“Father Abraham” Genesis 12:1-9 April 19, 2009
SI: Abraham is the most important person in the Bible with the exception
of Jesus Christ.
There are many other great men and women in the Bible,
but all of them would confess in an instant
that Abraham is their father in the faith.
Abraham is called, “The father of all those who believe in Jesus Christ.”
And it is said of us: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed.”
Abraham is our spiritual father.
Paul presents Abraham in Romans as the crowning demonstration of the Gospel.
He shows that we are made right with God by faith in Christ alone, not by works.
Hebrews 11, the “Faith Chapter” presents Abraham as the premier example
of living by faith in the promises of God.
Jesus Christ himself said that Abraham was a believer in him, in Jesus,
long before Jesus came into the world.
“Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day, he saw it and was glad.”
And throughout the Bible God often refers to himself simply as
“The God of Abraham.”
Three times in the Bible Abraham is called “God’s friend.”
James Boice said that this title “God’s friend” exalts Abraham,
and it also brings him down to our level.
Boice put it this way: He said we will never be lawgivers like Moses,
or generals like Joshua, or kings like David, or prophets like Elijah—
but we can be what Abraham was—
a man who heard God, and trusted God, and became God’s friend.
Even in these opening verses of Abraham’s story we are being taught the nature
of the Christian faith and the Christian life.
And so as we begin this study that will take us through the summer and into fall,
let’s ask the Lord to reveal to us, though Father Abraham,
the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
INTRO: When my brother-in-law’s parents retired, they sold their house and their
furniture and they bought a big motorhome. They decided to live on the road.
They would go wherever they wanted to go and stay as long as they wanted to stay.
If then wanted to go to the beach, would live at the beach.
If wanted to go to the mountains, would go to the mountains.
If wanted to go out West or visit grandchildren—there they would be.
All the conveniences of home, but not tied down to a house.
It sounded great but it only lasted a few months.
It was too much of a change.
They ended up selling their motorhome, buying a house and settling down again.
Abraham could probably relate.
He was from the city of Ur on the Euphrates River in the cradle of civilization.
His name at first was Abram. Later, God changed it to Abraham.
Even though he is still Abram at this point, I’m going to call him by later name.
Life in Ur was as sophisticated as our life today, with the exception of technology.
Archaeology tells us that this was a very developed civilization.
There was extensive international trade.
There was government, law, bureaucracy, taxes, commerce.
People were highly literate, many spoke several languages.
There was art and music and a comfortable living for the wealthy—
like Abraham and his family.
God called Abraham to leave Ur and go to the land of Canaan.
After his brother died, he left, along with his father,
but they only got as far as Haran, which was another city on the Euphrates,
and they settled there till Terah’s death.
Then after his father died, Abraham followed God’s call to Promised Land.
But when he got there, he began to live a very different kind of life.
He did not move into a city. He didn’t have one address.
The rest of his life was spent moving throughout the land of Canaan
with his flocks and herds. He didn’t live in a house, he lived in a tent.
It was a nice tent.
If it was a motorhome it would have had slide-outs and dish TV.
In fact, there would have been a whole caravan of motorhomes.
Abraham still had the people of his household and his wealth.
But it was a dramatic change from living in a city to living in tents.
Somebody looking at Abraham’s story from the outside might say—
this was just a lifestyle change. Might even argue larger economic
or social factors that pushed him out of city, into nomadic life.
But the Bible tells us something else. This had deep spiritual significance.
The book of Hebrews says:
“Abraham sojourned in the land of promise as in a foreign land,
living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.”
God called Abraham to go to the Promised Land.
Promise was, one day your offspring will own every square inch of this land.
It will be theirs and from this land they will be a blessing to all nations.
Abraham, this land is yours, I promise.
But for now, in fact for all your life and your son and grandson’s life—
you are going to live in this land as strangers.
Not going to live in a city, going to live in tents.
You will be sojourners—pilgrims in the Promised Land.
Abraham’s life (as we’ve seen) is a pattern of the life of faith in Christ.
These opening verses of his story show us that one of the fundamental ways
of understanding the Christian life is to see it as a pilgrimage.
Our father Abraham was a pilgrim so we are pilgrims too.
What does that mean? James Boice once again says something fascinating.
The pilgrim life is a paradox. This is the paradox.
We live as strangers in the world,
and at the same time we boldly take possession of the world.
Abraham lived as a stranger, in a tent, never settling down, never fitting in,
and at the same time, as he traveled throughout that land, he claimed it
by prayer and worship for his offspring.
This is the life you are called to live as a Christian.
Like your father Abraham, you are called to be a pilgrim.
Let’s look at this more deeply under two points—two points of this paradox.
1. As a Christian pilgrim you must live as a stranger in the world,
2. And second, as a Christian pilgrim you must boldly take possession of the world.
MP#1 As a Christian pilgrim you must live as a stranger in the world.
Where did Abraham come from?
Why did he suddenly appear at the center of biblical history?
Was he a man who all his life loved God and obeyed God and so God
rewarded him by promising to make him the father of a great nation?
No. Abraham was born in a pagan home.
According to Joshua 24 his father Terah worshipped the moon god and had a
house full of idols. Abraham grew up worshipping idols and would have
done so his whole life. He would have died in Ur and been forgotten forever.
But what completely changed this man and all of history with him,
was the call of God. God spoke to Abraham.
We have no idea how God’s call came, we just know it came while he was
still living in his father’s house in Ur. But like multitudes of people
after him, he heard the call and knew it was God’s voice.
In Sheldon Vanauken’s book A Severe Mercy, he says:
“When you are in the jungle at night and you hear a hyena growl, you might mistake it for a
lion. But when you hear a lion roar, you know damn well it’s a lion.”
Abraham heard the lion roar.
He knew the living God had spoken to him and suddenly everything was different.
He knew for the first time that the idols his family worshipped were nothing at all.
He knew he had to listen to and respond to the voice of God.
And this is what God told Abraham.
I want you to leave your country, leave your people, your father’s household.
Leave behind the values and idols of your past and go to the promised land.
But when Abraham got to the promised land, there is this ominous sentence:
“At that time the Canaanites were in the land.”
The Canaanites were a cursed people.
God had allowed them for generations to go their own way—
and they had become progressively materialistic and immoral and godless.
Sodom and Gomorrah were two cities of the Canaanites.
So God made it clear to Abraham, even though you are in the Promised Land,
I still don’t want you to settle down. I want you to remain separate.
I want you to live as a stranger to these people. That’s your calling.
And that’s your calling too.
As a Christian pilgrim God wants you to live separate from the world.
He wants you to live as a stranger to the people around you.
What does this mean for you?
One of the most vivid descriptions comes from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory of the Christian life.
The main character is a man who is first called Pilgrim, then Christian.
He is on a journey from his home town, which is called the City of Destruction,
to another city called the Celestial City, which is heaven.
Along the way he meets another pilgrim named Faithful
and together they pass through a place called Vanity Fair.
Vanity Fair is a symbol of the world and all of its values and idols.
As Christian and Faithful walk through the fair they attract attention
because they are so obviously strangers. People start pointing a them.
Bunyan says that three things about them were strange.
First, their clothes were strange.
They dressed differently from the people in Vanity Fair.
People said they looked ridiculous.
Second, their language was strange.
Even though all the languages of the world were spoken at Vanity Fair,,
very few people could understand what they were saying.
Third, their actions were strange.
Specifically, they refused to buy anything.
All the merchants and vendors were crying out to them to come to their booths,
but they put their fingers in their ears and looked up into the sky.
So according to Bunyan, these are the three marks of a Christian pilgrim
that sets him or her apart from the world.
You wear different clothes. What is your clothing?
What covers your nakedness and makes you acceptable and beautiful?
The righteousness of Jesus Christ. Not your own self-righteousness.
We don’t believe that we present a good record to God and then he owes us.
We believe God gives us Jesus’ good record and then we owe him.
The world doesn’t understand that.
It sounds arrogant and judgmental when Christians talk about Jesus saving them,
and Jesus being the only way of salvation.
Because from the perspective of the world there are good people and bad people.
And the good people make it and the bad people don’t.
But as Christians we don’t believe that there are good people and bad people.
There are just bad people, and that includes me.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
And God gives us the perfect life of Jesus by faith, so we obey him.
That’s the first big thing that makes you a stranger.
You also speak a different language.
By that Bunyan meant that Christians talk about and care about God’s kingdom
You talk about the Lord as someone you know, someone with whom you deal.
You talk about sin and salvation and heaven and hell.
You talk about people coming to faith in Christ and growing in faith.
The world doesn’t understand that talk.
Also, your actions are different. You show by your life that you have not bought
into the world’s values. You plug your ears.
You try with all your might to resist the values of the world.
And you are always looking up. Always wanting to glorify God.
This is really strange and sets you apart in many, many ways.
You see love and sex and marriage and child-rearing differently from the world.
And you see money and spending and giving and entertainment differently.
And different in the way you judge success and failure and on and on.
Have you heard God’s call? Has the lion roared?
Then you must live as a pilgrim. You must be a stranger in the world.
What if you aren’t? What if you are just as driven for success as your neighbor?
What if you are just as worried about the same things he’s worried about?
What if your happiness is just as dependent on your standard of living,
or on the popularity of your children or whatever?
Then you aren’t living as a pilgrim. Your settling in.
And you aren’t really living by faith and you don’t have your hopes set
on the promises of God. In a few weeks, see what happens when a believer
quits living like a pilgrim when we get to the story of Lot.
Are you living as a stranger to the world? You must.
being a Christian pilgrim is not just living as a stranger in the world.
MP#2 As a Christian pilgrim you must boldly take possession of the world.
There have always been segments of Christianity that say
the Christian life is just pulling away, it’s just being separate.
But the pilgrim life is not just being separate,
it’s also engaging with the world to take possession of it.
We are to separate from the world when it comes to values—
but we are to possess the world when it comes to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
This is powerfully illustrated by Abraham building altars.
These opening verses of his story show us the pattern of his life in Canaan.
He moved around a lot. He pitched his tent in many places.
Three important places are mentioned here—Shechem, Bethel, and the Negev.
Later in his life there will be other places like Hebron and Beersheba.
In those places Abraham built an altar and called on the name of the Lord.
That phrase “called on the name of the Lord” means corporate worship.
It means that he gathered the church—which was his family and servants,
and they worshipped the true God and Abraham led them.
Then, as a memorial of that worship there was an altar.
So even after Abraham packed his tent and left that place, the altar stayed.
It was a witness to the fact that in that place a child of God once knelt and prayed
and proclaimed the Gospel of grace and claimed that spot for God’s glory.
Let’s just consider one of these altars—the first one at Shechem.
Shechem was a center for Canaanite worship.
That’s why it’s called the site of the great tree of Moreh in Shechem.
The Canaanites worshipped under trees and on high places—
their fertility cult demanded it.
Abraham pitched his tent there and God reaffirmed his promise.
So Abraham built an altar and claimed that spot for God.
600 years later, when the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River
to take the promised land, they came to this very spot, to Shechem,
and they reaffirmed God’s covenant.
A number of years ago I got to hear my favorite preacher, Tim Keller,
speak at a church planting conference. I wasn’t interested in church planting,
but I was interested in hearing Tim Keller.
During the conference there was a panel discussion with pastors who had
planted churches in the big cities across America.
There was one pastor who had planted a church in San Francisco,
and there was Dr. Keller who had planted a church in New York City.
Someone asked the question: Which place is harder, San Francisco or New York?
Dr. Keller said immediately: San Francisco.
Because San Francisco does not have a history of the work of the Holy Spirit
like New York. And he began to tell the spiritual history of New York.
How great men like Jonathan Edwards and Dwight Moody had preached
in the past and how there were revivals and New York claimed for Christ.
He expressed the great hope this gave him for the spiritual future of New York.
He basically said, All I’ve done in building Redeemer Pres in Manhattan is
built something on a foundation that was already laid by those believers who
came before me in previous generations and centuries.
From this passage we could think of altars left by godly men and women.
Altars that bore witness to their prayers and worship in that place,
proclaiming the Gospel and claiming New York for Jesus.
Just as Abraham claimed Canaan for his offspring by worshipping God.
One more story along these lines.
I read recently a brief history of the Haldane brothers, Robert and James.
Haldanes lived in the 1700s in Scotland.
I’m not going to tell you too much of their story, want to save for later sermon.
Both their parents were Christians but their father died when Robert was just
a few years old and James had not yet been born.
Their mother only with them a few years and then she died—
but in those few years she did all she could to lead her boys to Christ.
However, both boys grew into young men with little interest in Christianity.
Robert inherited the Gleneagles estate, which you golfers will recognize
as the name of one of Scotland’s famous golf courses.
The British Open is sometimes held at Gleneagles.
And Robert devoted his life and wealth to improving the estate.
James went abroad to make his fortune—
as was the custom in that day for the second son.
But this is the amazing thing—at the very same time, both of these men
came to Christ. Robert was 30 and James as 25. They weren’t together,
and it wasn’t through the influence of a particular person.
It was simply that the Holy Spirit caused the seed that had been planted
by their faithful mother to sprout and bear tremendous fruit.
And as a result, the Haldane brothers changed the direction of their lives
radically and used their great wealth to advance the Gospel.
To put their story in terms of Abraham’s life.
Their mother was a pilgrim. And the place of her pilgrimage was motherhood,
and an early death that orphaned her boys. But during her pilgrimage she
built an altar. She worshipped the Lord and she claimed her little boys for Christ.
And she proclaimed the lordship of Jesus.
And in time, the Holy Spirit made good on her claim.
Your calling is to proclaim the lordship of Jesus
wherever your pilgrimage takes you.
Your neighborhood, your workplace, your school, your baseball team,
your profession and colleagues, your children and family.
In every place you are to build an altar and worship and claim it for Jesus.
Abraham Kuyper, Prime Minister of the Netherlands said:
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ,
who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’”
And of course, Abraham Kuyper got that from the original Abraham.
Because that’s what he believed. Abraham knew it was not just Canaan.
He had the spiritual insight to see that God’s promise was more than just
this little piece of land in the Middle East.
It was a promise to give his people the whole world through the Redeemer.
And so the questions you need to ask yourself as a pilgrim are these:
How can I glorify Jesus where he has me right now?
How can I proclaim his lordship through my life and words?
How can I work in such a way that he will be lifted up?
How can I take possession of this place for Jesus?
Those are questions that a pilgrim asks. That’s what Abraham did.
CONC: There’s an old hymn that says:
The God of Abraham praise, Who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days, And God of love.
What a great God we have.
What a great calling.
To be pilgrims and possessors.
Strangers and conquerors.
A people detached from this world and yet most permanent residents.
Because of the great promise of God that the offspring of Abraham—
will inherit the land, and live in it and be a blessing to all nations.
As we study Father Abraham’s life, and the faithfulness of His God,
let’s determine to grow in faith and walk obediently as pilgrims.