************ Sermon on Genesis 18:1-15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 19, 2012
"Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?"
A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend who is a defense lawyer. The hardest part of his job, he said, was all the lies. He has learned, the hard way, that everyone of his clients lie to him about innocence, guilt, and what they actually did.
A doctor who was listening in echoed the same thought. Most of his patients, he said, lie about their bad habits. They never admit to breaking their diet, excessive use of alcohol, marriage problems, and so on.
Both parties looked at me. "No one ever lies to me," I said with a straight face. "They owe up immediately to all their sins and problems. They always admit their guilt and confess their shame." When they both looked stunned I had to admit I had just joined the large group of people who lied to them.
I've told you before of the pastor who said to his congregation, "You are a bunch of liars." An elderly man listening to this pastor took great exception to this statement. Discussion indicated this elderly man believes he never ever lies. He doesn't even admit to mis-statements on his part. Rather, there are times I don't properly understand him. So, it is my fault and not his. This man doesn't know or ignores Psalm 116:11 which says, "All men are liars."
I All the Lies in Genesis
A Now, what did the children of Israel think of the book of Genesis when they heard the ninth commandment? God says, "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" (Ex 20:16). As the Catechism puts it, this means "I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind." Yet, Genesis is full of liars and their lies. Almost every single narrative in the book contains an incident of lies and deception. Because God forbids the lie Israel is forced to admit that God condemns the actions of men like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the patriarchs of Israel.
I know I gave you this list before, but let me run through the list of lies in Genesis:
-Gen 3 The serpent's deception of Adam and Eve
-Gen 4 Cain's lies about his brother Abel
-Gen 12 Abraham's lies to Pharaoh about his wife; and, Sarah is no innocent bystander in this deception
-Gen 20 Abraham's deception of Abimelech about his wife; and, Sarah again is no innocent bystander
-Gen 26 Isaac's deception of Abimelech
-Gen 27 Rebekah and Jacob deceive Isaac and Esau
-Gen 29 Laban deceives Jacob regarding Rachel
-Gen 31 Laban deceives Jacob regarding his wages
Jacob deceives Laban
Rachel deceives Laban
-Gen 34 Jacob's sons deceive Shechem's people
-Gen 37 Joseph's brothers lie to Father Jacob
-Gen 38 Tamar deceives Judah
-Gen 39 Potiphar deceived by his wife
-Gen 42 Joseph deceives his brothers
-Gen 44 Joseph deceives his brothers again
Doesn't it seem like everyone is deceiving and lying to everyone else? We find that the lie in Genesis is no respecter of persons. It is to be found at every level of society and covers every aspect of man's social experience. From beginning to end the book of Genesis is filled with lies and liars.
I want you to notice that the Bible does not sugar-coat the saints. Instead, it presents them to us with all their sins and foibles and lies.
B We find the lie in our Scripture reading for today. Sarah lies, again. And, this time she lies to God Almighty.
You heard the exchange between God and Sarah. Sarah laughed. She laughed in unbelief. She laughed in unbelief when told she was going to bear a child. God asked, "Why did Sarah laugh?" (Gen 18:13). Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, "I did not laugh."
Of course Sarah was afraid. Because talking to her was El Shaddai. The Mighty God. The Awesome God. The God Who can do anything. The God Who created the heavens and the earth. The God Who gave a place to the stars and to the sea. The God Who can open the fountains of the deep. Of course she was afraid because she doubted the word of this great and mighty God.
Sarah was afraid. Of God. Of the consequences of her unbelief. Of her small and little faith. So she lied to El Shaddai. Not the smartest thing to do. Because, remember what Hagar taught us about El Shaddai? Hagar taught us that God is "the One who sees me" (Gen 16:13). And, He is the God Who hears (Gen 16:11). Meaning, He is also the God Who knows – the God Who knows everything. This God knows a word before she says it. He can read her thoughts. He knows, for sure, that she laughed. Yet, she lies about this. To God.
How many times aren't we like Sarah? How many times don't we also lie to ourselves and to God Almighty? We lie about how "good" we are – making ourselves look better or gooder than we actually are. We lie about how "bad" we are – making ourselves look less bad that we really are. We can fool ourselves. We can fool those around us. But we can never fool El Shaddai – the God Who sees, the God Who hears, the God Who knows.
II Chief of Sinners
A In the stories of Abraham and Sarah we see a description of the Christian's experience.
Let me ask, how would you describe the Christian life? How would you describe your Christian life? Is it characterized by joy, peace, contentment, and kindness? Or, is it characterized by lament, struggle, holy discontent, jealousy, and discord? Do you feel good about yourself or bad about yourself as a Christian? Do you forget past failures and delight in present grace or do you continue to remind yourself of the depths of your depravity?
Abraham and Sarah teach us the answer is both.
I subscribe to a number of Christian publications. I get brochures for conferences. Book reviews and CDs are sent to me. I check out church and religious web-sites. Have you noticed that everyone is smiling, that everyone is happy, all the time? Nowhere is the dark side of the Christian life realistically depicted. Never do we see a Christian struggling with depression, for instance, or with drugs, or with alcohol, or with debt. Those in advertisement tell me you always need to be positive – except, it seems, for a presidential race. But is the Christian life all smiles? In the name of forgiveness are we to forget the past and all its failures and sins and disappointments?
Many Christians today object to what they disparagingly dismiss as "worm" theology – a title they get from a song first penned by Isaac Watts:
Alas! and did my Savior bleed,However, "worm" theology is based on Scripture. I've told you before that when our sons were growing up they would wrestle with me. All three would attack me. Eventually, I would get all three on the floor with me on top and I wouldn't let them go until they said the words of Psalm 22:6, "But I am a worm and not a man ..." I doubt if they will ever forget that Bible verse.
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
With their lies and other sins, Abraham and Sarah are living proof of "worm" theology. The Apostle Paul believed in "worm" theology. Do you remember what Paul said about himself?
(1Tim 1:15) Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.Or, as another translation puts it, the "chief" of sinners.
Psychiatrists and sociologists and educators today tell us that Paul had a self-image problem. Living before the self-esteem revolution, Paul wallows in guilt in the same way as a pig wallows in mud. What a poor, unlucky man! What did his parents do to him?
How, then, should we look at ourselves? How should Paul look at himself? Do we look at ourselves as sinners OR do we look at ourselves as forgiven, cleansed, adopted, a child of the King, clothed in righteousness? YES! YES? YES! We are to see ourselves as both.
Scripture shows us and tells us that the Christian experience essentially is humble gratitude. We are humble because we know the truth about ourselves: our corruption, our weakness, our conflicts, our sins, our helplessness, our lies. We are also exceedingly grateful for what Christ has done and for what we have: peace with God, forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, a cloak of righteousness.
Later in Genesis 18 Abraham indicates he realizes this about himself. Though Abraham is in covenant with El Shaddai he describes himself as being "nothing but dust and ashes" (Gen 18:27). Yet, he is bold enough to converse with God.
B We learn another lesson, too, as we look at Abraham and Sarah. We learn that in our rush to talk about forgiveness we had better not neglect the need for confession and repentance.
People generally have such a hard time with this today. Someone sins against you and you are advised to forgive instead of dealing Biblically with the sin. You are basically told to sweep it all under the carpet as if it did not happen. If God took this approach with Sarah, He would have overlooked her lie. If God took this approach with Sarah, He would not have confronted her when she lied. If God took this approach with Sarah, He would have keep silent. But He didn't.
Do you remember the first sermon of John the Baptist? "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Mt 3:2; 4:17). The first sermon of Jesus? "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Mt 3:2; 4:17).
God confronted Sarah with her sin because He wanted her to repent. The same is true for you and me. But this is so hard to accept. Repentance is something to be done by prostitutes and drug addicts and alcoholics and loose women and adulterers. People like you and me, surely we don't need to repent too? Unless we realize and confess this truth about ourselves, we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Unless we realize our need for the Savior, we won't be saved.
III God Can Do All Things
A In the midst of all their lies and deceptions and sins and laughter, God says to Abraham and Sarah, "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen 18:14). God is talking about the promise of a son. God is talking about the promise of a son to an aged couple. God is talking about the promise of a son to an aged couple who have given up all human hope of having a child.
I want you to listen to these verses from Scripture. Verses that point out the power and strength of our God Who is El Shaddai, God Almighty:
-(Num 11:23) "Is the Lord's arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you." This is what God said when the Israelites wanted meat. Moses looked around and all he saw was barren wilderness. How could he give meat to six hundred thousand men, plus their wives and children?
-(Job 42:2) "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted." This is what Job finally ended up confessing about God.
-(Lk 1:25) "The Lord has done this for me." This is what was said by a pregnant Elizabeth, another elderly woman who had given up all hope of having a child.
-(Lk 1:37) "For nothing is impossible with God." This is what the angel said to the virgin Mary.
-(Lk 18:27) "What is impossible with men is possible with God." This is what Jesus said when He talked about the difficulty of entering the kingdom of God.
God does the impossible and the unlikely, to remind us that His power is not restricted by our limitations. Sarah thought a child was impossible – she was too old. Mary thought a child was impossible – she was a young virgin. Elizabeth thought a child was impossible – she was too old. Our God loves a challenge! Our God loves showing us His might and His power. Our God loves doing the impossible. As the psalmist puts it, "The One enthroned in heaven laughs" (Ps 2:4).
Do you see and hear the message? What a mighty God we serve! How great and mighty is He!
B "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" What hope this gives to sinners. What hope this gives to us as we struggle with our fallenness. What hope this gives to those who are worms. And, what hope this gives to the people of Israel. Don't forget, they are a sinful people, a rebellious people, a disobedient and complaining people. They are traveling through the wilderness and again and again they doubt God's promises. They see themselves in Sarah. They see themselves in Abraham. They see a reflection of their own sins and shortcomings.
God works with sinners. God works in sinners. God's covenant is with sinners. No matter how great the sin, no matter how terrible the sinner, God's grace is greater.
The message: if God – by His grace, can overcome the sin of Abraham and Sarah, then God – by His grace – can overcome our sin and Israel's sin and Paul's sin as well.
"Is anything too hard for the Lord?" The answer, the only answer, is NO. No, nothing is too hard for the Lord. A barren woman will not stop Him. A lying sinner will not stand in His way. Because, He is El Shaddai.
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