The Incredible Adventure Begins
March 24, 1996
This morning we are beginning a brand-new sermon series. This series is brand-new in two ways. It is new to us as a congregation and it is new to me personally. Although I have been your pastor for nearly seven years, I served two other churches before coming to Oak Park in 1989. Over the last 18 years I have preached hundreds of messages from all parts of the Bible—quite literally going from Genesis to Revelation in the process.
But even though I’ve been preaching for 18 years there are still huge portions of the Bible I have never personally touched from the pulpit. With this series we are together launching out into new territory. That’s exciting for me, and I hope it will prove to be exciting for you as well.
Starting today we’re going to take a look at the life of one of the greatest men in all the Bible. His name is Abraham and his story is told in Genesis 12-25. When I say that he is one of the greatest men in the Bible, I am not exaggerating in the least. Outside of the Lord Jesus Christ, you could make a pretty good argument that he is most important person in the Bible.
Amazing Facts About An Amazing Man
Consider these facts:
1. He is revered by the followers of three world religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
2. He is the founder of the nation of Israel.
3. He is mentioned by name 308 times in the Old and New Testaments.
4. He is the preeminent man of faith in the Bible.
5. He is a man whose life changed the course of world history.
Consider one further point. Abraham is the most important person in the Old Testament, while Jesus Christ is the most important person in the New Testament. And how does the New Testament begin? Listen to the first verse of the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.” When Matthew wants to impress upon us the significance of who Jesus Christ really is, he links him with the greatest king—David—and with the founder of Israel—Abraham.
I want to stop and add a personal word at this point. Most of you know that I am basically a storyteller at heart. That’s what I like to do best—to tell a story and let the Spirit bring the message home to your heart. Good stories are fun to hear and fun to tell. The Bible is filled with stories of men and women whose lives were marked by drama, passion, and excitement. In years past I have preached through the life of Samson and the life of Jacob.
The Mt. Rushmore of Faith
Why Abraham? Why now? There are two answers to that question. I have already mentioned that Abraham is the preeminent man of faith. When the writer of Hebrews 11 wanted to explain what the life of faith looks like, he gave more space to Abraham than to anyone else. Jesus spoke of Abraham’s faith, and so did the Apostle Paul. Over and over again the New Testament repeats a simple phrase: “Abraham believed God.” That’s what faith is. It’s believing God and then acting upon that belief. So I hope that by studying his life, we may all be challenged to believe God, to take him at his Word, and then to step out in faith.
As Ray Stedman said, if you ever carved the Mt. Rushmore of faith, you would have to start with Abraham.
All of us would like to have more faith, and what better way to do that than by studying the best example of living by faith in all the Bible?
The Second Great Chicago Fire
There’s a second reason, and that has partly to do with what will happen eight days from now. Next Sunday afternoon hundreds of people will gather in downtown Chicago at the very spot of the Great Chicago Fire that destroyed the city in 1873. That event marks the beginning of the Say Yes campaign with Luis Palau. I like the symbolism of meeting at the place where the fire began in order to pray for another fire to sweep across Chicago—the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Five years ago a handful of people started praying. Now we are only eight days away from what we hope will be a mighty spiritual awakening in this city. I remind you that on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was poured out, there were “tongues of fire” that rested on the heads of the believers. It was a sign of a mighty outpouring of God’s Spirit. The Christian church began as a blaze of fire from heaven. May that same fire fall from heaven next Sunday afternoon and spread across Chicagoland.
If indeed we are expecting and praying for a great visitation from the Lord, then we need to know what it really means to live by faith on a daily basis.
I. God’s Call
In order to understand Abraham’s life we have to go back forty centuries, back to a time long ago and far away, back to a place called Ur of the Chaldees, which was a large city on the banks of the Euphrates River. That river still exists. It flows through Iraq and empties into the Persian Gulf not far from Kuwait.
Historians tell us that Ur was one of the most important cities of the ancient world. In Abraham’s day perhaps 250,000 people lived there. There was an ancient university there and a large library. Ur was known as a center for mathematics, astronomy, and international commerce. It was like Chicago or New York or London or Singapore.
It was also a center of pagan worship. Archeologists have unearthed evidence that most of the people or Ur worshipped the Moon Goddess called Nanna. We know from other places in the Old Testament that Abraham’s family were idol-worshipers, which means that he no doubt was an idolater himself.
How God Found Abraham
What else do we know about Abraham as the story begins? He’s about 75 years old when we meet him, which in those days would be considered middle-aged. He’s a prosperous businessman who is no doubt well-known to many people. He is married to his wife Sarah and they have no children. As far as we know, Abraham is not looking for God at all.
But God was looking for him. Above everything else, that’s the important point of our text. Abraham’s life changed when God found him and spoke to him.
Abraham’s life changed when God found him and spoke to him.
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 (12:1-3)
It would be an understatement to call this a pivotal passage. Some have called this the single most important passage in all the Bible. Everything else that follows Genesis 12—everything all the way through the Old Testament, including the coming of Christ, the establishment of the church, and promise of Christ’s return in the book Revelation—all of it flows from this great promise to Abraham.
For our purposes please focus on this one thought. God found Abraham while he was still an idolater living in a pagan culture. There is not even the slightest hint in our text that Abraham was looking for God.
But God was looking for him. Sometimes you hear people say, “I found the Lord.” True, but he found you first. Salvation begins with God, not man! He always makes the first move. That why the Bible says that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. It’s not like humanity formed a Salvation Committee and petitioned God for help. No, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus in Genesis
By the way, did you see Christ in those three verses? Look again. He’s there all right, even though you won’t see his name. Look at the very last phrase—“All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Now that’s a pretty amazing promise if you think about it. How would one man like Abraham who lived 4000 years ago bring a blessing to all the peoples of the earth?
I’ve already given you the answer earlier in my sermon. What does Matthew 1:1 say about Jesus? He is the “son of Abraham.” Abraham himself is not the blessing, but all the world will be blessed through his descendent who would be born in Bethlehem 2000 years later.
That’s why some people call this the most important passage in all the Bible. God is telling Abraham, “I’m going to give you some land, I’m going to make you the father of a great nation, and I’m going to bless the whole world through you.” Now Abraham didn’t know how all of this was going to work out, but he didn’t have to. All he had to do was believe it.
We get the benefit of looking back across history and seeing just how amazing this promise of God really is. We know more about Abraham’s call than he ever did because we know about Jesus.
II. Abraham’s Obedience
Now I just said that Abraham didn’t understand the full implications of what God had just said to him. That’s a slight understatement. It would be more correct to say that he didn’t have a clue. Let’s go back to verse one for a moment and see what God asked him to do:
1. Leave your country
2. Leave your people
3. Leave your father’s household
4. Go to the land I will show you
Abraham was being asked to forsake everything in order to follow God’s call. What would do? You’re in the prime of life, you’ve got a good job, a nice nest egg, a home you like, friends you admire, neighbors who respect you. You’re an upstanding, valuable part of the community. You’ve got a good future ahead of you. The last thing you want to do is move.
And now God—whom you’ve just met—wants you to leave everything. Your family … your friends … your country … your home … your business … your security.
How It Might Have Been
Let’s imagine dialogue between Abraham and God. “Abraham, this is God speaking. I want you to leave everything and go to the land I will show you.” “Where’s that?” “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.” “Try me.” “It’s 1500 miles from here in a place called Canaan.” “Never heard of it.” “I know, and guess what else?” “What?” “I’m going to make you the father of a great nation.” “That’s impossible. I don’t have any children.” “Don’t worry.” “What do you mean, don’t worry?” “Just trust me.” “Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You want me to leave everything, travel across the desert to someplace I’ve never heard of, and become the father of a great nation.” “Right.” “Is this some kind of joke?” “No.” “What am I supposed to tell my wife?” “That’s your problem.”
Hebrews 11:8 puts it this way: “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.” That’s always how it is in the life of faith. Many times you will be called to step out for God and you will be precisely where Abraham was—believing God but not knowing what the future holds.
But He Went
That illustrates a central truth about the life of faith. You rarely see the big picture in advance. Even if you think you see it, you don’t. When God calls, he doesn’t always explain himself. He always tells you just enough to get you moving in the right direction. The rest is up to him.
It is precisely at this point that Abraham’s greatness may be clearly seen. God called and he obeyed. Hebrews 11:8 says he “obeyed and went.” He may have doubted, but he went. He may have argued, but he went. He may have wondered, but he went.
When God calls, the only proper response is to obey and go.
When God calls, the only proper response is to obey and go. Do you remember those old Greyhound commercials? “Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us.” That’s not a bad motto for the life of faith. When God calls, move out and leave the driving to him.
III. Abraham’s Worship
There is one final truth contained in our text. It has to do with what happened once Abraham finally reached the Promised Land. His journey from Ur of the Chaldees took him about 800 miles north to Haran and then another 700 miles to Canaan. He traveled the ancient trade routes along the Fertile Crescent—that arc of good land rimming the desert wasteland that stood between Ur on the east and Canaan on the west.
But eventually he arrived at a place called Shechem, which is in central Israel in an area that we today call the West Bank. The Bible adds an ominous phrase at this point: “The Canaanites were in the land.” Think about that. The Canaanites were pagan idolaters who were the sworn enemies of Israel. When Abraham arrives in the Promised Land, the first people he meets are pagan idol-worshippers. It’s a reminder that living by faith is never easy—not for Abraham, for you or me.
But precisely at that point the Lord appeared to him again and reaffirmed his promise to give this land to Abraham’s descendants. So he built an altar and worshipped God there. Then he moved south and built another altar between Bethel and Ai and the Bible says that he “called on the name of the Lord.” As our text ends, Abraham is on the move again, traveling south toward the Negev Desert. He’ll eventually make his home in a city called Beersheba.
Abraham’s first act in the Promised Land was to build an altar and worship God. That’s most significant because it tells that faith leads to action but it also leads to worship. That’s an important lesson we need to learn, isn’t it? If given a choice, many of us would rather get busy and do something than stop and worship God.
Nothing But Prayer and Worship
This week I had a chance to stop and worship God in an extended way for the first time in the last seven years. I spent four days with 75 other pastors in a Pastor’s Prayer Summit at a place called Wonderland Camp in Wisconsin. In my time I’ve been to many camps, conferences and retreats but never have I been to anything like a Prayer Summit. For four days—from Monday afternoon until Thursday noon—we met together with no agenda but worshipping God. There were no sermons, no bulletins, and no set program. We simply gathered in a large circle and waited for God to speak to us. Sometimes we sang together, sometimes we bowed in silent prayer, often we prayed together. On Tuesday the leaders put a chair in the middle of the circle and offered pastors a chance to ask for prayer for their personal needs. I personally saw pastors weeping over their sins and grown men embracing each other with words of healing and forgiveness.
It was an awesome experience for me personally. But as I look back, I realize that I was so wound up when I got there that it took me two days to relax enough to enjoy it. And about the time I started getting in the swing of things, it was time to go home.
Too Busy To Hear God’s Voice
On our last night there, someone spontaneously prayed, “Lord, wouldn’t it be great if what happened here could happen everyday to every man when we go back home.” It would be great, wouldn’t it? Why can’t we have an experience with God every day? Whatever answer you give to that question, just remember that God is not the problem. He’s always ready to meet you any time of the day or night.
As with so many other areas of life, the problem is within us. We’re too busy to hear God’s voice. We’re running so hard and so fast that God would have to shout to get our attention. Sometimes that’s what he does. He shouts through pain or opposition or sickness or disappointment and suddenly, we begin to hear his voice.
It doesn’t have to be that way. God always speaks loud enough for a listening ear to hear.
With that we bring our first study in the life of Abraham to a close. When we met him, he was worshipping idols in Ur. As we leave him, he is worshipping God in Canaan. God called, he obeyed and stepped out in faith, not knowing where he was going. When he arrived, he worshipped God.
This is the pattern for the life of faith: God calls, we respond, we move out, we arrive, and we worship God when we get there.
Sometimes our children sing a little chorus that goes like this: “Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham, and I am one of them, and so are you. So let’s just praise the Lord!” There’s a lot of good theology in those simple words. He is the father of those who live by faith. You and I are the sons of Abraham if we step out in faith and follow God’s call as he did.
God’s first call is always the same to every person. He calls you to turn from your sin and trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Have you ever responded to God’s call? He’s calling you to leave your old life and come to Jesus just as you are. The new life you seek begins the moment you say yes to Jesus Christ.
The greatest adventure you’ll ever know begins the moment you say yes to God’s call on your life.
D. L. Moody once wrote, “Some say faith is the gift of God. So is the air, but you have to breathe it; so is bread, but you have to eat it; so is water, but you have to drink it.” Faith means taking God at his Word and then leaving Ur for the Promised Land. The greatest adventure you’ll ever know begins the moment you say yes to God’s call on your life.
God asks of us nothing more than he asked of Abraham: That we believe His Word and act upon it. You may say, “But my faith is weak.” I’m sure it is, but God is strong. If you will put your tiny life into God’s mighty hand, he will guide you step by step. If you say, “I can’t see where I’m going,” fear not. The All-seeing God has charted your course and he will lead you to the Promised Land.
God is calling you. Will you say yes?
Heavenly Father, teach us what it means to listen to your voice. Do whatever it takes, Lord, to slow us down so that we can hear you once again. Give us the grace to trust and obey. We doubt your presence and so we fear to follow where you lead. Remind us once again that the safest place to be is in the center of your will. Strip away our trust in the things of the world so that our security will be in you alone. We ask these things in name of Jesus our Lord, Amen.