Pastor Kyle Bitter  -  Easter 2, Sunday, April 28, 2019

Text: Genesis 15:1-6

When I was in middle school, I remember hearing my mom answer the phone.  After listening for a few seconds, she politely said, “no thank you, we’re not interested” and hung up.  My brother asked, “Mom, who was that?”  She said, “Just some telemarketer.  He was trying to say I had won a free car.  Probably some kind of scam.”  “What kind of car?” my brother asked.  “Some kind of SUV.”  Probably similar to something you’ve experienced yourself, and probably on a number of occasions.  So why does it stick in my memory?  Well, there is more to the story.  What my mom didn’t know was something that had happened about a week earlier on the day when my brothers and I had attended the local fair.  While our family was volunteering at our church’s booth, my three brothers and I took a break to make the rounds of vendors and collected the candy and free stuff that businesses hand out…and we entered a drawing to win a brand new car.  An SUV, to be precise.  And because none of us were 18 yet, we had entered my mom’s name…and she had won!  But when the phone call came, a free car seemed too good to be true, and nothing more ever happened. 

Now, to be perfectly fair to my mom, it’s entirely possible and perhaps likely that had the phone conversation continued, there would have been some kind of catch, and speaking for myself, I too have hung up on many such phone calls over the years as I’m guessing you have too.  But, because there was no number to call back and they never called us again, we can only guess, and it certainly hasn’t stopped us from teasing my mom about how we might have missed out on a free car because she thought it was Too Good to be True.   

There are a lot of things in life like that, aren’t there?  Take this dietary supplement, and you’ll lose 30-lbs every month and keep it off without changing your diet or exercising more.  Buy this one piece of exercise equipment, or follow this exercise routine, and you’ll look like an Olympic athlete by summer.  Reply to this email, and you’ll get 500 million dollars that was anonymously left for you by someone living over in Africa.  It’s all Too Good to be True

Does it ever seem like the things God promises are Too Good to be True?  In today’s scripture readings, you heard people from bible times struggling with that concept.  The Christians reading Peter’s epistle – today’s second lesson – were undergoing persecution and struggled with building their beliefs and staking their lives on things they had not seen for themselves.  In today’s gospel, you heard about Thomas thinking that the idea of Jesus rising from the dead was Too Good to be True.  He wouldn’t believe it until he saw it for himself.  And in today’s first lesson, the section of God’s Word that we will spend a little more time on today, you heard how Abram struggled with God’s promise that he and his wife Sarah would have a child in their old age.  Too Good to be True

I’m guessing you’ve had times when you faced the same temptation.  Let me give you a few examples to think about.  God promises that every time you pray to him, he hears and answers, but what happens when there’s something you’ve been praying for years after year and you haven’t seen an answer?  Is God’s promise Too good to be true?  Or, maybe you hear God’s promise that the things that happen in life are all designed, good and bad, to work together for God’s good purpose…but in a time of hardship it’s pretty easy to wonder: is that Too Good to be True?  And no matter what example you point to, it all culminates in the most important of God’s promises, and that’s where the devil wants us to arrive with this line of thinking.  God promises that Jesus paid for your sins and there’s nothing more that you have to do.  Might that be Too good to be true?  It’s a very easy question to ask.        

Promises for Today

One can hardly blame Abram for being tempted to think that God’s promises might be Too Good to be True.  Think back for a few minutes about what all God had promised him.  First of all, God instructed him to leave his homeland and move to a new place – and it’s not like this new place was a vacant and barren land.  There were other people living there, and some of them were pretty powerful.  Nevertheless, God promised Abram – this is going to be where you and your descendants will live.  And if that wasn’t crazy enough, there was more to come.  When we first meet Abram in the book of Genesis, he is 75 years old – and Abram and his wife Sarah – have no children.  By any reasonable human standard, no matter how healthy they might have been, one would think their days of becoming parents were probably over.  And yet, God told Abram he would have a son, even in his old age.  And even that wasn’t all of it.  From the descendants of this yet-to-be-born child, God promised that the long-awaited Savior would be born.  All people on earth would have access to God’s blessing of sins forgiven and life in heaven through this child of Abram, may years in the future.  One can imagine why Abraham might have been tempted to think it was all Too Good to be True

And, that was probably even more the case as more time passed.  By the time the events of today’s first lesson occurred, it may have been as many as ten years since God had originally made the promise to Abram.  You can almost hear Abram wondering: Had something changed?  He did live in the land of Canaan, as God had promised, but he was just one little nomadic lord, not taking up much space.  Beyond that, nothing seemed to be happening.  You can hear Abram’s concern when God approaches him in a vision.  “After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram.  I am your shield, your very great reward.”  But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?  And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant of my household will be my heir.” (Genesis 15:1-3 – NIV84).  It’s been a while, God.  Are those promises still good today?   

Maybe sometimes a similar line of thinking stands behind the doubts that we might find ourselves struggling with.  It has been a long time since the bible was written.  It has been a long time since God recorded these promises for his people.  It has been a long time since Jesus was on earth, and there are a ton of things that have changed since then.  The world is a way different place.  Are God’s promises still good today in the modern world?  Or is it all Too Good to be True

God didn’t leave Abram wondering about this, left to try and figure it out for himself.  The account continues: “Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.”  (Genesis 15:4 – NIV84).  Even though time had passed, God’s plans for Abram and for the world had not changed.  Impossible though it might have seemed, God intended to give Abram a son – a real, genetic son from his own body, conceived and born in the normal way – not a technicality, but a son.  God’s promise had not changed, and the word of the LORD came to Abram to reassure him. 

That’s what God does for you and me too.  The word of the Lord comes to us today too – not in a vision like God did for his people in bible times, but on the pages of scripture, preserved and recorded for us to read today.  In today’s second lesson, Peter reminds us just what this word is, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 – NIV84).  God saw to it that Jesus’ promises to his people were written down by those who heard them with their own ears so that today, you and I can hear them through their words.  God’s promises have not changed.  He does hear prayers.  He does work things for your good.  He did raise Jesus from the dead, because the payment for your sins was complete.  It’s not Too Good to be True – it’s the very same series of promises God has always made to his people, and the Word of the Lord comes to you – in worship services, in classrooms, in family devotions – God reminds you that the world might change, but his promises do not.  He’s just as serious about them today as he has ever been, so serious that sometimes we forget about the scope of what exactly God is promising!     

Promises for Eternity

That’s what God showed Abraham as this conversation continued.  “[God] took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Genesis 15:5 – NIV84).  Abram had been thinking of God’s promise to give him a son and had been wondering if that might be Too Good to be True, but God’s plans had already moved way, way beyond that one thing Abram was concerned about.  Abram was thinking about one child, but God already had plans for the whole nation of Israel!  Abram was concerned about who would inherit the wealth he had amassed during his lifetime, but God was laying the foundation for sending the Savior so that he could give an inheritance of eternal life in heaven to all his children of every generation!  In comparison to what God’s promises were really about, Abram’s concerns almost seemed kind of silly. 

When you take a look at what God promises you in his Word, you and I can see that the same thing is true for us too.  We might find ourselves wondering if God is hearing and answering our prayers at the time, but God reminds us that when we don’t remember to pray, even when we know what to pray for, the Holy Spirit speaks on our behalf with “groans that words cannot express.”  We might find ourselves wondering how God might bring about something good from events in life that are so hard, but God reminds us of his ultimate goal he is leading us to – eternal life in heaven!  We might find ourselves wondering if our sins really are fully and completely forgiven and if there really is nothing more that we need to do, but then we look back and see the empty tomb and we realize that this greatest of God’s promises is also one that he kept.  Far from being Too Good to be True, what God promises us is even better than we would have imagined! 

The account concludes: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6 – NIV84).  Even though Abram didn’t understand how specifically God was going to make this promise come to pass, he took him at his word and trusted him.  May God build up that same spirit of trust in our hearts, and when we are tempted by doubt, may he guide us to exactly the section of his Word that we need to hear.  Far from being Too Good to be True, God’s promises are absolutely true, and often in even bigger ways than we imagine!  Amen.