E100 – July 16, 2017

“Blessed… to be a Blessing” – Genesis 12

Pentecost 6 – July 16, 2017




Just over a month ago, we started dealing with the 50 Essential Bible stories from the Old Testament, and we’ve gotten through the first 11 chapters of Genesis. The first story documented both the cosmic and the personal accounts of creation: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” and Luther’s explanation, “I believe that God made me.”

Then we got into the first temptation – questioning, challenging and disobeying God – and the original sin which has led all of us to be sinful at our core. But we also heard about God’s promise that a seed born of woman would ultimately come to crush Satan, the adversary, the deceiver, and to save us.

Next we dealt with two stories of God and Noah and the flood (clap, clap). We heard about how “every inclination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil all the time,” but how righteous Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. The second story recalled the rainbow – God’s covenant with humanity not to send another catastrophic flood. That reminds us of God’s new covenant with us in Jesus, the covenant in which God says, “Never will your sins flood over you to destroy you.”

Last Sunday, we heard about the people of Shinar trying to build a tower to heaven in order to become famous. God crushed their human pride by confusing their language and by scattering them over the face of the earth. But He did not leave the way to heaven inaccessible. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have a sure and certain tower to heaven, thanks to God’s grace.


Some of Genesis 5 and the end of Genesis 11 are similar. In Genesis 5, we read the family tree from Adam to Noah. In Genesis 11, we read the family tree from Noah’s son, Shem to our next character, Abram… but I will call him by his more familiar name, Abraham. The first 11 chapters of Genesis covered the first 20 generations of human life, with some people living almost 1000 years. The last 39 chapters of Genesis deal with only 4 generations, and focus only on Abraham and his descendants.


But just before we get to Abraham’s story, I want to ask for 2 or 3 volunteers to answer this question:  If you who were not born in Canada, and if you came to Canada as an adult, why did you come to this country?


  1. God’s Plan

As we eavesdrop on the story of Abraham, we find that God said to Abraham, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” Abraham was 75 years old at the time, and I was thinking that this wasn’t a job transfer nor was it an adventure, it was more like a retirement plan. But then, Abraham lived another 100 years, so he wasn’t even at middle age. You know… 75 is the new 40!! (Oh… so those of you who immigrated to Canada as adults, did any of you have God say to you, “Leave your country and your family and go to the land I will show you?” Maybe not… this story is unique.)

God didn’t just tell Abraham to go and expect Abraham’s blind and unwavering obedience. In His call to Abraham, God issued a multi-faceted promise as part of His plan in sending Abraham to this new country. There are two recipients of God’s promise.


  1. To bless Abraham

First, God intended to bless Abraham, himself.

He starts by saying, “I will make you into a great nation.” A great nation – that was a welcome promise because, at the end of Genesis 11, Sarah, his wife, is described as being childless. She was already in her 60’s, so a child and a family were a stretch, let alone a great nation! We’ll talk more about this childlessness next Sunday.

After narrowing humanity down to Noah and his family during the time of the great flood, God once again narrows down the Bible’s story line to one man, one couple, one family. It was through Abraham that we follow God’s special and holy covenant people.


God adds the simple promise, “I will bless you.” To bless – when it’s spoken from the greater person to the lesser – means to bestow ability for success. God intended to give Abraham many good things. In fact, exactly one chapter later we hear that Abraham was very rich in livestock, and in silver and gold – so much so that he and his nephew Lot could not both inhabit the same land… they had separate from each other. Blessing doesn’t always or only equate to material possessions. Blessing can also indicate spiritual richness, like a richness in the fruit of the Spirit listed on our banners today.


The third way God would bless Abraham is expressed in the phrase, “I will make your name great.” Last week we heard about the people of Shinar that wanted to make great names for themselves by building that Tower of Babel. Most often when people want to make a great name for themselves, it doesn’t happen. It backfires and they are famous for all the wrong reasons. Or their ambitions are not successful and nobody really hears about them. But if they humbly work hard and accomplish their goals in life, then somehow people get to know them and their name, and come to appreciate what they have achieved.

Abraham didn’t really do any miracles, like Moses would later do. He wasn’t a great politician or military general or philosopher. He wasn’t a jet-setting missionary that was known personally throughout the entire middle east. He was just an ordinary Joe, but God made his name and his story famous. Jews and Muslims and Christians ALL trace their spiritual roots back to Abraham. In a conversation with Jesus, some Jews claimed, “Abraham is our Father.” Abraham is the subject of the 4th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans, where Paul claims “He is the father of us all.” You could ask about his identity on the street and a lot of people still today could tell you something about him, even 4,000 years later. Abraham’s name is truly great!


  1. To bless the world

Secondly, God intended to bless the world through Abraham. This was not a direct blessing to the world, but an indirect blessing through Abraham. God’s words were: “You will be a blessing.” God’s original blessing to humanity at creation was, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground… I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

That blessing was tarnished and broken when sin entered the world, but God was about to restore and fulfill that blessing through Abraham and his offspring. Some examples of that are… when Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph, ended up in Egypt, the Egyptians were blessed by his administrative abilities; the Ninevites of the 8th century B.C. were blessed by the preaching of reluctant missionary, Jonah; during Israel’s exile in Babylon, even the Babylonians were blessed by Daniel’s wisdom and leadership.

For Abraham, “You will be a blessing” really means “You have been blessed, but you have been blessed… to be a blessing to others.” The same is true of us… If you have been blessed by God – materially, spiritually – that blessing is not just for your sake, it’s not meant to be a dead-end at YOU! You, like Abraham, are blessed… to be a blessing to others. I know a lot of you have been generous to others (especially Peter). That’s what it means, but it also means, being a listening ear, helping a neighbour out with a project, giving someone a ride, welcoming a new neighbour, sponsoring an overseas child. God’s being good to us extends outward with our being good to others. At Vacation Bible School this past week, the theme was “created by God, [blessed,] and built for a purpose…” to be a blessing to others.


The next phrase of blessing to the world was, “I will bless those who bless you.”

Do you remember – in the movie “Back to the Future” – when Marty McFly needed to construct a lightning rod to provide 1.21 gigawatts of energy to the DeLorean time machine to get him from the past back to his present time? The lightning rod was the conduit for the energy of a lightning strike to be transferred to the time machine.

Abraham (and his descendants) would be the conduit, the lightning rod, for God’s blessing to be directed toward others. A couple of examples of those who befriended God’s people and were blessed because of it were:

The midwives in Egypt who let the Israelite baby boys live, against the express order of the Pharaoh, and they were blessed by God.

[A story we did in VBS this week…] Rahab assisted the Israelite spies when they were scouting out the city of Jericho, and she and her family were rescued by them, received among their people, and she actually became an ancestor of Jesus, listed in his family tree. People were blessed by their association with Abraham and his descendants.


Oh, and Abraham would be a lightning rod for curses, too. God said, “I will curse those who curse you.” But we’ll leave it at the blessing!


Finally, God said, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” I’m going to leave this one for a few minutes until we get to how this story really applies to us.


  1. Abraham’s Response
  2. Trust

So, what was Abraham’s response to God’s call to leave his country, and the multi-faceted promise that accompanied that call? Remember back to when you were a young child, or to when you had young children. If your family was going on vacation, you’d talk about it for days, maybe weeks, before you went. You planned, and the day or two before, you packed. Then finally, the family piled into the mini-van, and off you went. If someone asked you – as a young child – “Where are you going?” you might say “I don’t know.” “How long are you staying?” “I don’t know.” “What road are you taking to get there?” “I don’t know.” You might not know a lot of details about the vacation. The most important thing is who you’re going with – your parents – and your trust in them. Your relationship – that’s the main thing.


That’s the way it was with Abraham and God, too. Abraham didn’t know all the details. He had never been to this country of Canaan before, not even on vacation! He maybe didn’t exactly know the route. He didn’t know what it would look like. He might not have even known what he would do once he got there. But all that was irrelevant. He trusted God… and that was enough.


Like Noah, Abraham was a man of faith in his great God. But before we conclude that he is a holy hero that we can’t relate to, I need to tell you of an episode of wavering faith in Genesis 12. There was a famine in Canaan, and Abraham took Sarah and their servants and possessions to Egypt. Now remember, Abraham was in his 70’s, Sarah was in her 60’s. But even in her 60’s, she was a good looking woman, like all of our 60-something women here today! And in this foreign land, and among foreign people, Abraham was being what… cautious, protective, jealous? He thought, “When these Egyptians see my beautiful wife, they will desire her, and they will kill me to have her.” So, he told Sarah to say that she was his sister. Well, her beauty was communicated to the Pharaoh, himself, and he took her into his palace as his wife. But then God sent diseases on Pharaoh and his household, and he knew something was wrong, so he gave Sarah back to Abraham with a good scolding for telling a lie. Sometimes we, too, take matters into our own hands, with a faith that wavers because it seems like God is not doing anything. Trust in a loving, compassionate and all-knowing God is always the best response to God’s promises.


  1. Obedience

Abraham’s second response was obedience. Verse 4 reports, “So Abraham left.” That’s it… he picked up and left, with unwavering obedience. This was much different from Moses. When he was called by God to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, he made up excuse after excuse. It was much different from Jonah. When he was called by God to preach repentance to the wicked residents of Nineveh, he got on the first boat… in the opposite direction. Abraham gathered his people and his belongings and went.

Martin Luther wrote that “Promise and faith belong together.” We might even say that promise and faith and action belong together. God made promises to Abraham – a land, a great nation, a great name. Abraham believed God’s promises. Abraham acted on that faith by following exactly what God asked him to do.

We might not hear God speak so directly to us. But we do have His Word right here in the Bible, and we can respond to what God says to us in His Word with unwavering obedience:

“Love God with your entire being.”

“Love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

“Forgive those who sin against you.”

“Do not worry about tomorrow.”

“Think about things that are true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy.”


  1. God’s Blessing
  2. Of Abraham

We have talked about the words that God used in His promises to Abraham. Now, let’s hear how God truly blessed him.

I mentioned before that Abraham was materially rich – with gold and silver, flocks and herds. Along with Solomon and Job, he is one of the three richest yet faithful men mentioned in the Bible.

But an even more important aspect of Abraham’s being blessed is that God counted his faith as righteousness. We’re going to capture that more next Sunday, but we can foreshadow it a little bit by saying that as Abraham believed all of the promises that God made to him, God didn’t count his sins against him, but considered him to be forgiven and right with God. That’s why, when Paul deals with Abraham at length in Romans 4, he doesn’t say that Abraham’s actions or obedience made him right with God, but his faith made him holy, righteous and redeemed. That’s why he is called the father of all who believe… even us!


  1. Of us (through Abraham)

Then, as promised (by me), we need to pick up that last promise made to Abraham, the one that relates to us. “All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” This, like the promise in Eden that a seed of the woman would come to crush the head of Satan, is another Messianic promise. It points forward to a complete fulfillment in the coming of a Saviour. All people – including us – would especially be blessed through that one descendant of Abraham’s family. When we follow Abraham’s family tree (in the book of Matthew), we go through Isaac, Jacob, Judah, eventually Ruth, then David, through a lot more generations until we get to Joseph and Mary, and then Jesus, the one who would truly bless us by His suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus doesn’t bless us materially. We aren’t made financially rich by our association with, by our faith in Jesus. Paul explained the true blessing that comes to us in 2 Corinthians 8: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” When Jesus died on the cross, He really had nothing to His name. His tunic had been gambled away by the soldiers. His friends had deserted Him. Even His heavenly Father had abandoned Him. He literally had nothing. He was poor. Yet, in that poverty, He gave us the very thing we need the most, the grace of God, the love of God, the forgiveness of God, the salvation of God. Like Abraham, we are considered blessed, rich, if you will – holy, righteous and redeemed – through that forgiving and saving work of Abraham’s descendant, Jesus, on the cross. And one day, God will speak to you and say, “Leave your country, your home, your planet, and come to the land, the heavenly land, that I will show you. And I will bless you, beyond your wildest dreams I will bless you.”


In the meantime, having already been blessed, be a blessing to others – with your generosity, with your words, with your deeds, with your love, with your forgiveness… to make Jesus’ name great. Amen.




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