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On October 3, 2010, I had the opportunity to preach the above message from Genesis 18:1-15 at Gladstone Baptist Church in Gladstone, Ontario.
My original notes follow:
In March of 2009, I was rushing to the hospital, chasing an ambulance that was carrying my wife. She’d lost a lot of blood due to complications related to a miscarriage. So I’m driving and I’m kind of freaking out and praying, “God, please let my wife be okay.”
So I got to the hospital and I wasn’t allowed to see my wife for about 20 minutes. They were trying to stabilize her, I learned later. But those 20 minutes may as well have been an eternity. For a while a number of things were running through my head—Am I going to go home as a single dad? How would I explain something like that to a two-year-old? Will work give me the time off that I need to take care of everything that needs to be taken care of?
And as I prayed and pleaded with God, I had got this distinct impression that God was asking me a question, “Do you trust me?”
That’s the big question, isn’t it?
Can I trust God—even in seemingly impossible circumstances?
The Bible repeatedly and emphatically tells us that God is trustworthy; that He is faithful and reliable. That we can trust Him, even in the most difficult circumstances.
And we’re told that when He makes a promise, He will surely make it happen.
This is the problem that we all struggle with—none of us naturally trust God to keep His promises. Even though He tells us He’s faithful, we kind of hedge our bets.
Throughout the course of their lives, Abraham and Sarah learned just how faithful God is. And over the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be looking at how they interacted with God in the face of two seemingly impossible circumstances, each with different results.
Let’s pray and then we’ll dig into the text to see what God wants to teach us this morning.
Genesis 18 starting at verse one:
And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
This passage is just rich with meaning and there are a lot of things we could look at; but in our study today, we’re going to spend the bulk of our time focusing on the interaction between God, Sarah and Abraham in verses 9-15.
And this the big idea that I really need be stuck in your hearts and minds when you to walk away:
God is faithful to fulfill His promises; therefore you can trust Him to fulfill His purposes—especially when it seems impossible.
Let’s set the scene—Abraham in Genesis 17 has been a promise by God that he would have a son by Sarah; he’s been told that this promised child would only be borne by her. So it’s not through Ishmael, his son by Sarah’s servant Hagar, that God will bless the nations.
It’s going to be through this child—and only through this child—that God has promised.
But here’s the thing: They’re old. Really, really old. Well past child-bearing years.
Still, God has made a promise—and He intends to fulfill it. But not in a way that anyone would expect.
Verses one & two tell us that, “the LORD appeared to [Abraham] by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.”
So the Lord shows up to visit Abraham at his tent by the oaks or terebinth trees of Mamre in the New King James.
Why does He come? We’ll find out in a bit.
Who does Abraham see? Three men… who are not men at all.
1. Recognize who it is making a promise to you
When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
Here, we see Abraham embodying the command to be hospitable; to open our homes and lives to others. After all, Hebrews 13:2 tells us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
But there seems to be something else going on here, isn’t there? Abraham isn’t merely being hospitable to strangers. He seems to know who they are.
Take a look at Abraham’s actions:
First, he ran to them. Why does this matter? In the Middle East, for an elderly man of Abraham’s stature (a rich land owner and a mighty warrior), it’s highly unusual that he would behave in this manner. His reaction indicates that he sees these visitors as his superior.
Second, he bows down to them. While bowing may have been a common greeting, Abraham’s bowing indicates that these visitors are worthy of great respect.
Third, he prepares a great feast. He offers a little water and a morsel of bread, and instead prepares a good calf, milk, and cakes made from fine flour. This looks to be a feast that would be reserved only for the most honored guests.
Fourth, he stands by as they eat. Abraham doesn’t eat with his guests; instead he behaves as their servant.
Fifth, he calls one of them, “O Lord,” or “My Lord.” This one is really important—more so than any of the other actions Abraham takes.
Well, here’s the thing—calling another “my lord” isn’t that big a deal, after all, we’ll see Sarah refer to Abraham as “my lord” in verse 12. But the word Abraham uses is one used throughout the Old Testament only to refer to God.
Do you get the sense that Abraham recognizes that God is among his visitors?
By this point, Abraham has spoken to and been visited by God on more than one occasion. He has spoken to Him, he as been in His presence. And what the totality of his reaction to the appearance of these three visitors indicates is that he knows that God is among them.
He recognizes the one who has made a promise to him.
And we, likewise, must recognize who it is making a promise to us.
So here’s my question:
Do you recognize that when you see a promise in Scripture, it is God making it?
We begin to recognize God by spending time with God.
When we read the Scriptures, we begin to see the character of God and to hear Him speaking to us through His Word.
When we pray, are speaking to God and begin to develop a genuine dialogue between our Creator and ourselves. We begin to hear His response, usually in His directing us to a particular passage of Scripture.
So how is your time with God?
Are you reading His Word? How’s your prayer life?
These are the things that most of us find falling by the wayside first. I certainly know it’s the case for me. I get so busy with the stuff of life—work, family, writing, ministry—that it’s really easy to find myself in a really dry place, spiritually.
But something that the 16th century Reformer Martin Luther once said has stuck with me.
Once Luther was asked about his plans for the following day. He answered, “Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
Luther understood the need for time with God before doing work for God. It’s a lesson I need to be reminded of constantly, because I can get so caught up in working for Him, that I sacrifice my time with Him. And we cannot recognize God if we don’t spend time with Him. We won’t trust Him because we don’t know Him.
So spend time with God. Learn to recognize who it is making a promise to us.
2. Do not scoff at what the Lord promises
The second thing we can learn from this passage is that we must not scoff at what the Lord promises.
They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”
After the meal, the Lord asks about Sarah. “Where is she?”
“In the tent,” says Abraham. In other words, she’s within earshot. Then God reiterates the promise He made to Abraham in Genesis 17:16—that Sarah will bear Abraham a son, Isaac.
Why does He do this? Is it because Abraham hasn’t told her?
Well, in Genesis 17:23-27 tell us that after God had given Abraham the sign of the covenant, Abraham went and gave the sign to all in his household. This means he’s almost certainly told Sarah of what God has promised.
So it’s not because she doesn’t know. It’s because she doesn’t believe it.
It’s because He wants her to hear the promise from His own mouth.
What is Sarah’s response?
She laughs to herself and says, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”
She scoffs—not maliciously as some commentators have suggested, but because she isn’t prepared for God to do the miraculous.
Now, here’s the thing: her reaction is no different than Abraham’s at first.
In Gen. 17:17, we’re told that Abraham fell to the ground and laughed and said, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”
Was his laughter a sign of unbelief?
Romans 4:19 tells us, Abraham “did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.”
There certainly was an element of unbelief—after all, he was “as good as dead.” Physically it would be impossible for them to have children at this stage of life.
But Abraham’s faith did not weaken.
We’re going to see in a few minutes how God responds to Sarah’s statement, but I need you to ask yourselves—and be honest, have you ever scoffed what the Lord promises?
Have you ever seen the promises of God in Scripture and said, “You know, that sounds wonderful, but I don’t think God’s going to do that for me.”
Quick example, and my wife said it was okay to share this with you, but in John 14:13, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
My wife has a really hard time with this statement. What if she wants a dinosaur, or a bag of candy, or a nice pair of shoes that I can’t possibly afford to buy her?
Now, while these are kind of silly examples—obviously God’s not going to give anyone a dinosaur & probably not a bag of candy—they betray a type of “realist” mentality. One that says, “Well, since what I’m asking for isn’t really what God wants me to ask for, I’m just not going to ask for anything.”
And when we fall into that trap, when we do those kinds of mental gymnastics, whether we realize it or not, we’re actually scoffing at God’s promise.
Do not scoff at the promises of God. Do confess your unbelief, but do not scoff at His promises.
3. You must believe that the Lord will do as He promises
The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
The truth is, when we succumb to unbelief—when we think that God’s promises are too good to be true, or only good for someone else, but not for us—we begin to hedge our bets.
We say we want to trust God, but we also want to be realists.
And that attitude always turns out about as well as a car wreck on the 401.
Instead, you must believe that the Lord will do as He promises.
The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”
Does God ask these questions because He doesn’t know the answer? Of course not. This is His way of saying, “Sarah, I am your Creator. Do you not think I do not know what is in your heart? Will you trust me?”
What Sarah’s laughter reveals is that while there’s nothing more in all the world she’d like than to be a mother, she’s resigned herself to the fact that it’s impossible.
As far as she’s concerned, she’ll never know the joy of being a mom.
She is only thinking of God working over the natural course of life—working through what the theologians call Divine Providence.
But what does God say?
“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” He asks.
God’s telling her to look to something greater—not to Divine Providence, but to a Divine Miracle.
Here’s the question—do you believe that nothing is too hard for the Lord?
Do you believe that God can do anything—absolutely anything?
Throughout the Bible, God keeps reminding His people, “Nothing is too hard for Me!”
In Job 42:2, Job says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”
Jeremiah reminds us in Ch 32:17, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.”
And in verse 27, God affirms, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?”
Look also at Matthew 19:26. “But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this [salvation] is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”
Finally, Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.”
I could go on, but here’s the thing that you need to get from these passages:
God has no restrictions upon what He can and cannot do. Will you believe that He will do as He promises?
In verse 15, when confronted with her unbelief, Sarah reacts in fear. She lies and says, “I did not laugh.” She compounds the sin of unbelief by lying.
And what does God do?
He shows her mercy. Even though she’s scoffed at His promise. Even though she, in the past, had tried to manipulate circumstances to make the promise happen her way. He still tells her, “At the appointed time”—the time God has chosen for Isaac to be born, when it can only happen by a miracle—“Sarah shall have a son.”
And in a great act of mercy, he names her sin. “No, but you did laugh,” He says in verse 15.
When God confronts us with our sin of unbelief, He is showing us a great kindness. He is offering us an opportunity for repentance.
He’s saying to Sarah, “Do you trust me to fulfill this promise in my way?”
How does Sarah respond?
In Hebrews 11:11-12 we read the following, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
“By faith Sarah…received the power to conceive… since she considered him faithful who had promised.”
Sarah repented of her unbelief. Confronted by her sin, and comforted by the mercy of God, she did give birth to Isaac. She did gain the pleasure of being a mother. And she became a part of the earthly lineage of Jesus Christ.
So what does this mean for us here? Let’s look around for a moment.
Admittedly we’re not a big group here. So what comes to mind?
Truthfully, there are generally two ways to look at a group this size:
- These are the twilight years of this body and sooner or later the doors will close for the last time; or
- That this is a brand-new work that needs some help getting off the ground.
So what has God promised us here, in this room?
Jesus Christ promised, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not overcome it.”
“I will build my Church.”
“I will do it,” says Jesus. Do we believe this promise?
Do we believe that if this is Jesus’ Church, He will build it? I want you to understand—as long as there is breath in this room; as long as there are faithful men and women here, in this room, Christ will build His church through you.
If God can bring Isaac from Abraham and Sarah, a husband and wife who were as good as dead, and if God can make dead men and women alive in Christ—through the shedding of His blood on the cross and His resurrection in defeat of sin & death—can He not, if He wishes, use a church like this—can He not use this church to bring about new life?
I believe that God has greater plans for this community than for it to quietly fade away. The lights have not gone out here. God still has work to be done through you.
But you need to trust Him and to recognize what He is calling you to do.
Because nothing is too hard for the Lord, you need to trust Him to fulfill His purposes—especially when it seems impossible.