The Faith of Abraham

Genesis 12-20

In 2002 New York Giants assistant coach Mike Pope took young rookie Jeremy Shockey (age 21) to the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. As they walked through the corridors: “We took a look at all the busts and all the pictures," Pope recalled, "and I said to him, 'I'm going to do with you or to you or for you whatever I have to and hopefully get you in this line of statues, because you have the talent to be here. You can get mad at me; I don't care. I'm going to make you the type of player who gets in here.'"

That’s the way I think God looked at Abraham.  Someone who had the potential to be a great man of God.

The apostle Paul makes a monumental statement in Romans 4:16 - Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

In chapter 9 he continues:  … it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.  (Rom. 9:8)

Remember that for the last several weeks I’ve been telling you that our roots really do begin back in Genesis, and nowhere more deeply than in the person of Abraham.  It is Abraham’s faith for which he is known, and it is our faith that makes us his children.

 

We throw the term faith around like it’s a box of detergent you pick up at the grocery store – someone will say, “I just need more faith.” So we write it on our grocery list to pick up a pound – aisle 13.  We treat it like a theological football – Joe Christian gets faith and runs into the heavenly end zone – he wins the game!  Wouldn’t it be nice if faith were that easy.  The problem is faith is meaningless apart what it does.  That was James’ take at least – “faith apart from works is dead.”  Faith isn’t something you get or have – it’s something you do.

And that’s what Paul is saying also – if you want to know what saving faith is – look at Abraham.  He is the father of the faithful because he pioneered the footprints of faithfulness in which we walk.  It’s what he did that defined his faith.

Now, we need to back up a few years (actually about 2,000 years), and most of the way through the Bible as we land back in Genesis 11 where we first meet Abraham.  Only at that time, his name was Abram.  God will lengthen his name several years later to embody his vision for Abraham, which means “father of many.”  He was born to a family that lived in Ur of the Chaldees – a populous region in Mesopotamia.  You’ll find it there near the base of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  His father, Terah was a tenth generation descendant of Noah, through Noah’s son, Shem. 

You might guess that Abraham grew up in a religious family devoted to God and faithful to him.  You would be wrong.  In Joshua 24:2, Joshua looks back on their heritage:  “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 worshiped other gods.’”

 

Abraham was raised in a polytheistic household who had no particular allegiance to the Lord God.  He was your average man, just trying to make it from day to day.  He had a wife, worked a job, loved his family.

In that day and time, families stuck together.  When Abraham’s father Terah moved from Ur to Haran, Genesis 11 says “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan.  But when they came to Haran, they settled there.”

Apparently, they stayed there quite some time - long enough that they thought of it as “their country.”  Years passed and Abraham’s father Terah died.

One day God showed up at Abraham’s front door.  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.”  By the time the Lord told Abraham to leave Haran,  the household had grown – conservative estimates suggest there were probably a thousand people, including household servants, herdsmen, shepherds, his army (really – Gen. 14:14 says he had 318 trained soldiers), not to mention the herds and flocks.  Picking up and moving wasn’t as easy as renting a 24 foot U-Haul and heading down the road.  It was quite an undertaking.

But listen to how the writer of Hebrews summarizes Abrahams’ response:  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.  (Heb. 11:8) 

Now, I want you to realize what a step of faith Abraham is taking.  Abraham’s understanding of God is still in its infancy – remember he was raised worshiping many gods.  But something about the Lord God had captured his heart – out of all the gods, he seemed to realize this was the one real and true God, and he decides to go all in.

God said go, Abraham went.  Faith personified.

But before we put Abraham on a pedestal, we need to realize that Abraham had to grow into his faith.  It wasn’t overnight and it wasn’t without a few bumps in the road.  Notice three instances in which Abraham still had some growing to do:

First of all, you might have caught the way the writer described Abraham’s call in Genesis 12:1:  The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go…”

Abraham’s call didn’t begin in Haran, it was back in Ur.

In Acts 7, when Stephen is giving his defense before the Sanhedrin, just before he will be stoned to death, he said, “The God of glory appeared to Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.  ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’  So he left the land of the Chaldeans and settled in Haran.  After the death of his father, God sent him to this land where you are now living.”

You see?  The Lord told Abraham to leave Ur and go.  He went, but he only got as far as Haran, and then the Lord had to remind him, Abraham, this isn’t the promised land, get moving.  And then, Abraham goes.

A second bump in Abraham’s road to faith:  On at least two occasions, Abraham told the people among whom they were living that Sarah was his sister rather than his wife, for fear that if Pharaoh or Abimelech learned that she was his wife, they would kill him in order to take Sarah as their own wife.  In fact, it wasn’t that he waffled when the pressure was on – he premeditated it with Sarah before they ever started the journey – listen to the conversation in Gen. 20:13 – “And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me:  Everywhere we go, say of me, ‘He is my brother.’”

And the third way Abraham had to grow into his faith:  God promised Abraham and Sarah a son, from whom would come so many descendants that they would outnumber the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky.  Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65 when the promise was made. Ten years had passed and now Sarah was 75 and she decided to take matters into her own hands.  She told Abraham God must have forgotten and the only way they were going to have a child was if he took her Egyptian handmaiden Hagar and had a child with her – they named him Ishmael.  Happy wife, happy life?  Not so much.  Pretty soon, Sarah can’t stand the sight of Hagar or Ishmael and she wants them sent off into the desert.  And they still have no son.  Every time they looked up in the sky and saw the stars it was a painful reminder that they still didn’t have a son.

 25 years would pass and no son.  In fact, God renewed the promise three times in those years, and assured Abraham that he would be the father of many nations.  Now Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90 and God shows up at Abraham’s front door.  “You’re going to have a son by this time next year!”  They both laugh – “you’ve got to be kidding – we’re too old to become parents.”  God says, “wait and see.”  Sure enough, a year later, they’re decorating the nursery.  The son they’ve always dreamed of.  Who would have thought? 

I’ll tell you who – God.  When God works in a person’s life, he wants his fingerprints all over them so that there’s no mistaking how this happened.  Sarah laughed and said, “Will I really have a child now that I am old?”  And God said, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

I can’t help but think about what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:  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. (1 Cor 1:27-29)  God doesn’t do things the way we think they ought to be done.  He doesn’t want them to make sense and for someone to think, “That’s the way I would do it.”  He wants it to be impossible by our human way of thinking so that our only response can be, “only God could have accomplished that.”

And so, when Abraham and Sarah laughed, they got it.  And the Hebrews writer, in chapter 11, his hall of fame of faith, writes, By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. (Heb. 11:11-12)

Yes, Abraham had to grow into his faith.  But his faith became the path for us to follow as we pattern our lives of faithfulness after him.

I want us to notice the covenant that God made with Abraham, because in it we see what God’s plan is – not only for Abraham but also for us.  In Genesis 12:2-3 : 

“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.”

Did you hear God’s plan?  I will bless you and you will be a blessing.  He didn’t corral his people off in a corner and separate them – he sent Abraham into a land where he would be like light in the darkness.  Everywhere he went people were blessed through him.  He was to be a conduit of God’s blessings to the world.

Like I said, we begin to see God’s plan, not only for Abraham but also for us.  Did that covenant sound familiar?  Turn over to the NT and read 1 Peter 2:9-12 - But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

The problem is that after a while we begin to see the blessings as entitlements and the covenant as exclusive.  And pretty soon, we’re off in a corner patting ourselves on the back that we’re God’s people and not like the world around us, instead of going into the world to share the blessings of God with those who need it most.

And that’s where God’s people have always tripped up – forgetting that it’s not all about us.  God has blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others.  He puts the riches of heaven into our lives so that by our availability and transparency the world gets a glimpse of it.

In 2 Cor. 4:4-6 Paul wrote:  The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

People around you are blind to what God is doing – until they see it in you.  The only way people are going to see the light of God is if they see it shining in you.  As God said to Abraham:  “I will bless you, and you will be a blessing.”

I think God has been looking at some of you and thinking you have the potential to be a great man or a great woman of God – to be in his hall of fame of faith.  And he’s preparing that opportunity in your life to mold you and make you into an Abraham or a Sarah.