Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

8 September 2005

 

A Fresh Encounter with God

 Genesis 17:1-17:8

 


Most people are familiar with the name Abraham, and they know that he was recognized for his great faith, and God chose him for the father of His chosen people, Israel. 

 

But before God chose him, and changed his name, he was called Abram at first. 

In the passage that we are going to study, there is a definite challenge to Abram to move to a new level of trust and faith.

 

At a time when Abram may have thought that his best years are behind him, God asks him to move up.

 

This call to move higher reached Abram at a point of weakness and inability.

 

It is amazing to consider that when we think it is all over, God may be thinking about beginnings.


Abram is now ninety-nine years old.

 

It has been twenty four years since he received God’s promise and left the land of Ur.

 

It has been thirteen years since Ishmael was born to Hagar, the handmaid of Abram’s wife Sarai, so Ishmael is Abram’s only son.     

 

So far as we can tell God has not spoken since He encountered Hagar on her way to Egypt. 

 

There has been thirteen years of silence!

 

Then God appears to Abram and we have His words in Genesis 17:1-8.

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. (2) And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly.” (3) Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: (4) “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. (5) No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. (6) I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. (7) And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. (8) Also I (will) give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” Genesis 17:1-8 (NKJV)

Thirteen years earlier Abram had taken a wrong turn and for thirteen years there has been silence from heaven.

 

We have reason to suspect that these were years of unhappiness and unrest in the household of Abram.

 

The presence of Ishmael in the home created contempt and bitterness, envy and strife.

 

God used these thirteen years to teach Abram the cost of acting on his own.

 

This was time used to teach Abram of the consequences of serving God in the flesh and acting thoughtlessly.

 

For thirteen years he has lived with the fruits of his impatience.

 
It could be that you have had some similar experiences; most of us do.

 

A time when God has allowed you to have your own way, and the results have been distressing.

 

You are permitted to go your own head-strong way, so that you might learn the foolishness of acting apart from God.

 

One of the most frightening things in life is that if you insist on having you own way, God may let you have it, until you are sorry you asked for it.!

 

I want to first of all show you that Abram received--

 

I. A New Revelation of God


“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.”


After thirteen years of silence, God appears to Abram and says, “I AM God Almighty.”

 

In Hebrew the name is “El-Shaddai,” which essentially means “the God who is sufficient” and this name is used to emphasize His infinite power.

 

It is the first time that God has been called by this name.


How great is our God, El-Shaddai?

 

How mighty is He?

 

What can he do?

 

In the very next chapter God again promises Sarah and Abraham a son and fixes the time for his arrival.

 

God sent an angel with a message.

 

The angel said to Sarah and Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”

 

That is an excellent question, “Is anything too hard for God?”

 

The answer is, of course not, He is El-Shaddai, Almighty God.

 

The prophet Jeremiah says, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.”

The contemporary Christian song puts it well, “El Shaddai, El Shaddai, El El Ya Na, Adonai, age to age you are still the same by the power of the name.”


How great is our God, El-Shaddai?

 

An angel comes to a young woman named Mary and tells her that she is with child and that He shall be the Messiah.

 

She asks, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1:34).

 

The angel responds with, “For with God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

 

Why is this possible?

 

Because He is El-Shaddai, Almighty God.


With this new light comes a new demand from God, “walk before Me and be blameless.”

 

In the King James Version this word blameless is translated “perfect.”

 

The root meaning of this word is “wholehearted.”

 

If Abraham wanted to know God’s power, he had to walk, that is live, close to the Lord and be blameless, that is consistently responding to God in repentance and faith.

 

He must be sincere and honest in his devotion and obedience to the Lord.

 

Faith always calls for obedience if it is to be counted as real.

In the passage before us, there are seven promises given by “I will statements.”


1. I will make my covenant with you (v. 2)
2. I will multiply you (v.2)
3. I will make you fruitful (exceedingly) (v.6)
4. I will make of you many nations (v.6)
5. I will establish my covenant with your descendants
(v. 7)
6. I will give you (and your descendants) the land of
Canaan (v. 8)
7. I will be their God (v. 8)

 

These are promises that God made to Abraham and his descendents.

 

Next, we are told that God has--

II. A New Name for Abram and Sarai


God told Abraham, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.” (v. 5)


For twenty-four years Abram had been living under the shepherding hand of God.

 

Abram was not the same man in character that he was when God first called him.

 

Through out the Bible, when character changes significantly, God changes the name.

 

Now God challenged Abram to a closer walk with Him by changing his and Sarai’s names.

 

The name Abram means “high father or father of many.”

 

This must have proven to be an embarrassment many times over the years to Abram.

 

Whenever he met someone new, he was forced to introduce himself, Abram the father of many.

 

It must of happened hundred of times, each time it was more irritating than the last.

 

“Oh, your name is Abram, father of many!  Congratulations!  How many sons do you have?”

 

And for years the answer was so humiliating, none.

 

And now he was the father of one, and that by a servant girl.

 

How he must have hated the question.


Donald Barnhouse told of a man he knew that had the last name of Wrench.

 

He told Barnhouse that he divided his friends into two groups (1) those that did not make wisecracks about his name and (2) those that did.

 

“He said that he automatically cringed when anyone would hear his name and begin one of the wisecracks he had heard in every possible variety; was he related to Monkey Wrench, was he the left handed wrench, and all the others.”

 

Abram would have understood very well how he felt.

In Hebrew God added one letter to Abram’s name, the letter formed by breathing.

 

In Hebrew, the name Jehovah is formed by the five vowels; I, E, O, U, A, with the twice repeated H.

 

The word for spirit, which means breath, is ruach in Hebrew, which is pronounced by expelling air.

 

God was adding His name to Abram.

 

The best explanation is that God took part of his own name and added to Abraham and Sarah’s names.

“Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.”


The name Sarai means “contentious” or “argumentative.”

 

This speaks volumes about the home life of Abram and Sarai.

 

Solomon writes, “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a contentious woman.”

 

Having a thousand wives, Solomon no doubt knew what he was talking about.

 

Sarai was a problem wife.

 

Yet in the New Testament Peter says that this woman is a model for all women to follow, but only after her name is changed to Sarah, which means “princess.”

 

She is never referred to as Sarai in the New Testament.

 

God does not set her forth as a pattern for women until she becomes Sarah and loses her contentious spirit.

 

As Sarah she learned to develop “a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”

 

She was not naturally this way, but she learned by God’s grace to be such.

 

I suspect that Sarai was argumentative, the classic nagging wife.

 

But through the years, by God’s grace, she learned that she did not have to defend herself on every occasion and she became Sarah, a princess, honored among women.

 

Finally, I want you to see that Abraham was given--

III. A New Covenant Sign


“This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;” Genesis 17:10 (NKJV)

With Abraham, God’s sign of covenant was to be circumcision.

 

In the New Testament, the covenant sign is baptism.

 

Neither circumcision nor baptism was the means of salvation.

 

Salvation in the Old Testament and in the New Testament was “by grace through faith.”

 

A whole chapter is written in Romans (chapter 4) to show that salvation came to Abraham years before he was circumcised, so all would understand that act in itself had no saving merit.

 
Abraham’s faith resulted in obedience.

 

Verse 23 says “that same day” Abraham was obedient in carrying out the commands of God.

 

Whatever God said, Abraham listened, believed and obeyed.

 
The lesson of the Gospel is Abraham’s challenge all over again.

 

It is a call to a deeper relationship.

 

I want you to think of the Christian life within the framework of three calls:

1. The call to repentance and Faith.

 

Mark 1:14-15 (NKJV): “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, (15) and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

 

In the beginning, the message preached by Jesus and John the Baptist was pretty much the same; “Repent, for the Kingdom of god is at hand.” 

 

Jesus called men to repentance as emphatically as John did. 

 

But Jesus made one important addition to His message; “Believe in the gospel.” 

 

Repent and believe! 

 

Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, led a crusade in Australia during the spring of 1996.

 

At one of the invitations, a fifteen-year-old boy told a counselor he came forward because, as he said, “I haven’t been decent to Jesus.”

 

Repentance starts with a confession that we “haven’t been decent to Jesus.” 

 

“Faith is a day by day process in which God will show us what to do moment by moment.” 

 

Faith always leads to repentance the two go together and they will stand together forever and ever.

2. The call to discipleship.

 

Luke 9:23: “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”

 

The call to discipleship requires that we meet three conditions: self-denial, bearing ones cross and obedience. 

 

Discipleship demands a radical change in a person’s life—with self no longer the center. 

 

God’s will must replace our will. 

 

It may be easier to make sacrifices when going through a crisis that it is to make steady and lonely sacrifices of one kind or another over long years of discipleship. 

 

But self-denial and bearing ones’ cross is futile unless we follow Jesus, that is, take His yoke upon us and learn of Him. 

 

Self-denial is useless unless it’s done for Christ’s sake.

3. The call to go forth as a laborer.

 

Luke 10:1-2: “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. (2) Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

 

Here Jesus is making it clear that it is supremely important that the Gospel be given to everyone. 

 

This call is terribly urgent, so we are to pray for laborers to give out the Gospel and we are to be giving it out also. 

 

Why is it so urgent? 

 

To accept the Gospel is to accept salvation and life: to reject it is to choose judgment and death. 

 

People have it within their power to accept it or reject it. 

 

But we must make sure they have heard the Gospel; that’s what the Lord wants us to do—the rest is up to Him. 

Have you responded to his call?

Conclusion


Abraham believed God.

 

Paul says of him, “And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. (20) He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, (21) and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.” Romans 4:19-21

 

What made the faith of Abraham and Sarah great was not they believed that they could do great things with God’s help.

 

Rather, they believed that God could do whatever he wanted to do with them or without them.

 

God would do great things simply because he chose to do so.


Do we have a faith like that?

 

Do we serve a God like that?

 

The God we worship is the God of Abraham; God still works in men to bring forth faith like Abraham’s.

 

This God is able to bring life out of death, love out of hate, peace out of turmoil, joy out of misery, praise out of cursing and strength out of weakness.

 

He is still El-Shaddai, Almighty God and there is nothing he cannot do.

 

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