“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless’” (Gen. 17:1). Age is just a number. And what is time to God Almighty? “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4 KJV). God Almighty appears and speaks without invitation. God is not compelled, not forced, and certainly not commanded by human goodness. Grace alone accounts for God’s appearing and speaking to the old man. But grace is not cheap, for the unearned call comes with an unearned vocation. “Walk before me and be blameless” (Gen. 17:1). In this sense, even law, if understood as vocation, is a grace.
|Gen. 17:1-7, 15-16 • Ps. 22:22-30
Rom. 4:13-25 • Mark 8:31-38
This is the promise. “You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:4). Abram’s barren wife, Sarai, is not left out. “She shall give rise to nations; kings of people shall come from her” (Gen. 17:16). Not a single nation, but many nations grow from this one couple, who are accounted righteous not because of anything they have done but because God Almighty appears and speaks and commands. Thus, while law is good both as vocation and restraint, law is not the first word. The first word is, “The Lord appeared and said” (Gen. 17:1).
Faith is a summoned response, a response that, though human, is rooted in the free prompting of a giving God. Human freedom and divine gift are two freedoms that meet in the mystery of God’s calling. For when it is said that Abraham “grew strong in his faith,” it is said incorrectly. There is no “his” about which he may be proud. Rather, the sacred word says this: “he was empowered by faith.” Abram is receptive, but passive. God’s got the faith and gives it (Rom. 4:20).
Because the call is rooted entirely in God, the calling may go out even to those who never share in the riches and the wrath of law. God comes not because Abram is blameless but because God’s will and love and command simply come to him. So God may come to anyone and, if we believe the old story, God seems almost to prefer those accounted as good as dead: the very old, the barren, the forgotten, the weak, the sick, the lost.
Leaving nothing out, God comes to death itself. “Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). He descends to the dead not because age and disease undo him. Rather, he bears the curse of death, human abuse, and rejection. He is consigned to nothingness. Jesus is no more, dead, lifeless. Grace has gone to the horror of hell and called out.
A dead Jesus speaks: “Come to me.” “If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). The promise is sure. There is a cross, a crush weight awaiting everyone, a dying unto death. It is one thing to be accounted as good as dead, another to be absolutely dead. Stone cold death is the raw material of a mind-bending miracle. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” (1 Thess. 4:14 KJV). Again, we see the revelation of God Almighty, mighty to call even the dead to life.
Look It Up
Read Ps. 22:28.
Think About It
Your cross. Dying you must do in a thousand ways. Yet undying life is at work in you.
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