Sermon Reflection: Genesis 16
The question that rattled around in my head as I listened and reflected on Pastor Justin’s sermon this week was “What promise?” Before I expand on that, let me take a few steps back to explain how I ended up where I am in my thinking.
In this Series, The Gospel According to Abraham, we have returned to Genesis and have begun tracing the story of Abraham from his calling out of Haran to the land that God was to give to him. The primary thrust of each of the sermons of this series has been how Abram has acted, or not acted, and made decisions based upon the promise that God had given to him in the beginning of chapter 12 of Genesis. Stated otherwise, the theme of each of these sermons has been how does Abram live between the giving of the promise and its fulfillment.
Now, the question that naturally arises, is what was the promise to Abraham? In vs 1-3 of Genesis, God says: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 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. 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.” So we see three pieces to this promise: 1. The promise of a great nation. 2. The promise of a great name through God’s blessing, to be a blessing to others. 3. And that through Abram’s descendants, all the families of the earth are to be blessed. These is a phenomenally magnanimous promise! This is the promise upon which the whole nation of Israel was created; this one of the primary promises that carries the entirety of Biblical history right through the story of the Israelites through the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, and continues to bear effect today! How momentous a promise in our history!
Bearing this in mind, Pastor Justin this week illustrated how Abram and Sarai, anxious to have this promise fulfilled, starting with the obvious necessity of at least one progeny, chose to take matters into their own hands and have Abram bear a child through the surrogacy of Hagar, Sarai’s servant. Abram and Sarai were firmly set upon the fulfillment of God’s promise; they had heard the promise, and they were fully oriented towards its fulfillment! But they were anxious to see its fulfillment come about, and so they decided to try to make it come about in their own timing rather than in God’s timing. How beautiful an illustration that we have: God’s clear and concise promise (along with our knowledge of its coming fulfillment) and Abram and Sarai’s attempts to take matters into their own hands to make it happen!
The temptation for me at this point was to directly take the illustration and apply it immediately to my life. I can certainly see how I try to take the reins of my own life and force my will to come about, but this is too hasty a move to make. In applying biblical principles, we must be careful not to take a promise and directly apply it to ourselves and expect to see its fulfillment if the promise isn’t intended for us; this a prime example of that. Not one of us will be the progenitor of a nation through which the Savior of the world will come to be. So, if that is the promise upon which Abram is relying, and the fulfillment upon which Abram is looking, but that promise was not directed to me, what promise is Pastor Justin talking about? And that brings me back to the question at the beginning - what promise?
Now if you were more astute that me, you caught onto Pastor Justin’s careful exegesis wherein he showed how it is all too easy to find ourselves taking the reins of fulfillment of a promise into our own hands, but the promises upon which we are depending are actually promises that apply to us. If we take, for example, Jesus’ promise that he is sufficient for the fulfillment of our needs and wants, of all our cravings, and all our desires (Psalm 16:11, Psalm 73:25-26, John 6:35), I can think of many occasions when I have not trusted in God’s fulfillment of that promise, and have decided to seek to fulfill my desires with whatever might be most pleasurable at the moment, whether watching TV, or playing video games, or going to sleep, or doing whatever it was that seemed more immanently pleasurable than communion with our God.
As I reflect on how inept I am at living between a promise and its fulfillment, I marvel at how well Abram and Sarai did, given that their promise was only partially fulfilled in the time that they lived to see things play out. Here we sit thousands of years after the fact, with the one who fulfilled all promises having lived and died and been resurrected, and yet, I am so blind as to seek fulfillment of God’s good promise in my own feeble strength and inept will. If Abraham and Sarah could look ahead to an unperceived future and the ultimate fulfillment that would come in Christ, how much more ought I be able to look backward in the clarity of history and perceive that all my needs and wants have already been fulfilled in Christ, if only I would lay hold of the promise! And as I reflect on my own ineptitude, it only drives me further to founding promise of our faith - “If we confess our sins, HE is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). I pray that you too cast yourself on His good mercy, for He is indeed faithful and just, and cling to His good promises.
~ Josh Spare