God’s Purposes Fulfilled
David gave this talk at the 2016 Catalyst Festival at Stoneleigh Park. Click here to download the audio version.
- If we’ve been Christians for many years, we’ve got so used to powerful and dramatic Bible stories that they lose their impact. Sebastian Faulks told The Sunday Times, “But the great thing about the Old Testament is that it does have these incredible stories. Of the 100 greatest stories ever told, 99 are probably in the Old Testament and the other is in Homer.” Sebastian Faulks.
- 2 stories from the life of Abraham – one describing Abraham’s vulnerability, his besetting weakness, which could have resulted in God’s promises and purposes remaining unfulfilled.
- The second describing such amazing obedience which resulted in confirmed additional certainty that the promises of God would be fulfilled.
- The fact that both these stories describe incidents in the life of the same man is helpful to us because we are often a similar mass of contradictions and mixed motives, sometimes operating out of faith, sometimes out of fear.
- God had started his plan towards putting the world right, blessing all the nations of the earth. He had done so by calling Abram, who was from a pagan city, called Ur, where they worshipped the moon as a god and had many other ungodly cultural practices (which today all cultures have to some extent).
- God had told him that all nations will be blessed through Abram and his descendents – but Abram and Sarah, his wife, had no children.
- Abraham and Sarah had been waiting for nearly 30 years since God made His promise regarding the son through whom all God’s promises would be fulfilled but had just been promised by God that a year later they would have a child.
- However Abraham had decided to move because of a famine in the land (nomadic lifestyle) to Gerar and said that Sarah was his sister because he was in fear of the Philistines of that place. Abraham had done this before when he had gone down to Egypt during an earlier famine and Sarah had been taken into the harem at Pharoah’s palace – whether she actually slept with Pharoah is not told to us.
- The king, Abimelech, therefore took her as his wife. You might ask “Why?, when she was so old (89)” – (be careful!!).
- The probability was that she had just been told that she was to have a child and though it is clear from what Sarah said that she was post-menopausal – then somehow she was miraculously rejuvenated – so that her body could be prepared for the child and therefore probably looked younger again. Certainly Sarah is consistently reported as being very beautiful!
- Beauty appreciated differently in different cultures.
- God appeared in a dream to Abimelech – God often does that and in particular he is able to speak to unbelievers that way! I could tell you many stories – in the Muslim and Buddhis worlds. You will die – you’ve taken another man’s wife. Abimelech – he said, “she’s my sister, I have clear conscience and clean hands.” Yes, said God, and I kept you from having sex with her – how we don’t know! – it may be because of a sort of plague that afflicted the Philistine court.
- Now give the woman back, he is a prophet and will pray for you so that you and your family won’t die. To our ears that sounds a bit unfair – why not Abraham punished? Abimelech called his officials together and all were afraid what might happen to them. Said to Abraham – why? Abraham said I sensed no fear of God in this place (rushed to judgement wrongly – as became clear there was plenty of fear of God). Also we had arranged that whenever we moved somewhere else Sarah should say that she was my sister. In any case she is my sister – daughter of my father but not my mother – so I wasn’t really lying. We can tell what is technically true to tell a lie!
- Abimelech’s own wife had become unable to have children (using the same word as had described Sarah’s own condition) as did those of his slave girls. Abraham prayed for them and they could bear children again. Strange, as Abraham had been praying for his own wife similarly for years.
- Even though not to our eyes done much wrong, Abimelech compensated Abraham with great gifts and said he could live anywhere in the land.
LESSONS TO LEARN
- Abraham had married his half-sister what do we make of that? At the same time as Moses was writing this down he was also writing the law of God given to him on the mountain including Leviticus 18:9. “Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born in the same home or elsewhere”. God did not approve it.
- Abraham married Sarah before his call and followed the customs of his ungodly nation. In some of these nations the idea of sister/wife was highly thought of. Many people live as Christians with the consequences of what happened before they became believers.
- Having married Sarah, God holds him to this covenant. The covenant of marriage was taken very seriously in all the cultures referred to here. Egyptian, Philistine etc. The idea of adultery was regarded as a massive shame.
Abraham had a recurring weakness/temptation
- A man of faith giving way to fear – leading to deception.
- “Achilles heel” – It happened more than once and the deception was apparently something he had imposed on Sarah for such situations..
- Each one of us has at least one significant weakness which circumstances and the enemy want to exploit – do you know what it is?
- Faith and fear are powerful and opposite motivators.
- Even greatest people of faith can be tempted by fear.
God’s grace was at work throughout to fulfil His purposes
- God chose a heathen (even one married to his sister) and gave him promises to save the whole world.
- Abraham is just like us – a background of hopelessness.
- Abraham with his weakness towards fear was still the beneficiary of God’s protecting grace. Denying your wife means you don’t deserve God to protect you. Abraham was an ongoing failure like us.
- The devil was opposed to the birth of the seed to Abraham’s line. If Abimelech had had sex with Sarah, would not know who’s son Isaac was. Picture of man-child in Revelation 12. The devil opposing the Messiah. Did not excuse Abraham’s failure but we are not to be unaware of the devil’s schemes.
- Do not underestimate God’s grace at work even amongst unbelievers. Don’t assume they are against you or against God – often they just don’t understand or have been put off.
- To great rejoicing and laughter, Isaac (meaning laughter) was born. The first stage promise was fulfilled.
- When Isaac was a teenager (or even older, Josephus estimated 25 – the word used can describe someone up to 30), God spoke to Abraham. Abraham had no doubt that it was God – he had learnt to here God’s voice. As the shepherd’s sheep, we are expected to learn to hear God.
- What God said, didn’t seem like God at all – take your son, your only (or beloved) son and offer him up to me as a sacrifice on a mountain in the region of Moriah.
- The details of this story are so poignant – he got up early. He saddled his donkey. He took 2 servants and Isaac and then (not natural order) cut up the wood. It took 3 days – imagine what Abraham was thinking, the conversation (he couldn’t tell Isaac what was going on). On third day, he said to his servants “stay here with the donkey until we come back.” “We” – a white lie? – no, more likely obedient faith.
- Isaac at last asked. The fire, the wood, he could see the knife – where is the lamb? God will provide the lamb – again is it a white lie or faith? They continue together.
- They reach the place, built an altar, still no revised instructions from God; he bound Isaac (who must have been obedient and willing himself, given his age), he reached out his hand with the knife and an angel appeared and called “Abraham, Abraham”, “here I am”. “Don’t do it – now I know you truly fear God”. It was good that Abraham didn’t just hear God at the beginning of the story but heard the angel of God now.
- Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram and sacrificed it.
Gen 22:10-18 (NLT)
“And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”
13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “theLord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
15 Then the angel of the Lord called again to Abraham from heaven.16 “This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that 17 I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants[a]beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. 18 And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.”
- The angel spoke again – what now? God has sworn, the promise is now even more sure. God had promised before but now he swears (often referred to later in Scripture, particularly in the book of Hebrews). He swore by himself “By God” “17 God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. 18 So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie.” Hebrews 6:17-18.
- It is now absolutely certain because God has sworn – as a result of His promise mingled with Abraham’s Our obedience counts! When God promises we are not passive.
THE SACRIFICE OF JESUS
- This, of course, looks forward to Jesus. Abraham’s son was spared. God did not spare His own son. Even the promise itself to bless every ethnic group on earth that God swore would be fulfilled only happened through the true seed of Abraham – Jesus upholding God’s honour and through a sacrifice that did happen, enabled this promise to be fulfilled.
- Christ is the fulfilment of the oath and the Scripture in Hebrews about the oath goes on to say “Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.” Heb 6:18.
- That hope includes the promise for us, Abraham’s seed in Christ to bless every ethnic group on earth – to be involved in that is a major prophetic call on Catalyst.
We all need to be aware of our vulnerabilities because they can lead to pulling back from God’s purpose for us. In my own experience:
- Early days – dealing with inability to confront, particularly in religious contexts.
- Vulnerability to man pleasing – not quite fear of man but wanting everyone to like me.
- Vulnerability to being task driven and totally single minded – not always a blessing.
- Vulnerability to working hard rather than praying hard.
Blessing in our lives has come through times of obedience:
- Refusing a promotion to Cardiff when just planted church.
- Leaving my banking job.
- Midlands Church Planting Initiative – speak it out and do it. Amazed that people came when we announced it.
- Reaching Muslim majority world – what was the strategy? – only obedience. Heard God. Obedience must come before strategy.
CHALLENGES FOR US ALL
- Do you know your points of vulnerability? – Examples – fear like Abraham, sexual weaknesses, financial weaknesses (tendency to debt), desire to be in control, feeling lack of value or identity which hinders you in faith. Will God come through for me? Just keep safe – not take risks for God. Family pressures that stop me obeying God instead of trusting Him for my family.
- Do you know what issues in which your obedience of faith must be exercised which makes the promises of God more sure?
- Kingdom first
- A new spirit of generosity
- Speaking out prophetically
- A fresh Kingdom challenge in your job
- Even seeking Kingdom potential in your job rather than just what provides for your family.
- Corporate obedience for Catalyst.
- Church planting in UK fully restored.
- Sending to the nations as well as serving the nations – particularly the unreached.
- More creative Kingdom ventures.