What makes a person famous? I’m not talking about a flavor-of-the-month or fireworks famous — not a fame specific to one scene, trend, or group of people… I’m not referring to a Kardashian level of celebrity nor am I alluding to a notoriety uniquely specific to Americana (Micheal, Elvis, Monroe, Jobs or Gates) — Instead, I’m talking about a multigenerational, cross-cultural, global type of fame that spans language, location, and time!
If you were to Google “Top 10 Famous People of All Time in the World” you will notice two things about the search-results… Aside from a couple of givens, almost every list varies mainly because there isn’t a uniform metric used to evaluate fame. And yet, while that may be the case, there does seem to be a commonality shared by everyone included.
You see to be truly famous you have to do something transcendent to yourself. To be famous in this global sense you have to accomplish something HUGE… For example…
Lead a political revolution like Alexander, Napoleon, Washington, or Mao…
Make a literary contribution to the world like Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens, or Poe…
Foster movements within the arts like Leonardo, Michelangelo, Beethoven, or Mozart…
Invent something important like Newton, Bell, Ford, or Edison…
Develop a ground-breaking scientific theory like Galileo, Darwin, Einstein, or Hawking…
Contribute a philosophical idea like Aristotle, Socrates, Paul, Marx, Nietzsche, or Freud…
Initiate radical social changes like Lincoln, Gandhi, Luther, Cromwell, Mandela, or MLK…
Create a religious movement like Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, Confucius, or Moses.
Even doing something particularly infamous like Hitler or Stalin will still get you on this list.
My point is that, generally speaking, to achieve this type of fame you would have needed to lead, write, create, invent, or develop something so noteworthy and lasting that your name would be known by all - for all time. An aside… It should also be pointed out in order to make any of these lists you’d have to be so famous you could be known by only one name!
I bring this up to say there is one fascinating exception to the rule… There was a man who didn’t invent anything, wasn’t scientific, left behind no philosophical contribution to the world… A man who never wrote or created a lasting work, who wasn’t a revolutionary or agent of social change, who didn’t start a religion or discover a new land… A man who isn’t infamous and instead is universally held in high regard by almost every major religion (and that’s saying something)… And yes… He’s also known by one name… Abraham!
It’s amazing to consider a man who lived 4500 years ago, who didn’t possess a country, who’s entire life was spent as a nomad, who was a shepherd by trade, who wrote absolutely nothing down, and had no intention of starting a religious movement is beloved by cultures across the globe. According to ListVerse.com Abraham is the third most famous person of all time behind only Jesus and Muhammed — and directly in front of Moses and Buddha.
Because Abraham is revered by all three monotheistic religious (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), as well as being considered a prophet by Baha’i, there are an astounding 2 million books written about Abraham and over 9.1 million Google searches using his name any given month. ListVerse.com concludes, “Among well over 99% of the world’s cultures and societies, you will not have a problem when asking about the prophet called Abraham.”
As it pertains to the Old Testament, Abraham is mentioned 215 times. Additionally, he’s mentioned again in the New Testament another 74 times. And while we don’t consider the Koran to be Scripture — just for reference — Abraham again surfaces another 188 times.
As far as his contribution to Christianity is concerned, Abraham’s significance cannot be underestimated. In James 2:23 he’s called “the friend of God.” The Apostle Paul will also refer to him as “the father of all those who believe” and the “father of the faith” in Romans 4.
For our purposes this morning I want you to consider what made Abraham so significant (and the answer may surprise you)? Absolutely nothing! What’s even stranger is that the book of Genesis records more of Abraham’s failures than it does his triumphs!
Honestly, in light of the 74 times Abraham surfaces in the New Testament, I’ve reached the conclusion this was the entire point of his life! Now please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying as a knock against Abraham. On the contrary. I find myself convinced more than ever before that it is his failures that makes Abraham so beloved.
Of all of the Biblical characters Abraham is written about more than all others — not only because he’s so relatable, but mainly for what his life has come to represent. Abraham goes down as the one guy known not for what he did, but rather Who he knew!
Abraham’s story began with him being a pagan idolater who was saved by God’s grace —even when he had done nothing to earn or deserve it. The Scriptures are clear God chose Abraham before he chose to follow God. And then, while Abraham’s life would be characterized more by failures to obey God than successes, because he’d placed his faith in the promised Savior, God’s grace would never fail to sustain him.
I bring up Abraham because in John 8 Jesus is about to articulate several ideas tied to this man you need to understand. In response to Jesus’ statement in John 8:32 concerning those who’d believed that they “shall know the truth, and the truth shall make them free” the religious leaders respond, “We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, 'You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.’” Then Jesus makes this fascinating statement…
“I know that you are Abraham's descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father.’ They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham.’”
Ultimately, in this passage Jesus is making an important distinction. He’s saying there was a difference between being a “descendant” and a “child” of Abraham — Jesus uses two different words before explaining what differentiates them… A child of Abraham “would do the works of Abraham.” In order to unpack what “work” Jesus is referring too, I want to look back at the origins of Abraham’s walk with God — cause the answer may surprise you!
As you’re working through Genesis and find yourself transitioning away from the events of Babel and God’s scattering of the nations, the last few verses of Genesis 11 focus your attention back onto the genealogy of Shem — which is important to the narrative of Genesis!
Following the tragic events of Genesis 9, Noah ends up making several, important, prophetic pronouncements concerning two of his sons as well as his wicked grandson Canaan —specifically, in Genesis 9:26, Noah says, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem.”
Not only does this statement indicate Shem shared Noah’s heart for the true and living God, but in the macro-sense it appears Shem’s family lineage — of the three — would include the coming Savior of mankind promised to Adam and Eve back in Genesis 3:15. These last few verses of Genesis 11 are important for they connect Shem with Abraham.
Genesis 11:27-32, “This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and the father of Iscah. But Sarai was barren; she had no child.
And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there. So the days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.”
Though this passage appears rather straightforward, understand a lot is happening within these verses you might not be able to see with just a cursory reading. For starters, what’s being describe here is not a good dynamic. These descendants of Shem — “genealogy of Terah” Abram’s father — choose to settle in an area known as “Ur of the Chaldeans.”
What makes this significant is that — while we’re told God “scattered the people” from Babel — the Godly lineage of Shem didn’t migrate very far away. As a matter of fact, the city of Ur was located in the same general region as Babel (Mesopotamia) just a few miles south.
According to archaeologist, the ancient city of Ur was founded around 2100 BC and quickly grew to have a vibrant population of approximately 24,000 people. This city was not only wealthy because of it’s abundant natural resources and access to the Euphrates, but boasted a prominent Ziggurat similar to what Nimrod had constructed in Babel.
Archaeological digs have shown that the city of Ur, during the time of Abraham, was not only an advanced society with a steady economy and emphasis on educational learning, but Ur was steeped in idolatry and the pagan worship of Nanna, the moon-god.
Nanna was known by the symbol of the crescent moon and was worshipped by nomadic tribes across Mesopotamia all the way up until the 7th century AD when Muhammed renamed the moon-god Allah which was already an accepted name among pagan cultures.
Regardless, Jewish legend claims “Terah” and his family had grown wealthy making and selling idols to Nanna in Ur. In actuality, Joshua 24:2 paints a worse picture, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.’”
The reason this presents a tragic turn of events is that the family of Shem had seemingly abandoned the worship of the true God of their fathers and had diverged into idolatry.
And yet, in spite of all this, something happens — not explained in our text — that causes the patriarch Terah to uproot his family and migrate 600 miles northwest settling in the ancient city of “Haran” — located in Turkey and was a key crossroad between the East and West.
For a greater understanding of what happened to cause this abrupt move I want to turn your attention to a portion of a sermon given by Stephen in the book of Acts…
Act 7:2-5, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.' Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell. And God gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised to give it to him for a possession, and to his descendants after him.”
It appears what happened to motivate this move was that “God appeared to Abraham” while he was still in Ur — specifically commanding him to leave his “country” and his “relatives” in order to “come to a land that God would show him.” And consider what prompted this…
Did God appear to Abram because he was seeking God? In no way does either passage imply this was the case. Did God call Abram because he was worthy? In contrast, Abram was a pagan gentile profiteering off the worship of a false god. Beyond that, Scripture indicates Abram himself was an idolater while living in the land of Ur.
Understand — and this is a core concept that is of critical importance — Stephen’s larger point before the Jewish leaders was that there was nothing inherent to Abram or his character that precipitated God’s appearing or His calling. It was only as an act of God’s grace and His grace alone that God chose, appeared, and called Abram out of Ur!
Again, while our text here in Genesis doesn’t tell us this specifically, the authors of the New Testament provide more context as to what was happening. In addition to appearing to Abraham — which is incredible for this is the first time since the Garden we read of God appearing to man — it seems God’s command to leave Ur and his family so that he could go to a land of promise possessed a much larger revelation of God’s plan.
In both Romans 4:3 and James 2:23 we’re told by both Paul the Apostle and James the half-brother of Jesus, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And yet, the question begs… What “belief” was of such significance that it would make Abraham “righteous” before God — even before he left Ur of the Chaldeans?
In writing about Abraham in Galatians 3 Paul adds an interesting detail that demands our attention for in many ways it answers this question and gives us insight into this “work” that makes a person a “child of Abraham”… He writes, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”
Did you catch that? First, “those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” Secondly, God “preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand!” While a pagan idolater living in Ur God appeared to Abram and not only called him to go to a land of promise, but revealed to him this move was necessary so that He could provide a Savior through his family lineage!
The reason they left Ur of the Chaldeans was because Abram believed God’s Word and decided to place his faith in “the gospel” message… God’s promise of a Savior! And it was in this very moment that Abram was made righteous before God!
Again, don’t miss what God was promising Abram. While it’s true in a literal sense God was promising to grow Abram’s actual descendants into a mighty nation we know as the Jews… And though true God was promising a specific land this nation would inherit known also as Israel… The reality is these promises transcended their practical fulfillment.
If you filter these specific promises through the prism of the much larger reality that it would be through Abraham’s family God would provide a Savior, the “nation” being described transcends the Hebrews and the land not limited specifically to Canaan.
Consider two passages… Galatians 3:6-7, “Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” Hebrews 11:9-10, “By faith Abraham dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; waiting for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God…”
Aside from the fact we see the “land” God promised referred more to heaven than it did a specific area of real-estate off the eastern coast of the Mediterranean… This “nation” describes all those who, like Abraham, believe God’s Word, place their faith in Jesus, and choose to walk with Him instead of settling in this world (applicable to Jew and Gentile alike).
Seeing that this “work” Jesus is referencing in John 8 ties to the faith of Abraham which makes an individual more than a descendent, but a child… There’s one more point of clarity that needs to be made… While on account of God’s grace Abram did believe and place his faith in this Promise, sadly Abram failed to be fully obedient.
Though Stephen is clear God had commanded Abram while he was in Ur to “get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you” Genesis 11 tells us that “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot, and Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan.”
Though there is no question they start off with the correct destination in mind (“the land of Canaan”) we’re told they “came to Haran” and decided to “dwell there” instead! Make no bones about it, in Isaiah 51:2, we’re told that “God called Abraham alone.” That said… He departs from Ur with the whole family — most notably his father Terah and nephew Lot!
It would appear this family connection was something Abram couldn’t let go of. Even after Terah dies Abram still allows his nephew Lot to travel with him — which doesn’t end well. Regardless, this is what we can say for sure… Abram was called to “go to the land of Canaan,” but — because he failed to be fully obedient to God’s command to “get out from your relatives” — he ends up settling in “Haran” until his father “Terah” finally died.
It’s not an accident the name “Terah” means “delay” and “Haran” means “parched or barren.” Because of Abram’s failure to be obedient, these years in Haran were wasted… They were unfruitful and completely unproductive to God’s ultimate plan. Though in Haran Abram was still righteous before God because he’d placed his faith in the Savior, practically God’s plan for his life was limited because he failed to act consistently with God’s Word.
Genesis 12:1-9, “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him. And Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh.
And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he 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. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.”
We know, according to Steven, that God initially called Abram in Ur, but because he failed to be obedient he spent countless, fruitless years in Haran until his father Terah died. Then, upon his death, what happens… Genesis 12 says, “Now the Lord had said… And Abram departed from Haran.” Keep in mind, this phrase implies that God continued to say!
In a profound way while Abram may have taken a detour because of his failure to obey God’s Word, God’s grace remained sure and his calling secure. In actuality, the case can be made that this calling of God continued the entire time Abram was in Haran!
Notice in what is actually a second calling God reiterates 3 very specific promises to Abram: (1) “I will make you a great nation.” (2) “I will bless you and make your name great.” (3) “You shall be a blessing… To all the families of the earth.” David Guzik writes in his commentary, “These are God’s promises; notice how often God says ‘I will’ in these verses. Genesis chapter 11 is all about the plans of man. Genesis chapter 12 is all about the plans of God.”
Here’s the big lesson Abraham’s life illustrates… “The works of Abraham” that determine if you’re his “child” cannot be attributed to the successes of Abraham (they were few and far-between), but instead his willingness to abide in God’s grace when he failed. It was his belief in a Savior not his ability to obey that manifested a righteous standing!
In closing, notice how God evaluated Abraham’s life. In Hebrews 11:8-10, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; waiting for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God…"
Did you notice what’s missing? The entire detour in Haran and his numerous failings (trip to Egypt, keeping Lot around, Hagar and Ishmael, Abimelech) are not recorded, because Abram was already righteous before God on account of his faith in a coming Savior! His failings — though consequential — had no bearing on his status in heaven!
Friend, I hope you know this morning that God’s grace finds you even when you aren’t looking for it! The truth is that there was nothing inherent to Abram or his character that precipitated God’s appearing or calling. God chose Abram before he chose to follow!
How incredible that Jesus didn’t die on the cross to save you because you were worthy. As a matter of fact, it was specifically because you weren’t that “God sent His only begotten Son.” God’s amazing grace and not your worthiness is the entire reason you have a relationship with Him! How sad we’re so quick to forget this blessed truth.
Friend, if God’s first contact was based upon His love for you and not your worthiness then the entire basis for your continued relationship with God is still based upon His great love for you and not the fact you deserve it! Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
To his credit, upon God’s appearing, Abram believed God’s Word and placed his faith in a coming Savior. It was the one “work” essential to the process. Abraham was made righteous not on account of anything he did, but by his simple faith in Jesus. Again… Abraham goes down as the one guy known not for what he did, but rather Who he knew!
Finally, did you notice in these verses there was only one thing God asked of Abram — one thing required of Abram to insure he remained in the perfect will of God? Again God gave Abraham one simple command that would enable these promises, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.”
What a fascinating paradigm! God told Abram to “get out of… To.” Or as the Old King James Version translates, “Get thee out of… Unto.” The way this verse is structured communicates the idea that Abram was being asked, in an act of faith, to exchange what he presently had for something God would later give. The Message translates this as, “Leave… For.”
Notice God asks Abram to leave behind his present “family” so that God could “make him a great nation.” Additionally, God asks him to leave behind his “father’s house” and all the benefits it would provide for “a land God would show” him. God commanded Abram to leave behind what he presently had “for” something much better God wanted to give him.
You see Abram had to decide what we must… “Keep the life he had and therefore forgo the life God wanted to provide him” or “forgo the life he had so that he might attain the life God wanted to provide him.” The “to” (God’s will) would only be realized if Abram first “got out of.”
Notice the “unto or for” was not “to” a specific destination — the invitation was rather to engage in a journey that led to a particular destination. God was inviting Abram to leave his present life in order to begin a new journey with Him — a journey that would lead to a cross and then through a Garden Tomb. It seems Abraham fully understood this and would come to see what God meant in Genesis 22 when he offered his only son Isaac!
Jesus will say in John 8:56-58, “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’”
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