Summary: An incident in the life of Abram/Abraham shows us the cause of all true worship.
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants [seed] I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
Jesus told the woman at the well that God is seeking folks who will worship Him in spirit and truth. We want to be those people, I think. The trouble is this. As often as we use the word “worship” within Christianity, if we were honest, I think we’d have to admit that we don’t really know what it means, or why we should do it, or what it ought to look like when we do.
Since the 1500’s, the Catholic Church has defined “worship” in a very narrow sense. Ask a Catholic who knows these things, and they’ll tell you that only the service of the Mass is worship. On the other end of the scale, you have modern Protestant charismatics who’d say that worship happens when you sing songs to God. I have a charismatic friend who even goes so far as to divide “praise songs” from “worship songs,” so that, during their Sunday service there comes a discernable time at which they stop “praising” and shift into “worship.” After they’ve worshipped for some extended time, they stop worshipping and open their Bibles and listen to the message. Mainline Protestant churches seem to use the word “worship” as a synonym for “liturgy.” That is, whatever form they’ve taken for the conduct of their morning services, that is worship. So that sometimes you’ll see the morning’s program, the bulletin, which shows the order of events, called the Order of Worship.
Am I going to clear up all this confusion today? Probably not. In fact, as I thought about this sermon this week, I was tempted to think that the best I could hope for was the first rule of the physician. “First of all, do no harm.” But I have pressed on, trusting that the Holy Spirit, working through His Word, can do a work in us today, and change something within us. I believe that today’s message can move us all down the road to becoming what the Father is seeking, folks who worship in spirit and truth, in response to His revealing of Himself to us.
Our text this morning is the first appearance of the Lord to Abram (who of course would later become Abraham the Hebrew) after He called him out of his father’s house. The Bible doesn’t tell us how this happened, but simply that it did. God appeared to Abram and made him a promise. It was a great and glorious promise. If we pay attention to the teaching of the New Testament here, we’ll see that God wasn’t just promising Abram that the Jews would inherit the land of Canaan. Primarily, what God was promising here was that Jesus Christ, Abraham’s Seed, would inherit the whole earth.
So God appears and reveals something of His plan to Abram. God appeared. I’m not sure we grasp how profound that is. God appeared. The invisible, incomprehensible, infinite, unapproachable God…appeared to him. Abram didn’t suddenly conceptualize a Deity. No theological proposition appeared to him. He was not hit with an idea, or a concept. But an Eternal, living Being made His presence real to him in some way.
This was an Apocalyptic moment. How’s that for a scary word? Apocalyptic. We’ve been trained to think that Apocalypse is the End of the World. It’s not. An apocalypse was simply a form of writing that developed around the time of Christ. Technically, “apocalypse” means “revealing”. Apocalypse means the pulling back of the curtain, to show you what is hidden. In apocalyptic writing, the people of God suffer under the oppression of the forces of evil in the world. But we soon learn that our world is effected by another, hidden world, the world of the spirit, where demons and angels are locked in conflict. In apocalyptic writing, at some point, the curtain between our world and that one is pulled back, and God and His angels invade our world from that other side and defeat the servants of the devil. The invisible spirit world invades the world of men, for the ultimate purpose of bringing about the salvation of God.
This is what Abram experienced. The invisible Spirit who is God appeared to Him and preached to him the Gospel. It was by believing these promises that Abraham was counted righteous.
At some point it is natural for us to ask, Why Abram? Why not someone else? These are hard questions, and it is right to finally leave them aside and say, “The secret things belong to God.” Why does God choose one and seem to pass over another? Why Abram? Why me? Why you? God never reveals the Why in His Book, but this much is clear—the choice is His. The first Methodists came up with a phrase to try and deal with this. They called it Preveniant Grace. Simply put, it means God is always first. No man develops a thirst for Living Water on his own. God creates that thirst. No man on his own initiative cries out for salvation, but God’s Spirit deals in secret with a man’s heart to make him despair of his sin and seek to be cleansed. Ephesians 2:8 makes it clear that even the faith by which we are saved is a gift from God, and whole theologies spring up to try and escape that truth and say that man has something to do with it, but God is always previous. God is always first. No man repents and thereby receives mercy. God grants the mercy of repentance to hardened sinners out of His pure grace.