March 11 & 12, 2017 Lent 2
Genesis 12: 1-8
In the mid-1800’s Horace Greeley, an American politician and newspaper editor, spurred on expansion to the West dubbed, “Manifest Destiny,” when he advised, “Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”
In our text, God told Abram, whom he would later rename “Abraham,” that Haran of the Hittites was not a place to live in. The gods were many, the dust disgusting, and the morals were deplorable. So God told Abram, “Go West, Old Man, Go West, to the land I will show you. Go west, old man, strengthened by my promises.”
Listen to the account of Abram’s call from God. Learn how God calls us to do big things, just like he called Abram to do, and learn how God motivates us by big promises, just like he did for Abram. Genesis 12:1-8
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. 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.” So Abram left, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.
“Pack up your stuff. Load it all up. It’s time to leave behind all your family and friends. Time to leave behind all that is familiar and comfortable. Time to head west. We’re moving from Appleton, Wisconsin to a new home, about 1,800 miles away. We’re going to Chandler, Arizona.” “Where’s that, dad?” one of my kids asked. “Well, look here on this map. Here’s where we are. Here’s where we’re going.”
That was 22 years ago. I still wonder how much my kids understood what I was telling them when I explained that dad had accepted a call to Chandler, Arizona. Did they really understand all that this big news meant? Or did they just go along with it, trusting that mom and dad got it, mom and dad would still take care of them, so they’d be okay?
That’s probably what Abram must have felt when God told him: “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go...” And before he could even ask, “Where’s that, God?” God told him: “None of your business! Don’t worry about all that! Just, “Go to the land I will show you.”
And how does Abram respond? “No way, God, not until I get a little more explanation as to where I’m heading. No way! I’m not going anywhere!” Verse 4 says, “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him…” That’s it! No arguments. No questions. No hesitation. He just packed up his stuff and got moving.
And he was no spring chicken, either! Did you catch how old he was? “Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.” I imagine that at seventy-five Abram was getting ready to settle down and enjoy his retirement, not relocate. And remember he couldn’t just hop on a plane or even sit in a car. Most of his 800 to 900 mile move would be on foot! That’s almost like walking from Chandler to San Antonio, Texas. And the environment could sometimes be just as harsh crossing the waterless desert on the way.
No wonder the author to the Hebrews sang Abraham’s praise in Hebrews 11:8: “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.” A hero of faith indeed!
Now you know that God calls us to do some pretty big things too, doesn’t he? He might call you to pack up and move away from family and friends and move outside of Arizona or head off to college. Or he may not. He may not say “Go West!” or “Go East!” Maybe God’s calling you to stay put and do some pretty big things right here. “Go home!” he may say. Or “Go to work!” Or “Go serve right where you are in life.”
God has called you to do some other big things. He has called you to be patient and loving, kind, and forgiving to the people in your life. God has called you to work on your marriage and serve your spouse, to love your kids by training and instructing them in God’s Word, to forgive those who hurt you, to work diligently and faithfully at your jobs. God has called you to worship him, to proclaim to others what he’s done.
But often the routine, day to day tasks, the so-called “little” things of life that God calls us to do each day, are the more difficult challenges. We can’t argue, “If God appeared to me and told me to move like he told Abraham, if God asked me to surrender my body to the flames, if God asked me to make some big and great sacrifice for him, I would surely obey him,” and then ignore the “smaller” things he does call us to do for spouse, neighbor, child, parent, co-worker, and friend.
So when we compare our lives to Abraham and the great faith he had to blindly follow God’s command, we clearly see how we’ve failed. We’ve failed to love God like Abraham did: more than country, more than family, more than nice homes, more than our comfort, more than our happiness, more than ourselves. We fail. And for such sins we deserve the curse of hell.
And to be honest, so did Abraham. Bold as his faith was here, he didn’t always show such great faith. And even those times that he did, it wasn’t something he worked up in himself. So, how could Abraham have such a bold faith to go West even as an old man? How can we have such a bold faith to do the things God calls us to do? The answer is one and the same: Because of God’s gracious promises: The Lord had said to Abram… “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.”
What promises God gave. I’m going to make you prosperous, famous, and rich. Anyone on your side will share in your blessings and anyone who opposes you will be cursed by God! In other words, Abraham would have God on his side and would be untouchable. How these promises must have strengthened Abraham as he ventured off into the unknown at God’s call!
But that’s not all God promised. God gave him so much more in the last phrase of his promises: “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” But what did that mean? How would every person who would ever live be blessed through Abraham? God clarified the promise in Genesis 22:18 when he told Abraham, “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.” The descendant of Eve who, God promised would crush Satan’s head, would come from Abraham’s family tree. Abraham understood that he had God’s protection and blessing, his love and favor, not because he was so good, but because God was so good to him. He relied on God’s grace and he received God’s blessings by faith in the promise. The author to the Hebrews explained why Abraham was so bold to act in Hebrews 11:9, “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Through the Savior that would come from his family tree, his sins were forgiven, and heaven was his. What promises!
And you know that God has made promises that are just as big to you. God promises to bless you! Romans 8:28 says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” God promises that those who curse you will be cursed. Jesus said in Luke 10:16, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me.” And God promises you the blessings of Abraham’s offspring, the Savior of all nations.
You see, God the Father told Jesus, “Go South, Young Man, Go South… to Jerusalem, to the cross, to suffer hell for these lost sinners!” And Jesus went south from Capernaum and Nazareth, through Samaria, to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, to the cross. Was it convenient to be mocked and ridiculed? Was it fun to be tortured and crucified? Was it easy to endure the hell of separation from the Father? Of course not! But Jesus knew what was at stake: the salvation of every soul! The salvation of your soul! And as difficult and painful as it was, God kept his promise out of love for you. Jesus took on the sins of the world and paid for them by his blood.
And now, by faith, God credits Jesus’ perfect life, his innocent death to you as your righteousness. You are forgiven for every time you’ve doubted God’s promises or his love for you. You’re forgiven for every time you’ve hesitated to follow his commands. You’re forgiven for every disobedience and sin. Through the Savior that came from Abraham’s family tree, your sins are forgiven, and heaven is yours. What big promises God has made to us! How this moves us to love God above all else, more than country, more than family, more than nice homes, more than our comfort, more than our happiness, more than ourselves.
And God’s gracious promises move us to eagerly serve him in thanks, to be patient and loving, kind, and forgiving to the people around us, to work on our marriages and love our kids, to obey our parents, and to work diligently and faithfully at our jobs, to do as Abraham did and to call on the name of the Lord, to worship him, to proclaim what he’s done to others. For these are the things God has called us to do and strengthened and motivated by his gospel promises, we can do them. We will do them, for Jesus’ sake, amen.