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Have you been saved? Err…. saved from what?

February 3, 2013

I used to have a bit of a guilty secret. Until I really got into studying the Bible, I was always a bit vague about Abraham. You know, stuff like: when actually in history was he around? what did he do? why is he of interest to us? When I tell people about Abraham’s astonishing role in our Christian faith, what I have to say is often met with remarks that suggest surprise and delight. So I suspect a lot of churchgoers out there are a bit hazy about Abraham.

If you prefer you can LISTEN to this homily at http://www.deaconphilip.podbean.com

[This Sunday I was welcomed at our local Baptist Church and they asked me to preach on the subject of Abraham’s faith in God’s promises. ]

 

My theme this morning, is FAITH IN ACTION – this week is all about the way in which Abram obeys God, as shown in Genesis 12:1–9.

Did you know that apart from Moses, Abraham is the most frequently named Old Testament character in the New Testament? I’m going to explain why he is such an important person for Christians.

This reading from Genesis, is the beginning of what is called ‘salvation history’, the story of the way God reaches out with love towards to humanity, progressively revealing Himself to us, in a process that seeks to save us from the folly and stupidity that separates us from God. Today’s reading from Chapter 12 of the Book of Genesis is also known as ‘the call of Abraham’

Abraham is often called ‘Our Father in Faith’, because he was the first person to be inspired by God to recognise that there is only one God, and Abraham, despite extreme difficulties, placed his faith in God.

Being steeped in thousands of years of Christian culture, we simply take it for granted that there is only one, true God. But this was not so obvious four thousand years ago. People worshipped all sorts of gods – everything seemed to be a god. The sun, the moon, water, foods, anything you liked. That was also true at the time of Jesus. And it’s true in our time – with one significant difference today that we need to be aware of if we are bring people to Jesus. The problem today is that so many people are either indifferent to the one God, or positively declare they have no god. In reality, the vast majority of people believe in multiple gods today – except they don‘t realise how religiously they are worshipping their gods. Our modern gods include anything you like: economic growth, science, alcohol, TV, money, drugs, celebrity…. the list is endless.

What these things have in common with the ancient gods is that people are using them to try and find either escape from their miserable existences or to try and find some meaning in their lives.

In Abraham’s time, the world was awash with pagan practices. Abraham’s forefathers came from Ur[1] in Mesopotamia. Ur was the city at the centre of cult of the Mesopotamian moon-God (ironically, called ‘Sin’). So Abraham started off, like everyone else in the world, worshipping a multitude of pagan gods. And worshipping gods in those days often involved animal, even human sacrifices.

Have you ever wondered why, even to this day, human beings feel an urge to worship?

It’s just part of us. You could say it’s in our DNA. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because humans are made in the image of the one true God. We are yearning to be re-united with our Creator. Deep within us our very being wants to be reunited with our Maker.

But why the sacrifices, even human sacrifices, on altars? In it’s primitive form it’s because people are frightened. Fear is a dangerous emotion because it is closely linked to violence. These primitive worshippers were frightened of making their gods angry. Because when the gods get angry, things became very unpleasant indeed. In their primitive, human thinking, they thought they could appease these angry gods, keep them satisfied by offering them gifts. And the gift gift to give to your god is life itself. So, by offering the life essences of animals, and ultimately human life, you can prove that you are very serious and very devout.

On the other hand, if you do not know your pagan god intimately, you are under a constant threat of punishment if you offend your god. Your life will be made a misery, and, even worse, you could find that after you die, you come face to face with your angry God to be judged. This is why pagan worshippers were in a constant state of fear – fear of doing something wrong combined with a fear of death.

Let me just pause to ask you an awkward question. Have you been saved? If you are ever asked this question, as a faithful Christian, you should hold your head up high, look the questioner in the eye and confidently say, “Oh yes, I have definitely been saved.” You may then be tempted to ask your own question, which is, “What have you been saved from?” You have been saved four times over:

Through your faith in Jesus

(1) you have been saved from the fear of death;

(2) you have been saved from fear of meeting an angry god who

     will destroy you;

(3) you have been saved from the fear of leading a meaningless, immoral life through following our Lords’ teachings; and

(4) you have been saved from the fear of being overwhelmed by this transient, fallen world with all its false teachings and evil. 

Let’s return to Abraham. Something deep within Abraham meant that he heard the one true God calling him to leave his home and travel to a new land. And he was 75 when this happened, so it’s not something you’d do lightly.

Abraham’s faith is truly astonishing. We just heard it described in the Letter to the Hebrews, a letter written to encourage one of the earliest Christian communities not to abandon their faith because things were getting difficult. They were told:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

In other words, have faith as strong as Abraham’s – be willing to go confidently into the unknown, putting yourself in the hands of God. Even if you’re 75 years old.

The Old Testament describes how God, after the creation, in spite of the rebellion against Him that we describe as original sin, again offered human beings the possibility of coming to know Him intimately again. God offered that friendship through Abraham, as a free choice. As Christians we believe we are all inheritors of that special relationship originating with Abraham. This explains why Abraham’s OBEDIENCE to God, his FAITH in God, his TRUST in God is so important to us today.

But there’s something more about Abraham’s story that we should realise. Apart from Abraham being a role model of how we should obey, trust and have faith in God, it was through God’s covenant with Abraham that our own salvation becomes clear. That covenant, that founding relationship established between God and Abraham came about through God inviting Abraham to respond to His call; it was then Abraham who freely chose to answer that call from God. Through the subsequent history of Abraham’s descendants – the Chosen People of Israel – God has gradually revealed Himself to humanity.

And it is through studying the history of the Jewish people that we see God’s plan for us developing. We see the ground being prepared for the most important event ever in human history – the earth-shattering arrival of God amongst us – the incarnation, God becoming a human being.

The history of the salvation of the Chosen People is, through Jesus Christ, our own inheritance, our salvation history. How?

Well, as Abraham’s descendants multiplied and become the nation of Israel, we can see how God sent his Chosen People mediators like Moses, the prophets and judges to communicate His will to the nation. It was these mediators who repeatedly reminded the people of the need for faithfulness to the covenant and kept alive the hope of God’s promises – salvation. Salvation from the dreadful fear of offending God and salvation from a fallen, evil world. fearing God. They made prophesies that were only to be fulfilled with the birth, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Our Lord.

So through Abraham’s faith in God, we Christians benefit from God being fully revealed to us in the form of in Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus Himself told his Apostles, after His resurrection,

 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him”

and

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” [2]

4,000 years before Jesus we saw the birth of the Chosen People through one man, Abraham, placing his faith unreservedly in God. He had more than belief in God. He had faith in God. This is a tremendously significant difference that is often blurred in our modern society.

A lot of people, in fact, the majority of people, say they believe in God or a god. What proportion actually put their belief into action? Because faith is “belief in action”. Sadly, the number of believers who act upon their belief and come to church regularly is much lower, probably about 10% of the total population of this country. But coming to church once a week is not enough. Jesus asks us to completely transform our lives. And then we get to the really difficult bit about being a faithful Christian. What proportion of people who regularly come to church then put their faith into action like Abraham – willing to leave the comfort of their own homes and following the path laid down by God? It is a question we must ask ourselves, repeatedly. People certainly asked Jesus about what they should do, and in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9 we find that Jesus is pretty demanding of us.

This is what it says:

“As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” [3]

What Jesus is telling us is ‘ACTION THIS DAY’. Get up. Follow Jesus. Don’t make excuses, don’t look back. In your Sunday worship and in your daily lives, in everything you do, boldly have faith.

And in doing this you will be following in a fine tradition:  Just like Abraham, our Father in in Faith.


[1] Genesis 11:28

[2] John 14:6,9

[3] Luke 9: 58-62

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One Comment
  1. John Bradley permalink

    Excellent piece Philip. Keep up the good work – including preaching to Baptists such as me!

    John Bradley

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