The LORD's Call
In January of 2020, I started preaching through Genesis. My plan was to break it up and preach Genesis in a few different chunks—Genesis 1-11, 12-25, 26-50. So that’s what I started to do.
I preached Genesis 1-11 during January, February, and March of 2020. And, right as I was preaching the last message in Genesis 11, the world came to a screeching halt thanks to Covid-19.
I’m assuming with everything that’s happened over the last three years, most of us don’t remember much from any of those sermons in Genesis. That’s just fine; I don’t expect you to remember. Just take my word for it: we covered Genesis 1-11 in eleven (11) sermons during the first three months of 2020.
I went back and looked at the manuscript of the first sermon I preached from my living room during the Covid lock-down. It was the last sermon in Genesis 11 and it was oddly, though not surprisingly, providential.
You see, I pick a book of the Bible and preach through it in full or in part, a section at a time. I tend to bounce back-and-forth between OT and NT, so that we get a balanced diet of Bible. So then, March 2020, at the height of the chaos and the fear, the Lord was using His Word—the very passage I had planned to preach 6-7 months prior—to speak to this small part of His local church (and the 800 or so who watched on Facebook).
The point of the passage (Gen 11:10-32) I preached to Facebook via my wife’s phone that morning was this: “The world is confused, but God is not.”
That’s the point of the passage in Genesis—God had just confused the languages of the people at the Tower of Babel.
The world was confused in Genesis 11, and that was just exactly the state of the world in March of 2020. We were terribly confused and unsure of what exactly was going on; but God was not.
The world may be confused, but God is not.
In Genesis 11, we have Babel, the 3rd major event in Genesis, followed by the 3rd genealogy. Track this with me.
In Genesis 1-2, we have creation. Genesis 3-4, the fall and the immediate effects of sin. Then Genesis 5, we read the first genealogy in the book.
In Genesis 6-9 we read about the corruption of man and the flood, Noah’s ark. And then in Genesis 10, the second genealogy.
Now, Genesis 11, we come to the Tower of Babel—the self-focused and sinful behavior of the people. God scatters mankind, and, guess what? Another genealogy.
A pattern clearly emerges. Mankind keeps sinning, falling, find themselves confused.
And God keeps on going, working out His plan and purpose without interruption.
After each major event—the Fall, the Flood, the Tower—the world is out of sorts. After Babel, the world is scattered and confused.
And onward goes God.
The message of Genesis is that God is working out His plan and purpose without interruption, without fail.
As we pick up the story in Genesis 12, we will meet a fellow named Abram. He was mentioned in the genealogy in Genesis 11.
You probably know him as “Abraham,” but that extra syllable comes a little bit later.
If you have your Bible (and I hope you do) please turn with me to the book of Genesis. If you are able and willing, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word:
1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” 4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. 9 Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.
May God add His blessing to the reading of His Holy Word!
The history of redemption, like that of creation, begins with God speaking. So this section of Genesis begins with God speaking.
“The Lord had said to Abram…”
This call is utterly unexplainable. This is how the chapter begins— “The Lord said to Abram…” — these are some difficult words to explain.
We can’t explain them historically. We know that since this is Genesis 12, Genesis 1-11 come before this chapter.
But all we find in those chapters, really, are the fall, the flood, and the tower of Babel. The picture in Genesis 1-11 is a world which is content—pleased, even—to do without the Lord and His rule.
As a result, the world was therefore cursed, destroyed, and, most recently, scattered.
Whey does the LORD Yahweh, the One True God, give this world that mocks and defies and rejects Him the promise of blessing (the root word for bless appears 5 times in verses 2-3 alone)?
God insists on blessing this world—all the people on earth—with Abram as the channel of blessing.
God will start all over again with one man as the funnel of redemption.
But why? Well, because God has in mind the end history as depicted in Revelation 7.
Rev 7:9 “…a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…”
We know well the history of the people of God down throughout the ages. How they stumble and fall and rebel and worship other gods.
We know even better our own propensity toward sin and rebellion and rejection of God. And yet God seems to insist on blessing us and loving us and working on us?
Why? I can’t explain it anymore than I can explain God’s call of Abram here.
It makes no sense, historically or personally.
We sing songs about Abram (well, more accurately Abraham, but still). We speak about him with respect and warmth, like a favorite uncle or Jimmy Stewart—a guy you can’t help liking; you know, one of the good guys. A good ol’ boy.
But this isn’t the Bible’s view of Abram (especially not at this point in the story).
A few books into the Bible, Joshua repeats the Lord’s words to Israel:
2 Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods.
That was Abram. Why did God call Abram the sinner, Abram the pagan, Abram the idol worshipper? It defies logic. It doesn’t make any sense.
And here, friends, is the truth: the call of God is no different where you are concerned.
If you think you know why God has shown His grace to you or have a few reasons why He would/should, then you don’t know yourself at all, and you haven’t the foggiest idea what grace is.
It’s undeserved. Un-caused. Unprompted. There’s nothing in you to account for God’s choice of you. Nothing at all.
1 Cor 1:27-28 “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are,”
There’s no explaining Abram’s call or ours. You can’t explain why there’s a call at all, why the gracious God would show grace to you at all.
God’s call of Abram is gracious and effective. The first few words of verse 4 show us. Simply stated: “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…”
This is a big deal. A major undertaking. Any woman who’s packed the car for a week’s vacation knows how unbelievably difficult this is. Anyone who’s moved cross country knows the struggle.
But here, in Genesis 12, there’s no report of the route, nothing about trouble they might face on the way; nothing mentioned about what they encountered on the journey, the price of gas, the availability of Chick-fil-A or decent coffee along the road.
There’s none of that. Simply Abram went as the Lord had told him, in spite of family ties in Harran, or Abram’s age, or any uncertainty about his destination. The LORD Yahweh had spoken to him, and Abram obeyed.
Beyond obedience, Abram worships the LORD.
Verse 6: Abram arrives at Shechem in the center of Canaan at the site of the great tree of Moreh.
This is possibly a pagan sacred spot where devotees claimed to receive revelation from whatever god or goddess they worshipped.
Abram, in stark contrast, built an altar there to the LORD [Yahweh] who had appeared to him.
Abram doesn’t play the religious games of the peoples around him. He worships the LORD Yahweh, only and openly.
And Abram does it again, when he pitched his tent between Bethel and Ai. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD.
This is worship. There is sacrifice (what happens on an altar) and testimony or prayer (calling on the name of the LORD).
It’s open and public worship. Openly and unabashed worship in the middle of the deeply pagan Canaanite culture, Abram is seeking and/or testifying to Yahweh.
There’s beauty in the simplicity of God’s call here. We learn something about God’s call, not just where Abram is concerned, but where we are concerned.
This matters for our lives. Anytime we’re in part of the Bible where we read about God’s call, I can almost feel the hesitancy from some of you. It’s palpable.
The LORD’s call on your life may not anything earth-shaking or fantastic.
For me, His call meant a change in my major during college, a change of plans, and a slight change in location.
But, Jesus probably won’t call most of you at this point in your life to go to Bible College (though He might). It’s almost a sure thing that He won’t call you to be missionary in the Congo (but how wonderful it would be if He did!).
Likely, the LORD’s call upon your life is to follow the direction of His Word (v. 4) and that you’d be preoccupied worshipping Him (v. 8). That’s His call on all His people. Abram, me, and you.
Back to Genesis 12.
God’s plan to bless the world with a Savior through Abram, at this point, looks like it’ll never get off the ground.
The LORD promised (v. 2), “I will make you into a great nation…” but the problem is, there are Canaanites in the land. The land is already in the possession of others.
Also, if you look at the end of Genesis 11, the author tips of off to another problem. Abram’s wife, Sarai is barren.
The land belongs to and is inhabited by others. And Abram and Sarai have no children. The promise of God has two strikes against it, right from the get-go.
All great stories start off this way. Think about it: “We got no food, we got no jobs, our pets heads are falling off!” And what comes from this is one of the greatest cinematic offerings the world has ever known.
OT scholar Derek Kidner reminds us: “God’s way is to preface His great works with extreme difficulties. Sometimes it simply has to be that way.”
And so it is here with Abram. It looks pretty bleak. Old Abram, his childless wife, take off on an unknown trek in an unknown land with an all but unknown-to-them God. What’s going to come from this?
Well, what’s going to come from this, is, of course, exactly what God has promised.
A great nation. Blessing. A great name. Blessing. Blessing for all the peoples on the earth.
A good portion of the time, if we find ourselves in impossible situations, a hole to deep to claw our way out of, trouble too serious to be undone by our cleverness, it might be of the LORD’s doing.
He tends to put His people in impossible situations, all to teach us that if we survive, if we endure, if we go on standing in the mess, it is only by His power that we do so and not by our own might or ability.
The call of God to Abram is specific to him, but it hasn’t really changed, not in the broad strokes of it all.
What the LORD Yahweh demanded of Abraham in verse 1 is really quite like what Jesus demands of us:
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
What God’s call to Abram is, what Jesus’ call to me and you is a call to give the LORD the place of supreme affection in our lives.
It’s costly. Abraham left behind his country, his people, his father’s household, his way of life, his religion, and who knows what else to follow the call of the LORD.
Following the LORD’s Call Takes Trust
Following the LORD’s Call Takes Trust
I can’t imagine what Abram’s initial thought would have been upon hearing the LORD’s call. It would have sounded a little outlandish, a little wild.
To abandon the normal sources of personal identity and security, his family and his country, Abram must trust God implicitly.
To believe what the LORD was calling him to do, what the LORD was promising him, would take a great deal of trust.
The same is true for us. We have to trust the LORD and yet we have ample reason to do so. We can follow the LORD’s call, trusting Him along the way, because we know how He’s operated in the past. He’s trustworthy.
The New Year is just the turn of a calendar, but it does symbolically mark a fresh start of sorts.
It’s a good time to evaluate and set some goals, especially where your relationship with God is concerned. Don’t do it just because it’s the New Year, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Seek the LORD and ask what specifically He’s calling you to. And then trust Him in it.
Following the LORD’s Call Requires Obedience
Following the LORD’s Call Requires Obedience
For me, one of the most striking parts of this story is Abram’s obedience. That phrase in verse 4: “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…”
His obedience is presented as immediate and unquestioning. We don’t know all the details, whether he hemmed or hawed, whether he asked for some time to have a going away party, or if he just jumped right in.
It’s hard to imagine not hesitating or stalling a little. I fought the LORD’s call to ministry for a while and even bargained with Him a bit.
Far better is obedience, immediate and unquestioning; just doing what He asks, with joy and willingness. Eugene Peterson calls the Christian life “a long obedience in the same direction.” That’s what I want for my life.
I think we all know what the LORD is calling us to, in general. We know. And yet, we sometimes push it to the bottom of our lists, make it a lower priority than other things we want to do.
If we could learn to obey our LORD, to follow Him and what He’s asked of us, we’d find ourselves in a much better place. “A long obedience in the same direction.”
Following the LORD’s Call Results in Worship
Following the LORD’s Call Results in Worship
The second half of our text today recounts the response of Abram’s trust and obedience.
The LORD had called him to do something unbelievable. He trusted the LORD and obeyed the LORD, and in the course of trusting and obeying, he worshipped the LORD.
This is the ultimate goal of our following the LORD’s call—to give Him praise in our following, in our obedience, with our trust; to worship Him ourselves and also to proclaim His goodness and worthiness to those around us.
Abram found himself in the midst of the Canaanites—pagan idol worshippers—and built an altar to the LORD Yahweh, the One True God. Abram worshipped Him only and openly.
The call is the same for us. In a highly pluralistic society, where any number of idols were worshipped, Abram was called to stand apart. To worship God alone.
This is our call, too. To stand apart. To be separate from the world—our society which worships, well, everything.
We are called to worship the LORD only and openly.
We worship the One who made us, the One who gave of Himself so that we might know Him and be made right with Him.
We worship the One who sent His Only Son, to suffer and bleed and die for us, in our place, as our substitute.
Here are three pretty good ideas for 2023 and beyond: