Sunday 14th June | Sermon
Abraham, Father of many nations.
Readings: Genesis 18:1-15.
Who is your hero? Perhaps it is Superman or Catwoman, or some other action hero. Perhaps it is a musician like Elvis Presley or Michael Houston. It may be an actor like Tom Cruise or Scarlet Johansen. It could be a prominent person like Donald Trump or Jacinta Ardern. It could even be a player of a sports team, someone like Dan Carter or Lisa Car-rington. These are all great people and it is in our nature as human beings to look up to people and admire their achievements.
Maybe your hero is a person from the Bible. Perhaps you love reading and hearing about people like Moses, Samuel, David, Ruth, Simon Peter, Apostle Paul, or Mary, the wife of Joseph. I think my favourite is David, the second king of the united kingdoms of Israel. I like the way that David was a man who sought after the heart of God. He wasn’t perfect as we know, but he admitted his mistake and God saw the sincerity of his heart. He went on to do many great things for God and to serve the people well. My desire is to seek after the heart of God and serve him well in the years ahead.
Your hero could be a person from history. It could be Winston Churchill, Florence Nightin-gale, Julius Caesar, Queen Elizabeth the 1st, St Francis of Asissi, William the Conqueror, or Hamilton’s own Hilda Ross. I think the hero for many people in this denomination is John Wesley. He brought the good news of Jesus to people who had few opportunities to know of God’s love for them. He challenged the church of the time and introduced things which brought people out of their poverty. John and his brother Charles left a tremendous legacy which we have benefitted from. John is another of my heroes.
Of course, the greatest person we can admire and freely worship is Jesus. He came down from heaven to show the people the way to find God. He became lower than the angels, as Hebrews reminds us, giving up his position as God and taking on human form. He lived an exceptional life, facing temptation, hardships, even joyous occasions, speaking to great crowds, performing miracles, and eventually enduring death on the cross and coming back to life. If we need anyone to emulate, surely it must be Jesus.
Perhaps you have taken note of the verses in Psalm 118 that we heard earlier in the Call to worship. Do you remember what we said? I will read them again to remind you. The author of this Psalm wrote in verse 8 and 9, ”It is better to trust in God than to depend on people. It is better to trust in the Lord that to rely on kings or princes”. This is a good reminder that we need to look to God for the answer to our problems, not to govern-ments, people, or organisations. These groups of people are only human and will let us down, whereas God is faithful and we can rely on the Lord.
My message is about another great hero of the Bible, Abraham. You heard the children’s story this morning about how Abraham found faith in God. His parents were people who worshipped idols, but Abraham rejected these and sought after the One True God. That story is not in the Bible, but it is found in the writings of the Jewish sages. We can’t be sure that this is how Abraham came to faith, but I think you will agree that it makes a good story.
Abraham is considered by some to be the Father of the Judeao-Christian faith. Many people consider Jesus to the founder of Christianity, but our Christian heritage actually goes back to Abraham. Our Bibles are divided into two parts, Old and New Testament. In reality, it is ONE story, God’s salvation story for all people. Sadly, many believers have only read half the story. We need to read both Testaments together, to gain the whole story of how God has brought about salvation.
Earlier in the book of Genesis, Abraham and Sarah departed from Ur of the Chaldeas, in the modern day country called Iraq, and headed south-west. Eventually, they arrived in the land named Canaan, and settled there. Along the way, the Lord appeared to Abraham and told him that God had plans for the descendants of Abraham. The Lord said in Gene-sis chapter 12, “I will make of you a great nation, ..........and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3). Sarah was barren but eventually Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael was born to the servant girl Hagar, and God opened the womb of Sarah and she delivered Isaac. When Isaac was older, Abraham took Isaac to the mountain called Moriah. There, Abraham was instructed to slay his son on an altar. Just as he raised the knife to kill his beloved son, Abraham was stopped, and Isaac was saved. A ram was found nearby and that animal was slaughtered in place of Isaac. This simple story points towards God sending his beloved son to die as the Lamb of God. Jesus took our place and paid the ransom price for the sins of the world.
In all that Abraham did, he found favour with God. He was a righteous man, that means he lived the right way. God often talked with Abraham in such a way that it sounds like God visited Abraham in person. Our reading in Genesis chapter 18 says, “The Lord ap-peared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.” (Genesis 18:1). All through the narrative, it refers to one of the three men as the Lord, with a capital L. Was this an angel? Perhaps. Compare Genesis 19 verses 1 and 2, which says, “The two angels came to Sodom in the evening..........and Lot said, ‘Please my lords.’” These Lords have a small letter l. So, maybe God came with two angels to visit Abraham but only the angels visited Lot. How did God appear? Did he come as a cloud, as God so often did in the Old Testament, especially around the Ark of the Covenant? Or did he came as Jesus, God in the flesh. We may never know the answer, but it raises some questions to consider.
The purpose for God appearing to Abraham, that’s if it was indeed God, was to reaffirm to Abraham that he would have a son to his wife Sarah. Verses 9 and 10 of our reading from Genesis 18 says, “They said to Abraham, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife shall have a son.’” Abraham had to wait about 14 years from the time that promise was first given to him until it came to fruition. In the meantime, Sarah thought she would help do God’s work by arranging for Hagar to conceive a son by Abraham.
The faith of Abraham is recorded in Hebrews chapter 11. It says, “By faith Abraham obeyed God when he was called out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the for-eign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. By faith he received power of recreation, even though he was too old, and Sarah herself was barren. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descend-ants were born, as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains as sand on the seashore.” (Hebrews 11:8-9, 11-12).
It was Abraham’s faith in God that made him considered to be righteous. The Apostle Paul spoke of him in the book of Romans. He wrote, “For what does the Scripture say, ‘Abra-ham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’” (Romans 4:3). Paul was making the point that Abraham became righteous (good in the eyes of God), not because of any deed or works of the flesh he performed, but because he believed in God. Paul writing in Galatians chapter 3 said “If you belong to (believe in) Jesus, then you are Abra-ham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29). Earlier in the same chapter, Paul wrote, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God’ and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, so you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.’” (Galatians 3:6-8). Isn’t that interesting. Paul is saying that the gospel (literally, ‘good news’) was first given nearly 2000 years before the coming of the Christ. The message has never changed, it is only by faith that we can be accepted by God as being righteous.
I must bring this message to a conclusion. I haven’t even touched on the reading from Matthew, but I found this message about Abraham so rewarding. I hope it has encouraged you as well. As Christians, we have a wonderful heritage going back thousands of years. The Old Testament is not old, it is alive with the stories of God working amongst people in olden times. The gospel message of salvation, hope and grace is evident in the Old Testament as much as in the New Testament. Most other religions have a god which is remote and cold towards people. But we have a God who is close to us, and loves and cares for all people. There are many people who can be a hero to us, but it is only God who should be the centre of our worship. What an amazing God we have. Amen.