40 Year Wedding Anniversary
The Blessing of a Christian Marriage
Hebrews 11: 11, 12
This is the story of Sarah’s faith - the story of 1 woman who together with her husband believed God and received a very great reward - story about the blessing of having a believing spouse.
If man has a wife who believes in Jesus, he is greatly blessed - if a wife has a husband who believes, she is greatly blessed. When the 2 of them together both love the Lord Jesus Christ, that marriage is doubly blessed.
Where there is shared faith in Jesus Christ, the foundation is laid for a marriage that can last a lifetime. Where both partners are believers, they can face the inevitable trials of life with a resolve born of shared commitment to the same eternal values. That is why it is matters so greatly that Christian young people seek to meet, date and marry other young people who share their faith in the Lord. This is one area that you cannot leave to chance.
I have never doubted—in fact have always known—that God gave me a wife in answer to prayer. This sermon is not about Sylvia. It’s about Sarah. But I can’t speak about Sarah’s faith without reflecting on the faith of my own wife. What Sarah was to Abraham—his indispensable companion and friend—Sylvia has been to me. I can testify to the vast blessing of having a believing spouse. In 2 short verses the writer praises the faith of a woman who lived 4000 years ago. Her story is told in detail in Genesis 12 - 23. Our text singles out 3 aspects of her faith worthy of special attention.
1. It was a Personal Faith v. 11a
“By faith even Sarah herself…” Greek - word that emphasizes not just that Sarah believed, but that it was Sarah herself—personally and individually—who believed. May seem like a small point, but it is huge when you consider that Abraham is considered the father of faith. We call him “Father Abraham” because from him came the nation of Israel, and he became the father of faith for all those who believe in Jesus.
The Bible has a great deal to say about Abraham’s faith and much less to say about Sarah’s faith. But here it is said very plainly that Sarah herself also believed. She didn’t—and couldn’t—live off the faith of her husband. In order for God’s plan to go forward, both Abraham and Sarah together must believe the promise.
No wife can live off her husband’s faith, and no husband can live off his wife’s faith. Neither can the children live off the faith of their parents. God has no grandchildren. It is never enough to say, “I am related to a believer.” But what about you personally? Have you ever trusted Christ as Lord and Saviour? No one goes to heaven because you know someone who is saved. Salvation must ultimately become very personal.
Sarah believed God. She didn’t trust in Abraham’s faith. She had her own faith that was real and genuine. Is your faith personal or it is merely “borrowed” from a spouse or a family member or from someone you know who knows the Lord? Heaven belongs to those who know Jesus, not to those who know someone who knows Jesus. As long as Christ is outside of us, all that he has done for the human race is of no value to us. It is not enough to say, “I attend Wilro Park Baptist Church” or “I love to sing Christian music” or even “Pastor William baptized me personally.” It’s not enough to say, “I believe that there was a person named Jesus who lived and died 2000 years ago.” But is he living in you? We experience Christ in us only as we commit ourselves to him as Lord and Saviour.
2. It was a Powerful Faith v. 11b
I love the way v. 11 rather delicately handles the problem Abraham and Sarah faced. Sarah was “past the age.” That’s a nice way of saying she was 90 years old. That of course is why Sarah laughed when the angelic visitors told Abraham (who was 100 years old) that Sarah would get pregnant and give birth to a son. In case we miss the magnitude of this miracle, the Bible spells out the problem several times: Sarah was barren - no children - old - passed the age of childbearing - “worn-out woman.” Abraham thought his body was as good as dead.
These verses remind us of the utter hopelessness of their situation. It seemed impossible when God first gave the promise when Abraham was 75 and Sarah was 65. Now 25 years later, the situation was beyond hopeless.
God makes it clear over and over again that he is calling Abraham and Sarah to become the founders of a vast nation. The writer of Hebrews elevates Sarah to a level equal with Abraham. Even though the Bible focuses more on Abraham’s faith, here we discover that Sarah’s faith was equally as great as Abraham’s, and she deserves equal credit.
We learn something about the true nature of faith - we learn about God’s involvement in the most intimate moments of life. In some way that we can’t understand (because it was a miracle), God touched the physical bodies of Abraham and Sarah and gave them the ability to procreate. This came after decades of trying and finally giving up hope altogether. It is as if God says, “I will wait until it is so utterly impossible that no one will believe it, and then I will make it happen.”
I find it very encouraging that Sarah is included in the great line of faith because if you read Genesis, she doesn’t always appear in the best light. After all, she was the one who suggested to Abraham that he have a child with Hagar, her servant. We all know what a disaster that was. She laughed when she heard the angelic messengers tell Abraham that she was going to have a child and then she lied about her laughter. But in the end she believed God and gave birth to Isaac when she was 90 years old. Her faith shines brighter than her doubts.
3. It was a Prolific Faith v. 12
Did you notice how easily the text moves from Sarah back to Abraham? She was the focus of v. 11 and now he is mentioned as the father of innumerable descendants. But this should not surprise us since in a good marriage, the husband and wife share equally in the triumphs, joys and sorrows.
Together they waited for years. Together they foolishly sought a shortcut. Together they doubted what God said. Together they saw their own weakness. Together they believed God. Together they had a son. Together they founded a vast nation. Together they became examples of faith. Together they show up in Hebrews 11.
That’s what marriage is—it’s “together.” A man and a woman, side by side, on a journey through life, sometimes victorious, sometimes struggling, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes disagreeing, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, sometimes talking, sometimes silent, sometimes making huge plans, sometimes scrambling to make ends meet.
In the course of a lifetime, a married couple will go through the whole range of human emotions. There will be seasons of struggle, times of dryness, occasions when they wonder why they ever got married in the first place. When children come, they will not always agree on how to raise them. There will be hard days and happy nights - but where there is love and respect and a commitment that cannot be broken by the winds of adversity, they will face life as Abraham and Sarah did—“together.”
God knew what he was doing when he said that it is not good for man to be alone. Very few of us enjoy being alone over the long haul. For most of us, life is meant to be enjoyed together. It is made all the sweeter when a couple can look back and say, “It wasn’t always easy, and sometimes it was very hard indeed, but by God’s grace, we have made the journey together.”
Abraham couldn’t make a child by himself. What if God had worked a miracle in Abraham but not in Sarah? What if she had said, “No thanks. I’m too old. I don’t want to be changing nappies when I’m 90”?
God had to work several miracles -1. He had to touch their old, tired, worn-out bodies and make them able to reproduce. 2. He had to touch their hearts so that they would have faith to believe the first miracle had taken place.
Abraham needed Sarah in order to produce Isaac. Give Sarah her due. Praise the wife who stands by her husband. Who shares his dreams. Who listens to his stories. Who laughs at his jokes. Who believes in him even when he messes up. Who bites her tongue when he says something stupid. Who learns with him how to make a home. Who loves to cook what he loves to eat. Who waits patiently for his phone call. Who looks forward to seeing him when he comes home from work. Who knows how to manage his changing moods. Who knows what to say to make him smile. Who looks for ways to encourage him when he wants to quit.
Who prays for him every day. Who encourages him to stay on his diet. Who speaks well of him to others. Who still thinks he is cute and funny after all these years. Who gets angry sometimes but refuses to give up. Who puts up with his annoying habits. Who knows what he is going to say before he says it. Who learns to love rugby and cricket. Who never gives up even when giving up would be easy.
Yes, give Sarah her due. Give due praise to all the daughters of Sarah across the years. “Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way, and were good, loyal wives to their husbands. Sarah, for instance, taking care of Abraham, would address him as ‘my dear husband.’ You’ll be true daughters of Sarah if you do the same, unanxious and unintimidated.” 1 Peter 3: 4 - 6 (MSG)
This sort of beauty isn’t developed overnight. Sarah was far from perfect, a fact made very clear from the account in Genesis where she laughed at God because his promise made no sense. On the other hand, Abraham lied about Sarah not being his wife—twice! They both foolishly tried to take a shortcut with the Hagar-Ishmael affair. We don’t need to turn them into saints or pretend they had no struggles. Still, for all their weaknesses, they both lived by faith in God. It means that God looked beyond their faults and saw that deep down, they truly believed in him.
Sarah Never Saw Her Own Legacy
Talk about descendants more numerous than the stars in the skies or the sand on the seashore. We tend to read that and think how amazing it is that an old man and an old woman would have such prolific faith. That from such an unlikely beginning would come such a staggering result. Of course, that’s true - from Abraham and Sarah came the whole nation of Israel. But NT expands that to include the spiritual sons of Abraham—that is, the true believers in Jesus. But the most amazing thing is that Sarah ultimately brought forth the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is called the “son of Abraham,” but he was equally the “son of Sarah,” who at first doubted and then believed because she “considered him faithful who had promised.” We ought to be very grateful for her faith because her faith brought our Saviour to the world.
But there is another side to all this. Sarah didn’t live to see the ultimate end of her faith. She was 127 years old when she died, meaning that she lived for 37 years after Isaac was born. But she didn’t live long enough to meet Isaac’s wife Rebekah. She never met her grandsons Jacob and Esau. She never knew about her many great-grandchildren or the tribes of Israel that would emerge from the unruly sons of Jacob. All of that was hidden to her because she only lived long enough to experience the great miracle of Isaac’s birth and then to see him grow up. Rarely will any of us see the full results of what we lived for.
That, too, is part of the life of faith. Like all parents and grandparents, we wonder what the future will hold. Some parents are given long life and good health to see their children’s children. Psalm 128: 6 (NLT) “May you live to enjoy your grandchildren.” Another paraphrase that always touches my heart, “May you live to see your grandchildren playing at your feet.” What a happy thought that is. But there are no guarantees.
Sylvia and I have started something together that will go on without us. That thought brings me great joy because it means that God’s faithfulness to my children and to my grandchildren doesn’t depend on my personal presence. By God’s grace, what starts with us will continue for many generations to come.
Together we start a legacy of faith. But what we start, God will continue. After we are gone, God will finish the work.
This is the true blessing of a Christian marriage. Abraham and Sarah together believed God, together weathered the storms of life, together stumbled and fell and then got up again, together walked with God, together lived in tents in the Promised Land, together raised Isaac, and together they were buried in the same place. All this by faith—together!
I have preached this sermon primarily from the standpoint of marriage, but the truth applies to all of us—married or single. Faith is all that matters. This is the legacy we must leave—that we lived and died by faith. It is a legacy that is within the reach of all of us. Faith is not limited to a certain group. It is not defined by your income, your marital status, your culture, your age, your sex, your background, your language, or any of the ways we divide the human race.
Faith is the great divider. By your life, you may influence the next Abraham, the next Sarah, the next David, the next Daniel, the next Esther. Your faith may light a fire for God that will burn long after you are gone. God may arrange things so that your faith bears vast fruit in the years to come. Your legacy will be most clearly seen after you have gone to heaven.
May the Holy Spirit take the truth of the Word and enlarge your faith to believe God for great things now and in the future. Amen.