THE GOOD NEWS GOD PREACHED to ABRAHAM
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
JULY 20, 2012
“The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All Nations will be blessed through you.’” (Gal. 3:8)
In this little series, we have journeyed back in time to the era of “Gospel Meetings,” which in fact, were not vehicles for sharing the “Good News,” but instead, the opportunity for well meaning evangelists to use the fear of hell fire and eternal damnation to get sinners up front at the altar call. Those are memories burned into my soul, to which God has been lovingly applying the healing balm of His unconditional love over the many decades since. When the Spirit opened my heart to understand Paul’s statement to the Galatians, I was amazed that God Himself preached the Gospel before anyone on earth had a clue what it was. It thrills me still to realize that if we can’t or won’t preach the Gospel to every creature, God Himself will do it.
A second confirmation of my conclusion is Rev. 14:6, where John shared a similar idea: “Then I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people.” The word “angel” means messenger, and certainly anyone bearing the good News of the Kingdom could be considered an angel, be they of this world or the Spirit realm, but since most of us cannot fly mid-heaven or otherwise, I conclude that this angel was a heavenly being. That verse has always encouraged me because it appears that man has great difficulty in sharing the Good News, without attaching conditions to it. If we can’t or won’t get the job done, however, God will get the word out.
The Good News God preached to Abraham, was and is that in his seed, would all nations be blessed. Paul goes on to say in Gal. 3:16 that the seed (singular) was Christ Himself. This magnificent promise was a unilateral (one party) covenant, based on God’s word and will alone. The Hebrew writer declared, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” (Heb. 6:12-13) This unilateral Covenant (promise) God made with Abraham first appears in Gen. 12:2-3, when God called Abram from Ur of the Chaldees and told him about the children he would bear and the land his descendants would inherit.
There seems to be confusion among Christians about Abraham’s faith, whether it was a work he performed or a gift he received. Paul is very clear that faith is a gift of God lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-9), and that Abraham’s blessing was not wages he earned, but a gift of God, who reckoned him righteous (Rom. 4:3-5). Moreover Paul stated that this gift was given Abraham BEFORE he was circumcised, not after. It was a “seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” (Vs. 10-11) He concludes, “So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.” (Vs. 11) Since Abraham received his faith as a gift of God, Paul is saying that this is how we receive our gift of faith as well.
That brings us to the Atonement by which God forgave and forgives the sins of the whole world (I Jn. 2:2). A friend wrote and asked, “Please tell me what is the Penalty that Christ paid? To whom?” Part of the confusion about the atonement is that there were two covenants God made with Abraham. The first was unconditional and unilateral (one party), that Abraham’s seed would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and the sand of the sea shore, and all nations would be blessed through the seed; the second was conditional (two party), and is recorded in Genesis, chapter 15, where the details of the blood covenant are given. The Jews knew very well what the blood covenant entailed, but many Western Christians today haven’t a clue. I’m so grateful to my sister Dr. Mary Blattner, who sent us video tapes by Ray Vanderlaan, a Biblical Archeologist, who explains the ancient ritual of the blood covenant.
Abraham was told by God to bring a 3 year old heifer, a 3 year old she-goat, and a 3 year old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon. He cut the animals in two on either side of a ditch which caught the blood. He did not split the birds, however, but drained their blood as well. The ceremony was used commonly in the ancient Middle Eastern countries to seal an agreement. The participating parties walked through the blood spilled by the animals split in two, which signified that the person who broke the agreement would have his blood spilled in like manner. The higher ranking person always walked first, so God walked through the pieces first and the text says that Abraham “fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.” (Gen. 15:12) God prophesied to him about the trials and tribulations his descendants would suffer due to their disobedience. No wonder Abram was terrified. He knew that God, who appeared as a “smoking firepot with a blazing torch…passing between the pieces.” (Gen. 15:17) could not fail to keep his end of the bargain (blessing the world through Abraham’s descendants), but Abraham knew he was fallible.
Fast forward the tape to when Jesus came to the Jordan while John was baptizing the crowds. John said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29, 36) Until I understood the significance of the blood covenant, I never could figure out the blood sacrifices which God required Israel to make, or the real significance of Christ’s sacrifice. It seemed to me that on feast days, the Israelites would be awash in blood. The bloody sacrifices are intrinsically tied to the walking through the pieces ceremony God did with Abraham. When the Law (a two party agreement between God and Israel), was established, the sinner had to bring his sacrifice, which was to be without spot or blemish to the Tabernacle or Temple and cut its throat himself at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting (Lev. 3:2). I can imagine that when the sinner cut the throat of the sacrifice, he praised God that it wasn’t his own throat that had to be slit and his own blood poured out for his atonement.
The priest then poured out the blood on the altar for the sins of the person. When the priest poured the blood on the altar, the offerer realized that the animal was taking his place in the blood covenant, for “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb. 9:22) God could have required the Israelite’s own blood, but instead allowed him to sacrifice a pure lamb or goat or bull to take his place. Jesus was pure, without sin, even as all the sacrifices had to be. Without a pure sacrifice, the covenant couldn’t be satisfied. The penalty was to be paid by the person or persons who broke the covenant, which of course, is all of us.
The breaking of the covenant required the spilling of blood, because atonement involves the substitution of life for life. The blood of the Old Testament sacrifice pointed forward to the blood of the Lamb of God, who obtained for His people “eternal redemption.” (Heb. 9:12) This is why they were never to eat blood: “But the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (Lev. 17:11)
By the terms of the blood covenant God made with Abraham, He was entitled to spill the blood of Abraham’s descendants as penalty for breaking the agreement (going off into idolatry, breaking the Law, etc.), which is why God’s grace allowed them animal sacrifices instead. However, we know that “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.” (Heb. 10:4) The only pure and sin free person ever to walk the earth, Christ offered Himself as the sacrifice to take away the sin of the world, which was and is and always has been rebellion and disobedience. Paul said that God was in Christ on that cross, “reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Cor. 5:19-21)
To answer our friend’s question then, the penalty Christ paid was the one incurred by Abraham’s descendants, all of us, but instead of requiring our blood, God allowed us to nail Him to the cross. Oh what a Father we have, what a Redeemer we worship, what a Savior we bless every day of our lives. What a friend we have in Jesus, who gave Himself for us that we may participate with Him in our eternal inheritance, God Himself. He is our elder brother, our best friend, and the One who brings Glory out of all the failures in our lives. He chose us before the foundation of the world, to become the righteousness of God, to sit in heavenly places with Him, to fellowship at the right hand of the Father, in whom we live and move and have our being. “All hail the power of Jesus name; let angels prostate fall; Bring forth the royal diadem and crown him LORD of ALL.” Thank You, Father, for Christ whom You have made King of kings and Lord of lords. We give you honor and praise and glory, now and forever. Amen and amen.