ďThe Joys and Pains of a Life of FaithĒ†††† Genesis 21:1-21††††††† August 9, 2009

 

SI:We are studying the life of Abraham, Genesis chapters 12-25.

Heís called the father of those who believe in Jesus Christ.

†† His life demonstrates the fundamental truths of the Christian life.

 

All your experiences as a believer, good and bad, joyful and painful,

†† were experienced by Abraham first.

Knowing that helps keep you steady and balanced and able to see

†† more clearly the Lordís hand in all you are going through.

 


 

INTRO:The story is told of a woman who was expecting her first child.

She went to the doctor for an ultrasound and he asked her if she wanted to know

†† if it was a boy or a girl.She said:Donít tell me now.Mail me the results.

†† That way my husband and I can share the moment together.

A few days later she got an envelope from the doctorís office.

†† So she and her husband made a special evening of it.

†† They went to their favorite restaurant.

And when they could stand it no longer they opened the letter.

†† And there inside was the bill for her office visit.

 

All of you experienced parents would say to that young couple:Get used to it!

†† Thatís parenting.There are joys in parenting.

†† In fact, the greatest joys this side of heaven come through your children.

But if you think thatís all it will be, perfectly planned moments of joy,

†† you will be disappointed.Because there are also pains in parenting.

†† And the financial pains are just one of many.

 

I will never forget that on the day I bought a used minivan for my growing family,

†† our single neighbor drove up in a brand new red Miata.That hurt.

I wouldnít trade parenthood for anything, but there are pains along with the joys.

 

And thatís the way it is in the life of faith.

There are great joys.Weíve sung of some of those joys this morning.

†† We sang:My chains are gone, Iíve been set free.

†† We sang:Heís my Rock,Heís my Fortress, Heís my Deliverer.

Experiencing those spiritual realities is tremendous.

†† The life of faith is full of joys.

 

But there are also pains.That surprises some Christians.

Because when they came to faith in Jesus, thought he would solve their problems.

†† Might not have put it that way, but thought, if I believe and live rightó

†† things will be fineóbut their problems got worse.Or they got new problems.

They heard that following Jesus would give them peaceó

but they started to have inner conflicts they never knew before.

Those experiences sometimes throw people into confusion.

†† Sometimes they respond by drifting away.

 

Maybe you have found yourself in that position.

†† Angry at God, or maybe just perplexed.

You have to admit that there have been joys in your walk with Christ,

†† but right now, they are overshadowed in your mind by the pains.

And that wasnít what you expected.But you should have.

†† Because thatís exactly what Abraham went through.

†† He was the first great man of faith, the father of the faithful.

But if ever there was a believer who experienced joys and pains, it was him.

†† And here it is, all in one story.

 

The first part of the story is pure joy.The promised son was born.

†† The birth of this child was a foreshadowing of the birth of Christ.

And as Paul says in Galatians, it was also symbolic of salvation.

†† When a barren 90 year old woman has a child, thatís all grace.Thatís all God.

Abraham named him Isaac, which means laughter.

†† Sarah had once laughed in unbelief at Godís promise, but now she laughs

†† with God, and laughs at this incredible baby boy and at herself nursing him.

†† They had a great party, a feast on the day of his weaning.

Godís promise to bless the nations through Abrahamís descendants

†† was shining brightly on that day as everyone rejoiced in that little boy.

†† It seemed that nothing at all could cloud that joy.

 

Then, the second part of the story unfolds and itís pure pain.

†† There was such turmoil and discord that Abraham had to banish his

†† teenage son Ishmael, along with his concubine Hagar.

He loved Ishmael.He had once even asked God to make him the child of promise,

†† and to fulfill the blessing of the nations through him.

But there was a spiritual component to this as well.Ishmael symbolizes salvation

†† by works.Trying to earn salvation through our own efforts.

God had chosen Isaac for his salvation plan, so in great distress and deep pain,

†† Abraham had to turn his son away and tell him never to return.

 

Both the joy and the pain were part of the life of faith.

†† Thatís the way it was with Abraham, and the way it is with all his children.

You must know that, and accept it as Godís will,

†† and not turn away, but continue to believe and walk by faith.

Letís look at this story under three points.

†† For each point I want us to see, a joy and a pain that are often mingled

†† in our experience of the Christian life.

 

Iíll give you these points as we go.

MP#1The Lord keeps his promises,

†† but he does so in his time and his way.

The Lord keeps his promisesóthatís the joy.

†† But he does so in his time and his wayóthatís the pain.

 

In the first two verses, one point is driven home three times:

†† ďThe Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said

†† ďThe Lord did for Sarah what he had promised

†† ďSarah bore a son to Abraham at the very time God had promised him

God did it.†† He did it exactly how he said he would do it.

†† And he did it exactly when he said he would do it.

†† He was completely faithful in keeping his promise.

Godís Word is true.It can be trusted.God always keeps his promises.

 

There are many different ways to describe the Christian lifeó

†† one way is to see it as a process of discovering, unwrapping, and enjoying

†† the many promises of God that are scattered throughout the Bible.

Itís like looking for hidden treasures.When you find them,

†† they make you rich and open to you a life of bigger possibilities.

 

2 Peter 1 says that through Godís ďvery great and precious promises . . .

†† you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption

†† of the world caused by evil desires.Ē

In other words, Godís promises are conduits of divine power that enable

†† you to face and overcome every obstacle and challenge.

 

Do you fear death and judgment?God promises eternal life through Christ.

†† Do you struggle with guilt?God promises forgiveness of all your sins in Christ.

Are you anxious about a situation?He invites you to cast all your anxieties on him.

†† Are you fearful?He promises protection.

You can find promises in the Bible that address every situation in life.

 

All Christians have experienced this joy at certain points in the life of faith.

†† Youíve read of promise in the Bible, and God has kept that promise.

†† And you worship him and laugh and are full of joy.

But before you get to that point, you often go through some pain.

†† And thatís because even though God keeps all his promises,

†† he does so in his time and way.His timetable is not our timetable.

His way of working things out, is not the way we would do it.

Itís not a problem with God or his promises.

†† And every Christian would say that in theory, at least,

†† Godís timing and way of doing things is best.

But when you are waiting, and when things seem to get more and more impossible,

†† and the likelihood of it working out the way you want it to seems farther

†† and farther awayóthat can be very painful.

And itís your faith itself that makes it so painful.

†† Because you have this promise you believe in, but itís not happening.

 

How many years was it from the time God gave the promise of a son to

†† Abraham and Sarah and the time they had Isaac?Do you know?25 years.

It was a painful 25 years for both of them.There even came a point in which

†† it seemed that the promise of God was just there to frustrate them.

Thatís the pain of a life of faith.

 

A few weeks ago we were out of town, I struck up a conversation with a stranger

†† As we talked, we realized that we were both Christians.

She said:Iím struggling with God.Why wonít he keep his promise?

†† Psalm 103 ďHe forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.Ē

When I became a Christian five years ago I had terrible depression.

†† I found that promise and claimed it and God healed me overnight.

†† Havenít been depressed for years.But came back six months ago.

Iíve reminded God over and over of his promise to heal me but he hasnít.

†† Whatís wrong?Why wonít he keep his promise?

 

I said:Nothing is wrong.God will keep his promise.

†† He has forgiven all your sins and will heal all your diseases, including depression.

But heís going to do so in his time and his way.

†† He did it overnight the first time.This time heís waiting.Might wait till heaven.

I also told her that sometimes when a person is young, or a new Christian,

†† God answers their prayers quickly and obviously to build their faith.

But then, when they have been a Christian for a time, the Lord deals with

†† them differently, makes them wait.Thatís also to build faith.

I know itís hard, but the Lord wants you to believe his promise and walk by faith.

 

She was just like Sarah and Abraham.The joys and pains of a life of faith.

What are the promises you are claiming?I hope you have one or two favorites.††

†† Hold on to them.Press on through the pain. And in the Lordís time and way,

†† those promises will be answered, and you will laugh for joy.

MP#2The Lord forgives all your sins

†† but he doesnít erase all the consequences.

The Lord forgives all your sinsóthatís the joy.

†† But he doesnít erase all the consequencesóthatís the pain.

 

Abraham and Sarah were full of joy because God had given them a son in spite of

†† themselves.He had overruled their failures that could have ruined everything..

Two times Abraham lied out of fear, said Sarah was just his sister, not his wife.

†† He let her be taken to the harems of other menóonce in Egypt by Pharaoh,

†† and then once by Abimelech, a Canaanite king.

 

If God had not intervened, Abraham would have lost his wife forever.

†† If he had lost her he would not have had the promised son.

†† With no promised son he would never become a great nation.

†† With no Hebrew nation Jesus would not have been born.

And so the hope of salvation was threatened by Abrahamís sinó

†† but God intervened and overruled, and that was cause for joy.

 

In spite of our sins and failures, the Lord is determined to save us and bless us.

†† He forgives the sins we commit that could destroy us forever.

But he doesnít take away all of the consequences of our sins.

 

Seventeen years earlier Sarah had a failure of faith.

†† She was convinced God wasnít going to come through for her.

†† She was sure she would never have a son of her own.

So she said to Abraham:Take my young Egyptian slave girl, and sleep with her,

†† and then when she has a son, Iíll claim him as my own.

Instead of saying:No, weíre going to trust God to give us the son he promised,

†† Abraham looked at this cute little Egyptian and said, OK, Iíll do it for the

†† good of the familyóand he slept with her and she got pregnant.

 

Then things got crazy.Hagar began to despise and disrespect Sarah.

†† Sarah became furious at Abraham for doing what she told him to do.

†† Abraham retreated, let Sarah mistreat Hagar so that she ran away to certain death.

†† Things calmed down outwardly but it was always brewing beneath the surface.

†† God had said Ishmael would be a wild donkey of a man, hostility toward brothers.

Hagar probably told Ishmael over and over:

†† The old womanís never going to have this so called promised son.

†† You will be your fatherís heir.You will inherit his wealth and name.

And so when Abraham and Sarah had this grand party to celebrate

†† Isaacís weaningóhe was probably three years oldó

†† all the simmering resentment and frustrated hopes boiled over.

Ishmael began to mock Isaac.He began to scoff at the promised son.

†† In doing that he was really scoffing at God.

†† All of that led to Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael away.

 

God assured Abraham that he would bless Ishmael and make him a great nation.

†† The Angel of the Lord reaffirmed that promise to Hagar at the well.

†† The Angel of the Lord is an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Christ.

†† But the consequences of Abrahamís sin did damage to Ishmaelís soul.

Ishmael got an Egyptian wife.Thatís a very significant detail.

†† Because it means he turned away from the people of God.

†† He knew about the true God from his growing up years.

†† But he decided to mix the true faith with the paganism of his Egyptian wife.

 

And it didnít end with Ishmael.Who was he the father of?What great nation?

†† He is the father of the Arabs.And they are a great peopleóto this day.

But from Bible times up to the present time, they have been in conflict

†† with the natural descendants of Isaac.The conflict in the news today between the

†† Jews and the Arabs started when Ishmael mocked Isaac and was sent away.

But it actually started before that, when Abraham went to bed with a woman who

†† was not his wife.Itís the consequence of Abrahamís sin.

 

Thereís even more to this story:A few thousand years after Ishmael, one of

†† his descendants named Mohammed did exactly what Ishmael did.

He took some knowledge of the true Godótook some Judaism, some Christianity,

†† and he mixed it with paganism and founded the religion of Islam.

And today, millions of people, mostly Arabs, are Muslims.And at the very

†† center of Islam is hostility toward the promised Son of God, Jesus Christ.

 

Seven times a day Muslims recite this creed:

†† ďThere is not God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.Ē

The first line:ďThere is no God but AllahĒ is a denial and challenge to the

†† Trinity and therefore the existence of the eternal Son of God.

The second line:ďAnd Mohammed is his prophetĒ is a denial and challenge to

†† the person and work of Jesus Christ.That too, is a consequence of Abeís sin.

What a huge example of this truth:God overruling but allowing consequences.

 

Nothing could be bigger than the salvation of some nations

†† and the spiritual blindness of others.We experience it on a smaller scale.

All the more reason for us to praise God for his grace,

†† and plead with him for mercy in our sins.

†† Trust him to help us as we live in a fallen world.

 

(I canít finish this point without saying one more thing:

†† There is an amazing prophecy in Isaiah 19 that one day the Arab peoples will,

†† along with the people of Israel, turn back to the true God and worship together.

Letís pray for that day.Thatís the only hope for these two ancient peoples

†† of Abrahamóthat they embrace the promised Son togetheróJesus Christ.)

 

And that brings us to the third point.


 

MP#3The Lord gives you grace

†† but he opposes your legalism.

The Lord gives you graceóthatís the joy (obviously)

†† but he opposes your legalismóthatís the pain (but what does that mean).

And what does this have to do with the story?

 

I want to take you to the New Testament, to Galatians 4.

†† Because in that chapter is a fascinating commentary by Paul on this story.

Paul says that this story can be taken figuratively.

†† It literally happened, but it can be interpreted in a figurative way.

Paul says that these two women and these two sons

†† stand for two different ways of life, two different ways of relating to God,

†† an old way and a new way, a natural way and a supernatural way.

 

How was Ishmael born?Abraham said, if Iím going to have a son,

†† itís not going to be with Sarah.Sheís old and barren.

But Hagar, sheís young and fertile.

†† Iím old but Iíve still got it in me.I can make this happen.I can get a son.

†† I can secure Godís promised blessings through my efforts.

 

Thatís one way of relating to God.

†† By my efforts, by doing my best, Iím going to get Godís blessing.

Paul calls this being under the law or the works of the law.Legalism.

†† Legalism doesnít simply mean going to a church that says

†† youíre going to hell if you play cards or wear makeup.

Itís a direction of the heart and a way of relating to God.

†† I present God with my good record, and he owes me.

†† Itís the way we all naturally think.

 

So much for Ishmael.How was Isaac born?

Abraham said, itís impossible.Sheís old and barren.

†† Sarah said, itís impossible.Iím old and worn out and useless.

†† But God gave them Isaac and through him all his blessings.

Thatís the other way of relating to God, the new way, the supernatural way.

 

Isaac was a picture of Jesus Christ.

Because in his birth you see that it is Godís work that saves and not your own.

†† You donít present God with a good record and then he owes you.

†† He gives you Jesus and heaven and eternal life, and then you owe him.

Thatís living by grace.Thatís believing the Gospel.

†† When you get grace, it brings you tremendous joy.

Because it starts to sink in that itís all Godís work.

†† You are accepted by him, not because of what youíve done,

but because of what Jesus has done.

He lived the life you should have lived, died the death you should have died.

†† When you relate to God that way, it brings freedom and joy.

 

But there is also pain, because Ishmael and Isaac canít live together.

Sarah said to AbrahamóGet rid of that slave woman and her son.

†† He will not share in the inheritance with my son.

Abraham loved Ishmael.He was the sign of his strength.

†† He had hoped for years that he would be the heir of his estate.

Maybe there would be some way to keep Ishmael and Hagar around.

†† But God said:Listen to Sarah, send Ishmael away.

†† In my sovereign grace Iíve chosen Isaac, not Ishmael.

So in great distress, in great pain, Abraham sent him away.

 

Now, what does all that mean?It means that the Lord opposes your legalism,

†† because it is incompatible with grace.He wants you to get rid of it.

And that is extremely painful, because these are things you are proud of.

†† These are things you count on to make you right in the eyes of God and people.

But the Lord is in the business of teaching you grace.

 

Iíve mentioned before a Christian businessman I knew in Florida.

†† He started a Christian radio station.

†† But his partner stole from the company, and he lost everything.

For a while he was angry at God because he said:I was honest, I deserved better.

†† He was a Christian.He trusted Jesus for salvation.

†† But he also thought that God owed him because of what he had done.

Those two things are incompatible.Like Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael.

 

As time passed, this man was able to let go of his legalism and enjoy Godís grace.

†† Able to say:I deserve nothing.He owes me nothing.

†† But he has given me Jesus and eternal life and I owe him everything.

Whatís your Ishmael?Whatís your works righteousness?

†† Your record as a parent?Your hard work? Your honesty?Your religion?

The Lord has a way of bringing those thing downópainfully sometimesó

†† so that you trust completely in Jesus.

CONC:Listen to the way one minister put it:

 

This is a story about the freedom that comes when we trust God to be in control and the loss of freedom that results when we attempt to take control ourselves . . . One son was born because God promised, the other son was born because Abraham and Sarah doubted.Ishmael was a product of human impatience, the human trying to do Godís work for him; Isaac was the result of God doing his own work in his own time. Ishmael caused nothing but trouble; Isaac continued in the faithful covenant of the freely loving God.

 

The great disaster of Abrahamís life was that he used Hagar to get what he thought God wanted for him; the great achievement of his life was what God did for him apart from any programs or plans that he put into action . . . The moment we begin manipulating lives in order to get control of circumstances, we become enslaved in our own plans, tangled up in our own red tape, and have to live with grievous, unintended consequences.

 

It couldnít be said better.Thatís the life of faith.Itís a life of joys and pains.

And it will be that way till we get to heaven and see Jesus fact to face.

 

So donít be surprised when God does things in his time,

†† when he lets you suffer consequences

†† and breaks down your self-righteousness.

He did those things to Abraham.The man he called his friend.

Trust him:He keeps all his promises, he forgives all your sins,

†† and he gives you his grace every day.