How long do you wait, before you give up hope? How long do you wait until you decide it is just impossible? As I have mentioned in the past my Grandpa Surburg was born in 1909 on the northside of Chicago. As a boy he lived within a long walk from Wrigley Field – though the Cubs didn’t actually start playing there until he was seven years old.
The Cubs had won back to back World Series titles in 1907 and 1908 just before he was born. But then, during his lifetime as a Cubs fan they lost in the World Series in 1910, 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1937, and 1945. When he died in 2001, the Cubs had never even made it back to the World Series since the end of World War II. He saw the famous collapse of 1969, and the 1984 team blow a two games to nothing lead in a best of five series.
Grandpa Surburg continued to root for the Cubs and watched the games faithfully his entire life. I don’t know if he actually still believed that he would see them win the World Series at the end of his life. How could he when all he had experienced in them was failure?
I mention this because in our text tonight we consider God’s promise that led to the fulfillment of the birth of the Savior - Jesus Christ – at Christmas. Matthew begins his Gospel by writing: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” He points us to two key figures – David and Abraham – who were used by God to carry out his plan of salvation.
Tonight, we focus on Abraham. God called Abraham – then known as Abram - when he as seventy-five years old. He told Abraham to leave his country, and family and go to a land that he would show him. God promised to make Abraham into a great nation. Then he added, “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.” Yahweh promised that he would work through Abraham and his family to bless all people. We learn from the Scriptures that this descendant of Abraham would be the One who would defeat sin and death that had entered into the world through Adam.
Abraham was seventy-five when God called him, and Sarah his wife was sixty-five. These are not ages when you expect a couple to have children. Time passed and in chapter fifteen, after some difficult circumstances Yahweh said, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Abraham responded by pointing out the obvious fact: “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”
Yahweh promised Abraham that his very own son would be his heir. Then he took Abraham outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.” God promised Abraham that despite how things looked he would give Abraham not just one son, but a multitude of descendants. Then we learn, “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed God’s promise. And because Abraham received God’s Word in faith, God counted him as righteous – he considered him to have a righteous standing before God.
The apostle Paul holds up Abraham as the example of faith and the fact that our salvation depends on God’s grace and promise, and not on our doing. He told the Romans, “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
We believe in Jesus Christ for our salvation. We also trust and believe in him as we face the circumstances of life. Yet sometimes doubt challenges faith and we waiver. We struggle to believe that God really is in charge. We are not alone. Scripture is very clear in telling us that Abraham and Sarah stumbled in this way too.
In Genesis sixteen we learn that ten years after God’s call of Abraham, the couple still had no child. So Sarah proposed that Abraham should take Hagar her servant, and have a child with her. Abraham listened to Sarah, and Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Neither Sarah nor Abraham trusted in God, and the result was tension and strife in their family.
In our text from Genesis eighteen we hear about how Sarah laughed when she heard the Lord say that in a year she would have a son. But what we need to recognize is that in the prior chapter, Abraham had done the exact same thing. We learn that when Abraham was ninety-nine years old Yahweh said to Abraham, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.”
Then God added, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” And what was Abraham’s reaction? We are told, “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’” Yet God responded by saying, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.” God declared his promise again. He even told Abraham what he would name the son.
In our text we learn about how Yahweh visited Abraham, along with two angels. Abraham and Sarah hastened to provide the hospitality that was so important in that culture. Then, as Sarah listened from inside the tent at the door, Yahweh said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” In our text, Genesis explicitly states what we have known to be the problem all along as it says, “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.”
Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children. Sarah had gone through menopause and so there was no way this was possible. And so Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” But Yahweh said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” Sarah attempted to deny it, but God told her, “No, but you did laugh.”
Yahweh promises yet again that Sarah will have a son. This time he provides the exact timing – it will happen within a year. Some twenty five years after his initial promise, God tells Abraham when it will happen. God has waited until the time when the event seemed completely impossible. But this is the God who created the world. He created it from nothing merely by speaking his word. As he says, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
The answer is that there is nothing too hard for him. When St. Paul described the One in whom Abraham believed he described God as the One “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” God called Isaac into existence. We learn in chapter twenty one, “The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.”
During this season of Advent, we are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – the Savior and Son of God. As we reflect tonight upon the first great step towards Jesus, we learn three things. First, God’s salvation is a matter of his grace and promise. God called Abraham and made the promise that in him and his offspring all nations would be blessed purely out of grace. There was nothing about Abraham that deserved this. There was nothing about Abraham and Sarah that even suggested it was possible. Instead, it was based purely on God’s promise, for God’s grace and promise go hand in hand.
Second, we learn that God does things according to his timing. Twenty-five years passed between God’s promise and fulfilment. This time provided opportunity to doubt God. But God’s timing is always right, just as it was true of the incarnation of Jesus Christ himself, for Paul tells us that “in the fullness of time God sent forth his Son.”
Finally, we see that the life of God’s people is one of faith – faith in God’s Word; faith in God’s promise. Abraham believed God’s promise and it was counted to him as righteousness. We now believe in the seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ. We believe in the baby born in Bethlehem who grew up to be the man who died on the cross. Just like it seemed impossible that Sarah could have a Son, on Good Friday it seemed impossible that Jesus could be the Christ – the Savior.
But nothing is too hard for the Lord when it comes to his promise and saving work. The One who worked the miracle of giving life in the dead womb of Sarah, worked the even greater miracle of giving life to the dead body of Jesus in the tomb. He raised Jesus from the dead on Easter and vindicated him as the One who has won forgiveness for us and resurrection life. We live by faith in Jesus Christ the crucified and risen Lord, and in God’s timing, we will share in his resurrection on the Last Day.