If there's one thing that COVID19 has made us realise, it’s that we DEFINITELY do NOT control the future. COVID19 has been the great equaliser, hasn’t it? Whether you’re in charge of a country or whether you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or whether you’re studying for the HSC. Tomorrow is guaranteed to none of us.
At best, we can make our plans, but those plans can change at the drop of a hat. Let me see, I’ve had a holiday, a SPARTAN obstacle race, a birthday party and a work conference all cancelled because of COVID.
And it’s not as if there’s a whole lot of certainty as you look ahead either. As we brace ourselves for this so-called “second spike” we ponder, when will we be back in the church building? What will it look like? As we ask (with or without Jobkeeper) what’s going to happen to my job?
During times like this, it may feel like the God of the Bible is absent or that’s he’s silent. Well, Genesis 12 today, is going to assure us that God is anything but that. We have a God who not only makes promises. He keeps them too. That’s just who he is.
The same God who spoke a certain word during the uncertain times of Abram is the same God who speaks a certain word in the uncertain days of COVID.
I don’t know about you, but in light of the past few months, that sounds like exactly what I need. To know there is LIFE in the face of death that there is HOPE in the face of fear that we CAN have certainty in the face of uncertainty.
Because what God promises, God delivers on. Genesis 3-11 has had the same recurring pattern. The pattern of human’s sin, God judges but then follows it up with grace.
Last week, in Genesis 11 we definitely had the sin, humans trying to make a name for themselves and uniting together to overthrow God.
God handed out an appropriate judgment by confusing their language and therefore scattering them. But where was the grace? In Genesis 12, where God speaks to one man, an Iraqi pensioner named Abram.
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. ~Genesis 12:1 (NIV)
God tells Abram to pack up his bags and go.
When my parents left Hong Kong for Australia, it was for a better place. They already knew people here, siblings and friends. They’d come here before.
Abram, he leaves, not even knowing where he was going! You can imagine Abram travelling day by day, pitching his tent, packing it up and asking himself: “Are we there yet God? Are we there yet? But God doesn’t issue this command without a promise. Look at verse 2.
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” ~Genesis 12:2-3 (NIV)
In 3 verses God makes 3 breath-taking promises:
Elderly people DO NOT give birth! and there’s just one other thing, you know one small, minor obstacle we’re told in Genesis 11.
Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive. ~Genesis 11:30 (NIV)
If God’s going to deliver on this promise, it’ll be God and God alone.
3 promises, 3 majestic promises.
This week, over breakfast, I did something very brave, I asked my family to tell me when I have kept my promise and when have I broken my promise.
One of my kids piped up straight away said ‘Dad you’ve kept your promise by marriage to Mum!’ Then that same child reminded me: ‘But Dad, you broke your promise because you said you were going to do some drawing with me on Tuesday.’
Teresa then dropped in a promise that she remembers me making but that I had no recollection making, about a trip to America! You see, all her family, her sister and her younger brother, have all been and I’ve been. In fact, she’s still bitter about the time her parents went to Disneyland and left her behind with her grandparents!
Anyway, I first heard this story when we were dating and in my attempts to woo her and to impress her, I must have said “I promise I’ll take you to America one day” Well, now I’m on public record that I have to fulfil this promise.
When it comes to promises, before it’s about us, before it’s about Abraham, it’s about God. Notice how God’s the one doing all the heavy lifting here.
Seven times we read: I will. I will. I will. He is ALL in. God commits himself to one man, Abram and his family. Whatever happens to Abram and his family, over the next day, over the next generation, the next century. God’s behind it all every step of the way.
Is this not God’s grace or what?! God didn’t have to do what he’s just done here in Genesis 12. After another pattern of sin and judgment God could have said: Right, enough’s enough, let’s call it a day and have an 11-chapter Bible.
God could have left humanity to babble on and on stumbling along in confusion. But he doesn’t! Instead of walking away, God says: I will bless, I will bless, I will bless. I will use you, Abram, to make it possible for the entire world to know me.
God hasn’t cut you off, He welcomes you back into his fold and I don’t know about you, but that provides me with immeasurable comfort. An unbelievable amount of certainty!
Think about it, the God of this universe, He himself! Is committed to the future, He’s bound to deliver on these promises.
And so that means, that if you’ve given up on God, whether it’s because you feel you’ve been let down by him or you’ve let him down, again and you’ve got a truckload of guilt and regret by falling short. Well I want to ask you to reconsider the God you’ve stopped worshipping, today is as good a day as any to come home. He will take you back because in the Lord Jesus, he has promised to wipe your slate clean. To give you a fresh start and to not hold your sins against you.
Well, God’s laid out his promises to Abram on the table. How does Abram respond?
So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. ~Genesis 12:4 (NIV)
Abram took God at his word, and set off, his was the model response. In response to God’s extravagant commitment, Abram trusts God. Trusts he’ll come good on his promises and he expresses that trust in obedience. Trust and obedience are not necessarily the same things but are certainly two sides of the same coin.
Abram picks up his family, packs all his belongings, gets up and goes heading for the land God commanded him to go to.
BUT [And there’s always a but] come verse 10 and Abram’s obedience soon turns into disobedience.
Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. ~Genesis 12:10 (NIV)
On the one hand this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do, whether it’s food, whether it’s toilet paper. When you run out, you go hunt it down. Only Egypt wasn't where God wanted Abram to go.
It gets worse. Not only has he gone in the OPPOSITE direction of where God wants him to go. He's also done the exact OPPOSITE of what every husband should do. He's also put his own wife in danger.
As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.” ~Genesis 12:11-13 (NIV)
In the space of just 13 verses, Abraham has gone from hero to zero. This hasn’t been the first time we've seen this and it won't be the last. We see it again and again. God will make extraordinary, extravagant promises to someone and then shortly after, they'll stuff it up.
Remember Noah? God spares him from judgement. First thing he does when he walks out of the ark is he gets drunk and is an embarrassment to his family.
King David, one minute he's promised a forever kingdom and next minute he's in bed with Bathsheba.
In the New Testament, Peter is the first to work out that Jesus is God's promised king and next minute, he tries to persuade Jesus that death and resurrection is a stupid idea.
Don’t you love how the Bible refuses to do pretend? There’s no photoshopping going on here.
And that’s good news for you and I because the promises God makes, they don’t ride on the shoulders of you or I or Abram or Noah or David. Oh, thank goodness that what God promises God makes happen. Thank goodness we do NOT control the future, but we know the God who does.
Back when I used to work in Human Resources, part of my job involved interviewing people for jobs and the principle was this: Past performance is the best indicator of future performance. I had to resist the urge to not be wowed by how well the applicant spoke, by their charming personality, by their impressive resume. Instead, I had to drill down and focus on what exactly they, as an individual, did because past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour.
So, let’s see how God came good on his promises to Abram.
Take the promise of LAND. Throughout the Old Testament, the focus is on a city, Jerusalem, a country, a geographical place. That’s the place where God lived in his temple.
But come the New Testament, the promise of land is found in a PERSON. Jesus is the true temple and that in Jesus, the land we will dwell in is in heaven, seated around his throne.
Then there’s the promise of OFFSPRING. 25 years after Abram is given the promise, at the ripe old age of 90, Sarah checks in to the maternity ward and out pops Isaac.
Abram’s name is later changed to Abraham, his name literally means: “Father of many” and so the rest of the Old Testament is the story of God turning this nation into a great nation. Not because of anything special in and of themselves but because God set his affection upon them.
Then you turn over to the very first verse of the New Testament.
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…~Matthew 1:1 (NIV)
It took over 2,000 years to get there. But Jesus himself is born into the line of Abraham. And so are you. If you’re a follower of Jesus, then Abraham is your spiritual dad. You are living proof that the promise that Abraham would have millions of kids as vast as the stars in the sky and as numerous as the sand on the seashore. You are the fulfilment of that promise.
And third, that promise of blessing.
Last Friday, Teresa and I watched a documentary called American Gospel. Do yourself a favour and watch it after church today, you can find it on Youtube.
It had us both, on the one hand, cheering by hearing stories of how the gospel is changing lives in America. But on the other hand, it had us fuming as well! Fuming because of how there are people who’ve misunderstood this promise of blessing. Who’ve twisted it to make it all about them. Rather than about Jesus. For them, the blessing God promises you is the blessing of a better car, a bigger house, more money and less sickness.
And that all these blessings are simply yours if you have enough faith.
It’s this false gospel. It’s the complete OPPOSITE of what Paul says in Galatians, because in Galatians, Paul takes the guess work out of what exactly God means when he promised blessing to Abram.
Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” ~Galatians 3:8 (NIV)
Notice how Paul says, that the gospel was already being declared ahead of time to Abraham. You see it there in the words: “All nations will be blessed through you” What is this blessing that will come to all people?
Well, look earlier in the verse. See that phrase: God would justify the Gentiles. The nations. Non-Jews. Let me be clear about the blessing is this. That the God of this universe, the one who you’ve wronged and rebelled against will not count your sins against you. That you are justified. That is, you know today, what God is going to say when you meet him on judgment day …….Not guilty! He’s dropped the charges for your rebellion.
Now thanks to Jesus, we have EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING!
That’s better than any physical blessing, that now thanks to Jesus, we have a blessing that goes on to eternity, not just limited to this life.
That’s worth remembering because Abraham was only working off what we have in the first 11 chapters of the Bible. That’s it!
Lots of promises. Not much fulfilment
Sure we might feel these are uncertain times but this is what gives us certainty because we’ve seen what Abraham never saw. We’ve seen how God has come good on promise after promise. In many ways, we’ve got even less of an excuse NOT to believe!
Now can I say that if all this seems a bit foreign to you, if the Old Testament seems a bit intimidating then can I encourage you to go deeper, because the Bible’s story it’s also your story.
Know it. Treasure it. Sink your teeth into it.
Learn to see your story in light of the Bible story, it is the cure for doubt. It helps you realise your faith. It’s based on more than just John 3:16. That is goes back further than what your parents have passed on.
I love a freebie and until the end of this month, there’s one done by one of my favourite Bible teachers, Mike Raiter, it’s called the Ridley Certificate. I know one couple from our 6pm service have been doing it and it’s really helped them.
Now let’s just stand back from all this. We’ve seen God not only MAKE promises but also KEEP promises.
I hope you’re beginning to realise what sort of God we’re dealing with here. Wow! God’s more committed to the future than we are!! God DOES indeed provide a word of certainty in the face of uncertainty.
And so let me issue you this challenge: When you was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone. When was the last time when you really HAD to trust God?
I happened to be reflecting this week, I looked back and saw how God’s promises have really kept me hanging in there. In the midst of dark clouds, and rough patches his promises have preserved me. Knowing he is faith-FULL when I am faith-LESS.
Promises like Romans 8:1: There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, but gee, what a wonderful promise that was to hear 22 years ago when I took the hand of Jesus. It’s just as wonderful today. Then there was the one 20 years ago when I finished university and was about to begin full-time work.
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. ~1 Corinthians 15.58 (NIV)
The promise that because Jesus has risen, that my decisions, my choices matter. That what I do in this lifetime, has the potential to have ripple effects into eternity. It’s this promise. That’s what shapes my purpose. It gives meaning to everything I do.
Then there was June, 10 years ago when my wife Teresa, lost a brother to suicide and a dad to cancer 3 months later, and the promise we knew in our heads, but really sunk down in our hearts at that time was an oldie but a goodie.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)
And then there’s 2 years ago. This June would’ve been the 2nd birthday of a daughter who we only had for 77 days. One of my children has memorised this wonderful promise because she’s written it next to her bed.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? ~John 14:1-2 (NIV)
The promise of a room in my daddy’s house. Can’t wait for that.
And then there’s June last year, road tripping with Ben from our church up to Uluru. Only to have it cut short because I managed to flip both HIS car, and HIS caravan, then to be able to able to turn off the engine, walk out without even a scratch.
God got my attention with
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. ~Psalm 90:12 (NIV)
As I look back and see how God’s words and God’s promises have kept me going. That’s what inspires me to keep looking ahead. To keep trusting him no matter how uncertain things get. To see how he’s been faithful even though I’ve often been faith-less. And despite all that, knowing God’s got my back, that’s what inspires me to take risks. To have a posture of expectancy. In everything.
Whether it’s sharing Jesus with those who don’t know him when it comes to serving him.
When it comes to finances, being generous.
When it comes to relationships.
When it comes to decisions about the future.
All because of this simple truth: That what God promises, God delivers on.