grace; faith; blessing; promise; Abraham
This morning we move in our study of Genesis to Abraham. Abraham is one of the most significant people in history because he is claimed as the Father of the Jews, Muslims and Christians. So his story is one that many people are interested in. And we should be interested too . . . because the story of Abraham teaches us a number of things.
The story begins with God asking Abraham to move to a new land. At 75 years old God asks Abraham to move to “a land that I will show you.” He doesn’t tell him where . . . just to go. There are no maps, no Triple-A Trip Tickets, no brochures. God pointed west and said, “Go.” Abraham’s family is in Ur. His business is in Ur. His friends are in Ur. But God’s direction was clear. And Abraham packs up and moves out.
We have no idea how God communicated with Abraham. Was it through an angel? Was it in a dream? Did he hear an audible voice? We don’t know. What we do know is that Abraham is asked to leave his security, his family, his friends, and everything that made him feel comfortable in life.
The book of Hebrews has a great summary of Abraham’s situation,
- By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10)
However God communicated his message to Abraham we know it was effective. Abraham believed God and the promises He made. It appears that God gave the command and then Abraham took his father Terah, his brother Nahor and the son of his dead brother Haran, a boy by the name of Lot and headed west. This group went from Ur (in Eastern Iraq) and traveled to Haran (near modern day Syria). It was here that they first settled. After Terah died, Abraham and Lot continued on to the land of the Cannanites (present day Israel). We don’t know if Abraham received a second message in Haran. We don’t even know if it was originally the plan to stop for awhile in Haran. But that is what happened.
But like most of the accounts in Genesis the real benefit in this record is not the historical details . . . it is in what we can learn about God and life with God.
GOD IS THE INITIATOR IN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM
The first thing we notice about the call of Abraham is that it is initiated by God. There is no record here that God chose Abraham because he was godly. There is nothing that says Abraham was a man who was walking with God. We read about Abraham’s faith in the book of Hebrews but you need to realize that the faith came after God first called Abraham and made these wonderful promises to him. God’s action was first . . . Abraham’s was in response to God’s action.
In fact, as we paste together Abraham’s background we see that Abraham was an unlikely candidate for God’s favor. Listen to these words from Joshua 24:2
- Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshipped other gods.” Abraham grew up in a home that practiced idolatry. It is likely that Abraham had no real “faith” until God chose him to be the Father of the faithful.
Abraham grew up in a home that worshipped idols. He was a pagan yet God chose him. In fact, as we read the Biblical testimony, this seems to be the way God usually works.
Moses says something similar to the Hebrews who wandered in the wilderness.
- (Deuteronomy 7:6-9) For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
Do you see what Moses is saying? God did not chose Israel for any other reason than that He wanted to. He chose a small people so that it would be obvious that God was working in them. God is not arbitrary in His decisions. They are always based on wisdom and knowledge. But, God does not disclose why He chose Israel. All He does say is that they did not earn Has favor. And He doesn’t disclose why he chooses us either.
Listen to these words God speaks to the church,
(1 Cor. 1:26-31) Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
The point is clear . . . grace is the result of God’s mercy, not our merit. In case you think this is an isolated teaching consider these verses,
- (John 15:16)You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.(Romans 9:15,16) For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.(2 Timothy 1:8-10) join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
- A young black boy down south years ago, wanted to join a church. So the deacons were examining him. They asked, “How did you get saved?” His answer was, “God did His part, and I did my part.” They thought there was something wrong with his doctrine, so they questioned further, “What was God’s part, and what was your part?” His explanation was a good one. He said, “God’s part was the saving, and my part was the sinning. I done run from Him as fast as my sinful heart and rebellious legs could take me. He done took out after me till He run me down.” This boy understood grace.
So, the first thing we learn from this spiritual “pillar” is that Abraham’s faithfulness was not a result of His goodness but a result of God’s gracious calling in his life. The Lord ran after Abraham and “ran him down.” He reached out to Abraham and Abraham responded gratefully. God works the same way with all of us.
OBEDIENCE IS THE ROAD TO BLESSING
God extends a tremendous promise to Abraham (which we will see shortly) but he asks Abraham to do something. He must leave his home, business and family.
We must not get confused. Abraham is not blessed because of his obedience . . . he is blessed IN his obedience. Think about it in terms of children. We don’t love our children BECAUSE they do well. We love them because we love them. But, when our children are obedient and follow our directions they enjoy the expressions and benefits of that love more regularly.
The same is true of obedience in the Christian life. I recently purchased a new video camera. It had all these great features. You can make titles, you can create special effects, you can zoom in and zoom out even in low light situations. In fact, there are more features than I am even aware of at this time. But the potential for great benefit and enjoyment is in my hands. But guess what happened when I went to use the camera the first time? I couldn’t figure out how to get the thing to record! I had all the power and potential before me . . . but until I learned how to use what I had been given, I could not enjoy the benefits of the blessing. Once I read the instruction manual and did what it said, it worked great!
Now God’s promises are the blessings . . . God’s Word is the instruction manual. As I follow God’s instructions I begin to enjoy and appropriate God’s blessings. The converse is also true . . . if I am missing out on God’s blessings . . . it could be because I am blocking the blessings by the way I live.
I took a look at God’s instruction manual the other day. And as I read it I wondered if we were following the instructions and opening ourselves to the benefits of His love or whether we were ignoring his commands and hindering God’s blessings. Here’s part of the list.
- God says when you are sick call for the elders and ask them to pray for you
- He says to give Him a tenth of your income
- He says to forgive
- He says to save sex for marriage
- He says we should tell others about Jesus
- He tells us to bless and pray for our enemies rather than curse them
- He tells us influence others by love and kindness rather than force and anger
- He tells us to use the Sabbath as a day when we rest and He is honored
- He warns us not to “lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy”
- He says we should each do our part in the ministry of the church
- He tells us not to worry . . . but trust Him
So, is the channel of blessing open or closed in your life?
GOD’S BLESSINGS EXCEED OUR EXPECTATIONS
We’ve talked about blessings. Now let’s look at the things that God promises Abraham.
- I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Blessing for his Descendants. God promises that Abraham’s descendants will become a great nation. (Wouldn’t we all like to know that those who come after us are going to flourish and do well?). Of course the descendants of Ishmael became the Arabs and the descendants of Isaac became the Jews. Blessing for him personally. He also promises Abraham personal blessings: he will be blessed, his name will be great. . . he will be a person of reknown. God will stand with him reward his benefactors and punish His enemies. Universal BlessingGod promises that the whole world will be blessed because of Abraham. This wonderful promise points to Jesus. It is a reminder that one of Abraham’s descendants (Christ) will make it possible for the whole world to know God’s blessing.
Now from these simple promises we are reminded of some important truth:
- God has a plan
- God controls the course of history
- Therefore, God’s plan is sure
This becomes more important to you and I when we read the promises for Christians.
Peace with God In Romans 5 we are told that “since we have been justified by faith we have peace with God.” We are promised that if we trust Christ we will no longer be enemies of God . . . we will become those God loves.
Pardon from Sin: Isa. 55:7- “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Do you believe this promise? Don’t you hunger to be set free from the foolishness and sin of your past? If we turn to him, He will forgive. He promises. The reason He can forgive is because Jesus died to pay for your sin. He was your substitute . . . He suffered the punishment that you deserved. Are you ready to receive the gift that God offers you?
Provision for our needs “My God shall supply all your needs”. . . (Phil 4:19); Jesus tells us that “our heavenly Father knows what you need before you even ask…” He told the disciples not to worry about extra clothes and food when they traveled . . . God would provide. And He did. Our definition of “need” and God’s definition may differ but any true need we have will be provided by God.
Perseverance in the faith Phil 1:6 “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” Our salvation does not rest on our ability to be good . . . .it is dependent on God’s promise. God says the work that He began is the work that He will finish. God will see you to the finish line if you first begin the journey with Him. Doesn’t that help you stop looking over your shoulder waiting for something to happen that will get you kicked out of the Kingdom?
Palaces in the future “In my Fathers house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a place for you.” (Jn. 14) The promise is that there is life beyond the grave . . . not just existence but a life that is better than the best we can imagine. This promise turns death from a tragedy into a triumph. Death becomes not that which we have always dreaded. . . but that which we have longed for all our lives.
Productive Contributions to the Kingdom of God “To each a spiritual gift for the building up. . . ” God has given us a role to play in the building of the Kingdom. He has given each of us a job to do and the skills to do those jobs. In this world where we feel like we can make so little difference . . . God says that He has equipped us and commissioned us for tasks that will enrich the Kingdom of God.
Purpose in the hard times “consider it joy when you encounter various trials for the testing of your faith produces endurance and endurance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” (James 1:2) The things that bring pain are not arbitrary happenings . . . they are the purposeful lessons of God which are designed to make us ready for Heaven. Things do not happen by chance!
Presence of God Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always.” Even when you feel alone and deserted . . . He is still with you. You are never out of His sight. Never beyond His reach. Never outside of His love.
If God has so many blessings to His people . . . where are they? We don’t feel very blessed. Part of the problem lies in defining “blessing”
- We are concerned about present comfort
God is preparing us for future glory
We want the pain to go away
God wants our weakness to go away
We want God to make us happy
God wants us to know joy
We focus on the physical (one-dimensional)
God focuses on the eternal and spiritual
I remember a great story. An old Pastor was dying. Disease and destroyed his body and his mind had become feeble. And a friend of his came by and sat with him. He said, “Is there anything I can do for you.” The Pastor said sadly, “Would you remind me of some of God’s promises to us. . . I’m ashamed to admit that I can’t remember them.” His wise and correct friend said, “Don’t worry if you forget them . . . . God has not forgotten a single promise.”
God has given us His word to stand on. Even when we cannot see. Even when it is hard to believe. Even when we feel that the storms are about to overwhelm us. His promise is sure.
So, let’s get right to the point: what lesson do you need to draw from the account of Abraham?
- Perhaps you need to stop trying to save yourself and recognize that grace is an undeserved gift that must be received to be enjoyed. It is time to realize that it is too late to do anything to earn your salvation. The debt has already been paid. The work has already been done . . . by Christ. It’s time to stop running and gratefully receive the offer of salvation extended to us. We don’t deserve it, that’s for sure. But it is there for anyone who will receive it.
- Is it possible that you have forgotten that the summons to salvation is not just about life beyond the grave. God’s relationship with us in Christ affects the way we live in the present. God has made tangible promises to us regarding our daily living. His work in our lives begins NOW. He can help you NOW. Study his promises. Stand by His Word.
- Is God calling you to do something today? I don’t know what it might be. Perhaps to take a new job. Maybe to take a risk. Perhaps it is to talk to someone about Christ. Maybe He is calling you to begin a new ministry or to volunteer for an existing ministry. If you sense God telling you to do something sinful . . . it’s not God talking. It’s the Devil. But if it is God speaking, what will you do. Will you dare to follow and obey?
- And maybe you don’t sense His blessings. Life is tough. You’ve tried to be faithful and obedient but nothing seems to have changed. Life hurts, you feel alone, and God seems far away.
- I don’t want to give away the whole story, but there were times when Abraham wondered if God would deliver on what He promised. It was 25 years before Isaac was born. It was many years after the promise before he had any biological heir at all. Abraham knew the promise. But I’m sure He wondered. I suspect there were times when he was tempted to give up. Maybe he was tempted to move back to Ur. Perhaps he was tempted to get out the old family idols. But he didn’t. He continued to believe that God would do what He promised He would do. . . . and Abraham was not disappointed.If we will trust Him . . . He will fulfill his promises to us as well. It may not be tomorrow. It may not even be in the near future. We may not see that God has fulfilled His promise until we get to Heaven . . . but God will keep His Word. God tells us to follow Him even if we don’t know where we are going. We are to follow with the assurance that even though we don’t know where we are going God has promised that it will be worth the trip. We follow because we know that when we get to where God is leading us we will be glad we stayed the course. At that time we will bow before Him as the one who is faithful and true. We will stand with Abraham perhaps applauding, perhaps singing, perhaps in reverent silence. And most certainly there will be tears in our eyes because then we will realize just how wonderful God is and how richly He has blessed us.