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“Abraham: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time”
Life Lessons from the Old Testament Sermon Series
Genesis
16:1-4



Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost—June 28, 2009

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

There is a family tragedy on the cover of today’s bulletin, and recorded in today’s Old Testament Reading.  A tragedy brought about by a sin that we also often fall into, the sin of going astray from God’s plan, because we think we know better than God.

The Lord promised Abraham in Genesis chapter 12, “I will make you into a great nation.”  Abraham and his wife Sarah were childless at the time.  But, according to God’s promise, they would yet have a child.  And through that child the promised Messiah’s lineage would come.  As the Lord later said, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your Descendant.”

We don’t know how old Abraham and Sarah were when this promise was first given, but we are told a few verses later that Abraham is 75 years old when God reaffirms this promise.  He is probably in his late 80’s by chapter 15, when God again promises, “A son coming from your own body will be your heir.”

Finally, by the time of today’s Old Testament Reading in chapter 16, Abraham is probably in his 90’s, and we are told that Sarah is only ten years younger.  A child certainly seems impossible for them now.  They thought God had forgotten his promise, and it was time to take matters into their own hands.

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.’  Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. . . So Hagar bore Abram a son.”

Both the Mormon Church, at one time, and Islam allow polygamy on the basis of Abraham’s example.  But, you see, not everything the saints of old did is a good example we are supposed to follow.

This summer we are having a sermon series on Life Lessons from the Old Testament.  The Apostle Paul says in Romans, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” 

Each week we are looking characters from the Old Testament, and what their example can teach us for our lives.  Sometimes it is a positive example.  But, Paul says, “EVERYTHING that was written in the past was written to teach us.”  That includes not only what we can learn for the positive examples of the saints of old, but also what we can learn from the negative example of their faults, foibles, and failings.

In the case of Abraham and Sarah, they ed God’s plan for marriage, with adultery and polygamy.  But, their real root sin was not honoring God’s plan, and not trusting God’s promise, God’s plan for marriage, and God’s promise to give them a son.

They thought they knew better than God, they thought they could improve upon God’s plan, and find another way, their own way, to get a son, through Hagar.  But, going astray from God’s plan only resulted in great tragedy for their family.  Because, just a few years and a few chapters later in this saga, we are told, “Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age.”

The rest of today’s Old Testament Reading describes the family tragedy that ensued.  Hagar’s son Ishmael was the firstborn, but he was illegitimate, so he would not be his father’s heir, and the lineage of the promised Messiah could not come through him.  There was hatred in their household, and jealously between Hagar and Sarah, culminating in today’s Old Testament Reading.

“On the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’  The matter distressed Abraham greatly.”

That is the family tragedy portrayed on the cover of today’s bulletin.  Abraham in great sadness sending away his firstborn son.  A tragedy brought about by a sin that we also often fall into, the sin of going astray from God’s plan, because we think we know better than God.

A modern example in the realm of marriage is the increasingly common practice of living together or otherwise having relations before marriage.  It seems to make sense that this should be a way to test compatibility, and therefore should lower the rate of failed marriages.  But, the evidence is in, and the fact is that our attempt to improve on God’s plan doesn’t work.  The divorce rate for those living together before marriage is not lower but actually 85% higher.

Another modern example involving the perversion of the institution of marriage is taking place right now in a neighboring state.  Jesus said, “Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?”  That is God’s plan for marriage, but modern man sinfully thinks he knows better than God, and can twist and distort God’s plan and God’s institution.

To Abraham, Sarah’s suggestion that he have a child through Hagar seemed like a good idea at the time, but it resulted only in tragedy and grief.  That’s how it always is when we go astray from God’s plan because we think we know better than God.

The old English word to describe us is “wanton,” which means to wander from the right path.  That’s a good word to describe Abraham and Sarah, and their sins of adultery and polygamy: wanton, wandering from the right path. That’s a good word to describe our immoral society, and its twisting of God’s institution of marriage: wanton, wandering from the right path. 

But, we must confess it’s not just a problem way back when, with Abraham and Sarah.  We must confess that it’s not just a problem out there, with society.  For we all, each of us in our own way, are also wanton, wandering from the right path, going astray from God’s plan.

Our only hope is in the promise given to Abraham, the promise of a Messiah, the promise of a Savior: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your Descendant.”  Paul explains the significance of this promise in Galatians: “The Scripture . . . announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All peoples will be blessed through you.’”

That is God’s cure for wanton Abraham and Sarah, that is God’s cure for our wanton world, that is God’s cure for your wanton heart: the Gospel.  The Good News that, “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The Gospel of Matthew begins, “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  Jesus of Nazareth is the promised great Descendent of Abraham, the long-awaited Messiah and Savior of the world.  As the Virgin Mary sang out in the Magnificat, when she was chosen to bear the Messiah, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . .  for he has . . . remembered to be merciful, according to the promise he made . . . to Abraham.”

Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”  The question often comes up, how were people in the Old Testament saved?  They were saved the same way you are, through faith in the Messiah.  We are saved by looking in faith back over time, to the Messiah who has come.  Abraham and Sarah and the other Old Testament saints were saved by looking in faith forward in time, to the Messiah who would come.  That’s what Jesus means when he says, “Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

The sins of Abraham and Sarah were certainly very great, adultery and polygamy, which ended in terrible tragedy.  But no sin is too great for God’s love in Christ.  As the Apostle John says, “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from every sin.” 

Abraham and Sarah found forgiveness even for their great sins in the promised Savior.  As Paul explains in Romans, “What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’ . . .  The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.  He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our sins also are very great, but, like Abraham and Sarah, you have forgiveness even for your great sins in the promised Savior.  “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us.”  What is the life lesson we learn from the negative example of Abraham and Sarah in today’s Old Testament Reading?  It is summed up in today’s Gradual from Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

We learn from the example of Abraham and Sarah not to go astray from God’s plan because we think we know better than God, even if it seems like a good idea at the time.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Amen.

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