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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:God's grace is the difference between Sarah and Sodom
Text:Genesis 18:1-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2016-10-23
Added:2016-10-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2014 Book of Praise

Bible translation:  NKJV

Hymn 14:1

Psalm 85:3

Psalm 75:1,2,5,6

Psalm 36:2

Psalm 92:6,7

 

Read:  Genesis 18

Text:  Genesis 18:1-21

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ.

What’s the difference between Sarah and Sodom?

“What a strange question!” you may be thinking!  “I’ve never thought about Sarah and Sodom in the same sentence before.”  And if you did think about the difference between Sarah and Sodom, the answer, on the surface anyway, is very clear:  Sarah was righteous whereas the people of Sodom were not.

But is that true?  And if it is true, how come it is true?

We all know about Sodom’s sin.  When the LORD said in Genesis 18:20 that “the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great” and “their sin is very grave” we know that this was no overstatement.  Already in Genesis 13:13, when Abraham’s nephew Lot went down to live in Sodom the Bible said

“But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the LORD.”

And those of us who know the story are painfully aware of the wicked things that the men of Sodom wanted to do to the two angels, that is the two men whom the LORD had sent to Lot’s house.  The sin that is sometimes called sodomy is abhorrent in the eyes of the Lord and it is, Roman 1:26 says, something that is vile.

But what’s the difference between Sarah and Sodom?  When the LORD came to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18 was her behavior and did her words mark her out as one who is righteous?  The answer to that must be No!  Because when the LORD announced that Sarah would have a son she laughed and she did not believe the word of the LORD.

And then what about us?  Are we – in and of ourselves – that much different to the world around us?  It was not that long ago that we would have said that we lived in a Christian country but today this land looks more like Sodom than ever before.  Romans 1:24 speaks about people being given over to uncleanness, to the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves and we see that this is true for many people today.  And then Romans 1:26,27 describes the wickedness of mankind, how they engage in vile passions where “even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature” and “likewise the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men committing what is shameful.” And when we read these things, and when we see these things in the world around us we can be so disgusted, so turned off by what the world flaunts in their pride but what the Bible calls an abomination.

But are we really any different?  Can we claim to be any more righteous than the men of Sodom?  After speaking about the sin of homosexual relations Romans 1 goes on to speak about the activities of one who has what Paul calls “a debased mind”, such as “being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, disobedient to parents and so forth.  But then listen to what it says in Romans 2:1.

“Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”

You might be filled with righteous indignation against the godlessness of this world but in and of yourself, you are no better.  Rather, as Paul went on to say in Romans 3:10.

“There is none righteous, no, not one.”

Not Sarah, not Sodom, not you and not me.

But then what is the difference between Sarah and Sodom?  If the difference is not something that comes from inside of Sarah, it must be something from outside.  And that difference is the grace of God.

I preach to you the gospel under the following theme:

God’s grace is the difference between Sarah and Sodom.

  1. Sarah’s weakness.
  2. Sodom’s sin.

1.  Sarah’s weakness.

It was not long after the events of Genesis 17 that three men appeared at Abraham’s tent in the heat of the day.  In Genesis 17 the LORD had appeared to Abraham and He made a covenant with him and with his descendants after him.  But God’s covenant promises were not just for Abraham but for Sarah too.  Genesis 17:15,16 says

“Then God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.’”

But was that true?  Could Sarah dare hope that this was true when Abraham relayed these words to her?  It appears as though when Sarah heard what the LORD had said to Abraham that she struggled to believe.  And we should not be surprised at that.  Up until now we only hear of the LORD speaking to Abraham, not Sarah.  And imagine what it would have been like for Sarah during all these years.  When the LORD had come to Abraham in Genesis 12, calling him to go to a land that He would show him, the LORD had promised to make him a great nation even though Sarah His wife was barren.  And the LORD repeated His promise of children to Abraham in chapter 12:7, 13:16, 15:5, 15:18 and then again in chapter 17.  And we can assume that what God told Abraham, Abraham in turn told Sarah.  And at first when they went to Canaan Sarah would have hoped that things would change, that she would soon have a child to call her own.  But it didn’t happen and every time her hopes were up they came crashing down again and again.  Until at last in Genesis 16 Sarai took matters into her own hands, saying to Abraham in Genesis 16:2,

“See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children.  Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her.”

And Abraham did so.  He took Hagar from Sarai’s hand and Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.  But, as is always the case when we stop following God’s ways, that only made things worse.  And since Ishmael was always counted as the son of Hagar, Sarai was still without a child.

And then in Genesis 17 the LORD came to Abraham again, saying to him that Ishmael would not be the heir to His covenant promises but that Sarai his wife – who would now be called Sarah – would have a son whom they were to call Isaac.

But what was Sarah to think of all of this?  Could Sarah believe that this would finally happen?  Wasn’t it all too late?  For now not only was she barren but, Genesis 18:11 says, Sarah “had passed the age of childbearing.”  Menopause had set in.  The time for hoping, for praying and for waiting was over.  It seems that for Sarah to believe the promise that God had made to Abraham in chapter 17, to believe that she, Sarah, old woman that she was, would have a son was too much.  She could not accept this.  She would not believe.

And then one day the LORD appeared to Abraham as he was sitting in his tent door in the heat of the day.  This is how the Bible describes it in Genesis 18:1-5.

Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.”

They said, “Do as you have said.”

Although some Bible commentators think that Abraham immediately knew that this was the LORD and two angels, that is not necessarily true.  When the LORD came Abraham He took on the appearance of a man and the two angels did also.  As far as appearances go, when Abraham first saw them, these were three men walking together in the mid-day sun.  Now it would have been rather unusual for these three men to be walking to Abraham’s tent in the heat of the day and Abraham may well have gathered that they had something to say to him.  And so in a display of exceptionally good hospitality Abraham went to get them something to eat.  Abraham wasted no time; he hurried to find Sarah and he said to her,

Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; need it and make cakes.”  (Verse6)

And then Abraham himself ran to the herd and took the best he could find, “a tender and good calf”, gave it to a young man who in turn hastened to prepare it.  And then Abraham took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared and, along with the cakes that Sarah had prepared, he set it before his guests and they ate, while he stood by under a tree, ready to serve the in any way that he could.

  Just when it dawned on Abraham just who his guests were, we do not know, but it is an amazing thing to consider: that the LORD Himself, along with two of His angels would come in such a manner and eat the food that Abraham had prepared for them.  There are many who, for good reason, believe that when it speaks here about the LORD appearing to Abraham, that it was the pre-incarnate Christ who ate at Abraham’s table.  And as an aside, with that being the case, when the Jews said to the Lord Jesus 2000 years later, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” then our Lord could have said to them, “Not only have I seen Abraham, but I have eaten at His table!”

  But what is most important here is to see the closeness between the LORD and Abraham, a closeness that made it possible for the Lord to eat at Abraham’s table.  This closeness can also be seen in the way that the LORD took Abraham into His confidence, saying in Genesis 18:17,18

“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?”

And later, in 2 Chronicles 20:7 and Isaiah 41:8, the LORD would even be called Abraham’s friend.  That is how close the LORD was to Abraham.  That was what it meant for Him to be in covenant fellowship with him.

But the LORD had not come to Abraham because He needed to be strengthened by the food that Abraham prepared for Him:  the LORD came because Abraham – and in particular Sarah – needed to be strengthened by Him.

Just when it was that Abraham realized that this was the LORD who was speaking to Him, the LORD who appeared to him in the form of a man, we do not know.  But the message God gave in verse 10 could not have come from anyone else.  In verse 9 He asked,

“Where is Sarah your wife?” 

And Abraham said,

“Here, in the tent.”

And then the LORD said,

“I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and, behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.”  (Genesis 18:10)

(A clearer translation of this verse can be found in the ESV which simply says, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”)

And Sarah heard all of this.  Now perhaps you have the impression that Sarah was eavesdropping on the conversation that between Abraham and his guests and that she really should not have been doing that.  But the evidence suggests something else.  By staying in her tent Sarah was doing the culturally appropriate thing.  It would not have been appropriate for Sarah to join these three men as they ate and drank, but by asking where Sarah was and having it confirmed that she was in the tent just behind Him, the LORD confirmed that the message he had for Abraham was really for Sarah.  In other words she was meant to hear what the LORD had to say.

It is at this time that the true identity of Abraham’s guests should have been clear, for who apart from God could promise to give a son to Abraham and Sarah?  And perhaps it was clear, even for Sarah, that these were not ordinary men, because Sarah did not ask, “Who can this Man be, since only God can do such a thing?”

But Sarah did not believe the word of the LORD.  Instead she laughed to herself saying,

“After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

And that laugh of Sarah was the laugh of unbelief.  That laugh was evidence that she had not really believed what the LORD had said to Abraham in Genesis 17 and she still could not believe it now.

And then the LORD said in Genesis 18:13,14

 “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’  Is anything  too hard for the LORD?  At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Sarah was afraid and she denied it, saying, “I did not laugh.”  But the LORD said,

“No, but you did laugh!”

And by that laugh Sarah showed that in and of herself she was no more worthy of God’s grace than the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  By that laugh Sarah showed that just like Abraham her faith was weak and she struggled to believe the promises of the LORD.  It is not as though either Sarah or Abraham could boast about their faith or about their righteousness before God.  Rather, the weakness of Sarah’s faith was further evidence of the truth of Romans 3:10 that

“There is none righteous, no not one.”

But here we see God’s mercy upon the family of Abraham. It was God’s mercy, His grace, that was the cause for Him choosing Abraham and it was His grace, His mercy, that was the basis for the covenant that He made with them.  Abraham and Sarah had to know this and we need to know it too as we think about what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah.  In his commentary on Romans 2 Leon Morris wrote,

“There is a natural tendency to justify ourselves for the wrong we do by condemning people who do other evils that we think are worse.”

And our disgust and our outrage at the sin of Sodom, also the sin that we see around us today, can quickly lead to a sense of spiritual pride and arrogance as if we in and of ourselves are so much better.  But that is not true.  “We all like sheep have gone astray, each one has turned to his own way.”  It is not our goodness that sets up apart from the wicked: it is God’s grace.  And it is our privilege to call others to share in that same grace.

 

2.  Sodom’s sin.

When the men, whom we now know as the Lord and two angels, had finished speaking with Abraham and Sarah, they got up, intending to go to Sodom.  And Abraham went with them to send them on the way.  And then the LORD said in Genesis 18:17-19,

“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?  For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”

The LORD was about to do a terrible thing to Sodom and Gomorrah, He was about to destroy these cities on account of their wickedness.  But Abraham must know what the LORD was about to do and why He was doing it.  He must know this for his own sake and for the sake of his descendants after him.  Both Abraham and the future people of Israel must know something about the ways of the LORD.  They must know why He was about to come in judgment over Sodom so that they might turn to the LORD and always live in covenant obedience before Him.  In fact the LORD would warn the people of Israel later, in Deuteronomy 29, that if His people forsook His covenant and if they went and served other gods, that then the LORD’s anger would be upon them and, Deuteronomy 20:23 says, they would be punished just as Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown in His wrath.  What was about to happen to Sodom and Gomorrah, therefore, was a warning not just to the people in Abraham’s days but to God’s people for all time.  If you do not repent and to turn to the LORD then, like Sodom, you too will perish.

And many years later that is exactly what happened.  About 1500 years later, when Judah and Jerusalem were taken into exile in Babylon, the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel declared that Jerusalem had become just like Sodom.  In Jeremiah 23:14 the LORD said,

“Also I have seen a horrible thing in the prophets of Jerusalem: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they also strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns back from his wickedness.  All of them are like Sodom to Me, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah.”

And Ezekiel 16 went even further in Ezekiel 16:46-48.  There Ezekiel spoke to the people of Jerusalem saying,

“Your elder sister is Samaria, who dwells with her daughters to the north of you; and your younger sister, who dwells in the south of you, is Sodom and her daughters.  You did not walk in their ways nor act according to their abominations, but as if that were too little, you became more corrupt than they in all your ways.  As I live” says the Lord GOD, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done.”

In other words the LORD was saying, “Sodom may have been bad, but you, Jerusalem, My people, are worse!”  And that is why they deserved to be punished.  And that is why Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people sent into exile.

But when it came to Jerusalem, however, there was still reason for hope!  Jerusalem would be destroyed but a remnant, a small number of people would be saved.  But that would not be because Jerusalem was more righteous than Sodom.  Rather it would only be because of God’s grace.  Ezekiel 16 goes on to say in verse 60,

“Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. “

And Ezekiel 16:62,63

“And I will establish My covenant with you.  Then you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,” says the LORD.”

It was not because of Jerusalem’s righteousness but it was because of God’s righteousness and because of His grace, that He would remember His covenant promises and give His wayward people a future and a hope.

And not only would He bring back His people and reestablish Jerusalem, but He would provide an atonement for all that Jerusalem and the people of God had done.  One day the Lord would send His angel Gabriel to the house of a woman named Mary.  And the angel said to Mary

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.”  (Luke 1:30,31)

And when Mary asked “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” the angel told her that this birth would be a miracle.  And then the angel said this in Luke 1:37.

“For with God nothing will be impossible.”

When Sarah laughed at the thought that she, an old woman married to an old man would have a son the LORD had asked her in Genesis 18:14,

“Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

And now at the birth of Jesus Christ, the long awaited Messiah, we are told that “with God nothing will be impossible.”  The LORD would do what He had promised.  The Child would be born.  And it would be because of this Child, Jesus Christ, that Sarah – and Israel – and we – can have hope.  Because He came to make atonement, He came to take our sins upon Himself.

In and of themselves there was nothing different between Sarah and Sodom.  But for the grace of God, Sarah deserved the same punishment that was poured out on Sodom.  But God came to Sarah and He strengthened her at a time that her faith was weak.  We do not hear what Sarah said or did or thought after the LORD rebuked her saying “No, but you did laugh” but we have good reason to believe that Sarah repented, that she turned and she trusted the God of grace, the God who is true to His covenant.  Hebrews 11:11 says,

“By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.”

She judged Him faithful.  She believed the LORD and the LORD credited that to her for righteousness.

And now what about us?  Are we, in and of ourselves, better than the world around us?  No, we are not.  Like Sarah and like Sodom we are not truly righteous, nor could we have hoped to escape the judgment of God.  But beloved, there is nothing that is too hard for the LORD!  And He has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place, the Sinless for the sinner, the Righteous for the unrighteous so that in Him we might be saved!  Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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