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The Legacy of Abraham

Genesis 11:27-31
23rd May 2004

It is an amazing fact of history, that three of the biggest religions in the world, call one man “father”. That man is Abraham who lived 4000 years ago: 2000BC. The name Abraham means, “father of a multitude.” Abraham certainly become the father of a multitude: he is regarded as the father of the faith of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abraham was known as the prime example of faith. He was the son of Terah, a descendant of Noah’s son, Shem. Genesis 11:27 He was a Semite and his childhood was spent in Ur of the Chaldees, now known to us as Iraq.

Here is relevance as the major powers are considering bombing Iraq, as Arab and Jew are fighting over the land he claimed and as Muslims are in conflict with Jews and Christians, and Christians in a dozen countries are suffering persecution from Muslims. Yet these three faiths regard Abraham as one of their founders. Over the next weeks we will learn many new facts about Abraham that will help us to understand some present world conflicts in context. Some of you have studied the Bible for years and know the Jewish interpretation and the Christian interpretation about Father Abraham. But I have also studied Abraham, or Ibrahim, as he is known by Moslems and their interpretation will teach you many new facts that differ from Jewish and Christian understanding. Iraq, Syria, The West Bank, Palestinians, Jews, Arabs, Christians — no one man straddles all of these as does Abraham. He was known at the beginning as Abram, but this was changed subsequently to Abraham. Genesis 17:5 Terah, his father, moved to Haran (now Syria) with the family Genesis 11:31 and after some years died there. God called Abram to migrate to Canaan, assuring him that he would father a vast nation in that land of modern Israel he would inhabit.

Abram decided he could produce offspring when his wife Sarai produced no children by taking her servant Hagar as a concubine. She conceived and produced a son, Ishmael. All Arabs see Ismael the first born as their ancestor. But Ismael, according the Jewish scriptures was not destined to become Abram’s promised heir. Then Sarai name was changed to Sarah meaning “princess”. In advanced old age, she conceived and had her long-promised son, Isaac which means “laughter” — which was Abraham’s reaction when told he would have a son through Sarah. Ishmael’s presence with his mother Hagar caused trouble in the family, and he and his mother were expelled into the wilderness. Ishmael’s descendents became known as the Arab tribes and he is highly revered among the Muslims.

Abraham’s faith and obedience were tested by God in Moriah when he was commanded to sacrifice the remaining son, Isaac. At the last moment, after Abraham was prepared to do even this, God provided an alternative sacrifice, saving the boy’s life. As a reward for Abraham’s faithfulness, God renewed the covenant promises of great blessing and the growth of a mighty nation to father and son. Isaac’s sons gave rise to the Jewish nation who highly revere him. According to the Jewish scriptures, Abraham recognized God as the almighty Lord of all and the Author of a covenant by which the Hebrews would become a mighty nation. Abraham instituted the practices of circumcision and tithing as signs of being a Jew. God Himself was known subsequently as the God of Abraham. Exodus 3:6 Through him God revealed His plan for human salvation. Exodus 2:24 The promises to Abraham became assurance for future generations. Exodus 32:13; 33:1 Abraham became known as “God’s friend forever” 2 Chronicles 20:7

Christians honour Abraham as the father of the Jewish people whose example of obedient faith can lead us to salvation. John the Baptist claimed that physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee salvation Matthew 3:9 as the Jews believed. Indeed, foreigners would join him in God’s kingdom. Matthew 8:11 Jesus taught that true children of Abraham do the works of Abraham, that is, have obedient faith. John 8:39 Paul said Abraham was the great example of faith. Romans 4; Galatians 3 In Hebrews Abraham provided the model for tithing Hebrews 7 and of obedient faith. Hebrews 11 James used Abraham to show that justification by faith is proved in the good works we do. James 2:21-24

Abraham, until recently, has not received the credit he deserves as a religious innovator of the basic belief of there being only one God, monotheism, a foundational plank of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths; the instigator of circumcision, tithing, the Covenantal promise of establishing a great nation and inhabiting a promised land. Abraham is on par as a pioneer with Moses and Paul. Abraham changed the world. Jews, who consider him their own, are largely unaware of Abraham’s presence in Christianity in contexts ranging from the Roman Catholic Mass to a Protestant children’s song (“Father Abraham had many sons / And I am one of them and so are you …”). Neither Jews nor Christians know much about Abraham’s role in Islam. Muslims acknowledge the Old Testament but with significant changes as we will see in coming weeks. With conflict around the world between Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, it is time we made a considered study of Abraham. Perhaps we will find in him some common ground which might aid reconciliation between the major faiths and races.


The real fruit of the true teacher lies in the transformed characters of people who do the will of God. That is the test of good and bad fruit: people who do the will of God, who grow in grace and seek to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect. In the Bible, disobedience to what God requires is presented as lack of faith. If you have faith you will obey. Faith and obedience belong together. Disobeying God is a sign that you do not believe at all! God demands obedience, to know God is to obey all He requires.

God said in the Old Testament to His followers: Deuteronomy 13:4 “It is the LORD your God you must follow, and Him you must revere. Keep His commands and obey Him.” God expects of His people obedience. God did not give Ten Suggestions to consider which we might follow, but Ten Commandments which we would obey. The Old Testament made it clear that God’s blessings were dependent upon the believers’ obedience Leviticus 25:18 “Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land.” God said: Deuteronomy 11:26-28 “I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you.” The Jewish nation was to be judged on its obedience to the commands and requirements of God. Abraham gave the great example of being faithful and obedient to God. God requires such obedient faith from those who would be His — either nations or individuals — all who would belong to God must offer obedient faith.


His obedience to His parents as a child is mentioned by Dr Luke following His childhood visit to the Temple and His discussions with the theologians. Luke 2:51 “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” Reflecting on His life Jesus said: John 15:10 “I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love.” But His obedience to the Father’s will before the Cross was the point that remained in the minds of the Gospel writers. They knew that the life of Jesus was following not His own will, but His Father’s will. Philippians 2:8 “Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!” The writer of the letter to the Hebrews 5:8 sums it up “Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered.”

His obedience to God was seen at the beginning of His ministry in His baptism. He walked to the place where John was calling people to repentance and baptism in the River. Crowds had been coming to John to hear what this strange man of the desert had to say. He was taken back by the request of Jesus. Jesus convinced John that His baptism was necessary. So John baptised Jesus. Matthew 3:13-17 Did you hear the reply of Jesus? “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” His baptism was the outward sign of His obedient heart and of His dedication to God’s will. When Jesus said, “It is proper for us to fulfil all righteousness.” He deliberately used the plural: “It is proper for us..” The demand for our obedience has never been revoked. Obedient faith was a defining mark of the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Even among those who have chosen Him there are two responses which are far from satisfactory. Some followers sin with empty words, saying the right thing but not doing anything for God’s kingdom. Others sin by listening to His word without obeying it. That is how Jesus concludes the Sermon of the Mount, by asking us to back our words with our deeds. Jesus confronts us with the radical choice between obedience and disobedience, and calls us to an un-conditional commitment of mind, will and life. He warns us of two unacceptable alternatives, first a merely verbal profession Matthew 7:21-27 and secondly a merely intellectual knowledge. Neither can be a substitute for obedience; indeed each may be a camouflage for disobedience.

Jesus emphasises that our eternal destiny depends on obedient faith. Jesus says: Matthew 7:21-24 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” Jesus is not impressed by our pious and orthodox words. Mere speaking and praising is not enough. He asks for evidence of our sincerity in our good works of obedience. That is why we at Wesley link word and deed. It is not the one who says he knows Jesus or who believes certain facts about Him. It is the one who does the Father’s will. If a person lives a life of disobedience, it will not matter what he says. Practical obedience to God’s will is our faith response.

Obedient faith, as modelled by Abraham, is as concerned with doing the will of God as with affirming the facts of true doctrine. Faith and obedience belong together. This was the hallmark of Abraham and what is meant by our hymn, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” We read of the early Church, Acts 6:7 “The word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” Paul said this also, Romans 1:5 “We received grace and apostleship to call people from among the Gentiles to obedience that comes from faith.” Obedient faith! That was it! We have faith, so we are obedient to God.

Jesus made this clear: Matthew 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” It is not possible to be a person of faith and to be disobedient to His commands — commands that effected our personal life, our moral behaviour, our intellectual belief, our social attitudes, our racial prejudices, our political allegiances — the whole of life must be brought under faithful obedience to Him. That is the great lesson we learn from Abraham.

Do you admit you are a sinner, estranged from God? Do you believe that Jesus Christ came and died for your sins? Do you confess that Jesus Christ is Saviour? Do you obey Him as Lord? That obedient faith will save you now from your sins, and for all eternity! That was the obedient faith that Abraham demonstrated in absolute trust in God and in his obedient behaviour. You can offer no less.


Gordon Moyes

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