Would you open your Bibles to Genesis chapter 21.
It was the back woods way out in the country, and the farmer's wife was great with child. She was about to deliver. She went into labor. They lived too far out to take her to a hospital, so they fetched the doctor. And that's what they say in the country, "Go fetch the doctor." Well, the doctor came and there was no electricity in this house, and so the doctor asked the father-to-be to hold up the lantern while he would deliver this child. So the husband had the lantern in his hand. The doctor delivered a baby boy. The man was about to put the lantern down, and he said, "Nope. Nope. Keep that lantern up there. I think there's another one." Sure enough, number two came out- a baby girl. The doctor said, "Now hold it. Don't be too quick to put that lantern down. Believe it or not I think there is a third." And yet another girl was born; and exhausted by the episode, the man went to put the lantern down, and the doctor said, "I don't know how to tell you this, but there is a fourth child." At this point the father is bewildered, and he looks at the lantern, and then he turns to the doctor, and he says, "Doc, do you think it's the light that's attracting 'em?" Well, it's a farmer.
The birth of a child is a wonderful moment. It's a wonderful moment, but what if you're 100 years old and your wife is in her 90s. What might that be like? And that's the theme of our paragraph tonight, the first 7 verses of Genesis 21, is that a son is born to a really, really old couple. The son of promise, Isaac. Look at the verses with me. "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 which God had spoken to him. And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him who Sarah bore to him Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old as God had commanded him. Now Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, 'God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.' She also said, 'Who would've said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children. For I have born him a son in his old age.'"
If this were a mini-series this would be the season finale because chapter 21 is the chapter we have been anticipating all along, hasn't it? Ever since we started this series and God first made the promise, we expected, we anticipated this event. The promised son, Isaac. His name means "laughter to be born," and there's laughter and joy through this whole episode. It's not always that way when children are born. There's joy and laughter, but often a birth is filled with anxiety, especially if it's your first child. You're very anxious about it. You're nervous about what might happen.
I heard about a guy who called the hospital, and he was panicked. He said, "I'm bringing my wife in right now. This is Harold Smith. She's about to have a baby." "Calm down," said the nurse, "calm down. Is this her first baby?" There's a long pause, and Harold said, "No, dummy. This is her husband." He just didn't get it. He was panicked.
Now you read this paragraph and there's no sense, it would seem, of any anxiety, any panic at all. I guess when you're that old, and you've waited that long for a child, it's just sheer joy; and that's what we discover here.
Now, in reading chapter 21, starting it off this way, I, my first reaction is it's about time. We've needed a break, because there have been several chapters stacked up where it's grim, frowning brows, grimacing over what has happened. If you think to chapter 18, God was about to judge Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham pleaded over that impending judgment. Chapter 19, judgment fell, and those cities were absolutely obliterated. Chapter 20, Abraham lapses back into an old sin of his youth. He's rebuked by an unbelieving king. It's just chapter after chapter of bad news, and now we get this wonderful setting of God providing joy and laughter for a family. And I love verse 6, "God has made me to laugh."
Did you know that the typical child laughs 150 times in a single day? Do you know how many times adults laugh? Kids laugh 150 times in a day. Adult chuckle about 15 times a day. When did we stop laughing? We know that there are health benefits. We know that laughter, believe it or not, triggles, triggles?, triggers chemical, and when you trigger chemicals, (you can say triggles. It's just a new word that we just invented) that are natural pain killers, and natural mood elevators. God has provided a wonderful gift.
Well, follow with me, and if you're taking notes I'm going to give you five things about the character of God that this story reveals to us. Five things about the nature of God that Abraham and Sarah's response tell us.
Number one, God is reliable. Look at verse 1 and 2. "And the Lord visited Sarah," and I'm going to put the emphasis where I think it is suppose to be in this verse, "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 which God had spoken to him." We have heard chapter after chapter filled with promise after promise that God would give him a son. They've heard it for 25 years. It started in chapter 12. "I'm going to make you a great nation." Then on into chapter 13 where God said, "Your descendants will be as the dust of the earth." And then in chapter 15 He says, "Abraham, go look at the stars. So shall your descendants be." And in chapter 17, "My covenant will be with you and with your descendants forever, and Sarah," God said, "your wife will conceive and bear you a son." And then in chapter 18, one year before this chapter, God showed up. There were three men, three visitors. One was the Lord. Sarah overheard the conversation, and God said, "I'm coming back at a set time, and Sarah your wife is going to have a son." That's when Sarah laughed.
Promises will get you friends, but keeping promises will keep your friends. That's why God has had so many friends for so many years because he is reliable. And that's the point of these two verses. God did what he said he would do. That's the essence of integrity. God said it, and now it happened. And what I love about all the story of Abraham and Sarah put together is this: Even though their sins complicated God's plan, God was still faithful and reliable to keep his promises. Do you know that God will keep his promises if he makes it regardless, whether you believe those promises or not.
Chapter 12, they didn't believe God. They went down to Egypt because they thought there was a famine, or we need something besides trusting in God. So they went down to Egypt where Pharaoh was. In chapter 20 they repeated the sin.
Didn't go as far, but went down to Gerar, and lied about Sarah, and put Sarah in harms way, etc. Yet through all of that God still promised a son. He didn't say, "I've had it with you, folks. I'm tired of this sin. I quit." The promise kept coming. In chapter 16, Sarah got everybody in trouble when she said, "Abraham, take my servant Hagar and have a child through her. That's how the promise will be fulfilled." It's just so typical, isn't it? We sort of thing we know what's best. We try to give God our creative alternative plan apart from God's will, and what happens? It's always a disaster. It's always a disaster.
I heard of a girl who went to a computer dating service. She was very specific in what she wanted in a mate. She said, "I want somebody short who likes formal attire and who loves water sports." The computer sent her a penguin. She thought she knew exactly what she wanted, what she needed, and then she got a penguin.
Here's my point: You may even order up a penguin. You might get an Ishmael and complicate God's plan, but God is still faithful even thought we're not. Remember that verse in 2 Timothy chapter 2 that says, "If we are faithless God remains faithful, for God cannot deny himself." God is reliable. That's the first thing we learn here.
You can take God's promises to the bank. You can lean on them. You can trust them. The question is do you? Do you? The Bible has 31,173 verses in it. That's about 23 in the Old and 8,000 verses in the New. You put all those verses together and extract only the promises that God made to mankind and you come up with a grand total of 7,487 promises God made to you and to me. That's enough to live on, isn't it? And so, what do you do with them? What do you do with all those grand promises of
Almighty God to you? Your answer might be, "I underline them." You may go a step further and say, "I memorize them." That's a good start, but your answer and my answer should be, "I live on them. I lean completely upon them."
It's a great story that is packed with a lesson. Years ago when the Blackfoot Indians ran a whole area of Alberta, Canada, Crowfoot, the chief, allowed the Canadian Pacific Railroad to place its track across Indian country, all the way from Medicine Hat to Calgary, Alberta. In exchange for letting them use the land the railroad gave to Crowfoot the chief a lifetime railroad pass. That means he could get on the railroad anytime he wanted to, ride the train anywhere he wanted to. You know what he did with that lifetime railroad pass? It is said he put it in a little leather pouch and wore it around his neck. His whole never once did he use it.
Now, isn't that a lot like some of us? We have all of God's promises, and the best we do is put them on plaques, and in cards, and get nice leather pouches for our Bibles to carry them around in. But they are meant to live on because God is reliable. He's reliable. He did it because he said it.
Number two. We learn that God is punctual. He's on time. Verse 2, "Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age," now notice this, "at the set time of which God had spoken to him." Back in chapter 18 that's what God said, "Abraham, I'm going to be back at the appointed time, and at that appointed time you're going to have this child." Sometimes you wait long and hard for God to fulfill his promises to you. They waited 25 years, and that's why in Hebrews 6 we are told to "imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." God has given you his promises, but you're going to have to add something to that, faith and patience. We hate that second one, don't we? I trust God, but I just want him to give me patience now. I want the promise now. We wait a long time; but you know what? God is never late. God is never early. God is never behind the times or ahead of the times. He is always exactly right on time.
God promised that Israel would be in Egypt 400 years. Guess how many years they were in Egypt? Good answer. 400 years. He promised that the children of Israel would be captive in Babylon for 70 years, and they were captive in Babylon for 70 years. God promised that the Messiah would show up in Jerusalem 69 weeks of years after a commandment was given to restore and rebuild that city, or 173,880 days exactly. Guess which day Jesus came in on? On the 173,880th day. Not the 81st, not the 82nd, not the 72nd. Exactly on time. And that's the point: God is punctual.
Paul wrote in Galatians, "At the fullness of the time, God sent forth his son, born of a virgin, born under the law." That's how Jesus operated his whole life. You know, he would always say things like, "It's not my time." "The time has not yet come." "Now is your time, but not my time." He operated in this impeccable sense of timing.
Now, why did God wait 25 years to string this couple along until they're 100 years old before they have a son. That's a fascinating thought. Well, it makes the fulfillment much more dramatic, doesn't it? You know, God will always keep his appointments with you even if you are not seeing anything happening now, tonight in your life. You've been praying and waiting a long time; and God will keep his appointment with you. You say, "Well, why isn't anything happening?" Because it's not time yet. That's why. But it will come at the right time.
My father used to pick me up when I didn't have a car, and he was notoriously late. All my friends knew that I would be the last kid out front in the school because my dad was going to pick me up. He was a busy man. He was notoriously late, and some of you feel before God like that. You feel like God is just late. He could've done this so long ago, but why has he waited? That's why Peter says, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise as some count slackness." He's always on time.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, "There are no loose threads in the providence of God. No stitches are dropped. No events are left to chance. The great clock of the universe keeps good time, and the whole machinery of providence moves with unerring punctuality."
Let me tell you a cool little story. It happened years ago in Scotland. The Clark family had a dream. Their dream was to move to the United States of America. It was a big task. They had nine kids. 11 of them. Mr. Clark needed to save up enough money and get all the passports and stuff to get 11 people from Scotland to America. Well, he saved, and worked hard, and planned. The day came when he had all the cash. He bought passports, made reservations on a brand new ocean liner that was leaving, and they got tickets. They were all ready to go. Seven days before setting off from the dock at Liverpool, England, the youngest son was bitten by a dog. The doctor sewed up that cut, but because in those days they were afraid of rabies, the whole family, the whole family had to be quarantined for two weeks, 14 days. They missed their ship. Mr. Clark was livid, angry. Angry at God, angry at his boy, angry at that dog until five days after the ship launched out. They got the news that that new unsinkable ocean liner named the Titanic, the very ocean liner they had scheduled to be on, sunk and hundreds of lives were lost. When Mr. Clark heard that news he hugged his son, he hugged the dog, and he thanked God that the Clark family was saved at just the right time. Saved by the dog, but actually saved by the grace of God. What might seem to you like a delay may just be an appointment with destiny.
So God is reliable. God is punctual. We learn something else. God is initial. That is God does something first. He initiates and man responds. Look at verse 3, "Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac." Why did he call him that? "Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old." Why'd he do that? Notice "as God had commanded him."
Here's the point: God acted in faithfulness and expected Abraham to act in obedience, to respond to God's initial action of being a God of blessing to him. And so he did. He named his son Isaac, because in chapter 17 God said, 'You're going to have a kid. You're going to call him Isaac. Yitzhak is the Hebrew. It means laughter. What a reminder this kid would always be to a dad who laughed for a joy, to a mom who laughed in unbelief, and to the fact that God brought joy into their family. Yitzhak- "laughter".
So first Abraham does what God tells him to do in naming his son Isaac. Second, he circumcises his son because God told him to do that, too. Chapter 17, at the beginning he said, "Every male child in your household you will circumcise, and when they're born into your house you'll do it on the eighth day," and so Abraham is obeying God. What a great father. Putting his son on the right spiritual track by giving him the mark that he belongs to God at eight days old.
The point that I want to make is that God's promises should be responded to by obedience. God's promises, and God's faithfulness in keeping his promises, should be responded to by us with nothing less than absolute obedience. If God said for me to do something, he's been so good to me, I'll do it. We love him because he first loved us. I respond to God.
A lot of times we try to bargain with God. "Well, God, if you save me from this and do this, I promise I'll do... whatever." You've always heard stories of people falling off a cliff. "God, if you save me I promise I'll do this." Or falling off a roof of a house, "Save me, and I promise..."
I heard about two sailors that were in a raft stranded out at sea. They thought we're dead. Nobody for days found them, and so one sailor says, "God, I'm sorry. I've lead a worthless life. I haven't paid attention to my kids. I haven't been kind to my wife. But I promise, Lord, if you save me I'll..." and the second sailor said, "Hold it. I see land." In other words, "Whatever you were going to promise God you don't have to promise him anymore, because we have land." No. The land should prompt the devotion, and that's what happens here with Abraham is that God's faithfulness prompted his fruitfulness in obeying his God.
Look now at verse 5. There's a fifth thing we learn, or fourth thing we learn about God, and that is God is capable. You have those so far? God is reliable. God is, what's the second one? Good. You're taking notes. The third one, God is initial, and the fourth one, God is capable. Look at verse 5. "Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born to him." Now just stop right there, and just look at that verse sort of isolated for a moment. There is a man named Abraham who is 100 years old when his wife has a child. She's in her 90s. On a human level this is impossible. That's why she laughed when a year before God said, "You're going to have a kid," and she went "(chuckling) Yeah, right." And the point is simple, this is a miracle. This is miraculous. God performed something humanly impossible that we would designate as a miracle. That's the whole point of the description in Hebrews 11 of Abraham, "Therefore, from one man, and him as good as dead," it says. What a great description of an old man. "And him as good as dead were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude."
Now let's get something straight here. A miracle is not an everyday occurrence. We have a tendency to over naturalize the miraculous. I hear it all the time. "Oh, a baby was born. That's a miracle." No, it's not. "The sunrise is a miracle." "Finding a parking space at Christmas time at Dillard's, that's miraculous." No, it's providence; but we overuse the term miraculous when these things happen everyday. It's not a miracle.
Saint Augustine was right when he said, "The daily miracles of God grow cheap through repetition. Now this, this is a bonafide miracle, because this doesn't happen everyday. When was the last time you know about a 90 year old woman having a kid? Webster's dictionary defines a miracle as "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs."
I want you to know something about the God you serve. He's capable, meaning he can do anything. God is never a prisoner to the laws of nature that he initiates and institutes. He can always supersede them. Now, we can, too, sometimes. We can supersede laws, but only by bringing into play other laws of nature. For instance, the law of gravity says, "You're going to stay on this earth. You're not going to be flying up in the sky." And so, you get an airplane and you, 747, and you put 500 people in it and 45,000 pounds of luggage. That's what it'll hold, and we use up every bit of it the way we overpack these days. And what are the odds that that weighty thing is going to get up in the air according to Isaac Newton, the universal law of gravity. It's earthbound, but it can be superseded by laws of aerodynamics, thrust, propulsion, and that huge heavy thing can fly and glide across the world. So, we can supersede laws by other laws, but God doesn't need to instill any other law. God can just suspend or intervene into natural law. We call that a miracle.
This is a miracle. She's in her 90s, humanly impossible. She has a child. Now listen to this description. Hebrews 11, "Sarah," this is Hebrews 11:11 if you're taking notes and want to write it down. "Sarah received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was passed the age." You see, we read the story, and we forget the obvious. How did she do that without dying? It says, "she received strength to conceive." It was a supernatural event. By the way, it was a double miracle. It wasn't just that she had a child. She was able to nurse the child, right?
Verse 7. She said, "Who would've said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?" And then in verse 8, "So the child grew and was weaned. That would infer that Sarah, the mom, the gal in her 90s, the one who received strength to conceive and have a child, was also given the miraculous strength by God to nurse that child and wean it through these early stages.
Here's a question I want you to ponder. I'll ponder with you. It's the same question God asked this woman who now has a child about a year ago when she laughed; and God said, "Why'd you laugh?" "I didn't laugh." God said, "Yeah, you did." God asked this question, "Is there anything too hard for the Lord?" You ponder that for a moment. Is there anything, can you think of anything? Does anything come to mind right now that you hold on to that and say, "Now that is too hard for the Lord"? Are you in a tough marital situation? Is the word cancer loom large in your life? Is there something with your job that you've been trying to change for a long time, and it seems like it's not changing? Is there depression that has come into your life? I'm not saying that God will immediately heal you, or do anything tomorrow, but he can. He can. What I want you to do is focus on the capability of God, on his ability. You may be at the end of your resources. God has a whole lot more of his resources to give you.
Number five, and we'll close with this. The fifth thing that this tells us about God is that God is bountiful. God is bountiful. The last two verses of our paragraph. Verse 6, "Sarah said, 'God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.'" She also said, "Who would've said to Abraham that Sarah will nurse children? For I have born him a son in his old age." Here's the point: God lavished upon an elderly couple blessing after blessing after blessing. Not just promise after promise after promise, but blessing after blessing after blessing. Gave them land. Gave them wealth. Gave them lots of servants, and now gave him a son in their old age. God turned a retirement home into a maternity ward. That is so outlandish. The only response is laughter. You can only laugh at that in joy. And that's the whole idea. It's just like it's so good to be true. God is so good. You can only laugh at that.
There's two Scriptures that come to my mind as I read that and pondered this thought during the week that reveal some of the joy that this couple who waited 25 years were feeling. First Scripture is Proverbs 13. You know it well. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the dream comes true there's life and joy." They're experiencing that proverb. The other one is Psalm 30 verse 11. David is dedicating his house, and God's been so good to him, and he says, "You have turned for me my mourning into dancing. You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness." (deep breath) How many here can say with Sarah what she said in verse 6? "God made me laugh. He's brought me such joy." It seems that the older we get, we're not able to say that. We can kind of get happy when we're kids and laugh 150 times a day, and we kind chuckle maybe 15 times when we're older. "God made me laugh." I think a lot of us try to blame God. "God made me angry." "God made me grumpy." "God made me serious."
Christianity Today said, "Some people think it's difficult to be a Christian and laugh. I think it's the other way around. God writes a lot of comedy. It's just that he has so many bad actors." Amen. Amen. There's too many of them in the kingdom. Too many of them. We know that this gift that brought laughter into the home, and their child was named that, what a great name, Laughter. "This is my son." "What's his name?" "Tell me about it." "I laughed when God told me I was going to have him. I said, 'God, have you looked at me lately? Have you looked at him lately?'" But here he is so miraculous, and everybody laughed along. Such joy.
Laughter has a lot of physical and mental benefits. I found some on the internet. Let me share them with you. Laughing produces hormones that facilitate healing, that reduce inflammation and enhance relaxation. And some of the things I read say when you smile, even if it's a forced smile, it will help you. Laughing increases the heart rate. It raises the blood pressure. It speeds up the breathing and increases oxygen consumption, then the rate slows down, the pressure drops, and the muscles relax again. Laughter aids in digestion. Tell jokes around the table. Laughter can also raise pain tolerance even with obstetrical patients.
All of that we've already known about, because the Bible says so. 3000 years before the internet was invented, Solomon wrote this proverb, Proverb 17:22, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." Now, you know what saddens me is that too many people connect Christianity with exactly the opposite. "Oh, you're a Christian. You must be very sad. You must have no life at all. You had nowhere else to turn. You were at the end of your rope;" and sometimes we are at the end of our rope when we come to Christ who is our life, but it's sad when you connect Christianity with something that saps all of the flavor out of life. It does not. It puts zest into life.
Helmut Thielicke, who is a theologian, a lot of you haven't heard of Helmut Thielicke because he is a theologian, but he wrote something profound. More profound than anything I've read in his other theological works. He said, "Should we not see that lines of laughter about the eyes are just as much marks of faith as are our lines of care and seriousness? Is it only earnestness that is to be baptized? Is laughter pagan? We have already allowed too much that is good to be lost to the church."
Tonight, I hope that you will leave here deciding to be more joyful, deciding to focus in on some of these things. After all, God is reliable. God is punctual. God is initial. God is capable. God is bountiful. And if all that is true, and you know him, and are related to him, you could decide to do what Nehemiah told the people of Jerusalem as they were building the wall. He said, "Now is not the time of sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
Heavenly Father, we think of all of these marks that speak of you. Five of them in just seven short verses. We tend to forget all about you when we read these verses. We think about Abraham, and Sarah, and is it possible, and what were they thinking, and all the human stuff; but the main point is that it is God-centered. God is reliable. God, you are punctual. God, you initiate, and you want us to respond in fruitfulness to your faithfulness. Lord, you are so capable; and in your capabilities so bountiful. You lavish graciously so many things on us, and too often we just walk by them, and we don't say, "Oh, thank you, Lord. Oh, you've given me such joy." And, Lord, I would ask that you would give joy tonight even to those who can only see darkness around them. Give them a level that they've not known before. Give them the ability to see passed what they're in and into what you will bring them into. Let them see how capable you are, that there's nothing too hard for you. And, Lord, because you are so great, I pray that you would do what must be considered the greatest miracle of all, and that is to bring a sinner who deserves hell and bring that person into heaven, and you can do that, and only you can do that by the blood of your son Jesus. And I pray if anyone doesn't personally know Jesus Christ that that very important decision would be made tonight here now to make Jesus the Savior, the Master of these lives. In Jesus'name, Amen. Amen.