Sermon preached on Romans 4:13-25 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 8/5/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
As we are in the election season, many have been thinking back on our current president’s promise of hope four years ago. Before you get too excited, or maybe upset, I’m not going to weigh in on whether or not he’s met that promise. But there are certainly people who are either happy with the president because they think he has in fact given them this hope that he promised. And there are people who are disappointed because they believe he has not given them the hope that he promised. This is not the place for discussing whether he did or did not give such hope, but I bring this up because hope is something important to people. We want to have hope amidst our life’s circumstances.
Such hope that we want is usually an optimistic desire for something we don’t have. Sometimes it’s just a shot in the dark. We hope for something that’s not realistic, but yet we yearn for it to be realized nonetheless. Well, this passage talks about hope. But that’s not the kind of hope that we are going to be talking about today. I’ve been told Pastor Miller talked about what he would call a biblical hope. He’d distinguish a biblical hope from a worldly hope in terms of certainty. When the world hopes, it hopes for something uncertain. When the Christian hopes for the kind of hope we see in this passage, we are hoping for something that is a certainty. That’s a biblical hope. We can have a sure faith in what we have hoped for as Christians. We said last week even that God surely wants us to be sure of our hope.
And yet, though this is true, we must understand that its certainness doesn’t mean that from a wordly perspective the world will think so. In other words, that we as Christians can look at our biblical hope and trust that it is a certain hope. But the world from the outside might look at our hope with doubt. We too can be tempted to look at it from this worldly perspective too. Well, this passage addresses that temptation. This passage acknowledges that this was a temptation during the time of Father Abraham. Paul says that that according to flesh, Abraham had a hope against hope. The world would not have thought God’s promises to Abraham could have come to pass. And yet Abraham believed. That’s where faith comes in. And that’s what we’ll consider today.
And so we’ll consider this hope in three points today. First, we’ll consider how Abraham’s hope was “contrary to hope” as it says in verse 18. Second, we’ll consider how Abraham nonetheless “in hope believed.” Third, we’ll consider the outcome of that hope and faith, that “he became the father of many nations.” That will be our outline today as we think about “hope.”
And so let’s begin with thinking about how Abraham’s hope was “contrary to hope.” Verse 18, Abraham, “who, contrary to hope, in hope believed.” That sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, contrary to hope, he had hope. Contrary to hope, he believed his hope. Keep in mind here that the hope that’s especially in mind is the promise that God would give Abraham and Sarah a son and that through that son he would be the father of many nations. But you see, this is why the hope he had was contrary to hope. From a worldly perspective, this was not going to happen. Hope from the world’s eyes, would say this was unrealistic; no impossible!
Verse 19 brings out this perspective according to the flesh. Abraham and Sarah were old! Physically they were past the point of child bearing. Abraham is described as dead here, and Sarah is described as having a dead womb. Of course, we know today very clearly the biological issues. Male fertility significantly reduces as you get old, not to mention even their ability to perform the actions needed to procreate. Thus, there are several prescription medications out there today to try to help men with that issue. Yet there is some potential for men of very great age to still procreate, though the probability decreases significantly. And yet with women, there is clearly a time in their life when their body changes and they just can’t have children anymore. That’s usually in your 40s or 50s when that starts to happen as a women. Sarah, on the other hand was 90 at this point. Her womb really would have been as good as dead. Not to mention they obviously had been trying for kids for countless years. And so Paul’s simple point here is that from a normal human perspective, there is no possible way that Abraham and Sarah would be having a child when he is 100 years old and when Sarah is 90. In Genesis 17:17 this is the exact question that Abraham asked God. It shows that Abraham was not ignorant of the biology. They maybe didn’t have the level of science that we do now back then. But they knew well enough that this was in a natural sense impossible. Abraham knew it. Other people would have known it. This was just common sense according to how these things work. Don’t miss this, it really was something normally impossible. It was contrary to hope.
Certainly we can relate today. Now on the one hand, our hope is easier for us than Abraham. He had to hope in a future child that naturally couldn’t have been born. But for us, much of our hope is about what happened already in the past. What Abraham hoped for, is past history for us. Isaac, his son, was born. And it’s past history that has resulted in his greater son, Jesus Christ, coming to save us from our sins. Much of our hope is about what has already happened. And yet, there is a future component to our hope. It’s a hope that the world looks at and thinks laughable. It’s the hope that Jesus is coming again. That he will end human history and bring in the final judgment. It’s a hope we his people go to a blessed reward, and that those opposed to God will receive a just punishment. It’s a hope that then we’ll live in a new world – that there will be a new heavens and a new earth. It’s the hope that we will not have any problems in that new place. The troubles of this life will have passed away. These are things many in the world hope for, but they are things that many have little or no faith that they will see them. So many in this world today mock when someone says that the end is near. They can ridicule Christians who say that Christ is coming back. 2 Peter 3:3 says that people will scoff about his coming. Peter says they’ll say, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” We have a hope contrary to hope. It’s contrary to hope in the sense that we look around and don’t see any natural signs to tell us that Christ is coming back. Things look to be moving along in nature like they naturally do. We can only take God at his word that our hope is true and certain.
And so our hope is something that our eyes cannot see at this point. That’s what makes it unbelievable to so many in this world. Yet, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1 that our hope is a living hope. A living hope reserved and guarded right now in heaven for us. To say that it is living, means it is real; it’s alive and well. The world’s sight says it’s contrary to hope. But the eyes of faith, says it’s a certain hope.
Well, that’s the same conclusion Abraham came to in his situation. So let’s turn now to our second point. To see how Abraham did believe. He did hope, contrary to hope! It was the hope of faith. The hope of conviction that God who promised was able to deliver what was promised. Look with me here how we see that. We already saw this stated in verse 18 explicitly. But look then at verse 19. It says that Abraham was not weak in faith. It says that this meant that he didn’t consider his body. I love the contrast there. He was weak in the flesh, but not weak in faith. As I pointed out in Genesis 17:17, it’s not that Abraham wasn’t aware of the weakness of his flesh. But he just did not let that weakness of his flesh stop his faith. He judged that God was more powerful than Abraham’s weakness of flesh. Abraham’s faith disregard what his physical eyes saw – his and Sarah’s physical deadness. Abraham believed God.
Verse 20 then goes on to describe his faith further. It says that his faith did not waver in unbelief. That’s of course what we all want – we don’t want to waver in faith. I think it help to clarify something here though. It doesn’t say that his faith did not waver. It says his faith did not waver in unbelief. In other words, this doesn’t mean that Abraham never had struggles of his faith. I think a simple reading of Genesis would tells us that he did have his own struggles. As we read in Genesis 17:7, he had to ask God the question of how it could be possible for him and Sarah to have a child, given that they were so old. That was a tough question for Abraham to get his mind wrapped around. And then in Genesis 17:18 he made the suggestion that God might fulfill his promise through his son Ishmael, the one that came through Sarah’s maidservant, and not Sarah herself. But God said no, it would be through Sarah. These words from Abraham show his struggles to believe and understand God’s good promises to him. But what Abraham didn’t do was waver to the point of unbelief. He had questions. He had his struggles. But he kept the faith. He trusted God.
And so verse 20 then says that his faith was strengthened. Praise the Lord to hear that. That the father of faith had his faith strengthened. Who strengthened his faith? Surely it was God. The word for strengthened here is in the passive. That means something outside of Abraham strengthened his faith. Theologians like to call the grammar like this as the divine passive. Something stated grammatically in the passive, but clearly the person at work in it is God. God strengthened Abraham’s faith. And so Abraham glorified God in this.
And not only then did Abraham glorify God, but we see the result of verse 21. Abraham was fully convinced. He faith, having been strengthened, was sure. He believed against all hope that his hope was certain. Why? Because of God’s ability. That’s is why he could hope contrary to hope. That’s why he could believe when nature would tell him a child was impossible. Because God is able to do the impossible. He can change the laws of nature whenever he wants, since he created those laws. He can open wombs that are as dead as can be. He can strengthen the loins of Abraham to sire another child. God is able. It’s God’s ability coupled with his truthfulness that makes us hope and believe. It’s God’s powerful ability and his faithful promises that makes us fully convinced. It was what made Abraham fully convinced, and it is what can make us fully convinced.
This then brings us to our third point. To consider the outcome of Abraham’s hope and faith. He hoped in a promise. We see that promise mentioned in multiple ways here. In verse 18, Paul quotes Genesis 15:5, “So shall your descendants be.” The reference there in Genesis was to the stars in the heavens. God told Abraham to look in the sky and try to number the stars. He said, “So shall your descendants be.” Verse 17 also mentions the promise found in Genesis 17:4 that he became the father of many nations. That was also part of the promises God had made to him.
Well, Abraham did receive what was promised. He did become the father of many nations. He has had countless descendants. Physically speaking, Isaac gave birth to two sons, Jacob and Esau. Esau was the father of the nation of Edom. Jacob was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, from which came the nation of Israel, and later the divided nations of Judah and Israel. This doesn’t take into consideration that Abraham’s other children through other women also became nations too. Ishmael, born from Sarah’ maidservant was the father of many peoples. And after Sarah died, Abraham took a new wife and had a number of children through here, which resulted in nations like the Midianites for example. Abraham was father of many nations in a very physical, literal, way.
But spiritually speaking, Abraham has had this promised fulfilled in an even greater way too. As this chapter has shown, Abraham is now our father too. He’s the father of all Christians, even those not physically descendant of him. He’s the father of the faith; faith that trusts in God and his good promises. That makes Abraham a spiritual father of even more nations!
But that’s not all. Abraham’s hope and faith had not only had the outcome of receiving all these promises from God. Abraham’s faith also has had the wonderful outcome of his justification. Paul has reminded us again in this passage that Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness, verse 22. Abraham had the grace of imputed righteousness. Imputed by faith. God counted him as righteous in his sight. Not by works of righteousness. But the righteousness that comes by faith. Paul’s still driving this home. His faith had far more important ramifications for him than just having a lot of descendants. His faith meant that he would be in a right standing before God. Of course those things are interrelated. It was through his greater descendant Jesus Christ that he could ultimately have the legal basis for his justification. This was all a part of God’s wonderful plan of grace and salvation that he was orchestrating through Abraham and his faith.
And that is where this all comes home to us again! You got to love verses 23-25. Paul says that this quote from Genesis 15 was not written just for Abraham’s sake. It wasn’t revealed just for Abraham’s benefit that his faith imputed righteousness to him. It was also revealed for us. For our sake. That we could have this hope. That we would know this outcome of our faith. That we too can have righteousness imputed to us through faith in Jesus Christ. What a wonderful summary of the gospel that we have their starting in verse 24. “It,” righteousness, “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.” Jesus had to die on the cross because of our sins. And he rose again, showing that he overcame death. And there is our hope right there then too. Hoping in Jesus means that the guilt of our offenses have been dealt with. That we are justified. And that we too are going to rise again. And so I give this gospel call again today. Believe in Jesus. Trust in him. Hope in him. And you will be saved.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, we’ve been reminded this morning about faith and hope. And we’ve been reminded of the struggles that our hope and faith can sometimes find. Like Abraham, we have a hope that from the world’s hope is contrary to hope. That we would really rise again? That Jesus would really come again? We can have struggles of faith. Satan will tempt us to doubt. The world will tell us that our hope is contrary to reality. In some sense, in the sense of the natural course of things, they are right. But no one ever said that Christ’s return will be a natural thing. It will be a miraculous and glorious thing! And so we too can hope contrary to hope. We too with Abraham can contrary to hope, in hope believe. We can be fully convinced because we know God’s ability. That’s he’s able to make these things come to pass. And we know that he can strengthen our faith amidst its struggles, just like he did Abraham.
I mean, if we have the tendency to look at Abraham’s faith as such a good example of faith, how encouraging it is to know that he had to have his faith strengthened by God. And if God strengthened Abraham’s faith, the father of faith, will he not surely strengthen ours too? So, be bold in your prayers about this. Come to God with your questions and doubts and ask him to grow your faith. Cry out to him and say, I believe, help my unbelief. And then turn and trust his ability to keep his promises.
For God’s power and his faithfulness kept his promise to Abraham to bring a son – Isaac. And it’s that same power and faithfulness of God that brought a greater son – the Lord Jesus Christ. Both of these things were contrary to hope – that Isaac should be born to two people 90 or older, and that a virgin should be with child. Both of these things happened as promised, a promise that was contrary to hope, hope as the world knows it. But for us it is a biblical hope. And so if God’s power and faithfulness could bring these things to pass, then surely God can and will complete his promise. He will bring his wonderful plan to a finish. He will bring us into that inheritance of the world, for eternity.
And so then, pray for this strengthening of your faith. That you would be without wavering into unbelief. That you would be fully convinced in his promise. And what a good promise it is. Praise the Lord. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.