OPEN: A mother was read a Bible story about Abraham to her 5-year-old daughter. when she finished, she started asking her a few questions about it. “What was Abraham's name before God changed it?” She looked puzzled for a moment… then smiled as she asked, “Lincoln?” (Annelle Maurer, Loma Linda, CA. Today's Christian Woman, "Heart to Heart.")
God changed Abraham’s name? Well… yeah. In our story today, we see that Abraham’s name had ONCE been Abram. Abram means “exalted Father” and Abraham means “Father of a multitude.”
But now, why would God do that? Why change this man’s name? Well God seems to do that a lot in Scripture especially when He’s making a major change in the person’s life. For example, Jacob became Israel; Simon was renamed Peter; and Saul was transformed into Paul. And of course in Revelation 2:17 God promises us “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Even we can get a new name.
In each of those people’s lives (Jacob, Simon and Saul) there was like a rebirth that took place. They became different men than when they had their old names. So what became different about Abraham? What did God DO with him? Well Abraham was once just a normal guy. He was a shepherd and a husband and he tried to live a life pleasing to God. But then, one day God says “I want to do something special with you. I want to make a covenant (or contract) with you. And that’s what this Genesis 12 passage is all about. God introduces Himself to Abraham… and then He makes a promise. “I want you to leave your home and your kinfolk… and go to a land I’ll show you. And I’ll make you into a great nation; I’ll bless you and make your name great; I’ll make you into a blessing for others; if others bless you, I’ll bless them, but if they curse you… I’ll curse them.”
And when all was said and done Abraham became one of the important people in the Bible. In the Old Testament, we read the phrase “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob over and over again. And Abraham’s grandson Jacob was renamed Israel and became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. So, literally, Abraham was the great-grandfather of the 12 tribes of Israel. So when God said he would make Abraham into a great nation… Israel comes to mind.
But then, in the New Testament we’re told that Abraham is Our Father too! Galatians 3:7-9 says “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 God made Abraham the father of, not just the people of Israel, but ALSO of you and me, and of every Christian who ever lived. AND, that means that this covenant God made with Abraham (Genesis 12) applies to us right now.
ILLUS: Back when I was in Bible college there was another student who rejected that idea. He didn’t think the promises God made to Abraham in Genesis 12 applied to us. He was particularly offended with the promise: I’ll bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” “You can’t claim that promise,” he said. “That is only made to Abraham. Now, that really annoyed me because I was pretty sure that was wrong, but I didn’t know quite why! But then I read in Galatians 3:29 “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
The promises found in Genesis to Abraham are ours because we’re Abraham’s offspring. For example, when I die, my children will be heir to my estate (such as it is). As my heirs they inherit everything that belongs to me!!! In the same way, we are heirs of Abraham - so, we get what he got… including his promises.
For example, God told Abraham “I’ll bless those who bless you.” And Jesus said, “whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward." (Matthew 10:42) Are you Christ’s disciple? Well, that means that whoever blesses you will be blessed by God.
And God told Abraham “I’ll curse those who curse you.” Paul wrote: “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thessalonians 1:6) What’s that mean? It means God will curse those who curse you.
Well, that’s kinda cool. But what does that mean to us? Why should I care? Well, I should care because it means God will watch out for us. He’s got our back. That what Romans 8:31 says: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” God’s basically saying – “You mess with my kids, I’ll mess with you.”
So, that’s interesting. God will bless those who bless me… and curse those who curse me. Curse those who curse me? ALRIGHT!!! I kinda like that. I mean, have you ever had people at work that were jerks who gave you a hard time? Or family members who’ve mistreated you? Or course you have! It’s only right that God nail them for their behavior. Right? I mean - they don’t know who they’re messing with!
But that’s not quite how God thinks. In Proverbs 24:17-18 we’re warned “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.” In other words, if we enjoy the difficulties God brings upon our enemies… God will stop “cursing them” because we’ve obviously missed the point. His judgment upon them is intended to make us feel pity for our enemies and give us an opportunity to reach out to them. That’s why II Peter 3:9 says “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God doesn’t want to destroy your enemies – He wants to convert them. Thus, when He brings judgment upon our enemies, we should pray for them and feel a sorrow for them that leads us to try to bring to Christ.
Now, what about the part of the covenant with Abraham where God said He would bless him and then make him a blessing to others? Does God promise to “bless us?” Of course He does. In John 1:16 we read “From the fulness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” And in Romans 8:32 we’re told “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” God promised to bless us, just like He promised Abraham.
Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t encounter difficulties, and frustrations and hardships and pain, and even death. It doesn’t mean we’ll avoid those things in this life. But what it does mean is that we have an edge – we’ve been promised God blessings.
Aside from the answered prayers and active ways that God works in our lives… just by following God and listening to His guidance in Scripture, studies have shown that faithful Christians tend to live longer and better lives than those who don’t go to church. It’s true.
ILLUS: A study from Duke University Medical Center found that people who regularly attended things like church and Bible study had a 50% lower risk of dying over a 6-year period than others of the same age and health status. In other words we tend to live (on average) 6 years longer than those who don’t follow Christ.
Other studies have found that Christians experience less anxiety and stress. Why? Because we realize that God will always be there for us, and we’re repeatedly told to not be afraid, but to be strong and courageous. And we’re less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Why? Because those who abuse those things are seeking ways to avoid the difficulties of this world and mask their pain. By contrast God leads us through our hardships and comforts us in the midst of our difficulties. In addition, we’re less likely to commit suicide. Years ago, there was a book written about how to commit suicide – and in the forward the author explained that he doubted Christians would want to read his book. Why? Because Christians are constantly reminded that our life has value and that we have a purpose no matter what happens in our lives.
And we tend to manage our money better. Not that we’re likely to become rich beyond the dreams of avarice, but when we follow God’s advice on handling money, we are better off financially than we would have been had we not come to Jesus. And lastly, we tend to be more grateful for what we have than others are because we’re constantly reminded in Scripture to rejoice and be thankful for everything that we have. The rest of the world tends to constantly complain about what they don’t have and what they’ve lost, but God say “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I’ll say rejoice.” Philippians 4:4
So God blesses us and equips us to be better prepared to handle life.
But then, God told Abraham that he would be a blessing to others. That promise applies to us as well. In fact, its so much a part of our faith that we have a favorite Gospel hymn that reminds us of that. Sing it with me:
“Make me a blessing. Make me a blessing. Out of my heart, may Jesus shine. Make me a blessing, O Savior I pray. Make me a blessing to someone today.”
That’s what we’re called to do. Jesus commanded “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” Matthew 7:12. And Paul wrote “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” Galatians 6:10. And Hebrews 13:16 tells us “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Being a blessing to others is kind of our job description. It’s what each one of us should be known for. That’s why, down thru history, Churches have been at the forefront of founding orphanages and hospitals. And whenever there’s a tragedy in places like the Bahamas or Haiti or some other struggling area, believers are always among the first to answer to the call for help. That happens so regularly because that’s part of our job description.
ILLUS: And one of church’s more powerful blessings has been when it has stood against evil. This blessing doesn’t tend to make us real popular, but its also part of our job description. Have you ever heard of a man named Albert Einstein? Of course you have. He was a Jew who lived in Germany as Adolf Hitler took power there. He wondered that no one seemed to be willing to stand up and oppose Hitler. He wrote "When Hitlerism came to Germany I expected the Universities to oppose it. Instead they embraced it. I hoped for the press to denounce it, but instead they propagated its teachings. One by one the leaders and institutions which should have opposed the Nazi philosophy bowed meekly to its authority. Only one institution met it with vigorous opposition and that was the Christian Church."
Einstein confessed, "That which I once despised, I now love with a passion I cannot describe." In the sermon where I read this, the preacher noted that “the commitment of the Church in standing against evil made a profound impression upon Albert Einstein. Those individuals in the 1930's understood the cost associated with their actions, and they did not back down. The church today can do no less.” (Brett Blair, www.eSermons.com, June 2001)
One of the blessings we give to this world is to occasionally stand up and say “you can’t do that. That’s not right.” It won’t make us popular, but it’s still part of our job description.
One last thought… why did God choose Abraham? I mean Abraham wasn’t portrayed as a mighty warrior like David facing Goliath, and he never built a city or ruled over a mighty nation. And he didn’t even come from a particularly godly family. In Joshua 24:2 God told Israel “Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.” Abraham grew up in a pagan society!
So why pick Abraham? What set him apart from others of his day? Well, I think it may have a lot to do with something I’ve read in II Chronicles 16:9 (NKJV) “The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” God looked inside Abraham’s heart and saw a man who’d be loyal to him. Or as I Samuel 16:7 says “man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Just like God looks in our hearts to see if we’re loyal to Him as well.
I think we get an idea of the kind of man Abraham was by what’s said in our text this morning: “Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, ‘To your offspring I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.” Genesis 12:7-8
In those two short verses we find Abraham building not one, but two altars. In fact, throughout his life, it seems like everyplace Abraham went … he built an altar! Why an altar? Well, altars were places where a worshiper would offer up a burnt offering. But it was also a place where people were declaring “I’m here. I’m available. I’m not too busy to honor you and listen to what you have to say.”
ILLUS: For us older folks, we remember what a busy signal was. Younger folk with their cell phones may hear “the party you’re calling is not available” but we heard “EHHH, EHHH, EHHH, EHHH.” The line was busy. We couldn’t get through. And the sound was realllly annoying!
Imagine how annoying it is to God when we’re too busy to listen to Him. An altar was Abraham’s way of saying “I’m not too busy for you. I’m available. I’m listening, and I want to hear what you have to say.”
That’s the kind of person God is looking for. Someone who’s not too busy to hear Him. Someone who is always “listening” to hear God in Sunday School, and Bible studies, and your prayer times and private reading of the Bible. And especially here at church. Now, I realize that there are people who come to church because it’s the “thing to do” and they’re just putting in their time. And if that’s why you’re here, I can work with that. But I hope the reason you’re here is to HEAR God, to learn how to be His child and how to be loyal to Him. And most importantly, if you’re not a Christian today, my prayer is that you hear the most important message God has to give you today – His offer of salvation.