Pastor Sherry’s Message for June 21, 2020
Scriptures: Gen 21:8-21; Ps 86; Romans 6:1-11; Matt 10:24-39
Happy Father’s Day! It must be God’s sense of humor that our OT lesson relates a difficult choice for a loving father. Scripture tells us that Abraham had two sons: The first born, Ishmael, was born through human expediency. Sarah had despaired of getting pregnant and had offered for Abraham to impregnate her slave, Hagar. It was the custom of the day that a barren woman could adopt as her own a child born to her husband and her slave girl (an authorized adultery strategy that Rachel, Jacob’s wife and Leah, her sister-wife also employed). The other child, Isaac, was born to Abraham and Sarah by the miraculous and incontrovertible intervention of God. Both Abraham and Sarah were well beyond childbearing years when they conceived and bore Isaac. In fact, his name means “laughter” as they were both so amazed and delighted with his birth that they rejoiced with laughter.
The problem arose when Ishmael’s true character was revealed. You may recall that his mother had had contempt for Sarah. Earlier God revealed to Hagar that Ishmael would be …a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him.” So, at 15-16 years old, Ishmael ridicules or demonstrates contempt for his younger half-brother at the feast surrounding Isaac’s weaning (Isaac was probably about 3YO)–(vv.9-10)—But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” He may have been making fun of Isaac’s childish antics; or he may have said something like, “That little idiot will be my father’s heir.” At any rate, Sarah correctly sees him as a threat to Isaac and insists Hagar and Ishmael be disinherited and run off. (Remember, both Abraham and Sarah were well into their 100’s and would not have been around to see to it that Ishmael did not later take from Isaac his rightful inheritance.)
No doubt this was a difficult choice for Abraham as he loved Ishmael. God tells him to do as Sarah suggests (vv.12-13)–Do not be so distressed about the boy of your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring. How difficult for Abraham! Ishmael was the only son he had had for years (ages 85-100)! Imagine having to choose between your children. (Remember the book and movie, Sophie’s Choice? The mother, Sophie, had to choose between saving her baby daughter or her young son as they faced the gas chamber in WWII. She chose her daughter but was never psychologically healthy after realizing she had consigned her son to certain death). At least in this instance, God is promising to care for Ishmael. He grows up to become, with Esau (Isaac’s son), the father of the Arab nations. God does prevent him and his mother from dying of thirst in the desert. Ishmael eventually becomes known as a great archer. He experiences divine blessing and protection. He lives in the wilderness and his mother finds him a wife from among the Egyptians.
Dads, how would you feel if the Lord asked you to separate yourself from one of your children? It had to have been really tough on Abraham!
In a number of ways, Isaac foreshadows Jesus: (1) The births of both Jesus and Isaac were foretold in advance–Abraham/Sarah were told 25 years earlier by God; Jesus had been predicted 1,000 years earlier in a promise by God to King David–the promise of a Messianic king who would come from David’s lineage. (2) Both births were miraculous: Isaac’s due to his parents’ ages (99, 90); and Jesus’s due to virgin birth/divine conception through the Holy Spirit. (3) Both were named before they were bornàSarah laughed (Gen 17); Joseph, told by an angel in a dream …you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21). (4) Both sons were obedient to their fathers, even unto death. (5) Isaac’s birth to parents far beyond the years of childbearing pictures the resurrection of Jesusàlife coming forth from death. And (6) both are a joy and delight to their fathers.
Paul’s arguments for justification in Romans 6 make a point similar to that which God makes with Isaac/Ishmael. Paul explains that God declares us good (guilt for our sin is removed) even Jesus’ death doesn’t make us good. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Nevertheless, we can still live wild, worldly, and sinful lives (which incidentally makes us look like hypocrites to nonbelievers and gives Jesus a black eye)! We have to agree to surrender our wills to God. We have to cooperate with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit to live godly lives. Why? Because God—not me–declares it to be so. Surely Ishmael and his mother thought he, as first born, would be Abraham’s heir. But God makes a decision contrary to the will or tradition of humankind. And He often asks us to make decisions contrary to our logic, tradition, or intuition.
Our Gospel lesson from Matthew (10) contains a number of difficult teachings of Jesus’. Again, in a way that defies human logic or tradition, Jesus makes some bold and troubling statements: Just as Abraham had to obey God and put aside his elder son, so too is Jesus telling us no one person can come before Him in importance in our lives. We cannot love a son or daughter, or a spouse, or a mother or father, more than we do our Lord. Remember in another Old Testament story, God asks
Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, long after having sent Ishmael away. Now God himself provides the substitutionary sacrifice, so Isaac’s death proves unnecessary. Nevertheless, the point is that no human relationship can be more important to us than our relationship with Jesus. Additionally, we are all subservient to Jesus. Since the very hairs of our heads are numbered, we are not to worry about being murdered for our faith. If we do deny Christ, He will later deny us before the Father. YIKES! And, in His first coming, Jesus did not arrive to institute peace on the earth. Actually, human beings are incapable of creating lasting peace on earth; true peace is only available when Jesus comes again, or when we find ourselves in heaven—whichever comes first.
We might want to argue with each of these principles—just as Abraham might have wanted to argue to keep Ishmael close….But we worship a God whose thoughts and plans are as high as the heavens are above the earth from ours. Who of us can comprehend the mind of God? So who are we to argue with Him? Our job, even if we don’t understand why, is to try to trust in God’s goodness and in His divine purposes.
In The Lord’s Prayer, we pray, deliver us from evil—actually, the most accurate translation is save us from the time of trial. God often seems to allow us to be tested with difficult choices. Will we still love Him when He doesn’t answer our prayers as we wish? Will we still trust Him when our lives are more difficult than we expected? None of us expects to have to die a martyr’s death, or even to have to choose our faith over the love of our family members. Let’s pray that the Lord gives us wisdom to make the difficult choices in a way that honors Him. Let’s pray that He also gives us the courage and strength to do His will in this life. Amen! May it be so!
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams