The Children of Abraham Are Heirs of the World
From Gospel Translations
For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. (14) For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; (15) for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.
Pray for Jews to Be Saved?
O, how sad is the lead editorial in Saturday's StarTribune! Saturday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The editorial was in response to the Southern Baptist initiative to call Christians during these holy days to pray for the Jewish people to receive Jesus as their Messiah and be saved. The essence of the editorial was to suggest that this is arrogant. It quoted Abraham Heschel, "Christians must abandon the idea that the Jews must be converted." This idea, Heschel said, is "one of the greatest scandals in history" (StarTribune, Sept. 11, 1999, p. A20).
It is sad because it so badly distorts the historic Christian and Biblical teaching about the relationship between Israel and the Church. There is no doubt that many people in Christendom have treated Jews badly over the centuries and fostered a horrible attitude of anti-Semitism. That we repudiate, for the same reason we repudiate Saturday's editorial. Both are false to the New Testament.
Why is this relevant for today's message? Because I am assuming from Paul's teaching that Gentiles like you and me who trust in the Messiah, Jesus, are fellow heirs of the promise of Abraham because we are actually children of Abraham. We are true Jews. And I am also assuming that ethnic Jews who reject their Messiah, Jesus, will not be counted as true Jews and will perish in unbelief.
This is not the point of the message. It is the basis of the message. We have developed it before and will develop again. But let me point to the basis. Jesus Christ is the fulfilment of all the hopes of Israel. He is the yes to all God's promises (2 Corinthians 1:20). He is the Messiah (Mark 14:61-62; Matthew 16:16; John 20:31; Acts 9:22; 1 John 2:22; 5:1). To reject him is to reject God the Father, and to confess him as true and Lord of your life is to be reconciled to God. 1 John 2:23, "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also."
In other words, Jews who reject Jesus as their Messiah and Savior forfeit their promises as Jews. And Gentiles who accept Jesus as the Messiah and Savior become heirs of those promises.
This was not the creation of the apostle Paul or John. They learned it from Jesus himself. For example, in Matthew 8:10-12, when the Gentile Centurion came to Jesus for the healing of his servant, Jesus was so moved by this Gentile's faith that he said, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." In other words, a Gentile who believes in Jesus will be at the table of inheritance with Abraham in the age to come, but a Jew who does not believe will be cast into outer darkness.
True Jews - Fellow Heirs with Abraham
This is what Jesus and all the apostles taught: Gentiles become true Jews by faith in the Messiah, Jesus, and Jews forfeit their final inheritance as Jews if they reject faith in Jesus as the Messiah. It is a profound misunderstanding of Christianity to describe this teaching as an arrogant presumption that Christianity simply wants all Jews to abandon their heritage. The Biblical way to say it is that "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22), and the promises made to Abraham are the root that supports all salvation (Romans 11:18), and the only way for any Gentile to be saved is to become a fellow heir of Abraham by trusting in the Jewish Messiah. The Jewish heritage is our only hope.
Judaism is so central to Christianity that there is no salvation without it. And Jesus Christ is so central to Judaism that there is no salvation without him. It is not arrogant for Christians to say to Jews: We have no hope without your heritage and your Messiah; and neither do you. In fact, even though it is perceived as offensive by many Jewish people and by the StarTribune that Southern Baptists call for prayer that Israel will believe on her Messiah, it is a profoundly loving act. For "he who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).
So today I base the message on this great truth: we Gentiles who believe on Jesus the Messiah are fellow heirs with Abraham and with him will inherit the world. Jews and Gentiles together, who believe in Christ, are heirs of the world. The text is Romans 4:13-14, "The promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified." We dealt with this text last week but left the third point until this morning. What does it mean to be "heir of the world"? Abraham is promised to be heir of the world, and, according to verse 14, those who are of faith are also "heirs" with him.
Heir of the World
What does this mean that you are an heir of the world? And what difference does it make now?
Let's start by asking where in the Old Testament Paul got the idea that Abraham and his true descendants would be "heirs of the world." Nowhere in the Old Testament are these very words used - "heir of the world." How is it that in Romans 4:13 Paul summed up "the promise to Abraham" this way: "that he would be heir of the world"?
I would point to three promises to Abraham that imply what Paul is saying here.
First, in Genesis 17:8 God says to Abraham, "I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." He does not simply say that the generations to come would get the land as an everlasting possession, but that Abraham himself would get the land. "I will give to you and to your descendants after you . . ." This is at least a pointer, if not proof, that Abraham would rise from the dead and enjoy his inheritance. So he can be an heir of the world because he will be alive to inherit it.
Second, in Genesis 17:7 God makes the most precious and powerful promise of all: "I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you." I will be God to you. Now what does that mean? Well, Jesus said it meant that Abraham could not be defeated by death. To have God as your God means that you will not be surrendered to death. In Matthew 22:32 Jesus took the Old Testament words, "I am the God of Abraham" and commented, "He is not the God of the dead but of the living." In other words, to say that God is truly your God and yet that you are defeated by death is inconceivable to Jesus and to Paul. The promise that God would be Abraham's God means: Abraham will rise from the dead. This is why he can be an heir of the world: he is not dead, and cannot ever be defeated by death. Nor can you if you are his fellow heir by faith.
Third, in Genesis 22:17 God promises Abraham, "I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies." This means that in the future there are no enemies that will triumph over the descendants of Abraham. All their enemies will be subdued.
Implications of Being an Heir
Abraham and his descendants will inherit the land; Abraham will rise from the dead and cannot be defeated by death; Abraham and his descendants will be triumphant over all their foes. What is the implication of these three promises? Paul saw all of these promises fulfilled in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Messiah is the heir in the fullest sense. That supercharges the promises with greater fulfilment than Abraham knew.
Jesus is the Lord of all nations and all lands. Every knee will bow to him (Philippians 2:10). The Father says to the Son, "Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession" (Psalm 2:8).
Not only that, Jesus the Messiah defeated death in his own resurrection and Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:57, "[God] gives us the victory [over death] through our Lord Jesus Christ."
And in 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 Paul says, "[Christ] must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death."
So all the promises of God to Abraham are yes in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He is heir of all the nations; all the world belongs to him. He is Lord of life and death. He is ruling now at the Father's right hand to put every enemy, including death, under his feet for the sake of his people.
What's clear from this is that the reason we are heirs of the world is because Jesus the Messiah is the heir of the world, and we are in him. In other words, in the very same way that we become children of Abraham, namely, by believing in the Messiah, we also become heirs with Abraham of the world, because the Messiah is heir of the world. He fulfils all the promises of God, and we become fellow heirs with Abraham in him. In him we are Jews, and in him we are heirs of God.
Galatians 3:29 is a wonderfully clear statement of both of these things: "And if you belong to Christ (that is, the Messiah), then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise." Both: in Christ you are Abraham's descendants, and in Christ you are an heir with him. So if you belong to Christ this morning, you are heirs of the world.
Now what does that mean?
All Things Are Yours
I think the best commentary on what it means is found in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, "So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or THE WORLD or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God."
Notice, first, that the reason all things are yours is that you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God. Christ is the heir of God and in him you are fellow-heirs. That's the way Paul puts it in Romans 8:17, "Heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ."
Then notice that in Christ all things are yours. That is what it means to be an heir of the world. Hebrews 1:2 says, "In these last days [God] has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things." Christ owns all things. They are his for whatever use he pleases. And what pleases him is to share all things with the people for whom he died.
So practically what it means to be an heir of the world is that right now, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, all things are yours in trust, as it were, and will become yours in actuality in the age to come. Jesus had several ways of saying this. For example, "The meek shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). One of the most interesting examples is in Luke 16:12. Jesus is talking about the use of money in this age. He compares the use of our possessions now with our possessions in the age to come. "If you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?" In other words, he treats your present possessions - all you have - as "that which is another's."
You are only a trustee right now, a manager of someone else's possessions. You don't really own anything in this age. It is all God's. You are a steward, an agent, a broker. Your charge is to manage God's things for God's purposes. That should govern absolutely all your choices about what you do with God's things: What would magnify the truth and worth and glory of God?
But in the age to come, in the resurrection, Jesus says you will be given "your own." "If you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?" "Your own" corresponds to "the world" in Romans 4:13 and 1 Corinthians 3:22. You are an heir of the world. All things are yours. You will inherit "your own."
This is so amazing that it defies our language to describe it properly. Surely all things will still be God's. All will still be Christ's. Yes, but our union with Christ will be so much greater that it will be the difference between managing another person's things and having our own. And our own will be "all things."
How can this be? How can it all be Christ's and mine? Consider Revelation 3:21 as an analogy. Jesus says to the believers at Laodicea, "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." We will sit with Christ on his throne. So in some sense we will share the kingly rule and ownership of the world. Christ loses nothing, but we gain everything.
But still we ask, How can this be? How can "all things" be mine and "all things" be yours too? Well that is the way it is, more or less, in a marriage now in this age. A husband and a wife own a home together. They don't own parts of it, but all of it. They co-own it. So in the age to come there will be such union and such harmony among us that all God's children will own all God's inheritance as they are united to Christ, the heir of all things. This will not be a problem because in the age to come the great joy of all of us will be to increase the joy of others by giving and sharing and using all things for the greatest joy of all people. There will be perfect wisdom for how to do this and a perfect world where there is no futility or frustration. All of us will say to each other, "All things are yours, and you are Christ's and Christ is God's." And the very saying of it will be overflowing joy.
What Difference Does This Make in Your Life?
One last question: what difference does this make in your life - that you are now the heir of the world?
1. Let it fill you with joy. Romans 5:2, "We exult in hope of the glory of God." Romans 12:12, "Rejoice in hope." Our hope that we are heirs of the world should give an indomitable joy to our lives. If this does not seem real to you, strive in prayer and meditation until God makes it real in your life. This is not a dream. Life lived as if you owned things now and as if this world were the main world - that is a dream.
2. In this hope be secure and be strong, especially in the midst of suffering and affliction. Romans 5:3-4, "We exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint." In all your shaking and fears and feelings of disintegration, let the ground under your feet be the granite of this promise: I am an heir of the world. When the planets of your life seem out of orbit and threaten to fly apart into oblivion, let this hope be the mighty sun at the center of the solar system of your life pulling all things back into orbit: I am an heir of the world.
3. In this hope, venture something new on God. Let your utter security as the heir of the world make you a little bit crazy in this brief life. Take a risk for Jesus. Act like you are an heir of the world and that you inherit everything when you die. Take some new step of ministry. Join a small group. Sign up for some ministry. Start some new ministry at work or at school or in your neighborhood. Sell your business and go overseas. Change the way you do things. In Romans 12:11, just before it says, "rejoice in hope," it says, "serve the Lord." Venture something on God as an heir of the world. "Expect great things from God," as William Carey said (which now you have every right to do), "Attempt great things for God."
4. Give glory to God by trusting him to give the inheritance he promised. It is all his. He has promised to give it to those who have the faith of Abraham. So be like Abraham in Romans 4:20, "He grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform."
Rejoice in hope.
Be secure in affliction.
Be venturesome in ministry.
Give glory to God.
Because you are an heir of the world.