HYMN Beneath the Cross of Jesus (Gettys)
1 Beneath the cross of Jesus,
I find a place to stand;
and wonder at such mercy
that calls me as I am.
For hands that should discard me,
hold wounds which tell me ‘Come’.
Beneath the cross of Jesus,
my unworthy soul is won.
2 Beneath the cross of Jesus,
his family is my own;
once strangers chasing selfish dreams,
now one through grace alone.
How could I now dishonour
the ones that you have loved?
Beneath the cross of Jesus,
see the children called by God.
3 Beneath the cross of Jesus,
the path before the crown,
we follow in his footsteps
where promised hope is found.
How great the joy before us –
to be his perfect bride.
Beneath the cross of Jesus,
we will gladly live our lives.
READING GENESIS 20
Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.
3 But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”
4 Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5 Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”
6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.”
8 Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials, and when he told them all that had happened, they were very much afraid. 9 Then Abimelek called Abraham in and said, “What have you done to us? How have I wronged you that you have brought such great guilt upon me and my kingdom? You have done things to me that should never be done.” 10 And Abimelek asked Abraham, “What was your reason for doing this?”
11 Abraham replied, “I said to myself, ‘There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.’ 12 Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father though not of my mother; and she became my wife. 13 And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother.”’”
14 Then Abimelek brought sheep and cattle and male and female slaves and gave them to Abraham, and he returned Sarah his wife to him. 15 And Abimelek said, “My land is before you; live wherever you like.”
16 To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels[a] of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”
17 Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, 18 for the Lord had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.
SERMON A Surprising God
How does God put up with this chap Abraham? How does God put up with US!!
Here is Abraham – on the brink of fathering a miraculous God-given baby through his wife Sarah – 100 and 90 years old respectively – and old Abraham puts the whole of God’s plan into jeopardy by his fear and faithlessness. How like US was this old saint.
Essentially the story is simply told. Once again Abraham leaves the place where God wants him (in this case, Mamre) and moves into the Negev region. Once again he fears for his safety and agrees with his wife Sarah that it will be safer for them if they tell people that she is his sister (presumably fearing that an aggressive local may kill Abraham the husband to get his wife). Once again the local king – this time a Philistine king called Abimelech discovers Sarah and takes her into his harem.
On this occasion the king is warned in a dream that Sarah is, in fact, Abraham’s wife and that he must hand her back or else he and all his entourage will die. Abimelech hands back Sarah to her husband but complains to Abraham that he lied. Abraham admits to deception, but tells the king that he was scared – and after all, Sarah WAS his HALF sister! Abimelech then gives the choicest land to Abraham along with sheep, cattle and slaves, and a huge sum of money for his wife Sarah (167 years of a labourer’s wages). As a result of this, Abraham prayed for Abimelech and God’s curse was removed from the royal household.
But how could a man like Abraham walk down an almost identical wrong path to one he had taken all those years previously? Well, Abraham was wrong about King Abimelech. He both feared God and had high moral standards.
He forces us to ask the question about those who have never heard about the living God – how will God deal with them in eternity?
However, Romans 1-3 gives us some hints about what will happen to some of these people. (e.g. Rom 1:21
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him)
This verse tells us that people in the world DO have some knowledge of God – they see His handiwork in nature and they know God’s moral voice in their conscience. However, despite having this innate knowledge, many still choose to ignore the light they do have and their minds and lives become more and more darkened.
But what of the others? What of those who see God’s handiwork in nature and acknowledge it? What of those who DO listen to their God-given conscience?
The Bible is strangely silent about those who end up in heaven and those who do not – this is God’s business and His alone!
If Abimelech comes out of this incident with largely clean hands (except for taking Sarah in the first place), then Abraham does not fare so well.
He should have known better – indeed he DID know better – but nonetheless he chose the wrong route once again – the coward’s way. If he had trusted God, do you not think that he might have had an opportunity to speak to this king about his God – and thereby introduce Abimelech to the God he honoured unwittingly? As it was, the king came close to experiencing the wrath of God instead.
Does this passage teach us about the frailty of God’s servants? Does it teach us about that principle Paul discovered – (Rom 7:19) –
For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.
Yes, I suppose it does. Yet we all know in our daily experience about that! We need to find something more fundamental from this passage – and it is just THIS.
We discover here, again, the grace of GOD! Only too well do we know about our sinfulness – how we let God down day by day – even repeating sins.
But we need to rediscover that while WE are FAITHLESS, HE is FAITHFUL – God’s mercy continually reaches down to Abraham.
Abraham was also used in God’s service. The chapter ends with Abraham interceding for King Abimelech and his household – and God heard and answered Abraham’s prayers.
We imagine that God could never forgive us – and even if God DOES forgive us, there is no way that we could ever be useful in our prayer lives – praying for other people. But don’t you see, THAT is just the LIE the Devil wants you to believe. God is in the recovery business – he picks up scrap and makes it useful once again – he picks up our broken sinful lives and makes us into prayer warriors once again. What a wonderful merciful, surprising God we have!
HYMN Fullness of grace in man’s human frialty
1 Fullness of grace in man’s human frailty,
this is the wonder of Jesus.
Laying aside his power and glory,
humbly he entered our world.
Chose the path of meanest worth:
scandal of a virgin birth.
Born in a stable, cold and rejected:
here lies the hope of the world.
2 Fullness of grace, the love of the Father
shown in the face of Jesus.
Stooping to bear the weight of humanity,
walking the Calvary road.
Christ the holy Innocent
took our sin and punishment.
Fullness of God, despised and rejected:
crushed for the sins of the world.
3 Fullness of hope in Christ we had longed for,
promise of God in Jesus.
Through his obedience we are forgiven,
opening the floodgates of heaven.
All our hopes and dreams we bring
gladly as an offering.
Fullness of life and joy unspeakable:
God’s gift in love to the world.