A New Start, Again
Scripture: Genesis 12:1–9
A New Start, AgainGenesis 12:1-9
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Pastor Randy Smith
How will you finish the marathon? That is what the Christian life is - it's a marathon. Jesus warned us that many will receive Him, start the marathon with excitement, but for a variety of reasons, they will in time fall away (Mt. 13:1-7). When the curtains close on your life, will you still be walking with Jesus? Will you finish strong? What will be said of your spiritual life at your funeral? The sprints are easy. Anyone can go "all out" for a short distance. But what about the long haul? When the dust settles, will you have faithfully persevered to the end?
Anyone who has walked with Christ for a number of years will tell you it is not easy. We struggle with the physical limitations of the body. We battle the flesh on a consistent basis. We clash with emotions that lack passion. We combat discouragement from other believers. We contend with minimal results. We encounter opposition from the world and the devil. It often is a slow and gradual demise, but many start well and then fizzle out as they progress through life in their commitment and dedication to the Lord. The sold-out passion for Christ denigrates into a "doing as much as it takes to get by" attitude and then to an outright rejection of the faith. I've tragically witnessed it firsthand more times than I wish to count.
We've also witnessed it together in our study of Genesis. It has not been a pleasant picture in our first 11 chapters. Adam and Eve enjoy perfect fellowship with God, but within a short time they fall into sin because they thought Satan was more concerned for their well-being than God. Immediately they faced disharmony with each other, with nature and with God. Then the first physical death recorded in the Bible was between their two children as Cain killed Abel in cold-blooded murder. Eventually the entire world was corrupt and God wipes them out with a global flood. Righteous Noah comes on the scene, but the account of his life ends with him drunk in his tent. And just when you think humanity would learn its lesson, the folks at Babel could care less about God's commands. They only wish to make a name for themselves. Again, God intervenes and in this case the people are scattered.
But despite our unfaithfulness, God is still willing to persevere with those He made in His own image. Genesis means "beginnings" and it is all about a new beginning once again. From judgment it is back to grace once again. People have failed, but God is faithful and He has never departed from His "plan A."
As we enter a new section of Genesis, a new individual with new hope comes on the scene. Noah had three sons - Shem, Ham and Japheth. Shem's genealogy is outlined beginning in chapter 11, verse 10. By verse 26 we read of a man named, Terah. And of Terah's three sons, one was named Abram (verse 26), later to be changed to Abraham (Gen. 17:5). Abraham's wife, verse 29 was Sarai and Sarai, according to verse 30 was barren. At this time they were idol worshippers (Jos. 24:2) living in Ur of the Chaldeans (Babylon) (verse 31).
God moves from the nations to one particular man. Like He did with Noah, it is God who sovereignly gets ahold of his heart and plans to change the world through this one man. And to stress the significance of this one man in the redemptive plan of God, consider the following: Chapters 1-11 span thousands of years and cover many people. Chapters 12-25 span a few hundred years and primarily cover one man. As a matter of fact, from a human perspective, everything in Genesis from this point on to the end of the book (chapter 50) will be about Abraham and his immediate descendants - Isaac and then Jacob and then Joseph.
1. The Promises of God (verses 1-3)
Let's get started in verse 1 with God's promises. Notice how the first emphasis is not on Abraham, but on the Lord. "Now the LORD said to Abram [God taking the initiative], 'Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you."
According to Genesis 11, Abraham is now in Haran (Gen. 11:31). Acts 7 tells us that God spoke to Abraham in the land of Chaldeans (Ac. 7:2-4) before he left from Haran. So the call of Abraham mentioned in chapter 12 most likely was the second time God spoke to Abraham.
Most significantly, God in this passage wants us to see the faith of Abraham. Place yourself in the sandals of Abraham. At the age of seventy-five you are told to leave all your relatives, travel for months across the desert, go to an unknown land that the Lord has not yet disclosed (no "milk and honey" yet) and exchange your comfortable home for a tent. Imagine the ridicule he received from others! Yet from God's perspective it was, "Close your eyes and take my hand" (John Calvin). Faith! No wonder here and elsewhere in the man's life, Abraham is exalted throughout the Bible as a model of great faith (Neh. 9:8). Allow me to point out a one example:
In the great "hall of faith" in Hebrews 11 we read beginning in verse 8, "By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:1-10). The writer goes on in verse 13, "All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them" (Heb. 11:13-16).
Soon we will see the promises God gave to Abraham, but this is what faith is - a fervent trust in the promises of God in honor to God and a belief that they are for our greatest good even when fulfilling those commands makes no sense to the naked eye. That is what Abraham did! Faith is never a blind, silly trust. It is not faith to jump off a 20-story building because you believe the Lord will save you. That is sheer stupidity and moreover putting the Lord to a test (Lk. 4:12) because we have no promises from God in this area.
Yet we have other promises from the Lord that do require faith. Promises follow God's commands. We may not always get reasons for God's commands, but we do get promises. God has given us many promises in the Bible, but I will provide three examples:
We are commanded to serve. So why are there such different degrees within the church of servants to the Lord? Because some see it as a waste of time or an inconvenience or an unnecessary burden without pay. Yet some hold to the promise from God in 1 Corinthians 15:58: "Always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." It comes down to faith in God's promises!
We are commanded to be at peace. So why are there such different degrees within the church of people exhibiting peace within their trials? Because some see their trails no different than others in the world without Christ, and others have faith to believe the promise of Romans 8:28: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." It comes down to faith in God's promises!
We are commanded to give. So why are there such different degrees within the church of people making financial sacrifices? Because some see their money for what it can accumulate here on earth, and others have faith trust the promise from Christ in Matthew 6:20 which calls us to: "Store up for [ourselves] treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal." I think you get the point!
Like He did to Abraham, God is still speaking, and He does it today through the Bible. Therefore we need to know our Bibles. We need to be able to extract the promises of God. And then we need to live by faith in those promises like Abraham did. This is 2 Corinthians 5:7 walking by faith and not by sight - following God when nothing around us or within us possibly agrees, but the Word of God commands and promises and for us that is all we need. This is the mark of God's choicest servants. Like Abraham and his departure, forsaking all for Christ. These are the people, like it was said of Abraham in Hebrews 11 whom "God is not ashamed to be called their God" (Heb. 11:16).
Let's look at the specific promises to Abraham. There are seven of them altogether. Verse 2, "And I will make you a great nation." Talk about faith! We know the guy is seventy-five and his wife is barren! Not exactly the ideal situation to start a nation!
Verse 2, "And I will bless you." What more did Abraham need than that? You see my friends, it really comes down to that question? So many sinful decisions we simply make because we want the blessings from places other than God. There is no way we can supremely value God's blessings and then move in with our girlfriends or blow off the church or abuse alcohol or mistreat our spouses or fail to disciple and biblically instruct our children. Like Abraham, we might not see the blessings in the way we would prescribe them, but here is where faith again enters the picture that God loves us and God blesses us in the greatest way for our greatest good. Every sin we commit is saying, among other things, that we need to take matters into our own hands to achieve the greatest joy (something we all desire) because doing it God's way, we believe, will not result in our greatest blessings! What a tragic mistake! It is idolatry.
Verse 2, God told Abraham, "And [I will] make your name great." Notice the irony. The previous chapter the people were scattered when they sought to "make for [themselves] a name" (Gen. 11:4) and now God seeks to make Abraham's name great. So maybe the problem is not having a "great name" (Pr. 22:1), but rather the means used to achieve that great name and the motives for desiring a great name. I see a sermon right here contrasting man-centered and God-centered living!
Verse 2, "And so you shall be a blessing." The mark of a Christian, blessed by God not to be a cul-de-sac, but a conduit that blesses others with the blessings lavished on us from God. As I have said before, others who come into contact with us might not always agree with what we believe, but they should admit that we are the most loving and kind and honest and generous and forgiving and faithful and peaceful and joyous and hard-working and self-controlled people they know. You see, we have God's promise that this is what He does in the life of a Christian. He blesses us with a great name so we can bless others. And when we bless others with these traits, we make His name look beautiful because we reflect the character of God as image bearers to a lost world and give personal testimony of what He can powerfully do when someone really surrenders his or her life to Jesus Christ.
Verse 3, "And I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse." More blessings bestowed upon Abraham from God. This is amazing as to what it teaches us about God. The word "blessing" is repeated frequently throughout this section. That in the midst of all this sin in Genesis, God delights in blessing sinners!
We see more of it in verse 3, "And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." Again, will Abraham have the faith to obey God's commands that he might inherit these blessings? The same is still so often true for us today. Blessings forsaken because the obedient faith necessary to receive them is never demonstrated.
2. The Obedience of Abraham (verses 4-9)
We need to move on to the second point, "The Obedience of Abraham." This again is so amazing! God's whole plan to bring salvation to the earth will be through the obedience of this one man. Like God did with Noah, his faith in God will be tested to the max, but as we will see, the greatest steps of faith in God's promises will always result in the greatest blessings.
A few days ago I received an e-mail from a friend who left everything to serve with her family as a missionary in a remote village in Kenya. She's about my age and she was just diagnosed with a "high grade and fast moving form of cancer." Thursday of this week a follow-up e-mail arrived saying: "It was a week of much soul searching as we considered the possibility of a grim prognosis. I struggled at times with emotions of grief and concern - all the while understanding God's sovereignty and plan for our lives. I searched to understand what God's promises of a long life really means. I was reminded again and again of the blessings which have been layered on us. I began to see life not measured in years, but in richness. I must say looking at it from this perspective; I have lived a very long, good life!" Do we have the faith to believe that an obedient life "all out" for Christ, though measured by the world as a failure, is really the one that will result in our greatest and richest joy? Abraham did! And we will never honor God or be truly happy ourselves until we do.
Verses 4 and 5, "So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan."
Verse 6, "Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land."
Abraham now enters the land promised to him by God. The problem is that it is possessed by people, the Canaanites, not a pleasant people and definitely not a God-honoring community. As a matter of fact, "the oak of Moreh" is where they would worship their false gods in Shechem. Why did Abraham specifically go there? Because that is where God's people go. God's people go where God's presence is needed! I love that old quote from C.T. Studd, "Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell." Abraham goes to the darkest location and what does he do there? Verse 7, "So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him."
Verse 8, "Then he proceeded from there to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD." What is Abraham doing? He is building altars along the way (probably next to the pagan shrines) in an effort to reclaim the land for the Lord. He was planting the Lord's flag (so to speak) at strategic locations. He is an evangelist seeking to show God to the world (Isa. 49:6). He started in the north and according to verse 9, "Journeyed on, continuing toward the Negev" - the southern part of present day Israel.
3. The Disobedience of Abraham (verses 10-20)
We'll pick up with Abraham's disobedience, our third point, next week. But as we prepare for the Lord's Table, allow me to make the following comments by way of connection.
We can't miss the faith of Abraham and the example that he is to all of us. Fruitful Christian living will always come at a cost. To really make a difference, to really receive the abundant life promised to us, to really be used by God in the world, we need to take radical steps of faith every day. Ask yourself, where does your faith (to the point it stretches you) differ from an unbeliever? We are far too easily pleased with lesser joys! What if Abraham said, "One child is enough, I don't need a nation," or "I am happy here in Babylon," or "I don't need that land, my 50' x 100' subdivision lot is good enough for me." Do we have the faith to leave the kiddy pool and move out into deeper waters? Do we have the faith to expect great things from God? Like Abraham, we are often not given the details, and like Abraham there are often hardships along the way, but this is the life of faith that marks God's children. God's motto is suffering now, glory later.
And it was the same with Jesus Christ. His life was far from a bed of roses. He faced temptations along the way for a more comfortable and more prestigious and more popular life too. But as it says in Hebrews He too walked by faith in a promise; it was "the joy [that was] set before Him." It was the blessings that awaited which motivated Him by faith to "endure the cross, despising the shame." That is why we are told ultimately to "fix our eyes" on Him as "the author and perfecter of faith" (Heb. 12:2).
Abraham reclaimed the land for the Lord. The New Covenant focuses more on the spiritual. It is not about land right now (Ac. 1:7), but strictly about reclaiming souls for the Lord (Ac. 1:8). Our Great Commission is to "make disciples of all the nations" (Mt. 28:19). So just as "all the families of the earth will be blessed" in Abraham (Gen. 12:3), now all the families of the earth will be blessed in Christ.
For Jesus is the One to whom Abraham pointed. He was born in the line of Abraham (Mt. 1:1). Like Abraham's son, Jesus (God's Son) has a miraculous birth. He left His Father and paradise to come to a sinful, God-hating world (with no place to lay His head - Mt. 8:20) simply in a desire to be faithful to the Father's command. Abraham was given a great name, Jesus was given the greatest name "so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow…and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11). Abraham was blessed in limited ways, ultimately it is in Christ that God will give His people "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3). No wonder Jesus could say to His opponents, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (Jn. 8:56).
Eyes on Jesus. Faith in God. Knowing His commands. Trusting His promises. Faithfully persevering to the end of the marathon.