Undefeated by Skepticism

Pastor Jake Schram

Genesis 12:1-8 (EHV) 1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Get out of your country and away from your relatives and from your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse anyone who dishonors you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you.” 4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him. Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took Sarai his wife, Lot his brother’s son, and all the possessions they had accumulated and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to travel to the land of Canaan. Eventually they arrived in the land of Canaan. 6 Abram passed through the land until he came to the Oak of Moreh at the place called Shechem. The Canaanites were in the land at that time. 7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “I will give this land to your descendants.” Abram built an altar there to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 He moved on from there to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent there, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

Moving is hard! It’s a major pain to complete all the steps of moving. You have to locate a new place to live, maybe sell your old place, pack up all your stuff, lug it all the way over to wherever you are going (often taking multiple trips), and then finally take the 1-20 year interval necessary to unpack it all. In our text today we hear about someone else’s moving experience with an added twist. He wasn’t expecting to move at all. Today we pick up on the story of Abram.

You may know him as Abraham, but that was after his name was changed by God. For now, his name is simply Abram. God has just told Abram to travel 600 miles from Ur to a place called Harran. That’s about 600 miles. As Abram is settling in their new home with his family, God has another message for Abram. The LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Oh man, is God asking a lot from Abram! Now Abram and Sarai have probably just gotten the house in order. Abram probably just plugged in his X-box, grabbed a cold one (a soda, of course), and relaxed into his favorite chair. Sarai probably just put the finishing touches on the decorations, put some bubble bath in a tub of warm water, and picked up the latest issue of Hebrew Weekly. “Move!? God wants us to move!?!?!? Again!?!?!?!?” God makes it sound so simple, but it is such a difficult proposition. “All I want you to do is leave the land you are familiar with, everyone you know, and your family behind.” God doesn’t even tell Abram where he’s going or how far or what he’s supposed to do when he gets there. Plus, where are they supposed to find cardboard boxes for moving? They haven’t even been invented yet. The only thing Abram has to go on right now is the LORD’s name. All capital letters is the English translation’s way of bringing out the “free and faithful love” of God. So in essence, God is telling Abram, “Leave just about everything you know and love and trust in my name.”

God then gives Abram a bit more to go on. God is a bit vague, but fills Abram in on the plans he has for him. He gives him a list of promises to look forward to. Let’s look at each one in detail. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that God kept every single one of his promises to Abram.

1. “I will make you into a great nation.” Now let’s think about this. Abram and his wife Sarai are childless. You can’t be the father of a nation if you have no offspring. On top of this, Abram is 75 years old. Sarai is 65 years old and barren. They are way too old to be having children and Sarai can’t even have children. And yet, Isaac was born to them when Abram was a 100 years old. From that child the nation of Israel would grow to over 2 million within 600 years. And as children of faith we all look to Abraham as a father and example of faith.

2. “I will bless you.” God promises to give Abram success, prosperity, and fertility. At this point, Abram and Sarai are pretty well off so it seems God is promising something even better. He ends up giving them all this and great wealth too.

3. “I will make your name great.” God did this so much so that people still gather over 3,000 years later to hear sermons about Abram.

4. “You will be a blessing.” People would benefit from simply being near to Abraham. God used Abram to save captured families, as a tool of prayer for others, and as a host to angels, among other things.

5. “I will bless those who bless you.” Those who believe the Word Abraham spoke of a Savior would be blessed spiritually.

6. “Whoever curses you I will curse.” Those who would reject the Word Abraham spoke about a Savior would suffer God’s judgment.

7. “All peoples will be blessed through you.” This one is the best promise of them all. Last week we heard of how God promised the Savior to Adam and Eve. He gave the picture of someone special coming from the line of Adam and Eve who would come and stomp the devil’s head in. This is that same promise being passed down. The only way that all people can be blessed through Abraham is if the Savior comes from his offspring. That is the only way. And Abraham understands this great promise. God most certainly sent this Savior. We know him as Jesus.

As recorded for us in John 8:56, Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Abraham knew the Savior was coming and he understood what God was promising right here.

If I were Abram, I’d be a bit skeptical. These are some extremely hefty promises. Now, I want you to take a moment and think about what you would do. Without knowing what would happen, would you trust God? Or perhaps you would go, but your first response to God’s command would be, “(large sigh) aaaaarrrggghh.” Let’s look at Abram’s response. Here’s what Scripture tells us. “So Abram went.” Three powerful words of action. He even left his own father. He took his family and possessions and just started wandering in the direction God sent him. Then Scripture skips the journey and tells us they eventually arrived in the land of Canaan. As I read this, something is obtrusively absent here. Can you guess it? Abram and his family have traveled another 400 miles on top of the 600 miles from their first journey. Maybe this will help you guess it. Have you ever had a peaceful 1,000 mile car ride? What if you could only go 25 miles per hour in an uncomfortable car, you have no map, you don’t know when you’ll reach the next rest stop, when you will come across some snacks, or when you will arrive. I don’t know about you, but every long ride I’ve been on is filled with complaining. “Are we there yet? I’m tired. I’m hungry? How far? I need to move my body. I need to use the potty? Stop the car!”

In this passage there is no complaining. None. It’s absolutely astounding. Abram trusts God so much that he just gets up and goes. He knows God will keep every single one of his promises and even though he has no idea where God is guiding him, he knows that God is going to give him something better than what he left behind in his homeland.

I wish I had a faith like Abram. Is that weird coming from the mouth of a pastor? The thing is we all have our doubts sometimes. You are not weird or a bad Christian when you do. We often don’t know what God wants us to do in our lives. “What do you want from me God?” And we think we hear nothing in response. Or often we try to steer God into what we want and make it seem like his idea. God, I tried to get that job like you wanted me to, but it didn’t work out. Was that the job he wanted you to have or the job you wanted to have?

And looking around, it may feel like God isn’t there. Our skepticism takes over. But know this. Abram didn’t base his faith on what he felt or saw, but what God said. That’s good for us to hear too. You may feel that God has abandoned you, but he hasn’t. You may see terrible things in life and think God isn’t there or he has no control, but he is and he does. We have to go by what he has told us in his Word. God reaffirms our faith in his Word constantly filling our souls with what we need to hear. This is how you can praise God in a life chalked full of uncertainties and sin. This is how you can battle skepticism. This is how you can hang on to faith in the most troubling of times. Because God has always, always kept all his promises found in his Word. He may take something away from you to lead you to something better. He’s promised he will work bad things out for the good of his people. He has promised to always watch over you and to give you only the best gifts through his Word. He has promised he sent his son to die on the cross and obliterate all our dreadful stains of sins from his memory. Your record is clean. He promised he has a place prepared for you in heaven. Abram shows us God always keeps his promises to you.

Back in our account, Abram and Sarai finally reach the land of Canaan and see it is filled with the people who are living there. The vast majority probably do not believe in the one true God like Abram does. Suddenly, God speaks to Abram again. “To your offspring I will give this land.” We’d be like, “you mean this land? The land filled with people already who probably hate me because I believe in you?” Once again, there is no complaining or resistance from Abram whatsoever. He accepts this as another promise from God and knows it will come true. Then in yet another display of amazing faith, he builds an altar to the Lord. This is even more impressive when viewed in light of the fact that he is in the very middle of the Canaanite land God promised to give him, surrounded by people who don’t believe. In addition, the place Abram is building an altar is thought to be a place where people would teach about false god’s. So here is Abram, holding his head up high, completely fearless, completely trusting the promises he has received, as he worshipped the LORD his God in front of everyone.

We then reach our final verse for today. Abram travels 20 miles to Bethel so he is still near the center of Canaan. He then repeats the process: he builds another altar and calls on the name of the LORD. We have some special words in that sentence. “Calling on the name of the LORD” is more than meets the eye. This phrase means to use the name of the LORD in worship. It means preaching out loud to those around him. And it means praising God for everything his name stands for. This includes his mercy, kindness, and love. This includes all the promises that God gave him. Another way to put it, is Abram is proclaiming to everyone the promises God has given him, including the one about a Savior coming to snatch us out of the grasp of sin, death, and the devil.

The world is filled with ideas; not all of them are good. Many people will try to tell you that believing in God is stupid. Their opinions will weigh on you to reject God’s Word and trample your faith. But God shows us you can hold your head up high with pride in the faith God has given you even in the most arduous of times. Don’t let the opinions and views of the world sway you away from the God who loves you.

Can I tell you a story? I was on my first mission trip. I must have been about 16. As part of the trip, we stopped at facility for those with cerebral palsy. I was a pretty new Christian and I had no clue what I was doing. None whatsoever. One lady was sitting in the corner. I was told by an aide that she could understand everything I was saying, but couldn’t talk or write. I tried to strike up a conversation with yes or no questions so she could nod or shake her head, but she didn’t give me anything. She’d heard it all before and I got no response whatsoever. I didn’t know what to do. I was a 16 year old boy. My head was empty! When it wasn’t the ideas were not good. To this day I’m not quite sure why I did it, but I just started singing. “Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. T'was blind but now I see.”

As soon as I started singing, her eyes lit up. She pulled out a cross necklace I hadn’t noticed from under her shirt. And even opened her mouth to sing with me. Out came the most horrifying screech I have ever heard. People in the facility were looking around wondering what was that awful sound. What was happening. BUT it was probably one of the most beautiful sounds ever made because here was a lady, unabashed to share the faith that she had, regardless of how people looked at her. After we sang, we did our best to communicate about Jesus and others came near to hear what we were talking about. People heard the message of a Savior for the first time and all because this lady was not afraid to draw attention to her faith. Other people’s opinions did not stop us from talking about what we really needed in our lives: God’s Word and the message of a Savior.

And it all really boils down to one thing: Do you know who your Savior is? If you know about Jesus dying on the cross for your sins, then why let what someone thinks about you take that away. Don’t let your own or someone else’s skepticism override what our all-powerful, all loving God tells you in his inspired Word.

We treasure and hear the Word each week. Through it God affirms what he has promised us and strengthens our faith in our Savior Jesus. He shows us we don’t need to be skeptical as he fulfills every promise he gives to us again and again. Instead, we can take great pride in the message of a savior who died for all of our sins, including our sins of skepticism. Be confident in the Word. It’s never been wrong yet. It never will be. Amen.