READ : Genesis 18:1-14
Jesus’ resurrection was not the first time God brought life from the dead. It first happened way back with Sarah and her husband Abraham.
Hebrews reminds us that there are great women of faith, as well as great men. We read this in chapter 11:
By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
Hebrews 11:11 rsv
The prominence that the Bible gives to great women of faith makes it a very up-to-date book, even though it was written thousands of years ago. Biblical Christians don’t have any trouble recognizing the basic spiritual equality of both women and men under the lordship of Jesus Christ because biblical teaching shows that women are not second-class citizens in the household of faith.. We read in the Old Testament of the heroic examples of faith left by women like Deborah and Ruth, Hannah and Esther. We see New Testament believers like Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of our Lord. We remember that it was women disciples of Jesus who first visited his tomb on Easter and first bore witness to his resurrection. Long before anyone ever heard of feminism, the Bible made it clear that women were just as important as men in God’s eyes and that they have just as much to teach us about what it means to live by faith as men do.
SARAH’ S LIFE
Take the example of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. The key incident in her life is told in this story from Genesis 18:
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way – now that you have come to your servant.”
“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.” . . .
He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.
“There, in the tent,” he said.
Then the Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, `Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son.”
(vv. 1-5, 8-14, niv)
When God called Abraham to make his life a pilgrimage of faith, he promised him a new homeland and countless descendants to fill it, but many years passed without the fulfillment of those promises. Abraham and Sarah tried to help things along by his taking a slave girl – the patriarchal equivalent of a surrogate mother – and having a son with her, but nothing but trouble came of it, and the Lord insisted that the promised child would only come through Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Yet many years passed, and Sarah and Abraham grew old together without any sign of a son. They had a promise from God, but there seemed to be no possible way it could be kept.
Then one day three mysterious visitors approached their camp. It was during the burning heat of mid-day when everything stopped for the afternoon siesta, and Abraham was resting in the entrance of his tent. He saw the three approach. They appeared to be men, but two were actually angels and the leader was the Lord himself, the Son of God appearing, in a mysterious, pre-incarnation manifestation, in bodily form. Abraham rushed about to make his guests welcome, entertaining them with all the courtesy of an eastern host. Once the duties of hospitality were discharged, the men sat down together to talk. The promise of a son and heir for Abraham was repeated by the Lord and made specific. Abraham’s wife would conceive and bear this son within a year. Meanwhile, Sarah herself, secluded inside the tent according to custom, heard the words of the Lord, and she laughed. I can understand why.
Her laughter was born out of doubt, pain, and above all, disappointed hope. She didn’t believe God any more. Before you blame her, consider her situation. The idea of having a child any more was really absurd. Abraham was nearly 100 years old; Sarah was 90. Imagine these two producing a baby together. The repeated promise seemed like a joke, but if it was a joke, it was a cruel one to Sarah. Once she had been young and beautiful, so beautiful that every man who saw her wanted her. Once she had believed the promise that she would be the mother of a special son and through her Abraham would become the father of many nations. She looked forward to the promise coming true. She longed for its fulfillment year after year – and with each passing year felt the pain and shame of her infertility more keenly. But eventually the years turned into decades and Sarah’s youth slipped away like water from a leaky pail. Sarah’s beauty had long since faded into wrinkles. Her body was shriveled and shrunken like a piece of dried fruit. Now the promise only seemed to mock her.
There was more. The promise was not only absurd and ridiculous; it was impossible. The Bible says plainly that “Sarah was past the age of childbearing” (Gen. 18:11). Sarah was just too old. As far as childbearing was concerned, both she and her husband were “as good as dead” (Heb. 11:12, Rom. 4:19). Sarah’s potential for motherhood was identical with the potential of sinful human beings for pleasing God. “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8, rsv). By nature, humans are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Because of the condition of her physical nature, Sarah was dead as far as having children was concerned. Because of the condition of our sinful nature, we are all dead as far as knowing and pleasing God is concerned. And so she laughed, but it was mirthless, joyless laughter.
But the story does not end with Sarah’s bitter laughter of doubt and unbelief. The Lord spoke once more, “Why did Sarah laugh?” he said. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:13,14). That’s one of the great verses in the Bible, and it is a question that deserves careful thought. What do you think? Is anything too hard for God? Can he do what he has promised to do? Is there a God in the universe who can bring life out of death, whether biological death like Abraham and Sarah’s worn-out bodies or the spiritual death of human sinfulness? You must answer that question for yourself. The gospel tells of the power of God to do the impossible, but it requires a decision from us. Do we believe him or don’t we? To say no to God locks us into a life that can only lead to hopelessness. Rejecting God means that as our outer nature wastes away, as our strength wanes and our beauty decays, all our hopes and dreams must die, and we’re left with nothing in the end. But if you say yes to God, then hopelessness becomes impossible because nothing is too hard for God.
One Bible scholar (Walter Breuggemann) has pointed out that the three greatest miracles God has performed are the creation of the universe out of nothing, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and the justification of sinners by faith. And God did all three of those same miracles in Sarah and Abraham. Sarah and Abraham chose together to believe in God, and God credited it to them as righteousness. Out of the nothingness of Sarah’s womb God created the child of promise for her and her husband. “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised” (Heb. 11:11). You see, eventually Sarah did believe in the word of the Lord, and from this reproductively dead couple, God raised up a new life to bring blessing to the nations. “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed . . . without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead . . . yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Rom. 4:18-21, niv).
THE PROMISES OF GOD
By faith we too can lay hold of the promises of God, even when it seems impossible they should be fulfilled, and despite all appearances to the contrary. Whatever God promises he performs. The Lord’s word to Sarah was that she would have a child and however hard it was to believe, however impossible it seemed, yet she did believe and it did happen. The promise was fulfilled. If you want to know what to believe, look at the promises of God. What does God promise to you if you belong to him through faith in Jesus? He promises to save you, to be your God, to accept you as his child, to forgive your sins for Jesus’ sake, to lead you all throughout your life, to watch over and care for you at every moment, to provide everything that is for your good, and finally, when you die, to take you to be with himself and one day to raise you from death, give you a new body and a new life in a new creation. Is anything too hard for the Lord? If this is what he promises, will he not do it?
Faith in the promises of God will triumph in the end. The Bible tells how in accordance with the word of the Lord a son was born to Sarah and Abraham within the year. They named their child Isaac, which means “laughter,” as if to say, “The joke’s on us.” Sarah and Abraham laughed again on the day their son was born, but it was not the sharp, painful laughter of disappointed hope. It was the laughter of joy, the laughter of resurrection from the dead, the laughter of salvation. There’s a story told about a man who, when he was asked whether he thought Jesus had ever laughed replied, “I don’t know, but he sure fixed me so I could.” Sarah would have said the same thing.
The Bible is the greatest book of happy endings in the whole world. You remember the stories you used to read as a child where in the end “everybody lived happily after”? Those stories were make-believe, but in the Bible that ending is real. One day God will make all the faithful laugh just like he made Sarah laugh. “Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5, rsv). No one can begin to understand life who does not feel deeply its pain and its tragedy. These things are real. We cannot make light of them or just laugh them off or pretend they don’t exist. But there is a deeper reality even than pain, suffering and evil. Because Jesus has died and risen and is coming again, some day God will wipe all the tears from our eyes, and sorrow and sighing will flee away and death shall be no more. For the redeemed of the Lord, the last sound will not be bitter cries of despair, but the laughter of pure delight.