February 10, 2019

Sarah: A Laughable Faith

Passage: Hebrews 11:8-12

Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to Hebrews 11. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we are going to be in Hebrews 11, this morning.

For the past few weeks, we have been going through a sermon series, titled, Heroes of the Faith, where we have been looking at the Old Testament characters mentioned in Hebrews 11.

And I’ve said it a few times, throughout this series, that the point of Hebrews 11 is not to make each one of these characters the point, but that we grab hold of the faith that each one of them had that made them the heroes they were.

And what we have seen about faith from the characters that we have already looked at, in this series, is that our faith is acceptable on the basis of what Jesus has done on our behalf, that our faith brings us back into fellowship with God through the victory of Jesus over sin and death, and that our faith makes us heirs of righteousness through the obedience of Jesus.

And we come now to the first of two women, mentioned in Hebrews 11. This morning, we will be looking at Sarah, who teaches us about a laughable faith.

Throughout this series, my hope has been that we would have a better view of faith and that we would understand more clearly and fully that God is in control and that He is good.

And so, what I want us to see, this morning, is that what God is leading us into might seem laughable, it might seem ridiculous, but do we trust that He is in control and that He is good?

So, if you have your Bibles opened to Hebrews 11, let us beginning reading in verse 8: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 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.”

And if you can keep your finger in Hebrews 11, I want us to turn over to Genesis 12, where we see the backstory to Abraham and Sarah.

In Genesis 12, God reveals Himself to Abraham, saying to him, in verse 1, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And all of that sounds really good to Abraham, except for one problem: Abraham and Sarah don’t have any children. It’s hard to be a great nation and have a great name and for all the families of the earth to be blessed through you, when you don’t have any children. But by faith, Abraham and Sarah hold on to the promise of God and go to the land that God had given them.

And in Genesis 15, God reveals Himself to Abraham, again. And Abraham simply reminds God, in case God had forgotten, that he is still childless. By now, Abraham and Sarah are wondering when the promise of God is going to take place—when they will receive their promised son. And God responds by making a covenant with Abraham that the promise will be fulfilled.

But in Genesis 16, we see the impatience of Sarah, who says for Abraham to have children through her maidservant, Hagar. And every woman in here knows that this is a bad idea, and that it will not go over well, and it doesn’t.

Abraham does what Sarah suggests and has a son through Sarah’s maidservant, which causes Sarah to resent her maidservant. And Sarah is in the same position that she was in, before: Childless.

But then, you turn to Genesis 17, and God reveals Himself to Abraham, again, reaffirming the promise He made with Abraham back in Genesis 15, saying, in verse 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.”

And Abraham bows down in worship to God, and he laughs. He says 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?” And God’s answer, is: Yes. Sarah will bear you a son and you will call his name, Isaac.

But now turn to Genesis 18. Here is what Genesis 18 says, beginning in verse 1: “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. 2 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 3 and said, ‘O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 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.’ 6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.’ 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 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.”

“9 They said to him, ‘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. 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?’ 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.’”

Isn’t it terrifying when God calls you out? You can’t exactly argue against the all-knowing, all-powerful God of the universe. You're just not going to have a leg to stand on. We see just how foolish Sarah is to engage in this debate with God, over whether or not she laughed at what God had said. We all know she did.

By this time, Abraham and Sarah have heard the promise of God reiterated a few times. At first, they didn’t believe it, so they tried to accomplish the promise on their own, in their own power, and that didn’t work out for them. But now, they have both laughed at the promise of God, because of how ridiculous it sounds to them. And God calls Sarah out for laughing at His promise.

And I just love the question: Is anything too hard for the Lord? It’s a rhetorical question. The obvious answer is no. Nothing is too hard for the God who spoke everything into existence. I don’t think we should question whether God can or cannot do something, because all things are possible with God.

I’ve seen this in my own life. I remember my Principal asking me, during my grade-12 year, if I was going to become a pastor, just like my dad, when I graduated. And I laughed at her. I told her that pastoral ministry was the furthest thing from my mind and that it will never happen. And look at where I am, today.

I’ve learned that what seems ridiculous to us is not ridiculous to God, and that what we might laugh at, God might make possible.

I think the moment we laugh at the promises of God is the moment that God begins to make a mockery of us, because what we've done is we've put God in this man-made box, where God only operates in the way we expect Him to operate.

And God is actually outside of this box, revealing to us just how finite we are and how infinite He is. We can’t comprehend the excellencies of His glory. So, why would we think anything is too hard for Him?

Now turn over to Genesis 21, and look at verse 1. It says, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. 2 And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac,” which, by the way, means “he laughs,” which is incredibly ironic. Verse 5: “Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.’ 7 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.’”

Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? God. It was, after all, what He promised when He first revealed Himself to them. It just took longer than they were expecting. Sarah had been waiting years, very likely her entire life, to bear children. And after all of those years of waiting and impatience and laughing at the promise of God, it finally happens. And God gets the last laugh, by making laughter for Sarah.

“By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive…” Faith is sometimes going to seem laughable, where we won’t believe that God could do something so out of the ordinary. But we won't know, unless we step out in faith. For Sarah, it doesn’t matter that she was made foolish for laughing at what God had promised, because she was holding the son of the promise in her hands.

And I can just imagine Sarah’s relief to finally having a child of her own. This is something that hits at the core of who we are as human beings made in the image of God. We were created to be fruitful and multiply. It’s God’s good design for mankind to fill the earth.

But what do we do with barrenness? What do we do when we can’t conceive, when we can’t multiply and fill the earth? It’s a real problem in the world and more common than people realize.

The cultural implications of not being able to have children were devastating to the women of Sarah’s day. According to Jewish writings, if you could not have children, even if the barren wife had no religious obligation to fulfill, she had failed to fulfill the primary expectation of her social role, since it is children who assure a wife's position in her home.

Barrenness was considered a curse and a punishment. Death was considered more preferable than childlessness.

I read in my Read the Bible in a Year plan, this week, from Genesis 30, where Rachel envies her sister who is able to have children, and says to Jacob, her husband, “Give me children, or I shall die.”

We live in a day and age, where it’s become socially acceptable to be married and have no desire for children. “Children would just cramp our lifestyle,” or “We wouldn’t be able to do what we want to do when we want to do it.”

When Helena and I were expecting Liam, we took care of Helena’s niece for a day. And we needed to do some errands around town. I had some banking that I needed to do and we had a few things to pick up at the store. So we got Helena’s niece ready, we put her car seat into our vehicle, and we went to do our errands.

And I just remember having this epiphany as we were driving around town, that this would be our life when Liam was born. We wouldn’t be able to leave, just the two of us anymore, we would now have to take this child with us wherever we go.

And that was when everything started to hit me. I realized that life would now be different. It would be good, but it would be very different.

But when I think about the amount of people who don’t want children. Not the people who can’t have children, I’m talking about the people who don’t want children. I think to myself, “Women preferred death to not having children, and you are willingly not having children, because they will cramp your lifestyle?”

That’s making an idol out of self and comfort. You’re disregarding the biblical mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, for your lifestyle.

But then, on the flipside, you have women who want children but cannot have children. These are the women, like Sarah, who go on for years, trying to have a child, but to no avail. And it’s real for women to feel the weight of barrenness.

When we lost our child during pregnancy, last summer, I know that Helena felt that weight. I wanted to make sure that she knew that this was not of her own doing, but that it was just something that happens.

And when we experience this weight, when we experience heartbreak after responding to the command of God to go forth and multiply, and we lose the baby or we simply can’t conceive, we want explanation from God.

We look at Scripture, and we read about Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson's mother, Hannah, the Shunamite woman, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist—all of whom were barren.

And this bring us a kind of comfort. It lets us know that barrenness—the inability to conceive children—has been an issue all throughout human history.

If this has been your struggle, I want you to know that you are not alone. There have been many women before you and there are many women around you, today, who are experiencing, or who have experienced, what you have experienced.

You don’t know who has all lost a baby until you lose a baby. When we lost our child, we found out that, not only were we not alone, we were among a great number of people who have also lost a child.

And it’s hard to lose a child during pregnancy and it’s hard to not be able to conceive at all, but we can draw comfort from each other and we can draw comfort from the God who holds the key to fertility.

All of the women from Scripture that I just mentioned were barren, at first, but God opened their womb and caused them to conceive.

“By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age…”

That’s God at work in Sarah. God is the One who opens and closes the womb. God is the One who, in power, causes women to conceive. God is the One in the womb knitting these little ones, together.

And we wonder, “Why doesn’t God cause all to conceive? Why would some women go through the pain and heartbreak of losing a child?”

And I'm not about to stand up here and give reasons for why God does what He does. It would be arrogant of me to do that. But it would also be arrogant of me to suggest that there is no reason at all. Just because I can’t think of a reason why God would not allow conception, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reason.

We believe that God is sovereign and in control over all things, including what happens in the womb, and that if something happens that I can’t explain, God must have a reason for it.

And this does away with the sick notion that we simply need to have enough faith, and then we will conceive, or we will get whatever we want. If there is one thing that I have been trying to hammer, throughout this series, it’s that the measure of our faith does not determine whether or not God will respond.

That’s a perverted view of faith that says I can manipulate God to do what I want Him to do for me, by how much I believe it. And what it does is it puts the onus on us, where it’s our fault, if something bad happens. “You just didn’t have enough faith.” And that’s simply not true.

That’s giving us way too much power, and that’s not giving enough power to the God who gives and takes away. No, God will respond according to His perfect will and purpose, not according to whether I have enough faith.

I have a degenerative eye disease that is causing me to one day go blind. If my being healed was dependent upon how much faith I had, then I would not still have this eye disease.

“By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”

Faith means trusting that God is in control and that He is good, even if we lose a child, or even if I go blind, or even if something worse happens. As long as my faith is in Him who is faithful to what He has promised, I know that I am where God wants me to be, which is laughable to the world around us.

We look at Sarah, who laughed at the promise of God, and yet, God in His goodness and grace gave her the son of the promise. Sarah, despite her lack of faith, is mentioned in this chapter of faith, not because of who she is, but because of who God is.

Verse 12 says, “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.”

The promised son of Abraham and Sarah points to the promised Son, Jesus, who would be given by His Father to this world, so that anyone who believes in Him would not perish but eternal life.

The Christ who had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him makes laughter for each one of us, as He goes to the cross to deal with our sin problem, so that we can also become heirs of the promise of Abraham.

The promise of God, that descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore, has been fulfilled through Jesus, where people from every tribe, tongue and nation are hearing the gospel and coming to faith in Jesus.

Sarah teaches us about a laughable faith, but Jesus makes it happen. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. Without Jesus, we are still alienated from God and strangers to the promise. But through Jesus, in what most likely seemed laughable at the time, God has made a way of drawing the nations to Himself.

The question that we must answer is: Is there anything that God is prompting you to do in your life that seems laughable?

This isn’t something that you think you want, because we can come up with all sorts of things that we want to have happen in our lives. This is something that God wants for your life that is going to make you more like Jesus.

Is there anything that God is prompting you to do in your life that seems laughable? But here’s another question: Do you trust that God can do it?

And that’s a much harder question, isn’t it? Because we know when God is asking us to do something. Whether that is going and talking to someone about Jesus, or doing something to serve others, or giving some money away to someone in need, or making that decision to be all-in for Jesus, whatever it might be, we know what God is asking us to do.

But the question really is: Do we trust that God can do it? Because if we really trusted that God could do it, we wouldn’t be hesitant. We would, by faith, do what God is prompting us to do, because we know that, whatever the outcome, God is in control and He is good, and I can trust Him to take care of my every need.

Last Sunday, I told the story of a young woman by the name of Katie Davis Majors. Katie, as I mentioned, was 18 years old when she went to be a teacher of kindergarten children in Uganda.

And while she was in Uganda, God prompted her to stay, and she trusted in what God was going to do, next. And she has since adopted 13 Ugandan girls and continues to raise $70,000 a month for her ministry to the Ugandan people.

It seems laughable, right? A young, American girl who didn’t even speak the language, leaving everything she knew, behind. And yet, what does God do? He makes laughter for everyone who doubted, by taking a girl with a passion to follow Jesus on a journey of such radical love.

If God can do that with Katie, what do you think He can do with you? Is there anything that God is prompting you to do in your life that seems laughable? And do you trust that God can do it?

My hope for us is that we would, like Sarah, consider God faithful to what He has promised, trusting that He is in control and that He is good. Let’s pray…


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