Bob Hawke promised that by 1990 no Australian child would be living in poverty. Promising more than he could really deliver, I suppose.
John Howard managed to explain HIS broken promises by saying that they weren’t CORE promises, so it didn’t matter.
And who knows WHAT promises TODAY’S politicians will look back on, and wish they hadn’t made.
It’s hard, isn’t it, to make promises about the future. Even ones you INTEND TO KEEP. Because we’re only human. And we can’t control what’s going to happen tomorrow.
We might have every intention to DO something. Or BE somewhere. But then, something happens we didn’t plan. And that’s the end of our promise.
With PEOPLE, promises are hard to trust. But what about when it comes to GOD? Is he RELIABLE? Can his promises be TRUSTED?
When push comes to shove, do you BELIEVE what he says, and do things HIS way? Even when all the evidence seems to argue AGAINST it. Or do you choose to ignore him? And head off in your own direction.
They were the questions facing Abram here in today’s Bible reading. Gen 12. One of the most important passages in the whole Bible.
It’s stop number THREE on our highlight tour of the Bible. Our journey to discover the ONE STORY of the Bible. The Big plot.
So far, we’ve seen God create A GOOD WORLD. With everything in perfect harmony. God’s PEOPLE, in God’s place, under God’s RULE.
Last week, we saw how that idyllic picture was ruined. Rebellion, sin and death entered the world. And so humans live out the CONSEQUENCES of that. Bearing the punishment. And living in a world that’s under a CURSE ITSELF
And it’s into that world under CURSE that God now enters. And he comes with promises, again, to BLESS.
And what makes the promises of BLESSING so important is that the rest of the Bible is the story about how God’s making those promises COME TRUE. Over the course of thousands of years. And spreading out from ONE OLD MAN to the entire human race across the four corners of the globe.
Bless this mess
Pick up the story with me in v1. God speaks to Abram. It’s a commitment, through Abram, to BLESS THIS MESS.
12:1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.
2 “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. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and ALL PEOPLES ON EARTH will be blessed through you.”
God has a plan for Abram. A plan to BLESS him.
To make him into a great nation. Give him lots of descendants.
And to make HIS NAME great.
And 3. a bit further down in v7. He promises to give him the LAND OF CANAAN.
But God’s plans are much bigger than just for one man and man nation. He’s got plans for the WHOLE WORLD. Through Abram, God’s going to bless ALL PEOPLES ON EARTH.
Sticking with the plan
Incredible promises. But it’s not as if God’s doing SOMETHING NEW. He’s just sticking with the plan of what he’s ALREADY been doing. Which is BLESSING. Way back in Ch 1, God BLESSES the animals. And then he BLESSES Adam and Eve, and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. To fill the earth and subdue it.
And then into Ch 2, he BLESSES the SEVENTH DAY, and makes it holy.
And then in Ch 9, he blesses NOAH, and gives him the same command – “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it.”
So what’s blessing MEAN? In blessing, God’s DECLARING HIS GOOD INTENTIONS for these things. For people and creatures and days. That they might EXIST ACCORDING TO HIS DESIGN. And achieve the things he intended for them.
In other words, that they might EXIST AS PART OF HIS KINGDOM. To be BLESSED means to be living as God’s people in God’s place under God’s RULE. That’s BLESSING!
Which is a goal people frequently fall SHORT OF. First Adam and Eve, then Cain. Then later the wicked people of Noah’s time. And then, in Ch 11, the people of Babel. Again and again, failing to live up to the blessing God had designed for them.
And the result is the OPPOSITE of God’s blessing – his CURSE. His declaration of JUDGMENT. A curse on the SNAKE, and then on the GROUND, in Ch 3. A curse on Cain in Ch 4, then on Ham, the father of Canaan, in Ch 9.
But sin like that won’t change God’s plan. He’s STILL committed to BLESS. He’s sticking with the plan.
And so he calls Abram.
But the blessing here’s a bit different from what’s gone before. Because here it’s the PROMISE of blessing. There’s going to be some sort of GAP between the EXPECTATION and the REALITY. Some sort of DELAYED GRATIFICATION.
God’s declared his INTENTION to bless, but he hasn’t come THROUGH with it yet. God makes his commitment to Abram, but Abram won’t see the OUTWORKING of that yet.
It’s going to take FAITH on Abram’s part. Trusting in the reliability of God to KEEP HIS PROMISE.
And the rest of the Bible is the story of HOW THAT GAP IS BRIDGED. How the blessing becomes REALISED.
And even TODAY there’s still a gap. Because we’ve experienced PART of God’s blessing. But we’re still trusting him for THE REST. Jesus HAS come. And brought blessing to the nations. He HAS defeated Satan. He IS on the throne.
But there are still battles going on. The earth is still suffering the scars of sin and Satan.
And so we wait for God’s FINAL and COMPLETE blessing. A culmination we’ll only receive INTO ETERNITY.
And so the Christian life today is ALSO about TRUSTING what we can’t see. Believing for what we haven’t received. Yet.
Answering the Call
So what does it mean for Abram to RECEIVE this promise of blessing? To TRUST for what he can’t see? What does it mean for him to ANSWER THE CALL?
It will mean stepping into the unknown. Moving into something you can’t see.
It seems like Abram was quite COMFORTABLE when God first appears to him. Quite settled in another country. But God’s got something else in mind. “Leave your COUNTRY, your PEOPLE and your FATHER’S HOUSEHOLD, and go to the country I’ll show you.” (v1)
If one of US has to move THESE days. It’s not such a scary thing. David and Amanda Patterson moved to Perth not so long ago. That was even further than Ur to Canaan. But not as big a deal.
Apart from anything else, in most places people aren’t likely to KILL you. That was always on the cards in Abram’s time. When you moved from your family and race to a DIFFERENT ONE.
And God’s asking Abram to leave behind the safety net of family. Everything he relies on. Takes comfort in.
For us, because of technology, the world’s much smaller than for Abram,. A new place doesn’t need to be UNKNOWN. If we want to find out about somewhere new, we can do LOTS of research. We can find a job there, buy a house, organize it to be furnished. Find schools, shops and doctors. All without leaving our home.
But this is a country Abram’s never SEEN, or been to. He doesn’t really know how to get there. Or what sort of journey he might have. He doesn’t know what he’ll find when he arrives.
But God’s TOLD him to go. So Abram BELIEVES God. And he GOES. He trusts that where God LEADS, he’ll follow.
It must have been tempting to stay where he was. After all, things were a lot more settled. And there’s a hint that that’s what he did. That God actually called him in Ur. And that he got stuck on the way in Haran. Perhaps having second thoughts.
And as far as leaving his family, it seems like he actually TOOK them, instead. At least as far as Haran, where his dad, Terah, dies.
Though, second thoughts seems quite NATURAL really, doesn’t it? Abram – a great nation?! His name might MEAN exalted father, but the odds weren’t good he’d be a DAD – after all he was 75, Sarai in her sixties. Apart from which she was BARREN. Couldn’t HAVE children.
But, nevertheless, v4 tells us that Abram DID AS THE LORD TOLD HIM. God said Go. And Abram said YES.
And in v6 they eventually make it to Canaan. Where God tells him that he’ll GIVE THE LAND HE’S STANDING IN TO ABRAM’S KIDS. Which ALSO doesn’t seem very likely since the land is already filled with Canaanites. There’s no “For Sale” signs around.
But Abram believes God anyway. And builds an altar there to worship him.
And, over in Ch 15, Abram’s beginning to wonder about how LONG it’s all taking. V3. “God, you’ve given me no children!”
And God sends him outside to look up at the night sky. And asks him to count the stars. Hard enough to do IN THE CITY. But when you go out to the COUNTRY, it’s IMPOSSIBLE.
“That’s how big your family will be,” says God. Look up and see what it’s going to be like at your family re-union picnic. Your kids and your grandkids and your great grandkids running around laughing and playing cricket in the sunshine.
Trust me, says God. Because through your offspring, I’m going to bless the world again. And particularly, we read later… through ONE OFFSPRING IN PARTICULAR.
And Abram, it says in verse 6 of Ch 15, “believed the Lord; and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
Abram says in his heart, “I’ll trust the promises of God. All over again. And pick myself up and keep going.”
And the next 13 chapters show how God will begin to work out that blessing for Abram. It takes 25 years before he has his FIRST son – not much of a TRIBE.
And by the end of his life, all he owns of the promised land is a burial plot for his wife. Barely big enough for a HOUSE, let alone a CITY. Not much of a COUNTRY.
And, as you read the story of Abram, at times you wonder what SORT OF FAITH Abram is really showing. Because he’s hardly a ringing endorsement. He messes things up. He brings his family instead of leaving them. He stops at Haran instead of going to Canaan, He lets Pharaoh think Sarai is his SISTER rather than his wife to improve his bank balance. He laughs at God’s word. And he tries to give God A HELPING HAND when things seem to be taking too long.
It hardly seems like his faith is that great AT ALL.
But, in the end, that’s not really the point. Because it’s not about the AMOUNT of FAITH Abram had. That’s not what will make the promises come true. What matters is the FAITHFULNESS of the ONE WHO GIVES the promises. Because it’s all about what GOD is promising to do.
That’s what Paul has to say about Abram in Romans 4. And it’s worth looking at what he says (p798). Because it’s not a dry history lesson. It’s directly relevant FOR US. Listen to what Paul says. Start at v18
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope BELIEVED and so became the father of many nations,
Then a bit further down to v20.
20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being FULLY PERSUADED THAT GOD HAD POWER TO DO WHAT HE HAD PROMISED. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.”
It’s all about the trustworthiness of the God who makes the promises. God’s got the POWER to do it. And he’s TRUSTWORTHY – if he SAYS he’ll do it, then that’s what he’ll DO.
And all Abram has to do is TRUST IT. And because he took God at his word, he FOLLOWED.
And Gen 15:6 says that God TOOK THAT TRUST INTO CONSIDERATION. And credited his account with righteousness. Counted him as acceptable. It wasn’t that his faith was PERFECT, and EARNED the bonus. Far from it!
But that God CREDITED it to him as righteousness. The right standing was A GIFT. And all faith did was reach out and ACCEPT the GIFT.
And God calls US to do the same. To ANSWER THE CALL just like Abram. To show OUR faith in the faithfulness of God. To accept his word. Because Paul goes on to say there’s a lesson in the life of Abram for US. V23.
23 The words “it was credited to him” WERE WRITTEN NOT FOR HIM ALONE, 24 but ALSO FOR US, to whom God will credit righteousness-for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for OUR sins and was raised to life for OUR justification.
How good is that!? History was written so WE COULD LEARN FROM it. IMITATE it. God offers US the same gift of righteousness – of forgiveness and friendship with him. If we show the faith to trust him at his word, and to accept the gift that comes through his son.
Because Jesus IS the fulfillment of God’s promise right back with Abram. Because Jesus is one of Abram’s offspring. And by his death and resurrection, he brings BLESSING TO ALL THE NATIONS. The blessing of forgiveness and a restored relationship with God. Just like God PROMISED to Abram.
And, just like Abram, for us to TRUST God at his word will mean we’re to FOLLOW. True faith SHOWS itself. True faith has HANDS AND FEET. Our trust in God will SHOW ITSELF in how we FOLLOW his Son, Abram’s descendant, Jesus.
Follow his EXAMPLE. Follow his INSTRUCTION.
And that will mean following him wherever he might call us to go. And it MIGHT be to somewhere as foreign as Canaan. It might be overseas. It might be to a change of career. Or into full-time ministry. Or re-training..
It may mean following Jesus into prisons or schools. Into classrooms or hospital wards.
Or it may just mean following him next door. To a neighbour’s house. Or showing hospitality. Or showing love by helping out with chores or babysitting. Simple thoughtfulness that shows you think people matter.
Simple decisions, sometimes EASY, sometimes DIFFICULT. And faith comes in because we never really know how God’s going to USE those situations. We never know how they’re going to turn out. At times they seem like a waste of time. Too costly for what benefit they bring.
Which really IS like the faith of Abraham. Putting it all on the line because of the TRUSTWORTHINESS of God.
When Abram believed God and followed, he couldn’t possibly have known what lay in store for him. We sometimes look back and think it must have been EASY for Abram. After all, look at all the wonderful things God did for him.
But when God called him, it was just him and Sarai. Perhaps his nephew Lot and father Terah. But that was all. No children, no real possessions. No stability. No future.
But God promised descendants as many as the stars in the sky. And a land for them all to live in. And that they would be the means by which ALL NATIONS would be blessed.
And here’s one final point to think about.
The decision Abram made THEN had HUGE implications for his family who followed after. God promised to give the land to his offspring – but Abram needed to TRUST God for it.
You may not have thought about this. But the decisions you make TODAY out of trusting Jesus will echo down across the years to YOUR children. Even if you haven’t GOT kids yet. The path you choose to walk down TODAY will bear itself out in the lives of your offspring.
There’s the obvious decisions like what SCHOOL to send your children to. Where to live. Whether to put money aside for their future.
But then there are MUCH MORE IMPORTANT decisions. Decisions of OBEDIENCE that can have an impact for DECADES to COME.
What patterns are you setting in place for what the Christian life LOOKS LIKE? How important is Bible-reading?
Meeting with God’s people?
Serving others, rather than BEING served?
Living out your Christian love in SACRIFICIAL ways ALL WEEK, rather than just on Sundays.
Your KIDS NOTICE those things. They soak it all in like little SPONGES.
The decisions you make about PRIORITIES can have an impact for your family. How does WORK fit in? How important is SUCCESS? Education? Approval and recognition? How much are you worried about future security?
What sort of MARRIAGE are you building? What do your children learn about love from the way you TALK to your husband or wife? Or talk ABOUT them to OTHERS. How you treat them? Value them? Respect their opinion? What will your kids carry with them into THEIR marriages from what they’ve observed about YOURS?
All of these decisions are FAITH decisions that will impact what the future looks like for your children and grandchildren.
Abram maybe didn’t realize it. But his faithfulness had HUGE consequences for not just HIS OFFSPRING, but for the WHOLE WORLD.
What legacy are you building for the generations that come after you?
I met one of my old teachers at a funeral a number of years ago. Mr Griffiths. Hadn’t seen him for 20 years. He was the father of one of my school mates. And I asked him about Michael. How was he doing? A successful engineer, he said proudly.
Then I asked him whether Michael was still following Jesus. And he sadly said No. That he’d given it up. There was a look of sad resignation on his face.
Which legacy would you rather pass on to the generations after you? Success in business, or a life of trusting God’s promises.
God is calling you to pick up your cross and FOLLOW JESUS. I’m not sure where he’s leading you. It might be to Canaan. Or it might be to Campbelltown. But either way, I know he’s got a plan. And I know he can be TRUSTED. Will you stay where you are? Or will you trust him and GO?