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07.12.15 The Heavenly Congregation Revelation 7:1-17 Sermon Summary

by on July 15, 2015

The most hopeful news for people who are in the midst of a severe trial is that God renews his promises on a regular basis. Here’s Abraham’s testimony.

Summary Points

  • What Isaac represents to Abraham
  • God’s unimaginable word to Abraham, and the good that came from it
  • How God’s promise to Abraham inspires faith in us today
  • Questions or Discussion or Reflection

Throughout the Bible, we find God renewing his covenant with his people. This is necessary because we are forgetful. But it’s especially helpful after a great trial. Just ask Abraham. After 25 years and a couple of dead-end attempts, God’s promise of a child is finally fulfilled and Isaac is born. Isaac is Abraham’s hope and reason for living. He is the foundation of Abraham’s faith, the answer to Abraham’s most heartfelt prayer.

Some of us know what it is like to wait on God for so long and with such intensity. When our marriage settles into a comfortable convenience. When we lose our jobs or our career hits the doldrums. When like Abraham and Sarah we’re told we can’t have children. When the doctor says, “We’ve done everything we can.” Imagine then if we experienced a miracle, and these issues were resolved!

That was Isaac to Abraham. Isaac is the reason Abraham even listens to God anymore. He is Abraham’s personal sacrament of God’s faithfulness. So imagine the heartache when while listening to God, the blessing becomes a curse; God asks Abraham to give Isaac back, to sacrifice him as a burnt offering.

Such a request is horrific to us, but would actually have been quite customary to Abraham. In Abraham’s day, child sacrifice was common. Even 1400 years later, the prophet Jeremiah calls Israel to repent of child sacrifice. And if you think about it, as some might argue, we are still sacrificing our children to idols even to this day.

This represents the test of Abraham’s faith. It is an unimaginable trial. We know how it works out, but Abraham didn’t. In the end, after it was all over, God renews the covenant with Abraham, the promise of innumerable progeny and a national land.

One thing this story teaches us is that during or after a severe trial, it is important to remember and renew the covenant. God’s promises prevail, whether we fail or pass the test. God is faithful even when we are confused, doubtful, disobedient, or utterly faithful. This is what covenant relationship with God is all about.

The vision of the heavenly congregation from Revelation 7 is a fulfillment of the covenant God made and renewed with Abraham. John of Patmos sees 144,000 from every tribe of Israel worshipping God. It is amazing because ten of the twelve tribes were “lost” in the war with the Assyrians, and the other two were decimated by deportations by the Babylonians. Yet here they are all present. 144,000 is obviously a symbolic number, being 12x12x10x10x10. It is a perfectly full number assuring us that all are accounted for; in the end, none is lost.

Even beyond this full number of the house of Israel, John sees an uncountable number of worshippers from “the nations.” Just as God had promised to Abraham, his descendants were innumerable and the nations received a blessing through his offspring.

And John sees the Lamb sharing the throne of God. It is the crucified and risen Christ who takes away the sin of the world. According to God’s promise, the Lamb takes away the sin not just of Israel, but the world; not just the religious, but the world; not just the Christians, but the world.

On Mount Moriah God spared Abraham’s son with a ram. Centuries later, on Mount Calvary, God did not spare his own son, but made him the Lamb. All this, so God’s covenant promise would be fulfilled; there would be a heavenly congregation full of Israelites and Nations.

We now inherit this promise, and now we are called to a faith like Abraham’s. Will we trust God to provide? Will we reorient our lives around God’s Word? Could we move from our comfortable homeland and go to a place only identifiable by God’s eventual direction? Can we be patient until God’s promise begins to become real?

These are the characteristics of Abraham’s faith. And what is more, his response to listen to God more deeply calls to us further. Do we have the faith to listen for the call to sacrifice? Could we hear it if God called us to give up what we have, even our greatest delight, in order to be a blessing to others?

In Abraham’s patriarchal culture, he had no one to talk to. He was the head of the household and made decisions alone—especially religious ones. Today we are more egalitarian. God has called us to walk by faith together, to discern God’s calling in community. This is a particular mark of Presbyterianism.

So when we find ourselves in a major trial, or believe God is calling us to a major sacrifice, we should talk to someone about it. We no longer have to listen and figure things out alone. And as we gather at the table of the Lord, it is a time to remember and renew God’s covenant with us through Christ, so that we can respond as Abraham did with ever increasing faith.

Questions or Discussion or Reflection

  • What are some of the “Isaacs” in your life—those things that are your most treasured answers to prayer?
  • Do you feel you are still listening to God? How would you know if God was calling you to give back your “Isaac.”
  • What have you lost like the “lost tribes of Israel” that God may find and restore to you in his time?
  • With whom could you talk during a severe trial of your faith? How does it make you feel that you do not have to go it alone?
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