Faith alone

“Homeless” is how Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider described himself as he stepped behind the altar in our church in Montreux (Switzerland). His planned trip to Brazil had been cancelled because of the pandemic. The focus of his sermon was Abraham and the shining example he set.

Paul selects Abraham as a model of faith in his letter to the Galatians. At the time, there was obviously the opinion in the church that it was necessary to keep the Jewish law in order to be saved. The Apostle opposed this vigorously stating that it was not the observance of rules and traditions that guaranteed salvation but faith. Faith, the Chief Apostle confirmed, was the only proper attitude toward God. He quoted from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham” (Galatians 3: 8–9).

Test 1: journey into the unknown

This Bible text is quite challenging, the Chief Apostle said with a smile. He said that he occupied himself with the person of Abraham for quite some time and began his sermon by giving the congregation some background on Abraham’s life. Abraham had been born in Ur on the Persian Gulf, but his father had decided to leave the country. They took all their herds and possessions and moved to what is modern Turkey today. They had travelled all the way up the Euphrates to settle there. And then God came to Abraham’s house and told him that he was to leave everything: his family, his land, everything he possessed. He did not even know where he was supposed to go. All God said was: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you… I will bless you.”

The Chief Apostle said that he tried to imagine how Abraham might have reacted: “All Abraham had was God’s word. He had nothing else, no guarantee, no description, no explanation, only God’s word!” Abraham had trusted in this word and had gone. From that point on he was a foreigner. As a nomad he had nothing. Chief Apostle Schneider: “That’s awesome, isn’t it?”

Test 2: a delayed promise

And then the thing with Isaac happened, the Chief Apostle went on. God had promised Abraham a son, but nothing happened. Years and years went by and Abraham became impatient. Finally, the promised son was born. “Again the Bible says that Abraham trusted in God. Even though it seemed completely unlikely, completely impossible, and even though it took a very long time to come true, he trusted in God,” the Chief Apostle said.

Test 3: a far-reaching sacrifice

Abraham had to prove his faith and trust in God a third time. God wanted him to sacrifice his son Isaac. “Can we even begin to imagine this? For us today this seems simply absurd!” The Bible does not reveal what Abraham thought or felt at that moment, but we can probably imagine what it could have been: “What is the point? Why are You doing this to me? I was friendly, obedient, and trusted You. You told me that You wanted to bless me. And now You are taking away my blessing!?” This is what Abraham may have thought, the Chief Apostle surmised.

But again Abraham trusted in God and would have sacrificed his son if God had not stopped him at the last moment. “What faith, what trust!”

What about today?

“What does all this mean for us today?” the Chief Apostle asked the congregation. Today God tells us that He wants to bring about our salvation, our happiness, and that He wants to bless us—not here on earth but in His kingdom, the kingdom of God. This is where we have to go to. Our questions might be: “What will it be like there? Where is it? How do we get there?” All we have is the word of God. The Chief Apostle said, “We have to trust Him. There is a place somewhere else that we cannot imagine, that no scientist can destroy, that only exists in our faith. And God tells us: trust Me and follow the teaching of Jesus Christ. It will take you there,” the Chief Apostle concluded.

Faith saves

Jesus came into the world and made clear that the vision of the kingdom of God was not yet complete. “We believe Him. We believe that Jesus Christ will return. We believe that He has given us the church, the apostolate.” This promise was made by the Lord a long time ago, more than 2,000 years ago, the Chief Apostle said. “And what has happened since then? Nothing, absolutely nothing! He has still not come and we are starting to think like Abraham.” What was the Lord’s response to this? “Trust Me! I will return, even if it is taking long.”

God expects only one thing, the Chief Apostle concluded: “ʻTrust in My word, trust Me to the end.’ This is the faith that will save us.”

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Peter Johanning
Switzerland, Chief Apostle, Divine service