Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sermon on Genesis 19-21

On December 8, 2013, I preached at Oak Grove Congregational Christian United Church of Christ in Pine Mountain, GA. You can read and listen to the sermon here.

Genesis 19:30-21:21    

Today’s text may be somewhat obscure for some in this room, but it contains important truth for us today. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is God-breathed, so these words we have before us come with the same authority as if Jesus himself were here speaking them to us personally. I was assigned two chapters of narrative text, so for time’s sake, I will not be able to read it all to you, but I will teach it to you like the original author taught it to his people, as a narrative.

As I tell the story, I want you to listen for the main point: Lot’s daughters, Abraham and Sarah, Hagar, and Abimelech are all concerned with preserving a lineage to make their names great. And also notice that, in God’s sovereign providence, He preserves the lineage of Abraham and makes His name great.

Lot and His Daughters - Genesis 19:30-38

Lot, the nephew of Abraham was afraid to live in the town of Zoar, so he and his two daughters lived in a cave on a mountain outside of town. The daughters became worried that the family line would not continue because they weren’t married, and they didn’t have any prospective suitors because they lived in isolation. So the two daughters made a plan to get their father drunk and sleep with him without him knowing. So both daughters committed a terrible sin in conceiving children by their ignorant and drunk father. One of the sons was named Moab, from whom came the Moabites, and the other son was named Ben-ammi, from whom came the Ammonites. 

What God is showing us here is that unbridled desire leads to sin. Lot’s daughters had such a strong desire for children that they would do absolutely anything to have them, even if it involved incest. Each of us has a tendency to look at the sinful things that we want and convince ourselves that they are good. It is not uncommon for us to rationalize our sinful behavior as being godly. Lot’s daughters tried to make their sin sound holy by thinking of it as preserving the family line. But rest assured, your sins will find you out. It is important that we are honest about our sin. Furthermore, Lot’s daughters felt no repentance. In fact, they even named their kids in celebration of their sin - Moab means “from my father” and Ben-ammi means “son of my own people.” 

God is also showing us that our sins can sometimes have terrible long-term consequences. The Moabites and the Ammonites are the descendants of Moab and Ben-ammi, and these two tribes are consistently a thorn in the side of the people of Israel. These two tribes hinder the future Israelites from coming into the Promised Land. Your sin may seem like it only affects you, but there may be serious consequences for others in the future. So the call is to repent; turn away from sin and follow Christ. Walk no longer in the darkness and come into the light. Leave a legacy of godliness for your family. 

Ultimately, God can bring beauty from our messes. The most famous Moabite is Ruth. From the line of this Moabite woman comes King David and eventually Jesus himself. God often uses what was intended for evil to bring about His sovereign and good plan. So press on and pursue the Lord; He can draw straight lines with crooked sticks.

Abraham and Abimelech - Genesis 20

Abraham and his wife Sarah traveled toward the Negeb desert, and along the way they passed through the city of Gerar. The king of Gerar was named Abimelech. Abimelech was captivated by Sarah’s beauty and demanded to have her as a wife. Abraham knew that if he confessed that he was Sarah’s husband that he would be killed and Sarah would be taken as one of Abimelech’s concubines, so he lied. Abraham told the king that Sarah was his sister and his life was spared. Before Abimelech had time to sleep with Sarah, God came to him in a dream and told him what Abraham had done. Abimelech confessed that he knew nothing of this; Abraham and Sarah had both lied to him. God told Abimelech that He knew that he was innocent and that He had protected Abimelech by not allowing them to sleep together. God commanded Abimelech to return Sarah to Abraham because Abraham was a prophet.

So Abimelech obeyed the Lord and scolded Abraham for deceiving him. He questioned Abraham about why he thought he had to do that. Abraham said that he assumed that there were no upright and God-fearing people in the city and that deception was his only way to make it out alive. Abraham said that Sarah is technically his half sister so it wasn’t even a full lie. Abimelech gave Abraham sheep and goats and silver and full access to the land in Gerar. 

Abraham prayed and thanked the Lord for Abimelech’s generosity and understanding. He prayed for Abimelech and God richly blessed Abimelech and his family for his obedience. 

One of the things we are to learn here is something of the far-reaching effects of sin. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength; therefore, the greatest sin is to fail to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Another way of putting it is to say that the greatest sin is faithlessness, to disbelieve that God is worthy of our love and trust. Faithlessness is not just thinking that there is no God, it is also thinking that God is too small to fulfill his promises and that he needs our help. This is Abraham’s chief sin: he does not trust God to fulfill His promise. Abraham knew that God promised to make his offspring into a great nation, but Abraham found himself in a bind, he thought that God had lost control and needed some help, so he lied about Sarah being his sister. 

Abraham not only sinned in his lack of faith, but he also sinned by deceiving Abimelech. The life of faith cannot be maintained by deception. Are you deceiving others into thinking that you are more holy than you really are? Are you deceiving others into thinking that you are a Christian when you know that you really are not? You will be found out because it is impossible to keep up the facade. Come into the light today! Today is the day of salvation!

Much can also be learned from Abimelech’s situation. He was deceived by Abraham and he unintentionally sinned against God by taking Sarah as a wife. Even though Abimelech was ignorant the crime, he was still guilty. Abimelech recognized his guilt, he recognized that God blessed Abraham, and he recognized that he must obey the Lord in making things right. Abimelech repented of a sin that he did not intentionally do. This is a lesson to us that we must have soft hearts that hear the call of God to repent. It is important that we confess our sins to God and turn from that sin to obey Jesus. Pray that the Holy Spirit will illumine you to the sins in your life that you don’t even know about. 

Finally, God is gracious to Abraham in his sin. The whole story depicts Abimelech as the good guy and Abraham as the bad guy, yet God seems to be harsher with Abimelech than with Abraham. The important thing to notice is that God does not deal with Abraham according to his sin, but he lets it slide. Why? Romans 3 tells us that God passed over former sins because He knew that Christ would come to pay for the sins of all of God’s people for all time. The sins of Abraham were placed on Christ at the cross. That’s why it says that “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Abraham was saved in the same way that we are. He was saved by looking forward to the Messiah who was to come, we are saved by looking back to the Messiah who has already come. The New Testament says this clearly:

“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith… 
Galatians 3:7-9

So Abraham received mercy and grace, not because he deserved it, but because he had faith in the promise of God. Likewise, you and I are saved by faith alone in Christ, just like Abraham. Will you trust in the faithfulness of God to keep His promises?

The Birth of Isaac - Genesis 21:1-7

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time in which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” 

God is always faithful to His promises. He promised that Abraham’s offspring would be blessed and would be a great nation. Despite Abraham’s effort to take the matter in his own hands by having Ishmael by Hagar, God fulfills His promise in the birth of Isaac by Sarah. Isaac is the child of promise. But hear the word of the Lord in the New Testament:

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ…For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise….
Galatians 3:16,18

The bigger picture that Paul shows us is that Jesus is the ultimate child of the promise; he is the true and greater Isaac. All of the promises of the Old Testament are pointing forward to Jesus. He is the one who is the ultimate Blessed One, by whom all the nations are blessed, through his life and substitutionary death. He is ultimately made into a great nation, with its epicenter in the New Jerusalem. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords; his Kingdom will have no end and cannot be shaken. Paul goes further:

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”
Galatians 3:25-29

For all who are in Christ, we are children of the promise too. We are adopted into the family of God through faith in Christ. We become partakers in this promise that goes all the way back to Abraham if Christ is our Head. The promise is not limited to ethnic Jews, for we are the true sons of Abraham if we are in Christ. 

God Protects Ishmael and Hagar - Genesis 21:8-21

Isaac grew into a heathy and happy little boy and Abraham threw a huge party to celebrate this “son of the promise.” Ishmael, the son of Hagar by Abraham, laughed at Isaac. Sarah was furious and demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away for good. After all, Ishmael was an illegitimate son and would not get any of the family inheritance. Abraham was upset because of the decision he had to make, but the Lord told Abraham not to worry about Hagar and Ishmael because Isaac would be the “son of blessing.” God promised to take care of Ishmael and to make his descendants into a great nation too. So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away with some food and drink and they wandered in the wilderness. 

They eventually ran out of water and the child began to cry in exhausted dehydration. Hagar went away from the child because she did not want to be present when the child died. She began to cry too. God heard the cries and came to Hagar and promised to make Ishmael into a great nation. She opened her eyes and saw a well of water and they drank. They were saved, and the boy grew into a powerful man. 

Here we see that God has a general kind of care even for those who are not a part of His promises. But the question to ask is this: Are you a child of the promise or a child of the flesh? Paul explains this in the New Testament: 

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.”
Galatians 4:22-31

The fact is that we are all born according to the flesh, with a sinful nature, estranged from the promise of God, condemned by the Law of God. But hear the word of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…You must be born again!” There will be a day when we will each stand before our Creator and Judge. We will give an account of our lives. Only those who find their death in Jesus’ death will make it through the judgment. Only those who claim no righteousness but Christ’s will make it. Have you been born again? Are you united to Christ by faith? Have you come to an end of yourself and are you relying FULLY on Jesus for your salvation. Would you repent of your sin and turn to him who loved you and gave himself up for you? Would you cry out to Him in humble prayer and confession? If you are NOT an heir of the promises of God through Christ, I implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God.

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