************ Sermon on Genesis 21:1-7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 30, 2012
"A Time to Weep and a Time to Laugh"
Like the country of Israel or the state of California, the Christian life is full of hills and valleys (cf Deut 11:11). Solomon expressed the same idea when he wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:4 that "[there is] a time to weep and a time to laugh." Heaven is a place of unending joy; hell is a place of unending suffering; but while we are here on earth, we must expect both joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. You cannot have hills without valleys.
Over the years, people learn this is especially true of relationships with family and friends – for the same people who bring us unbelievable joy can also bring us unending sorrow. The closest of relationships can become strained and then change overnight, and we wonder what happened.
As we will find out in the coming weeks, the coming of Isaac into their home brought both sorrow and joy to Abraham and Sarah.
Four things stand out as we look at our Bible reading today. First, God keeps His promises. Second, God develops patience and trust. Third, God reveals His power. And fourth, God accomplishes His purposes.
I God Keeps His Promises
A Our first point is that God keeps His promises.
Sarah had borne the burden of childlessness for many years, a heavy burden in that culture and at that time. People must have smiled when they heard that her husband’s name was Abraham, meaning "father of a multitude." He was the father of one son, Ishmael, but that was far from a multitude. As for Sarah herself, she had never given birth. No words can express her feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and helplessness. Only another childless woman can know what she went through all those years. But now all of her reproach was ended, and they were rejoicing and laughing at the arrival of their son.
B The birth of Isaac involved much more than parental joy. His birth meant the fulfillment of God's promise. In Scripture it is recorded that God comforted Abraham and Sarah eight times with the promise of a son.
The promise of a son was at first very general and became more and more specific after Abraham's call. In the first three recorded instances, for example, God merely promised Abraham many descendants (Gen 12:2; 12:7; 13:16). In the fourth and following instances, however, the promise becomes far more specific: "I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah you wife will have a son" (Gen 18:10).
This childless couple must have discussed the promise nearly every night. I suspect hardly a moment passed without them thinking about it. And, I am sure, most nights they dreamed about the promised child.
C Make no mistake about this: the child to be born to them was the child of the promise. All of God's wondrous covenant promises to Abraham were bound up in this promised child.
When God had called Abraham, He promised to make his name great and to make of him a great nation that would bless the whole world (Gen 12:1-3). Then He repeatedly promised to give the land of Canaan to Abraham's descendants (Gen 17:7) and to multiply them greatly (Gen 13:15-17). Abraham would be the father of the promised seed (Gen 15:4), and Sarah (not Hagar) would be the mother (Gen 17:19; 18:9-15). Nations and kings would come from them (Gen 17:6). What beautiful promises! How wondrous they are! I can hardly imagine any living person not wanting to claim these promises for themselves.
To be fulfilled, all these promises boiled down to one event – the birth of a son. All those wonderful covenant promises were dependent upon Abraham and Sarah becoming parents. If Abraham and Sarah had no child, there would be no nation, no name, no blessing, no land, no numerous offspring, no kings, and no everlasting covenant. All of God's promises were bound up in the promised child. God's covenant promises needed the child in order to be fulfilled!
D My brothers and sisters, we need to realize that God makes many beautiful promises to us as well. And, as with Abraham and Sarah, all of God's wondrous promises to us are bound up in the birth of a Promised Child – even Jesus Christ.
Review with me, for a moment, God's promises to us. God promises us redemption, righteousness, new life, freedom from sin and death, justification, His never-failing presence, adoption as His children, deliverance from the anguish and torment of hell, the Spirit with its gifts and fruits, and a new and better life in a new and better body on a new and better earth.
What beautiful promises! How wondrous they are! I can hardly imagine any living person not wanting to claim these promises for themselves.
In order to be fulfilled, all these promises boil down to one event – the birth of a Son. All these wonderful covenant promises are dependent upon the birth we celebrated five days ago – the birth of the Promised Child, even Jesus Christ. If Jesus were not born none of these promises would or could be fulfilled. God's wonderful covenant promises to us need the Christ-Child in order to be fulfilled.
E Today's text reminds us and assures us that God keeps all His promises:
(Gen 21:1-2) Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. (2) Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.The Hebrew word translated as "gracious" can also be translated as "visited." The Lord visited with Sarah. Within the context this translation makes better sense. The Lord and two angels have just come to Abraham. The two angels appeared to Lot. Now there is a third appearance when the Lord visited Sarah.
It is understood that this is a gracious visit. In making these kinds of visits, God delivers from various kinds of crisis (cf Ps 106:4). God visited with His people when they were in Egypt and delivered them from their Egyptian taskmasters (Exod 4:31). During the days of the Judges, God visited with His people when there was famine in the land and provided food for them (Ruth 1:6).
After years and years of waiting, the Lord visited with Sarah. And He did for Sarah what He promised (Gen 21:1). To make sure we don't miss the point of this sentence, Moses tell us Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age (Gen 21:2).
This is not the only time that God visited a barren woman who later gives birth. The same thing happened with Hannah (1 Sam 2:21) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:68).
The Lord graciously visited Sarah. She conceived. She gave birth. She gave Abraham a son in his old age.
Telling us what? Telling us that God keeps His promises. The birth of Isaac, like the birth of Christ we celebrated just a few days ago, reminds us that God keeps His promises, in His own way, and in His own time. And, in spite of their occasional failures, Abraham and Sarah believed God; and God honored their faith (Heb 11:8-11).
II God Develops Patience and Trust
B Our second point is that God develops patience and trust.
Way back in the Garden of Eden already God promised that the woman's seed would crush the serpent (cf Gen 3:15). Since, then, Moses' audience has been sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the promised seed to appear. It has been a real cliff-hanger.
At first, with Eve, it is hoped that Cain is the promised seed who would destroy the serpent. Remember how Eve thought, hoped, and prayed that Cain – her possession, her acquisition, the "man" whom she brought forth – was going to crush the serpent's head and undo the damage done in the Garden? When Cain killed Abel, it was discovered Eve was flat out wrong in thinking this.
Next, it is hoped blameless Noah will vanquish Satan (Gen 6:9). Although he is important in the Lord's plan of redemption, with his abuse of alcohol Noah disqualifies himself as the promised seed (Gen 9:21).
When the narrative shifts focus in Genesis 12, it is expected the Lord will fulfill His promise through Abraham. But the suspense only intensifies. The patriarch jeopardizes his family in Egypt (Gen 12:10-20), fathers a son who will not be his heir (Gen 16), and then finally risks having Sarah bear a son with another man (Gen 20).
Moses is a skillful author and he leads us to ask, "Lord, are you ever going to keep your promise of the promised seed?"
B Do you have any idea how long Abraham and Sarah waited for God's promise to be fulfilled? Twenty-five years they waited. Twenty-five years have passed since Abraham was called by God. It has now been twenty-five years since Abraham and Sarah left Haran.
Waiting for Isaac's birth requires patience and trust – twenty-five years of patience and trust. But we need to remember the Bible's perspective. Hebrews tells us that we "through faith and patience inherit what has been promised" (Heb 6:12; cf Heb 10:36). Trusting God's promises not only gives you a blessing at the end, but it gives you a blessing while you are waiting. Just as Olympic athletes develop their skills as they practice hard long before the big event, so God's children grow in godliness and faith as they wait for the fulfillment of God's promises. Faith is a journey, and none of us know how long is the journey, where the journey will take us, or what difficulties we will face along the way. God wants to build our patience and trust, SO He gives us promises, sends us trials, and tells us to trust Him (James 1:1-8).
C If you remember, Abraham had problems with trusting God. At least, he had problems with trusting God completely. He thought, more than once, that God needed his help. So, instead of trusting in God's protection, he lied two times about his relationship with Sarah (Gen 12 & 20). So, instead, of trusting in God's promise about a son, he tried to make a servant his heir (Gen 15:2) and had a son with another woman (Gen 16). God had to take him over the same hurdles again and again until he learned that God did not need his help. Abraham's strategies were always getting him into trouble, but God's faithfulness dug him out each time.
How many times don't we think and act exactly the same as Abraham? How many times don't we try to help the Almighty? God's promise is that salvation is by grace and through faith but we think we need to earn salvation. God's promise is that He builds the church and the kingdom, but we act like it is completely up to us. God's promise is that He hears and answers prayer, but we neglect prayer because we think we can do it on our own.
III God Reveals His Power
A Our third point is that God reveals His power.
When God gave Abraham the promise of a son "about this time next year" (Gen 18:10; cf Gen 18:14; Rom 9:9), He was making a promise that, humanly speaking, was quite impossible to be met. You see, both Abraham and Sarah were well past their childbearing years. As Abraham asks, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" (Gen 17:17). From here and elsewhere we are to gather that Abraham and Sarah had given up all hope of ever having a child of their own.
God waited until Abraham and Sarah were "as good as dead" (Heb 11:12) so that their son’s birth would be a miracle of God and not a marvel of human ingenuity or human virility or human fertility (Rom 4:17–21). Abraham and Sarah experienced God’s resurrection power in their lives.
B If we were to glance forward some 2000 years from Abraham we would see God making a promise of a Son to another couple in similar circumstances. The couple is Joseph and Mary. Mary and Joseph were not united in marriage and to them pre-marital sex was simply unthinkable. Yet, God announced to Mary, "You will be with child and give birth to a son." Mary's response: "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Lk 1:31,34).
This was the days before test-tube babies, in-vitro fertilization, and surrogate motherhood, so it was humanly impossible for a virgin to conceive and give birth to a son. Humanly speaking, it is just as impossible that an old couple like Abraham and Sarah will have a child of their own. Yet, God promises both couples an "impossible child."
"How is this possible, Lord?" is the question that is asked.
C The Lord has a response for Abraham and Sarah: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Gen 18:14).
The Lord has a response for Joseph and Mary too: "For nothing is impossible with God" (Lk 1:37).
These are two of the great sayings of Scripture: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" "For nothing is impossible with God."
Often God's people forget: our God is so almighty! Jesus can say, "What is impossible with men is possible with God" (Lk 18:27).
Our God loves doing the impossible. He delights in His creative powers (Gen 2:1-2).
I want to tell you, dear people, that you can come to this almighty and all-powerful God in prayer. Nothing you ask can ever stump Him. Nothing you ask is beyond Him. Nothing you ask will leave Him perplexed or show Him to be empty-handed.
IV God Accomplishes His Purposes
A Our fourth point is that God accomplishes His purposes.
The birth of Isaac was an important step forward in the accomplishing of God's redemptive purposes. The future redemption of a lost world rested with a little baby boy! Isaac would beget Jacob. Jacob would give the world the twelve tribes of Israel. And, from Israel the promised Messiah would be born. Down through the centuries, some of the "living links" in the chain of promise may have seemed insignificant and weak; but they all played a role in fulfilling the redemptive purposes of God.
B You may wonder if what you do is really important to God and His work in this world. Like Abraham and Sarah and Jacob and David and Joseph and Mary you play a role in God's plan. The next time you feel defeated and discouraged, remember Abraham and Sarah. Remind yourself that God is more than able to use earthen vessels like you and me to accomplish His redemptive purposes.
I hope you realize that the God Who worked in Abraham and Sarah is more than able to work in you today as well. He is more than able to work in you and to cleanse you of sin and to supply you with everything you need for faith and godliness (cf 2 Pet 1:3). Know that like He did with Abraham and Sarah, God will complete the good work He has begun in you (cf Phil 1:6).
Why can I say this? How can I say this? Because God keeps His promises, God develops patience and trust, God reveals His power, and God accomplishes His purposes.
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