Where do you find the verse that says, “God moves in mysterious ways”? It isn’t in the Bible. It is from a hymn written in the 18th century by William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”. We use this phrase often because it describes the wonder we have in understanding what God is doing. It is sometimes confusing and sometimes awe-inspiring.
Here is a brief review of terms we introduced last week:
The Upper Story describes God’s Story that involves the plan for His creation. This is God’s big plan that began before creation and culminate in the new creation that will take place at the fulfillment of God’s plan. This is God’s plan that will take place regardless of what we do.
The Lower Story is where God’s Story intersects with Our Story. God creates the Lower Story by coming to us and inviting us to be part of His story. This story is being written each day as God allows us to make choices regarding the relationship with Him. We can walk with God or we can walk away from God.
The Story also talks about five movements that take part in God’s Story:
Movement 1: The Story of the Garden (Genesis 1-11) In the Upper Story God creates the Lower Story. His vision is to come down and be with us in a beautiful garden. The first two people reject God’s vision and are escorted from paradise. Their decision introduces sin into the human race and keeps us from community with God. At this moment God gives a promise and launches a plan to get us back. The rest of the Bible is God’s story of how He kept that promise and made it possible for us to enter a loving relationship with Him.
Movement 2: The Story of Israel (Genesis 12 – Malachi) God builds a brand-new nation called Israel. Through this nation, He will reveal His presence, power, and plan to get us back. Every story of Israel will point to the first coming of Jesus – the One who will provide the way back in God.
Movement 3: The Story of Jesus (Matthew – John) Jesus left the Upper Story to come down into our Lower Story to be with us and to provide the way for us to be made right with God. Through faith in Christ’s work on the cross, we can now overturn Adam’s choice and have a personal relationship with God.
Movement 4: The Story of the Church (Acts – Jude)
Everyone who comes into a relationship with God through faith in Christ belongs to the new community God is building called the church. The church is commissioned to be the presence of Christ in the Lower Story – telling His story by the way we live and the words we speak. Every story of the church points people to the second coming of Christ, when He will return to restore God’s original vision.
Movement 5: The Story of a New Garden (Revelation)
God will one day create a new earth and a new garden and once again come down to be with us. All who placed their faith in Christ in this life will be eternal residences in the life to come.
God Builds a Nation
Last week we discovered a timeless truth that Sin Changes Everything
The relationships were broken:
Between man and God
Between man and other people – spouse, children, humanity
Between man and creation – things changed after The Fall & after The Flood
Salvation always comes by faith
The timeless truth for this week is: What Sin Changes, Faith Overcomes
This lesson’s focus is on faith and the obedient response to God’s revelation. God’s relentless pursuit of humanity becomes more evident in His great narrative as He initiates the relationships characters who then (and only then) respond to God by faith. Thus, faith overcomes the brokenness in humanity’s relationship to God.
Briefly survey the various “what if” methods that we might wish God would use to communicate with us. Who wishes God would phone? Perhaps a text message? Maybe an email? Possibly a GodTV cable channel? God has chosen to reveal Himself in various and often creative ways in the past. In chapter two of The Story, God reveals Himself in very personal ways to the various characters. God takes the Upper Story and brings it down into the Lower Story by working through people like us. Thankfully He continues to reveal Himself to us through the enduring communication of His Word.
This lesson focuses on faith through a study of three episodes in the life of Abraham. In the text of the story you might also have noticed some verses from the book of Hebrews that are used to further illustrate what was going on in the life of Abraham.
I. Episode One: A Land for Abram
A. Synopsis Abram is 75 years old the first time God calls him. God asks Abram to leave his present home and go to an unknown place that He would show him. So Abram gathered his family and belongings and eventually ended up in Canaan.
1. God initiated the relationship with Abram
2. God gave Abram specific instructions
3. God made specific promises to Abram in a covenant:
a. I will make you a great nation
b. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing
c. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you
d. I will bless all the peoples of the earth through you
C. Abram’s Faith Response
1. Abram was chosen by grace, not by merit
2. Abram obeyed God’s instructions by faith
3. Abram built altars and worshiped
II. Episode Two: An Heir for Abram
A. Synopsis Abram worried that he had no children of his own. He expressed his concerns to God, who promised that an heir would come from Abram’s own body. Abram and Sarai used Hagar to produce a child, Ishmael. But Isaac, the child of promise, would come from Sarah’s womb.
1. God, taking the initiative, promised offspring
2. God declared Abram righteous because Abram believed Him
3. God gave the sign of the promise in circumcision, and changed Abram and Sarai’s names God reveals Himself as El Shaddai – the all- powerful God who also protects His people by surrounding them with His arms and drawing them to His breast
C. Abram’s Faith Response
1. Abram’s righteousness was by faith Believers have always been saved by grace through faith.
2. Man and God have a restored relationship through faith
3. Negatively, Abram and Sarai did not wait on God, but had Hagar bear a son, Ishmael This resulted in tragic and broken relationships
III.Episode Three: A Test for Abraham
A. Synopsis Another great act of faith is recorded in this third episode. Approximately forty years after Abraham’s first encounter with God, God called him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham took Isaac, two servants, and some wood and set out. Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac, but God stopped him. God provided a ram in the thicket to sacrifice instead.
1. God initiated the relationship again and tested Abraham’s faith
2. God provided a substitionary sacrifice
3. God repeated His promise to bless Abraham and all nations through him
C. Abraham’s Faith Response
1. Abraham obeyed immediately and trusted that God could resurrect Isaac
2. Abraham’s obedience was evidence of his mature faith
IV.Other Important People and Events
A. Sarah – faith and fear – struggled with trusting in God’s promises when she felt threatened by Hagar and Ishmael; there may also have been a strained relationship with Abraham after the near sacrifice of Isaac
B. Hagar – tests and triumphs – she was exiled by Sarah but trusted in the power of God, even giving God the name El Roi “The God who sees”; she was a single mother who raised a son who became very powerful
C. Ishmael – strength and success – a teenager who was sent away with his mother because of resentment from his step-mother; his destiny is to become an archer and one who lived in conflict; his sons became powerful princes and his descendants became great nations; yet he must have remained in contact with his father, Abraham, because he and Isaac together bury their father at his death
D. Isaac – birthright and blessing – he trusts in an arranged marriage and loves his wife; twenty years pass before God blesses them with twins; each of the parents have favorite sons; Isaac had been told at the birth of the twins that Jacob was the one chosen by God but he still has the desire to put Esau first
E. Rebekah – beauty and brains – she demonstrates hospitality to the stranger who turns out to be the servant of Abraham; she is willing to leave her family and go to a new place trusting that things will work out as she marries Isaac; she is intelligent and helps Jacob to deceive Isaac in order to receive the blessing and to help Jacob escape the wrath of his brother Esau; she seems to know God’s plan but uses her own plans to make things happen
F. Esau – fury and forgiveness – he is guilty of despising his birthright for a bowl of stew; he is so angry with his brother that he plots his revenge after the death of his father; yet, God blesses him and when Jacob returns we see that Esau has forgiven Jacob and actively seeks to restore the relationship with his brother (even to the point of running to Jacob which was both dangerous, if conflict would have taken place, and undignified, for a male leader to run to another person was unheard of; God makes Esau great and his descendants become powerful nations
G. Jacob – tricks and trials – he has tricked his brother into receiving the blessing and the birthright; he is then tricked by his uncle Laban into serving for 20 years; he uses his own tricks to pay back his uncle and becomes wealthy in the process; he ends up fleeing the strained relationship with his uncle and cousins, returning to his home in Canaan and facing his brother Esau; along the way God comes to him and changes his name to Israel which seems to indicate both a renewal of the covenant with Abraham and a spiritual renewal for Jacob as he purchases land and builds an altar to the God of Israel (El Elohe Israel)
H. Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, Zilpah – family and feuds – one wife who is unloved, one wife who difficulty conceiving and ultimately dies in childbirth, and two concubines that provide sons for Jacob; the household was complicated by tensions between the adults and between the children; ultimately providing the 12 tribes that would be the nation of Israel
V. Applications and Implications
A. God initiates a relationship with us by revealing Himself
B. When God seeks me, I should respond by faith
C. Faith is always based on the Word of God or a revelation about His character
D. Obedience is an outward expression of an inward faith
E. Grace seems perplexing because we do nothing to earn God’s love
F. Faith in God is the only requirement for righteousness and salvation
G. Our relationship with God does not necessarily get easier over time It will continue to be tested
H. God can be trusted with our most precious “possessions”
“I will.” These are words of covenant commitment and promise spoken by a sovereign God to Abraham. God’s master plan to restore us to Himself gets a fresh start with these words. God is determined to fulfill His promise in spite of the frailties and failures of His people. God chooses to create a new nation through Abraham, revealing Himself to and working through this new community of faith. God promises Abraham saying “I will...”
• make your descendants into a great nation and give this nation a land in which to dwell
• make you great and you will be a blessing
• blessings and curses will come because of you
• bless all other nations through the nation of Israel
And two thousand years later God’s Son was born, a descendant of Abraham, thus fulfilling the covenant promise.
This chapter demonstrates a striking duality: God using broken people to fulfill His unbreakable promises. But on a day-to-day basis, God’s people continue to make bad choices that expose their ever-present sin nature. Abraham and Sarah, waiting for years for the child God promised, opt for their own plan to conceive an heir through Sarah’s servant, Hagar. Isaac and Rebekah raise a very dysfunctional family and put their own plans first before God’s plan. Jacob perfects the “workaround method” by conniving and cheating his way through life.
But what sin changes, faith overcomes. In spite of their failures, God’s people respond in faith. Abraham leaves his homeland and travels to a foreign land just because God said to. He gives his relative Lot the choice real estate, having faith God would still bless him. Abraham and Sarah, through laughter and tears, finally see God fulfill his promise through the birth of a son, Isaac. In a dramatic episode, Abraham shows he is willing to go so far as sacrificing his only son, Isaac, just because he trusts God. This foreshadows the willingness of God to do the same to his own Son. The key verse of the chapter is: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Therein lays the Gospel itself. His family continues to demonstrate faith. By faith, Isaac finds a wife for his son. Jacob comes to faith after literally wrestling with God. By faith, Esau also shows Jacob grace and forgiveness. With every story, we are reminded that God works through flawed people who take steps of faith.