The Call

A few days before the 1980 Olympics, The Russian national hockey team clobbered the United States in an exhibition game 10-3. The United States entered the Olympics as a 7th seed with the odds of winning the gold medal as 1,000 to 1.[1] Herb Brooks coached the US into a rematch against the defending gold medal champions and number 1 seeded Russia. Russia was supposed to crush the Americans again, but the improbable happened. America held a 4-3 lead with a minute remaining with Russia charging hard for a tie. As the waning seconds were ticking off, Al Michaels gave the greatest “call” in modern sports history. With five seconds remaining, Michaels, bellowed, “Do you believe in miracles?” Michaels helped coin America’s gold medal win as the “Miracle on Ice.”

            Although Michaels owns the greatest call in sports history, the greatest “call” in all of world history asks us the same question, “Do you believe in miracles?” God created a very good world only to see it corrupted by sin and death to the point that God had regretted that he made man on the earth and said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land…for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen 6:7). God sent the flood cleansing the world and restarting his covenant relationship with Noah. The first thing Noah did after hitting dry ground was to build an alter for Lord. Noah was reclaiming the earth for the worship of the Lord. Tragically, sin continued in the hearts of man forcing Noah to curse Canaan and leading to the great rebellion against God in at the tower of Babel where the man attempted to make a name for themselves. In response to man’s effort to make their name great, He confused their language and scattered them across the world. Things have only gotten worse since Adam and Eve took of the fruit and ate it in Garden. Rebellion and sin abounded on the earth. It would take a miracle to fix this problem. “Do you believe in miracles?”

            God’s call to Abram is so glorious and its implications are so extensive it shapes the rest of the Bible. If we understand the call of Abram, we will understand the gran-metanarrative of the entire story of human history. John Stott writes, “God made a promise to Abraham. And an understanding of that promise is indispensable to an understanding of the Bible and of the Christian mission. These are perhaps the most unifying verses in the Bible; the whole of God’s purpose is encapsulated here.[2]” The greatest challenge in preaching this passage is to preach it in such a way that drives home its beauty and significance. I pray that you will glorify God as we see his immense mercy in the call of Abram, beginning in a barren land.

The Call from Barren Land

            In order to fully appreciate the miraculous call of Abram, we must first understand the origins of Abram and his family when he received the call. Abram’s story begins with the announcement of the generations of his father Terah. Genesis 11:27-32,

Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.

The writer, Moses, highlights that Abram’s wife, Sarai, was barren. There is the double emphasis in 11:30, “Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.” Abram had no future. His line was going to end with him.

Abram was not have been the ideal choice to re-establish the kingdom of God. Noah had three sons and daughters-in-laws and was righteous. Abram was childless with a wife who could not bear children and was an idolater. Joshua 24:2, “And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.” Abram worshipped the pagan gods of his homeland Babel as John Calvin notes, “Abram was plunged in the filth of idolatry.[3]” Abram brings nothing to this new endeavor to establish God’s kingdom. He is childless idolater with no future and yet God chooses to this unlikely candidate to establish his kingdom on the earth.

      Friend, God delights in using sinners to accomplish his purposes. Abram was a sinner in rebellion against God and God in his kindness extends his hand of grace to call Abram to His glory. God repeatedly calls unlikely sinners to service in his kingdom from the idolatrous Abram, to the swindler Jacob, to greedy Zacchaeus, and the terrorist Saul. The prologue of Israel’s history, Genesis 1-11 shows that pervasive nature of sin. The amount and degree of sin is designed to highlight the beautiful grace of God, but before we can see the beauty of grace we have to see the grossness of sin. DA Carson writes,

Sin is so warping that it corrodes every facet of our being, our wills and affections, our view of others and thus our relationships, our bodies and our minds. Sinners incur guilt, yet they need more than forgiveness and reconciliation to God (though never less), since the results of sin are so pervasive: they also need regeneration and transformation.[4]

The point is that because of the fall sin spreads to all in men in all ways. Sin has affected every aspect of our lives. Our sin incurs God’s wrath and justice. We deserve to die, like Abram, for our sin. Without God’s call, we, like Abram, are in a barren land, with nothing of value and no hope for a future. We are sinners awaiting God’s judgment. “Do you believe in miracles?”

The Call to a Blessed Land

It is out of the utter hopeless and idolatry that God calls Abram to re-establish his kingdom. Hear the glorious and miraculous call of Abram,        

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

In my living room sits a trunk with the inscription, Marlla Melas 1843. It was the trunk that held all the belongings of from my ancestors who left Norway to America. We live in a nation of immigrants who have ancestors like mine who left their homeland to restart their life here in the United States. Our world has become transient and it is not uncommon to leave family and travel across the world, but for ancient man to leave his people and his father’s house would have been almost impossible. Abram was identified by his relationship with his father for he was, “Abram son of Terah.” God was asking Abram to live his father’s goods and his father’s gods. God was inviting Abram to leave all and follow Him.

The call of Abram to leave all and follow God is nothing less than what God calls us to do. Jesus said,

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39)

God demands all. He wants all of our life. When you heard God’s call to come to Him, did you understand the full ramifications of what He was asking you to do? When God calls us, He asks us to leave all behind and become fully devoted to Him. It sounds hard, but that is only if we do not understand the call. If we understand how glorious the call God extends to sinner, we would not consider the call hard at all. Remember that Jesus says,

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)

Abram believed in the immense value of the call of God and was willing to leave all behind. So what did God promise Abram?

            According to Sydney Greidanus, the call of Abram is wrapped up in three promises. First, God promises to bless Abram personally. He tells the childless Abram that he will become a great nation and God will make his name great and will be blessing in a land that he will show him. The settlers at Babel wanted to make a name for themselves while here God is going to give Abram a great name. Second, God promises to bless his contemporaries, “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse.” Lastly, God will bless all the families of the earth through this one man. God has not abandoned his creation, but will spread his glory over the whole earth.

            Another way to group these great promises which I believe help to frame the rest of the Bible is God promises Abram: Land, Nation, Name and Blessing. If we focus on these headings, it sheds light on the rest of the biblical storyline. First, God promises to bring Abram into a land. When Abram heard the call he did not know it was going to be a land flowing with milk and honey, but he knew it was going to be his inheritance. Hebrews 11:8, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” The promise of land is a key theme throughout the Bible. One can trace the entire idea of land from Genesis 1- Revelation 22. God prepared a land for his people in Genesis 1, God expelled his people from the land in Genesis 3, God is now promising a new land in Genesis 12, God brings his people into the promise land in Joshua, God removes his people from the land again in the exile, God promises his people a new land in an eternal inheritance in the New Testament, and God fulfills his promise by giving the land of the new heavens and new earth to his people in Revelation. The story of God’s people is a story of entering the promised land.

            Secondly, God promises to make Abram a great nation. Abram has no child and his wife is barren. The only way that Abram will become a great nation is with offspring. Abram’s offspring will not only become ethnic Israel, but all who are Abram’s children by faith. The Lord shows his love for Israel not because of their greatness, but rather because of His. Deuteronomy 7:6-9,

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.

A key question throughout the Bible, “Is who are God’s people or who belongs to the nation?” One of the main conflicts in the New Testament is the whether Gentiles belong to the nation and can be part of God’s people. A misunderstanding of God’s covenant people will wreck havoc in the church from the 1st century to now.

            Thirdly, God promises to make Abram’s name great. As the story unfolds, we will see that Abram will receive a great name not because of what he had done, but because his name will become wrapped up in God’s name and be identified in what God has done. In Genesis 17, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and reiterates his promise to Abram.  As Abram will be identified with God’s name, our greatest treasure is that we bear his name. We are Christians.  We belong to Christ.

            Lastly, God will make Abram a blessing to all the families of the earth. The goal of Abram’s call was cosmic in scope. It brings a reminder to the reader of the seed of the woman that was promised in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” We know that the blessing promised to Abram was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Galatians,

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith; so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatian 3:7-9;14).

Jesus Christ came to redeem his people from the curse of sin by becoming a sin for us and was raised on the third day to give us living hope for our glorious inheritance through faith. Jesus is the blessing to all the families of the earth.  He is the hope for all people. For everyone who receives Christ Jesus as Lord has been given the right to become children of God. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:28-29)

            The great promises to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 are the great promises given to all of God’s people in seed form. Genesis 12:1-3 provides an outline of the rest of human history in how God is going to fix the problems of Genesis 3. God is going to establish his kingdom on earth through the offspring of Abram, Jesus Christ, and all who bow to Him as Lord. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Those who understand their sin and desperate need and turn to God in faith will receive the glorious promises of Genesis 12:1-3. “Do you believe in the miracle of the promise?”

The Call to Build a Land

            How do we show we believe? Abram believed in God’s promise because we see his response to God’s call. Genesis 12:4-5,

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan.

Abram obeyed God. We show that we trust in God’s promise by obeying his word. “By faith he (Abram) went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land…For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:9-10) Abram lived by faith.

            Abram left his father’s gods to believe in the one, true God. Abram believed in the glorious promise of God, but was faced with a decision as soon as he entered the land for, “When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” The land was not empty, but occupied with the cursed Canaanites. Abram realized that when he entered the land that the task was not going to be an uneasy one. He trusted God, but now was met with difficulty. Would he turn back or continue to trust God? The oak of Moreh was the center of Canaanite worship where they came to offer their sacrifices to their gods. It was at this place that the Lord spoke again to Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land.”

            Imagine a group of Israelites gathered looking over at the land of Canaan. Their fathers had gotten to the edge of the promise land like they had, but turned their hearts against God and were forced to wander in the wilderness. Now they are again in the same place. And they see their forefather receive the great words from God, “To your offspring I will give this land,” and then they see his response at the place of Canaanite worship, Abram, “built there an alter to the Lord, who had appeared to him.” Abram was claiming Canaan for God. As Noah built an altar after God cleansed the earth, Abram was reclaiming this land for the worship of God. Abram would travel throughout the land of Canaan and strategically build altars in the places of false worship. The Israelites were on the edge of the promise land confronted with the choice: will they turn like their fathers in fear of the mighty Canaanites or will they reclaim the promised land for God like our forefather Abram?

The message would have been clear to the Israelites. God has promised to give us this land. We must enter the land and reclaim it for the worship of God. Canaan was just the beginning. God’s goal in the promise to Abram was never to stop at there, but to see his glory fill the earth. The Israelites knew of God’s great promise to bless the whole earth. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) Israel knew of God’s call to bless the earth, but sadly, their light never fully reflected the glory of God. The charge to fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord has been given to the church. Jesus told his disciples after his resurrection, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)

Beloved, we are witnesses of the promise. We have been called to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ is all nations. And we, like the Abram, are in a land full of “Canaanites,” called to reclaim the land for the worship of God. We reclaim our land for the worship of God not by building altars, but by going to make disciples by baptizing people in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them all that the Lord has commanded. Will we shrink back in fear or will we boldly believe in the promise of God and work to build the kingdom through proclamation of the gospel?

Abram could have turned back. The Disciples could have turned back. We could turn back. Abram believed in God’s promise and built altars for the Lord. The Disciples believed God’s promise and built God’s kingdom through the gospel. They both believed the miraculous call of God to save sinners through the promised seed, Jesus Christ. Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe in the miraculous call of God to save sinners through the promised seed? Do you believe that God wants to bless all the families of the earth? If you believe in the miracle of salvation, go and reclaim our city and world for Christ by faithfully sharing the promise of God that He will save all sinners who trust in Jesus.

 

 

[1] http://vancouver2010.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/how-miraculous-was-the-miracle/?_r=0 odds ranged from as high as 1 in 1000 to as low as 17-1 depending on various calculations.

[2] John Stott. The Living God is a Missionary God. 3.

[3][3] Quoted by Dereck Kidner in his Genesis commentary.

[4] DA Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited. 50