Genesis 18. An oxymoron is a self contradiction, it's a combination of contradictory or incongruous word together. I ws handed a list called "Top Oxymorons," here's a sampling of the list. State worker, legally drunk, exact estimate, act naturally, found missing, resident alien, genuine imitation, airline food, government organization, sanitary landfill, alone together, small crowd, military intelligence, sweet sorrow, clearly misunderstood, peace force, extinct life, plastic glasses, terribly please, political science, tight slacks, pretty ugly, rap music, working vacation. And the number one top oxymoron: Microsoft Works. You know, it could be that the top oxymoron would be this: God's friend. Here's why. To claim friendship necessitates a mutuality, a commonality. Friendship places two individuals on the same level one with another. The question would be how can holy perfect God ever call a flawed human being his friend?
Music director of a church back in Ohio was going through the Sunday School department one week and he overheard an eight-year-old boy praying publicly for his class. He listened and he wrote it down. "Dear God," the prayer began, "Bless our fathers and bless our mothers and bless our teachers and bless our sisters and bless our brothers. And God, please take care of yourself because if anything happens to you, we're all sunk." Which is true, if anything ever did happen to God, we would all be sunk, there would be no resurrection, there would be no hope, there would be no heaven. For Abraham, there would be no promised land, no promised son, no covenant. God is so far above everyone and everything else, yet three times in the scripture, three times Abraham is called God's friend. God takes Abraham way down there and lifts him up with the highest honor, "you're my friend." They're all notable times, the first time is in II Chronicles 20 Jehosaphat calls Abraham God's friend. The second time that's similar to that is James chapter 2 but to me my favorite one is in the book of Isaiah, chapter 41 verse 8 where God says it, "You Israel are my servant Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham my friend." The thought of being God's friend boggles our mind but it delights our heart. We smile when we read or hear the words of Jesus to his disciples, when he said, "I no longer call you servants, I call you my friends, because a servant doesn't know what his master is doing." In fact, I would say if you have God as your friend you don't need much else. I'd rather have God as my friend and the whole world as my enemy than to have all the friends in the world and have God as my enemy.
Tonight we want to look at what it is to be God's friend. We know that God loves us and cares for us. And like you saw in the video, oh yes, God's our friend. But how do we act or what are the ingredients for us in being God's friend? And I want to give you four ingredients tonight if you're taking notes. Let's begin in chapter 18 and read the first five verses. "Then the Lord appeared to him by the terabinth 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. When he saw them he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the ground and he 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 this tree. And I will bring you a morsel of bread that you may rest your hearts. After that you may pass by inasmuch as you have come to your servant.' And they said, 'Do as you have said.'"
We're going to look at fifteen verses all together but the first five are sufficient for now. Let me give you some of those ingredients. Number one is spontaneity. Spontaneity. Look at verse 1, it says, "The Lord appeared." He just showed up unannounced. Unannounced. Verse 2, "Behold," that's a word for "Huh! Look!" Or, "Check it out." "Behold, three men were standing by him." We can infer from just looking at the context that it is the heat of the day, Abraham is sitting there in the tent, he's looking out across the landscape of that area. And he does not notice them at all. He doesn't see them coming but suddenly, behold, they're there, they just show up. Now that would mean on a practical note that Sarah would have no time to vacuum the tent, clean up Ishmael's dirty socks or Abraham's dirty T-shirts. It just, these guys showed up. You should know that some commentators see these three men as a picture of the trinity because a couple times in this text that we're about to read, there are three individuals but they are addressed as a single person. In fact, to this day the church of England reads Genesis 18 on what they call Trinity Sunday. But it's best to see this apparition, this showing up as God with two angels, a theophany, or as some people think a Christophany, an incarnation of Christ in the Old Testament. Watch this with me, look at verse 22, it says, "Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom but Abraham still stood before the Lord." Look at chapter 19 verse 1, "Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening." You put all those texts together and you get the idea that one of these beings is the Lord appearing in some fashion and he's accompanied by two angels who are with him. Maybe that's what the author of Hebrews referred to in chapter 13 when he said, "Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it." Abraham entertained angels but not just angels, God along with them. Suddenly, spontaneously they were there.
That's remarkable and here's why: good friendships can withstand spontaneity. You know this to be true. Sometimes friends just show up. They don't call, they don't say they're coming, they just show up without announcing it. Even Jesus gave this analogy of spontaneous friendship in Luke 11. He said, "Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread.'" Now, if you're God's friend, get used to this. God often shows up and does stuff in your life whenever he wants to. You cannot predict God's visitation or God's testing. You can't predict it. He doesn't warn us first before he gets our attention, he just gets our attention, doesn't he? There you are relaxing, feet up, enjoying the day. And then you get a phone call that just might change the whole course of your future. And it could be God who's doing it. Isaac Newton wrote in what he called the first law of motion, "Everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change for forces impressed upon it." I read that and I laughed, I thought, "That could be called the first law in a friendship with God. God can barge in whenever he wants to. There's a good little beatitude to remember, it's not from the scripture but it has its principle there I believe, "Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be broken." In a frienidship with God you're going to have to just get used to his spontaneity, him showing up and doing what he wants whenever he feels like it. To be God's friend is to be open, to be willing to change, to not get in a rut.
I heard about a man who bought a radio and he took it home and he tuned it, put it on top of the refrigerator so nobody could get to it. And he tuned the dial to WSM, the Nashville station, the home of the Grand Ole Opry, and once he tuned it there he pulled all the knobs off and threw them away. In other words, all he ever expected to hear or wanted to hear was right there. You cannot do that with God, you can't tune into one frequency and expect that things will never change because God has editing rights over your life. So principle number one in being God's friend is spontaneity. The Lord appeared.
Second, humility. Look at verse 2, "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 I'm drawing your attention to the word "bowed to the ground." And I know that sometimes people did with just other people. In fact, maybe that's what Abraham is doing, maybe at first, in fact probably at first, he doesn't know this is the Lord. But here's a ninety-nine year old man, in fact I'm going to refer to that fact several times in this passage, it's important. This ninety-nine year old man bowing himself to the ground, which was an ancient oriental, especially Persian custom, whenever you greet royalty to fall to your knees and then gradually incline forward until your forehead touches the ground. It was a sign of humility. If you look in verse 3, it says, "And he said, 'My lord if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant.'" The word Lord is adonai, it's the term servants give to masters and it is often used of people rendering worship in humility before God. You'll also notice in verse 3 and verse 5, Abraham, this ninety-nine year old patriarch refers to himself before these three as servant. Keep in mind, Abraham is wealthy, he's a statesman, he would be in today's terms in the Middle East called a sheik because of his status. But he's acting very humbly here, he recognizes, "I'm not the great sheik. I'm the servant of you guys." He bowed. He bowed.
There was a minister who loved the fact that he had the greatest story to tell, he survived the Jonestown flood. And he made sure everybody he ever met understood that. And he told and told that story and retold it every chance he could get. It would sort of like, "Can you top this one" kind of a deal. Well this old guy eventually died and went to heaven. And it was testimony time in heaven and the old guy walked up to Peter and said, "Can I share tonight my testimony of how I survived the Jonestown flood? It's a great story, everyone will love to hear it." Peter said, "Sure but just remember Noah is in the audience tonight." It casts it in a whole different light, doesn't it? You might want to remember that whenever you give a testimony, especially when you start painting yourself into a really nice light, remember God is in your audience. In fact, remember God is your audience.
So here is this great, venerable, wealthy sheik with 318 servants of his own, a whole colony bowing down and worshipping. And that's important because I believe that worship is the proper response to divine friendship. Worship is the proper response to having a friendship with God and here's why: worship if it's done right, is one of the most selfless acts you could ever engage in, for obvious reasons, in worship all of the focus is off of you and onto God, if you're doing it right. Now some people don't. Some people, "I don't like that music, it's too loud, it's too hard, it's too fast, it's too slow, it's too whatever." Who cares? If worship is done right, worship is a response to a divine friendship, all of the focus is off of me and onto him. Psalm 95, the psalmist writes, "Come let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker."
To have humility when you approach God requires two things. Number one, it comes from seeing God as he really is and number two from seeing yourself as you really are. And can I just guarantee you, if you see God as he really is and you see yourself as you really are, worship will happen, it will be very natural. If it doesn't happen, it's because something is wrong in that equation, you're either not seeing who you really are or who God really is. It's easy to show that in the scripture. Isaiah had a vision of God, you know the story, Isaiah 6, "seated on the throne, high and lifted up," a majestic view and all he could say is, "Woe is me, I am undone, I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a generation of unclean lips." Now why did he say that? I mean he just had an experience that well as I read the scripture, very few people even in the Bible had. I mean he could have gone on a speaking tour "I Saw God." He would have been on Christian television, I'll tell you that. He could have written books. But because he saw who God really was and he understood who he really was, there was this deep conviction that brought eventually worship. A humility came out of that. Show me one person who's filled with pride and I will show you a person who is not a friend of God. If God is your friend, if you see him as he really is and you as you really are, then the response to this divine friendship is humility, worship.
One person put it this way, "You don't impress the officials at NASA with a paper airplane." That makes sense, doesn't it? You don't brag about your crayon sketches in the presence of Picasso. You don't claim equality with Einstein because you can write H2O. And you don't get all excited about how good of a person you are when you're in the presence of the perfect one, God.
So these two ingredients are present: spontaneity, humility. There's a third and that is ministry. If you want to be a friend of God, you need to exercise ministry, you serve him in some capacity. Again isn't it remarkable that you read here about a ninety-nine year old man serving three guests in the heat I would guess of a summer day. He invites them into his tent, oh by the way that's a key issue. God only comes by invitation, he won't force his way into your life. Did you know that? Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if anyone will open the door, I'll come in and sup with him." But you have to invite him in.
So he served. Let's read a few of these verses and just look at that. Verse 3, "He said, 'My Lord, if I have now found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant but 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.' And they said, 'Do as you have said.' So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, 'Quickly make three measures of fine meal.' (Just like a husband, huh?) knead it and make cakes.' Abraham ran to the herd (so he's involved), took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man and he hastened to prepare it. And so he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared and set it before them and he stood by them under the tree until they ate." Stop there. He's serving and I want you to look at it a little more carefully than just that. He's serving personally, oh yeah Sarah's involved; oh yeah servants are involved but he does personally get involved. He's a ninety-nine year old wealthy sheik who could have easily folded his arms and barked out all of the orders to one of his 318 servants. But he didn't, a couple of them were involved but he is serving personally. Now again, I don't really think that at first, until the conversation develops through this chapter, that Abraham understood who he was dealing with. I don't think it was, "Uh honey, God's here and a couple of his angels. Let's have a nice meal." But my point is this, he got involved personally, he didn't pass the buck to "professional servants, that's what they're called and paid to do." And here's the point I want to make: every Christian has a ministry. A Christian without a ministry is an anomaly. A Christian without a ministry is a contradiction. There comes a point when it's not enough to pat somebody on the head and give them a check and say, "Go do it." There's a place for that kind of support, but there's also a time where we all in some capacity need to be engaged in serving the Lord personally. By the way, in our ministry it's to the Lord first. It's to the Lord first. Keep that in mind. Keep in mind that the priests in the Old Testament even before they were to serve the congregation, God called them and said, "You will serve me by doing this." They were called servants of the Lord to minister to the Lord first. Oh yeah, they offered sacrifices for the people and gave them the word but their responsibility first was to the Lord. And here's why I say that: because you might be involved in serving your friend, God, by serving his people and it's getting old because not a lot of people see you, it's kind of in secret. You have one of those ministries where nobody applauds you or encourages you, they don't see you, you don't feel appreciated. But if you're serving the Lord, "I'm doing this unto the Lord. This is hard but it's for you, Lord." It makes all the difference. Jesus said, "Inasmuch as you've done it to the least of these my brethren, you've done it to me."
Ruth Harms Caukin in her poem called "I Wonder," said, "You know Lord how I serve you with great emotional fervor in the limelight. You know how eagerly I speak for you at a woman's club. You know how genuine my enthusiasm is at a Bible study. But how would I react, I wonder, if you pointed to a basin of water and asked me to wash the calloused feet of a bent and wrinkled old woman, day after day, month after month, in a room where nobody saw and nobody knew."
Something else I want you to notice about his ministry to the Lord, his service: he served immediately. Look at verse 2, "He ran from the tent door to meet them." Verse 6, "He hurried." "Sarah, quickly do this thing." Verse 7, "Abraham ran to the herd, took the calf, gave it to his young man, who hastened, hastened to prepare it." Now again I remind you, he's ninety-nine, it's a hot day and he's out there running. What did he look like? I don't know. But he's hurrying. The point is there is an immediacy in his service to the Lord. There's an immediacy. In fact, not until verse 8 does he stand still. When it's all done, he stood by them under a tree. Let me say that if Abraham would have based his service on feelings, he probably never would have served. He could have had a lot of excuses, "I'm old. It's hot. I have a headache. I'm tired." But he did it quickly, immediately. As if he said in his mind, "this is who I am, this what I'm going to do whether I feel ike it or not."
Somebody once said, "The greatest ability is dependability." I would agree with that. Give me somebody who's dependable, who just has set in his or her heart, "I'm going to serve," than any prima donna who's famous any day. He just serves immediately.
Something else to notice about his service, he served generously, he gave the best that he had. Look at verse 6, Sarah baked bread from fine meal. Verse 7, the meat came from a tender and a good calf. You know that serving God should cost something? When David wanted a threshing floor to build a temple and he went to Ornan (or Orana depending which rendering you choose), he wanted to buy the threshing floor, the guy said, "I'll give it to you." And David said, "No. No. I cannot present burnt offerings to the Lord from that which cost me nothing." Don't ever give God leftovers, whether it's leftover time or leftover resources, give God the best. In the Old Testament God wanted the best from the flock, the best from the grain, the best that they had because it was for him.
You heard about the farmer that had two cows and he said, "One's God's and one's mine." The problem is he never differentiated. So one evening when one of his cows was sick, he went out to the barn to tend it and came in a couple hours later said and he said, "Honey I've got bad news. God's cow just died." It's funny but I know people that do that. "These toys are old and used, let's give them to the church." "That piano, it's a piece of junk, I'll bet the church could use that." "These old beat-up things, let's take it over to the shelter." Instead of giving the best.
Did you hear about the one dollar bill that met the twenty dollar bill? They had known each other for some time, they hadn't seen each other for a long time. And so the dollar bill said to the twenty, "Where've you been? I haven't seen you in a while." He said, "Well I've been around the world, I've been on cruise boats, I've been in casinos, I've been in malls, I've been a lot of different places. Where have you been?" And the dollar bill said, "Oh you know, same old stuff, church, church, church." John Henry Jowit said, "Service that costs nothing accomplishes nothing."
There's a fourth ingredient and we b ring it to a close, conformity. Conformity. I'll explain what I mean but let's go back to verse, well we didn't go back, let's start at verse 9 and finish it up. "Then they said to him (they're in the tent, meal is prepared, Sarah is obviously in the back somewhere behind the flap of the tent) they said to him, 'Where is Sarah your wife?' So he said, 'Here in the tent.' And he said, 'I will certainly return to you according to the time of life and behold Sarah your wife shall have a son.' Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old (so just in case you have forgotten, we know that right? Be reinforced) well advanced in age. And Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed (notice, within herself. Didn't even do it out loud, nobody could hear it, just mentally laughed) saying, 'After I have grown old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?'(that's her husband) 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 for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you according to the time of life and Sarah shall have a son.' But Sarah denied it saying, 'I did not laugh,' for she was afraid. And he, that is the Lord said, 'No, but you did laugh.' I'm putting that under the heading of conformity. What I mean by that is, when you're somebody's friend, that includes trust, loyalty and obedience. Okay, now back up, Abraham was called three times in the scripture the friend of God. Why was that? Well he was very hospitable, he served, etcetera. But we're also told Abraham believed God and God counted it to him as righteousness. Sarah on the other hand, it would seem had a real problem trusting God, being loyal to God and obeying God even though promises were given. Just look back at chapter 16 the Hagar incident, that was an act of disobedience. "No, you take my handmaid and you have a child through her." She had a real problem with loyalty, trust and obedience. Something else, she laughs inwardly and she's rebuked for it outwardly. Back in chapter 17, do you remember, Abraham also laughed. He laughed outwardly and said something similar but not quite the same but he's not rebuked by God. Which causes us to wonder, why would God rebuke Sarah but before not rebuke Abraham for laughing? Wel, you know there are different kinds of laughter. Not all laughter is lighthearted, there's cynical laughter, isn't there? Sometimes laughter is scornful, sometimes laughter is arrogant, sometimes laughter is a laughter of unbelief. But then there is joyful laughter and I think because God didn't rebuke Abraham but did rebuke Sarah that hers was a laughter of unbelief and his was a laughter of sheer joy.
I was watching the news today and this girl was being interviewed who was being celebrated for her heroic act. And as she told the story she was laughing because it brought such joy. She wasn't laughing because, "I can't believe I actually did that," but it was a joy to look back on it and see what she had accomplished.
When God is your friend, you trust him and you conform to his will. When God is your friend, you say, "God's my buddy, he's my friend," it will mean something. There will be a conformity to his will, a conformity to his promises and his word. In other words, you will be obedient, you'll be an obedient person. Jesus said to his disciples, "I don't call you servants, I call you friends." But this is what he said, same chapter, "You are my friends if you do whatever I command you." You're my friends if you do whatever I command you. We show our friendship to Christ by obeying him in al things, not some things, all things. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you." Now please note that. You can't pick and choose which areas of your life you're going to be obedient in and then call God your friend. God wants it all, all of it. He wants a conformity to happen. You can't say, "Well I'll obey him in my business but not in my marriage." "I'll obey him in my marriage and my business but not in my income tax." ...Or my leisure time." No, God wants it all, all of it.
But I want to close, after looking at those four ingredients with a question. Let that question just sort of sink in as you leave this evening, that God asks and apply it to your life. Verse 14, he says, it is a rebuke but it is a gracious and mild one, "You laughed, I heard you, is anything too hard for the Lord?" I'm not asking you tonight if there's something in your life that's too hard for you, that's a given, those things come, don't they? But that thing that's hard in your life tonight, is that too hard for the Lord? Is it something in your family, with a spouse, with one of your children, with one of your parents? Is it something in your business or one of your friends? What's too hard for the Lord? So, think about this, if I've got this huge burden but I'm going to give it to my friend who is trustworthy, who very spontaneously interrupted my life with whatever or allowed this to happen but he is my friend, he's trustworthy. Is anything too hard for the Lord?
I want to close with a letter that I've had for many many years and it was written by someone supposing that Jesus was writing the letter to one of his children, perhaps you. "I had to write and tell you how much I love and care for you. Yesterday I saw you walking and laughing with your friends. I hope that soon you'd want me to walk along with you too so I painted you a sunset to close your day and whispered a cool breeze to refresh you. I waited, you never called. I just kept on loving you though. As I watched you, I wanted to touch you, I spilled moonlight on your face trickling down your cheeks as so many tears have. I wanted so much to comfort you. The next day I exploded a brilliant sunrise into the glorious morning for you. But you woke up late and rushed off to work, you didn't notice. My sky became cloudy, my tears were in the rain. I really do love you. I try to say it in the quiet of the green meadow and in the blue sky. The wind whispers my love throughout the treetops and spills into the vibrant colors of all the flowers. I shouted to you in the thunder of the great waterfalls and composed love songs for birds to sing to you. I warm you with my sunshine and perfume the air with nature's sweet scent. My love for you is deeper than any ocean and greater than any need in your heart. I you'd only realize how much I care, my father sends his love. I want you to meet him, he cares too. Father's are just hat way. So please call on me, soon. No matter how long it takes I'll wait because I love you. Your friend, Jesus."
Has your friend been trying to get your attention lately? You go, "What's all this about? I had my radio tuned to the frequency." Hah, get used to it, your friend wants to hear from you. And your friends loves it when you commit and trust everything you're dealing with knowing nothing is too hard for him.
Lord, we know you're our friend. And Jesus told us in the words to the disciples, "I no longer regard you as my servants, but I call you my friends." Because you revealed the future nad the truth to them and the wa y you figured it, friends shar that kind of information. Lord I pray that we would respond to you the divine friend in a way that is fitting for this relationship, that we would make room for spontaneity, be committed to humility before you, that we would conform to your will and that we would engage in our ministry, we would serve you even though nobody sees and we would serve you generously with the gift you have given to us. And thereby showing you we're the friend of God as this man Abraham lived. It boggles our mind but it delights our heart that you could even call a human a friend. Thank you Lord, thank you for your salvation, to give to us what we could never get on our own and that is a ticket to heaven, not by our works but by your finished work. So Lord, I pray that from this day forward we would walk with you, enjoy fellowship with you, friendship with you. In Jesus' name.