If you ever feel like God is being unfair or that His judgments are too harsh, just remember the enduring patience and boundless love He extended to His rebellious people for 390 years! Today’s sermon reveals the unimaginable lengths God goes to in order to call His people back to Himself, even amidst their defiance. The fact is that God has patiently endured humanity’s betrayal for centuries, and He is still extending His patience to us today. God’s grace outlasts our sin, offering redemption and restoration to all who turn to Him. May we gain a deeper gratitude for God’s mercy and the profound sacrifice that opened the way to redemption through Jesus Christ.
Fears That Hide Our Faith
It sometimes seems easier to trust God with the big issues in life than it does to trust Him with our daily needs. When trials and fears build up, they often loom so large that they blind us from seeing the truth of God’s promises. In those moments, our faith crumbles and we rush to find immediate solutions rather than resting in God’s timing. Are there any areas right now where you are allowing fear to hide your faith and overshadow God’s truth?
t’s great to see you today, great to have another chance to be together with you. If this is your first time with us, we’ve kind of just begun a 20-year series through the Bible. Maybe 15? I don’t know. Yes, we are. So I was having a great discussion this morning with one of our guys. And, you know, we said it’s not about getting there. We always focus on the destination, and we miss all the scenery along the way, don’t we? And so, who cares when we get there? I mean, I could cover the Bible in one Sunday. I could fly over all the high points, and then we’re done. And then what? Yeah, we’re done. But there’s so much along the way for us to see. And so, that is what we have been doing. And we’re on week, what is it? 18 today. And we are in Genesis 12. We will be finishing up Genesis 12 this morning. So if you have your Bible, turn there to Genesis chapter 12. And we’ll be looking at verses 10 through the end of the chapter, verse 20. Actually, we’ll be going over into verse 1 of chapter 13.
So let me give you a quick second to think back on your life and quickly try to count up how many dumb decisions you’ve made. If you need a calculator, we have some in the back. Yeah, it’s a lot. Maybe how about this past month?
We all look back over the course of this past week, this past month, year, our lifetime, and it becomes pretty clear to us quickly that we’ve all blown it more times than we care to remember. And one of the things that that has a tendency to do for us, if we’re not careful, is to just simply discourage us from the journey. Those can build up on our heart on our conscience over time, like a callous, and cause us to wrongly feel that we are of no use to God’s work. Because I think all of us tend to look at other Christians through fake lenses. We sit in church services, and we look around at other people and we think, boy, they’ve got their life together. We tend to look at the people in church leadership, and boy, we really hold them up. And we think, oh, if I just had a marriage like they had. The fact is all of us are made of the same stuff. The Christian life for all of us is a battle. It is a war. There are thankfully moments of triumph and victory through Christ, moments of rejoicing and thanksgiving and joy and celebration. But folks, like I’ve told you the last couple of weeks, there are lots and lots and lots of moments of failures and mistakes and pain and suffering and trouble.
So as we come to last half of Genesis 12 today, I’m so thankful for these verses, because they give me hope, and they ought to give you hope as well. I want to go ahead and read all of these verses just to give us the big picture. And then we’ll kind of come back through and walk through them together. Genesis 12, starting in verse 10. It says, “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while.” Yours may say to sojourn. That’s not a word we use. Anybody use sojourn this week in their conversation? No. So it means to stay somewhere for a while, to live somewhere temporarily. “So he went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarah, ‘I know what a beautiful woman you are.'” Anybody? Men, have you told your wife that this week? “‘When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. So say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.'” Verse 14: When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians did indeed that very thing they saw that Sarah was very, a very beautiful woman. “And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. And he [that’s Pharaoh] treated Abram well for her sake, and Abraham acquired sheep and cattle and male and female donkeys and male and female servants and camels.” Verse 17: “But the Lord afflicted Pharaoh and his household with great plagues because of Abram’s wife Sarah. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. And he said, ‘What have you done to me? Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, ‘She’s my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife. Now then, here’s your wife. Take her and go!’ Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way with his wife and everything he had.” Now chapter 13 verse 1 gives us the next stage in this process. It says, “So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him into the Negev.”
Last week, we saw how this man Abram, we’ve been studying his life now for several weeks. And as I said, I told you, I’m going to belabor chapter 12. We’ve been studying how this man Abram was called from a pagan culture, in the land of Ur. From an idol-worshipping family, Joshua 24 tells us. And God called this man to follow Him and take this enormous step of faith. And we saw Abram did. He believed God. He believed God’s promises, and he stepped out by faith. He took this enormous, incredible step of faith, going where God told him to go.
At the end of last week’s sermon, I began to explain to you, and I just left it there, that steps of faith are very often followed by trials. Those happen in order to test our faith. Folks, this is something that is going to happen to all of us if we are truly following Christ. This even happened in the life of Jesus. Jesus, the world’s most extraordinary leader, went ahead of us and modeled what this life would be like. And then the Bible tells us that we should walk in His steps. We should follow His pattern. The word in the Greek there, is sort of a blueprint. It’s to trace our life out. It’s to lay His life down and trace our life out over His life. And I don’t know if you remember what happened to Jesus. If you turn quickly ahead in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 3, I want to show you this briefly. Matthew chapter 3, verse 16, tells us that Jesus is beginning his ministry, and Jesus Himself is being baptized, even though He committed no sin. He did not need to be saved. But picture this moment now. Matthew 3:16 says, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.'”
Now pause there. I mean, what a pinnacle moment in anyone’s life. It doesn’t get better than this I don’t think. You’re baptized in the outdoors in public, and a voice from heaven, God speaks and says, “I am well pleased with him.” Wow. Anybody had a better day than that? That’s pretty good. And so this launches his ministry. And you would think now, from this great moment, what’s the next thing that would happen? Like maybe God would plan this huge celebration feast or something for Him. Look at the very next verse. Matthew chapter 4, verse 1, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit … ” Capital S. He didn’t lose His way and wander off. “Then Jesus was led up by the Holy Spirit … ” Where? “into the wilderness … ” Why? “to be tempted by the devil.” There’s a great memory verse for you this week. I mean, that’s stunning.
So often, when we’re facing trying circumstances, when we find ourselves in the wilderness of life, we think this can’t possibly be God’s will. Let’s be very careful. Sometimes people even say, “How could God be so unloving? How could He be so unkind to me?” And what we’re really saying is, “I don’t deserve this. I deserve better than this.” May I suggest to you folks this, we must be very careful to never measure God’s goodness or God’s faithfulness by our immediate circumstances. That is a huge mistake. And I know those words are easier said than done. I would never say those words to someone who is right in the midst of a deep sorrow or tragedy. But we must be very careful to never measure God’s goodness or His faithfulness by our immediate circumstances, because that is using the wrong yardstick.
I imagine Abram, by this time, must have felt this way. We saw last week God called him to leave his home. Not in some dusty cave, somewhere. We looked at photos of the excavation of Ur, this sprawling mega city, very advanced city. And he left his home. He traveled 800 miles by foot. I get annoyed walking to my car at the far end of the parking lot. I don’t really, but you get the point. Abram traveled 800 miles in obedience to God. By the way, to the land that God promised to give him. And when he got there, he couldn’t take possession of it, because it was filled with unbelievers. And not only that, when he got there, he had no home to live in. The Bible says he had to live in a tent. That’s torture to me! Camping and living in a tent, whoo! I’d be tempted to abandon the call at that point. And now, to top it all off, verse 10 says, he’s now caught in the middle of a famine, and not only a famine, but the Bible takes the extra time to say it was a severe famine.
Abram has just stepped out to give his life to God. He’s just stepped out in obedience, and he is now beginning to have his faith tested. You know when they build bridges, they don’t just slap them up and say, “Well that looks good from here!” They test every part. They test every cable. They test the bridge to see if it can hold the weight that it’s supposed to hold. That’s exactly what God does to our faith. He tests it under weight, to see if it’s going to be able to hold the weight that it needs to hold for the days to come. Oh, it seems painful at the time. Frankly, it’s horrible at the time! Who are we kidding? We as Christians shouldn’t think that we need to walk around through trials skipping and singing happy songs. No, that’s phoniness, that’s silliness. We have an inward settledness in us. Yes, we can have a quiet comfort and joy and peace in us. Yes, even in the worst of times, but we don’t need to be phony. People in the Bible wept real tears. They felt real pain. They suffered from real fear. These things come as part of God’s larger plan in order to do the work in us that needs to be done. Don’t ask me to explain all of this. I can’t. I can’t give you the answer to the larger puzzle of this. And when I try to it sounds trite. It sounds silly. It sounds cheap. Do you understand what I’m saying? All I know to tell you is that I trust God in these moments, in the things I go through. I don’t know how to add up all the numbers, to make them come out the way I want. But I trust God anyway. This is all we can do.
James chapter 1 is so powerful. These verses helped me get through some very difficult times. You know, we talked about not wanting to rush through the Bible just to say we got to the end. The same is true with suffering and trials. What is our first thing we want to do when we’re hurting? We want it to end. God showed me this years ago. James chapter 1, he says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds [or of various kinds], because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance [or patience].” And then he said this. I’d never seen this until, I don’t know how long ago it was, maybe 10-11 years ago, something like that. It says in verse 4, “But perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Suffering comes. Trials come, and we say, “God, enough already. Enough! Get me out of this. I’ve cried long enough. I’ve hurt long enough. I’ve been in fear long enough. End this! And God says, “I’m not finished yet.” A cake has to stay in the heat for the prescribed amount of time if it’s going to come out right. Do you understand? If you take a cake out early, because you want to eat it early, it’s going to be a gooey mess that is of no use to anyone. God knows how long you need to stay in the heat. And it’s probably longer than you think you need to.
If we’re truly following Christ, we can be sure that our faith is going to be tested in order to develop that kind of maturity and completeness in us. If we are going to be like Christ, there are no shortcuts there. There’s no three-step guide to becoming like Christ. There are no Cliffs Notes to becoming like Christ. I’m sorry, there aren’t. So when we go through these trials and these testings, one of the things they do, whether we like it or not, although if we will embrace this, they will turn out for our benefit and for the benefit of the glory of God and our testimony. One of the things they do is they usually expose the areas in us where our faith is weakest. They expose in us the places where we need the most maturing. These trials that Abram faced exposed a couple of fears in his life. The first one, we’ll just look at two today quickly. The first one is, I really didn’t know how to word this. I wrestled with this and then just gave up, so you word it however you want to. His fear of his daily needs being met. It’s amazing to me as I went back and read and reread and reread this whole passage from chapter 12 verse 1 up through verse 10. And it struck me, the huge difference between what I saw in verses 1 through 4 and what I see happening in verses 10 through 20. Because in those first four verses, you see this man who emerges from this pagan culture, and God asks him to take this enormous leap of faith. And he says, yes, sir, you got it. I’m on it. So Abram seems to have no trouble believing God for the big things. But he hasn’t been walking with God long enough to have learned how to trust God with his small daily needs. I don’t know how else to put that, but if that makes sense to you, maybe that’ll help you like it helped me.
You know, sometimes in our life, we say, we’re quick to jump on the big God bandwagon kind of thing. I believe God could do that. Yes, sir. Praise God. I believe He could give us a million dollars if He needed to. I believe God could do this and that. Yeah, and then you know what, we go home, and we see the bills, and we think, oh my word. How is God ever going to get us through this? Do you understand what I’m saying? Those little things in life, we stumble over them. We don’t think God is, forgive me if this comes out wrong, I don’t mean it to. We think God is big enough to do all those things, but we don’t think God is small enough to enter into the daily moments of our life.
So Abram finds himself in this famine. And he doesn’t seem to be able to pause and trust God with his daily bread. He’s in the very place where God had promised to bless him. Now that he’s there, instead of finding abundance, he’s finding leanness, and he’s facing starvation. Can I just tell you what I’ve told you before? Being in God’s will does not exempt us from hardship. So many people reach a point of confusion or frustration or bitterness because they trust God for certain things. And yet, that trust has been followed by some kind of famine in their life. They don’t see God move in this situation or that situation, how they pictured it was going to turn out. And boy, it just shatters their hope in God. They have a famine of some kind, and they just don’t know how to equate God into that circumstance. Well, here, I guess, thankfully, we have no comprehension of what it is to be in a famine, what it is to starve. You know, my kids when they were little, we’d be out somewhere and people would be talking to me, and they’d constantly come up and quietly tug on my pant leg and say, “Daddy, how much longer? I’m (What?) starving!” Yeah, your kids have said the same thing to you. Yeah. And I’d say, “Buddy, you have no understanding of what starving is. You ate three hours ago.”
But here in these times in history, these people really understood the seriousness of famine. They understood how dire these circumstances were. And so verse 10 tells us that the famine was severe in the land. And in that part of the world there, where Abram was, it was kind of a known thing, that if there was a famine there, the one place you could probably find food was in Egypt. Because it was close to the Nile and where there’s plenty of water, there’s a better chance of finding food. But God had called Abram to Canaan, and yet the food is in Egypt. So what is Abram to do? Well, verse 10 tells us what he did. He went down to Egypt to live there for a while. I pointed out last week or the week before, that, as Abram was on this journey, he had been building altars along the way and calling out to God. I don’t want to push this too far. I don’t want to make more of this than I should. But I will point this out. I find it interesting, curious, that here in this moment of crisis there’s no mention of Abram building an altar and calling out to God. I won’t go further than that on it, but it certainly caused me to sit up and pay attention. There’s no indication that he sought God’s direction. I don’t know. But as we watch things unfold in these verses here in the end of chapter 12, it’s pretty clear that Abram is not walking by faith at this point. He’s walking by his own instinct. He’s walking by sight.
You know, it’s important to understand here that this decision Abram made to go down to Egypt, it’s not that he’s turning his back on God’s will. It’s not that he’s abandoning the call, not by any means. I don’t read that in here at all. I don’t even get a sense of that. It’s just that in this moment of fear, and you can read this in the following verses, you see this so clearly. It’s in this moment of fear, he turned to human wisdom rather than seeking God’s direction. And again, we do that so often in the daily decisions of life. And listen, something really dangerous is happening here. I wrote this down this week: God’s future promises to Abram that he couldn’t see yet were overshadowed by the present fears that he could see. God’s future promises to Abram that he couldn’t see yet were overshadowed by the present fears that he could see. You ever been there? You know God’s promises, man. And yet fears arise, and they completely block out your vision, your view of God’s promises. They’re just gone. It’s like an eclipse. Fear of the future can cause us to forget God’s faithfulness in the past. It just gives us amnesia.
So I would remind all of us, don’t let fear cause you to lose sight of God’s faithfulness. I don’t think it could be said that this decision that Abram made was an evil decision. I certainly don’t think it was. I think he was doing what anybody would have done in that moment to find food to save his family. He was afraid of not having anything to eat, and logic said there’s probably food in Egypt. So add those two together. What does it come out to? Let’s go to Egypt and get food. And so you say, “What’s wrong with that?” Well again, it seems the problem in that is, I have to say, “Well, where’s God in the equation?” God is not mentioned once in this, except later on in verse 17. It’s the only time God is mentioned in this whole account here, and that’s when God is breathing out judgment on what Abram has chosen to do here. So again, it kind of makes me think that God was never really brought into this.
And I find myself in situations like this sometimes as well, where I know God’s promises, but fear causes me to lose sight of them. And so in those moments, there are times when all we can do is continue to cling to and remind ourselves of the promises that we know until that wall of fear eventually begins to crumble. And we once again see the light of God’s truth break through, and the darkness begins to scatter. I’ve been there, folks. I was there recently. You know that. Last year I struggled, the greatest struggle of my life. I spent a long time there. I wondered if I would ever see the light again. It’s a very scary place to be, and all I could do was continue to trust what I know is true. Even though I couldn’t feel it, even though I couldn’t see it, I continued to trust and just say, well, it didn’t happen today, but tomorrow’s another day. Let’s do it again and again and again and again and again, for months. And then one day, there’s a little crack in the wall and a little bigger crack in the wall. And then some light started to come through. Man, oh man. So if you’re there, or when you get there, hold on to God’s promises that you know are true. He will not fail you. It might be a week, it might be a month, it might be five years, but He will not fail you. Listen, His integrity is attached to His promises. He will not let His promises fail.
Well, as Abram gets closer and closer to Egypt, he encounters his second fear. And we’ll close with this. And I say close, I mean in about 20 minutes. I’m gonna try to wrap this up quickly. Verse 11 of Genesis 12. So we read a minute ago, he’s about to enter Egypt. And he says to his wife, hey look, you know, there’s this thing here that Pharaoh’s this big, powerful guy. And I’ve heard, maybe he just heard it on the trip with the other people who are going down there. I don’t know. But clearly, Abram knew that Pharaoh had the power to take whatever woman he wanted to and make her his wife.
But apparently, even Pharaoh had some integrity, because if she was already married, he wouldn’t do that. But, clearly he didn’t have that much integrity, because he would arrange for the husband to be killed. And then say, “Oh, (to the wife) I’m so sorry. I heard your husband was involved in an unfortunate accident. Come into my palace and let me comfort you.” So Abram knows about this. And clearly here, these verses tell us, as it goes on, that Pharaoh has sent some of his princes, it calls it, out into, I guess, the Welcome Center of Egypt. They’re scouting out for the beautiful women, and they go and report back to Pharaoh. They see Sarah, and they run to Pharaoh and go, “Hey, boss, you got one out there I think you might want to see.”
So Abram’s fears are not unfounded at all, and the second fear that we see in his life is the fear of other people. Well, it turns out, in this case, it’s true. But we’re told not to live in fear of other people. And for Abram, God’s promises now at this point ought to be, I think, ringing in his ears once again. God has promised Abram, if you go back to the first four verses of chapter 12, one of the things God promised Abram was this–Abram, whoever blesses you, I will bless. But whoever threatens you, whoever harms you, I will curse. Man, that’s a strong promise to go through life with. If that was me, I’d be so cocky. I’d be walking through gangs downtown. Going, you want some of this? You know, this is why God can only trust me with a little bit at a time.
I mean, Abram had this shield around him of God’s unfailing promise. Anybody who messes with you, I am going to take out. How is it that Abram already forgot that? Oh, and by the way, the promise that God gave to Abram that through him and Sarah, he was going to produce a great nation … Why is it that he’s worried about something happening to Sarah? She’s kind of an important part of that equation! See what fear can do to us? It can muddle our thinking completely. It can cause us to lose sight of everything that God has told us is true. God’s promises should give us courage in the face of the fear of other people. There’s so many verses on this. I picked three. Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation–whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid?” Romans 8:31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” And Hebrews 13:6 says, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'”
When David Livingstone was setting out to go to Africa, a long, long time ago, they knew that where he was going was a dangerous place. His friends and family begged him, “Please don’t go. Please don’t go. You will be killed!” God had put this call on Livingstone’s heart. And he said these words to them. He said, “I am invincible until the moment God is finished with me.” He didn’t say that in an arrogant way. He said it with confidence in God. If we could live like that every day, when fears come against us, when people come against us, not with arrogance or pride, but just with a quiet confidence, say, “Bring it on.”
So you read the rest of the story. Abram does indeed lie and say that he’s Sarah’s brother. Pharaoh comes and takes Abram’s wife into his house. And it says later, we read it already, towards the end of these verses. It says that God then struck Pharaoh with plagues, and Pharaoh comes back to Abram. And he says, “What did you do, man? Why did you lie to me? Tell me that you were Sarah’s brother. So that I what? So that I took Sarah as my wife.” It’s astounding to me that Abram sat and watched this unfold. And never at any point did conviction strike him to where he got up and ran to the palace and said, “Stop, stop! I’ve lied! I’ll give my life in order to save my wife’s dignity.” He never did. It blows my mind. This is the man God chose to represent his new nation. Are you kidding me?
So why in the world did I take a whole Sunday to focus on these verses? We could of skipped over this, and we could already be talking about Isaac, who was born to them and how Isaac had Jacob and Jacob had 12 sons, and from that family came the line of Christ and all these great things. You know why? We’ll get to that. But I wanted to take today to show you that even the people God chooses to do the so-called great things for him–they’re losers! They’re failures, in the worst imaginable ways. Why do I want to tell you that? To discourage us on a Sunday morning? No! It’s to give us hope! It’s to give us hope. So that the next time you and I look into the mirror, and we know what only we know about ourselves, and we think, “Dear Lord, how could you ever, ever use me? How could you ever love a person like me?” You remember these verses. You remember these verses.
And you say, “Oh, that’s right. I remember now. You’ve got nobody else to work with. So you choose broken people, and you use us.” Folks, don’t allow the lies of Satan to come to you and tell you that you’re worthless. Don’t allow Satan to convince you that your past is too bad, too broken, too messed up for God to be able to fix it and cleanse it and give you a new start and give you eternal life and use you on this earth for His glory. Those are lies. They’re lies. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteous.”
I finish with this today. Are you stuck behind a wall of fear? Are you stuck in a room of shame? In a pit of failure? And you’ve all but convinced yourself that God can use him and her. But my time’s passed. God can’t use me. I’m going to tell you, it doesn’t matter if you’re 7 or 70. By the way, Abram was 75. God can use you. And He will, if you will let Him.
We’ll see next week as we pick up right from here, the steps that Abram took to get back on the right track with God, and go back to Bethel, the house of God, and pick up where he should have been in the first place. Folks, I encourage you with this word this morning. This seems like maybe a downer of a message. I don’t see it that way at all. I’m thrilled when I read this passage of Scripture because I see a guy just like me.
We ought not read these passages and sort of distance ourselves and point a finger at Abram and go, who could ever do such a thing? You know what, I could? If push came to shove. And so could you. Thank God that He is a loving, gracious, patient, forgiving Father, who understands our weaknesses, who bears with us over and over again and our moments of failure and doubt. And who has a long arm of grace that reaches to us and lifts us back up and puts us on the right path again and says, “Come on. We’ve got work to do.” Praise God.