David Jeremiah - Waiting for God's Promise
Well, hello. I'm David Jeremiah, and welcome to "Turning Point". I would like to begin today's program with a question for you about faith. What is the hardest thing about having faith? Theologically speaking, it is believing when we can't see, but practically speaking, maybe the hardest thing about faith is waiting. God has made promises to us in his Word, yet there's, often time, a gap between the time of the promise and the time of its fulfillment, and that means we have to have faith while we wait. Today on "Turning Point," my message is called "Waiting for God's Promise," and it's the story of a woman who waited years for God's promise to be fulfilled. This series of messages from Hebrews 11, is called "Ordinary People, Extraordinary Faith," and Abraham's wife, Sarah, is a good example of what it means to wait faithfully on God. I'll explain how Sarah's faith was tested and also rewarded today, right here, on "Turning Point".
If you've read the Bible, you know that there are many stories in the Bible about women who wanted to have children and did not have them. I could make a long list, and you would remember all their stories, but perhaps one of the best-known stories about such a person is the woman Sarai, whose story is told in the book of Genesis and mentioned here in the book of Hebrews. And here is what the writer of the book of Hebrews has to say about Abraham's wife: "By faith Sarai herself also received strength to conceive seed and that she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, innumerable as the sand, which is by the seashore".
Now, like many others that we have studied, since we got to the 11th chapter of Hebrews, which we have called the Hall of Faith, we read the life story of Sarah, and we wonder how in the world she ever got in the Hall of Faith. I mean, her life is checkered with failure and discouragement and issues. One author describes her as the wife of the great patriarch, and we tend to think of her with a degree of dignity. We tend to put her in a place where she does not belong, but reading the biblical account of her life, it is impossible not to notice that sometimes she behaved very badly. I mean, she could throw fits and tantrums. She knew how to manipulate, and she was even known to get mean. She could be impatient, temperamental, conniving, cantankerous, cruel, pouty, jealous, erratic, unreasonable, a whiner, and a complainer.
In fact, there are hints in the Bible that Sarah may have been something of a pampered beauty. The name given to her when she was born, "Sarai" means "my princess". And Scripture remarks repeatedly about how stunningly attractive this woman was. Wherever she went, she instantly received favor and privilege because of her good looks, and that kind of thing could spoil the best of women. By the way, the biblical account of Sarah's life doesn't even begin until she was already 65 years old, and amazingly, even at her age, her physical beauty was so remarkable that Abraham regularly assumed that other powerful men wanted his wife, and on a couple of occasions, he compromised his own integrity out of fear that they would come and get his wife, and he would be killed.
In order to understand the reference to Sarah in the book of Hebrews, let me just give you a review of Sarah's life. Let's begin with the failure of her faith. Sarah's impatience is the first thing we note from Genesis chapter 16. "Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abraham, 'See now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid. Perhaps I shall obtain children by her.' And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai, and Sarai, Abraham's wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. So Abram went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes".
Now, Sarah was 65, and Abraham 75, when God told them that he was going to make a great nation out of them. If you go back to the 12th chapter of Genesis, you will hear the promise that God makes to them that out of Abraham and Sarah will come a multitude of people, and a great nation will be born of them. And after God made that promise, ten years went by, and there was still no son. And Abraham is now 85, and Sarah is 75. And so Abraham finally agrees to this sordid plan that Sarah comes up with involving Hagar, and at the age of 86, Abraham becomes the father of Ishmael, and Ishmael becomes his son. And Genesis 16, says, "So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was 86 years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram".
After the birth of Ishmael, as you read the Old Testament, 13 years ago by, and you don't read anything about Abram and Sarah. The story just kind of goes dormant. Ishmael was born 11 years after God's promise, and as we look forward, we discover later on that Isaac is born 24 years after God's original promise. And one writer makes the following observation: The thing that shouts loudest here in the story of Abraham and Sarah is there's not an honorable character in the whole cast. They were all ignoble. Abraham was the worst. He was pathetic, passive, impotent, uncaring about either his wife or Hagar. Neither woman had any compassion on the other. Sarah was worse, but you get the idea that, if Hagar had the chance, she'd been just as bad.
Remember, all of this chaos began when people of faith began to distrust the Word of God. It took shape when they decided that God needed help in fulfilling his promise, and it took off when Abraham and Sarah took a shortcut to obtain what they knew God had promised to give them. And we all sit here, and we smile about that historical event, but we know how hard it is for us to wait. How many of you would say with your pastor, "Waiting is not one of my favorite things"? I have told the story before, but I remember when we moved here in 1981, we came from a small community in Fort Wayne, where you never waited for anything. I mean, just walk in, and get what you want. You go to the bank, nobody's standin' in line. I came here, and I kind of got involved.
You know, first of all, you have to wait in line when you go to the grocery store. You have to wait in line when you go to the drugstore. You have to wait in line when you go to the gas station. You have to wait in line when you go to the bank, but mostly you have to wait line when you go to the restaurants. You wait in line to get in, then you wait in line to get a seat, then you wait to get a menu, and then you wait for them to take your order, then you wait for your phone to come, then you wait for the dessert menu, then you wait for that to come, then you wait for the bill, then you wait for them to bring you your change, and they have the gall to call the person who presides over this, "the waiter".
Now, that doesn't make any sense. We're the waiters, always have been, always will be. Sarah didn't wanna wait. She was impatient. She took things into her own hands. Notice, secondly, not only her impatience, her insubordination. Verse 5, of chapter 16, in the book of Genesis, "Then Sarai said to Abram, 'My wrong be upon you. I gave my maid into your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between you and me.'" Now, I don't know if you've got what this passage is sayin', but, guys, listen up: Sarah blamed everything on her husband. Somehow, even though she had come up with the plan, she found a way to put the blame on him. I mean, it's really hard to find any logic in her words. Somebody had to be blamed, so she pointed the finger at her husband.
Her logic is like a letter that I read about some time ago. This is how sometimes this whole process works and how sometimes we think. "Dear John, I hope you're not still angry. I want to explain that I was really joking when I told you I didn't mean what I said about reconsidering my decision not to change my mind". What is that? But you can't let Abram off the hook, can you? I mean, after all, he was the patriarch. He was the head of the house. God had spoken to him. I mean, all he had to do was say, "No, Sarah, that's a dumb idea". But he didn't. He should never have allowed that situation. We see her impatience, her insubordination, her intolerance, and her infidelity.
Notice in Genesis chapter 17, when Abraham was 99, and Sarah was 89, the Lord again spoke to Abram and reaffirmed that he was going to give them a son, and this time, he made it very clear that this son was going to be born to his wife Sarah, no surrogate mother here. Genesis 17:1, and 15 through 19, "When Abraham was 99 years old, then God said to Abraham, 'As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but you shall call her name Sarah, 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.' And Abraham fell on his face, and he laughed, and said in his heart, 'Shall a child be born to a man who is 100 years old? And shall Sarah, who is 90 years old, bear a child?' And Abraham said to God, 'Oh, that Ishmael might live before you.'"
In other words, "Lord, this ain't gonna happen. Let Ishmael be the, I'll let you, you can claim Ishmael as the answer to your promise, and I'll be all right with it". He said, "Lord, let Ishmael stand," and God said, "No, Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac, and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him". A little bit later, according to the story, Abraham was outside, and the Bible says he was under the Mamre trees, and the Lord appeared to him, and Genesis 18, says that the Lord said, "Abram, I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son". Parentheses, "Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him".
"Now, Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age, and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, 'After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?' And the Lord said to Abraham, 'Why did Sarah laugh, saying, "Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old"? Is anything too hard with the Lord? At the appointed time I will come and return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah will have a son.' But Sarah denied it, saying, 'I didn't laugh,' for she was afraid. And he said, 'No, but you did laugh.'"
Now, imagine this with me for a moment. Abraham is outdoors, and he comes in, and Sarah says to him, "Abraham, where have you been"? And he says, "Well, I've been outside, havin' my morning devotions". And Sarah said, "How was it"? And Abraham says, "It was great. In fact, I had this conversation with God, and he told me somethin' really amazing". She said, "What was it"? And he blurted out, like only a man could, "Baby, you're gonna have a baby". And I'd like to have heard what Sarah said to that. On a scale of one to ten, Sarah's faith, at that moment, would be about a zero, but here she is with all of her failures, and she's enshrined in the Hall of Faith.
What a picture of God's grace and patience that is. God is greater than our sin. He is greater than our doubts. And isn't it a good thing that, "When we are faithless, he remains faithful. He cannot deny himself," 2 Timothy 2:13. Isn't it incredible, Romans 3:3, "For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect"? 1 Thessalonians 5:24, says, "He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it". He's faithful, no matter what, because it is impossible for him to be anything other than faithful. And even though Sarah and Abraham wavered on occasion early on in their faith, they came to a settled conclusion that God was true, and his promise was reliable. And God continued to be faithful to them, even when they did not act out of faithfulness to him.
So as you can see, Sarah's kind of an interesting candidate for the Hall of Faith. But let's take another look at this now. Let's look at the fulfillment of Sarah's faith. We've seen the failure of it. In light of the stories we have just read, how surprised we are when we come to the New Testament and read these words from Hebrews 11:11 and 12, "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. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude, innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore". And the Bible says in Genesis chapter 21, that "The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah received and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him".
Go back and read that verse with me. In fact, look up on the screen and notice how wonderful this passage is: "And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had spoken. For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him". Three times in that verse we are reminded that what happened to Sarah was because of the Word of God, because of what God said. The scene that took place when Isaac was born, oh, must've been pure joy. What a wonderful picture and glorious thought. Here is God's promise finally being fulfilled after all these years of waiting. When the child was born, they call him Isaac.
Do you know what "Isaac" means? It means "laughter". That's what the word means. It's kind of an interesting word, isn't it, for a 100-year-old father and a 90-year-old mother? They have a baby and call him "laughter". Wow. And so you look at Sarah and her faith, and you see that it conquered the possibility. Hebrews 11, says, "When she was past age, and him as good as dead". Impossible, but not with God, for Luke says, "Things which are impossible to men are possible with God". He's God. I mean, he created Abraham and Sarah in the first place. Sarah's faith conquered improbability. Romans says it this way: "And not being weak in faith, Abraham did not consider his own body, already dead, since he was about 100 years old, and the deadness of Sarah's womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God".
For 25 years, Abraham and Sarah, in spite of their moments of failure, believed God, and they had no evidence at all to prove that it was gonna happen. Their faith was sustained, and they did not become weak in faith so that they gave up on what God had promised. Sarah had her moments, as we have learned. Every time she had a birthday and she realized she was one year older, the more impossible this promise seemed to her, but Hebrews 11 :11, says, "By faith Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child". She conquered impossibility, improbability, and she conquered inadequacy. Do you know that, from the time that we are introduced to Sarah in the Bible, almost continually every time she's mentioned, this whole issue of her not having any babies is in the story?
In fact, she is mentioned the first time in Genesis 11:29. Let me read to you Genesis 11:30, "But Sarah was barren, and she had no child". Now we see her on the other side of God's promise, and not only is she the mother of Isaac, but through Isaac, she's the mother of all who believe and the ultimate generation from which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came. Sarah's faith conquered inconsistency. We've already learned that. We've learned about wavering. How many of you understand what it means to waver in your faith? Got any waverers here? I mean, I've wavered. I waver sometimes. I know what God has said. I believe what God has said, but sometimes, if you're not careful, how many of you know wavering often comes as a byproduct of fatigue? Have you ever noticed that?
You know, somebody said, "Your body and your soul live so close together, they catch each other's diseases". That's true. When you're fatigued, when you're tired, sometimes it's hard to believe God. Sometimes our faith wavers, but the Bible says that Sarah and Abraham let their faith stay strong, and Sarah's faith conquered her infidelity. Once again, it's interesting. When you put the Hebrews passages together with the Romans passage, you see Abraham and Sarah together. Romans says, "Abraham, fully convinced that what God had promised he was able to perform". Hebrews says, "Sarah judged him faithful as he had promised". The thing that happened on account of Sarah's faith, as well as on account of Abraham's faith, was a marvelous miracle on the part of God.
Someone has taught us, and I believe this is a true teaching, that, next to suffering, we learn more as Christians about walking with God through waiting than through any other thing. Isn't that true? When God gives us a promise and we have to wait, and we have to struggle with our own humanity and our own frailty, and we're believing God, and we know that God has promised, but we haven't seen it yet, we grow in our faith. We learn to trust God. We learn that you can see Jesus in the dark. Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher from Britain, once said, "I have thumbed through my Bible many times every year. I have never yet thumbed through a broken promise". God never breaks his promises.
So what we learn from the story of Sarah is that we live many of our days as Christians in a time of waiting for the promise to be. The Bible says, "In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I'll come again and receive you unto myself". That's a promise, but that promise was made a long time ago, many, many more years than 24, and, still, it hasn't come, but I believe that it will come, and in my moments when I might waver about that, I am strengthened in my faith as I read the Word of God and I read the promises of God, and I remember that, in all the record of God's doings with his creatures, he has never once broken any promises, and he's not about to let me be the first one.
Someday the sky will break open, and Jesus will return, and those who have put their trust in him will be caught up together to be with him in the air, and the Bible says, "And so shall we ever be with the Lord". And I've made my reservation because I believe the promise. You say, "How do you believe the promise that Jesus is coming back? How do you really believe it"? You commit yourself to it, and you trust Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you become a Christian.
Don't tell me you believe it if you haven't accepted it. You might believe that it's true, but if you don't believe it personally for yourself, you don't believe. Belief is not just head knowledge about some truth. Belief is a commitment to that truth for your life, betting your eternity on the fact that it's true. And if you've never done that, what a great time to say, "You know, I finally got this figured out. I believe what God has promised. I believe what he did on the cross through his Son Jesus, and I believe, for me, now is the time to put my faith in him".