Many times when we want to read about missions in the Bible, it’s natural to turn to the New Testament. However, the Old Testament is also full of such records of people being a part of God’s mission.
With that in mind, let us consider the story of Abraham.
In Genesis 12, it is recorded that at the age of 75 years old, the Lord called Abraham to leave his country in order to go where the Lord wanted him to go. This calling was accompanied by a promise; the Lord would bless Abraham by making him the father of a great nation. Through Abraham, all the peoples of the earth would then be blessed.
2 And I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse,
and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
For many Christians, the story of Abraham is a well-known one. Many children often learn about him first in Sunday School – how his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky! What a wonderful privilege that he had to hear directly from the Lord and to be given such a promise. By obeying the Lord and leaving his home, there is a case to be made that he was the first Missionary recorded in the Bible.
But as we examine the life of Abraham, he certainly wasn’t without his faults! He could be cowardly. He feared for his life when he settled in Egypt and Gerar respectively because his wife, Sarah, was beautiful. Both times he tried to save himself by calling Sarah his sister so that he would be spared. These fears proved to be unfounded as the Lord faithfully protected Sarah and him from harm.
Abraham also took matters into his own hands by conceiving a child with Hagar, his wife’s servant, in order to bring about the son that God had promised him. He must have been a man filled with increasing anxiety because the Lord had to tell him again and again not to fear, that it would be his own son who would be his heir (Gen 15:4) and not Ishmael, his son through Hagar.
The Lord ultimately kept His promises to Abraham, blessing him with a long awaited son, Isaac. Abraham ended up waiting 25 years for the fulfillment of this promise. The Lord opened Sarah’s womb and she was able to give birth at the ripe old age of 90 years. As an anxious and impatient person myself, I can naturally identify with Abraham’s concerns!
Though Abraham is not recorded as having shared the good news of God to others, he literally established a ‘gathering of God’s people’ (planting a church in today’s language) through the expansion of his own family. The Mission Abraham took part in was primarily God working through Abraham’s obedience. Unfortunately, Abraham would never live long enough to see the ultimate fulfillment of the Lord’s promise – making him into a great nation and blessing the nations through him.
We know how it all turned out in the end because of what is recorded in the bible. Through Isaac came Jacob who would eventually be renamed Israel, the start of the mighty nation that the Lord had promised Abraham he would be father of. After many many many years of blessing, punishment and restoration, from Abraham’s descendants would come Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah. It was through Jesus that God’s Mission to bless all the nations through Abraham was finally realised.
What are some principles we can learn from Abraham’s role in God’s Mission
1. Blessing through obedience.
While Abraham could have easily stayed in Haran, he chose to follow God’s call. He packed up all his belongings and left to follow the Lord to a place that he did not know. It is possible that he and his household had to endure a long and difficult journey to reach a place where the language and the culture were unfamiliar. However, by being obedient, the Lord blessed Abraham. He protected Abraham, provided for him and gave him many descendants. Through these blessings, all the peoples on earth (including you and I) have been blessed too!
When it comes to the lives of Christians, it seems there is a strong connection between obedience and blessing. By choosing to follow God’s calling, we are choosing to forgo reliance on our own understanding and strength. Much like Abraham, we may be led down a path we would not naturally choose ourselves. However, doing so opens up opportunities for us to be blessed as well as be a channel of God’s blessing to others.
2. Righteousness through belief
Abraham was promised impossible sounding things. At the age of 75 and with a wife who was barren, he was told he would be the father of nations and that kings would come from his line. However, despite all these impossible odds, Abraham believed and trusted the Lord. It is especially remarkable because Abraham lived at a time when people worshipped many gods yet he chose to believe the one true God and obeyed Him. This was why the Lord credited this to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6, Romans 4:3).
In many ways, we too are like Abraham. Living in multi-cultural Singapore, we are exposed to many beliefs, superstitions and different religions. Knowing what is true can be difficult and holding on to this truth as we are assaulted from all sides is challenging. The truth we know – the one true God, sent a fully divine and fully human Saviour to earth to die and take away our sins – is simply inconceivable to human minds. Yet by trusting and believing it, we too are made righteous, i.e. made right with the Lord.
3. The Lord is faithful even when we are not.
Abraham was chosen out of all the peoples not because he was perfect. From what we read, there was nothing special about him nor was he a particularly ‘religious’ person. He posed problems to the Egyptians and the king of Gerar when he feared for himself and lied. However, Abraham’s unremarkable nature along with his flaws only highlight the faithfulness and goodness of the Lord who chose a feeble and frail servant to carry out His Mission on earth.
Even today, the Lord continues to choose and partner with unremarkable, unfaithful persons… and that’s a good thing! That He chooses to give each and every one of us a part in His Mission demonstrates His faithfulness and grace to us. His Mission involves us sharing our lives and the good news of Jesus with others. In so doing, God’s faithfulness is being made all the more evident in our own frailty. As God’s children, we can trust that He is faithful even when we are not, and that He has chosen us for the exact the role we need to play in His Mission.
Brothers and sisters, I hope like myself, you too will be encouraged by the story of Abraham. It is a familiar story but I’d like to invite you to take a closer look at it and how it captures God’s missional heart. Many elements of a missionary story are found in it, starting with a person who is called to leave his comfort zone to be a channel of blessing for others. The Lord continues to carry out His Mission work even today and invites each and every one of us, regardless our strengths and weaknesses, to be a part of it.
May we all respond in trust and obedience to this call, to be a channel of God’s blessings wherever we are called to go! Amen