A sermon preached on Genesis 18:1-15, August, 18, 2019 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Week nine of “Genesis: The Big Read,” a continuing sermon series through the book of Genesis, Ordinary Time 2019.
Introduction: Setting the Stage for a Miracle
For the first time in our study, there’s a pretty big gap in where we left off last week and our passage today, and I want to help bridge that gap so that our passage today makes more sense. Last week in Genesis 11:27-12:9, the Lord called Abram and his wife Sarai out of Ur and Haran. In calling them out, he promises them land and descendants as numerous as the stars. Focusing on that second promise today, some interesting things have happened in between chapter 12 and chapter 18.
Here’s what we need to see: Abraham and Sarah have been busy trying to pull this off themselves! If chapters 11 and 12 showed us God’s initiative of salvation, chapters 13 through 18 show us how committed God is to keeping it his initiative! Here’s the fly-by overview:
ATTEMPT ONE: Eliezer (Abraham’s household servant)
15:1 “After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” 4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.”
ANSWER FROM GOD: No. The son will come from you!
ATTEMPT TWO: Hagar (Sarah’s maidservant
16:1 “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.”
ANSWER FROM GOD: No. The son will come from your wife!
17:15 “And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19 God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.
Two passing notes here. Sarah has her name changed by God. This shows how important Sarah is. She is the only woman in the Bible to have her name changed like this. But what is the meaning? Sarai and Sarah both mean “princess.” Bruce Waltke explains, “Sarai, her birth name, probably looks back on her noble descent, whereas Sarah, her covenantal name, looks ahead to her noble descendants.” (Genesis, pg. 262). Secondly, God reveals the son’s name is to be Isaac, meaning “He laughs.” Before Sarah laughed at God’s promises, Abraham did too! But as we’re going to see, God will fulfill his supernatural promises resulting in joy for both of them.
Why does God press them so? Just like we saw last week, this happens so that God’s sovereign glory, majesty, and goodness would be seen and known by them and us. John Piper, commenting on today’s passage says, “the most loving thing that God can do for us is make himself indispensable to us.”
That’s what we’ll see as we move back to chapter 18 and look at the visitors, Sarah’s reaction, and the Lord’s response.
I. The Visitors
1. What do we make of this and who are they?
Three views have been taken here: 1) in some mysterious way, they are the Trinity (in fact, a famous icon called Rublev’s Trinity depicts this scene 2) this is a “Christophany” of the Word and two angels, and 3) these are angels, speaking on the Lord’s behalf.
2. However we understand the visitors, the Lord comes to discuss to that promise of descendants.
9 They said to [Abraham], “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.”10 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.”
II. Sarah’s Reaction
11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”
I find this incredibly ironic. In the Old Testament, the Lord used a scoffing, barren woman to begin fulfilling his promises, giving her joy at the birth of Isaac by the word of angels. In the New Testament, he uses a humble virgin, who, at the words of the angel Gabriel now says, “be it done to me according your word,” to bring joy to the whole world in the birth of that one promised Descendant.
This whole passage, the whole entire life of Abraham and Sarah, shows us that God delights in showing us that he is able! That he is more than enough, and that we ought to trust him.
III. The Lord’s Response
13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 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.” 15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
How should we understand this? I’ll highlight three applications here:
1. The absolutely supernatural nature of our salvation
Paul, in our epistle reading today from Romans 9 says, “6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”
Your salvation that you have in Christ, is not natural. It is a supernatural work of God. It is totally 100% based on amazing and gracious work of God on our behalf. That’s what the promise of Isaac points us toward. Every time Abraham and Sarah heard his name spoken, they would remember their doubt, and the supernatural work of God. Whenever we doubt, we can claim the anchor of Christ’s work for us.
We might say here that just as Abraham could not fathom the number of descendants that God would give him, so too, perhaps he could not fathom that through the supernatural work of God being established through him, salvation would be given to the saints of New Creation in Hagerstown, MD.
2. The total provision we have in Christ
Going back to the beginning of chapter 12, God said four times that he would bless Abraham or make him to be a blessing for the sake of the world. Here, in chapter 18, the Lord is reaffirming that there will be provision and blessing for the journey he’s given him. In fact, total provision from God. “Is anything too hard for the Lord,” he asks us? No.
Turning to application, I don’t mean this in some prosperity gospel kind of way, but what I do mean is that if you have Jesus, you have enough to sustain you in the pilgrim trail of faith. St. Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians by telling us how great the spiritual blessing is that has been poured out upon us
“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. … 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.” (Ephesians 1:3,7-8)
Many have been talking about the apparent falling away of Joshua Harris, former Christian author, writer, and pastor. I don’t know all of the details surrounding his repudiation of the faith, but here is what I do know:
if he would have humbled himself and taken his doubts and confusion to the Lord Jesus, Jesus would have been able to handle them. And he still can. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Pray for Joshua, but don’t let someone else’s hardness of heart become your doubt of Jesus’ provision for the journey of life.
3. The life of prayer & waiting
Lastly, this passage teaches us how to wait upon God in prayer in difficult situations. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” No. But, he will act in his time, in his way, for his glory. And if you are humble enough to bring what you’re going through to him, he will prove that to you.
Remember how St. Paul told us we’re called to wait on God in prayer? Colossians 4:2, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Those are the three elements to walking through difficult situations, where they be work-related, marriage-related, family-related or otherwise. You can walk through them in a godly way and the Lord is sufficient to keep you in them, and faithful to answer in your time of need.
With that we leave chapter 18 until next time, when God continues to demonstrate, once again, in Isaac’s life, that his promises will depend upon his might and goodness alone.
And so, all glory and honor, praise and thanksgiving to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen!