One problem with the Christian faith is that it’s largely about trusting in some promises that we can’t see. You can’t see God. You can’t see heaven. You can’t see sin or the forgiveness of sin. Which can make it all seem a bit “up in the clouds”. A bit unreal. Like the Christian faith isn’t in the real world.
One of the great things about Abraham is that he was very down to earth. He’s the biggest example in the Bible of someone who trusted in God. He’s the number one hero of faith. And yet there was nothing “up in the clouds” about him. We see clearly how his trust in God’s promises affected the way he lived.
Abraham helps us today too. He helps us to keep our feet firmly on the ground.
Let me recap for us. Last week we looked together at Genesis chapter 12, in which God made three big promises to Abraham. First, God would bless him. And God would bless every nation on earth through him. Second, God would give him a large family. And third, God would give him a land of his own.
If you were here, you’ll remember that Abraham then lapsed in his trust in God to keep those promises. When there was a famine, he left the land and went down to Egypt. He passed Sarai, his wife, off as his sister. Abraham’s trust in God is symbolised in the way he builds altars as places of prayer. In Egypt, he built no altars. He’d stopped trusting in God.
What happens next is that he returns to a position of faith. He starts trusting God again. And that gives us the two chapters we had read this morning.
Each of those chapters gives us two ways in which Abraham’s trust in God came down to earth in the way he lived.
Promises of God: Family harmony above personal possessions
In chapter 13, we see how Abraham’s trust in the promises of God let him put family harmony above his personal possessions. The promises of God: He puts family harmony above his personal possessions.
The chapter opens with God keeping his promise. God is blessing Abraham, and so he’s gaining many livestock, and a lot of money. His nephew, Lot, is with him at this stage. Just as God promised, Lot is also finding blessing through his association with Abraham. Lot is also acquiring large numbers of herds and flocks.
And all this blessing is creating a problem. There’s not space for the two of them. So Abraham does something incredibly generous. He says to Lot, “You choose. You take one half of the land, and I’ll take the other.” Abraham does not like the fact that the two extended families are beginning to quarrel, and he’s happy to let Lot have first choice if that puts a stop to the squabbles.
Well, what does Lot pick? He looks to the east, and he sees that the Jordan valley is the green, lush half. He takes the best bit. At least, as far as his eyes can see. Verse 13 tells us what God thinks. God can see that the people of Sodom are wicked, but Lot is blind to that. He can only see the social life of urban living, and the green pasturelands around. He just follows his eyes.
Well, after Lot’s made his choice, God appears again to Abraham. Verse 14 – this time it’s his turn to look around with his eyes. God reminds him of what he already knew was true: It’s all his. The north, the south, the east and the west. God will give him the lot.
And Abraham continues to trust God to give him everything. The chapter ends as he builds another altar, this time on his own because Lot has gone his own way.
You see Abraham was willing to risk his nephew choosing the nicest bit in order to keep his family together. Why? Because he knew that the promises God had made him were so vast that he could not lose out.
If you want a contrast at this point, it’s Lot. Lot was blind to what God thinks of his plot of land. He’s just goes for the bit that looks best.
Now, we said last time that Jesus is the true seed of Abraham. Jesus is descended from Abraham, and all these promises to Abraham ultimately come true in him. And if you listen to the teaching of Jesus, he made even bigger promises to his followers than God made to Abraham. Jesus said that the meek will inherit the earth. Yes, all of it!
In 1 Peter chapter 1, we hear how the resurrection of Jesus has prepared an inheritance for all of Jesus’ followers – an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. That inheritance is being kept for us until Jesus comes back.
Abraham knew that if he trusted God to keep his promise to give him the land, he could never lose out, no matter what portion Lot chose. In the same way, the person who trusts in Jesus can never lose out, no matter what they have to give up along the way.
If we trust that this is true, then we’ll see that our true riches are not the ones that we can see. The money in the bank, the possessions we have at home, are not our real riches. They’re tiny by comparison to what we have on promise from Jesus. And those of us who don’t have much by way of possessions we can see can draw great comfort from the fact that the Christian is still the richest person there is.
Of course we still need to feed ourselves and our families. Of course we need to be responsible. But our visible riches become so much less important when we trust the promises of God as Abraham did.
All of this frees us up to live like Abraham did. We too can put a higher priority on family harmony, than we do on holding on to the things we’ve got, or on trying to get more.
Abraham’s trust in the promises of God meant he put family harmony above personal possessions.
Power of God: Faithful living above personal risk
That’s chapter 13. Chapter 14 shows us how Abraham’s trust in the power of God meant he put faithful living above personal risk. The power of God: Faithful living above personal risk.
What happens in chapter 14 is that Lot’s selfish choice comes back to bite him.
He moved into Sodom, and Sodom was part of a group of 5 cities. For 12 years they had paid a tribute to an alliance of 4 foreign powers. It was kind of the ancient equivalent of protection money!
Finally they’d had enough. They rebelled. They stopped paying. And so the inevitable happened. The four overlords came out to sort out the upstarts. On the way, they conquered a number of other nations just for the fun of it. And then Sodom was routed, and Lot and his family were carried off as prisoners of war.
Fortunately, one man managed to escape, so he told Abraham. Abraham mustered everyone in his family who could fight, an army of 318 people, and set off in pursuit. The journey took him 150 miles north, but he managed to defeat the overlords and he brought back all the spoils to Sodom – including Lot and his family.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Abraham to say that Lot had made his bed and so he had to lie in it. He doesn’t. He does the right thing and he looks after his nephew, even when his problem was of his own making.
Let’s be under no illusion. This was an extraordinarily risky thing to do. To go after the most powerful Army in that whole region with just 318 men. What was he thinking?
But the reason he succeeded was because God was with him. That’s what’s going on with Melchizedek. Abraham wanted to make sure that God got all the credit for this.
God was showing that he was more powerful than all the occupants of the land. In fact it was better than that: God was more powerful than the superpower that had just crushed all the occupants of the land.
This was the land that God had promised to Abraham. The problem with that promise was that the land was already occupied; people lived there. How comforting for Abraham to see that God was powerful enough to keep that promise. Indeed, down the years, as the Jewish people knew that God had promised them that land, they would have needed to be reminded that God was more powerful than the people who lived there.
What this story is showing us is that God is powerful enough to keep his own promises. Abraham knew that, which was why he could take this massive risk and do the right thing – going to rescue his nephew.
We mustn’t misunderstand this. In saying that it’s OK to take risks, we’re not saying that we should be irresponsible. There’s a big difference between doing the right thing, knowing there are risks, and throwing all responsibility to the wind.
A few years back I heard the story of an Australian family who drove into the outback with no plan, and no food. They were doing it, they said, by faith. They would just trust God to look after them. Well they ran out of fuel, and the father of the house had to leave the family with the car and try and get help. That was not faith. That was not shouldering the risks that come from doing the right thing. That was just downright irresponsible.
If Abraham knew that God was powerful enough to keep his promises, we’ve got even more reason to be sure. We can look back to the resurrection of Jesus. In Ephesians 1, Paul speaks of the immeasurable greatness of God’s power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus proves that when God promises us that we will inherit the world, that one day God’s people will enjoy a future free of suffering and pain, he’s not promising something he can’t deliver.
And if we trust God’s power, like Abraham did, that will help us when living faithfully for God looks like a very risky thing to do. God is strong enough to deliver everything he’s promised. So we can live in the ways he asks us to, confident that God can handle the risks.
Abraham’s trust in God’s power meant that he put faithful living above personal risk.
It’s true. Sometimes the Christian faith can seem a bit unreal. We trust in a God we can’t see, to forgive us for sins we can’t see, and to guarantee a future we can’t see. In the meantime we pray to him and we cannot see him hear or answer.
That was Abraham’s experience too. He lived by faith in things he couldn’t see. But you could see the way it changed his life. He trusted God’s promises. He trusted God’s power. And that meant that his personal possessions were less important than keeping his family together, and his personal risks were less important than living faithfully as God called him to.
We have the same God. We can trust him too.