Adventures in Faith – Abraham 16. Passing the Baton
In a relay race, it’s not so much the running that matters, but the passing of the baton. Fumble the baton, you lose the race.
God Has No Grandchildren
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that the Christian faith is always only one generation from extinction. “God has no grandchildren.” The Christian faith is a like a relay race in which one generation passes the baton of God’s truth to another generation. As a father, I have a sacred responsibility to see that my faith is passed down to my children, and if I live long enough, to my grandchildren. As a pastor, I must earnestly seek to impart God’s truth to my congregation so that they will pass it along to those they meet. As a Christian, I must use every opportunity to spread the gospel and to say a good word on behalf of Jesus Christ.
I do not believe God will hold me accountable for what people do with the truth I give them. I cannot answer for my children and they cannot answer for me. Nor can I answer for everyone who hears me preach. But I will be held accountable for doing all I can to ensure that the truth I know is passed along to others so that the Christian faith will continue into the next generation. That much I can do and that much I must do.
Father Abraham Had Many Sons v. 1 - 6
We have come at last to the end of Abraham’s life. He is now a very old man—175 years old. For the last 100 years he has lived in the Promised Land. Sarah has been dead for 38 years. No doubt he loved all his sons. But only Isaac was the son of the promise.
By giving his sons gifts, he honoured them. By sending them away, he indicated that only Isaac was the son of the promise.
Satisfied With Life v. 7 - 11
3 facts about his situation at the end of his life: 1. He lived to a “good old age.” 2. He was “an old man.” 3. He was “full of years.” NASB - says that Abraham “died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life.” What a wonderful way to put it. He was satisfied with life. How many people can say that on their deathbeds? Not too many. Most folks come to the end and look back with regret and remorse—regret for lost opportunities and remorse over foolish mistakes they have made. No doubt Abraham had his share of both, yet as he looked back he was satisfied with the life he had lived.
Abraham didn’t have an easy life. Along the way he went through periods of frustration, discouragement and compromise. He experienced more than his share of personal loss. He saw the glitter of Egypt and smelled the smoke rising from the ruins of Sodom. He heard the voice of God and later lied to save his own skin. He had to give up his firstborn son Ishmael and send him away—an act that broke his heart. He wept when he buried his wife Sarah.
Certainly he lived a full life and he packed a lot into those 175 years. But through it all, even in the worst moments, he remained a man of faith. He never lost sight of the God who called him out of Ur 100 years earlier. For that reason—and that reason alone—he was satisfied with life when he died.
By burying him alongside his beloved wife Sarah, his sons were saying, “Daddy lived by faith in God’s promises. When he died, he still believed in them. We’re burying him right here because some day all this land will belong to us.” So the torch of truth passed down from one generation to another. “God blessed Isaac.”
One runner finishes his race. Another takes the baton and continues down the track. From Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Joseph and across the generations the baton is passed—all the way from Machpelah 4000 years ago to Wilro Park at the beginning of the 21st century.
In this closing message I would like to survey Abraham’s life and what made him such a great man that he is still revered by 2 billion people today. What was the secret of his enormous influence that persists across the centuries? 4 obvious answers –
1. He Believed God
You can say more than that about this man, but not less. No other fact can account for his remarkable life. From the moment when God first spoke to him as a prosperous pagan in Ur till the moment he breathed his last, he believed God. Not simply that he believed in God, but that he staked all that he was and had on the truth that God had spoken to him.
Abraham believed God and so became the pattern for all believers. Abraham stands as the preeminent man of faith in the Bible. When the Apostle Paul wants to convince the Romans as to the true nature of faith, he refers to Abraham - Romans 4: 3 “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Abraham stands as the model believer for both the Jews of the OT and the Christians of the NT.
What is a Christian? Of all the many words that might be used in answer, perhaps the most basic is the simple yet profound word “believer.” A Christian is a person who believes in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and who is therefore trusting Christ and him alone for eternal salvation. Over 300 times in John’s gospel some form of the word “believe” or “believer” is used to describe what it means to be a Christian.
2. He Kept on Believing
Abraham was 75 years old when God appeared to him in Ur and promised to give him a son. It was hard enough to believe at that point, but years passed, then more years, then a decade and still no son who would fulfill God’s promise. Finally when Abraham was 100 years old—and Sarah was 90–Isaac was born.
I remind you of Paul’s words - Romans 4: 19 – 21 “Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.”
Against all the odds, and in full understanding of the human impossibility, Abraham kept on believing in God’s promise. What happened to Abraham and Sarah was a miracle plain and simple. There is no other explanation for a man who becomes a father at the age of 100 or a woman who becomes a mother at the age of 90.
Abraham’s unwavering faith is just as much of a miracle. Most of us would have given up years earlier or we would never have started believing in the first place. Not Abraham. He kept on believing even when all the “facts” were against him. Most of God’s greatest works in our lives take place, not overnight, but over the years. But he can’t do his work unless we are willing to keep on believing even when all the “facts” are against us.
Someone has said that “patience is letting your motor idle when you feel like stripping the gears.” But if God is in charge, you can let that motor idle! Every problem doesn’t have to be solved today for God to be faithful. He will do his work in his time if we will only be patient.
3. Though He Stumbled, He Did Not Fall
Abraham was not a perfect man. Far from it. He struggled with doubt, fear, discouragement, deception, rebellion, blaming others, selfishness, and all the other problems that beset the human race. Though he was a good man, he was still a man. He was no different from us. “We are all made of the same mould, but some of us are mouldier than others.” Abraham was not the “mouldiest” man in the Bible, but he wasn’t the “cleanest” either.
Twice he lied about his wife, calling her his sister in order to save his own skin. Both times he risked her purity for his own personal safety. Neither incident makes him look very good. He comes off both times as a man who is found out by pagans who expected something better from him.
The clearest example of Abraham’s “mouldiness” is the sad story of the birth of Ishmael. At Sarah’s urging, he slept with the young servant, Hagar. No doubt he and Sarah rationalized that their actions were only meant to help fulfill God’s promise. But God doesn’t need our “help,” especially when that “help” involves immorality. "It is never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right." To this day the world suffers one crisis after another in the Middle East and the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael struggle for control of the Holy Land. But for all his weakness and his occasional stumbles, Abraham’s heart remained fixed on God.
That’s why he was called a “friend” of God, one of the highest compliments God ever paid anyone. Do your friends ever disappoint you? Yes, of course. Are they still your friends? Yes, of course. Why? Because you know that deep down they are still committed to you. That’s precisely how God looked at Abraham.
Remember that salvation is forever because it rests on God’s character, not on our performance. Those whom God saves he saves forever. Eternal life begins, not the moment you die, but the moment you believe. Those who are born again can never be unborn any more than a baby can return to its mother’s womb.
When Abraham stumbled and fell, he got up. That’s what a righteous man does. A pig stays in the mud, but a righteous man gets up, cleans himself off, and keeps on going.
4. He Never Took His Eyes Off Heaven
When Abraham and Lot divided up the land, Abraham offered Lot the first choice. Even though he was older and had the right of first choice, he yielded that right for the sake of peace. Lot chose the well-watered plain near Sodom and the rest is history. But don’t forget what God said to Abraham: Genesis 13: 14 – 7 “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
It’s as if God said, “Don’t worry about it. Because you yielded your rights, in the end all this land will belong to you and your descendants.” This is what God meant when he called himself “your exceedingly great reward.” God will be no one’s debtor. When the books are finally balanced, no one will be cheated by God. Those who trust him will find themselves rewarded beyond their wildest dreams.
As we think about that fact, it’s crucial to remember that Abraham lived and died in faith. He never saw the fulfillment of all that God had promised. But he believed that someday everything would come true. To put it in modern terms, Abraham believed in heaven and that made all the difference.
2000 years later the writer of the book of Hebrews analyzed Abraham’s whole life this way: Hebrews 11: 8 – 10 “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. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
Abraham kept following God because he was looking for a city “with foundations,” that is, for a city that would offer permanent security. Only God could build such a city. Indeed, he has already built it. It is called “the New Jerusalem” and its glories are described in Revelation 21-22. All the saints of all the ages will one day live in that great city “whose architect and builder is God.”
But between now and then we’re all on a journey. Everything built by man will eventually crumble and fall to the dust. Nothing made by the hand of man lasts forever. So it is with everything in this world. Nothing lasts forever. Even the greatest monuments give way to the erosion of the passing years. Everyone—and everything–is eventually forgotten.
If you’re looking for lasting significance, you’ll have to look outside this world. Abraham understood that principle. That’s why he could give up the “good” land and take the desert scrub for his flocks. He believed in God and that kept him from coveting the things of the earth.
When Jesus was debating the religious leaders of his day, he made a passing comment about Abraham that bears repeating. John 8: 58 “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”
Abraham saw Jesus and the sight transformed his life. Have you ever seen Jesus with the eyes of faith? Behold the Son of God. Fix your eyes upon him. Gaze upon his beauty. As the song says, “Look full in his wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.” Those who look to him will never be disappointed and like Abraham of old, they will rejoice and be glad forever.