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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:The Promised Child brings laughter to Abraham's tents
Text:Genesis 21:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2014 Book of Praise


Psalm 113:1,2

Psalm 130:3

Psalm 126:1,2,3

Hymn 17:1,2,3,6

Psalm 113:3


Read:  Genesis 21:1-21; Romans 4:13-25

Text:  Genesis 21:1-7

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

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.[1]

The birth of a child is almost always something to celebrate!  From the moment the baby makes his first cry and opens his eyes for the first time, having a new child is an amazing experience.  After months of anticipation suddenly there he is:  a beautifully formed baby, a new member of the family!  Someone to rejoice over, to celebrate over, to laugh in sheer delight over.

  But when it comes to the birth of Isaac the delighted laughter would have been even louder.  No, this is not a laughter because it is funny but because it is so amazingly delightful.  You can hear it in Sarah’s words in Genesis 21:6,7

“And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’  She also said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  For I have borne him a son in his old age.’”

We will be exploring this laughter and rejoicing with Sarah in this sermon.  But we will also be looking beyond Sarah to another birth that resulted in even greater rejoicing and that is the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In Luke 1:42 Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias and the mother of John the Baptist exclaimed, seeing Mary,

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

And Mary said in Luke 1:46-49,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.  For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.  For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”

But not only will we rejoice in the births of Isaac and of the Lord Jesus, but we will also rejoice in our birth.  No, not our natural birth, but our rebirth, our being born again.  Because that’s what God had in mind all along: that we might be born into His family and that all praise and joy and laughter might go to Him.

I preach to you the gospel under the following theme:

The Promised Child brings laughter to Abraham’s tents.

  1. The reason for laughter.
  2. The participants in laughter.

1. The reason for laughter.

There is a time to weep, Ecclesiastes 3 tells us, and a time to laugh.  And Psalm 30:5 says that

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

For Sarah as well as for Abraham the night had been long but when joy and laughter came in the morning it came loud and it came long.

  God’s promise had seemed incredible to begin with.  When the Lord had told Abraham “I will make you a great nation” in Genesis 12, He had given this promise to Abraham when he was getting on in age and when he and Sarai had not received a son.  In fact we had already been told that, in Genesis 11:30 where it says

“But Sarai was barren; she had no child.”

And from there on the Bible pointed this out again and again.  From the time that Abraham first set foot in Canaan and the LORD had said to him “To your descendants I give this land” to the time that Isaac was born, twenty five years had gone by.  Twenty five years of waiting.  Twenty five years of getting older.  Twenty five years of weeping.  Twenty five years of being barren. 

  And yet the LORD had promised over and over again that He would do what He said, that a son would be born.  And it is when we begin to understand the tension between what the Lord promised and what until now Abraham and Sarah had experienced that we can understand just how hard it was for Sarah to have no child.

And isn’t that also what makes it so hard for us today?  In many ways we are no different to Abraham and Sarah – except, perhaps, we are less patient.  In many ways we too find it so hard to wait for the LORD, to trust Him and to believe with all our heart that not only does He have all things in His hand, under His control, but that He is using all things for us.  Romans chapter 8:28 tells us and we will remind each other that

“all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

But more often than not it hardly feels that way!  When things don’t turn out the way we had so desperately wanted, when life is barren of all joy then our hope begins to fade and our trust in God begins to falter.  Fifteen years earlier, back in Genesis 16, when Sarai had given her maid Hagar to Abraham so that he might have a son through her, they must have been so despondent.  We can be critical of Sarai and ask who in their right mind would tell their husbands to sleep with their maidservant, but apart from the fact that this was the culturally appropriate way to surrogate motherhood, you need to see the pain and the disappointment that led to this.  Genesis 16:1 reminds us that

“Abram’s wife had borne him no children”

and verse 2 has Sarai saying to Abram,

“See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children.”

Sarai must have been crying out at that time: “Oh God, where are you?  Why don’t you hear my cries?  Why haven’t you seen my tears?  Why have you kept me from having a son?”

Childlessness, the inability to have children, is a hard thing to deal with.  Most couples, when they are married, get to the stage sooner rather than later when they would love to have a child.  And if it does not happen right away, that desire to have a child grows.  And it can grow to such an extent that it becomes an incredible burden and with it one gets a sense of grief and a sense of loss for a child that they did not, could not, have.

But for Abraham and Sarah it had been so much harder!  Because whereas we are never told by the LORD that we will necessarily have children, the LORD had explicitly said to Abraham: “I will make you a great nation.”  And, “To your descendants I give this land.”  And the Lord did not only say it once or twice: He told him again and again.  Genesis 13:16,

“And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.”

And Genesis 15:4,

“one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.”

And Genesis 15:5,

“Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’  And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’”

And you can understand that the more God said this the more anxious Abraham and Sarah must have felt.  For why is God saying this, why does He promise to give them a son and then not give them that child year after year after year?

And not only was there the fact that God had promised Abraham and Sarah a child, but He had given this promise for a reason.  All God’s promises, His promise to have a people for Himself, His promise to bless “the families of the earth” were bound up in His promise to give Abraham and Sarah a son.  If there was no son then all God’s promises would come to nothing.  And so even though God directly spoke to Abram and assured him that a child would be born the tension of years of silence much have been excruciating.

And not only that, but someone else was watching on:  Satan, the devil.  He had been there, at the beginning when God had said in Genesis 3:15 that the seed, a descendant, a Son, of the Woman would crush the head of the serpent.  He had heard the prophecy that he, Satan, would be defeated.  But how was that going to happen for as long as Abraham had no son?  And how would Abraham have a son when he and Sarah were old and “as good as dead”?  Sarah might have been weeping over her barrenness but Satan was laughing.  “Abraham and Sarah, where is your God now?  What about all those promises and those things that He told you?  How is that going to happen?  How can you trust Him?  How can you even dare to hope that He will do what He said?”

But in Genesis 17, when Abraham was ninety-nine years old, the LORD had appeared to Abram and said to him,

“I am almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.”

And then God said in Genesis 17:15,16,

“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 this was almost too much for Abraham.  Genesis 17:7,

“Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old?  And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”

Abraham still trusted God and his falling on his face was an act of worship, not of rolling on the floor and laughing, but he did laugh and he asked:  How could this be?  “No God, let Ishmael be the one and that would be good enough!”

  So Abraham laughed.  And then when a short time later the LORD came to Abraham again, this time with Sarah listening at the door of the tent, it was Sarah’s time to laugh.  The LORD said in Genesis 18:10,

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

But Genesis 18:11 goes on to say,

“Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.”

The time for wishing, for hoping, for dreaming was over.  Sarah was no longer barren: she had passed the age of childbearing.  And so Sarah laughed within herself, saying,

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

But now in Genesis 21 Isaac is born!  And now the laughter is not the laughter of one who is incredulous as Abraham was in Genesis 17, nor is it the laughter of unbelief as was the case for Sarah in Genesis 18, nor was it the laughing mockery of Satan but it was the laughter of joy, of thanksgiving and of praise.  But now have a closer look at the reason for Sarah’s laughter in Genesis 21.  The reason for laughter was not just because a baby was born – wonderful though that was and a miracle considering Sarah’s age – but the reason for laughter is because God had proved Himself faithful to His promise.  God’s faithfulness is emphasized in verse 1.

“And the LORD visited Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had spoken.”

A year earlier the LORD had said that this would happen, and now it had.  In Genesis 18:14 the LORD had said,

“Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

and now He had demonstrated beyond doubt that No, with God all things are possible, nothing is too hard for Him, He is able and willing to do what He has promised.   

  And then a second thing that Genesis 21 emphasizes is that Isaac was born at exactly the time that God had intended all along.  Verse 2,

“For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.”

Abraham and Sarah had been waiting for 25 years and by the time it happened, with Sarah being 90 years old and Abraham a hundred, but the birth of Isaac was not delayed according to God’s timing:  this was what He had planned all along.  He meant for it to be an impossible birth.  For the LORD to have a covenant people, a people for Himself, was a miracle of His doing.  And He wants us to see that this was a miracle from the very beginning.

The birth of Isaac is proof that God can – and will – do what He has promised.  The heathen scoff and ask “Where is your God?” and in the darkness of night we might ask along with Psalm 88:14,

“LORD, why do you hide Your face from me?”

but the birth of Isaac is God’s proof to Abraham, to Sarah and to us all that He is true to His promise, His Word is firm and that He will do for us as He has spoken.

And that gave Abraham the confidence to circumcise his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  By circumcising his son Abraham confessed that not only had the LORD been faithful to His promises up to that point of time, but He would be faithful into the future as well.  In His time and in His way God will do all that He has promised.

And holding the evidence of God’s sure promise in her arms, Sarah laughed.  Genesis 21:6,7

“And Sarah said, ‘God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.’”

And they did laugh with her.  And with hearts bursting with joy we still laugh with her today.  We will see this in our second point.


2. The participants in laughter.

It was Sarah who broke out with joyful laughter after the birth of Isaac.  It was Sarah who said with wonder in Genesis 21:7,

“Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  For I have borne him a son in his old age.”

But Sarah was not the only one who laughed.  Sarah said that “all who hear will laugh with me.”  And many would have laughed with her.  Not because they thought that a 90 year old woman giving birth and then nursing a baby boy was funny but because it was marvelous, too wonderful for words.

But one person did not laugh and that was Ishmael.  Ishmael, Genesis 21:9 tells us, scoffed.  He mocked Isaac and by mocking Isaac he mocked God’s covenant.  In Genesis 17:21 the LORD had said to Abraham,

“But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”

But Ishmael mocked Isaac and by mocking Isaac he turned his back not just on Isaac but  on God’s covenant that He was to fulfill through Isaac.  Ishmael was a part of Abraham’s household and so he had been circumcised also but by rejecting Isaac, the one through whom God would fulfill His covenant promises, Ishmael had cut himself off from God’s covenant and therefore he was sent away.  God was still with him, Genesis 21:21 says, and the LORD made him into a great nation as God had promised Abraham, but God’s covenant would flow through Isaac.

And those who belonged to Isaac rejoiced with the birth of Isaac.  For the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises did not end with Isaac’s birth but in some ways they were just the beginning!  For it would be in Isaac, that is in the family of Isaac, specifically the Great Descendant of Isaac, that all the families of the earth would be blessed.  And that Great Descendant, of course, is our Lord Jesus Christ.

And the similarities between Isaac’s birth and Jesus Christ’s are striking.  Indeed, when Sarah laughed heaven would have laughed with her, knowing that Isaac’s birth guaranteed the birth of God’s Son.  Just as the LORD had promised Abraham a son and just as Abraham anticipated Isaac’s birth, so the LORD promised the birth of His Son and His people looked forward to that birth.  When respect to Abraham and Sarah, when both Abraham and Sarah were “as good as dead” and there was no human possibility for Sarah to have a son the LORD had said,

“Is anything too hard for the LORD?”  (Genesis 18:14)

And when the virgin Mary asked the angel “How can this be since I do not know a man?” when she was told that she would conceive and have a Son she was told,

“For with God nothing will be impossible.”

And just as Isaac was born at the appointed time so Christ came in the fullness of time, not a moment earlier nor a moment later than God had planned.  (cf. Galatians 4:4.) 

  And if there was a joyful outburst of laughter and of happiness at the birth of Isaac, this was just a taste of the joy that was expressed with the coming of Jesus Christ.  Sarah had said, “all who hear will laugh with me” and Mary experienced that all who faithfully waited for the Messiah to come laughed and sang with joy when they heard about or the saw the Saviour to be born.  Along with Mary Elizabeth rejoiced, and so did Zacharias.  They angels sang “Glory to God in the highest” and the shepherds glorified and praised God for all they had heard and seen.  And so did Simeon and so did Ana when the Lord Jesus was brought to the temple.  And even wise men from the East came to see Baby Jesus and “rejoiced with exceedingly great joy”.  (Matthew 1:10.)

  But not king Herod and not the Chief Priests, the scribes and the religious leaders of Israel.  For they were not really waiting for the Promised Child, for the Saviour Jesus.  And so they neither rejoiced in His birth nor shared in what He had come to do.  Like Ishmael they rejected the covenant blessings that God gave through the Promised Child.

But we rejoice!  Just as the Promised Child – Isaac – brought laughter to Abraham’s tents so the Promised Child – Jesus – brings joyful laughter to us.  Because in Jesus Christ all God’s covenant promises have been fulfilled.  In Jesus Christ we see that the LORD has done “as He had spoken”.  (Genesis 21:1)

But that’s not all, for there is one other birth that we rejoice and praise God for, and that is our own birth.  Not our physical birth – although that is a miracle too – but our rebirth!  In Romans 4 the apostle Paul pointed to the birth of Isaac which took place at a time when Abraham was good as dead, as was Sarah’s womb.  But God brought about a miracle and Isaac was born.  And Abraham had believed that God could do this.  Romans 4:20,21

“He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.”

And when, like Abraham, we trust in God’s unfailing promises, then we too will receive what God has assured us of.  John 1:12,13 says,

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

And if there is anything for us to laugh, to rejoice about, it is this!  That when we, dead in sin, made a live by God’s Holy Spirit, turn in faith to Jesus Christ, that we are given new life.  It is God’s doing, it is Him doing what He said He would.

When Isaac was born he brought laughter to Abraham’s tents.  But Isaac’s birth was not the end of the laughter.  Because today we laugh too, not just because Sarah had a son in her old age but because God is faithful and He has done what He has promised.  And so let us laugh and with Mary let us sing:

The Lord is merciful;

His servant Israel

He graciously delivered,

Remembering evermore

What He to Abraham swore

And to His seed forever. 

(Hymn 17:6)



[1] For this sermon I am indebted to: Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (p. 654ff). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.


* 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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