Genesis 16 to 19 I love the story of little Cinderella. By no fault of her own, she was treated unrighteously by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters. Her life was one of drudgery day in and day out. Her fairy godmother came and gave her a reprieve for one night and in the end, she was loved by the prince who searched for her when she fled the ball at midnight. In our reading today, we find a true Cinderella named Hagar.
It all began when Abraham didn’t trust God; went to Egypt, and bought a slave girl for Sarah. Sarah, in many ways, resembles Cinderella’s wicked stepmother in attitude and character. Impatient Sarah decided it was too hard to wait for God to give her a child and convinced Abraham to impregnate Hagar according to the custom of the culture. We wonder how long Sarah had to nag before Abraham fulfilled that order.
When Hagar obeyed and then conceived, guess what? Sarah became disenchanted and despised her and began to treat her harshly. There was no fairy godmother, no pumpkin carriage, no glass slipper, no Prince Charming, and no ball to attend. Instead, day after day Hagar worked with no relief and so she ran away. This is where God steps in and the gospel is presented.
Hagar is a picture of us before salvation. God saw her condition, heard her plea and promised that He would multiply her descendants. She responded, “The God who sees–SEESme.” Yes, like Cinderella, she returned to the dust and ashes but now she knew that God cared for her and her unborn child.
At one time we were slaves of the unrighteous wicked Satan. We may have run away from the “wicked stepmother” but God sees beyond our circumstances to what will be. He sent His beloved Son to walk with us through those circumstances. Even though we might not be able to change those, we can trust that Jesus died that we might be saved from our sins and live a life that is full and rewarding.
Are you Cinderella? Trust God to be with you. Hagar’s story is the gospel message in a nutshell.
Jeremiah 5 Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet and as you wander through his diary you can see the tears on every page. Being sold out for God means you weep with those who weep and smile with those who smile. It is a mixed bag. It isn’t easy being God’s disciple in an angry world. God calls him because He knows Jeremiah will be faithful to the end. Are we?
As he walks the city streets of Jerusalem God is saying, I need you to be My eyes. What do you see? You live there. Is there even a single person who is dealing honestly? Is there even a single person who is trying to be truthful? If the answer is yes I will refrain from punishing.
Remember Abraham with God overlooking Sodom? Instead of God asking, it was Abraham. He asks God will you really sweep away the godly along with the wicked. What if there are 50 godly people and so on the argument went. In the end, Abraham’s pleading saved Lot because as Peter notes that he was righteous and in anguish over the debauched life of Sodom.
It isn’t easy being a disciple in an angry world. Does God count us faithful to be His eyes and ears? Are we willing to plead for God to spare the righteous?
The song Amazing Grace was written by a slave trader but born again by God’s will, John Newton. What you may not realize is that after that he abandoned that trade he went on to be the parish priest of Olney Church in England. While reading this psalm he was overjoyed to read the words in our title and sought help from his neighbor, William Cowper, a classical writer. With Cowper’s assistance, Newton was able to publish a hymnal including a hymn by this title. Also, you may not know but the Confederate General Andrew Jackson loved this hymn and awakened his soldiers one morning as he sang it.
The words of this hymn come from Ps 87:3 “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God.” This is the place God calls “home” here on earth. He chose Zion for his dwelling place and it was there that Abraham came to worship as did others. It was there that Solomon erected the Temple in which the Ark resided. Now we are the temple of God and the Holy Spirit resides in us. Paul wrote: “do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
Abraham, what were you thinking when you told Abimelech that Sarah was your sister? Did you not learn from your foray into Egypt? If you have forgotten what Abraham did there you can find that story in the last half of Genesis 12. How often do we find ourselves doing another lap around the wilderness like the Israelites because we fail to learn from the first mistake and just keep repeating it? It is no wonder unbelievers call us hypocrites! Our walk and talk do not match. Maybe that is why God had the Israelites come to the Tabernacle at least 3 times a year to offer sacrifices. Those were visual reminders of men’s failure to walk circumspectly. We too need constant reminding to keep short accounts with God.
Abraham presumed that of which he only surmised when he said: “surely I thought no one fears God in this place.” Without firsthand knowledge he presumed. Because David saw that as his weakness he wrote: [Ps 19:13] “keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me;” There is a warning here that Abraham should have known but his fear for self-preservation was greater than his fear of God! Lesson learned: do not assume without facts. Fear God more than what man can do to you. Jesus reminded the disciples of this:“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do.[Luk 12:4] Abraham said he believed God but his life revealed that he feared men more than God. Beware of this sin! The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted. [Prov 29:25]
God was gracious to both Abraham and Abimelech but think of what could have been avoided had Abraham just trusted God! Fear God and trust Him only. God’s grace is getting good things we don’t deserve and that is what happened to Abraham. He deserved a scathing rebuke and more from Abimelech but instead, Abimelech merely scolded Abraham. How gracious was Abimelech to him! How gracious is our God to us!
“Abraham breathed his last and he died at a good old age, an old man who had lived a full life.” How is it that Moses could say this about the patriarch? He could because Abraham “believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” He had obeyed God and “went out without understanding and by faith, he lived as he looked forward to the city with firm foundations whose architect and builder is God.” [Heb 11] By faith, when tested, he offered up Isaac as his one and only son. And so when the end came Abraham knew that he had done as God had said and God now would let him join his ancestors. And centuries later, Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.” We who believe God know that our preference is to “be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” for this is just a step on our journey into life with our Lord forever.
When your end comes will you be satisfied that you have been faithful to God? Today you are one step closer to eternity. Are you ready?
Paul has laid to rest the concept of working for one’s salvation but now another question must be addressed. For whom is this justification and when did it first occur. These are critical questions that must be addressed for the Jew to understand God’s plan.
In chapter 3 Paul essentially said justification is for any who believe. Yet the Jew clings to his circumcision as proof that justification is for he alone. Paul seeks to help them over this impasse and thus refers to Abraham. Yesterday we said that Abraham believed God, not in a God but he believed God and it was counted unto him as righteousness. But, when did it happen; before he was circumcised or after? Circumcision was a physical sign between man and God as a sign of the covenant. Yet, as Paul reminds his Jewish listeners, Abraham believed God in Genesis 12 but it was not until Genesis 17 that God commanded him and his household to be circumcised. Therefore, his circumcision carried no weight regarding his justification. Again as we said yesterday, you cannot take credit for what God has done. Justification is a gift from God alone lest anyone choose to boast. Circumcision is but a wonderful sign but faith alone brings you to God:.
In the same way baptism will not save you, the exchange of rings in a marriage ceremony does not make you married and circumcision does not justify anyone. These are signs, to affirm but are not the gift itself. The blessing is that if we believe like Abraham we too have the promise of justification.
In chapter 3 Paul reminded the Jew that no one is saved apart from the grace and mercy of God. Yet they and the world would have it otherwise and heap rewards and boastings upon those who seek to earn God’s favor through works. The prophet Isaiah said our works are as filthy rags; later Paul would say they are dung. Their foundation lies in the life of Abraham and therefore they conclude as his children they are justified by works. Paul, as a righteous Jew, sought to put this argument to rest.
Workers of the Law can boast having done not only what was expected but what is required. But if you don’t work the works of the Law but believe in what merely God says you receive grace and eternal life. You cannot take credit for a gift that is of God alone. That is what salvation is all about; a free gift undeserved. The key is this: Abraham did not believe “IN” God but he believed God. The world says I believe in a God, but Paul says you must not just believe “IN” but believe God.
So now the world asks, what about the works as James says. Both Paul and James affirm that works reveal the grace that we have received. They demonstrate our gratitude for the gift of God’s blessed forgiveness of our lawless deeds.
Are you depending upon your works heritage to get into heaven? If so, turn around and go the other way for you are on the wrong path.
Family reunions are both a blessing but sometimes an embarrassment such as when “Uncle Judah” shows up. Memories flash through our minds of his two wives and his unrighteous sons. We feign welcome but our minds reel at his latest episode of impregnating his daughter in law unsuspectingly. And here he is in the line of Christ along with that daughter in law Tamar. How did he get here? The sovereign hand of God shows us that He will make us part of His family when we seek His face and His forgiveness. He used people who were righteous such as Abraham but also those rascals such as Judah. And how did that happen? “But youwere washed, youwere sanctified, youwere justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”[ 1Co 6:11]
It was not until 14 generations had passed that God sent His Son to be born of a virgin and join this genealogical lineage and he would do it through the Holy Spirit. And then God would provide a righteous earthly father to shelter the virgin. God’s plan in eternity past came to fruition that we might behold His glory, Emmanuel, God with us and the very radiance of God himself.
God had a master plan for Judah and He has one for you. He sent His Son to save you from your sins so that you could be included in his family reunion. Have you had your name written in His book?
This past Sunday, being Father’s Day, there were scores of FB posts with pictures of many who have “gone on before us.” It was notable that few if any noted the words we hear in Hebrews 11 “his faith he still speaks, though he is dead.” Many remarked how sweet the father had been, how he spent time with them etc. But, where was the affirmation of their faith? Note that Abel had no descendants and no one to recall his works and deeds but it was his faith alone that spoke for him and speaks for him now because vs 6 ‘God rewards those who seek him.” This was Abel’s legacy as he sought the favor and blessing from God recognizing that he was a sinner in need of cleansing.
Moving on we read that Enoch pleased God; Abraham was obedient and submitted to God. Even in her barrenness Sarah is commended for her trust in God. The Hebrews author did not mention her use of Hagar but only her trust in God. This one trait of trusting God alone is echoed in the life of Moses’ parents. Again it is Rahab’s faith in a God whom she had not seen but yet believed as Peter said centuries later.
Stop and ponder what people will say about you after you are gone and your image has faded from their memories. Will it be your works or your faith?