Friday, November 21, 2014

ABRAHAM: Culture Conflict


CULTURE CONFLICT
“There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock” Genesis 13:7.

Introduction

You may be familiar with some of the TV programs that came out of the 50s. “Leave It To Beaver” and that kind of thing, the almost too-good-to-be-true family shows. And what about all those TV Westerns from the 50s? The Lone Ranger, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide. We’ve all, no doubt, seen or a least have heard of these programs, if not in the original then as syndicated reruns.

The TV stations tend to show them when they’re not concerned about ratings. Anyhow, if you’re familiar with the likes of “Rawhide” or “Wagon Train” you won’t find it too hard to get a rough picture of what’s happening in the text before us. In today’s terms, Abraham is bringing Western Culture, i.e., civilization into a pagan land. Or, if you want to use the imagery of the old TV westerns, what we see before us is the start of “How The West Was Won. This is the beginning of the winning of the West. The wagon trains are coming with families. They’re coming to settle the land. They’re coming to cultivate it, to subdue it. They’re bringing their domesticated livestock. They are opening up a new frontier. They are bringing “culture” into an uncultured place. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a Biblical thing to do.

Abram and his entourage, his “wagon train,” are simply being obedient to the LORD. As we’ve seen already it was the LORD who actually brought Abram to this land. And the LORD always acts according to His own will. And when Abram “up and left” his home in Ur of the Chaldeans he was simply acting according to the will of God.

Galatians 3:8 states clearly that Abram had heard the Gospel. How else could he be saved? Therefore Abram was being obedient to the Gospel of God as it had been revealed at that time. (Yes, of course, we have to bear in mind that Abram didn’t have a copy of the New Testament with him) but as we follow Abram’s life you’ll begin to see Gospel patterns and images more and more.

You’ll begin to see how the beginning connects with the middle and the end. In other words, you’ll begin to see more of the magnitude of the Gospel of God. You’ll see that what God did through Christ at Calvary is still being worked out in the world today. As Paul says to the Romans, “We know that all things work together for good to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28.

Abram has been called out of Ur of the Chaldeans according to the eternal purpose of God. And we see that God is doing a great deal of preliminary work in and through the life of Abram. Since Abraham has been given the title “father of believers” one would expect his children to follow in their father’s footsteps somewhat. So we should expect to see with Abram, albeit in embryonic form, something of what we as the Church, Abraham’s children are expected to do today. We have the same Master. We follow the same LORD who never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever

In the following we meet Abram after his escapade in Egypt. He has returned to the LORD and to the Promised Land with great riches. And he is now, once again, seeking to be fully obedient to the Gospel.

Now, Abram and all his followers, whether wittingly or not, at this point in time, are simply being obedient to the “Cultural Mandate.” So, as they used to say in the old westerns from the 50s, “meanwhile back at the ranch.” We pick up the story of Abraham as he moves into the great frontier. We know that he’s already seen some of this frontier land. And you’ll remember that the LORD had sent a famine on this same land. And Abraham went down into Egypt to escape the drought. But now he is obedient once again to God and His Cultural Mandate, i.e., the Gospel.

So in the following we’re going to look at a couple of things in our text: Culture and Conflict. We’ll look at these in their Biblical and historical context, while at the same time we’ll apply what we learn to ourselves as the Church in the World today.

The general theme of the following is: Christianity is the highest form of culture, but Gospel obedience means conflict!

Culture

First thing we need to do is define what we mean by culture. The word “culture” has been misused and abused almost beyond recognition nowadays. I don’t mean to bore you with detail but this is important. My dictionary defines the word “culture” something like this:

1. The cultivation of plants or animals, esp. to IMPROVE the breed.

2. The development, and refinement of MIND, MORALS, or taste.

3. The condition thus produced; refinement.

4. A specific stage in the development of a civilization.

5. Cultivation of the soil.

Therefore, for something to be “cultured”, that something has to have been developed or refined somewhat. By definition, then, a thing has to be cultivated before it can be called “cultured.” For instance, if you were to come across a bunch of people somewhere who had next to no morals you’d say that they were “uncultured.” You would say that they were “uncivilized.” Therefore, it’s all to do with obedience to God.

Wherever there is obedience to God there, too, is “culture” or “civilization.” Therefore the “degree” of culture or civilization in any society is directly proportionate to the degree of obedience to God. The Ancient Greeks, for instance, had a great civilization or culture, but only in so far as it measured up to the Law of God, i.e. the 10 Commandments. And we know that all mankind has God’s Law written on their hearts, Romans 2:15. Adultery, in the forms of fornication and homosexuality were apparently rife in ancient Greece. Greece met its downfall, as did ancient Rome after it because of this uncivilized behaviour. It would seem that God puts up with this kind of thing only for so long!

We see our culture, Western Society and Civilization going the same way. The West was won by the Gospel, not the gun, though many of our forefathers were persecuted and even martyred for the Faith. However, Western Society is now becoming less and less civilized as the Gospel is more and more covered over by the settling dust of secular humanistic rhetoric!

There is a dust encrusted Bible in many-an Australian home but the less it is read and obeyed, the more these homes will produce uncivilized offspring! Abraham, himself tended toward uncivilized behaviour by going down into Egypt. And we saw before that Abram tempted Pharaoh also to behave in an uncivilized manner by saying that Sarah was only his sister and not his wife.

To be truly civilized is to have good morals both inwardly and outwardly. To be truly civilized is to show obedience to God, whether wittingly or unwittingly! But now Abram is once again being obedient to God’s Cultural Mandate. His house is multiplying with people. However none of them are from his own loins – yet.

You are familiar with the Cultural Mandate? Here’s a reminder. The Cultural mandate is of course recorded for us in Genesis 1:28, “Then God blessed them [i.e., mankind], and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over every living thing that moves on the earth.” The command or mandate is given again to Noah and his family after the Flood as they stepped out of the ark. Genesis 9:1-3, “So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.”

So then, God commands us to multiply in numbers and fill the earth and subdue it to God’s glory. However, the tendency is for us to cluster in great cities and live on top of each other. The first great city like this in the Bible was Babel and you all know the story of the great Tower. God confused the languages then, and scattered mankind all over the earth. Therefore, we see that when man refuses to obey the Cultural Mandate God intervenes.

Directly connected to the Cultural Mandate is the “Great Commission” Where the Cultural Mandate is general the Great Commission is specific or particular. But in the Great Commission, as in the Cultural Mandate, people are to be obedient and are to go forth and multiply.

An almost entirely overlooked aspect of the Great Commission is the fact that the Church is to multiply her numbers through godly offspring! Few Christians, it would seem, see any connection between the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. They forget that their children belong to the church every bit as much as they do! But as we obey the Cultural Mandate/Great Commission we are teach others to be obedient too We are to baptize and to teach our children to obey and we are to baptize and to teach the nations to obey.

The Church is to be a light on the hill, the salt of the earth. She is to set the good example, as we shall see in our father Abraham, and as we see most clearly in Jesus Christ. For Jesus says in Matthew 28:19ff., “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, TEACHING THEM TO OBEY ALL THINGS I HAVE COMMANDED YOU...” So we see that it’s the role of the Christian Church not only to be obedient to the LORD ourselves but also to teach the nations to likewise be obedient to Christ and His Gospel commandments.

And before we move into our second and final point let’s summarize: The Cultural Mandate is God’s command to all mankind to obediently go forth and multiply and subdue the earth to the glory of God. The Cultural Mandate is given generally to all mankind whereas the Great Commission is given specifically to the Church. When we look at Abram we see the beginning of the transition from the general to the specific or particular.

Abram’s offspring would become as numerous as the stars in heaven, the sand of the sea. In Abram God is beginning to form a new people who will one day be whole-heartedly obedient to His Cultural Mandate as expressed in the Great Commission. Culture, then, has everything to do with obedience to God – i.e., doing God’s will. Culture, then, has to do with morals – keeping God’s Moral Law, i.e., His Ten Commandments.

 

Conflict

If Christianity is the highest form of culture, then Gospel obedience will mean conflict! It stands to reason then that wherever Christians are obedient to the Gospel there will be conflict. As pictured in the 50s westerns, families who were united to other families with their domesticated livestock were moving into new frontiers. The wagon trains formed circles of defense against attacks from the natives on the land – conflict! Likewise the Church forms a line of gospel defense against pagan attack! When the civilized meet with the uncivilized, when culture meets non-culture, when the Church meets with the world she meets with conflict!

No doubt you’ve heard the expression, “Christian are to be in the world, but not of the world”? Well, we see clearly the Abram was in the world but not of the world. We’re told in genesis 13:7b that “The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land.” These were the epitome of depravity. They were uncultured, uncivilized. They were unchristian! However Abram was different. He was walking in the Spirit not the flesh. He was walking with the true God who had revealed Himself to Abram, the God who had given him revelation.

So Abram, as it were, has ordered his wagons to form a circle In Genesis 13:4b we read, “And there Abram called on the name of the LORD.” This, of course, doesn’t mean that he ran around calling out, “LORD! LORD!” Rather it means that he began to truly worship God in spirit and in truth. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20. And since we are told in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Then Christ was present with them by His Spirit in the Promised Land.

The pagans all around followed their perverted religions – “heathen-anity” or “pagananity.” In other words, non-Christians were in the land. But as King David wrote in the Shepherd’s Psalm, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Heathenism and Paganism, i.e., false religion, the worshipers of false god’s are enemies of Christ. Abram, like the Church today, was in the presence of his enemies.

The natives were in direct violation of at least the first two commandments: 1. You shall have no other gods before Me. 2. You shall not make for yourself any carved image. The natives, the indigenous people, or if you will, the Indians who lived in Canaan followed a false religion and worshipped false gods. And as we shall see some other time, if you will, the Plains Indians, i.e., those Canaanites who lived on the plain of Jordan were the most uncivilized. For on the Plain of Jordan were the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. As it says in Genesis 13:13, “The men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD.” Notice that it says who they were exceeding wicked against – not Abram – not each other. They were exceedingly wicked AGAINST THE LORD.”

Now, here’s where there is the greatest amount of conflict between Christianity and the world. The world, as you know, refuses to submit to the Law or will of God. So when Christianity comes along and tells the world that it’s to repent, i.e., to stop breaking God’s Law and believe in the Gospel, there is immediate conflict. All that the world hears is what it calls a bunch of hypocrites telling the world to behave itself. However, the world and Christians themselves must learn that it’s not people who are telling the world to behave. It’s God!

It’s God who’s telling them to repent or they’ll end up destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah! And the type of behaviour that God is demanding is not an outward obedience to His Ten Commandments, but rather an inward obedience to His Gospel. God wants you to have a heart for Him and for His Law. And an inward obedience to His Gospel always expresses itself as an outward (albeit and imperfect) obedience to His Ten Commandments.

Abram, as we see, had the Gospel in his heart. He was obedient to God. With Abram came true religion, the true worship of God. As he called out to God he was bringing civilization into the uncivilized land of Canaan. He was bringing culture into the midst of the uncultured! There he was between Bethel and Ai, the church on the hill shining in the darkness. He was at the place where he had built an altar. He had erected a structure different to all the rest in that pagan land (we looked at that above). And so it is wherever Christians go, whether it be into the work place, or whether it be into darkest Africa or the Amazon Jungle, or whether it be into the place where the Indians of America lived, or the outback of this great land of Australia, wherever Christians go, they take with them true religion, i.e., culture, civilization, Christianity.

God wants the knowledge of Himself to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). Habakkuk 2:14 says, “For the earth will be filled with knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” The Church then, is to hitch up the wagons and go West young man! She’s to keep on spreading! And as the Church tries to spread the knowledge of God she meets with conflict. Conflict with the pagan nations is guaranteed. Conflicting world-views will do that but, there will also be conflict among the members of the Church. We see this principle at work in our text: Genesis 13:7 “There was strife between the herdsmen of       Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock.” Conflict among the people of God!

It’s the same old story, isn’t it? When your local Church gets too big it’s time to plant another! The LORD doesn’t want us to unite together and build another Tower of Babel! So, as my old boss used to say to us when he caught us all in a huddle talking: “Spread out in a bunch!” I think he meant that the whole bunch of us was to break up and go elsewhere else and do something. Well, that’s what the Great Commission is about, isn’t it?

Don’t take over a whole city-block and build a mega-church! Get going out there and Christianize the whole world by influencing it with the Gospel! Go West young man and seek other pastures! “The Lord’s my Shepherd I’ll not want, He makes me down to lie. In pastures green He leadeth me, the quiet waters by.”

I remember at college looking into the history of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland. I was hoping they weren’t going to ask me how many times the Church had split over the years. The list, it seemed, went on and on and on – split after split after split! No doubt many of these splits were anything but amicable! No doubt there was a great deal of conflict between Christians. And no doubt during these times of conflict much deadwood would have been removed from the Church. But, be that as it may, every church group worshipped the same LORD! They might have all had their differences, but they were all one and the same – Christians! Sure some were apostate. Some were Christian in name only. As Paul says to the Romans, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel” Romans 9:6b. But the LORD would have us multiply throughout the whole earth. He would have us reproduce the way the cells of our body reproduce.

The cells spread by splitting and splitting but they are all part of the same body. We see the same principle at work when the LORD split Israel into twelve tribes. We see a principle for the need to divide in Genesis 13:6 “Now the land was not able to support them, that they may dwell together, for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together.” So Abram decided that it would be better for him and Lot to separate. And in Genesis 139 Abram said to Lot, “Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me.” Did Abram not love Lot? Of course he did (as we’ll see in up ahead).

In Genesis 13:11, as in the old westerns, we see Lot ride off into the sunset. Actually he rode off into the sunrise, but you get the picture! Genesis 13:11, “Then Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other.” So then, as we begin to hitch up the wagons and get ready to ride off into the sunset ourselves, let me remind you of this: We, the Church, have moved into hostile territory. We are surrounded by painted savages on every side. It’s looking bad for us at the moment – conflict without and conflict within! Sex outside of marriage, violence, drugs are all promoted and glorified in the TV programs of today and is in turn applied (i.e., acted out) in society. The TV shows of the 50s which promoted family-life, integrity are mocked as unrealistic!

Well, what are we to do? - we’re living among an uncivilized people! Well, we obey the Gospel, don’t we? For as the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 4:17b asks the rhetorical question: “What will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”  The Church once again, needs to remind herself of the Cultural Mandate! She needs to once again look at the words of the Saviour! The words of Jesus in the Great Commission Matthew 28:18ff: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”

The Canaanites and the Perizzites might still be in the land. But we have a faithful Saviour, One who is still with us! We are more than conquerors! (We’ll see this principle at work in Abram up ahead!)

The message of the Gospel is a life-changing message! The Gospel not only prepares us for heaven. It also brings culture to non-culture! For Christianity is the highest form of culture, but Gospel obedience means conflict – even culture conflict!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Families


Bumper-stickers seem to have given way to 'Family-stickers', whereby decals representing mum, dad and children (including cats and even Daleks!) are pasted to vehicle rear windows. But what constitutes a family? In the philosophy of our own Post-Modernist age family, like everything else, is whatever you want it to be! However, the consistent Christian would begin their definition of family with God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Therefore, how does the following sound? As three Persons form the 'family' of God so (at least) three persons constitute a human family. Married couples talk about ‘starting a family.’ When pregnant a woman is spoken of as being ‘in the family way.’ These sayings give credence to the definition of a family as consisting of at least three persons, i.e., a husband, a wife and ensuing child/children.

Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus were a family in blood as well as legally. Though God (not Joseph) is Jesus’ real Father, Jesus was formed of the substance of Mary, i.e., He was of her bloodline. Joseph was the legal father of Jesus. Thus, the Biblical definition of 'family' has both blood and legal connotations. The uniqueness of Jesus is that He belongs to the family of God and to the family of humanity. He is the Son of God and He is the Son of Man at the same time forever. As the Son of God He is in covenant with God forever and as the Son of Man He is in covenant with humanity, i.e., His Bride which is His Church.

Marriage is a covenant. O. Palmer Robertson says ‘A covenant is a bond in blood sovereignly administered.’ Ordinarily the marriage covenant is sealed by the husband and the wife on their wedding night. You will see the idea of the ‘bond in blood’ in the following curious verse which speaks of parents who have given their daughter’s hand in marriage to a man who is questioning their daughter’s virginity, ‘Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, “‘I found your daughter was not a virgin,’ and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.” And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.’ Deuteronomy 22:17.

Adam and Eve produced a family. ‘Adam had sons and daughters.’ Genesis 5:4b. All humans belong to Adam’s family through blood but also legally. ‘Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.’ Romans 5:18-19. God as Judge declared humanity guilty and facing condemnation because Adam (as mankind’s representative) broke the covenant. We are born into a covenant-breaking family (humanity). God legally condemns us. However, because Christ has shed His (covenant) blood for His bride (the Church) God is able legally to declare us as righteous (i.e., justified). Justification is a legal transaction in God’s court. God causes those justified to be born again, i.e., born into the family of God, which means you have been legally adopted by God and belong to Him. Like Adam’s family, so God’s family has both blood and legal aspects. Christ’s blood is the blood on the cloth, which is the blood of His bride’s virginity. Of which family are you? God’s or Adam’s?     

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Day


Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae was the author of that famous poem “In Flanders’ Fields.” It would seem that as a person he had some qualities well-worth emulating.

First off: “The family were Scottish Presbyterians and John McCrae was a man of high principles and strong spiritual values. He has been described as warm and sensitive with a remarkable compassion for both people and animals … John McCrae attended Sunday morning services regularly at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in MontrĂ©al.”

Secondly: A century ago on 4th August, 1914 war was declared on Germany – 100 years ago this year! Like many brave Australians, the Canadian John McRae deployed to the battlefields in Europe. Just before he departed he wrote to a friend: ‘It is a terrible state of affairs, and I am going because I think every bachelor, especially if he has experience of war, ought to go. I am really rather afraid, but more afraid to stay at home with my conscience.’ (Prescott. In Flanders Fields: The Story of John McCrae, p. 77)”

“The day before he wrote his famous poem, one of McCrae's closest friends was killed in the fighting and buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross. Wild poppies were already beginning to bloom between the crosses marking the many graves. Unable to help his friend or any of the others who had died, John McCrae gave them a voice through his poem.” http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/first-world-war/mccrae

Lieutenant Colonel John McRae would have been very familiar with Psalm 23, the well-known Shepherd’s Psalm.

First, a brief word on accents. As a Scots-Canadian where would have McCrae placed the accent in the following, “The Lord is my shepherd”? Perhaps he might have said, “THE LORD is my shepherd.” Or maybe “The Lord IS my shepherd.” Or “The Lord is MY shepherd”? Or was it “The Lord is my SHEPHERD”? We see then that accenting certain words may help us to better express ourselves!

Second: When McCrae wrote the words, “In Flanders’ Fields the poppies blow between the crosses row on row” he could have had the words of Psalm 23 in mind, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Think about it: Graves in Flanders’ Fields, soldiers lying down in green pastures. Picture it: Red poppies in green fields, Flanders’ Fields. Rest in Peace!

Third: in his second stanza he wrote, “We are the dead … Loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders’ Fields.” There’s that picture again, soldiers lying down in green pastures. As McRae looked out over these fields he must have thought of those comforting words of the Shepherd’s Psalm, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

And fourth and finally: Where he says at the beginning of the third stanza, “Take up our quarrel with the foe” he could have had the following words of Psalm 23 in mind, “
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

Enemies. Foes. War. Conflict. Quarrel. Death. None of us likes these things, but what are we to do in the face of evil? Lieutenant Colonel McCrae summed it up for most if not all of us where he wrote, “I am really rather afraid, but more afraid to stay at home with my conscience.” Even so, he could say with comfort and confidence, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Why? Because the LORD was his shepherd! How about you? Can you say “The Lord is my shepherd”? And where, as an Aussie, would you place the accent?

Let us remember the fallen, those who lie in Flanders’ Fields as well as those who died in the other wars since then. They fought for the type of peace, justice and freedom we enjoy here in Australia.

(Above image from Internet)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

ABRAHAM: THE WANDERER RETURNS


THE WANDERER RETURNS
“Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South. Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.Genesis 13:1-4
Introduction

Abram already has undergone a real test of faith. God had led Abram to a land which He had promised to give it to Abram’s descendants. But it turned out that there was a severe famine in the Promised Land. What was Abram supposed to do? Instead of trusting in the LORD to provide, Abram planned a holiday in Egypt to get away from it all! We looked at some “snap-shots” of Abram and Sarai’s vacation in Egypt! We looked at Abram’s holiday plan. We looked at the place where he stayed. And like all the well laid plans of mice and men there was a plague on Abram’s holiday. Or rather the plagues were on those with whom Abram and Sarai were staying!

In the following we pick up the story where we left off. Pharaoh, the owner of the “Holiday Resort” was only too happy to see the backs of Abram and Sarai. He was so anxious to see them leave that he “waved their tab” – as they say in Canada. Abram and Sarai had made a killing in Egypt, and Pharaoh had sent them home, letting them keep all their “Casino” winnings.

Now we pick up the “holiday party” as they journey home. They are heading back to the place where they were before they went, which was between Bethel and Ai. They were struggling home with bags full of silver and gold. With the holiday behind them they were keen to get back home and get back into the routine. In the following we’ll have a look at three areas, viz., the Trip, the Trinkets and the Trust. The general gist of what we’ll be looking at is as follows: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

The Trip

“Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South” Genesis 13:1. Abram had gone down to Egypt now he’s ascending the hill to the Promised Land. So the “trip” we’re talking about is the trip home and not so much the trip to Egypt. Like the Israelites ascending the steps of the Temple, Abram was returning to the place of worship. Whether he was singing like Moses and Miriam after being delivered out of the hand of Pharaoh we can only guess. But as they made their trip back home they had much to praise God about.

Like any of us on the trip back home from an exciting holiday Abram would have been running everything that happened through his mind. He would be thinking, “I did a lot of stupid things! In fact, the whole idea was stupid! I should have stayed where I was, famine or no famine! Why did I have to run off to Egypt? Why did I put my wife’s honor in jeopardy? Why didn’t I just trust in the LORD to provide and be done with it?”

And isn’t that the way of it for us today? Whenever a Christian backslides he may spend the rest of his life casting it up to himself. He’s never short of help in casting it up his backsliding to himself. The devil and his demons are only too glad to help you do penance for the rest of your life! The “Accuser of the Brethren” is only too happy to hand you a cudgel with which to beat yourself black and blue for your failings. But not the LORD, not our LORD. When we are faithless He remains faithful. Who do you think it is who is leading Abram back to the place he was before? The Good Shepherd, the LORD rescued Abram from his folly. The LORD delivered him.

Do you read here that the LORD starting calling Abram names, casting things up to him?  Did the LORD say to Abram, “You stupid idiot! Why didn’t you listen to Me?” No, that’s not the LORD who’s accusing you of your past backsliding. It was Pharaoh and his house who were plagued by God, not Abram and his house.

Oh yeah, it’s wrong to backslide. What Abram did was wrong, but the LORD went down into Egypt to rescue Abram from his backsliding, not to destroy him. Abram had turned his back on his sin and he was back on the wagon. After this brief interlude he was wanting to get back to the LORD. So you do likewise. Turn your back on your backsliding and seek the LORD. He’s not going to clobber you. He’s going to bless you. However, this is not to say that there will be no consequences for your past indiscretions. The repentant drunkard might have done irreparable damage to his liver. The repentant promiscuous homosexual might yet develop AIDS after rejecting that lifestyle.

One of the slaves Abram picked up in Egypt was a woman by the name of Hagar. Hagar and her descendants were to become the bane of Israel’s life. The cattle Abram picked up from Egypt were about to cause friction between he and his nephew Lot. If you belong to the LORD and you wander away from Him He will bring you back. But chances are that you won’t be rescued unscathed. However, put it behind you and get on with serving the LORD. For if you are truly repentant then the LORD has fully forgiven you.

To those who truly belong to the LORD, as does Abram, “There is therefore now no condemnation” Romans 8:1. The LORD has His everlasting arms around even the most “Kamikaze” of Christians. The LORD won’t allow you to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. He has you by the scruff of your neck with a love that will not let you go. The Psalmist says, “My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net” Psalm 25:15. Whether the LORD’s got you by the scruff of the neck or by the ankles the point is that He’s got you. Always remember that it’s the “fatted calf” our Father wants to kill when the wanderer returns and not the wanderer.

Abram may have deserted the LORD by going down to Egypt, but the LORD hadn’t deserted Abram. So then Abram and his family were making the trip home to where they had been before.

The Trinkets

The LORD didn’t meet Abram like a Customs Officer at the border of the Promised Land and ask “Anything to declare?” We’re told in Genesis 13:2 that “Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” Abram got to take all his winnings, all his holiday trinkets with him into the Promised Land.

Now, then, what does this picture say to those who say, “You can’t take your riches with you when you die”? Here’s God letting Abram into the Promised Land with all his earthly belongings. Abram was a very rich man! The LORD says elsewhere, “How HARD it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” Luke 18:24-25. Yet the Customs Officers didn’t confiscate everything Abram had. He got to keep everything he had won at Pharaoh’s Casino. Jesus says it is HARD for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God but not impossible! He says, “The things that are impossible with men are possible with God” Luke 18:27.

Why is it that our picture of a missionary is some white bloke sitting in a mud hut overseas? If I was to ask to be sent to Beverley Hills why would no one take me seriously? Poor people may be more open to a Saviour but don’t the rich need a Saviour too? Is it more “righteous” to be poor and less “righteous” to be rich? Both the rich man Abram and the poor man Lazarus died and went to heaven! Whether you’re rich or poor is neither here nor there. The kingdom of God is not about food or drink. It’s got nothing to do with how rich or how poor you are. And yet we have this mind-set that sees poverty almost as a sign of righteousness or piety. Jesus stopped the rich young ruler at the border of the kingdom of heaven. He wouldn’t let him into His kingdom, the Promised Land with all his riches, Why not? It wasn’t because the LORD had anything against riches. It was because the rich young ruler had put his trust in all his riches, in trinkets! However, for some reason nowadays Christians in general seem to be ashamed of riches! But think of the work that could be done if the church was full of rich Christians. Think of the work the church could do if we had one millionaire in the congregation who tithed! It’s the love of money that is the root of all evil not money itself!

I was a member of a congregation that donated a small sum to a financially struggling congregation out west in a small town somewhere. Well, it turned out that one of the members of that congregation upon realizing the church’s financial struggle followed our example and anonymously donated $10,000! The church I was attending had in this set a good example for others to follow. And, praise be to God that there are still some around today who follow a GOOD example.

The Church is supposed to be the light on the hill with words and with deeds. The Roman Church is the richest in the world yet her people are some of the poorest! There’s nothing wrong in having a nice church building to worship in, even a beautiful one! One has only to look at the temple Solomon built. Its designer was God! But to bleed your people dry to build and maintain beautiful cathedrals while your people go hungry spiritually and physically is criminal. But it’s just as criminal to hold back whatever wealth you have from the work of the LORD. For everything we own belongs to the LORD. It is given us by the LORD. It is His! The LORD can just as easily take all our trinkets, all our riches back again.

Listen to what the LORD says in the first chapter of Haggai, i.e., Haggai 1:7ff, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,’ says the LORD. You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? says the LORD of hosts. ‘Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.”

So the moral of the tale is this: Use whatever wealth you have for the building of the LORD’s Church throughout the earth. We’re not necessarily talking about buildings. We all know that Christians can worship anywhere. But let me just pause here and pose a question: When you drive through center of any western city, when you look at the sky-line, are you able to pick out church buildings from the others? Are you able to tell the difference between a church building and a bank building, for instance? The church is the one with the steeple, the arched windows, isn’t it? Well, I put it to you that as the church become more and more like the world, so do our buildings! And how many church buildings have you driven by only to find that it’s been converted into a theatre or something? The world wants to change our church buildings into theatres. A theatre is a place of entertainment! At the theatre you’re entertained by people acting as if they are something when they’re not! You could be excused nowadays for thinking you were walking into a church when you were actually walking into an entertainment theatre!

So the world wants to change our churches into entertainment centers! And I’m sure you are aware that many churches are quite happy about this. If they’re not happy then why is there so much puppets, mime and drama in the churches nowadays? And by the same token, why is it that some congregations go to great lengths nowadays to build buildings that look more like pan-cake houses than churches? We were in an old Methodist Church building in Brisbane City which is now a pan-cake house! Inside they now hand you a menu instead of a hymn book and a Bible! There were photos on the walls from its glory days when it was packed with people feeding on something more substantial than flap-jacks!

The Christian Church today has adopted a strange philosophy, the belief that the church must become like the world in order to attract the world. But you as a Christian should stick out like a sore thumb. Therefore the building you worship in should stick out like a sore thumb. What’s wrong with a majestic steeple pointing heavenward? However, nowadays you’re never sure whether you’re going to get served pancake or the Word of God! But more often than not you’ll be served something other than God’s Word. Don’t be deceived: some of the churches in this town are really pan-cake houses! The world and the things of the world have infiltrated the churches. And the churches reflect the world and the things of the world. And now instead of building church buildings we build multipurpose buildings. Apparently it increases the resale value of the building for the future.

The Church today needs to learn anew what the LORD was teaching Abraham And here it is: All the riches of the world, all their buildings and all their cities belong to God. And if it pleases God to give us silver and gold then He gives us them. If it pleases God to give us a whole cities then He gives us whole cities. If it pleases God to give us the whole earth then he gives us the whole earth. But you and I won’t see a brass razoo of it unless we trust in the LORD. Unless we trust in the LORD with all our heart, soul, strength, might, and mind the little you have will be taken from you and given to those who do trust the LORD. That’s what the LORD is teaching Abram, i.e., to trust in Him and Him alone, and not to trust in the world or the things of the world, the things of Egypt.

Like Abram, we need to take our eyes of the things of the world and trust in the things of God.

The Trust

If this were a game of monopoly Abram is no longer in jail. However, he’s back at the beginning collecting more than 200. He landed on Chance and bankrupted himself. He had to pay the owner of the Promised Land everything he had in a famine. He went down to Egypt to try to bale himself out of his debt. But actually Egypt turned out to be the jail, i.e., the place where people go when they cannot pay their debts. But Abraham had a Community Chest card up his sleeve. He had a “Get Out Of Jail Free Card”, didn’t he? So here we are seeing him use that card. “Abram called on the name of the LORD.”

Abraham went back to that little sanctuary he had built. He returned from his spin around the Monopoly Board and landed on Church Street. Did all the buildings look the same on Church Street? Let’s see, there are the Amorites with their Baals and Ashteroths. There they are over here cutting themselves and calling on Baal. There’s another lot over there throwing their children into the fiery belly of their god Moloch. All these establishments of the Canaanites dotted the skyline of the Promised Land. BUT THAT WHICH ABRAM HAD BUILT WAS DIFFERENT! Abram had built an altar there, an altar to the LORD who had appeared to him. Right there smack-dab right in the center of pagansville he had built a church building, building different to all the rest. He had built an altar, not to an unknown God, but the LORD who had appeared to him, the LORD who had promised to bless him, the LORD who had promised to make him a great nation, the LORD who had promised to bless those who blessed Abram and curse him who cursed him. So, when it says that Abram called on the name of the LORD, it means that Abram began to worship God once more.

The prodigal has returned, this prodigal has much more than smelly clothes on his back. This is the wild rover has come home with gold in great store! The wanderer returns! Think about it, Abram had already lost whatever he had in a famine the LORD sent. But now he’s returning with gold in great store and a heart that is ready and willing to use his riches to the glory of God! He knew that everything he had belonged to the LORD. Like Paul he had learned that “in whatever state, to be content; [to] know how to be abased, and... how to live in prosperity... [Like Paul Abram] learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” Philippians 4:11-12.

Abram could say along with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” Job 1:21. The LORD took Abram’s riches away in a famine. But now he has blessed him with even greater riches. Like Job whom God blessed him with more at the end than he ever had at the beginning Job 42:12. In fact Abram is the richest man there is apart from Christ! For Paul to the Romans in 4:13 tells us that Abram is the heir of the whole world!

So, who says you don’t get to take your riches with you? Abraham and all the meek along with him shall inherit the earth Matthew 5:5. Therefore, all the silver and gold and livestock that Abram had when he left Egypt is just a small token of what’s in store for him. In fact, Abram coming out of Egypt, the world with all his riches as he entered the Promised Land is a great biblical motif. It is a picture of the wonderful provision of God for His people. He brings us up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage and He bestows great blessings upon us.

When we set our hearts to worship Him in spirit and in truth He sets His heart to bless us. It is the LORD who brought Abram up out of the land of Egypt out of the house of bondage. It is the LORD who brings us out of that land of bondage too. It was the LORD who brought Israel out of captivity in Egypt, the LORD who says to Israel in Deut. 6:10ff., “And it shall be, when the LORD your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant – when you have eaten and are full – then beware, lest you         forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” Deuteronomy 6:10-12.

The LORD had given His Church all the great cities of the Western Civilization. They were ours and all the steeples on every skyline were testimony to this fact. However, the Western skyline is rapidly changing. It’s beginning to look more and more like Egypt! Instead of steeples we see Moslem onions, domes dot the horizon! The Church has forgotten the LORD who brought them out of Egypt. It’s time we made the trip back to that place we were before. It’s time we gathered our trinkets together in our swag and headed back to the Promised Land. It’s time we began to trust in God, to really call on the name of the LORD. It’s time for the wanderer, all the wanderers to return and call on the name of the LORD!

If you’re still stuck down in Egypt, if you have been faithless, then follow father Abraham up the hill back to the Promised Land. You might have been faithless up till now but God hasn’t. The Lord is faithful and he will forgive the wanderer. Even if you’ve been the WILDEST wild-rover return to the LORD. If you belong to Him He will not deny you because He cannot and will not deny Himself.
Come, come back to Abraham’s family altar and once more call on the name of the LORD. Make the trip. Bring your trinkets. BUT trust in the LORD!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hallowe'en or Reformation Day?


Growing up in 1960s Scotland meant fun at Halloween. Every 31st October we’d carve turnips into lanterns (while eating raw their insides) and don costumes to become ‘guisers’ (or ‘galoshins’ as we were called). We had to entertain with a song or a poem or some such like the folk whose doors we knocked. They’d respond by giving us sweeties and apples. It was time of ‘dookin’ fur aiples’ which meant that apples floating in a tub of water were to be retrieved by using only ones teeth. No easy task for the non-amphibious! Halloween was transformed into ‘trick-or-treat’ (and turnips into pumpkins!) for our kids while living in 1980s Canada. However, there was no song or rhyme from those knocking on our door, only ghoulishly costumed children holding up anticipatory bags to receive candies! Nowadays in Australia our doorbell hardly ever rings at Halloween, but if it does, it is usually young teenagers merely wanting lollies! Clearly the most Halloween fun was to be had in 60s Scotland!

Though it has been secularised and commercialised Halloween as we know it is clearly of pagan origin. A rough thumbnail sketch: 31st October marked the end of summer and its harvest and the beginning of the dark winter season. It was on this night, Samhainn, ghosts of the dead were supposed to visit! Bonfire ceremonies were held at which people dressed as animals and what have you. Flaming embers (jack-o-lanterns?) were carried from the sacred bonfire to relight the home hearth-fire for protection in the coming winter. Apparently spirits could be propitiated by those in costume to the point of sparing home and harvest. Samhainn came under Roman influences after its invasion of Celtica. Thus Feralia, (a day for honouring the dead) along with Pomona, a goddess of fruit and trees (represented by an apple) were incorporated into rituals. Even the Church did not escape Pagan Roman influence. She merely came up with new titles to sanctify worship of and prayers for the dead! First, those deemed by the Church to be saints were to be worshiped on ‘All Saints’ Day.’ Then on the following day the rest of the faithful departed were to be prayed for on ‘All Souls’ Day.’ Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve is, of course, the evening preceding All Saints’/All Hallows’ Day.  

Halloween nowadays has parents afraid their children might receive apples containing foreign objects such as pins and razors (as has happened)! For me personally, Halloween was changed to Reformation Day when as an adult I was saved by grace through faith in Christ and His work on the cross. Therefore this Celt, instead of bobbing for apples, rejoices that the Holy Spirit was pleased to guide His Church back to His Word. For on 31st October, 1517 Martin Luther started the reformation of the Church (and society along with it) through the publication of his Ninety-five Theses which is said to have been nailed to a church door in Wittenberg. The Reformation spread to many nations (including Scotland) and arguably led to the greatness of the West (i.e., medical science, medicine, hospitals, technology, art, economics, commerce, political freedoms, democratic systems of government etc.) Thanks to the Reformer, John Calvin, these and such like things including music, clothing, architecture, science, and social festivities became free to be cultivated without the previous Church and State interference. Says Henry Van Til, ‘Calvin proclaimed alongside the church and state a third realm, an area of life that has a separate life and jurisdiction. It is called the sphere of the adiaphora, the things indifferent. This is the court of the conscience. No king or pope may here hold sway.’ (The Calvinistic Concept of Culture). Although church and state in their respective spheres of authority were to encourage good moral behaviour, according to Calvin the individual conscience ought to be bound by nothing other than God speaking by His Spirit with His Word. ‘Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’1 Corinthians 10:31.   

With all of the above in mind we might say that before the fall Adam and Eve went bobbing for apples. Their Father, God, had warned them about the fruit of a particular tree. They went against His clear directions! After eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve felt strangely different, but they donned fig-leaf ‘Halloween’ costumes in an attempt to hide from the One who was coming to visit. Thus, they didn’t go doorknocking. Rather it was the LORD who came knocking on their door. ‘Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ Genesis 3:11b. The rest, as they say, is history. Adam and Eve and all their descendants (including you and me) are part of the human race which is in need of reconciliation to God. God has brought about that needed reconciliation through the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. How is it with you? Halloween or Reformation Day?

(Excerpted from my "Curtain Call & Other Contemplations" - see: http://www.amazon.com/CURTAIN-CALL-Other-Contemplations-ebook/dp/B009HN05EW/ref=la_B006NTVAWY_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1351332995&sr=1-5
 

Friday, October 24, 2014

ABRAHAM: PROMISES! PROMISES! PROMISES!


PROMISES, PROMISES, PROMISES

Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family and from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1-3.

Introduction
We have already looked a little at family trees. We looked at Abraham’s Family Tree in particular. We also looked about his Family Trek. And we concluded that, though it is nice to know where you’ve come from, it’s even better to know where you are going.

In the following we pick up the story of the life of Abraham in a place called Haran. Abraham and some of his family stopped there on the way to the Land of Promise. We’re told in Genesis 11:32 that Abraham’s dad, Terah, died there at Haran. Listen to what Stephen said before they stoned him (as recorded in Acts 7:2ff.), “Men and brethren and fathers listen; the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, ‘Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.’ Then he called out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He [i.e., the Lord] moved him to this land in which you now dwell.”

So, with these words in mind, we should take note of two things: a) Abraham was called by God while in Ur of the Chaldees and not in the place called Haran. And b) The God of glory appeared to Abraham and not to his father Terah. So, what are we to make of the words in Genesis 11:31, “And Terah took his son Abram let all they went with them from Ur of the Chaldeans”? Well, we are to take it that Moses, the writer of this passage, is giving Terah respect of place. Terah was Abraham’s father and Scripture says, “Honor your father and mother.” So, even though it was Abraham who was called by God, his father gets a mention out of respect because he went too.

So, we ask the question, Whence come they? And whither dost they goest? Or to put that into modern idiom, Where have they come from and where are they going? Well, they’ve come from a place called Ur which is in south-eastern Mesopotamia and now they are in Haran which is in North-west Mesopotamia. And they are on their way to the land the God of glory has promised to show Abraham. They have travelled up between the two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. They have gone through what would now be Iraq. And if you still don’t know where I mean then think about Damascus. You’ll have heard about Paul on the road to Damascus? Well, Damascus is nowhere near Haran! However, if Paul had kept going when he was walking north to Damascus he would have come to Haran eventually.

So, Abraham and his cortege, or caravan, were traversing what is known as the “Fertile Crescent.” They could have gone straight from Ur to Canaan but this would have meant going across the desert. And if you’ve ever watched any movies about the French Foreign Legion you’ll know that the desert is a tough thing to cross. So it’s better to take the long way round rather than dying of thirst in the sands of the desert! That is, supposing it was a desert in those days as it is now.

The thing that makes the story of the life of Abraham most remarkable is that Abraham did all if is on a promise. When Abraham left Ur of the Chaldeans all he had to go on was a bunch of promises. Oh sure, it was the God of glory who appeared to him and had given him these promises. But how did Abraham know that the Word of the LORD was true and could be trusted? Faith! That’s why Abraham is the father of the faithful – faith!

The general gist of what we’ll be looking at in the following is this, Take God at His Word because He is more than able to deliver what He has promised! We’ll focus in a general way on three things which up ahead will be elaborated on. Those three things are: the Promise, the Progeny and the Property.

The Promise
“Now the LORD had said to Abram” Genesis 12:1. What follows is the promise, which consisted of land, offspring, blessing, a great name, God’s protection, and a blessing for all the families of the earth. However, before we get into all of that, notice the tense, “The LORD had said to Abram.” So here he is in Haran. His father has just died. Perhaps that’s why they stopped at Haran. Maybe Terah was ill, (though it looks like Abram lived in Haran some fifteen years). Anyway, Terah died there and now Abraham and his living rellies were leaving. They were heading toward this land that the LORD said He would show Abram.

Even though he’s just lost his father, Abraham doesn’t decide to turn back. It might have been tempting to return with his father’s body to Ur for burial. But more than that, what was Abraham’s father doing in Haran anyway? Didn’t the Lord say to Abraham before he left Ur, “Get out of your country, from your kindred and your father’s house, to a land I will show you”? So what’s Abraham playing at, taking the “old man” with him? He was supposed to leave his kindred behind, wasn’t he? But what would happen if you told your family that you had met the God of glory? What would happen if you told them about the promises of God?

I know a man whose daughter showed him the promises the God of glory has made in His Word. Some Christians had been teaching the Bible to this girl who was young at the time. She asked dad if he could help her understand the Word of God. He didn’t know that much about the Bible. So she showed him a few things! It wasn’t long before he was on the road to the “Land of Promise” with his daughter. In fact he became a Presbyterian minister and tells everyone who’ll listen about the promises of God.

However, Abraham didn’t hear the Gospel from the pages of the Bible. There was no Bible back then as we know it. No! The God of glory Himself preached the Gospel to Abraham! The message of salvation is found even in the words of the text before us. Listen to what the Apostle Paul says about this, “And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed’” Galatians 3:8.

Abraham then, heard the good news message from the God of glory who appeared to him while in Ur of the Chaldeans. Therefore, it’s not hard to see that Abraham is repenting and believing in the gospel. He’s turning his back on his country, which country according to Jeremiah 50, was full of idols! In fact the chief city of Mesopotamia, Babylon, is a symbol of idolatry throughout the Bible. In the Book of Revelation John names it “Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth” Revelation 17:5.

God by His grace called Abraham out of that place. Abraham obeyed. And don’t think Abraham was some kind of goody-two-shoes. He was just as bad as the rest of them (until his conversion by the grace of God). For Joshua 24:2-3 says, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River [Euphrates] in old times; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan.’”

So we see that there was nothing about Abraham that would make God want to choose him over anyone else in Mesopotamia. It was God Himself who TOOK Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans. And it was God Himself who LED him to Canaan just as He promised. However, we don’t see Abraham being dragged kicking and screaming! But rather we see that he turned his back on his wicked ways when he heard the Gospel. He believed what God had promised. Therefore Abraham, like us, was justified by faith in the promise i.e., the Word of God. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans puts it like this, “[Abraham was] fully convinced that what [i.e., God] had promised He was also able to perform” Romans 4:21. He took God at His Word because he believed that He was more than able to deliver what He had promised.

And what was the substance of this great promise of God to Abraham? Well, like all good Trinitarians we can express this one great promise in a threefold manner! In fact I’ll let someone else express it for us. The Dutch theologian Geerhardus Vos says it like this,

The objective action of God was for the patriarchs interlinked with three great promises. These were first the chosen family would be made into a great nation; secondly, that the land of Canaan would be their possession; thirdly, that they were to become a blessing for all people.[1]

So, it’s not hard to see these three great promises in the verses before us regarding Abraham. The great nation is mentioned. The land is mentioned. And so is the fact that Abraham will be a blessing for all people. Up ahead we’ll see each of these great promises develop as we follow the life of Abraham. But let me just mention in passing, always remember what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20. “All the promises of God in Him [i.e., Jesus Christ] are Yes, and in Him Amen.” Like the old saying, “All roads lead to Rome” so all gospel promises lead to Christ.

Progeny
When the God of Glory appeared to Abraham with the gospel, He promised him that He would make him a great nation. When Abraham heard this he had no children. He was seventy five years old when he left Haran. His wife Sarai was sixty five years old and was unable to bear children. Have you ever noticed the Bible never beats about the bush? “Sarai was barren” Genesis 11:30. But even though Abraham was perfectly aware of his wife’s condition, it didn’t stop him from believing the gospel of God.

Abraham believed God when He said he would become a blessing for all people. God had said to Abraham that He would bless him. Now if that’s not good news then I don’t know what is! The God of glory appeared to Abraham and said, “I’m going to bless you! Not only am I going to bless you but I’m going to make you a blessing for all people! I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you.” Who is going to curse Abraham? Well, it’s certainly not going to be God. Otherwise God would have to break His promise to Abraham!

Abraham most definitely knew, one way or another, the promise made in the garden after the Fall. Remember Genesis 3:15, the embryonic gospel, in the words of the LORD, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Let me quote from a theologian I trust and respect. RL Dabney says,

To appreciate correctly the amount of gospel light possessed in the patriarchal, and even the Mosaic ages, we must bear in mind a thing often overlooked, that the human race had just enjoyed, in Adam, personal communication with God in fullest theophanies [a theophany is literally a God-appearance], which Adam, by the faculties of his perfect manhood, and other patriarchs, through their longevity, were admirably qualified to transmit well. Adam was contemporary with Methuselah 243 years, Methuselah with Noah 600 years (dying in the year of the flood) and Noah with Abram 58 years. Thus Abraham received the revelations of paradise through only two transmissions![2]

So, according to Dabney, Abraham had a prior and probably an accurate knowledge of the Gospel. However, if he did, he didn’t believe it until the God of glory applied it to him personally, which is not a lot different to the Christian today. In fact it’s the same!

I remember meeting a woman in North Queensland who claimed she never heard the Gospel in church when she lived in Brisbane. She moved up north, went to church, heard the Gospel and believed it! But I know for a fact she heard the Gospel many times in the church in Brisbane, because I know that her minister was a faithful preacher of the gospel if there ever was one. But unless the God of glory appears to you with the gospel, we can preach the gospel till we’re blue in the face but you won’t hear or believe it. It’s only when God causes the “penny to drop” that you begin to really understand. But Abraham began to believe when the God of glory appeared with the Gospel to him.

Just as Adam and Eve were promised a Seed that would bruise the serpent’s head, so Abraham was promised that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. And, as mentioned before, all the Gospel promises lead to Christ! That well-known passage, Galatians 3:16, “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as to one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here. Let me just say that before the Flood there were two great families on the earth: The Family of Cain and the Family of Seth. Whereas the Family of Cain was the seed of the serpent, Seth, from whom Abraham is descended, is of the Seed of the Woman.

The God of Glory is about to form a great nation — now after the flood. He has chosen Abraham to be this nation’s father. There have only ever been two types of peoples on the earth then, what John in I John 3:10 calls, “The children of God and the children of the devil.” God, in Abraham is about to begin the process of making a new nation, a nation that will be set apart from the other nations. And He is doing this in order to fulfil His gospel promises, i.e., His redemptive plan.

By the time the promised Seed came there were two distinct peoples in terms of the Bible, viz., Jew and Gentile (more accurately the Ethnoi, i.e., the ethnics). And, there was a wall of partition that God had placed between them, which we can read all about all through the Bible. But for now, as we move on to our third and final point, with regard to progeny, Abraham is “Father of all those who believe” Romans 4:11. And, as Paul says to the Galatians, “Only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” Galatians 3:7.

So we see then that even today there are only two types of people, just as there always has been since the Fall, i.e., the church and the world, or, in other words, there are Christians and there are non-Christians. And, as it was with Old Testament so it is in the New Testament, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel.” Romans 9:6b, which is to say that not everyone who claims to be Christian really is!

Property
Where is this great nation of Old Testament people going to live? A great nation would need somewhere to live, wouldn’t it? So the LORD has promised Abraham property. But where is this great nation going to live? “[In] a land that I will show you [Abraham].” Genesis 12:1.

Now, in light of the fact that God has promised that the family of Abraham was going become a blessing for all the families of the earth. And in light of the fact that God has promised that Abraham and his family would become a great nation. And in light of the fact that the LORD is going to show Abraham some land, three questions necessarily arise,

a)      How much of a blessing will Abraham be to all the families of the earth?

b)      How great a great nation will Abraham and family be? And,

c)      How large and how great is this land that the LORD is going to show Abraham?

Well, one of the benefits of living some four thousand years after Abraham is that we can look in the rear-view mirror and see where we’ve come from.

Abraham, well he was looking at everything away in the faraway distant future, wasn’t he? As he set out on the long march from Ur, he was just looking at some mountains shrouded in mist in the far off and hazy distance. The writer to the Hebrews says it like this, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would afterward receive as an inheritance. And he went out not knowing where he was going” Hebrews 11:8. All he had were promises! promises! promises! But he took God at His Word. He believed that God was more than able to deliver what He has promised!

History, even redemptive history as recorded in the Bible has proven the faithfulness of God. God fulfils His promises. He keeps His Word, including the Word He spoke to Abraham, the Word, the Gospel He speaks to all who believe as did father Abraham.

The LORD was going to show Abraham a land. How large and how great was this land, this property? Was it just the land of Canaan? Was that the extent of it? That’s what the Jews at the time of Christ seemed to believe, wasn’t it? That’s what today’s Jews believe. They believe that the land of Israel is theirs because they claim Abraham as their father. They claim Abraham as their father yet they refuse to come to Abraham’s greatest Son, Jesus Christ. They refuse the blessing of Abraham in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.

The Jews today have rebuilt the partition between Jew and Gentile. That partition was removed by the Seed of the LORD promised Abraham, even Jesus Christ, “For he Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” Ephesians 2:14.

As mentioned above, before the Flood there were two great families, a Godly line and a devilish line. After the Flood the LORD made anew Godly line which began with Abraham. This Godly line became a nation with Abraham’s grandson whose name the LORD changed from Jacob to Israel. For a time there was the Israel of God and there was the nations under the influence of the Devil. Now, there is the Church on earth made up of people from all nations and there is the world, comprising of people from all nations. Thus there are two great families on the earth. One is the family of God and the other is the family of the Devil.

The Jews today have aligned themselves with the family of the Devil. However, the grace of God is in the fact that if any should repent, like all other nations, then they can be grafted back into Abraham’s family tree. Think about it, when Christ came to earth the borders of Canaan, the Promised Land were opened from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. The command of the Promised Seed to Israel was, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things I have commended you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20.

And, just to show His Church, i.e., the new Israel of God, that He meant what He said, the LORD had His Temple at Jerusalem destroyed, just as He promised (Matthew 24:2). Then He scattered His people, i.e., His Church made up of Jew and Gentile to the four corners.

As we begin to tie it all together, all the families of the earth will be blessed in Abraham. How? Well, what does Romans 10:17 say? “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” So, all the families of the earth will be blessed in Abraham by eventually hearing and in turn becoming, by the grace of God, obedient to the Gospel, just as Abraham heard and obeyed the Gospel in his day. God blessed him and removed his sin and transgressions from him in Christ who became as one who is cursed for all believers.

The promise God gave to Abraham was one of progeny, even a great nation. The promise included the Seed of the Woman, i.e., Jesus Christ, who would redeem Abraham’s great nation, i.e., a nation of believers including you and me. To have your sin and transgressions removed is blessing enough, yet the blessings of God continue to grow like a mustard seed. A mustard seed starts off small and grows and grows into a huge tree by comparison. So all the blessings grow for all the families of the earth. So does the great nation that came from Abraham grow, even the Church, the true Israel of God.

And so also does the Promised Land grow. How large and how great is the Promised Land, the property? Well, Canaan was just a token, a deposit! David, in Psalm 37:22 says, “For those who are blessed by Him shall inherit the earth, but those who are cursed by Him shall be cut off.” Verse 11 of this Psalm says, “But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” Jesus Christ says in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The Holy Spirit through His Apostle says that Abraham is the “Heir of the world.” Romans 4:13. All who belong to the Family of Abraham, even the Church of believers, will inherit the earth, the city which has foundations. Whose builder and maker is God, even Heaven and Earth.

Conclusion
            Remember that God is more than able to deliver all that He promises, be they promise, progeny or property or whatever. Nations in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and obeyed are blessed along with Abraham.  Whenever a person repents and believes the Gospel he/she becomes a member of Abraham’s family. And with Abraham will inherit the world and will be blessed with every blessing in heavenly places in Christ.




[1] Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 80.
[2] Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology, p. 445.