Paradise Promised

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Tonight we come to the end of our series in the opening chapters of Genesis - the first book in the Bible. These are vital chapters in the Bible. If you get the fundamental teaching here wrong, you get everything else wrong.

We saw in chapters 1-3 that this world of space and time is not something that is here by chance - an ultimate world of nature. No! Genesis teaches that what is ultimate is not an "it" - an impersonal physical universe whose time is for ever going round and round in circles that will never end. Rather what is ultimate is a "he" - a person - the God of the Bible who created time and space - time that had a beginning and space that one day will end in its present form. And that creation was good. We then saw that God created man - the high point of creation and man was created to share humanity with the opposite sex. And God provided for them - the man and the woman - a "garden" and also guidance how to live in that garden. Now, the Greek name for a garden gives us the word "Paradise". So when the man and the woman decided that they knew better than God, and preferred to follow the devil's word rather than God's word, Paradise was, indeed, Lost. They lost so much of what God had intended for them; and from that time on life has been experienced as hard and cruel. We saw all that and also God's judgement at the time of Noah and then the problems after the flood in chapters 4-11.9 - where we left off last time.

Yes, it is vital that you understand all this, for the world is fallen. There is now a self-centredness and potential for evil in the heart of everyone from birth. When you know about the Fall you understand why the world as it is, is not as it ought to be. Take Iraq - we will be thinking about Iraq tonight because Abraham was an Iraqi. Things are certainly not as they ought to be there - from the mistakes we hear about (the friendly fire and misguided weapons - some of which may be due to carelessness) to acts of pure wickedness. I read yesterday of an Iraqi Colonel who defected earlier this year reporting both his own torture and of how in 1991 he witnessed Iraqi army bulldozers burying people - mainly Shia people - dead and alive in Basra. You say, "how are all those things possible?" Answer: because men and women, tempted by the devil, choose to go their way and not God's way.

So what is the way forward? Well, the end of chapter 11 and especially chapter 12 of Genesis tells us how God alone can provide a way forward. Indeed, he has done something radical and come to the rescue. Recently on two successive days, I had to call out the AA rescue van. The first time, it was because I had left my lights on and my battery was drained. The next day was quite frightening when my steering wheel became detached in my hands. On both occasions, particularly the last one, that flashing orange light as the van came along was a great relief.

Well, God's flashing light - or his rescue - for the relief of the world starts here in chapter 12 with Abraham. And it is hugely encouraging. As we study this passage of Genesis let's keep in mind Paul's words in Romans 15.4:

"everything that was written in the past [that is the Old Testament] was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

So God's plan for the salvation of the world after the Fall begins with Abraham. It was then fulfilled in Abraham's descendants - the people of Israel - and finally and supremely in Jesus Christ - Abraham's greatest descendant. Without more ado, therefore, I want us to look at Genesis chapter 11.27 - 12.9. And my headings are: firstly, ABRAHAM'S CALL; secondly, ABRAHAM'S OBEDIENCE; and thirdly, ABRAHAM'S FAITH.


First, ABRAHAM'S CALL

Let me give you some background on Abraham. As I said, Abraham was an Iraqi. Or he was living in what today we call Iraq. Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldeans in Southern Iraq. In 11 verse 28, "Ur of the Chaldeans" is described as the land of "his [brother's] birth" - so presumably it was his birthplace as well. Now it was while Abraham was still in Ur that God called him. At first sight it might look as though the call came to Abraham in Haran, the place where he next moved to. But, one, the author of Genesis clearly thought the beginning of Abraham's pilgrimage was in Ur (Gen 15.7); two, the command in verse 2 of chapter 12 was to leave, "your country" - which is the country of his birth; and, three, Acts chapter 7 verse 2 - 3 in the New Testament tells us that Stephen clearly understood that the call took place before Abraham had moved to Haran:

"Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. 'Leave your country and your people,' God said, 'and go to the land I will show you.'"

What do we know about Ur? Well, Joshua 24.2 tells us that it was a place where Abraham's father, Terah, "worshipped other gods". We know from other sources that Babylonia at this time was the ultimate in multi-faithism. There was polytheism of the grossest sort. Texts mention the names of at least 3000 Sumerian gods. What else do we know about Abraham? - very little. But we know one important fact. Look at chapter 11 verses 29 and 30:

"Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah; she was the daughter of Haran, the father of both Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no children."

So we know that the wife of Abraham (or as he was then called Abram) was infertile. Well, that is something of his background. What, then, do we know about God's actual call to Abraham? Look at chapter 12 verses 1-3:

"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.'"

There were two parts to this call as you can see - one was a command, the other was a promise. But that was and still is the way with God's call to men and women. It was the way of Jesus and the way of the early Apostles. Jesus says, for example:

(Mat 11:28) "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, [the command] and [the promise] I will give you rest."

Peter preaching on the Day of Pentecost said:

(Acts 2:38-39) "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins [the command] And [the promise] you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call."

Certainly God's call to Abraham involved a command and a promise. Let's now look more closely at the command to Abraham. There are a number of things to note. And note them, because God's call to you to co-operate in his saving plan and purposes today will involve some of these things.

First, Abraham did nothing to deserve this call. Nothing is recorded of any good things he had done. This call was all of God's grace.

Secondly, it was divinely given. This call was not the result of some hyped up evangelist turning on the emotional pressure. No! as Stephen said in Acts 7: "the God of glory appeared" to Abraham. He knew it was God and not man who was instructing him.

Thirdly, this was a personal call - he (Abraham) was to respond directly. This was not some general theological principle for everyone that then had to be subtly worked out.

Fourthly, this was a call for separation and costly separation at that - from the sinful culture of Babylonia and also from his family, verse 1:

"Leave your country, your people and your father's household."

Fifthly, it was a great challenge: "go to the land I will show you." We don't think anything of going to an airport and getting a plane these days. But in those days, travel was frightening, because dangerous.

And sixthly, the command was about the unseen and the future - a country he had never seen but one that God would later show him at a later date.

Is God calling you to trust him tonight - for the first time perhaps, or over some specific matter? If so it is worth studying Abraham's call and what was involved. And certainly consider how Abraham responded. That brings us to our second heading tonight.


Secondly, ABRAHAM'S OBEDIENCE

Did Abraham obey? Well, he half-obeyed. Maybe he persuaded his father to go to the promised land with him - once he heard the call. In chapter 11 verse 31 you read that Terah, Abram, Lot, Sarai ...

"... together ... set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan."

Then you have one of those significant "buts" in the Bible:

"but when they came to Haran, they settled there."

So Abram obeyed in leaving his country; he obeyed in leaving his people; but he disobeyed in leaving his "father's household". And it looks as though this resulted in his father preventing him going on to Canaan. Who here is disobeying God's call, because of family pressure? And remember, half-obedience is no obedience. And it gives you the worst of all worlds. You neither enjoy God's new purposes for you, nor your old lifestyle. Perhaps, you have not committed yourself to Christ because of what your family will think, or because of a boy friend or girlfriend. There are some people who disobey in other ways because they put family commitments first. Remember Jesus' words of promise in Mark 10.29-30:

"I tell you the truth ... no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields - and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life."

In the end, however, Abraham left Haran for Canaan. God will have his way with us in the end. Remember Jonah later on in the Old Testament. He was called not to go from Iraq but to Iraq - to Nineveh. Jonah didn't want that. He wanted to go to Southern Spain instead. But after many problems - not least the problem of being inside a great fish - he ended up in Nineveh, in Iraq, where God wanted him all along. And God had his way with Abraham in the end. So look at verse 5 of chapter 12:

"They [now] set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there."

Even at this point Abraham may have been less than 100 percent in his obedience. Genesis makes it clear that Lot became a liability to Abraham in Canaan in a number of ways. It may have been that Abraham should not have taken Lot along with him. For Lot was part of his father's household. And God said "leave .... your father's household."

So that is how Abraham responded to the command. But how was it, you say, that if Abraham had these faults he is held up in the New Testament (as well as the Old Testament) as a great example for all believers? Indeed, as you read on in Genesis you find there are more faults with Abraham. His ability to half-obey was matched by his ability to tell half-truths. On a later occasion he passed Sarah, his wife, off as his sister (which was half true - look up Genesis 20.12 at some point). And she ended up in bed with the Pharaoh of Egypt who legitimately thought he could marry her! So how is it that the epistle of James calls Abraham "God's friend". That brings us to our third heading.


Thirdly, ABRAHAM'S FAITH

Look more closely at the promise in Genesis 12.2-3:

"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."

Time is passing. So just notice two things about that promise.

First, it seems unbelievable - "I will make you into a great nation" [through his descendants, that is] - but Abraham had no children and it didn't look as though he would have any; secondly, again it was personal - "I will bless you" - and through you others.

And Abraham believed that promise - he may have been nervous, his faith may have been weak, but at the end of the day he believed. Listen to Genesis 15 verse 6:

"Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness."

And ever since Abraham has been a great example of faith and how God deals with his people and every succeeding generation in getting on the road to recovering Paradise. He is an example of how you get right with God, or are justified, or at peace with God - something so necessary following the Fall. You see, Abraham believed the (humanly) impossible because he had a big view of God with whom, he believed, nothing is impossible. Listen to Paul's summary of Abraham's faith in Romans 4.20-25:

"he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why "it was credited to him as righteousness." The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness--for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."

So Abraham wasn't justified by his works - he didn't get right with God through what he had done. In fact, he was brought up in idolatry and when asked to obey God, as we have seen, he wasn't 100 percent. No! it was his faith that mattered. With the coming of Christ we understand more clearly how all this works and how faith in Christ is key - Galatians 3.29:

"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

And we belong to Christ "by faith" - and a faith like Abraham's.

First, a faith centred on a the promise of God's word, not human hunches. Abraham had an encounter with the God of glory and heard his word of promise. We hear that word today through the pages of the bible. So God promises to us (Rom 10:9) "if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Secondly, it is a faith that leads to repentance and change. Abraham changed and eventually went on to Ur.

Thirdly, it is a faith that focuses on a person. Abraham focused on the promise relating to his son, and then his descendants and (we know) that one special descendent Jesus Christ. So it is not faith in doctrines - even doctrines of the atonement - but in the one who "loved me and gave himself for me" on the cross to bear my sin and guilt (Gal 2.20).

Fourthly, it is faith in something that seems so impossible. It seemed impossible to Abraham that he would have a child. But God had said he would have one, so he trusted him. He believed that God could reverse the laws of nature if necessary. That is the faith that justifies. So is anyone tonight saying,

"I am a hopeless case. You don't know how bad I have been. I am, too, bad for God?"

No! you're not. There are no impossible cases with God. The good news of justification is that Christ stands, so to speak, in for you. He takes the judgment you deserve (which he did on the Cross) and you are then covered with his righteousness and goodness. So God sees that and not your sins. But that is not automatic. In faith you need simply to confess your sins and in faith seek the power and new life of his Holy Spirit. Paul puts this so well in Galatians 3.13-14 and with this I close:

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.' He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit."

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