Every religion around the world has a list of different things a person has to do in order to get to heaven. Some have to pray a certain number of times every day, others have to chant mantras, while others have to perform a lifetime of good works. And yet, none of those things can make us right with God. There is only one way to know for sure that our sins are forgiven and that we will spend eternity in heaven. Are you sure you’ve received the right cure for sin?
Don’t Stop Short of God’s Call
Growing up we were all taught the importance of finishing what we started. This is certainly good advice to live by, but it is even more important in our walk with God. Sometimes we leave things undone that God’s Word has already told us to do, simply because we don’t want to deal with them. We follow where God calls us, but only as long as we’re comfortable. A life lived this way will never see all that God has in store, but will, instead, have to be content with hearing the stories of great faith from those who chose not to settle for less.
Last Sunday was Easter Sunday, so we took a break from our through-the-Bible series. We’re back on that today, so if you have your Bible, grab it and go back to Genesis chapter 11.
Today and next Sunday we come to a really important juncture in the book of Genesis. I mentioned this back towards the beginning of the year when we started this series. I want to take a few minutes up front and do a recap to help us all keep this fresh in our mind. Especially for those who may not have been here for that, just to help us once again get the big picture of Genesis, to see how far we’ve come, and to let us know where we’re about to go in the weeks ahead.
I told you in the beginning, that the book of Genesis can be divided nicely into two sections: chapters 1 through 11 and chapters 12 through 50. In the first section, which is what we’ve been covering, chapters 1 through 11, we see four key events. We’ve looked at those so far. Those four key events are creation, the fall, the flood, and the Tower of Babel. That’s where we were the week before Easter. We made it up to the Tower of Babel.
In the second section of Genesis, we see four key people. We see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. I told you at the beginning, if you can get that in your mind, then you’ve got the book of Genesis. You’ll forever be able to place anything that happens in the book of Genesis. If someone gets up and says, “Open your Bible to Genesis anything from 11 back,” you pretty much know where you are. If he says anything from 12 forward, you have an idea of what happens in that placement.
We have taken 14 Sundays to cover 11 chapters. It might seem like overkill, but there are a couple of reasons for that. One is because, I said, if we don’t understand Genesis, then we don’t get the rest of the Bible. Genesis lays the foundation for everything else that will follow. We’ve taken our time with the first 11 chapters. Another reason that we took so long with the first 11 chapters is because the first 11 chapters of Genesis cover roughly 2,000 years.
To take 14 weeks to cover 2,000 years is not too bad. I assure you, I was looking back this week, and I was grinding my teeth at everything I’ve already left out. I almost wanted to go back and start again. I thought, “Yeah, they’ll kill me if I do that.” Maybe we’ll have Part Two through-the-Bible when I’m 85, and we’ll try it again.
Also, as we go through this series, I want to also try to give you a picture of what was taking place in world history along the same time frame. Obviously, in the first part of Genesis, not much was going on in the world. It was Adam and Eve and their family for quite a long time. But as we move through those first 11 chapters of Genesis, there were some things taking place. The good ol’ wheel was invented back there and the old pyramids of Egypt were being built. In chapter 12, which we’re going to get into next week with Abraham, it tells us that he journeyed into Egypt, and Egypt was already well established at that time. Writing had been invented, obviously, right around the time of the Tower of Babel. Babylon came along, and it began to be a great empire. That gives you a little picture of what was going on.
What I want to do quickly is just focus in on the first 11 chapters and run through the timeline of the people that we’ve looked at there, because this is going to be very important for our step over into the next section of Genesis. Obviously, the Bible starts with God creating Adam and Eve. We saw how Satan tempted Adam and Eve, they died spiritually, and everyone who was born into the world since then was born into sin. They were born with a sin nature. God promised in Genesis 3:15 that One would come who would be a deliverer from this enemy, and He would come through Eve.
In time, Adam and Eve had their first son named Cain, and no doubt, they must have looked at this little baby boy and thought, “Well, this has got to be the promised one.” But then we saw how they had another son named Abel, and Cain murdered his brother Abel. We saw the horrors that ensued there. God brought punishment on Cain and sent him off to be a wanderer. Then the Bible says, “after Adam had lived 130 years, he had another son named Seth.” It also says they had other sons and daughters who are unnamed.
Then we looked at how it’s through the line of Seth that God preserved the lineage to the coming Messiah, the One who was prophesied in Genesis 3:15. We saw how when the flood came, Cain’s line completely ended. All of his family were cut off in the flood. The only people who made it through the flood were the line of Seth, the promised line to Christ. That was Noah’s family. Noah and his family were the only ones who survived. They made it through the flood. Then we saw how his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, were told to multiply and fill the earth. That’s exactly what happened. We then saw how their families begin to grow and fill the earth. They began to multiply greatly.
Two weeks ago, that brought us up to the point of where we saw the Tower of Babel. We’re going to follow this red line. I’ve made it red, just because I think that makes sense to take us through to the cross, where Christ came and paid for our sin. We’re going to follow that red line all the way as we go through the Bible, because I want you to see how all of this ties together from the very beginning, right to the very end.
That’s a very quick flyover of where we’ve been so far. You’ll remember how before the flood happened, there in Genesis chapter 6, God looked at the earth and He saw the wickedness of man and how it was great upon the earth and how the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually, and it grieved the heart of God that he had even made man. The evil was so bad on the earth that God sent this flood. He wiped out the evil on the earth and He, in a sense, gave mankind an opportunity for a fresh start, a restart, on the earth. But it wasn’t long until man sinned again. It wasn’t long until he got off the ark that Noah himself got drunk. No matter how hard man tries to do the right thing, he cannot do it on his own.
As people began to multiply, they continued turning their hearts away from God and continued going their own way. They began to build this great tower, trying to make a name for themselves. We saw God came down, He confused their languages, and He scattered them across the face of the whole earth. Chapter 11 verse 9 tells us even after all of that, people continued to turn their hearts away from God.
It’s right in the middle of all of that confusion, all of that wickedness that is continuing on the earth, one of Shem’s descendants has a son named Terah. Terah has a son whose name we recognize very quickly. His name is Abram, who later will be called Abraham. As we go through this series, I will mix those two names up by mistake. Before he’s called Abraham, I will probably call him Abraham. Just overlook that, please. This is where Abraham comes along in the story, right around the Tower of Babel. It’s in this pagan culture, in the line of Seth, a man named Terah has a son and names him Abraham.
Whenever we think of Abram in the Bible, from the time we were little kids in Sunday School singing the song about Father Abraham, we tend to think of Abraham as the great patriarch in the Bible, the man of great faith, the father of the great nation. But when we first meet Abraham—I don’t want you to miss this—he was not the leader and the father of a great nation. He was not a great godly man. As a matter of fact, he is a man living in what was probably the darkest, most evil city in the world at that time. A city by the name of Ur, in the land of the Chaldeans. It’s right near what would become Babylon or Babylonia. It was also in the area of Mesopotamia. As a matter of fact, you can go on to Google Maps, and you can type in Tower of Babel, and it will zoom right in and show you, and it will say “Tower of Babel” on Google Maps. It will show you where they’re excavating all of that stuff, even today.
The city of Ur was well known to be a place of idol worship, and it was the city of the moon god. This is where Abraham lived with his father and his two brothers. Not only did Abram live in a city of idol worshippers, but Abram grew up in a family of idol worshippers. We know this because Joshua 24:2 tells us that Terah and Abram served other gods. Let’s not miss that. Abram and his family were not squeaky clean followers of God in a pagan city. They were idol worshippers.
That’s the way we are first introduced to this man we now know as Abraham, the father of the great nation. I have to tell you, it’s not a very promising start. The prospects don’t look all that good to me if I don’t know the rest of the story. Again, I told you last week or the week before, it’s one of the really unfortunate things that we already know the end of all these stories because you hear what I’m saying, but you’re already ahead me. You go, “Yeah, I know, I know how this turns out.” If we didn’t know how this turned out, and we saw God saying, “Well, I want to choose someone who’s going to basically be the central person for the rest of my plans for history.” He goes into this pagan city where they’re bowing down and worshiping the moon god, and He picks this guy out of there. We go, “Hey, God, surely there’s somebody better than this guy.” God says, “Trust Me, I know what I’m doing.”
I’m not going to linger on that right now, but I hope you get why I’m pointing this out. I hope you’ll take great comfort in that. God doesn’t choose the people for His work that you and I would choose. God called Abram, a sinful, wayward idol worshipper who deserved the wrath of God. God called Abram by His grace and transformed him from a sinner into a saint. He was hopelessly lost, like everyone else, when God’s call came to him. That is exactly the way God does things.
Acts chapter 7 verse 2 says, “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia,” (that’s the area we saw where Ur was located) “before he lived in Haran.” Friends, that is exactly how it happens with every single one of us. Every person who has ever been saved, and every person who ever will be saved, comes to faith the same way. God doesn’t tell us to first clean ourselves up, to first get a little bit of religion, to first try to start doing better, and then He’ll consider using us. No, the simple fact is, all of us were rescued by God’s grace, out of darkness, right out of the pit of sin, into the light of salvation without ever doing anything to deserve it first. That’s amazing grace. It’s the grace of God. It’s how I was saved, it’s how you were saved if you’re saved.
Salvation is not about turning over a new leaf. Salvation is not about trying to be a better person. Salvation is not about New Year’s resolutions. It’s not about getting religion. Salvation happens only when the transforming work of the Holy Spirit changes a person on the inside and takes them from darkness to light, from death to life. That’s how God changed Abram, and that is how God changes us.
I’ve noticed in looking at the life of Abram, most people tend to jump straight to Genesis 12, and they begin with Genesis 12:1. Obviously, that’s a very important section of Scripture, but I’m going to put that off until next week, because I don’t think we can miss this little section at the end of Genesis chapter 11. It’s so often missed, and I just don’t think it should be.
Go to the end of Genesis chapter 11. Let’s take a quick look at this together. At the beginning of chapter 11, you’ve got the Tower of Babel, in the middle of chapter 11, you’ve got the lineage listed down to Terah and Abram, then at the end of chapter 11, you’ve got this little section that leads into the call of Abram. It says this in Genesis chapter 11, starting in verse 27, “Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; [there were three boys] And Haran became the father of Lot.” That’s a name that will be important as well. Verse 28: “While his father Terah was still alive, Haran died in Ur of the Chaldeans, in the land of his birth.” Verse 29: “Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milkah.” Now, look at verse 30: “Sarah was barren. She had no child.” This is also very important for the weeks ahead. If we pause here just a moment we see while this family is still in Ur, still in their home city, back in this pagan culture, Haran dies. In this one moment, Terah loses a son, Abram loses a brother, and Lot loses a father.
This family is suffering this terrible loss and going through this horrible tragedy. Then verse 31 tells us that sometime later “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans…” Now watch this, if you underline in your Bible, underline this last phrase “…to go to Canaan.” Anybody remember what Canaan is? It’s a pretty important place, isn’t it? “To go to Canaan.” Don’t forget that line.
Verse 31 tells us, I don’t want us to miss this: “they set out from Ur to go to Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.” They began on this trip to leave this place of sin, this place of idolatry and paganism, to make this long journey intentionally to go to Canaan, which would become the land of promise. That was their destination. They had to go through Haran. The Bible tells us that on the way to their destination, they went through Haran, and they settled there. The sad fact is, Terah never made it to Canaan, because he settled somewhere else. He settled in Haran.
Genesis 12 is a well-known passage in the Bible for the call of Abram, but this is often missed before the call of Abram ever happened in Genesis 12. His family had already set out to go to Canaan. How do we know that? How do we know that there was some kind of call by God to do this, that it wasn’t just a spur of the moment decision? Cross references in the Bible are vitally important for us. All the way over in the New Testament in Acts, chapter 7, verse 2, God had appeared to Abram while he was still in Ur of the Chaldeans. That’s often missed. God appeared to Abram while he was still in Ur.
The journey from Ur to Canaan had begun, but for some unknown reason they chose to settle when they were halfway to their destination. Then this sad news comes in verse 32 of Genesis chapter 11. It says “Terah lived 205 years, and he died in Haran.” I’m not going to make too much of this, but I have to point this out because the wording in this verse always grabs me. Remember, I’ve talked about patterns in the Bible. When a pattern tends to break in the Bible, it might be worth paying attention to.
In every previous time in the Bible, everyone without fail, when it says that someone died, they lived all these years, and he died, and he died, and he died. That’s all it says about every one of them, even about Noah. Noah lived and did all these things, and all it says about Noah is “and he died.” Period. But here in Genesis 11:32, it’s the very first time in the Bible that it says it this way. It doesn’t say, “and he died,” it says, “and Terah died,” and it adds these two words “in Haran.” He didn’t just die, it’s pointing out the fact that he died in Haran. I have to think that those words were included in this particular case, to reemphasize and to drive home the point that Terah never made it to where he was supposed to go. Terah didn’t just die, period. He died in Haran. It’s almost like it’s yelling to us, “He died in the wrong place.” I had plans for him and his family to go, but he died in Haran because he settled there. They told everyone in Ur, “We’re moving to Canaan,” but they settled halfway instead.
Let’s not look at these people as though they’re different from us. It would be like you and your family telling everyone here in Greenville, “We’re moving to Denver.” You pack up all your stuff, and you sell everything that you don’t need, and you sever all your business ties and financial obligations here and your bills and all of those things. You take care of everything here, and you’ve cut all loose ends here. You pack everything up. Everybody knows you’re moving to Denver, and off you go. Then a month or two later, we start hearing news trickling into Greenville that your family is living in Kansas City. We all begin to talk and go, “Well, that’s weird. They said they were going to Denver, but now they’ve stopped halfway, and they’re living in Kansas City. That’s bizarre.” We would have reason to think that that was odd, that that was strange because you told us you were going somewhere else, but you’ve suddenly stopped halfway. This is exactly what is taking place here. It had to have raised some questions.
Biblical scholars and historians discuss this a lot. I went back this week, and I blew off the dust of Alfred Edersheim’s great works and read what he had to say about this. It’s very interesting. We don’t know for sure, so we have to be careful. We can’t say too much with certainty, but although we don’t know the reason why Terah decided to stop at Haran, it’s clear that he did not make it to his intended destination. I don’t know if you picked it up just in me talking about it for these few minutes this morning, but Terah’s sons’ names are, Abraham, Nahor, and Haran. Haran has the same name as the city that they settled in. Haran was the son who died before they left Ur. Some people think that it was the death of Terah’s son, and all the grief there, that perhaps prompted them to leave. I’m not sure about that. It could have contributed, but again, I go to Acts 7, where it says that God appeared to Abram while he was still in Ur. There’s something there. The verses that follow add to that as well. There was a call there. Some also wonder if the call was also partly to Terah. Perhaps Terah was also the one who was called to take his family out of Ur and go to Canaan. But then when they got to Haran, this city that had the same name as his son, perhaps they stopped there for a day or two to refresh, and the name of this place brought back all these painful memories of the loss of his son. Maybe in that moment, Terah was just overcome with grief, and he just said, “I can’t go on,” and he just stayed an extra week, and an extra week turned into a month, and he just never moved beyond that point. It’s possible.
You can speculate on this for yourself. Here’s what I always ask myself whenever I read through these verses. I ask myself, “Are there any areas in my life where I have chosen to settle in places where I know that God has called me to go on further? Is there anything I already know that I should be obeying that I’m intentionally ignoring?” Because if I am, I’m guilty of settling where I’m not supposed to be.
I would leave you this morning with that same question. As I contemplate that question in my own life, in the life of our church, I wonder, “Is there anything we’re missing out on in God’s mission, because we’ve chosen in this area or that area not to go where He’s asked us to go, not to do what He’s asked us to do?”
I know when we hear things like this, our minds tend to go to the big things like a call to the mission field or something. You know what? I think we overshoot the runway when our mind goes straight to those things. I’d like you to bring it down to the day-to-day level instead. The small decisions that we make moment by moment in our life, the decisions that affect your relationships in your family, with your finances, at work, with your choices, your habits, and your temptations.
I bet if we had just a few minutes we could all list two or three things in our life that we know, right now, that we’ve shoved in the closet, we’ve pushed under the rug, because we don’t want to deal with them.
I’m not talking about ignoring a call to the mission field. No, I’m talking about fixing that relationship with someone and you just refuse to do it because you’re not willing to take the first step. That’s bigger than going to the mission field sometimes.
I’m talking about that thing that you keep running to in life for comfort, for relief, to numb the pain or the fear of life when you know it’s not God’s best for you. You’re settling in a place that falls short and keeps you short of God’s ideal for you. You’re settling somewhere.
I wonder how much we as individuals, how much we as families, how much we as a church, and as a nation are missing out on the plans God has for us to use us in some way, to move through us in some way that we still haven’t seen because we’ve chosen to settle instead.
I also wonder, finally, what if Abram had said, “God, thank You, but You’ve chosen the wrong person. I’m not the right guy for the job. You don’t want me. I’m not good enough. I’ve got a terrible past.” It makes me think of how often I’ve said that in my life and how often I still struggle with that. I wonder if you do too.
I tend to hold myself to an unrealistically high standard, so whenever God tends to call me in some small ways and challenge me to take a step, to do something by faith, my response is, “Oh, not me, God, no, no, I can name 10 other people, but surely not me. Because of this, and this, and this, and this.”
Abraham could have so easily said that. “God, not me, I’m a pagan. I’m not qualified. I’ve got a really ugly past. You couldn’t use me, God.”
May I say to you this morning that, like Abram, regardless of your past, regardless of your present, regardless of your failures, your inabilities, your weaknesses, your fears, your shortcomings, God will take every surrendered heart. He will take every willing, available life and He will use it for His glory. I close today, by asking all of us this: Are we settling where we are for any reason, and we know in the quietness of our heart that we’ve stopped short of where God wants us to be, of who God wants us to be, and of what God wants us to do?
If there’s even one thing that God is bringing to mind right now, it’s my prayer for you that as we sing a couple songs in just a moment and we’re through, that you would just take that time to do business with God. Just settle the matter with him today. Say, “God, the best I know how, I just want to turn this over to You. I can’t fix it all right now, but God, I’m willing to take step one away from my place of settling. I’m going to take step one in the right direction, and I trust You to help me take the next step.