HYMN Jesus, the very thought of Thee
1 Jesus, the very thought of thee
with sweetness fills my breast;
but sweeter far Thy face to see,
and in Thy presence rest.
2 Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
nor can the memory find,
a sweeter sound than Thy blest name,
O Saviour of mankind!
3 O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
to those who ask how kind Thou art,
how good to those who seek!
4 But what to those who find? Ah, this
nor tongue nor pen can show;
the love of Jesus, what it is
none but his loved ones know.
5 O Jesus, light of all below,
Thou fount of life and fire!
surpassing all the joys we know,
and all we can desire:
6 Jesus, our only joy be thou,
as thou our prize wilt be;
in thee be all our glory now,
and through eternity.
READING GENESIS 23
Sarah lived to be a hundred and twenty-seven years old. 2 She died at Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
3 Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites.[a] He said, 4 “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.”
5 The Hittites replied to Abraham, 6 “Sir, listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead.”
7 Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land, the Hittites. 8 He said to them, “If you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf 9 so he will sell me the cave of Machpelah, which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price as a burial site among you.”
10 Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. 11 “No, my lord,” he said. “Listen to me; I give[b] you the field, and I give[c] you the cave that is in it. I give[d] it to you in the presence of my people. Bury your dead.”
12 Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the land 13 and he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”
14 Ephron answered Abraham, 15 “Listen to me, my lord; the land is worth four hundred shekels[e] of silver, but what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.”
16 Abraham agreed to Ephron’s terms and weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites: four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weight current among the merchants.
17 So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded 18 to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. 19 Afterward Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah near Mamre (which is at Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 So the field and the cave in it were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.
SERMON The Death of Sarah
What a bitter day it is when a man buries his wife! In Genesis 23 we stand beside Abraham now, as he weeps at the grave of Sarah. Probably about seventeen years have passed between Chapter 22 and Chapter 23.
Sarah was one hundred and twenty-seven years old when she died and Isaac, and her son, is now thirty-seven. By this time the little family of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac had moved back from Beer-Sheba to Hebron, under the oak of Mamre, where they had first lived when they came into the land of Canaan – rather like going back to their honeymoon cottage – and here Sarah died. In one respect this was a wonderful place to die.
It is an hour of darkness and grief in the shadow of death. But this is not the whole story. As we read this account through, we read something further of the life of faith.
In vs 3 he comes out with a wonderful confession of faith: “I am an alien and a stranger among you.” That is the word of a man who looks beyond all that earth has to offer and once more sees the city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God.
Although Abraham has been weeping in the valley of the shadow of death, he somehow senses there can be no shadow without a light somewhere. Have you learned that? When shadows come into your life, it is a sign that there must be light somewhere.
In the rest of the chapter we see something of the independence of the man of faith.
Ephron the Hittite had a very different religion from Abraham’s, yet he came to respect the old man for all his differences.
What is the secret of Abraham’s independence? We learn from his life that the secret is essentially fixing our eye upon another place and not being satisfied with anything that earth offers. Then we can be quite indifferent to the appeals, the claims and the pressures which come from every side.
Abraham owned a burial cave in the end. That was all. It is a reminder to us and to all men and women of faith in all times, that all we can ever really own down here is a burial ground in which we may lay to rest all the hopes and expectations of this life. Isn’t that true?
For Abraham, as for all faithful saints, even the crushing sorrows of earth, the separation from loved ones cannot dim the light of that hope which streams from the city to come.
We are made to be creatures of eternity. In the book of Ecclesiastes it says that God, “put eternity into man’s mind,” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We are not made to be creatures of time. We are not made to be satisfied with this brief period of life and then to pass into the endless, silent realms of death. God has set eternity in our hearts.
Yet the power available to us enables us to lift a face radiant with life in the midst of the deepest sorrow, and to be strong when others are weak, to refuse to give way to panic and fear when the world is trembling and afraid. It all comes from the fact that like Abraham, we too are pilgrims and strangers. As Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth,” (Colossians 3:2). It is this attitude, this state of mind, that gives strength and grace and peace to the grieving heart.
HYMN King of kings (Hillsong)
In the darkness we were waiting
Without hope without light
Till from heaven You came running
There was mercy in Your eyes
To fulfil the law and prophets
To a virgin came the Word
From a throne of endless glory
To a cradle in the dirt
Praise the Father
Praise the Son
Praise the Spirit three in one
God of glory
Praise forever to the King of Kings
To reveal the kingdom coming
And to reconcile the lost
To redeem the whole creation
You did not despise the cross
For even in Your suffering
You saw to the other side
Knowing this was our salvation
Jesus for our sake You died
And the morning that You rose
All of heaven held its breath
Till that stone was moved for good
For the Lamb had conquered death
And the dead rose from their tombs
And the angels stood in awe
For the souls of all who’d come
To the Father are restored
And the Church of Christ was born
Then the Spirit lit the flame
Now this gospel truth of old
Shall not kneel shall not faint
By His blood and in His Name
In His freedom I am free
For the love of Jesus Christ
Who has resurrected me