J. Hudson Taylor - pioneer missionary to China - "There are 3 stages in any great work attempted for God: impossible, difficult, done." God’s work is never easy, in fact in many ways it's harder than we expect. But God is faithful every step of the way.
God Starts With the Impossible
Most things in God's work get started in the same way. When God wants to do something big, he starts with something small. When he wants to do the miraculous, he starts with the impossible. After all, when he sent his Son to the world, he didn't send him to New York or London or even to Rome. He sent him to a little village called Bethlehem. God loves to start small because then he can show his power in a mighty way. He also is the only one who gets the credit because most of us don't want the credit for small beginnings. We'd rather start big and go from there.
No so with our Heavenly Father. He starts with the impossible and then turns it into reality. That is the story of Abraham's life. Here is a man in paganism in Ur of the Chaldees. He's 75 years old and has no children. God promised this old man that he would have so many descendants that they would be like the stars in the sky and the dust on the ground. No one would be able to count them all.
1. The Promise to Abraham v. 1 - 8
An incredible promise to make to an old man who had trouble believing it. So God repeated the promise many times across the years. Each time he added a bit more detail. First it was general - "I will make a great nation from your descendants." Then it became specific - "You will have a son." Then God added promises concerning the nation itself- "To your descendants will I give the land from the River of Egypt to the River Euphrates." Finally, God "cut a covenant" with Abraham in which he made an unconditional promise to fulfil everything he had promised.
Now 24 years have passed - Abraham is 99 years old. He has no child except the son born through Hagar, his wife's servant. Surely God has forgotten his promise or perhaps has changed his mind. At that moment of despair God comes again to Abraham with even more details: 1. Your name will be called Abraham -"Father of Many People." 2. Many kings and nations will come from you. 3. I will make an everlasting covenant with your descendants. 4. I will give the whole land of Canaan to your descendants. How could Abraham believe such an amazing statement? The answer is the name by which God introduces himself: "I am the Lord Almighty." Hebrew - El Shaddai - means - "the God who moves mountains." God's way of saying, "Abraham, what are you worried about? I can make a mountain and I can move a mountain. If I want to, I can give you a son when you are 100 years old. This is no problem for me."
You think it's hard to have a baby when you're 100 and your wife is 90? His name is El Shaddai. He can do things you and I can't even imagine much less attempt.
2. The Sign of the Covenant v. 9 - 14
Once God gave this incredible promise, he told Abraham and the men to do something special - ordered them to be circumcised. v. 11 - "the sign of the covenant." Several conditions regarding circumcision: 1. All male descendants were to be circumcised 2. Circumcision should take place on the 8th day after birth.
3. Both natural-born descendants and foreign slaves were to be circumcised 4. Anyone who refuses circumcision must be cut off from the people of God.
Why this particular sign? Circumcision by its nature touches the very core of what it means to be a man. In his most intimate and personal moments each Jewish male would forever be reminded that he was a holy Son of the Covenant and that he belonged to God. No one else might know it but once he was circumcised, he could never forget it. The circumcised man was saying to God, "I accept the covenant you have made." Joshua 24: 15 - "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
3. The Promise to Sarah v. 15, 16
Lest Sarah should feel left out, God now gives several specific promises to her: 1. Her name will now be Sarah - means "Princess." 2. She will soon give birth to a son. 3. Through that son she will become the mother of many nations. 4. Great rulers will descend from her. Vast demonstration of God's amazing grace. The last time we see Sarah she was urging Abraham to sleep with Hagar to help God out. Then she began mistreating Hagar when the girl became pregnant. It's not a very pretty story.
Yet God includes her in his promise to Abraham. Though she is far from perfect, and her faith is very weak, she too will be included in God's plan. God said, "Don't worry Sarah. I'm going to bless you in spite of yourself." That's often what God does, isn't it? He blesses us in spite of ourselves.
4. Two Sons, Two Promises v. 17 - 22
See how Abraham responded to these incredible promises - he laughed. He fell down on the ground either in total shock or because he was laughing so hard. He didn't believe it! He said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man 100 years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of 90?" That this has only happened once in human history - 4000 years ago. So Abraham is on good grounds to doubt God from a statistical point of view.
God responds with 4 statements: 1. I’m going to give you a son and you will call him Isaac. 2. He will be the son I have promised you. 3. I will bless Ishmael and make him into a great nation. 4. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac. Abraham will celebrate his 100th birthday by painting the nursery and changing nappies.
I find this story tremendously comforting because it drives home the point that God is never early and never late. He's always right on time. When you least expect it, and often when you've given up all hope, God comes through just in time.
5. The Act of Obedience v. 19 - 21
After God finished speaking and left him, Abraham was circumcised - "on that very day" - instant obedience. He had Ishmael and all the other men in his household circumcised -complete obedience. Abraham saying, "Lord, I believe every word you say is true and I'm going to believe it even if I don't understand it." Proof of Abraham's faith - few minutes ago -laughing in disbelief. Now he is circumcised to seal his dedication to God and his Word. Doubting is no sin, so long as your doubts don't keep you from obeying God.
The Word For Today
1. His name is El Shaddai - He is still able to move mountains for His people. Jesus said to his disciples that through faith in God they could move mountains. "Faith is telling the mountain to move and then being surprised only when it doesn't."
Don't despair if you are facing a mountain today. Remember the words of J. Hudson Taylor: "There are 3 phrases in any great work for God: Impossible, difficult, done." You may be in the impossible stage. Don't give up because his name is El Shaddai and nothing is impossible with him.
2. God's call will sometimes require acts of obedience that may seem strange at the time. Abraham may have wondered about circumcision because God didn't explain himself at all. “If God is in charge, we can do the difficult because he can do the impossible.”
3. We need to be circumcised today - God requires circumcision of the heart. Romans 2: 28, 29 - "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code."
Circumcision - a physical mark on the body - was never meant to be an end in itself. The physical mark was to be accompanied by a deep spiritual commitment to God. Where commitment was absent, circumcision soon degenerated into ritualism. That's what had happened over the centuries. By the first century many rabbis spoke of circumcision as if it were an automatic ticket to heaven.
A Modern Application
Many of us regard our baptism in much the same way the Jews regarded circumcision. Some churches even teach that baptism saves from sin and guarantees entrance into heaven. Let us be clear on this point. All religious ritual is worthless unless something has already happened in the heart!
-Baptism cannot save you or help save you!
-The Lord's Supper cannot save you or help save you!
-Church membership cannot save you or help save you!
-Tithing cannot save you or help save you!
-Praying twice a day cannot save you or help save you!
-Lighting candles cannot save you or help save you!
-The sacraments cannot save you or help save you!
-Religious ritual cannot save you or help save you!
Those things are not bad. I can personally baptize you myself but unless you have Christ in your heart, your baptism will do you no good. In fact, I can hold you under water so long that you'll come up singing "Amazing Grace," but even that won't do you any good unless Christ is in your heart.
Circumcision originally was supposed to mean, "I am dedicated to God." Where a person was truly dedicated, it had legitimate meaning. Where they weren't, it became a ritual without reality. In the same way, baptism is supposed to mean, "I have given my heart to Jesus Christ and he is my Saviour." When that is true, baptism is a wonderfully appropriate step of faith. When that is not true, baptism has become meaningless - and even dangerous because it may lead you to think you are a Christian when you really aren't.
"Are You a Believer?"
What would your answer be? "I'm a member of WPBC." That's not what I asked. Suppose I asked, "Are you born again?" What would you say? "I was baptized by Pastor William/Ivan/Barry." That's not what I asked. Suppose I asked, "Are you saved?" What would you say? "I was born a Catholic and I'm going to die a Catholic." That's not what I asked you. Suppose I asked, "Are you a Christian?" What would you say? "Of course I'm a Christian. After all, I was born in South Africa." That's not what I asked.
Five Simple Words
The issue is your relationship to Jesus Christ. 5 simple words -take you all the way from earth to heaven - Only Jesus and Jesus only. Only Jesus can save you so put your trust in Jesus only. Amen.