ďA Good LifeĒ†† Genesis 25:1-11††††††† October 4, 2009
SI:† We come this morning to the end of Abrahamís life.
A quick summary of his 38 years after the death of Sarah,
†† and then his death and burial by his sons Isaac and Ishmael.
Abraham is called the father of those who believe.
†† His life is a pattern of faith in Christ.
†† We are told to consider his way of life and imitate his faith.
Perhaps there is no better place to do that than at his graveside,
†† as we cast an eye over the whole scope of his pilgrimage,
†† and see what a good life, a life with God looks like.
INTRO:† Two weeks ago I few down to Ft. Lauderdale to help dad pack his books.† Heís been a pastor for almost 50 years, heís just retired from his last church.
†† So he wanted me to go through his library and take what I wanted.
†† It was a sweet time as we worked and talked about the church and ministry.
I found a number of books that said inside:† ďFrom the library of R.D. Littleton.Ē
†† I took all of those, because they had a sentimental value.
R.D. Littleton was my grandfather on motherís side.
†† He was a Presbyterian minister in Louisiana and Mississippi and Georgia
He went to Louisiana Tech and was quite gifted in math.
There is a family story that he was accused of cheating on an exam.
†† The professor said that he had watched him, and that he wrote down the
†† answers so quickly that he must have seen a copy of the test beforehand.
Nothing he said could convince the professor he hadnít cheated.
Finally he said, give me any problems right now, and if I donít answer
†† them just as quickly, then you can give me an F on the exam.
So the prof agreed and gave him a random problem, and he solved it like that.
†† Then the professor gave him another one, and he did it again.
†† And another one, same thing.†
†† Professor said, I was wrong.† You didnít cheat!
After he graduated from Louisiana Tech, he was heading into medicine,
†† but an uncle challenged him to consider the ministry, so he went to seminary
†† instead of medical school.† It made his parents angry.
But that was his calling and he followed it.
Iíve asked my mother before if he was a good preacher.†
†† And she says no, she thought he was very boring.
†† That could be because as a child she grew up listening to him.
Because my dad says that he was a good preacher.
†† And dad, of course, heard him as an adult when he met mother in college.
His last church was in Fayetteville, Georgia.†
†† He passed away from a heart attack in 1970.
I kept all of those books, because they are the only connection I
†† have to the life of a grandfather I barely remember,
†† but a man who Iíve followed into the same vocation.†
I tell you that story just to get you in the right frame of mind for this passage.
†† Here at the end, from the vantage point of history,
†† we look at the life of our grandfather Abraham as a whole.
What lessons can we draw from his life as we look at it from a distance?
There are so many adventures, so many interesting stories that we could focus on.
Leaving his home country and his pilgrimage to the Promised Land.
His vision of the Lord when he confirmed the covenant,
†† and the other times when the Lord appeared to himócount the stars!
The daring rescue of Lot.†
†† The destruction of Sodom.
Hagar and the birth of Ishmael.†
†† The family turmoil that caused and Abrahamís love for his firstborn son.
††† Isaacís birth and Mount Moriah and Sarahís death and Isaací marriage.
But after all the ups and downs, the adventures and crises, victories and failures,
†† how can we characterize his life?†
As Christians, we ought to think about life in the big picture.
†† Thatís hard for us to do in the middle of life.
When the days and weeks and months are flying past,
†† all we can see is the present work and struggle.†
We just want help getting through whatever it is we are facing at the moment.†
Thatís why itís so valuable for us to stand at Abrahamís grave for a moment
†† and ponder his whole life of faith in God.
All the commentaries and sermons I read this week tried to do that.
†† They tried to identify the essence of Abrahamís life.
†† Number of them were particularly eloquentóusually the case at funerals.
There are many points that could be made, but three, I think,
†† are pressed home in this passage.†
The good life that we ought to strive for is a life that is
†† 1.† Sanctified†† 2.† Satisfied†† 3.† Separated.
†† Letís look at each.
MP#1† A good life, a life of faith in God, is a sanctified life.
Sanctification is our growth in holiness.† As our catechism says, itís being enabled
†† by Godís grace, more and more, to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.
Abraham lived a sanctified life. †So that at the end of his life, he was even
†† more committed to the Lord than he was at the first.
Thatís pressed home in these final verses through the comments about him leaving
†† his whole estate to Isaac.† Apparently after Sarahís death, Abraham took another
†† wife named Keturah.† Probably woman born in his household.†
Had six sons through her.† Certainly there was pressure to include those sons
†† in his estate and keep them around and build his tribe.
But God had said that it would be through Isaac that the blessings would come.
†† Thatís why, many years earlier he had to send Ishmael away.†
In his old age, with Sarah gone, and a new wife, it would have been so easy to
†† compromise on this but Abraham didnít.† He did what was right for Isaac
†† and these other sons, and get the sense he did it firmly.
He was† a sanctified man.† He ended strong.
The thing that is most helpful about looking at the whole of Abrahamís
†† life is that it shows us the typical progress of sanctification.
Sanctification is not a smooth upward climb.† Itís not gradual and steady.
†† Instead, our sanctification progresses through intense periods of crisis
†† and then longer periods of calm and inactivity.
Abraham was 75 years old when he left his homeland to follow the Lord.
†† He lived to be 175.† So we have 100 years of his life from Genesis 12-25.
†† But all of the events of those chapters only add up to a tiny portion of his life.
Most of Abrahamís days were uneventful.† He went about his business,
†† year end and year out, and nothing of much importance happened.
But from time to time, those years where punctuated by great events, crises,
†† temptations, challenges, that revealed the strength or weakness of his faith,
†† and then molded his faith and his character so that he progressed in righteousness.
And thatís the way it is with every Christian.†
The Christian life, just like Abrahamís life, is a matter of peaks and valleys,
†† intense activity and almost total calm, advance and retreat.
This is not only the pattern of the Christian life, itís the pattern of church history.
†† Look at church history and you will see that the church has not grown steadily.
Instead, scattered throughout history are times when the Spirit works mightily.
Times of revival, times of great missionary conquest.
†† Those may last years or decades, but tiny compared to the centuries in between.† Jonathan Edwards, leader of First Great Awakening, said all of the periods of real
†† church growth from Pentecost to 1700s, compressed into a very short time.
A man in seminary with me, Khen Tombing, from a tribal region in NE India.
†† His people were animists for generations, worshipped spirits.†
†† Then in the early 1900s, the Holy Spirit blew in those mountains and 70 to 80%
†† of the tribe professed faith and were baptized.† Whole villages became Christian.
But it was over in a relatively short time.† Just a few years.
So what happens during the in-between time?† The centuries between revivals?
†† Holding on to what we have, not going backwards, trying to make some progress.
Faithfully raising the children of the church so that they love God and Jesus.
†† Thatís the way the church mostly grows during the in between times.
†† Not that there arenít conversions all along, there are.† But not on a grand scale.
Now, if this was the pattern of Abrahamís life and sanctification,
†† a pattern we see repeated in the history of the churchó
†† whatís the application for our lives?†
Let me read you an excellent summary by Dr. Robert Rayburn.
†† †ďIf that is what a Christian life is made of, then our duty becomes traveling as far as we can when the wind is blowing, and then, when it is calm again, rowing hard so as to be sure that we continue to advance, even if at a slower pace, and do not lose the ground we have so far taken.† Abraham set his sails when the wind of the Spirit began to blow in his life and traveled very far, and then was diligent to keep and preserve and build upon that progress, if slowly and unspectacularly, when the wind died down and it became calm again, sometimes for many years at a time.† It is this that explains the glorious fact about Abrahamís lifeóthat we see him at his
best, his highest at the end of his life, wearing the rich, beautiful maturity of Christian faith.Ē†
If you are in a crisis, or a time of challenge, and you are being convicted, or moved
†† by the Holy Spirit to make some change, move ahead in some area.† Do it.
Raise your sails and go as far as you can.† These are revival times.†
†† Then, when those times are over, and ordinary life kicks in again,
†† get out your oars, and start rowing against the tide.†
Your oars are the ordinary means of grace:† word, worship, Lordís Supper, prayer,
†† fellowship of believers, weekly rhythm of church life, personal, family devotions.
Dig your oars in, and try to make some progress.†
†† You will be ready to surge ahead when the Spirit moves again in next crisis.
†† In following that pattern, set by Abraham.† End better than beginning or middle.†
MP#2† A good life, a life of faith in God, is a satisfied life.
In the final words about Abraham, told that he was an old man and ďfull of years.Ē
†† ďFull of yearsĒ is not just another way to say old or many years.
†† Itís an expression about the quality of a personís life.
A person full of years is able to look back at all his days with a sense
†† of complete calm and satisfaction because he knows they have been ordered
†† from beginning to end by the Lord.†
He is able to look back at everything, and say:
†† Itís good.† Iím satisfied.† Iíve gotten everything from life that I wanted.
†† And whenever the Lord chooses to take me, Iím ready to go.
When you put it that way, you realize how few people are truly ďfull of years.Ē
†† They might be quite elderly, but still not satisfied.
They are not able to look over life with a calm assurance of Godís sovereign hand.
†† Instead they look back and are filled with disappointment and frustration.
They see plans that were thwarted, dreams deferred, failures of themselves
†† and other people.† Life was not at all what they wanted or expected.
†† As Ecclesiastes says, ďVanity of vanities.† All is vanity.Ē
When I was in high school, our youth group visited the nursing home most Sunday
†† afternoons.† Iíll never forget one elderly woman we dreaded visiting.
She looked like a sweet grandma, but she was bitter and dissatisfied with her life,
†† and wasted no time telling us of the wrongs and disappointments she had suffered.
†† She was very old but she was not full of years.
You donít have to be old.† Youíve probably known young people who are cynical.†
†† And as they grow older, they become more cynical and sour.
†† They arenít pleased with anything.† They complain about everything.
Nothing satisfies.† They are weary of life.† But at the same time,
†† they seem to be clinging to life, still trying to get something out of it.
†† There is no lively sense of the Lord ordering and guiding their lives.
This expression ďfull of yearsĒ is used to describe only four other people in Bible
†† besides AbrahamóIsaac, David, Jehoiada, and Job.†
Itís interesting to consider them because they all led very different lives.
Isaac lead a very quiet, meditative life.† He didnít have an active career like
†† Abraham.† He didnít travel.† Yet he was said to be full of years.
King David had great adventures as a young man.† He led men, he was mighty in
†† battle, he played the harp and wrote poetry.† He walked with the Lord.
Then, in later life he had some terrible reverses due to his moral failureó
†† he had political troubles and family troubles that colored the rest of his days.
But he was said to be full of years.† He too was able to look back with
†† contentment over the life the Lord had given him.
Jehoiada, was a minor character you might not be familiar with.†
†† He was a high priest who helped restore the boy king Joash to the throne,
†† and then ruled for him and guided him for years.† Most of his life was
†† characterized by danger and then strenuous effort.† He was full of years.
Finally Job, you know Job.† He was a good man.† No one like him in all the world.
†† He had wealth and children and then he suffered utter loss and deepest grief.
†† Then he had it all restored.† Job also died full of years.
These men were able to look a their lives, with a sense of satisfaction and
†† completeness, because they knew that the Lordís hand had guided them.† †
Abraham is the first in the listóheís the example.
†† How did he do it?† Whatís the key to having this kind of Christian life?
It has to be communion with God.† Daily, real fellowship with the Lord.
†† Because as you know him, and commune with him,
†† you grow in the assurance that everything in your life is from him.†
At the very beginning of Abrahamís pilgrimage, the Lord said two things to him:
†† ďI am the Lord Almighty, walk before me and be blameless.Ē
†† ďFear not, Abram, I am your shield and your very great reward.Ē
It seems that Abraham took those to heart.† He lived before the Lord.
†† And that gave him fullness of years.
Listen to the way Alexander MacLaren put it.† MacLaren was a Baptist preacher,
†† who lived Scotland in the 19th century.† In a sermon on Abrahamís death,
†† he was explaining how it was that Abraham was satisfied with his life.
ďSimple communion with God, realizing His presence and feeling that He is near, will sweeten disappointment, will draw forth hidden blessedness, will make us victors over lifeís pains and woes.† Such a faith will make it possible to look back and see only blessing; to look forward and see a great light of hope burning in the darkness.† Such a faith will check weariness, avert discontent, promote satisfaction, and will help us to feel that life and the great hereafter are but the outer and inner mansions of the Fatherís house.Ē
†† Do you see your life that way?† The outer mansion of your Fatherís house?
†† Thatís the good life.† By faith in Christ, you can have that satisfaction.
MP#3† A good life, a life of faith in God, is a separated life.
When we are first introduced to Abraham, way back in chapter 12,
†† you remember that God called him to leave his homeland, leave his people.
†† He also told him never to go back, for his descendants never to go back.
And even when he got to the Promised Land, he never settled down.
†† He lived in tents, he lived in the in between places.
†† He was a city dweller, but he never lived in a Canaanite city.
Because he was looking for a city with foundations.† Remember Hebrews 11.
†† Abrahamís hopes and loyalties were with the Kingdom of God.
Although there were times he worked with Canaanites, and made business deals
†† with them and was a neighbor to them, he never became part of them,
† †by adopting their values or taking on their character.
Abraham lived a separated life.† He was always an outsider.
Thatís a picture of the Christian life, isnít it?
We are called to be separate people.†
†† We donít live in tents to symbolize our separation.
But in the important ways, we are separate.†
†† There is, in a sense, a loneliness in any devoted Christian life.†
Just this week a Christian man was describing to me his relationship with his
†† extended family, who are unbelievers.† He spends time with them, they are
†† on good terms as far as it goes, but their values and thinking are so different,
†† that he often feels he has nothing in common with them.
Heís a follower of Christ, and that means a separated life.†
We have friends whose daughter was one of the few Christians in her high school.† She didnít adopt the values of her fellows students so she became the object of their
†† mockery, especially for her commitment to sexual purity and clean language.
†† There were times she felt very much alone.†
Those are two dramatic examples.† But Abraham would have understood both.
†† Thatís the kind of separation Christians choose as they walk with God.
And thatís what makes the comment at Abrahamís grave so meaningful.
We are told that at his death, Abraham was ďgathered to his people.Ē
†† How could that be?† Abrahamís people were back in Mesopotamia.
†† His grave was far from theirs.
This is one of those wonderful hints and rumors in the Old Testament,
†† of a truth that we find fully revealed in the New Testament.
ďGathered to his peopleĒ is an Old Testament hint that at death
†† Godís people will be gathered into one great family.
There will no longer be any separation, or sense of standing alone or apart.
†† You will never be an outsider looking in.
†† Instead, you will be in a world of your own people.
So itís absolutely important for you to live a separated life now.
†† Because if you live as a stranger to the values of the world.
†† If you try to build a character that is at odds with the world.
And if you are willing to endure the pain that separation sometimes causes,
†† then death will not drag you away from your people.
Instead, it will unite with a great multitude of people from every tribe,
†† and language, and people and nation, who like you, know and love Jesus.
†† Thatís what heaven and the resurrection life will beólife with your people.
And hell will be the same thing:† Eternity with your people.
†† Dante describes hell as having a terrible order.† Levels for every kind of sinner.
On each level, there is nothing but that kind of sinner.†
†† The liars have no company but other liars.†
†† There is no company for thieves, impure, and godless, but their own kind.
And with the total absence of Godís grace, no camaraderie, just a tearing at
†† each other and abuse of each other with that sin for eternity.
†† Danteís point is biblicalóheaven or hell will be with your people,
†† for eternal life or eternal death.
And father Abraham shows us a life that says:† Separation now is worth it.
†† There is nothing more blessed, than to be gathered to your people.
Alexander MacLaren again:
†† ďAbove all, let us give our hearts to Christ, by simple faith in Him, to be shaped and sanctified by Him.† Then our country will be where He is, and our people will be the people in whom His love abides, and the tribe to which we belong will be the tribe of which He is Chieftain.† So when our turn comes, we may rise thankfully from the table in the wilderness which he has spread for us, having eaten as much as we desired, and quietly follow the dark-robed messenger whom His love sends to bring us to the happy multitudes that throng the streets of the city.† There we shall find our true home, our kindred, our King.Ē
Thatís the good life.† Life of faith and separation from the world leading to
†† a life of eternal fellowship with our tribe and our Chieftain, Jesus Christ.
CONC:† How do you sum up a life?
Whenever I go to a funeralówhether a young person, elderly person,
†† or someone middle agedóalways struck by how hard his loved ones
†† try to sum up his lifeógive you a sense of who he was.
Sometimes they tell storiesótrying with those stories to capture something.
†† Sometimes they read something the person has written, maybe something
†† private, now revealed for the first time.
Or they explain how this person had an impact on other people.
Thatís important to us at those times.†
†† We sense the need to sayóthis was his life.†
†† And thatís because we are made for eternity.† We are made for God.
As we stand for a moment at the grave of our father in the faithó
†† a man who was called the friend of God, realize that even with his story
†† in the Bible, itís hard to summarize his life.
How comforting it is to know that as Christians, we are made for eternity.
†† We are made for God.† After we are gone, after all who know us are gone too,
†† and our graves lie forgotten, the life we lived here still matters, and is
†† remembered by the Lord, and we will be with himóawaiting the resurrection.
Letís live our lives for him and for that day, in the power of his Holy Sprit.