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OLD TESTAMENT - ABRAHAM'S FAITH

THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM

Abraham is called “the friend of God” (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:2-3). In the New Testament, Abraham is listed as the ancestor of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1) and the spiritual father of all who receive the free gift of salvation through faith (Galatians 3:6-7).

Abraham’s early life could be called “Forgotten Years” as the Bible doesn’t tell much about them. Abram, his original name, probably was born in the city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, which is modern-day Iraq. His father was Terah and his wife was his half-sister Sarai, later named Sarah. When Abraham was 75, he set out for Canaan in obedience to God. Abraham’s journey to the Promised Land included a personal journey to know the true God since Terah’s family was polytheistic according to Joshua 24:2.

Abraham had “Fruitless Years.” A long time elapsed between God's call of Abraham to leave his father's house and Abraham's actual journey. Abraham's settling in Haran with his family indicates he failed to obey God's command fully.

He also had "Faithful Years" when he willingly obeyed God's call. He left Haran and his old way of life. Though the only land he owned in Canaan was his wife's grave site, he faithfully believed in God's promises. Abraham was a nomad, living in tents throughout the lands of Shechem, Bethel, Hebron, and Beersheba. His eyes were not fixed on an earthly, temporal city but on a heavenly eternal one, the New Jerusalem. Consequently, he could wait obediently with patient endurance until God’s promises to him would be fulfilled. When God told Abraham in Genesis 12:1 to “Go forth,” He set in motion the creation of the nation of Israel from which the Savior of the world would come--Jesus, the Son of Abraham.

Abraham was an ordinary man who was made extraordinary by faith. Abraham’s permanent, constant trust in God was the basis for his ongoing relationship with the Almighty. When God issued His call to Abraham, Abraham unhesitatingly responded in obedience, fully confident, dependent on God. Abraham’s trust and reliance on God should not be considered a deed, act, or work that merited righteousness in the Lord’s eyes. By trusting God, Abraham was not made righteous. Rather God declared him righteous or assigned righteousness to his account.

Abraham’s faith was great indeed.
•    He trusted God for the route he would take from Ur and then from Haran. He went with no promise of property because God only told him of the land inheritance after he reached Shechem. Although Abraham was pledged the land by divine decree, he never took possession of it.
•    Abraham received a son because of his faith.
         - God had promised Abraham a son in his old age and gave him strength.
         - Abraham was 100 years old, and Sarah was 90 when their son Isaac was born. God worked a miracle.
         - Every Jewish person ever born was conceived because Abraham exercised faith and trust in God’s promise.
         - God was willing and able to provide the promised son Isaac, but He acted on the basis of Abraham’s faith.
         - God honored Abraham’s faith and gave him a vast multitude of descendants.
         - The key to the impossible is faith in God.
•    Abraham had steadfast faith. Abraham and his descendants clung to the promises of the covenant. Their steadfast faith gave them the assurance and conviction that God someday would deliver what He promised.
•    Abraham had sacrificing faith. Abraham’s character and faith were tested to the ultimate degree when he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac as recorded in Hebrews 11:17-19.

        God told Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Mariah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Although Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn son, Isaac was unique and irreplaceable because he was the only son of promise. He alone inherited the covenant promises passed from Abraham. Even though God prevented Abraham from actually sacrificing Isaac, He considered the deed completed and had already accepted it before Abraham had placed Isaac on the altar.

        Abraham’s obedience was a great act of faith. He knew God had promised him many descendants through Isaac and must have struggled trying to reconcile God’s command to kill Isaac on the altar. So convinced was he that God could do what he promised that Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead.

Abraham is so cherished by the Jewish people that during times of persecution his example of faith and endurance gave them hope and encouraged them never to renounce their faith in God. Throughout the ages, Abraham would become the father of faith to believing people worldwide.
•    The apostle Paul, for instance, in Romans 4:3, Romans 4:9, and Romans 4:22 showed that Abraham acquired salvation through faith alone, not by the works of the Law. He quoted Genesis 15:6 to show that  God accepted Abraham solely because of Abraham’s faith.
•    James also quoted Genesis 15:6 to show that Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac demonstrated his complete faith in God.

Genesis, the Biblical book of beginnings, provides a family history of Abraham and Sarai, his half-sister. Scripture made no prohibition against marriage between close relatives until well after Abraham’s time. Sarai’s life was characterized simply as childless. The apostle Peter’s commentary (1 Peter 3:5-6) describes Sarah’s hope in God and her exemplary, submissive spirit. Although they did not always relate to each other perfectly, Sarah and Abraham trusted God. Many trials and obstacles in their long life together became a proving ground for their commitment to each other. By faith, Abraham and Sarah stepped into the unknown, trusting their God to deliver on His promises. As their sons and daughters by faith, so can we.

Reading the Biblical account of Abraham’s life is like watching a tightrope walker who steps onto a thin wire to traverse cavernous depths. The slightest misstep can bring disaster. Counted as the friend of God, Abraham is forever engraved in faith’s so-called Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11 with others who depended on the Father’s voice to guide their steps along the narrow path.

Being a man of faith does not mean Abraham was perfect. The Lord reveals Abraham’s difficulty walking a thin line of faith.
•    It takes great faith to leave your family and follow God without knowing where you are going.
•    Before he had even entered Egypt, Abraham became concerned for his safety.
•    He informed his beautiful wife Sarah that the Egyptians might kill him in order to take her for themselves.
•    Pharaoh took Sarah, but God protected her from violation and rescued her.

We might look at him differently if his choice to save his own neck at Sarah’s expense were a one-time failure. But Genesis 20 says that while traveling in Gerar Abraham again sought to save his life. In the same manner King Abimelech took Sarah, but the ever watchful Almighty visited the King and threatened to kill him if he touched her. God protected both Sarah and Abraham through this odd ordeal of faith. Abraham was no weakling. When Lot was captured, he gathered a large fighting force, brazenly attacked the armies of the foreign kings, and saved his nephew (Genesis 14:8-16).

Abraham's relations with Sarah's maid (Genesis 16:2) produced Ishmael, but he was not the son God had promised. Abraham's decision to abandon the path of faith for the path of human reasoning created consequences that reverberate even today. Ishmael’s descendants are the Moslems who today are beheading Christians. Abraham asked God to bless Ishmael to be the heir, and God said no. He would not allow His redemptive plan to be thwarted. The promise would be fulfilled through Sarah whose son Isaac, would be the covenant bearer. God reiterated His covenant and the promise to give Abraham a son through Abraham's aged, barren wife, Sarah. And so it happened, Sarah gave birth to Isaac.

Abraham learned that salvation is by grace. Perfect righteousness will never be found in the heart of any man or woman because everyone is stained with sin. The divine record of the sinful choices in the life of Abraham, an ordinary man, testifies to the truth that a personal relationship with God is not something you can earn. Our righteousness and good deeds are but filthy rags in comparison to His holiness (Isaiah 64:6). By openly revealing the sinful, faithless imperfections in Abraham’s life, God declares that the Biblical narrative is not about Abraham. It is about God and how His redemptive plan is being played out in an imperfect world.

Abraham believed that God could bring life from death (Hebrews 11:19). He was prepared to kill his son with the hope that God woul raise him from the dead. He became an example of God’s power to give life to those who are dead in trespasses and sin. Most people today believe they will go to Heaven based on their own good deeds, but that is not what the Hebrew Scriptures or Abraham's life teach. Righteousness is a gift of grace, apart from human works. God declares us righteous when we place our faith in Him alone.

From the time God called him, Abraham faced many challenges and controversies. God tested Abraham’s faith at least twelve times. He assessed himself well when he said, “I am but dust and ashes.” By God’s grace his life counted for eternity. A broad, deep, and accurate Biblical perspective of Abraham can be found in Genesis. It reveals a fundamental truth about this Jewish patriarch. Abraham believed in the Lord.

Yet there was much more to his Character. The beauty of his life is depicted honestly in the Bible, which reveals his blemishes as well as his blessings. Though imperfect, Abraham's life of faith was marked with courage, compassion, and credibility.
•    He had Courage. Abraham displayed great courage when he rescued Lot from the four eastern kings who had kidnaped him. He did the right thing at the right time, completely disregarding his own welfare.
•    He had Compassion. While Abraham's relationship with God was growing, Sodom's evil population was rebelling against God. Punishment was coming because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was great, and the cities' sins were extremely grave. The Lord Himself appeared to Abraham to deliver His message of judgment, soon to be carried out by two angels who had accompanied Him. Abraham knew his nephew Lot lived in Sodom. He also knew God was justified in destroying the sinful city.

        Motivated by compassion for Lot and his family, Abraham boldly intervened. In true Middle East form, he demonstrated “chutzpah” (Yiddish for "audacity") by negotiating with God. He started the bargaining by asking God to spare Sodom if there were 50 righteous souls in the city. God agreed. He continued to barter, asking on behalf of 45, 40, 35, 30, 20, and finally 10 righteous souls. God agreed to spare Sodom if it had 10 righteous souls, but there was only one: Lot. God was willing to spare Lot's entire family. But in the end, only Lot and his two daughters survived.

Abraham was not blind to God's righteousness and holiness. He displayed great boldness by pleading with the Lord. Believers should stand boldly before the Lord in prayer and plead to Him on behalf of others. Like Abraham, we should have compassion for people and act on it by trying to protect others both spiritually and physically.

Abraham was a "foreigner and a visitor” among the Canaanites, a pilgrim in the Promised Land to which God called him.
•    When his wife, Sarah, died in Hebron, Abraham had to find a place to bury her.
•    His neighbors were not believers in the one true God, yet they recognized Abraham's leadership and integrity, his strong character and credibility.
•    They called him “mighty prince" (literally, "a prince with God") and offered him "the choicest" of their burial places.
•    Abraham wanted a cave at Machpelah and was willing to pay full price.
•    Abraham maintained his testimony, which was put on full review, purchasing the field and the cave for 400 silver shekels.
•    Sarah was buried there and later Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah.
•    Abraham knew people were watching him, and he consistently demonstrated his upright character.

Abraham was far from perfect, but God used him greatly. He sinned and he fell, but God's mighty hand of grace was there to catch and save him. By God's sovereign design, Abraham became a central figure in the Almighty's plan to preserve the Jewish people and bring salvation to the world through His Messiah. Abraham was not chosen for what he could do for God but what God could do through him. Just as God chose and used Abraham despite his faults and failures, God is able to choose and use us as well.

THE INVITATION
★    You can't depend on your own goodness to get to Heaven. We've all sinned  (Romans 3:23). Jesus paid the penalty for your sins with His death on the cross and His resurrection (John 3:16).
★    To be forgiven and be guaranteed a place in Heaven, you need to repent of sin, confess that you are a sinner, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart (Acts 2:21).
★    You can use the following prayer or your own words, but you must actually believe in your heart that your prayer is real:
   
    Lord Jesus, I believe You are the Son of God. I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed. Please forgive all my wrongdoing and let me live in relationship with You from now on.
       I receive You as my Savior and recognize that the work You accomplished once and for all on the cross was done on my behalf.
       Thank You for saving me. Help me to live a life that is pleasing to You.
                In Your name I pray, Amen.

    Dr. Nicholas J. Gray, Pastor   Broadway Baptist Church   Sedalia, Missouri   August 30, 2015