Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Question and A Promise

So, yesterday, I was reading in Genesis (chapter 18:1-15, NLT), where the pre-incarnate Christ, accompanied by two angels decide to visit Abraham's family on their way to check out Sodom and Gomorrah before destroying it. (Sometimes, when I remove my "overexposed" lenses, the words of Scripture just blow me away.)

Anyway, what I realized when reading these verses is that I don't think Jesus and his two angel escorts came just to visit Abraham...I think one of the main reasons they came was to visit Sarah--to give her a promise, to encourage her, to help her faith grow. (Remember, up to this point, Abraham had been the only one to hear directly from God about all the wonderful things He had in store for the two of them.)...Well, here, I'll let you read it for yourself:

"...One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent
during the hottest part of the day.
He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby.
When he saw them, he ran to meet them
and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.
“My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while.

Rest in the shade of this tree
while water is brought to wash your feet.
And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit,
let me prepare some food to refresh you
before you continue on your journey.”
“All right, as you have said,” they replied.
So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah,

“Hurry! Get three large measures (seahs) of your best flour,
knead it into dough, and bake some bread.”
(FYI, I recently learned that "three large seahs" is about 50 pounds of flour, enough to feed more than 100 people--a pretty extravagant offering for these three heavenly guests!)
Then Abraham ran out to the herd
and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant,
who quickly prepared it.
(OK...I can't help myself from pointing out that while Abraham might have said, "let me prepare some food"...notice who actually did the preparing--Sarah and the unnamed servant.)

When the food was ready, Abraham...served it to the men.
As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees.
“Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked. of those "visitors" was the pre-incarnate, all-knowing Christ, which meant He knew exactly where Sarah was. So, why did he ask where she was? I think it's safe to assume He wanted Sarah to hear Him call her name. After all...who of us doesn't perk up our ears when we hear someone speak our name?

Abraham replied, "She's inside the tent."
Then one of them said,
“I will return to you about this time next year,
and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”
(Now,) Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent.

Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time,
and Sarah was long past the age of having children.
So she laughed silently to herself and said,
“How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure,
especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”
My heart hurt a little for Sarah when I read those words. Remember, in Sarah's ancient culture, barrenness was viewed as something shameful, and many saw it as as sign of being cursed by God.

"Then the Lord said to Abraham,“Why did Sarah laugh?

Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby'?"

If there was any leftover doubt about the identity of One of these visitors, I think the above verses obliterate it--after all, only God could cause a 90-ish-year-old barren woman to conceive a baby and hear silent laughter from inside a tent!

(Then, the Lord said,) "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

...I think those 7 hope-giving, faith-building words are meant for Sarah's "worn-out" heart...her worn-out faith. He knew He had to rebuild and renew that faith before the conception and birth of His promised child could unfold.
Sarah's answer...her response to Jesus' vital. So, He doesn't leave her with just that question. Instead, he speaks to her a promise. Let's listen:
"I will return about this time next year,
and Sarah will have a son.” many of us (including myself)...when Jesus starts trying to bring us out of hiding, Sarah's initial, knee-jerk reaction is fear, which causes denial and...let's just call it what it herself, to others, to Jesus:
Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.”
But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.”
I love those two verses. They perfectly paint a picture of Jesus' consistent "modus operandi"--He has to show us ourselves before He can show us Himself.

In a "perfect world," the next chapter of Genesis would tell us all about Jesus' promise to Sarah being quickly and neatly fulfilled. But, the Divine Author of Genesis knows the world in which we live; so, in the next chapter, He shows us that, even in this fallen, imperfect, often dangerous world, He keeps track of His chosen ones. And, does anything necessary to make sure His promises and purposes are fulfilled in their lives.

Let's look at what happened to Sarah after Jesus left her with a question and a promise (Genesis 20 NLT):
....While living (in Gerar) as a foreigner,
Abraham introduced his wife, Sarah, by saying,
“She's my sister.”
So King Abimelech of Gerar sent for Sarah
and had her brought to him at his palace.
But that (very) night

God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him,
“You are a dead man,
for that woman you have taken is already married!”
But Abimelech had not slept with her yet,

so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation?
Didn’t Abraham tell me, ‘She is my sister’?
And she herself said, ‘Yes, he is my brother.’
I acted in complete innocence! My hands are clean.”
In the dream God responded, “Yes, I know you are innocent.

That’s why I kept you from sinning against me,
and why I did not let you touch her.
Now return the woman to her husband,
and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet.
Then you will live.
But if you don’t return her to him,
you can be sure that you and all your people will die.”
....Then Abimelech took some of his sheep and goats,

cattle, and male and female servants,
and he presented them to Abraham.
He also returned his wife, Sarah, to him.
Then Abimelech said, “Look over my land
and choose any place where you would like to live.”
And he said to Sarah,
“Look, I am giving (Abraham) 1,000 pieces of silver
in the presence of all these witnesses.
This is to compensate you for any wrong I may have done to you.
This will settle any claim against me, and your reputation is cleared....”

So...through a "dream" to a pagan king, God protected Sarah, His promise to her, and His still-to-come purpose for her. (And even caused her husband to acquire more sheep, goats, cattle, servants, land and silver!)
Now...don't you imagine that, as Sarah saw God's hand working in the above scary events and circumstances of her life, and delivering her from Abimelech (with sheep and silver to boot), she remembered His question to her that day as she hid in the tent: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?"
...And, as she remembered, her mustard-seed-sized faith began to grow...even before the promised baby began to grow in her 90ish-year old, miraculously rejuvenated womb.

While we know "the rest of the story," just for fun, let's read it as Eugene Peterson records it in The Message (Genesis 21):
"God visited Sarah exactly as he said he would;
God did to Sarah what he promised:
Sarah became pregnant
and gave Abraham a son in his old age,
and at the very time God had set.
Abraham named him Isaac.
When his son was eight days old,
Abraham circumcised him just as God had commanded.
Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born.
Sarah said, God has blessed me with laughter

and all who get the news will laugh with me!
She also said,
Whoever would have suggested to Abraham
that Sarah would one day nurse a baby!
Yet here I am! I've given the old man a son!"

Over and over again in God's story...both "then" and now...I see a pattern:
God shows us who we are...
Then...He shows us a new revelation of who He is...
Then...He allows a test to see if we're going to have faith in that revelation of who He is.
(In other words, how are we going to answer the question, "Is anything too hard for God?")
Then...when we answer "Yes, God, I'm going to trust You." spite of our feelings, circumstances or consequences...He shows us something new (again) about ourselves and about Himself....
And the same pattern just seems to flow and unfold continually throughout the story of our lives.

Abraham and Sarah's stories tell us there's no such thing as a "retirement plan" when it comes to our journey of always-tested, ever-growing faith through this upside-down Kingdom. With each new revelation from Jesus about who we are and who He is, there's always the test--the moment where we have to answer the question, "Is anything too hard for God?" My Jesus-lovin' friend Marla puts it this way, "New devil." (She says she heard that from Joyce Meyer.) But, Marla and I (and Joyce...and Abraham and Sarah...and millions of others) would be quick to add, "New place. New grace!"

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