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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:The LORD calls Abram to live by faith.
Text:Genesis 12:1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faithfulness rewarded
 
Preached:2016-05-29
Added:2016-06-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 9:1,4,5

Psalm 25:2

Psalm 105:1,2,4

Psalm 33:6

Hymn 71:1,2

Read:  Genesis 12:1-9; Hebrews 11:1-16

Text:  Genesis 12:1-3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What do you do when God’s promises don’t seem to match reality?  What do you do when the things that God says seem to be at odds with the things that you experience?  Almost every Sunday, at the end of the church service you hear the words of blessing,

“The LORD bless you and keep you.”

But what if it feels as though He is not blessing you or keeping you at all?  What if your life has fallen apart?  What should you do if what you hear on Sunday does not seem to match what you experience on Monday?

Does the LORD really follow through with His promises?  Does God really listen?  Does He even see us? 

I wonder if Abram ever felt that way?  I wonder if, in the years following his journey to Canaan, he wondered if God would really give him what He had promised?  As we go through the life of Abram today and in the coming weeks, we will find an answer to that question.  But even more importantly, as we go through the life of Abram and what has happened since then we will see that whatever we may be feeling or experiencing today, the LORD really does follow through with His promises.  We will learn not only of the command to trust God but we will also learn that God is trustworthy.  And the Bible tells us that since God kept His promise to Abraham, He will most certainly keep every promise He has made to you!  No matter what, you can trust Him.  You can take Him at His Word.  And therefore you are called to do that and, like Abram, to live not by sight but by faith.

I preach to you the Word of God concerning God’s call and promises to Abram under the following theme:

The LORD calls Abram to live by faith.

  1. A radical call.
  2. A sure promise.

1. A radical call.

One of the problems that we have, one of the problems that cause us to sometimes feel as though God is not there for us, that He does not hear us, is that we can not seem to see beyond our present circumstances.  We find it very difficult to step back and to look at what God is doing not just with us as we live with a view to eternity but also with the world.  Genesis 12, however, demands that we remember the wider perspective.  The first 11 chapters of Genesis described world events spanning at least 2000 years but now the next chapters in Genesis, Genesis 12-25 will deal with the life of just one man, Abram, as well as those with him.  But to understand what God teaches us about the life of Abram, we need to read these chapters against the backdrop of Genesis 1-11.   And even more, we need to read the story of Abram in the context of what came after and the fulfillment of all things in Jesus Christ.

The Bible does not start with the story of Abram but with the story of creation, how God made all things good, and then how He made man, Adam and Eve, in His image and placed them in the garden of Eden.  From there the Bible tells us about how Adam and Eve fell into sin and how they and the whole world fell under the curse of sin.  From there on sin’s corruption spread and the Bible tells us of Cain and of Lamech and then how in the days of Noah the whole earth was corrupt before God and filled with violence. 

But that is not all that the first chapters of Genesis tell us.  In Genesis 3:15, immediately after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin, the LORD gave His promise that there would be two “seeds” and two lines of people: the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman.  There would be the sons of men, those under God’s curse, but there would also be the sons of God, those who would experience God’s blessing.  For the LORD would make the way possible for those who have sinned to have that sin removed so that they could once more be counted as God’s children and live for Him.  That’s what the LORD promised in Genesis 3:15 when He said that He would put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman and when He said that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.  And from then on, from Genesis 4-11 we read not only about man’s sin but also about God’s grace, of how He was busy gathering, defending and preserving a people for Himself. 

And that is what comes out very clearly in Genesis 12:1-3.  God’s call and promise to Abram in Genesis 12 teach us that the story of Abram as it is written in Genesis 12-25 is not just about a man who lived some 4000 years ago but it is about how God kept His promise and formed a people for Himself.  And with that in mind we then see that these chapters don’t just tell us about who Abram is and what he did, but about who God is and what He has done.  You can see that already in Genesis 12:1-3 where the LORD tells Abram what He would do.  Verse 1,

  • Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.

And then in verse 2 the LORD goes on to say what He, the LORD, would do.

  • I will make you a great nation.
  • I will bless you
  • I will make your name great.

And verse 3:

  • I will bless those who bless you.
  • I will curse him who curses you.

And then verse 7.

Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.”

The point is, that it is God who is doing these things.  Yes, He called Abram to leave his country and his father’s house, but the focus is not so much on Abram but on God and what God was planning to do.

 

This is particularly striking when you contrast Genesis 12:1-3 with the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11.  Genesis 11 is the story about a community that tried to live without God and apart from Him.  It says in Genesis 11:2 that as the people journeyed from the east,

they found a plain in the land of Shinar and they dwelt there.”

God had not given this place to them as such: it was their decision.  And then verse 3 of Genesis 11 say,

“Then they said to one another, ‘Come let us make bricks’” and so forth.

And verse 4,

“And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city”

And,

“Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

Genesis 11 describes the way of mankind when they try to do their own things, apart from God – and it tells us how it ended with the LORD saying “Come let us do something now” and how He confused their language and scattered them over the face of all the earth.  But now in Genesis 12 the LORD still remembered those people whom He had scattered, and He would provide the way for them to be gathered  once more from the four corners of the earth to become one people again, the people of God.

And so that is the big picture, that is background to God’s command to Abram in Genesis 12.  The LORD called Abram and He promised to bless him and make his name great.  But God was not simply concerned about Abram: He was concerned for the world and He was determined to have a people for Himself just as He had promised. 

But to do that the LORD called Abram.  And what the LORD called Abram to do was something radical.  Genesis 12:1.

“Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.’”

Imagine for a moment being Abram when he received this call from the LORD.  Or, if you like, imagine being Sarai and having your husband tell you to pack your things because God had told him to go a strange land in a distant place.  “Do we really have to move and take up the life of a nomad?  And why?  And what will happen to us when we travel to this land that the LORD is somehow going to show us?”

When the LORD first gave this call to Abram, it appears as though Abram and his family were quite settled.  They were living, the Bible tells us in other parts of Scripture, in Ur of the Chaldeans.  That’s clear, for example, from what Stephen said to the Jewish council in Acts 7:2,3. 

“Brethren and fathers, listen: the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, “Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.”

In a previous sermon on Genesis 11:27-32 I explained that Ur of the Chaldeans was by the River Euphrates in modern day Iraq.  It was, in Abram’s day, a bustling city of immense wealth with incredible architecture, plumbing and central heating systems.  Excavations of Ur of the Chaldeans have also unearthed many clay tablets that described their laws and business practices.  In Abram’s day, therefore, Ur of the Chaldeans was the height of civilization.  If you had “made it” in Ur, you had made it on the world stage and life was good.

But for the LORD to achieve His purposes in Abram, Abram could not stay there.  Abram was told to leave his country, his family and his father’s house. 

But why was that?  Why did Abram have to leave all of this behind and live the rest of his life as a tent-dwelling nomad, as a sojourner, in a foreign land?  We can find answers to this question.  We know from Joshua 24:2 that the country and the family and the father’s house that Abram was to leave behind were all idol worshippers.  We also know that God intended to make Abram into a great nation and a distinct people – and for that to happen there had to be a clear line separating them from the people round about.  We also know that the LORD had clear reasons for choosing the land of Canaan as the place where His people would settle.  Canaan was a good land, one flowing with milk and honey, but it was also a land that relied on the rains and on God’s direct provision.  And the land of Canaan was indeed the land where the Canaanites, descendants of Ham, lived.  Genesis 9 already spoke about Canaan when Noah pronounced a curse on Canaan and when Noah also said in Genesis 9:27,

“Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant.”

And now through Abram, a descendant of Shem, the LORD was about to see this prophecy fulfilled: the LORD would give the land of the Canaanites to Abram’s descendants. 

But how much of this did Abram know?  How much did Abram understand when the LORD commanded him to leave his country, his family, and his father’s house and go to a land that he did not know?  Did it make sense to him?  It was no small thing for Abram to be told to leave first Ur of the Chaldeans and then they city of Haran.  Abram was settled and he had all that he might want – everything, that is, apart from a child.  But now he was told to leave.  And what was he to leave for?  Where was he to go?  What would life be like for Abram and for Sarai when they responded to the LORD’s command to leave all that was near and dear to them and to go out not knowing where they were going?

You see, God did not tell Abram all that He was doing.  He did not pull Abram aside to tell him exactly why he was to leave everything and go to a place that the LORD would show him.  The LORD did not explain at this time how he would become a great nation.  And although Galatians 3:8 points out that in saying “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” God was in fact preaching the gospel to Abram, promising a way of salvation for the nations, Abram would not have understood the full meaning of these words when God spoke them to him.  In calling Abram to leave that was near and dear to him and to go to the land of Canaan, the LORD was calling Abram to live by faith and not by sight.  And that is what Hebrews 11:8 points out.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance.  And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

That is the point that we need to emphasize here.  Abram – and Sarai – were called to go out in humble submission and in complete reliance on God, trusting that He knew what He was doing and that God would do what He promised, even when it seemed otherwise. 

And Abram went, as the LORD had spoken to him.  

That does not mean to say, however, that Abram’s faith was always strong.  To the contrary, as you read through the life story of Abraham as it is given to us in the book of Genesis, you will learn that his faith was also weak and that he failed in his faith from time to time.  There were times when he thought that God’s promises were too great, too good to be true, and there were times when he attempted to find his own solutions to the problems that he faced.  And so the message of the story of Abram is not so much “Be faithful just as Abram was faithful” but rather the message of the story of Abram is to believe that  God is faithful.  “Faith”, Hebrews 11:1 tells us, is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  And to live by faith is to obey God’s call on our lives and to live in the assurance that God is true and that His promises are sure.  That brings us to our second point.

2. A sure promise.

To live by faith and not by sight, however, is hard.  How do you keep on believing when things don’t make sense?  What do you do if God’s promises seem to be too big, too grand?  What do you do when all you want is to have some things changed, but that this doesn’t seem to be happening?

Abram and Sarai went through that.  When God told Abram to leave his country, his family and his father’s house and go to the land of Canaan, Abram obeyed God and he left.  First he left Ur, and after his father died, he left Haran.  But as time went on the promises that the LORD had given Abram in Genesis 12 seemed more and more like wishful thinking.  And Abram got to the point where he seemed to give up on the fullness of God’s promises to him and seemed willing to settle for something less.  You can learn that in Genesis 17 where the LORD explicitly told Abraham that Sarai would have a son and that she would be a mother of nations.  Responding to that it says in Genesis 17:17,18 that

“Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old?  And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’  And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!’”

And in Genesis 18, when Sarah heard the LORD tell Abraham that she would have a son, Sarah, being well past the age of childbearing, laughed inside herself, saying,

“After I have grown old, shall I have the pleasure, my lord [Abraham] being old also?”

There came a time, therefore, for both Abram and Sarai where God’s promises no longer seemed to match the reality that they were experiencing.  And so in effect they said, “It is enough, Lord.  Just give me the small thing that I so desperately want for today and I will be content.” 

But that is not God’s way!  What God promises, He will do!  And you can trust Him with that. 

When God called Abram to leave his country and his family behind and go to the land that the LORD would show him, the promises that He gave him were huge.  The LORD told Abram, “I will bless you”.  He would be good to Abraham and make things well for him.  That was a promise Abram was to hold on to even when there was a famine in the land of Canaan soon after he got there. 

  And the LORD said

“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great.”

In spite of the real fact that Abram was old and Sarai was barren, the LORD promised Abram that he would not only have a son but that from that son would come a whole nation, a great nation!  And with a nation comes land, and the LORD promised that to Abram also.  Genesis 12:7.

Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.”

And so God’s promises to Abram were great promises!  But for as long as he lived, Abram did not see the complete fulfillment of God’s blessings to him.  In fact he died without owning any land other than the burial plot he bought for Sarah his wife and he died before his grandsons, Jacob and Esau, were even born.  Hebrews 11 tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, and that was the case for Abraham.  Hebrews 11:9,10 says,

“By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with hi of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

And he waited and he died before all God’s promises came to pass.  But he died in faith, trusting that God would indeed do what He had promised.  Hebrews 11:13,

“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them from afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

And now we today may look back and see that God did do all that He had promised. 

“In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”

the LORD told Abraham.  And that ultimately happened in the sending of the Great Son of Abraham, our Lord Jesus Christ.  When the LORD called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans and told him to go to the land of Canaan, His plan was that this would be a blessing not just for Abram and his physical descendants, but that this would be a blessing for the whole world!  Indeed, as Galatians 3:9 says, all those who are of faith are now blessed with believing Abraham.  And, Galatians 3:14, “the blessing of Abraham” has “come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus.”

That was God’s plan, that was what God intended to do all along when He called Abram away from his country and his father’s house and to live a life of faith.  And it is in the way that God fulfilled His promises to Abraham that we can be sure that He will fulfill His promises to us.  We need to lift up our eyes.  We need to look above and beyond our present circumstances.  We need to see who God is and what He is doing, how He gathers us to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ and how He is bringing us to live with Him forever.  And when we do that then we, like Abram, will live by faith and not by sight.

It does not take away all the sadness.  It does not mean that there will be an immediate change to your present circumstances.  Like Abram and like every child of God before you, there will be pain, there will be suffering and even periods of intense grief and sadness.  But it does mean that in all of life you have a hope and you have a comfort.  You have a hope that will never disappoint and comfort that goes with you from this life to the next.  In Jesus Christ, the Great Descendant of Abram, you not only share the same faith with Abram, but in Jesus Christ you share in the blessing of Abram.  And one day you will see it.  One day, when Christ returns, then it will all be clear.  One day our faith will change to sight.  And then we will see with our eyes that these things are true.  Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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