Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sermon: Genesis 12: 1-20 Receiving God's Promise

This past week, we spent quite a bit of time with family. I don’t know about yours, but most families, when they get together, start sharing stories of times gone by. ‘Do you remember when...?’ Did you ever hear about that day...? Stories of old generations doing things that we would never have gotten away with! Common threads down through family lines.

As we launch into Genesis 12 we’re delving back into the family story. Abraham (as he becomes) is our father in the faith, our great, great grandfather. You might remember two years ago we started on page 1 of the Bible and traced the start of Genesis, from Adam to Abram through Eden, paradise lost, Cain’s murder of Abel, Noah and the flood and the tower of Babel. This term we’ll walk with Abram, discovering that his God is our God. This morning, we’ll see what it looks like to receive God’s promise, as Abram experienced it, and what that means for us, here today.

The promise comes in the very first verses of chapter 12. There’s no hint that it’s coming. We’re not told anything about Abram, expect he was born, he had a wife Sarai (who was barren), and that’s it. But suddenly unexpectedly, comes the voice and promise of God. The LORD speaks these words to him: ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’

It sounds like a mystery tour, doesn’t it? You’re going to leave everything that’s familiar, and go somewhere I’ll show you. At least on a mystery bus tour you know that you’ll end up home again the same night. But this is a mystery tour for life.

There’s a command, but there’s also a promise. God will show him the land, but God also promises that ‘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 the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ Do you hear the repeated phrase here? ‘I will...’

So what is it that God is promising here? Graeme Goldsworthy has summarised God’s kingdom in a neat little phrase: ‘God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing.’ Just think of Eden. You had Adam and Eve in Eden under God’s rule and blessing. But then they disobeyed God and were thrown out of the garden. The flood showed the depth of our depravity. Now God is beginning again. He calls Abram (God’s person!) who he will make into a great nation (God’s people) in the land he will show him (God’s place), under God’s rule and blessing.

Someone once said that the Bible breaks into two - not (as we might think) the old and new testaments, but rather between Genesis 1-11 and from Genesis 12 on. The rest of the Bible is the working out of this promise to Abram.

Abram received the promise by first of all hearing God’s promise. The LORD said, but Abram had to listen. Could it be that the LORD is speaking words of comfort and reassurance, or command and challenge, words of blessing, but we don’t receive the promise because we’re not listening to him? Perhaps you are being called to step out, to do something new, to offer yourself in some way. Are you taking time to hear God’s voice?

It’s important to hear God’s promise. But it’s not enough. We also need to hold on to it, by doing what he says. Abram’s response is found in verse 4. ‘So Abram went, as the LORD told him.’ This was a big deal. He was leaving all that was familiar. He was packing up and setting off with his wife and his nephew. That would be a big deal at any age, but especially for Abram. He was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. Sometimes our society looks down on those who are older. In the pursuit of youth, those who have been around longer are considered vintage. But not in God’s eyes. Not in the church. At 75, when even Church of Ireland rectors have to retire (so I’ve a bit to go yet), Abram was only getting started.

He holds onto the promise of God as he sets off to go to the land of Canaan. He has never been there. He doesn’t know the way, but he has the promise of God to guide him. Now if you were writing the story, your English teacher might look at verses 5-8 and say there’s too much repetition. There’s one word repeated over and over in every sentence. Land.

Abraham had heard the promise - the land God would show him. Now it’s as if Moses has one of those big maps you look at when you arrive in a new place which has a big red arrow which says ‘You Are Here!’ Abraham is holding the promise, he has arrived in the land, and God affirms the promise by saying ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ (7)

When you have heard God’s promise, are you holding on to it? You’ve heard God’s word to you; you’ve stepped out in faith to do what he is calling you to; but what happens when things don’t work out the way you had them planned? What if God’s blessing doesn’t come in the way you thought it would?

That’s where Abram finds himself in verse 10. He has heard God’s promise. He is holding God’s promise, but now the hard times have come. With all the emphasis on the land and God’s blessing, verse 10 comes as a bit of a shock. ‘Now there was a famine in the land.’ The boss calls you into the office to say that they can’t afford to keep you on. The doctor gives you bad news. What do you do with God’s promise in the hard times?

Abram tries to solve it himself. He leaves the land of promise and goes down to Egypt. On the way, he tells his wife Sarai to say she is his sister. Maybe he thinks he is on his own south of the border. Maybe he thinks he can look after himself. Maybe he is doubting God’s promise. He reckons that he would be killed if she’s his wife; but will receive a bride price if she’s his sister.

She’s beautiful, Pharaoh hears of her, and the negotiation begins. Abram gets sheep, oxen, donkeys, slaves and camels (16). He’s becoming wealthy by selling off his wife as his sister. Is this the way you would expect someone trusting in God would behave? But look - and how we need this reminder - Abram doesn’t get away with it. The LORD afflicted Pharaoh with plagues. He’s sent packing - but gets to keep all he had received, going back to the land.

Receiving the promise is all about hearing and holding God’s promise, even in the hard times. So are you hearing God’s promise? The Bible study is one way of tuning in to God’s word. Taking up your Bible to read each day is another way. How are you hearing?

Holding God’s promise comes next - when you hear it, are you holding to it? Are you taking God at his word, trusting his voice? One way you can do that is by coming to the table today, showing that you are trusting in the promise of forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Jesus, looking forward to his return. And will you hold on to God’s promise, even when it hurts? Even in the hard times? You see, that’s when it really counts; that’s when we prove God’s faithfulness, and discover the reality of his promise, the unbreakable nature of his word. Let’s hear and hold.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 7th September 2014.

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