Promising the Impossible
In my life, I’ve only done a handful of overnight bush walks where you have to carry everything with you, including tent and food.
The first time I ever did one, I was about 12 years old, and I headed out for a one night walk with a group from Boys Brigade.
Now when I first found out about the walk, I had almost nothing I needed. I didn’t have the sort of back pack, I didn’t own any hiking boots. I didn’t have the right sort of mat to sleep on, or any cooking equipment or bowls or cutlery.
Basically, I had to start from scratch. So over a period of time, my parents and I went through the list. Buying a bunch of new stuff and on occasion borrowing a few things as well. It was quite a long process of going from shop to shop to buy all the parts I needed.
By the day of the big walk, I was decked out with mostly new gear.
But you know what? While I looked the part on one level - after all, I had all the things I needed, but at the same time, you could tell I had never been on a bush walk like this.
I think the signs were obvious. My bag was spotless without a mark on it, and had not faded at all. My sleeping mat had not a mark on it. My new hiking boots looked like they came straight out of the box.
The reality was, having the gear was only half of it. You’re not a bush walker until you actually go bush walking.
Now I want to develop this idea just a little further before I use it as an analogy of walking with God.
You see, there are three basic phases in which we can think about bush walking.
The first phase are those who love the idea of going bush walking. They’ve had friends go on bush walks and tell them how great it is. Maybe they’ve even looked up some tracks and even talked about the idea of going.
But like me before I had any of the gear, they haven’t bothered to get any of the things you need. While bush walking sounds like a good idea, if you can’t be bothered to get any of the gear, then it will just remain a dream.
The second phase, are those who get the gear. They buy a tent, they get some good shoes. They get everything you need.
But then, the gear just sits on the shelf. Possibly the gear might get one or two runs, but that’s about it. While they might be able to look the part to a degree, you can’t really call them bush walkers.
But then there are those who not only buy the gear, but also use it. They know the good tracks. They know what good equipment is. And they make the most of it.
Walking with God
Walking with God
We’re now about half way through our series on Abraham.
Throughout the series, we’ve met this man originally called Abram, who has stepped out in faith. As he’s stepped out in faith he has seen the most amazing things happen.
And as we’ve watched Abram move in this way, we’ve asked the question of ourselves, what does it look like for us to step out in faith and see the amazing happen.
Well this morning as we continue this journey, I want to use this analogy of bush walking and see that walking in faith like Abraham is more than just thinking it sounds like a good idea. But it’s about moving.
As I explore today’s passage, I want to consider what Abraham did to essentially mark himself as for God, and how this journey went for him.
So let’s jump into this journey.
It tells us in Genesis 17:1 that Abram is now ninety-nine years old.
To put that into context, if you were here last week when I looked at Abram’s doubts and how that led him to having a child with a slave woman named Hagar. Well in the very last verse of the previous chapter, we learn that Abram was 86 years old at that point.
When he was 86, we can easily deduce that he had been waiting some eleven years for the promise of an heir as we know he was 75 when God first told him to leave his own people and go to the land that God would show him.
But that eleven years was not even half the time he had to wait. Because it has now been 24 years since God first gave him the initial promise.
Now in this first verse of chapter 17, we see God appearing to Abram.
As God appears he declares: “I am God Almighty” or this might be one that you have heard the Hebrew - I am El Shaddai.
One of the great titles of God which gives us a small insight into who he is.
Call to Walk
Call to Walk
But then, after reminding Abram of who he is, God almighty then gives a simple, yet extraordinary command: walk before me faithfully and be blameless.
I call it simple yet extraordinary, because essentially this is what it is all about. God just wants Abram to walk faithfully.
Where going to see some specific things that God wants Abram to do, and that will come up shortly in the passage, but there is something more basic than all the complexity of all that - to just walk before the Lord faithfully.
This is a message we need to hear as well. There will be specific things we need to do. We’ll need to wrestle with certain doctrines and practices.
What I mean, is, we can put a lot of energy into thinking and worrying about certain things. For some, that might be thinking about the return of Christ. For others, you might be wrestling with various teaching on things like homosexuality.
There are a whole spectrum of matters in which there is value in exploring, but we have to be so careful that these pursuits do not stop us from just walking with the Lord faithfully and blamelessly.
If I bring it back to the analogy of bush walking - there is value in thinking about the gear you take bush walking, but if you want to go bush walking - then just go to the bush and walk. You’ll see what you need.
If you don’t go, then you will never experience the beauty of what it is.
It’s the same with God. Talk all you like about it, study it like crazy, but if you don’t actually just walk with God, then you won’t experience the beauty of what it is.
Now what you’ll notice when you just walk with God - things will start to become clearer.
In part, this is why it is so important to just walk with God. All those issues I briefly mentioned before - they will become clearer as you walk.
With the bush walking analogy, you can spend lots of time researching which shoes to buy, what tracks to walk, and how far you should push yourself, but it is as you start walking that you realise what works.
With out walk with God, we usually will not know everything when we start. But God will make it clearer to us as we go.
This is certainly what we’ve seen with Abram’s journey so far.
Let’s take for example just the promise of land that Abram received.
When Abram first received the promise way back in Genesis 12:1, the promise was for the “land that I will show you”.
Move ahead in time, when Abram has been there for a little while, God then specifies the promise is for “the land which you see”.
Abram continues to walk with God, and in chapter 15 the promise is confirmed in a covenant, and now we see even greater specificity stating that the promise is for the land between the “river of Egypt to the Euphrates”.
Change of name
Change of name
As we get into chapter 17 which we are looking at today, we again see things getting more specific.
Back in Genesis 12:2, the promise was that he would be made into a great nation.
As we get to Genesis 17:3, it is not just being a father of a great nation, it is now clearly told to him that he will be the father of many nations.
And with this, comes his change of name.
You see his name had already foreshadowed what he was to become - an exalted father.
But God told him that he will no longer be called Abram but rather will take the name Abraham. This name means “father or many nations”.
In many ways, Abraham’s new name is a reminder that God’s plan is becoming more specific.
As Abraham continues to walk with the Lord, he is seeing clearer what it is that will happen. Something that he could only have seen by walking.
With this change of name, we also see some more details - like the fact that kings will come from him.
Now you might remember that last week we looked at God establishing a covenant to confirm the promise he had made with Abraham.
On that occasion, it was all about God declaring his intention. Now, with a new name, Abraham is now asked to make a physical identification as part of this ongoing covenant.
We are talking of course the mark of circumcision.
Circumcision was to be a mark to remind them of who they belonged to.
In some ways it is a bit like a wedding ring. When I got married I placed this ring on my finger. It now serves as a reminder that I belong to someone. It is the sign of the promise I made to Fiona.
Bush walking analogy
Bush walking analogy
Now I want to bring this back to my analogy I made earlier about bush walking.
Now I do recognise that my analogy is far from perfect, but it’s a bit like the circumcision is like getting the gear. It makes you look the part. Having the gear shows others that you are a bush walker. But it is not a substitute for actually going bush walking.
You see, while circumcision is important, as we will see even throughout the Old Testament, God desires more than just a outward signs. He wants commitment to him.
If I come back to the idea of a wedding ring. While the wedding ring is a sign of the promise I made to Fiona, if I became unfaithful to her, then this wedding ring would be useless. I could continue to wear it, but it would lose all meaning.
It only really takes on its true meaning of a commitment to her when I actually keep that commitment.
Circumcision for today
Circumcision for today
Today, we know that circumcision is not required for Christians. This was clearly established in the New Testament as it became clear that we did not have to physically become Jewish in order to be with God.
But while physical circumcision is not required, what is required is circumcision of the heart. We’re not talking here of a physical procedure but of a spiritual on.
It is marking yourself for Christ.
And this is what happens as we walk with God. The mark of being God’s becomes something internal. It starts to define who we are.
As you allow your heart to be circumcised, you are allowing God to have control. You will not become perfect, but your life will begin to reflect God’s.
Now as Abraham’s walk draws him into the specific promises made for him, we also see how the walk also takes him to a place where he learns more about the specifics of his promise to have a son.
Let’s just look at how this promise has developed.
Initially, in Genesis 12:2, the promise is that he will be a great nation - in which case descendants is implied but not stated.
But descendants are stated when God reaffirms the promise in chapter 13.
But then as Abraham wrestles with what that promise will look like, God explicitly states in chapter 15 that it will be a son from his own flesh and blood.
But as we saw last week, that didn’t stop him having a child with another woman.
But in this chapter, it now becomes explicitly clear that this promise relates to a child to be born to his wife Sarai.
Now just like Abraham had a name change, Sarai also gets a name change.
Her name goes from Sarai to Sarah.
Now this change is a bit more subtle than the change in Abraham’s name, because both Sarai and Sarah are thought to mean “princess”.
So while the name doesn’t significantly change the meaning, the change is indicative of something new. A change that is taking place with her as well.
It is no longer Abram and Sarai stepping out in faith - it is Abraham and Sarah walking in step with God Almighty!
And so with Sarah is to come a son and his name will be Isaac.
A name which reflects Abraham’s and Sarah’s reaction.
You see the name “Isaac” means “he laughs”.
And that is exactly what Abraham did and later Sarah.
In verse 17, just after being told that his elderly wife will have a child, he fall face down in worship, but also laughs.
Even with this promise, Abraham hasn’t dropped the idea that maybe the blessing could still flow through Ishmael, who we met last week.
But while Ishmael will be blessed, he is not the one in which the promise will be made.
I now want to jump down to the first half of chapter 18 where we find three visitors coming to visit Abraham and Sarah.
Now before we consider who these visitors are, it should be noted that we are not explicitly told. But that being said, it becomes very clear that these are not just three random visitors but are visitors sent by God.
At a minimum I think you would have to conclude that they are at least angelic beings, however it is often thought, with good reason that these three visitors are some form of manifestation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Now I don’t think there is sufficient evidence to be totally clear on that, but certainly we see them speaking on behalf of God.
Whoever they are, Abraham seems to recognise them as someone special. You see, even though this was a time when hospitality meant you treated strangers well, but Abraham goes above and beyond to give them the best treatment.
Now these three will feature in the next message in the series as we look at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but for the purposes of today’s message, they once again affirm the promise of a son that Sarah will have.
What I want you to notice is how many times God keeps affirming his promises.
He doesn’t just say something and never repeat it, rather he keeps saying it to show that he means it.
And for today’s message, I want to suggest that this is why we need to continually be walking with God.
It is only as we walk with God that we get this constant reminders of his promises to us.
I want to suggest that as we walk closely with God we will get our own encounters with God.
It will not likely be what Abraham got - in fact I can almost guarantee it won’t, but it can be just as real.
It may be a feeling of peace wash over you.
Maybe it will be a word of Scripture.
Possibly it might even be an angel enter your world to give you what you need.
I love the line in Hebrew 13:2 which says “some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”.
These experiences can help us feel God and to know him better.
And we can then align these experiences to what we learn about God throughout the Bible.
This is part of the journey we go on. It moves us beyond just learning about God, to actually walking with God faithfully and blamelessly.
Love Share Serve
Love Share Serve
A year or so ago, as a church we adopted the vision of Love, Share and Serve.
In some ways, this is just stating the obvious - as this is what it means to walk with God.
While we are going to go into much more detail in the near future about some of the specifics of what this means, what is perfectly clear at the moment is that we just need to keep loving God and others more. To keep sharing with them all the things God has given us. And serving them like Christ showed us how to serve.
As we continue on living like this, I believe God will reveal to us some of the specifics about the land. But we can’t expect to just sit here idly while we wait on the word of the Lord.
We need to keep loving, sharing and serving. This is what God has called us to do. It is what God has called all Christians to do.
When I did eventually go on my overnight bush walk, I saw first hand what it was like. However, over night bush walks are not things I have done regularly. I can’t claim to be this sort of bush walker - although I do enjoy walking in the bush.
But if I want to be a bush walker, than I can’t just talk about it, I need to actually do it.
If you want to experience the promises of God, don’t just sit there listening. But actually walk with God and as you do, you will experience God’s character for yourself and will go on the most amazing journey, one that leads to eternity with God himself.