Saturday, June 10, 2017

170611 Friend of God

Genesis 12:1-3 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
In the 10th generation after the flood God chose a man who would become his friend. We know very little about this man before he was called. His name was Abram. He had been born in Ur of the Chaldeans. As he grew and developed, his father, Terah, moved the family across the territory that is now called Iraq and settled in what would today be the eastern part of Syria. When Abram’s father died, in obedience to God’s command, he took his wife, Sarai, and his nephew Lot, to Canaan. This act of obedience had eternal results!
Abram’s obedience to God resulted in eternal blessings. Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. As he traveled south he became more and more aware of what God was calling him for. He took everything that he had gathered in his lifetime along with his nephew, Lot. At that time, God’s promises to him became more specific. When he arrived at the oak of Moreh God appeared to him and told him that he would give Abram’s offspring the land they were moving through. Each time Abram stopped on his journey he built an altar to the Lord.
As time passed Abram and Lot separated and Lot joined the world of Sodom and had to be rescued by Abram. After that rescue God came to him in a vision. God told him not to fear anything because God is his shield! The Lord God promised Abram that his reward would be very great. Then Abram asked God how this could be since he did not have any children. God assured him that he would have more descendants then he could count. God showed him the stars in the heavens and assured him that his offspring would be like that. He believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. Let’s look at God’s promise…
I will make of you a great nation. God’s covenant with Abram is found in Genesis 17:4-6. Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.
God changed Abram’s name to Abraham when he was 99 years old. His new name meant “father of a multitude”! Humanly impossible! Unless God was referring to Ishmael, his illegitimate son. We may come back to discuss him later.
As God became more and more explicit he revealed that Sarai, Abram’s wife, who was 90 years old would bear a son. Apparently God restored her body, and Abraham’s, to a point where she could conceive a child. During the time leading up to her pregnancy she was very attractive to other men. This certainly would not be the case of a normal 90-year-old woman! When God changed Abraham’s name he also changed Sarai’s to Sarah a stronger form of a noun that means “Princess”! Both Abraham and Sarah struggled with this promise from God. When God gave the news to his friend Abraham he fell on his face and laughed out loud! They were instructed to name the child “Isaac”, which means “he laughs”.
For the rest of their lives, every time they spoke his name, they remembered that they had laughed when God told of his coming birth.
Part of God’s promise when he called Abram to follow him was simply that…
I will bless you. Let’s look at an example in Genesis 18:17-19. The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
It seems to me that a part of the blessing God had promised to Abram is found in this exchange.
One day three men approached Abraham at the oaks of Mamre and stopped to visit with him. A part of the social rules of hospitality would have been to prepare a meal for them. As quickly as possible bread was baked and a calf was roasted and the three men ate.
Then the scenario changes! One of the men is referred to as “the Lord” or, in Hebrew, Yahweh! So God himself took on human form to meet with his friend Abraham. Once again God confirmed that Sarah would bear a child and they would name him Isaac. Then God said he should tell Abraham what he was about to do.
The two angels that were with him went on their way toward Sodom and Gomorrah to destroy the cities.
The ability to negotiate with God appears to have been a part of God’s blessing on Abraham. Abraham’s nephew Lot was in the city of Sodom and Abraham asked God if he intended to sweep away the righteous with the wicked. Abraham asked if there were 50 righteous in the city would God preserve it? Yahweh assured him that he would not destroy the city if there were 50 righteous. Amazingly the negotiations went on until Abraham got down to 10 righteous.
Only three people were rescued from Sodom, Lot and his two daughters. His wife would have been rescued except she looked back at the city when it was being destroyed and was consequently turned into a pillar of salt!
It is hard to imagine the scene as God blessed his friend with the right to negotiate with him. Part of God’s original promise was…
I will make your name great. Let’s see how in God’s promise to Isaac found in Genesis 26:3b-5. I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
God’s promise to Abraham that his name would be great is carried out generation after generation. Here we find God promising some of the same things to Isaac. Even though Abraham had an illegitimate son, Ishmael, it was Isaac that was to be the heir who continued the promises.
Once again, just as with Abraham, Isaac is promised that his offspring will be multiplied like the stars in the heavens. We humans are very impatient wanting everything to happen in our lifetime. When God made his initial promises to Abram (Abraham) he had pointed out that it would be many years before they were fulfilled. In fact, they are still being fulfilled even as I speak. There was no need for Abraham’s descendants to expect anything sudden because their forefather had been told that his descendants would be strangers in a land they did not own and they would be servants there for 400 years. That is a very long time!
God did not just promise to bless Abraham, he added…
I will bless those who bless you. 2000 years later the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatian church how the promise was being played out. Let’s look at Galatians 3:7-9. Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
As time passed the descendants of Abraham increased in number and they remained a blessed people. The blessing promised to those who bless Abraham is represented in salvation by grace through faith. During the intervening years the law was initiated under Moses and is referred to as the “old covenant”. The covenant given to mankind through Moses was a set of written laws designed to restrain the sins of the people. Moses’ covenant was simply a guardian to keep people from going too far away from God until the “new covenant” could be introduced under Christ (Galatians 3:24).
So, throughout history God protected the descendants of Abraham in the flesh in such a way that the world would be ready when Christ came.
Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, prophesied that his son would prepare the way for Christ who was going to fulfill the promises made to Abraham (Luke 1:76). Jesus came to fulfill the law and set aside some off the ordinances given to Moses and reestablish the covenant promised to Abraham.
In order to do this God continually laid his protective hand on the people of Israel. Even when they were taken into captivity to Babylon he protected them. That protection included the favor of pagan rulers such as Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus. Those pagans would bring the people of Israel back to Jerusalem and reestablish their place among the nations. Not only did God intend to bless those who bless Abraham’s descendants he said that…
I will curse those who dishonor you. An example can be found in Nahum 1:2. The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.
Cherlyn and I were touring the Holy Land when our bus approached Sychar where Jesus met the woman at the well. That well is currently in a church building that was constructed around it.  Our guide reminded us that the two hills on each side of us was the location God choose to renew the covenant with Israel. Half the priests stood on mount Ebal and half on mount Gerizim. Those on Gerizim stood to bless the people from the law. Those on Ebal read the curses (Deuteronomy 27:11-13). Then our guide pointed out that Ebal is a wasteland while Gerizim is covered with green plants and trees. Then he said, “When God curses a place it stays cursed.” The same is true of people and nations.
Our God is avenging and wrathful. He takes vengeance on his adversaries.
The last part of God’s blessing on Abraham is a promise…
In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. For confirmation of this let’s look at the future. Revelation 7:9-10 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
When God sent Christ into the world he sent him to be a blessing for all people who come to him. Jesus himself said that he came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Today, many people are predicting the downfall of Christianity in the rise of Islam! It cannot be! When John was given the series of visions that we call the Revelation it might have seemed that the Roman gods were going to win because John was in exile. What John saw certainly gave the lie to that! For those that think we’re going to lose read the end of the story! One day, before the throne of God, a multitude so large it could not be numbered. From every nation! Just as Jesus had promised, “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Without doubt, this is what was promised to Abraham. A blessing on all the families of the earth in all the ages of time.
The story of Abram, the friend of God, speaks to us today. We who hope in Christ and follow him in obedient faith are the true descendants of Abraham. The promises given to Abraham are passed on to us and they are greater than we will ever realize. I am so grateful that those promises are not based on our ability or faithfulness. The promises are rooted and grounded in God’s unchanging nature and confirmed in Jesus Christ. We must admit that we are sinners; believe that Jesus is God’s son who died for us; confess our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and do something about our confession by entering into baptism. Have you done this? Will you do it today? Today can be the day of your salvation. Will you be with that crowd standing before the throne?
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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