ďThe God of Your ChildrenĒ†††† Genesis 17:1-14††††††† June 7, 2009
SI:† This chapter is the most important in the story of Abraham because
†† because it spells out some fundamental truths about the Christian life.
We looked at these verses last week, letís read them again,
†† and focus on something I introduced last weekó
†† how Godís covenant extends to our children.
INTRO:† Iíve never liked it when preachers ask the congregation to do something
†† or say something to make a point in a sermon.† It makes me uncomfortable.
But Iím going to do it this morning.†
†† Donít worry, Iím not going to make this a habit.
In just a second Iím going to ask you to stand up if your parents or grandparents
†† had a positive influence on you becoming a Christian.†
Even if they were not present when you prayed and gave your life to Christ,
†† even if you were at church camp, or youth group, or by yourself
†† when you were converted . . .
I still want you to stand if you had a Christian mom or dad
† †or grandmother or grandfather who prayed for you,
†† who taught you about the Lord,
†† and who set an example with their own faith.
If you had that kind of spiritual influence and heritage, please stand.†
Remain standing.† And I want you to notice two things.
First, you are the majority.†
Second, notice how many of our young people and children are standing.
†† Neither of these things should surprise you.†
†† They are a confirmation of the Bibleís teaching.
You may be seated.
The Bible teaches us that this is the way God ordinarily works.
†† He works through families.†
Here in Genesis 17, this is first spelled out most clearlyóHe says to Abraham:
†† ďI will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the
†† generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.Ē
This promise is repeated many times in the Bible.
Itís in the Law, 2nd commandment.†
†† ďI the Lord your God am a jealous God, showing love to the thousandth generation
†† of those who love me and keep my commandments.Ē
Itís in the Psalms, David.†
†† ďFrom everlasting to everlasting, the Lordís love is with those who fear him,
†† and his righteousness with their childrenís children.Ē
Itís in the Prophets, Jeremiah.†
†† ďMy Spirit is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your †
†† mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this
†† time on and forever.Ē
Itís in the Gospels, Jesus.†
†† ďLet the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,
†† for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.†
Itís in Acts.† The Apostles said:
†† ďThe promise is for your children.†
†† ďBelieve in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, and household.Ē†
This is not a minor theme in the Bible, this is not a little promise.†
†† Itís big and it touches on the deepest concerns and hopes
†† that Christians have for their children.†
Will my children walk with the Lord?†
†† Will they enjoy Godís blessing in this life and the next?
†† Will my mistakes and failures as a parent harm my children spiritually?
Just this week I was typing my sermon, and I had just typed those words,
†† when a dad in our church called me.
And in our conversation he expressed those very thoughts about one of his
†† childrenóhis deep concern for this childís future walk with God,
†† and concern about his own shortcomings as a Christian parent.†
This is a great and precious promise that we need to know and claim.
†† Without it our children and their future and our parenting a big question mark.
†† But with this promise, we have something to stand on.
So letís look at it more deeply, see what it teaches us about three things:
†† 1.† Our God
†† 2.† Our children
†† 3.† Our parenting.†
MP#1† Our God
This passage teaches us that our God delights in pouring out his grace
†† along the lines of generations.††
God could have said:† Abraham, my covenant is with you only.
†† I promise to bless you, and be your God,
†† but I make no promises to bless your children.
After they are born, Iíll consider each one and then weíll see.
That sounds ridiculous, doesnít it?† Thatís not what God is like.
It pleases God, it delights him, to pour out his grace on believers,
†† and then for that grace to flow from parents to children,
†† and from children to grandchildren, and grandchildren to great-grandchildren.
If you looked back through church history and made a list of the greatest heroes,
†† you would find in the majority of cases, these were people who came from
†† Christian homes and who were the recipients of Godís generational grace.
Let me give you some examples from two time periods in church history.
Letís start with church fathers:†
The church fathers were the leaders of the church during the first four centuries.
†† The foundations of our theological understanding of the Bible laid by these men,
†† and in many cases they defended the church in itís darkest hours.
The greatest of all the church fathers was a man named Augustine.
†† Itís impossible to overestimate his influence on the church.
†† Godís grace came to Augustine through his mother, Monica.
†† Weíll come back to her in a minute.
John Chrysostom was the greatest preacher in the early church.
†† In fact, he laid the ground for what we call expository preaching.
†† He was such a great preacher, nickname was ďGolden Mouth.Ē
†† If you want to call me that, feel free!
Godís grace came to him also through his mother, Anthusia.
There were many heresies in early centuries that threatened to overwhelm church.††
†† One of the great heresy fighters and defenders of deity of Christ was
†† Gregory Nazianzus.† His mother was Nonna, and she was a Christian.
And there were other great church fathers who had two Christian parents.
Athanasius, who stood against heresy Arianism
†† when most of churches and leaders had accepted it.†
And there was Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, Jerome, translator of Latin Bible,
††† Gregory the Greatóand many others.†
Now letís turn to another period in church historyómodern missionary movement.†
†† Missions as we know it, started in the late 1700s, early 1800s.
†† Most of the great pioneer missionaries were children of Christian parents.
William Carey, Robert Morrison, David Livingston, John Paton, Henry Martyn,
†† Robert Moffat, Hudson Taylor, Adoniram Judson, Amy Carmichael.†
Could add to that list the great evangelist of the modern era:
†† John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and Billy Graham.†
All of these people did not have the same conversion experience.
†† Some came to faith in childhood, some later in lifeó
†† but God was pleased to pour out his grace along the lines of generations.
Letís go back to Monica, mother of Augustine.†
†† Her story is a beautiful picture of Godís generational grace.
†† Monica was a Christian, her husband was not.† He was a pagan Roman.
Her son Augustine was a brilliant young man, but he embraced Greek philosophy
†† instead of Christianity and the immoral lifestyle that went with it.
†† He had a mistress and illegitimate son.† He became a well-known teacher.
And Monica prayed for him every day.† Often moved to cities where he taught.
The Lord started to answer Monicaís prayers.† Augustine became more and more
†† disillusioned with his philosophy and way of life.† One day, in a friendís garden,
†† and he heard a child calling out:† ďPick up and read.† Pick up and read.Ē
†† Augustine looked down, on a bench was a bookóthe New Testament.
He did the old ďopen and pointĒ and the verse was Romans 13:13-14.
†† And Godís grace flowed from mother to son.† He was converted.
There is one more very sweet detail, that grace then flowed from son to grandson.
†† The son of Augustineís mistress, young man Adeodatus, became a Christian,
And he and his father connected for the first time in their lives.
Thatís our God.† He delights in pouring out his grace along the lines of generations.
†† Told you Monicaís story so that if you arenít seeing that grace, you donít give up.
†† God has his eye on your children, even if
they are wayward now.
MP#2† Our children
That brings us to our second point, what this passages teaches us about our children.
†† It teaches us that the children of believers belong to God.
We have a term for this.† We call them covenant children.†
The covenant is Godís personal, saving relationship with us,
†† that has been formalized or sealed by the blood of Christ.
So calling our children ďcovenant childrenĒ is a shorthand way of saying
†† that our children arenít little pagans, they belong to God.
He has a special regard for them.† They have a special place.
†† They are marked out of the world as his.
They are sinners, born with the original sin of Adam, they need Christ.
†† but God has claimed them and they are heirs of the promises of God.
Thatís what circumcision meant.
†† The Lord told Abraham, I will be your God and the God of your descendants.
†† You must be circumcised, and every male in your house circumcised when
†† he is eight days old, and this will be the sign of my covenant.
Circumcision said:† Abraham, not only do you belong to meó
†† your children do too, even before they are old enough to express personal faith.
Did circumcision save them?† Did it make them born again?
†† No, faith in Christ alone saves us.† The Holy Spirit alone regenerates us.
And we see in the Old Testament that many circumcised Israelites
†† broke the covenant and did not have faith in Godís promised Messiah.
But the children of believers who turn away and reject their heritage
†† are not called pagans, they are called prodigals,
†† or if they persist in unbelief, they are called covenant breakers or apostates.
Thatís because they have a different status than the children of the world.
We believe that there is a continuity between circumcision and baptism.
†† They signify the same thing.† The promises of God to us in Christ.
†† Baptism sets us apart from the word by marking us as his people.
God has not told believers to quit marking our children with the sign of his
†† ownership, the sign of the covenant, so we keep doing it.
The sign itself has changed, from circumcision to baptismó
†† but the significance and importance has not changed.†
You are well-aware that many Christians donít believe in infant baptism.
†† Particularly our Baptist brothers.† They say itís only for professing Christians.
But hereís whatís interesting, Baptists have dedication services for infants.
†† What that says is that they believe their children in some way belong to God.
Even before their children have personally professed faith, God has claimed them,
†† and Christian parents want to publically express that and affirm it in the church.†
I emailed a couple Baptist preacher buddies this week and saidó
†† Describe a Baptist baby dedication for me.† After reading what they wrote,
†† realized that we could take our three Presbyterian infant baptism vows,
†† and plug them right in without a problem.
Do you believe your child is a sinner in need of Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
Do you claim Godís promises for your child and look in faith to Jesus for salvation?
Do you dedicate your child to God and promise to raise them in the Lord?
My point is not to argue for infant baptism, it is to show that the covenant
†† status of our children is deeply impressed on the hearts of Christian parentsó
†† no matter what your denominational background.†
And thatís because itís true.† Our children do belong to God.
My friend Charles Garland told about a friend of theirs in Decatur
†† whose child had a rare disease.†
A doctor at Childrenís Hospital said there was nothing that could be done,
†† and that this child was going to die.
Childís mother told the Garlands that when she heard that news,
† †the thought that welled up in her mind wasó
†† I wish I could take my child to Jesus.† He would know what to do.
The end of that story is that God healed that baby.
†† But the point once again is that the reason all Christians parents at times cry out,
†† ďLord, bless my child!Ē is because we have an instinctive notion
†† that our children belong to him.† And they do.† The Bible says so.
Passage we read earlier in Mark 10, when parents brought children to Jesus
†† (Luke says babies)óthat passage is a perfect NT commentary on Genesis 17.†
Do you want to see what it looks like when God says ďI will be the God of your
†† childrenĒ?† Look no farther than Jesus blessing the little children.
Thatís what you want, isnít it?† And thatís the wonderful heritage and promise
†† that you have in Godís covenant.
That brings us to the third point.† What this passage teaches us about . . .
MP#3† Our parenting
You know the song . . .
Jesus loves me, this I know/For the Bible tells me so.
†† Itís a childhood favorite.
But your children should also be able to sing it this way:
†† Jesus loves me this I know/For my daddy told me so
†† Jesus loves me this I know/for my momma told me so.
Christian parenting is the God-ordained means through which
†† Godís generational grace flows to your children.†
God made this clear to Abraham.† I will be your God, God of your descendants.
†† ďI have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him
†† to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right.Ē
How was Isaac blessed?† How did God become the God of Abrahamís son?
†† Through Abraham directing Isaac to keep the way of the Lord.
How did the little children get to Jesus and receive his blessing?†
†† Their parents brought them to Jesus.†
Christian parents are the God-ordained channel through which
†† Godís covenant blessings come to their children.
If Christian parents neglect to bring their children to Christ,
†† then they can have no confidence in the covenant promises
You cannot be neutral in regard to your childrenís faith.
Some parents think itís noble to say:
†† Iím not going to impose my religion on my children,
†† Iím going to let them make their own decision when grow up.
Iíve never heard any parents at Christ Covenant say that explicitlyó
†† but I have sometimes heard fear expressed that if I make my kids do something,
†† if I make them come to church, if I make them sit through family devotions,
†† itís going to turn them off.
So itís better to let them make up own mind.
Do you do that about other important things in life?
I can tell this about Will because heís not here today, heís at camp.
A few weeks ago Eliza put her finger on Will and saidó
†† Dad, smell this spot and tell me whatís going on.† It smells like a wet dog.
I agreed and said:† Buddy, have you been using soap and washcloth?
†† And I got the answer I suspected.
But then I didnít say:† Scrubbing your dirty body is important to me,
†† but Iím going to let you make up your mind.†
†† I donít want to force you because it might make you hate bathing.† I forced!
You impose all sorts of things on your children, your faith shouldnít be different.
You have an idea about what the good life is for your children,
†† and you want to pave the way.† Itís true of bringing children to Jesus.
My dad would read us Bible story book that we called the Blue Bible.
†† I still have it.† Written in front cover, dadís hand, dates completed.
†† Got older, read missionary biographiesóElizabeth Elliott, John Patton.
†† And we would pray around the table.
Dad communicating in that:† This is who we are.† Followers of Christ.
†† In that way he brought me to Jesus.
God wants to be the God of your children.† Jesus wants to bless your children.†
He rebuked the disciples when they kept them away.
†† Donít keep your children away by neglecting to bring them to Jesus.
Read the Bible with your children, or if little, Bible story book,
†† or some good Christian literature, and pray with them.
And bring them to church.† Bring them for baptism.
†† This is their birthright, itís their heritage.
And as their faith grows, put them in the communicantís class,
†† new members class we have for children once a yearóten children this year.
When it is their faith, and they will profess Christ publicly,
†† and take their vows before the elders and all of you and sayó
†† itís not just my parentsí faith, itís my faithóand take communion with us all.
Those are the biggest things that happen in the life of our church.
†† Those are the biggest things that happen in the kingdom of God.
When covenant children, whose parents brought them to Christ,
†† claim their heritage and faith.†
Several years ago we read a missionary biography for family devotions
†† called And The Word Came With Power.
It was the story of Joanne Shetler.† She was a single woman from California
†† who went with Wycliffe Bible Translators to a tribe in the mountains
†† of the Philippines.†
Joanne learned the language, put it into writing, translated the Scriptures
†† and taught the people how to read.†
As the people of this tribe started to hear and read the Bible for the very first time,
†† you will never guess what parts of the Bible amazed them the mostó
†† the genealogies.† Especially the genealogy of Christ in Matthew.
You know the passage:† Abraham was the father of Isaac,
†† Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of of Judah and his brothers,
†† Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
†† Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram,
†† Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadabe the father of Nashon . . .
Iíll stop now, you get the idea.†
Those very passages of Scripture that we skim over
†† captured the imagination of this tribe and opened their hearts to the Gospel.
†† They wanted to know this God who poured out his blessing on generations.
There is a photo in the book of a man who was one of the first believers in the tribe.
†† He has a long sheet of paper with all of the names in Jesusí genealogy written.
He would take that paper from village to village and unfold it
†† and tell people about this God of the generations,
†† and their hearts would be opened to Christ.
Those Philippine Christians were on to something that we American Christians
†† sometimes missóthe wonder of Godís salvation plan, his covenant promises,
†† run right down through generations.
Thatís our GodóA God who claims our children.
As parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, as church members who have
†† witnessed baptisms in this sanctuary and have said:† Yes, we promise to assist
†† these parents in the Christian nurture of this childó
Letís claim Godís great and precious promises and do all we can to put our children
†† in the path of his generational grace.