church that teaches and preaches the Bible without compromise or apology, in the pulpit, in Bible Studies, in small groups, and various youth ministries.

First Byron is known as a worshipping church, a church that prioritizes congregational singing of old and new songs that glorify God..

First Byron is known as a welcoming church, a church that warmly welcomes visitors and works hard to integrate visitors into our church family.

First Byron is known as a missionary church, a church that sends and supports multiple evangelists and missionaries at home and around the world.

First Byron is known as a shepherding church, a church where the pastors and elders actively seek out and shepherd the flock.

First Byron is known as a generous church, a church that gives away hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to good causes.

First Byron is known as a Christian education church, a church that sacrificially supports Christians families to educate their children in quality Christian schools.

That’s a lot! But I have a question. Are we known as a praying church? When people think of First Byron, do they think, “That’s a place where the Christians are devoted to congregational prayer” or that prioritizes united prayer.” How can we increase the priority of joint prayer in our congregation?

It was a priority for the New Testament church. They devoted themselves to prayer while waiting for the Holy Spirit. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers (Acts 1:14). They devoted themselves to prayer after the Holy Spirit was poured out. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). How can we devote ourselves to prayer like the early Christians? How can we fulfill this part of God’s purpose for his church? (Isa. 56:7).

BACKGROUND

Acts 1:14 and Acts 2:42 bookend the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. It’s no accident that the Spirit was poured out in response to prayer and also increased prayer.

Why should we have more joint prayer in our congregation?

JOINT PRAYER BRINGS EXTRA BLESSINGS TO US AND EXTRA GLORY TO GOD

This is the last sermon in our series on prayer. It’s last, but not least. In fact, in a very real sense, the last is first. In our context, it’s the most important sermon of all. It’s the one that all the others on prayer have been driving towards. The previous sermons, with their varied imagery, were laying the foundation for this one.

  • The cross: We learned about the power and persuasion of praying in Jesus’s name.
  • The throne: We learned how to pray with confidence by coming to the throne of grace.
  • The battlefield: We learned how to be prayer warriors, engaging in spiritual warfare on our knees.
  • The supper: We learned how prayer brings us into the closest possible communion with God.
  • The door: We learned how to bring all our needs to the open door of God’s ear.
  • The window: We learned how prayer changes our perspective for the better about everything.
  • The schedule: We learned how we can pray both at formal fixed times and informally at all times.
  • The help of the Spirit: We learned about how the Holy Spirit prays for us in our heart-groans.
  • The help of the Son: We learned how the Son of God prays for us in the courts of heaven.

All these benefits are available for individual prayer and family prayer. But they are even more available for group prayer. We’re also encouraged towards group prayer by the fact that the Lord’s model prayer is in the first person plural (we/our/us) and therefore clearly intended to be used by Christians praying together.

The Bible and church history teach that God gives blessings when Christians pray together (2 Chron. 7:14; Matt. 18:19; Acts 3:1; 4:23-31; 12:12; 13:2-3; 14:23; 16:13, 16).

  • The blessing of more answered prayers (Matt. 18:19)
  • The blessing of God’s presence in prayer (Matt. 18:20)
  • The blessing of sharing burdens, joys, and sorrows (Gal. 6:2; Rom. 12:15) and therefore closer fellowship with one another.
  • The blessing of learning how to pray by listening to others pray. The great theologian John Owen said that “the prayers of the weakest saints may be useful to the greatest apostle.”
  • The blessing of more prayer as we are stirred up to pray in our private lives and as other groups start.
  • The blessing of revival. Pentecost and multiple examples in church history demonstrate that widespread spiritual revival often follows Christians praying together.

Charles Spurgeon said, “How could we look for a Pentecost if we never met with one accord, in one place, to wait upon the Lord? Brethren, we shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer-meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.” Dr. A. T. Pierson once said, “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.” The Reformed faith has experienced more revival in Korea than anywhere else in the world in the last half-century. Why? Christians there gather 365 mornings a year for prayer. Google “Prayer and Revival” to find many articles about how revivals of true Christianity followed the revival of united prayer meetings.

When blessing comes in response to group prayer, God gets great glory. He gets great glory because group prayer emphasizes that we are helpless and entirely dependent upon God for blessing. When there is little or no group prayer, God holds back blessing because then people would attribute it to the pastor or the church.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

There are many different ways we can increase joint prayer in our church. We can join the prayer group that meets on Wednesday at 7.30 pm in the Haven. If that time or place does not work for you, then we can have group prayer meetings at other times. We can pray together over the phone or over Zoom. We can add prayer to existing group meetings. We can meet in twos and threes or tens or twenties. We can have men’s prayer groups and women’s prayer groups. Some might be for seniors, some for our young. Some could meet early morning, others in the evening. Some may meet before church services or after, or through the week. We can have regular church-wide prayer meetings. We can have prayer groups devoted to mission, revival, the new building project, individual needs. However or whenever, here are some general guidelines to help make joint prayer work.

Have clear leadership. Someone should take the lead and give clear direction and set the tone. It can be a different person each week, but the person should know beforehand and prepare appropriately. That may also involve picking a particular theme for each week.

Prepare. Take some time before the prayer time to think through what you pray for or ask others to pray for.

Set a time limit. Better to start short (15 or 30 minutes) than so long that it cannot be sustained. Encourage multiple short prayers rather than few long prayers that are hard to keep focused on.

Share prayer thanks and prayer requests. Sharing answered prayer encourages more prayer. Make sure you have more time for prayer than for prayer requests.

Speak loudly. There’s no point in praying if the prayers cannot be heard by others. Volume also helps energy levels.

Don’t say “I.” We are praying on behalf of others, his church family.

Sing praise songs every 10 minutes. This helps sustain concentration, energy levels, and a worshipful spirit.

Pray specifically. Pray for individual needs, congregational needs, ministries, missionaries, nations, etc.

Take notes. Someone should take notes of prayer requests and conclude with any not yet prayed for.

Repeat prayers quietly. Don’t just listen but join with the prayer by saying the words quietly to yourself.

Say “Amen.” Encourages the one praying and enlivens the ones praying with him/her. “I agree with that prayer.”

Review with ACTS. At the end of each prayer meeting or before beginning another, review the balance of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication and adjust accordingly.

SUMMARY

Screenshot 2023-02-04 at 7.11.37 PM

A NEW CHAPTER

Add prayer to group meetings. It would be wonderful if every single ministry, small group, Bible study, youth meeting would integrate group prayer into every gathering. This is the easiest way to increase devotion to prayer.

Add group prayer meetings. There already is a regular weekly prayer meeting but that time may not work for you. So why not start one at another time and place.

Prayer. Helper of the helpless, thank you for the help of your Spirit, your Son, and your saints. Help me to get your help through joint prayer times in our church family.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Why do you think joint prayer is not prioritized in most churches today?

2. What other blessings are received through joint prayer?

3. What did you learn from Googling “prayer and revival”?

4. How can we use prayer to give God more glory?

5. What other practical help would you give when starting a prayer group?

6. What will you do to increase joint prayer in our church and in your life?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES


New StoryChanger Devotional

A394_C006_112100

If you want to change your story, you need to know God’s story. This devotional, part of the StoryChanger Devotional series, is a friendly, practical guide to understanding the book of Exodus and how it shapes your story.

Exodus: Stories of Redemption and Relationship includes 50 devotionals with daily readings designed to help you learn, love, and live the whole Bible. It walks you through the full text of Exodus, offering thoughtful comments on the book’s message, reflection questions, and a personal daily prayer. This devotional can help reorient your mind and transform your life with God’s better story.

  • 50 Daily God-Centered Devotionals: Each day includes an explanation of that day’s reading, reflection questions, and a personal prayer
  • Great for Families, Individuals, or Small Groups: Accessible for non-Christians and new Christians, this devotional also helps readers learn how to effectively share God’s story

The StoryChanger Series

The StoryChanger: How God Changes our Story with his Story (An Introduction)

Luke: Stories of Mission and Mercy (Daily Devotional)

Exodus: Stories of Redemption and Relationship (Daily Devotional)

Visit The StoryChanger website for Daily Audio Devotionals.


The Ladder of Love

INTRODUCTION

When trouble comes into our lives, we often conclude, “God doesn’t love me.” Trouble means God does not love me. Paul had a very different view of trouble. He saw trouble as a ladder to God’s love. How is trouble a ladder to God’s love?

It’s important to figure this out because trouble is inevitable in this world and especially in the Christian life. We want to be prepared for it so that we not only do not come to wrong conclusions about God’s love in trouble but that we actually learn to use these troubles as a ladder into God’s love.

1. THE LADDER TO LOVE STANDS ON JUSTIFICATION (1-2)

We have justification by faith. “Since we have been justified by faith” (1). Most ladder accidents result from the ladder being on unsafe ground. The ground is not strong enough to provide safety. But this ladder to God’s love sits on the strongest and most secure foundation possible. It is perfect and powerful. It is the immovable granite of Christ’s righteousness (unmixed with any of our own works). This is Paul’s summary of Romans 3:21-4:25.

We have peace with God by faith.“…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1). Sin creates objective and subjective division and estrangement. Justification brings objective and subjective reconciliation and friendship. It doesn’t matter how many or how mighty the forces that try to shake our ladder, with this foundation, our ladder will never move and we will never fall off. It’s not a temporary and fragile truce but a present permanent and reliable peace. It’s not a mere end of enmity but the enjoyment of friendship. It’s not reliant on what we feel, but is true regardless of how we feel.

We have access to grace by faith. “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (2). In the Old Testament access was strictly limited to certain priests and certain times using certain rituals. Now the doors have been flung open to us. Justification by faith opens the way to God’s grace, God’s favor, God’s kindness. We “stand” in this grace, meaning we are fixed there and will never be thrown out. The whole atmosphere, ever particle of air in this sphere is grace.
We have joy in God by faith. “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (2).  Justification gives us unshakeable hope that we will see God in all his glory in heaven and even that we will be part of that glory. We go from falling short of his glory (3:23) to showing his glory to sharing in his glory. Justification is secured in the past. Grace is what we stand in at present, and glory is our future hope. We exult in this. We’re excited, and ecstatic about this.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Get this foundation. The Babel builders tried to build a ladder to heaven with their own efforts. God shattered their hope and scattered them (Gen. 11). The very next character we’re introduced to is Abraham who was justified by faith, who had the firm foundation of God’s sovereign and gracious salvation and whom God used to build an innumerable family. Don’t be a Babel builder but plant your feet on Christ as your only foundation.

Enjoy this foundation. Paul invites us to be thrilled and delighted with the foundation God has provided for us. His salvation by grace should be a constant source of increasing joy.

A CHRIST-FOUNDATION
IS OUR SALVATION

But will that ladder hold up in trouble?

2. THE LADDER TO LOVE STEPS THROUGH TROUBLE (3-5)

This is not normal. Trouble usually results in many negatives: impatience, giving up, failure, panic, despair, anger, rebellion, and even hatred of God. But here, trouble leads to many positives. We not only have joy in the the best salvation but in the most painful providences.

Step One: Trouble. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings” (3). The Christian will often experience more trouble than non-Christians (Jn. 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rev. 7:14). We are targeted by the world more, we are tempted by the devil more, we are tested by God more. The trouble can be physical, mental, emotional, relational, financial, vocational, spiritual.

Step Two: Endurance. “…knowing that suffering produces endurance” (3). This is a calm, steady, patient perseverance as opposed to panic, anxiety, erratic mood-swings, frustration. Pressure both reveals and develops endurance. “Show me an impatient Christian and I’ll show you an untried Christian.”

Step Three: Character. “…and endurance produces character” (4). This word means “proven worth.” Through trouble, God proves to us and to others that we are the real deal, that we are the genuine article.

Step Four: Hope. “…and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame,” (4). Hope is the confident desire of coming good. Each time we pass the test of trouble, each time we are proven to be the real deal, our hope of future good grows. Because of that hope, we are not embarrassed when we are going through trouble. And we will not be disappointed in our hope. We will never have the sense that we were conned.

Step Five: Love. “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (5). The focus here is not so much our love for God, but his for us. The Holy Spirit accesses our hearts and imparts a sense and appreciation of God’s love. “Poured” is not a dribble but a deluge that falls from the dark cloud of trouble. God gushes his own love into our hearts. He floods our hearts with his love. He does it through truth (6-8)

Step 6: Joy. “We rejoice in our sufferings” (3). Joy at the bottom of the ladder and joy at the top of the ladder. As we experience God’s love we respond with joy even in the middle of trouble.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Trouble is an opportunity to enjoy God’s love. It’s still trouble and it’s still painful, but alongside it, mixed in with it are unsurpassed opportunities to enjoy God’s love. It’s not joy despite our trouble but through them.

Climb the ladder of love. Maybe you are stuck on one of the lower rungs. God is calling you to climb higher, to press on, so that you can enjoy greater and greater experiences of God’s love.

TROUBLE IS NOT EXCLUSION FROM GOD’S LOVE
IT’S AN INVITATION TO GOD’S LOVE

SUMMARY

Screenshot 2023-01-22 at 11.16.15 AM

THE NEXT CHAPTER

You can’t climb the ladder without the Jesus foundation. You must start with justification by faith if you are ever to experience love by trouble.

We have multiple reasons for joy in trouble. It proves us and improves us. It makes us look back at our justification, look now at our character development, and look ahead to our heavenly glory.

Prayer. Loving Father, thank you for using the worst troubles of this life to bring me into the best experiences of your love. Help me to climb the ladder from painful trouble to your joyful love.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What troubles have you experienced and how have they affected your faith?

2. What is justification by faith (look at catechism answers) and how does it affect your life?

3. How has trouble improved your endurance? your character?

4. What rung of the ladder are you on? How can you step higher?

5. Describe a time when the Holy Spirit flooded your heart with God’s love.

6. How has this sermon changed your view of trouble?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES.


Teach me to Pray: The Help of the Son

INTRODUCTION

Most Christians feel ashamed of their prayer life. We know we should pray more and for more. We want to pray more and for more. Jesus can help us with that. How? How can Jesus help us to pray more and for more? Hebrews 7:25 has an encouraging answer for us.

BACKGROUND

We’ve been looking at prayer using different images to teach us to pray:

  • The cross: Taught us how to pray in Jesus name
  • The throne: Taught us to pray with confidence
  • The battlefield: Taught us to pray as in a war.
  • The supper: Taught us to view prayer as communion
  • The door: Taught us to pray for all our needs
  • The window: Teaches us how to pray for perspective
  • The schedule: Teaches us when to pray
  • The help: The help of the Holy Spirit

Professor John Murray said, “The children of God have two divine intercessors. Christ is their intercessor in the court of heaven. The Holy Spirit is their intercessor in the theaters of their own hearts.”

Last time we looked at the help of the Spirit in the theater of our own hearts. This week we are looking at the help of the Son as he intercedes for us in the court of heaven.

The book of Hebrews emphasizes the superiority of Christ as prophet, priest, and king, compared to the Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings. The Apostle is encouraging the Hebrew Christians to look away from Old Testament shadows of Christ to fulfillment of them in Christ. In Hebrews 7:25, the Apostle helps us to find encouragement in the superiority of Christ’s prayers.

In what way is Christ superior to the Old Testament priests?

 1. JESUS LIVES FOREVER

Old Testament Priesthood

“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office” (Heb. 7:23).

When an Old Testament priest died, his son became priest. As generation of priests passed away, they they were shown to be weak, frail, temporary dying priests. Death seized them and kept them under its power. They could not keep themselves alive, never mind give life to others. The Old Testament priest Melchisedec was the closest any Old Testament priest came to living forever. He appeared suddenly as one without any genealogy or forefathers and there is no record of his death. He seemed to be a priest without beginning or end. But he only seemed to be.

New Testament Priesthood

“But he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever” (Hebrews 7:24).

Jesus not only seemed to be without beginning or end. He really was without beginning or end. He is a priest who “continues forever.” But did Christ not die? He did. Then how can it be said, he “continues forever.”

First, because he was a priest even as he died, in his death, while dead, and then as a resurrected from the dead. His priesthood was never interrupted. While his body was in the grave, his human soul was in heaven, where he was presenting his sacrifice to God. His priesthood continued without interruption.

Second, he “continues forever” because he now lives forever in heaven where he sits at the Father’s right hand, making intercession for his people. This is why he lives. This is how he lives. This is how he has lived since his ascension to heaven. He is continually appearing in heaven for us.

CHANGING OUR STORY WITH GOD’S STORY

Jesus is a reliable intercessor. He never takes a vacation, He never takes a break. He never hands over his responsibility to others. “He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Others that we rely on die: the best doctors, the best lawyers, the best helpers, the best counselors, the best pastors, they all die. But we can fully rely on Jesus because he continues forever.

Jesus is an experienced intercessor. Think of how long he’s been doing this for. He’s continued doing this for about 2000 years. How many prayers he has prayed for his people. How many different people he’s prayed for, how many different situations, needs, problems. He has all the experience we need.

Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
Because He lives
All fear is gone
Because I know
He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives

Jesus lives to pray. What does his prayer life look like?

2. JESUS PRAYS FOREVER

“…he always lives to make intercession for them” (25)

Who does he pray for?

He does not pray for everyone. He told us this in John 17:9: “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”

He prays for his people. Who are his people? “Those who come to God by him” (25). If you want to be in Jesus’ prayers, there’s only one condition: you must come to God through him. Your only hope of access to God and to his heavenly kingdom is Christ alone. If you are not coming to God through Christ, if you are not coming to God or coming in your own name or with some other hope than Christ, you have no guarantee that you are in Jesus’ prayers. If you come as a sinner, depending on Christ alone for salvation, you can be sure that you are specifically and individually in Jesus’s prayers.

He prays for those who will be his people in the future. ““I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (20). If you are one of God’s people it’s because Jesus prayed for you before you came into God’s family.

What does he pray for?

John 17 does not just tell us who Jesus prays for but how he prays and what he prays for:

  • He prays for God’s glory (1)
  • He prays for our salvation (2)
  • He prays for our education (3)
  • He prays for our protection (11)
  • He prays for our unity (11, 21, 23)
  • He prays for our joy (13)
  • He prays for our deliverance from the devil (15)
  • He prays for our holiness (17)
  • He prays for our mission (18)
  • He prays for blessing on our witness (21)
  • He prays that others would see God’s love for us (23)
  • He prays for us to be with him in heavenly glory (24)
  • He prays for us to know God’s love (26)

CHANGING OUR STORY WITH GOD’S STORY

Jesus is praying these prayers for you. Therefore we can echo these prayers with confidence that they are in line with God’s will and pleasing to God’s ear.

Jesus is praying for us when we cannot/do not pray. We can stop praying for any number of reasons: backsliding, affliction, busyness, forgetfulness, coldness, disappointment, weakness, tiredness, dementia, dying, etc., but Jesus never stops praying and is always praying for us.

WHEN WE CANNOT START PRAYING
JESUS CANNOT STOP PRAYING

What’s the biggest benefit of Jesus’s prayers?

3. JESUS SAVES FOREVER

“…he is able to save to the uttermost…” (25).

A Powerful Salvation

The Old Testament priests could not save. No matter how many sacrifices or prayers they offered, they were not able to save anyone. No matter how willing they were, no matter how hard or long they worked, they could not save one person, not even the best person.

Jesus is able to save because his prayers are carried on his perfect sacrifice to God. His sacrifice of himself is a sweet savor to God that opens his ears and heart to Christ’s prayers. He is able to save.

A Complete Salvation

“Uttermost” can mean completely, totally, perfectly. Unlike the Old Testament priests, whose sacrifices and prayers could only “save” people from being put out of the temple, the camp, or the city. It was a partial and limited salvation. Christ’s sacrifice and prayers save from sin, from hell, and from eternal damnation. However far sin reaches, Christ’s salvation saves from it. It is an uttermost salvation, a complete salvation.

A Forever Salvation

“Uttermost” can also mean forever. Unlike the Old Testament priests, whose sacrifices and prayers only had effect for a few hours before others were required, Christ’s sacrifice and prayers are forever. He lives forever, prays forever, and therefore saves forever.

CHANGING OUR STORY WITH GOD’S STORY

Ask Jesus to pray for your salvation. If you are not saved, if you are not a Christian, you can not only pray to Jesus for salvation, but ask him to pray for your salvation.

Thank Jesus for praying for your salvation. If you are saved, if you are a Christian, it’s mainly because Jesus prayed for your salvation. Yes, you prayed for it, but he prayed more for it.

Pray for an “uttermost” salvation. Don’t rest satisfied with a part-salvation or a part-time salvation that only works at some select times. Ask Jesus for a full salvation from all sin and all its consequences, and a full-time salvation that’s always at work at all times.

AN UTTERMOST SALVATION IS
A FIRM, FULL, AND FOREVER SALVATION

SUMMARY

Screenshot 2023-01-21 at 9.56.09 PM

THE NEXT CHAPTER

Jesus’s prayers help our prayers. When we know that Jesus is already praying more than us and praying for more for us, we will pray more and for more to him. We are joining our prayers to his.

Jesus’s prayers save our souls. No one would ever be saved without Jesus praying for that. It’s astonishing to think that Jesus prayed for me before I ever prayed to him and that he wanted more for me than I’ve ever wanted from him.

Prayer. Perfect Intercessor, thank you for praying more for me and for more for me than I have ever prayed for myself. Encourage me to pray more to you by the fact that you pray more for me.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What did you know and understand about Jesus’s prayers before this sermon?

2. What discourages you about your prayers? How did this message encourage you?

3. What can we learn about Jesus’s priesthood from the Old Testament priesthood?

4. Read John 17 aloud to help you hear Jesus praying for you right now.

5. How would you describe the meaning of “uttermost” in this verse?

6. How will Jesus’s prayer change your prayers?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES.


Staggering Faith

INTRODUCTION

A prototype is a product that is made for the purposes of being an example and model for others. Inventors will often make a prototype of their invention to raise funds for production on something like GoFundMe. While waiting for the prototype to move into manufacturing and distribution, the purchasers will often look back at pictures and videos of the prototype to remind them of what they’ve bought or invested in and what they have to look forward to. Do we have any spiritual prototypes and how can they help us?

Romans 4 presents Abraham as a prototype believer in God, and especially his promise of a world-inheriting Seed. Romans 4:18-25 especially highlight the staggering unstaggering faith of Abraham. It was staggering in the sense of it being stunning, and it was unstaggering in the sense of being strong and stable.

BACKGROUND

In general terms we can summarize the first four chapters of Romans as follows:

  • Chapter 1. The Gentiles are guilty
  • Chapter 2. The Jews are guilty
  • Chapter 3:1-19. Everyone’s guilty
  • Chapter 3:20-31. Get from deadly guilt to healthy joy through faith in Jesus.
  • Chapter 4: Follow Abraham’s example of faith in the promises and you’ll inherit the world.

Why was Abraham’s faith so exemplary?

1. FAITH STAGGERS WHEN IT IS HOPEFUL (18)

Abraham had no hope

“In hope he believed against hope” (18).

God promised Abraham “that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be” (18). Abraham had no hope of this promise being fulfilled when he looked at his and Sarah’s great age (90+), biology, history, or human opinion. None of those present or past sources gave him any hope that he would become a father, far less a father of many nations. He had no hope. It was against hope in the sense that hope has some rational or reasonable basis. His hope was irrational and unreasonable. It defied the usual conventions and content of hope.

Abraham was full of hope

“In hope he believed against hope” (18).

It’s possible to have faith without any great hope of what is believed happening. For example, football fans begin each season believing this season will be a championship season, but they may have little real hope of that happening. A Christian may believe that God can cure his cancer, but have little hope that he will. Abraham not only had faith, he had hope. He not only believed but hoped for what he believed in. He not only believed that God could make him a father, and a father of many nations, but he had a happy hope of that actually happening.

Anyone looking at Abraham’s situation would say, “He has no hope of a child,” meaning that it’s completely impossible to conceive of someone his age having a child.” But when Abraham encountered this view of hope, he believed against it. “In hope he believed against hope” (18).

CHANGING OUR STORY WITH GOD’S STORY

“I believe, but it’s hopeless.” It’s possible to believe in God and to believe in the Gospel and yet have little real hope that God’s promises, especially God’s promises will be fulfilled in your life or that of others. Perhaps you look at circumstances, past history, people’s opinions, or your feelings, and conclude, “I believe that’s generally true but I have no hope it is true for me.”

“I believe with hope.” Abraham challenges and invites us to a hopeful faith, a faith that hopes for personal fulfillment of God’s promises despite what everything and everyone says. Hopeless faith is not staggering to anyone, but hopeful faith is staggering both to yourself and others.

HOPE-TAKING FAITH IS
BREATH-TAKING FAITH

So, does faith just ignore reality?

2. FAITH STAGGERS WHEN IT IS REALISTIC (19)

Abraham considered his weakness

Abraham “considered his own body, which was as good as dead, [and] the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (19).

Some people’s faith is unthinking. They don’t want to think about about anything that would challenge or weaken their faith. If any questions arise in their own minds or from others, they ignore them or try not to think about them. We might say, “They’re not living in the real world. They’re denying reality.” For example, someone may have a terminal illness but they live in denial of it. They don’t want to face it.

In contrast, when Abraham was promised that he would be the father of many nations, he fully thought through the obstacles to this promise being fulfilled. He thought seriously and deeply about both his hundred-year old body that was “as good as dead” and also Sarah’s barren womb. He admitted the deadness of their bodies and how they could not produce any life.

Abraham’s faith did not weaken

“He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (19).

I remember when I was first asked to teach the Old Testament in a seminary and soon realized I would have to interact with many arguments against the Old Testament’s reliability. I had heard of some of these liberal critiques of the Old Testament over the years, but I was scarred of facing them, or researching them, in case they weakened my faith. Now I had no choice. I had to read their books and try to find answers to their arguments. I was surprised to see my faith strengthen instead of being weakened as I considered their case against the truth of God’s Word. Consideration of the opponents of the Bible did not weaken my faith in the Bible.

Similarly, as Abraham considered the deadness of his body and of Sarah’s womb, his faith in God’s promise grew stronger not weaker. He did not deny reality but faced it, admitted it, and thought it through. But his faith did not weaken one bit. That’s staggering faith.

CHANGING OUR STORY WITH GOD’S STORY

Unrealistic faith is unstaggering faith. When someone refuses to see the reality of what they are facing, yet still believes, it’s not that different from what some secular people do when they face difficulties and challenges. It’s not staggering because people will just say, “They’re in denial. They are not facing reality”

Realistic faith is staggering faith. I’ve been often amazed at the faith of believers when they receive results that indicate a terminal illness. When I see the strength of their faith, I’ve sometimes asked them questions to see if they fully understand the reality of their situation. I’ve always been surprised to discover that they have through it through and are fully aware of what they are facing. That’s staggering faith.

DENIAL STRENGTHENS DOUBT
REALITY WEAKENS DOUBT

Is it OK for faith to waver now and again?

3. FAITH STAGGERS WHEN IT DOES NOT STAGGER (20)

Unbelief staggers

“No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God…” (20)

Although we’ve been using “stagger” in the sense of amazing us, it also can mean to waver or wobble. That’s the effect of unbelief. When we do not believe God’s Word, it destabilizes us. We totter, stumble, falter, dither, oscillate, vacillate, see-saw, and waffle. Abraham did not waver in this way through unbelief when it came to God’s promise.

Faith strengthens

“…but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God” (20).

Abraham’s strong faith gave glory to God and giving glory to God strengthened his faith. His strong faith gave glory to God in two ways. First, God was honored and magnified by it regardless of whether anyone else knew about it. When he trusted God’s Word, it put a shine and luster on God’s truthfulness and trustworthiness, as well as his power and grace. Second, God was honored and magnified by Abraham’s faith as others, including Sarah, found out about it both before and after the birth of Isaac. They also would have seen and appreciated God’s character and qualities in Abraham’s faith and the fulfillment of it. God blesses strong faith that glorifies him by strengthening that God-glorifying faith.

CHANGING OUR STORY WITH GOD’S STORY

Weak faith is weakening. When our faith is weak, we are weak. We will stagger and stumble, oscillate and vacillate, waver and waffle. Weak faith is not something to accept or tolerate but something to change.

Strong faith is strengthening. When we give glory to God by our faith, God gives strength to our faith. When we declare him to be worthy of our trust, he gives us more trust in him. He does this because there’s nothing that glorifies God more than strong faith.

WHEN WE GIVE GOD FAITH
WE GIVE GOD GLORY AND
GOD GIVES US MORE FAITH

What is strong faith?

4. FAITH STAGGERS WHEN IT IS FULLY CONVINCED (21-25)

God will do whatever he has promised

“…fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (21).

How much did Abraham believe God. 100%. Totally and completely. He was “fully convinced,” fully assured that God would do exactly what he said he would do.

The result was that “his faith was counted to him as righteousness” (22). It’s not because of the quality of his faith but the object of his faith. It’s not so much how he believed, but what he believed in. When, by God’s grace, Abraham transferred his faith to God’s promised Seed, God transferred to Abraham, the righteousness of the promised Seed to Abraham.

God did what he promised

“But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (23-25).

As Abraham looked forward to God’s promise with faith, his example inspires us to look backwards to God’s fulfilled promise with faith. Just as Christ’s future righteousness was counted to Abraham by faith, Christ’s past righteousness is counted to ours. Abraham was the “prototype” believer and we are the “full production” believers. With the full promise of God now fully fulfilled, we should have at least as full confidence as Abraham. Given that we now know how Abraham’s Seed was delivered to death for our sin, and raised again for our justification, knowledge Abraham did not have, our faith should be staggering in not staggering. We can be saved without Abraham’s staggering faith. But we will miss out on a lot of stability, strength, and confidence.

CHANGING OUR STORY WITH GOD’S STORY

Start with staggering (stumbling) faith. Abraham’s faith staggered early on when it came to his sin with Hagar. He believed in the fact of God’s promise but not the method of it. It was still faith but it was not like the faith of his later years. So, even if your faith is young, weak, staggering, know that your faith in Christ still saves.

Go on to staggering (surprising) faith. Don’t stop or rest content with faith that staggers and stumbles around. That won’t stagger anyone. But go on to ask God for and exercise faith that gets stronger and more stable by his grace. That kind of unstaggering faith will stagger many.

UNBELIEVERS WILL STAGGER
WHEN BELIEVERS DO NOT STAGGER

SUMMARY

Screenshot 2023-01-14 at 7.36.48 PM

A NEW CHAPTER

Follow THE prototype. In this section on Abraham as our prototype, Paul implicitly points to Jesus as our ultimate prototype. We are staggered at his unstaggering faith. His faith was so full of hope, so realistic, so strong, and so fully convinced in his being delivered for our trespasses and raised again for our justification. His perfect faith covers our imperfect faith.

Be a prototype. We are called to be examples of faith to others who are believers, and to those who are not. This is especially true when our faith may be expected to stagger in times of testing and trial. The faith of God’s tried and tested people staggers and strengthens me.

Prayer. Staggering God and Savior, give me Abraham’s unstaggering faith, and do this for your glory, my good, and the good of others.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What other prototypes of faith do you have and how do they help you?

2. How hopeful is your faith and how can you increase your hope?

3. How can you make your faith more realistic?

4. In what ways does your faith glorify God?

5. How would you rate your confidence in God’s promises?

6. Who do you know that’s shown stunningly strong faith to others, and how?

 PDF OF SERMON NOTES


How to Inherit the World

INTRODUCTION

I’m here to tell you that you’ve been left a massive inheritance. God told me to tell you that your name is in a will and that under your name is written two words describing what has been left to you. Two words don’t sound a lot, until you hear what the words are. Would you like to hear about your inheritance? The two words are “The World.” “How do I inherit the world?” you ask. The Apostle Paul explains in Romans 4:13-17. But he also warns us about another possibility. If we don’t inherit the world, we will inherit wrath, God’s wrath. “How do I avoid inheriting wrath?” is therefore another urgent question. Thankfully Paul helps us there too in the same verses.

BACKGROUND

In general terms we can summarize the first four chapters of Romans as follows:

  • Chapter 1. The Gentiles are guilty
  • Chapter 2. The Jews are guilty
  • Chapter 3:1-19. Everyone’s guilty
  • Chapter 3:20-31. Get from deadly guilt to healthy joy through faith in Jesus.
  • Chapter 4: Follow Abraham’s example of faith in the promises and you’ll inherit the world.

How do we inherit the world?

1. PROMISE-BELIEVERS INHERIT THE WORLD (13, 16-17)

The promise of the world

“For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world…” (13). Where does God make this promise? There’s nowhere in the Old Testament these exact words are used. Paul is therefore summarizing the teaching of a few passages. First, God promised Abraham that he would be “the father of a multitude of nations” and changed his name to reflect that (Gen. 17:4-5). Second, God promised, “I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (17:8). Third, God promised that Abraham’s multiplied descendants would “possess the gate of their enemies” (22:17).

To summarize this triple-layered promise: Abraham and his innumerable spiritual descendants will inherit all land occupied by God’s enemies. In other words, Abraham and his spiritual descendants will inherit the world.

This raises a major problem because Abraham inherited nothing (Acts 7:5) and his spiritual descendants have so far come nowhere near inheriting the world, and that doesn’t look like changing in the future. We solve this problem by acknowledging our misinterpretation of this promise and rightly interpreting it to refer to the renewed world Abraham and his spiritual descendants will inherit and occupy after their resurrection.

You’ll notice that I’ve been referring to Abraham and his “spiritual descendants.” That’s because the Apostle Paul did that just before this passage (12), and also in this passage. Abraham did not get the promise by keeping the law but by faith through grace (13, 16) so that the promise would be guaranteed to future generations of believers (16). If the promise depended on people keeping the law, all it would take was one fail and the promise would be gone. But if God gives the promise by grace, and gives faith by grace, then it’s “guaranteed to all his offspring” (16).

Abraham’s ultimate Offspring and Seed, was Jesus Christ who inherits the nations (Ps. 2) and makes us co-heirs with him (Rom. 8:17; 1 Cor. 3:21-23; Gal. 3:29). We will be promoted from stewards to co-owners with Christ (Lk. 16:12).

The promise to the world

Paul picks up Abraham as the prototype believer, and offers the same promise to anyone in the world, Jew or Gentile, who believes the promise like Abraham did (16-17). As an encouragement for the spiritually dead to believe the promise, he reminds us of Abraham’s faith story: “God gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist” (17).

CHANGING OUR STORY WITH GOD’S STORY

Believe the Word. Trust in God’s promises to you, not your promises to God. Trust in his Word not your works. The promise is through faith resting on God’s grace, not effort resting on our goodness. Faith guarantees the promise; law voids the promise. We are standing on God’s promises or falling on our promises. If you are in the world, you are offered the world through faith in the Word.

Inherit the world. Why would we work, work, work for a third of an acre with a little box on it, instead of resting in faith to eventually own the whole world? Everything you see in the world will one day be yours. Nothing will say, “Posted” or “Trespassers will be prosecuted.” There will be no gates or fences and no property lines or disputes. The beaches, the rivers, the lakes, the mountains, everything will be ours.

What do I inherit if I don’t believe the promise?

2. LAW-DOERS INHERIT WRATH (14-15)

“For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression” (14-15).

Law-doers nullify faith

“The adherents of the law” are those who are stuck to the law as a way of salvation. They are glued to the law. They adhere to the law. If those glued to the law are heirs, then faith is nullified. If you are glued to the law you are not glued to Christ. Faith does not stick to Christ if it’s mixed with any of our law-keeping.

Law-doers void the promise

Faith sticks to the promise. It separates from the law and glues itself to the promise. But if we are glued to the law, the connection with the promise is dissolved. We are disconnected from the promise. The promise has no power or force. When we go to God with our law-keeping, we are effectively giving God a book full of all the Gospel promises, and over each one is stamped “VOID”!

Law-doers inherit wrath

Instead of inheriting the world with the promise-believers, law-doers inherit wrath. Only where there is no law, is there no transgression and no wrath (15). But there is a law, God’s Law, even if only in the conscience, and therefore there is transgression, and therefore there is wrath.

We may spend our lives building up an inheritance for our children, but when we die we get an inheritance of divine anger. We will own it and never be able to disown it. We’ll never be able to diminish it or give it away. We may have had our name on many pieces of property and many possessions but now all we see is God’s wrath. Wherever we turn, whatever we touch, we encounter and experience God’s wrath.

CHANGING OUR STORIES WITH GOD’S STORY

Change the inheritance. Although your inheritance presently says “God’s wrath”, that can be changed to “The world.” Your eternal inheritance can be changed if you abandon all your works and believe the promise of God. It can be changed right here, right now, and forever.

Stop doing. You are angering God by nullifying faith and voiding the promise. It’s not a small thing or a neutral thing. This is a massive offense to God. It’s saying, “My doing is better than your doing. My works are better than your Word.”

WORK FOR THE WORLD FOR A TIME
OR RECEIVE THE WORLD FOREVER.

Screenshot 2023-01-05 at 5.17.55 PM

THE NEXT CHAPTER

Where is your name? What will is your name on? Has God willed you the world or his wrath?

Where is your inheritance? Have you limited your inheritance to the present ownership of a few acres and investment accounts? Or have you expanded your view to the whole world? Wherever you go in the world, you can look around and say, “One day this will all be mine.”

Who is your inheritance? For Israel, enjoyment of the land was tied up with enjoyment of God. So it will be in the new heavens and the new earth. Our greatest joy will not so much be owning the world, but owning Christ who owns the world and will enjoy sharing it with us.

Prayer. Wealthy God, give me faith in your promise so that I can inherit the world by grace instead of your wrath as I deserve. Fill me with joyful hope of my eternal inheritance.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. What are the benefits of an inheritance? What spiritual lessons does that teach you?

2. How does this change the way you view the world?

3. How do you know if you are a promise-believer or a law-doer?

4. Why does God use Abraham as the prototype believer?

5. How can you get the Gospel promises of the world out to the world?

6. How is God’s wrath revealed and experienced in hell?

PDF OF SERMON NOTES