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Author:Rev. John van Popta
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Congregation:Fellowship Canadian Reformed Church
 Burlington, Ontario
Title:Following in Abraham's Footsteps 1 A New Light of Hope for a Fallen World
Text:Genesis 11:27-32 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)


Song                                                              Psalm 122:1,2,3


Song                                                              Psalm 32:1


AoP                                                                Psalm 32:5-7

Song                                                              Psalm 32:5

Scripture                                                      Acts 7:2b-8; Rom 4:1-16; Heb 11:8-19

Song                                                              Psalm 107:1,4,17

Text                                                               Genesis 11:27-32

Sermon: A New Light of Hope for a Fallen World

God calls Abram to begin his journey to the Promised Land.

  1. The dark context

  2. The tentative start

  3. The end of the matter; a new beginning

 Prayer of Application

Song                                                              Psalm 108:1,2

Intercessory Prayer


Doxology                                                                    Hymn 10:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ


With Abraham, God now elects one descendent in the lineage of Shem, in order to bring salvation to the world. 

God works out the purpose of this election through his covenant of grace with Abraham and his children, ultimately culminating in the person of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.  

After the lamentable rebellion at Babel, it is through Abraham that God will realize his original blessing (Genesis 1:28) upon all the nations of the world.


God promises to bless Abraham and, through him, bring blessing to the world.  

That blessing would be brought about through the birth of a son.  

Though childless, Abraham and Sarah must live by faith that God will keep his promises.  

As the story progresses, we will learn that Abraham is not without flaws.


Abraham’s story begins with God calling him from the City of Man — leaving all security behind — to seek a better city, the City of God. 

We, too are pilgrims on the way to the heavenly city (Hebrews 11:10).  

As the Apostle Paul says to the Romans, he is the father of us all, and we follow in the footsteps of his faith. 


From the story of Abraham’s footsteps, we will learn much concerning the Lord and his grace for our own pilgrimage to the City with Foundations.


The story of Abram is driven by his struggle to trust God and believe his promise.

The narrative tells of the conflicts that test his faith.

He has a childless wife.

He will struggle with obeying God and leaving his country and family behind.

He endures famine in the promised land.

Lives as an exile in a hostile country.

His wife is kidnapped by foreign kings.

He has an ungrateful nephew who seizes what he perceives to be the best land.

He will need to take up arms and go to war to free captured relatives.

There is family strife between wives and children.


And when finally, the son of the promise is born, God tells Abraham to sacrifice him on an altar.

To kill the one in whom the promises are bound.


Our text today is the introduction to the biblical account of the life and times of Abraham.

Here, still known as Abram.


This introduction is the transition point between the early history of the world, from Adam to Noah to Terah.

From Eden to the flood to Babel.


The book of Genesis is divided into ten divisions.


Each starts with “this is the account of ….


First 2:4 This is the account of the heavens and earth

2nd 5:1 Adam 

Noah 9:18

Noah’s sons 10:1

Shem 11:10

Now the 6th – Terah’s family line






But the stories are not about the one in the heading but of his descendants.


So here we begin with the Account of Terah’s family line.


I’ve given this sermon a title


A New Light of Hope for a Fallen World


Our theme today.


God calls Abram to begin his journey to the Promised Land.

  1. The dark context

  2. The tentative start

  3. The end of the matter; a new beginning


Terah lived in Ur of the Chaldeans.

Here is a map. (map 1)

This is modern-day Iraq.


Ur was a large metropolis and the center of moon God worship.

This god was called Tsin.


Terah has 3 sons, Abram, Nahor and Haran.

(Were they triplets…. Maybe.)


Haran was the father of Lot and two girls, Milkah and Iscah.

And then Haran died, relatively young.

While his father, Terah still lived.

It’s a hard thing for parents to bury their children.


In Joshua 24:2 we can learn that Terah worshipped false Gods.

He was an idolater.

He likely worshiped the moon God.


Sarai’s name in Hebrew means princess, but in the language of Ur it means queen.

This was the name of the female consort of the moon god of Ur.


Milcah, Haran’s daughter’s name, comes from the name of the daughter of the moon God.


So, we see a family steeped in the culture of the day.


Some ten generations after Noah, the worship of the true God has been abandoned.

And the people are worshipping the sun and moon and stars.


Terah’s name itself could be based on the word for moon. Yerah.


Here in the darkness, a culture and family steeped in paganism, God begins again.


From Acts 7, we can learn that God revealed himself to Abram and told him to Go to the land he would show him while still in Ur.


Stephen tells us that Abram left Ur and got as far as Harran.

(We note that the name of the city is different from the name of Abram’s brother.)


So this is the scene.


TengGenerations from Noah and the people are idolaters.

Terah has three sons, one of whom dies.

Nahor marries his niece Milkah, who was named after the moon God’s daughter.

And Abram marries his half-sister Sarai (we can learn that in Gen 20:12).

Later in Moses' law, this kind of marriage is forbidden.


But Abram marries a daughter of Terah by a different mother.

Sarai was named after the moon God’s wife.


Haran dies, leaving three orphans: Lot and his sisters Milcah and Iscah.

Abram and Sarai are childless.


And into this darkness of idolatry, death, and childlessness, the light of God’s grace appears.


“Abram, leave your country and your people.”


Why did god choose this person?

Pure grace.

There is a lesson here.


Why you? Why me?

Not because we are good.

Not because we are better


“Abram, leave your country and your people.”


He must leave all that is familiar and safe for a place he does not know.

Leave the past behind out of a simple trust in God.


Abraham is in the school faith.

Elementary school.

This is living in the divine imagination.

(Seeing things that are not, as though they were)

Abram is to see God’s promises – the promises of land and children—and he welcomed them at a distance.

He has to learn this.


Sarai, too, has to learn.

Her faith needs to grow.

She, too, does this with faltering steps.

A beautiful, though barren wife.

She becomes a scheming and jealous wife.

And finally becomes a miraculous mother.


But Abram is slow to believe and obey.


He leaves his country but not his people.

The whole clan moves north to Harran, another center of moon god worship.

Abram’s obedience to God’s call is tentative.


He does not leave family and culture behind.


And he settles for a land far short of God’s heavenly vision.

And he settles in a land far short of God’s plan for him.


He needs to learn to leave the city of man and long for the city of God.


The better city.

The one with foundations.


There is an urgent call for us to do the same.


We are to follow in the footsteps of Abram’s faith.

Not his folly.


He had yet to learn what it meant to live by faith and not by sight.

The apostle to the Hebrews tells of those who came before us.

How Abram was looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.


He should be longing for a better country—a heavenly one.

He would in time.

Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God.

He has prepared a city for them.


And the apostle sets these before us as examples.

We are to throw off everything that hinders us in our race, our pilgrimage.

Throw off sin that entangles.

Run with perseverance.


Not like Abram.

Steeped in idolatry, he heard God’s call 


Leave that city – Ur of the Chaldeans, and go to the place I will lead you.


But he only half-heartedly does so.

The whole clan sets out for Canaan.

But they don’t get there.


He leaves one pagan city and settles in another.

It doesn’t clearly say so, but it seems that Terah could not let go of his culture.

It is only after Terah dies that Abram obeys God’s call.


And Sarai is childless.

To be childless in ancient times was to have no future.

No generations after you.


And here we have a hint of what is to come.


Leave your country and your people.

But it seems hopeless.


Humanly speaking, there is no future.

To be childless and to leave your country and family would seem to be a crazy thing to do.


How could God ask this of him?

But we must learn with Abram that God can do more than we ask or even imagine.


Lord Jesus himself teaches us that following him might cost everything.


But he promised


 … everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.


It is God’s call to Abram that begins to shed light in the darkness.

Bright hope for the future.


Sarai’s barren womb is the means by which God will emphasize his amazing Grace.

Grace beyond human imagining.


A grace we see again and again.

With Rebekah in Gen 25:21; Rachel in Gen 29:31; Manoah’s wife, mother of Samson Judges 13: 3; Hannah in 1 Sam 1:2; and Elizabeth in Luke 1:7.


These women, all by divine intervention, conceive and have children.

By divine grace.


Pointing to Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, whose birth was even more miraculous.

And more gracious.


For with the coming of the divine Son comes real light and hope into the dark world.


For there to be hope for Abram’s future, he needs a son.

For there to be hope for the world, we need God’s son.


Abraham was called out of darkness into the light of God’s grace.

His citizenship was not to be found in the city of man.

The city of UR.

The city of the Moon God.


But as Paul says, “We have citizenship in heaven.”

And we, too, look forward to a better city.


And so there is a lesson for us in this today.


We, too, are called out of this world.

To a heavenly kingdom.


We are not to be part of this world.

Nor to be steeped in the pagan culture of our day.


We, with Abraham, look forward to the new heaven and the new earth to the new Jerusalem, which will come down from heaven.


So what about that?

How do you fare in this regard?


How tied up in this culture are we?

Do we seriously heed the call to follow Jesus?

To be his disciples.

“To let goods and kindred go,” as Luther’s hymn puts it.


Abram needed to learn--not new things--but a new way of thinking.

He needed to have his will transformed – from heeding his father’s wishes and doing his father’s will to heeding God’s call and doing the heavenly father’s will.

He needed to have his affections transformed.

He needed to love the Almighty God, not the moon god.

To love the creator god more than family.


And we with him

We need to learn--not just new things about God--but we need a new way of thinking.

Our minds transformed.

We need to learn to heed God’s call.

Our wills transformed.

We need to learn to love God more than country or family

Our affections transformed.


Abram’s story teaches this.


Abram, leave your people and your country!


And he does, but tentatively.

He stops in Haran for what seems a long while.

In 12:5, we learn that he accumulated possessions and people there.

They had settled there.

An echo of verse two of the chapter.

After the flood, God again told the people to increase in number and fill the earth. In

In 9:1, as he had told Adam and Eve in 1:28


But after the flood, once again, mankind did not obey.

They came to a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They did not fulfill the call of God.


Abram, leave country and people.

And he does, but tentatively.

He settles in Harran.


But he will continue.

He will learn to walk by faith.

Not by sight.

Slowly, by God’s grace, he learns of God’s grace, leans on his mercy, and experiences God’s blessing.


For God is with him on his pilgrimage.

He speaks to Abraham as he would a friend.

Tells him of his intentions.


He comes with the spoken word.

With visions

With dreams.

Messengers from God.

Even when God is silent for a time, we can learn of his intentions for Abram.


But we know that God spoke in the past in many and various ways, but now he has spoken to us by his Son.

Our Lord Jesus Christ.


He is the beloved one.

And our father and his father says to us, “Listen to him.”


And so the introduction to the Account of Terah’s line ends.

And Terah died in Haran.

The end of an era.


The end of the matter.


5 accounts come to an end.

5 more are coming.

This is the great transition in the Book of Genesis.


We close the chapters of early history.

Creation, fall, flood, Babel.


And open the account of God’s gracious covenant with Abraham.

There is light in a dark world.

There is hope for a future.


Even as the prophet Jeremiah spoke God’s words to the people in exile in Babylon so many years later.


 I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 


Abram, let goods and kindred go!

Follow me!


And he did, with faults and failings, but he did.


And we are to follow in his footsteps.

In the footsteps of his faith.

A pioneer of our faith.


But ultimately, we are to follow the Christ.

The ultimate child of Abraham.

Miraculous Grandchild of blessed barren Sarai.

Miraculous Child of the blessed Virgin Mary.


Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.


So even as we follow in Abram's footsteps, we, with him, will fix our eyes on Jesus, the one whom we all must follow.

We, too, with those who came before us, look for a better city, the heavenly one, leaving the city of man behind.


We walk in Abraham’s footsteps.

And by god’s grace, we will continue.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. John van Popta

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