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Getting Personal

A lot has happened to Abraham in the past 24 years as we’ve been looking at his life. And to clarify, those 24 years are not how long we’ve been in this sermon series – we’re actually only at week 7 – but at this point in our story, it’s been 24 years since God first appeared to Abraham and invited him on a journey that would forever change his life.

God first appeared to Abraham when he was 75 years old and God made a promise to Abraham that he would have all kinds of descendants, that those descendants would become a great nation, God would bless them, and that they would be a blessing to every family on earth!

And those promises are not unlike the promises we received when we first met Christ. When we first came to Christ (at whatever age that was for each one of us), we receive very similar promises. First of all, we would have a huge family.  God promised to adopt us into his family (a family that is spread across the planet and across time – we would instantly have millions of brothers and sisters in Christ). These people that you’re sitting here with today are part of God’s promise to you. 

Also, God has promised to bless us with all kinds of blessings – not necessarily physical blessings, but blessings of life, joy, and peace, hope for the future – which are certainly worth more than any amount of wealth or possessions. And in receiving those blessings, God has enabled us to be a blessing to the people around us. We have the opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus with friends and family, neighbors and co-workers – whoever happens to be in our circle of influence.

We really are privileged to have received all these promises from God. And that’s perhaps where we’re a little different from Abraham at this point in our story. At this point, Abraham has not received the fulfillment of any of God’s promises. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, is now 90 years old and is still childless – God has promised them a son, but so far, they have no descendants. And while they are now living in the Promised Land, they are still foreigners in that land – the land does not yet belong to them. They are still waiting for God – 24 years later – to come through on his promises.

But in that wait, God has not been silent – nor has God been absent. In fact, God has used those 24 years to grow their faith, to help them learn to trust Him, and to teach them who He is and what He’s like.

And in our passage today, although God is still waiting to fulfill his promises, we see God once again taking the opportunity to reveal more about Himself to Abraham and Sarah. So let’s take a look. We’re in Genesis chapter 18 this morning – and we will start at verse 1.

The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. 2 He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.

3 “My lord,” he said, “if it pleases you, stop here for a while. 4 Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet. 5 And since you’ve honored your servant with this visit, let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.”

“All right,” they said. “Do as you have said.”

6 So Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, “Hurry! Get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough, and bake some bread.” 7 Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant, who quickly prepared it. 8 When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees. Genesis 18:1-8

Now there are just a few things that I’ll briefly mention here before we keep reading. Basically what we’ve read here so far is just pretty typical middle eastern hospitality. The story starts with Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent – having his mid-afternoon siesta as it were – likely because it was far too hot to work in the middle of the day – much like what we might see even today in places like Mexico or Australia. But he sees three men in the distance and he runs out to greet them and to invite them into his home. At this point, it doesn’t seem as if Abraham has any idea who these guys were – and to him, it didn’t really matter. The proper thing to do was to invite them in out of the hot sun and to offer them his hospitality.

He brings them water to wash their feet, he picks out a young calf to prepare and roast for them to enjoy, he brings in yogurt and milk and has Sarah bake up a pile of fresh bread. This is not just a mid-afternoon snack – this is a pretty lavish feast! In fact, the “three measures” of flour that Sarah uses to make the bread works out to be about 22 litres of flour or 92 cups. By my recipes, that works out to be between 20 – 25 full loaves of bread. So you put that with the whole calf that Abraham roasted and the yogurt and milk – and you’ve got a pretty nice BBQ picnic going on.

And while I don’t think it’s necessarily the point of the text, I can certainly say that this is a great example of good, Godly hospitality.

This kind of hospitality is one of the earmarks of Christianity. We probably don’t often connect hospitality with our faith, but the Scriptures certainly do. There are several times in the New Testament where believers are actually commanded to be hospitable. For example Romans 13:12 tells us:

“When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.  Always be eager to practice hospitality.” Romans 13:12

When you think about it, Christians should really be the most hospitable people on the planet. Knowing how God has provided for our needs, it should be a joy for us to share what we have with others. In fact, it might surprise you to know that hospitality is one of the qualifications for the elders of the church. This is mentioned in both 1 Timothy 3:2, and Titus 1:8. As part of a lengthly list of qualifications for church leaders, it says…

“He [A church leader] must enjoy having guests in his home…” 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:8

And you might wonder why something like hospitality would be a required qualification of those in church leadership, but I think hospitality can be a great indicator of Christ-like maturity because it’s really just loving people. Hospitality is caring for their needs, making them feel at home, making them feel welcome, important, loved. 

Showing hospitality is really just mimicking God’s love for other people. So if we are full of God’s love ourselves as mature Christians, hospitality will just come naturally. We will love loving one another. Jesus even said that…

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35

And I think hospitality certainly fits in that description. So even though Abraham was probably just following middle eastern custom, I think at the very least it’s a good reminder to us of our responsibility to offer hospitality to our friends, neighbours, and even to complete strangers. 

After all, Hebrews 13:1 & 2 says…

Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. 2 Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! Hebrews 13:1-2

This part about entertaining angels may very well be referring to Abraham – as we will see in just a minute. Very soon Abraham comes to realize that these three visitors what he is caring for are not just your everyday variety of visitors. As Abraham is serving these strangers this lovely meal, the conversation takes an interesting turn. Take a look at verse 9.

9 “Where is Sarah, your wife?” the visitors asked.

“She’s inside the tent,” Abraham replied.

10 Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!”

Genesis 18:9-10a

Now when you first read verse 9, you might wonder exactly how these strangers knew the name of Abraham’s wife. We have no indication that Abraham had ever introduced his wife to these men, so it seems a bit surprising that they would know her name. But of course, perhaps it came up in the conversation earlier, and so we don’t want to read too much between the lines and assume they have some sort of supernatural knowledge of Abraham and his family.

But then we read verse 10 and one of these strangers declares that he’d be coming back around these parts in about a year and when he does, 90 year old Sarah would have a baby boy. Now I’m pretty sure THAT hadn’t come up in the conversation earlier. This is a pretty clear indication that these strangers had a knowledge of Abraham and Sarah that only God could have.

After all, it’s has probably only been a matter of weeks since God had last appeared to Abraham, changed both his and Sarah’s name, and promised that Sarah would have a baby boy in about a year and they would name him Isaac. So this information was probably not yet wide-spread knowledge.

 In fact, I’m not even sure that Abraham had even told Sarah everything that God had said in that visit – particularly the part about her having a baby in her old age because when these strangers bring this up, Sarah seems to be in complete disbelief. Look at the end of verse 10.

Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent. 11 Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children. 12 So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?” Genesis 18:10b-12

Either Abraham hadn’t told her about God’s most recent promise, or she still just couldn’t believe it. She was long past the age of having children – the idea of becoming pregnant and having a child now was just preposterous! And so she laughed to herself silently. And that brings us to second indication that these strangers were not just regular human beings. Take a look at verse 13.

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she denied it, saying, “I didn’t laugh.”

But the Lord said, “No, you did laugh.” Genesis 18:13-15

It is now crystal clear that one of these strangers was none other than God Himself and as a spoiler, the other two, as we will discover in chapter 19, are angels.

And of course, as Sarah finds out, you can’t keep secrets from God. Even though Sarah had laughed silently to herself as she had this internal conversation in her mind, God was completely aware of it and he gently reminded her that nothing is too hard for the Lord. It’s not too hard for Him to hear someone’s inner thoughts and hear their silent laughter, and it’s not too hard for him to cause an old woman to have a baby.

God was teaching Sarah exactly what he had taught Abraham in his last visit – that He was El-Shaddai – God Almighty – the God who does the impossible.

But that was not to be the only lesson of the day. God was going to reveal even more about Himself to Abraham on that occasion – and we’ll see that as we continue reading in verse 16.

16 Then the men got up from their meal and looked out toward Sodom. As they left, Abraham went with them to send them on their way.

17 “Should I hide my plan from Abraham?” the Lord asked. 18 “For Abraham will certainly become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. 19 I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. Then I will do for Abraham all that I have promised.”

20 So the Lord told Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant. 21 I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have heard. If not, I want to know.” Genesis 18:16-21

Now this is an interesting passage. In fact this whole story is interesting because God is doing all kinds of things that you don’t expect God to do.

For example, you don’t expect God to be hiking around the earth with a couple of his angels. God is spirit and he is present everywhere – so what’s he doing showing up as a guest at Abraham’s camp – sitting down for some bread & yogurt. That seems unusual and rather unnecessary. If God had a message for Abraham – why not just show up and say what you have to say? Why go through this whole big to-do – showing up as strangers, resting under the tree, eating the bread and yogurt – and THEN finally bring up this whole Sodom and Gomorrah thing. It just seems really unnecessary.

And on that note, it also seems really unnecessary for God to “go down to Sodom to see if their actions are as wicked as I as He had heard.” This is God we’re talking about. Isn’t God all-knowing? Does God really have to travel to Sodom to see if these reports are true? Doesn’t God already know exactly how wicked these people are?”

For an infinite, omnipotent, omniscient God, much of this all seems rather unwarranted. So what’s it all about?

In all of these unusual actions and statements, it seems that God is revealing something new about Himself to Abraham. Remember, Abraham didn’t have the Bible to read and or commentaries to study in order to learn about God. He didn’t have all the Old Testament stories to refer to (much less the person of Jesus Christ to learn from) in order understand what God is like. Perhaps he may have known the stories of Creation and the Flood, but most of what he knew about God and His character was what he learned from personal experience!

So I think God is using this whole scenario to teach Abraham more about who He is. It seems to me that God’s actions and the language used here is intended to reveal the personal nature of God.

Quite often today many people might think of God as an impersonal force. We certainly see that in things like the Star Wars movies. “May the Force be with you…” Where God is almost more of an energy source or an idea or a state-of-being – rather than an actual person.

Interestingly, the vast majority of the world still believes in some sort of higher power, but many of them don’t believe that God is a person. And even if He was a person, most would see him as being distant and unknowable. Maybe he set the universe in motion at the beginning of time – but that’s as far as it goes. He doesn’t get involved in the affairs of man in general, and He certainly not concerned about the lives of you and I.

Well, in contrast to that belief, it seems to me in this story that God is very intentionally revealing his personal nature to Abraham.

In his last meeting with Abraham, God revealed that He was El-Shaddai – God Almighty – the God who can do the impossible. And now in this meeting, it seems that is God is revealing that he’s not just an incredible force, but He is also a personal being – personal being who invites mankind to have a relationship with Him.

We see this first when God shows up for meal. Sharing a meal together is a relational thing. You eat with friends and family – not with an impersonal force or an idea. Eating together is all about relationships.

We also see this when God asks “Where is your wife, Sarah?” – and then goes on to state that she was going to have a baby by this time next year.

God is showing his personal interest in Sarah. He knows her name. He knows her situation. In fact, it seems He knows more about her than what she knew about herself. God is being very personal with Sarah.

And then after the meal as Abraham walks with God (in a very literal sense this time) God welcomes him into dialogue about what He is about to do concerning Sodom and Gomorrah. It’s like God shares his thought process with Abraham. That is just incredible to think about.

And then finally, we also see God revealing his personal nature when He says that He is going to “go down to Sodom” to personally verify if they are as wicked as it seems. Of course, God already knows everything, but he’s expressing his personal concern and involvement in the judgement and the justice that He is about to execute.

All of these things are not the actions of an impersonal force – they are not the actions of a distant God who is not concerned about the affairs of man. No, these are the actions of a God who is intimately involved in every detail of each individual life. 

The Scriptures are very clear that God is passionately concerned about every single person. He created each one of us to be unique and special – and He loves us more than we can fathom. Psalm 139 is a great example of this. As I read a few verse, pay attention to the language and see how personally involved God is in your life. I’ll start at verse 13.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body

    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!

    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.

15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,

    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.

16 You saw me before I was born.

    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

    before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.

    They cannot be numbered!

18 I can’t even count them;

    they outnumber the grains of sand!

And when I wake up,

    you are still with me!

Psalm 139:13-18

God is intimately involved in your life. He has been since before you were born. He is not distant – He is very present. And He cares about every detail of your life.

He cared about Abraham. He cared about Sarah. And He even cared about the wicked people of Sodom & Gomorrah. In saying that He was going to go down to Sodom to verify their wickedness, we see that God is not eager to destroy them. God justice demands that He punish sin, but He gives us every possible chance to repent and to escape.

And that’s just what we see as the rest of this chapter plays out. As God talks with Abraham, it’s not specifically stated, but it’s clear to Abraham that God intends to destroy Sodom and Gormorrah for their sin. We read in verse 22…

22 The other men turned and headed toward Sodom, but the Lord remained with Abraham. 23 Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? 24 Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? 25 Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”

26 And the Lord replied, “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake.” Genesis 18:22-26

As you might remember, Abraham’s nephew Lot had moved to Sodom some time ago. They had originally been traveling together, but now that both households had grown so large, they decided to part ways and split up. Lot had chosen to move near Sodom where the pasture lands where well-watered and green – even though it was noted at that time that the people there were very wicked.

So it’s pretty safe to assume that Abraham is thinking of his nephew now as he asks the Lord if he would destroy the city of Sodom if there were 50 righteous people there. After all, he argues, it wouldn’t be right to destroy the godly with the wicked. Certainly God, who is the Judge of the entire world, would do what is right. And God affirms that – He says that if there are 50 righteous people in Sodom, he would spare the whole city for their sake.

But it seems that Abraham is not convinced that there would actually be 50 righteous people in Sodom. And so now that Abraham has established that God’s justice could be delayed for the sake of 50 righteous people, he goes on to see if perhaps justice could be delayed for less than 50 people.

27 Then Abraham spoke again. “Since I have begun, let me speak further to my Lord, even though I am but dust and ashes. 28 Suppose there are only forty-five righteous people rather than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?”

And the Lord said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five righteous people there.”

29 Then Abraham pressed his request further. “Suppose there are only forty?”

And the Lord replied, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the forty.”

30 “Please don’t be angry, my Lord,” Abraham pleaded. “Let me speak—suppose only thirty righteous people are found?”

And the Lord replied, “I will not destroy it if I find thirty.”

31 Then Abraham said, “Since I have dared to speak to the Lord, let me continue—suppose there are only twenty?”

And the Lord replied, “Then I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.”

32 Finally, Abraham said, “Lord, please don’t be angry with me if I speak one more time. Suppose only ten are found there?”

And the Lord replied, “Then I will not destroy it for the sake of the ten.”

33 When the Lord had finished his conversation with Abraham, he went on his way, and Abraham returned to his tent.

Genesis 18:27-33

With God’s guarantee that He would not destroy Sodom if there were at least 10 righteous people there, it seems that Abraham is satisfied. I would guess he’s confident that there would at least be 10 righteous people in Sodom. Surely Lot and his family and those in his household would represent at least that many. But of course, as we read in the next chapter, that would not be the case. And perhaps Lot’s apparent lack of godly influence among his own family and his own household might be a sermon for another day….

But I think these last verses reemphasis what we said earlier. God is certainly not eager to destroy these cities. God says that if there were even ten righteous people to be found, God would spare the whole city.

And I think that just underscores God’s mercy and his love and his personal concern for each individual. But at the same time, God’s mercy doesn’t cancel God’s justice. We won’t have time to get into the next chapter, but I’ll read just a couple verses to bring closure to this story. Chapter 19, verse 27 says….

27 Abraham got up early that morning and hurried out to the place where he had stood in the Lord’s presence. 28 He looked out across the plain toward Sodom and Gomorrah and watched as columns of smoke rose from the cities like smoke from a furnace.

29 But God had listened to Abraham’s request and kept Lot safe, removing him from the disaster that engulfed the cities on the plain. Genesis 19:27-29

Abraham had earlier asked God, “Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” And the answer is yes, God would indeed do what is right. He would execute justice and judgement on the wicked, but in his mercy, he would also provide means of escape.

And of course, this is the message of the Gospel. Every person on the planet is facing the justice and the judgement of God – but God, in his mercy has provided us a means of escape.

As Abraham stated, God is the Judge of the whole earth. He is our Creator and he has set the standard by which we must live. Unfortunately, none of us have lived up to that standard. Romans 3:23 tells us that:

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23 

In other words, none of us are innocent. All of us have done wrong and are therefore deserving punishment. That’s justice. Those who do wrong deserve to punished.

And the Bible is clear that one day we must give an account of our lives to our Creator. Romans 2:5 says…

But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 He will judge everyone according to what they have done. Romans 2:5-6

Just like how God judged the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, God will one day judge us as well. But here’s the Good News. Because God cares so much about each one of us, God has provided us a means of escape.

God sent his Son Jesus into this world, to live a sinless life, and to die in our place – taking the punishment for our sin. In his mercy towards us, God allowed his justice and judgement to fall on Jesus so that we could be free.

“By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else. 4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” Ephesians 2:3b-5

You know, that does not sound to me like the work of an impersonal force. That sounds more like a very personal God who actually cares deeply about each individual person.

I’m so glad that I don’t serve some distant, far away God who doesn’t know me from Adam. Instead, I serve a God who knows every detail of my life. A God who knows my name. A God who knows all the wrong things I’ve done – and yet who loves me like crazy anyway. I serve a God who carefully and meticulously knit me together in my mother’s womb – and who has more thoughts about me than grains of sand on the seashore.

And even though I have done a whole lot of things to cause him grief and to deserve his anger and judgement – He loved me enough to take the punishment that I deserved so that I could be forgiven and experience the joy of living with him forever.

Is that the God that you serve? The force may not be with you – but there’s a very real and very personal God who wants to be. He knows you intimately – and he wants you to know him in the same way.

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