After spending so long the first half of the year in only 11 chapters, and each of the last three weeks covering only two chapters at a time, this week felt like a lot, didn’t it? And yet, it was so rich, so bursting at the seams with theological truth! It’s kinda like gorging on a super rich flourless chocolate tart – without such a need for a milk chaser! You know what I mean? It was rich, thick, velvety, yet it left me wanting more, not feeling bloated! I hope you were able to stick with it this week.
Jen Wilkin did a very good job this week taking us through the material. This morning, I want to take what you learned through your homework, and try to package it in a way that highlights what we have learned specifically about God this week. I will sum it up in three points: We learned that the God we serve is:
a God who SEES.
a God who ACTS.
and a God who SAVES.
Sees. Acts. Saves.
We see evidence in our stories today of three things God sees. First, he sees what will be. Jen Wilkin opened our week talking about God’s sense of humor. His firm grasp of irony and foreshadow are not lost on this literary buff, to be sure. However, Isaac’s name is certainly a reflection that God saw what would happen in the future – that the miraculousness of Isaac’s birth would cause laughter – laughter of both joy and astonishment.
Even further back, though, we see evidence of God seeing what will be. His pronouncement of the curse in Genesis 3. The results of his promise to Abraham – the descendants that number greater than the stars. He is a God who sees what will be – because he is the God who controls it all.
Second, he is a God who sees our hearts. Look with me at Chapter 21 of Genesis, starting in verse 9:
But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
Abraham very obviously cared about both of his sons. Ishmael was 16-17 years old by now. He had surely bonded with, cared for, and developed a great attachment to him, and was not happy with the idea of sending him away. We don’t see any quotes from Abraham, any indication that he had a discussion about how this displeased him. But God saw his heart.
Another example of God seeing our hearts from these stories is the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. God knew full well what the outcome of this was going to be before he even tested Abraham. But look here. Chapter 22, starting in verse 9:
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”
Look back real quick at the beginning of the story. Verse 1:
After these things, God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!”
This might seem like a silly question, but why, at the beginning of the test did God call Abraham’s name once, but the angel of the Lord called his name twice? Repetition is very important in scripture. I have to take notice of a repeated name. Rightly so, I think we are to sense an urgency to the angel’s call. Why, though? I think it is because God saw Abraham’s heart, and knew he was really going to do it! He was not hesitating. He hadn’t hesitated yet when it came to doing this. God saw, though.
A question I have to ask myself, then, is what does God see in MY heart?
Third, he is a God who sees what we need.
Abraham, when displeased at the thought of sending Hagar and Ishmael away, God saw that Abraham needed to know they would be okay.
Hagar in the wilderness, with a dry wineskin needed water, yes. But she also needed reassurance, I think. It had been 17 years since she had been told by the angel her son would grow into a strong and independent person. She was wandering with a young man, watching him fade, and could not bear to watch any more. She needed relief.
Abraham, again, with his arm stretched up – knife in hand, ready to slaughter his son – the promised one – the only one left. God saw Abraham needed a substitute.
Isaac needed a wife.
What about you? What do you need? Do you trust that God sees it?
Well, God is not only a god who SEES, he is also a God who ACTS! Each one of those needs I just listed are followed by action. God’s action.
He intervenes and offers comfort to Abraham. Chapter 21 verse 13:
And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.”
Abraham has just seen God keep his promise through Isaac, he has no reason to doubt this promise about Ishmael. So he does not hesitate to obey.
When Hagar was distraught, unable to watch Ishmael die, God offered reassurance and direction:
“Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.
When God saw Abraham’s heart and knew his obedience was genuine – that he really was going to sacrifice Isaac, God stopped him. Not only did he stop him, but God provided a substitute – a ram. Abraham believed, and a substitute was given.
When Isaac needed a wife, Abraham sent his servant. God caused Rebekah to be at the well at the precise moment the servant was praying for a sign. He chose her, and made sure she was there so the servant would KNOW God had chosen her.
What about in your life? For me, I see God moving in my life very vividly – although like most people I see it most clearly in hindsight! I was a child who had multiple visits to the doctor and the hospital, for multiple reasons. I can certainly see how that has helped me as the mom of two children with very different special needs.
I was happy at my high school, had a great group of friends, but none of us were Christians. My parents were transferred by the military not just to another city, but to another continent (and this was before the internet and e-mail and Facebook, so long distance friendships were harder), where I became involved with a youth group, a youth choir, and gave my life over.
Not only that, but I came to Portland at the suggestion of that youth pastor to go to college, where I met my husband, had my kids, and came to Hinson!
How has God acted, moved, or intervened in your life?
I think the greatest action God takes is when he SAVES. We worship a God who saves!
We have seen many ways so far that God has saved:
-Saved Noah and his family from the flood.
-Saved Abraham from death multiple times, including when he deceived Pharaoh, and during the battles he fought. Not only did he save him from death, he caused him to prosper!
Here in our stories this week, we see that he saves Hagar and Ishmael from destruction – even though Ishmael was not the promised son.
He saves Isaac from being sacrificed, and thereby sets up the image and idea of substitutionary atonement, of something dying in the place of another, for the other’s benefit.
If you continue through Genesis, and the rest of the Old Testament, you will see repeated instances of God saving his people – from destruction, from exile, from themselves.
Keep going, into the New Testament, and you will see that the image of the substitute sacrifice culminates in a man on a cross. That man, that one and only son (just like Isaac) was put on that cross as a substitute for you and me.
Because God saw what would be in Genesis 3. He saw that the serpent would be crushed.
Because he saw our hearts, way back then, and he saw they were sinful, rebellious, and imperfect.
Because he saw what we needed – we needed a savior if we were ever going to be with him again. And he wants that because he loves us – Just like Abraham loved Isaac, but more.
Because he is a God who acts. He sent his son to live the perfect life that we could not, to accept the punishment we deserve, so that we can believe in what he has done, and be saved.
Because he is a God who saves.
If you are here this morning, and you don’t know the God I am talking about, I am glad you are here. It may just be that God has acted to bring you here to this moment. If you would like to know more, to have a relationship with him, please come talk to me, to Mary-Alice, to your group leader, or to the friend who may have brought you. He sees your heart, he knows what you need, and he desires to save you.