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Abraham - The Believer

  We have a couple of themes going for us this week. One of our themes is hearing God’s voice. Another is knowing God’s will. Yet another theme we have is that we are going to be doing, during the course of the next few days, a study of the three Old Testament patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I’ll be having us look at Abraham this evening and then tomorrow night we’ll look a bit at Isaac. And Saturday night, Jonathan is going to have us look at Jacob.  We call them patriarchs. The word patriarch just means father. These four ancient individuals are our spiritual fathers in the faith. And the first of them, the most ancient of all, is Abraham.

 Abraham is one of my all time favorite characters in the entire Bible. I think what draws me to him, among other things, is simply the incredible significance that is placed upon him by the Scriptures, and really by history as well. You probably don’t remember, but a number of years ago Abraham made the cover of Time magazine. In that feature article it was noted, correctly, that the three greatest religions each claim Abraham as their father and founder. Christianity, Judaism and Islam each regard Abraham as the founder of their faith. Something incredibly significant historically and in the spiritual realm happened when Abraham walked this earth. 

 And it’s all the more intriguing, in light of recent events in the Middle East, when one regards that this key historical figure, this man who has become the inspiration of the three greatest religions, was born and raised in present day Iraq. Abraham, the father and founder of our faith, was an Iraqi. 

 There’s so much about Abraham in the Scriptures, he’s so central to the entire Scriptures, Old and New Testament, that we could easily spend the whole camp just going through the life of Abraham. What I would like for us to do this evening is to take two different views of Abraham – to look at Abraham’s life and the significance and meaning of his life and experiences from two different angles. First, I want us to take a macro view of Abraham. I want us to back up and get the big picture and see how exactly Abraham fits into history and into God’s grand scheme of things. And second, I want us to take then a micro view, to zoom back in then and look at the actual man Abraham, to look at the actual conversion of this young Sumerian, to see the growth of his personal faith and to see if we can draw some lessons about faith from his life. But first let’s pray…

 So first a macro view. Let’s begin by stepping back from Abraham’s life and experiences as recorded in the text, and look first at what the world of Abraham was like as well as try to get a glimpse into what exactly God was up to historically and spiritually as he pursued and called Abraham.  What new thing was God doing here with Abraham and what’s the meaning of it? What is God’s strategy here?

 The first thing to note when we’re dealing with the life and times of Abraham, is that we are dealing with a very ancient time. In the days of Abraham, for example, there’s no such thing as Israel. It doesn’t exist yet. There’s no Ten Commandments. Moses is centuries away from being born. There is no Bible to turn to for answers. None of today’s major religions exist yet. There is no such thing as Christianity or Judaism or Islam. There isn’t even Buddhism yet. 

 What religions that do exist, are generally polytheistic. There is a belief in many gods governing the world, and most often elements of nature are associated with the various gods. In fact, in Abraham’s hometown, the city of Ur, the moon goddess was the official deity. Nana is her name. And indeed, the Scriptures teach, that Abraham’s father, Terah, was a worshipper of these deities. Abraham, far from growing up in a “Christian” home, actually grew up in a “Moon goddess cult” home. In his Sunday school class growing up he learned all about how to worship the moon, what kinds of sacrifices to make to Nana the moon goddess. 

 Furthermore, far from Abraham having a “Jewish” type ethnic heritage, Abraham is actually Sumerian. He is from Ur, a city of Mesopotamia at a time when the Sumerian culture was having one last flowering before it was ultimately and finally destroyed by invading Elamites from present day Iran. 

 You don’t need to remember any of this background info I’m giving, but I give it to you to simply make the point that Abraham’s world was very different than maybe we might have pictured it growing up in Sunday School. And the question that I have to ask myself when confronted with Abraham’s background, is where did Abraham get his faith? Remember, there’s no Bible to read. No church or synagogue to go to. Only his hometown priests of the moon goddess, or he could travel to nearby Uruk where they worshipped the sun. But there is no market anywhere for an invisible all-powerful Creator of all things. So where did Abraham get this growing faith and belief in one supreme all-powerful God? Where did it come from?

 The Answer is this: Something unexpected and wonderful happened. It was at this precise point in history, as civilizations were developing and continuing to struggle for existence and survival in the centuries after the flood, that God suddenly ends the wait, and launches out on his grand campaign, that he’s had in his heart ever since man first fell away, of recapturing the hearts of humanity, of winning back to himself this rebel planet. God, reveals himself, slowly, gradually, to one man, steeped in a demon worshipping culture, God begins by calling out, one man. In the midst of a humanity spiritual asleep, the ultimate reality suddenly breaks into the dream. And in the midst of the human masses, spiritually asleep, one man, Abraham, suddenly, remarkably, wakes up. 

 One of my favorite movies is the Matrix. I’m not sure what the ultimate beliefs and motives are of the writers of those films, the Matrix movies, but particularly the first one I believe is a gift to the church for Evangelism in this generation. If you haven’t seen them, the basic premise is this: everything that you think is real, is not really real or true – rather all of our experiences are simply a part of a vast computer program. In the movie, the real you is in a kind of sleep state and your body is hooked up to this vast generator that sucks up all your body heat for energy to keep these terrible machines running that actually control the real world. So all of humanity is really in slavery to these machines and in this sleep state in which everything people experience is part of a made-up illusion or dream. Until one day, one human being, suddenly wakes up, breaks free of the illusion, is freed from the sleep state and from this vast human-powered generator called the Matrix, and proceeds to help his fellow enslaved humans, one at a time, be set free from the Matrix and into the real world, to break free from the illusion. 

 Sound like a crazy plot for a movie, doesn’t it? I’ve got news for us. The Matrix is real. Satan and the forces of evil are the machines and they control the real world. And most of humanity is in this sleep state, living in a illusion, without any knowledge of the real world, the spiritual realm. Abraham, was the first human that God chose to break free from the Matrix of this fallen, enslaved, illusory world. And that faith, given to Abraham, is something that has been spreading from person to person and from faith to faith, ever since.   And soon, from Abraham and his offspring, God raised up a nation that he revealed himself to. And for a period of centuries he drilled into this one people truths about himself and about the cosmos, true things of the way things really are, until finally, the moment was ripe, and God injected himself into the Matrix of human suffering and enslavement, Jesus was born. And when Jesus died on the cross and then rose from the dead, what really happened at that moment was that the power of the Matrix was annulled. From that point on, God has been in the process of dismantling and destroying the Matrix of Satan’s power and enslavement of humanity. Jesus comes now to every human being and says, I know a way out of the Matrix, take my hand and I’ll lead you out to freedom. 

 What’s the point: the point of all this is that – from the very moment that Adam and Eve fell into sin, when the Matrix first took control and humanity fell asleep spiritually, from that very moment, God has had a plan, and the plan begins with Abraham. 

Genesis 12:1-3 – hear the words spoken to Abraham when God made first contact with humanity:

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. 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."

 These three verses in Genesis have been called the Great Commission of the Old Testament. And that last line is the most significant – all peoples, all nations will be blessed through you. The call of Abraham was not for the purpose of setting up a special nation, Israel, that was supposed to hide in its own little corner of the world and keep their profound knowledge of the one true God to themselves. Israel was founded to be a missionary state. God’s strategy is divide and conquer. At the Tower of Babel God divided humanity up into separate peoples which grew into different cultures and nations, and then he chose one of those peoples to be the launching pad from which he would set out to conquer all the rest – to rescue them and set them free. Most of the time, Israel resisted that missionary call that God had given them, and He had to end up forcing them to be that blessing to the nations. He had to send Joseph into Egypt. And he had to force Jonah into Nineveh and Daniel into Babylon. The point again is this: It’s always been God’s intent and plan – to start with Abraham and with Israel, but not to end there. He’s always been about the business of setting free the whole world – to bring about the complete destruction and dismantling of the Matrix of Satan’s enslavement of humanity. That’s God’s plan. And the plan begins, with one man, Abraham.

 So, with that macro view of Abraham’s life, having backed up to look at the big picture of history and of God’s strategy, in that context, let’s now zoom back into Abraham, and take a more micro view of Abraham, let’s humanize him a bit now, by looking at the text and the real experiences he had, and how it was that he woke up from the dream and was freed from the Matrix of the evil one, from the cycle of death. 

 I’ve always been fascinated by the conversion of Abraham. In fact, in my spare time, I’ve been slowly writing a fiction novel of the beginning of Abraham’s life, centering around his conversion process in his hometown of Ur. And as I’ve studied for this, what has struck me most about the conversion of Abraham from the text, is that Abraham’s conversion was a process. His faith was something that grew and matured over time and came as a result of various real experiences and encounters with God and as a result of some life choices in response to God’s initiative. 

 Let me show you what I mean. The life of Abraham is dealt with primarily in Genesis chapters 12 to 25. 12 chapters on Abraham in Genesis! That’s a lot of chapters dealing with one guy, again just emphasizing how central Abraham is to the Scriptures and to salvation history. In the course of those chapters, Abraham has seven encounters with the Lord. And as you look at each of those seven encounters and experiences, what you find is that Abraham’s knowledge of the Lord and his level of trust in God, grew and developed and matured over time. 

 The First Encounter, happened as a younger man in his hometown of Ur. Steven, the first Christian martyr, in the book of Acts, refers to that initial call in Acts 7. He notes that in that first encounter, God took the initiative, and called Abraham to leave his country and people and to go to the land that He would show him. But its interesting, jumping back to Genesis, in Genesis 11, it says that Terah, Abraham’s father is the one that takes Abraham and his brother Nahor, out of Ur and heads north settling in the northern town of Haran at the very top of the fertile crescent. So Abraham began to hear God’s voice, to sense his promptings in Ur, God took the initiative with Abraham in Ur and established contact with him, but the text doesn’t say that Abraham immediately obeyed and left Ur. Rather, it appears that other circumstances led to Abraham first leaving Ur. And indeed, there is some significant historical evidence that came to light through archeological discoveries a few years back, that the city of Ur was actually destroyed by invading Elamites about the same time that Abraham and his father’s family headed north to Haran. Abraham and his fathers family probably initially left Ur as refugees.     

 Then in Haran, Abraham’s second encounter with the Lord takes place. He hears the voice of the Lord again. It’s at this time that he probably hears the words recorded in Genesis 12:1-3 that we already read, where God tells Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him. God is giving him, gradually, more and more information about Himself. He’s slowly revealing to Abraham more and more truth about himself and about his plan for winning back humanity to Himself. This time Abraham actively responds to God’s call, and upon the death of his father, he takes the initiative himself to leave Haran, in obedience to God’s call, and to travel to Canaan. Abraham’s faith is growing.

 Abraham arrives in Canaan and settles first near the town of Shechem where he has his third encounter with the Lord. Here the Lord reveals to him a bit more and says, “to you and your offspring I’m going to give this land.” And now, in response to this experience with the Lord, Abraham for the first time builds an altar – in other words he begins to officially worship and to call his own this God who has been wooing him ever since his younger days in Ur. Another step in Abraham’s spiritual life is taken.

 The text of Genesis then says that he moved on from there to a place near Bethel. And here the text says that Abraham now takes the initiative and builds an altar and calls upon the name of the Lord. This time it’s not in response to some experience with God, but rather Abraham takes the lead and actively seeks after God. Worship of the Lord is becoming now a natural part of his life – his faith is growing, it’s maturing.

 Then there’s some more traveling about including a side misadventure in Egypt which we won’t get into, but then he’s back again in Canaan and comes to a point where he takes a major step of faith and really begins to demonstrate his growing confidence and relationship with the Lord. He tells his nephew Lot, who also has a lot of herds and servants, just like him, to pick whatever land he wants, and that essentially, he, Abraham would take whatever is leftover. He’s beginning to learn to let go of the need to be in control of his destiny and to allow the Lord to look after him, to bless him, to meet his needs. Abraham is learning to let go, and in response to this faith act of Abraham, there comes Abraham’s fourth encounter with the Lord recorded in Genesis 13. It’s at this point, after Lot leaves and takes the really good land, and as evening settles, and Abraham is left alone, that God speaks to Abraham and tells him to count the stars, if he can, and tells him, so shall your descendents be. And he furthermore tells him to go, walk throughout the land, north and south and east and west, check it out, because its going to be yours Abraham, not Lots, yours, I’m giving it ALL to YOU. Another step in Abraham’s faith is taken.

 Then some more time passes and we come to a series of very interesting passages. Abraham finds himself in the midst of a war. Abraham, interestingly, is kind of what we would call today a warlord. He’s actually a relatively major power at this time. He has huge tracks of land and even has his own personal army. I won’t go into all the details, but he basically defeats this invading army from the east that had carried off some his neighboring warlords property and people, including his nephew Lot, and he gets all that stuff back and brings it all back to his neighbors. His fellow warlord neighbors then tell him to just give them back the people that he’s saved from this invader he defeated, and that he, Abraham, should keep all the wealth and spoils to himself. At this point, Abraham takes another huge leap in his faith walk. He not only turns down their offer, but insists on keeping none of the spoils, because he doesn’t want anyone to be able to say that they made Abraham rich, and then he boldly gives his reason for this – he testifies to them of his faith – he makes public proclamation of his trust and hope in God alone. Genesis 14:22-23:

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, "I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, and have taken an oath 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the thong of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, 'I made Abram rich.' 

 Did you catch what Abram called the Lord right in front of the king of Sodom. In the middle of this polytheistic cultural world, Abraham calls his God, the LORD, Elohim, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. Abraham’s God is no local deity. The God that Abraham is in relationship with is the Lord God Almighty, Lord of Heaven and Earth. Abraham is breaking free from the Matrix.

 And in response to this declaration of faith comes Abraham’s fifth encounter with the Lord, probably the central most important encounter with the Lord in Abraham’s life, and it’s the last one that we’ll look at this evening. The text continues in Genesis 15:

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

"Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."

 I’m your reward, Abram. I know I’ve been promising you descendents and land, but the reward you’ve really been getting all through this, is Me. I’m setting you free from the Matrix and into relationship with Myself, the True Reality. It’s what you were created for. The dream is over Abram. The morning has dawned. You are becoming fully human, truly alive, awake and alert for the very first time. 

 And then the Lord continues throughout chapter 15 to reveal to Abraham things about the future. He begins to let him in on the plan, like a friend who has won his confidence, God shares with Abraham about a son being born in his old age, and about the slavery that would later follow in Egypt and about how he would bring them out of Egypt and back to the promise land at just the right time. And it’s in the context of this encounter, and of these intimate disclosures in Genesis 15, that it is written in Genesis 15:6 “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” 

 And with the words of that verse, Abraham woke up. Of all of humanity, he became the first to be awoken from his slumber, to be freed from the Matrix of the Evil One, given restored relationship with the Creator, friendship with God, credited with righteousness the text says. It’s nothing other than the gospel of grace that came to Abraham setting him free that day. In fact, that’s exactly Paul’s interpretation of the call of Abraham and his response of faith in Genesis 15. Turn to Galatians chapter 3, starting at verse 6. Galatians 3:6-9

6 Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." 7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the believer.

 I love the Paul calls Abraham – “the believer”.

 4,000 years ago, the gospel of Jesus, first went forth, to a man named, Abraham. And the world has never been the same. And now, 4000 years later, the great plan of God continues to set people free from the slumber of enslavement to the evil one and the delusions of this world. The work of Jesus on the cross, made breaking free from the Matrix possible. Abraham, was the first to be set free, even 2000 years before the event that made that freedom complete, and we are the inheritors of that call to freedom and salvation and reality, first given to our father Abraham. We are his descendents, his offspring. We are the ones that God spoke of to Abraham, the ones who are too many to count, as many as the stars in the sky. Rom 4:13,16:

13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.

16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,

 I want to call us all this evening and this weekend to embrace the faith of our spiritual father Abraham – to step into the faith that he had. As we close, let’s take a closer look at Abrahams faith. What is the nature of that faith? What is the basis of his faith? What is it?

 First, a couple things it’s not.

 First off, it’s a faith that’s not based on reason or intellect. In other words, we’re not talking about an intellectual exercise here. Abraham didn’t just think really, really hard and come up with the idea of monotheism. True faith is not just signing your name on the dotted line and ascribing to a set of doctrines. The Scriptures say that demons believe the doctrines – and tremble. So faith is not based on the intellect. 

 But neither, is it a faith based on strictly feelings and emotions. We’re not talking about a psychological trick and we’re not talking about looking inward to feel God. Feelings come and go. Emotions are unsteady and can be terribly deceptive and misleading.

 The basis of our faith is not the intellect or reason, and its not based on emotions. It IS based on experience and encounter. Abraham’s faith would not have been possible unless God had revealed himself to Abraham in the context of a real experience and encounter with God. Abraham’s faith grew and matured because of real encounters with the Living God, of hearing God speak real promises to Abraham, and by Abraham responding to God with active trust. Faith doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Faith needs a real object. Faith is an action word. I invite us this evening to go deeper in experience of and encounter with the Living God, of embracing and trusting in the promises of God.

 That really is the basis of faith for Abraham – the promises of God. God promised things to Abraham. Abraham believed God, believed those promises, embraced those promises of God and God’s ability to make it happen. And that faith, in the promises of God, was credited to Abraham as righteousness.

 One of those promises to Abraham was that all nations, all peoples would be blessed through Abraham. Tonight, that promise to Abraham continues to be fulfilled – for we are the nations, the peoples that God promised Abraham, he would bless. God desires to bless you. He has promised YOU precious things. He calls each of you, each of us to step into the same faith that he gave to Abraham. He calls us to hear the promises of God spoken to us, and then to embrace and cling to those promises, to believe the promises – as we do so, it also will be credited to us as righteousness – He will continue to set us free from the Matrix of Satan’s power and illusions of this false world and into the freedom of the joyful Christian life He’s destined us to live!

 Hear then the promises of God spoken to you this very night:

 He has promised to always be with you and to never leave you. Matt 28:20: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” And Heb 13:5:   “I will never leave you, nor will I ever forsake you.”   That’s a promise of God – believe it.

 He has promised to supply every need we have. Philippians 4:19: “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” He doesn’t promise riches or that life will be always easy, but he does promise to take care of you and to meet every need you and your family has. That’s a promise you can trust. He calls you, invites you to trust Him, like Abraham did.

 God promises to work all things together for good, even to take the tragedies and pain of our lives, and to turn them around and use them for good. Rom 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

 God has promised that His grace is sufficient for us. 2 Cor 12:9: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." And Eph 2:8,9: “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” His grace is enough. There is nothing you can add to it. Nothing you can contribute to it. You cannot help it along. Simply embrace the promise – trust the promise of God, the gift of God, to save you and sustain you and carry you.

 God has promised that His children will not be overtaken with temptation.  Instead, He assures us that a way of escape will be provided.  1 Cor 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” That’s a promise. There will always be a way out. Never give into despair. Even when life is hardest and temptation is greatest, God is there for you, providing you a way out. Trust in that. Cling to that in those moments. Believe the promise. Like Abraham did.

 God has promised us victory over death. John 11:25: “Jesus said to her, ‘ I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.’” 

 And 1 Cor 15:54-57

Death has been swallowed up in victory." 

55 "Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?" 

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 God promises us eternal life. John 10:27-28: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”

 And John 14:1-3:  "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

 That’s a promise. Believe in it. He is preparing a place for us. For you. For me. For Abraham and his descendents forever.

 Shall we pray...


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