Adventures in Faith – Abraham 12. God's Good vs. God's Best
Genesis 21: 1 - 21
Have you ever wanted something so badly and waited a long time for it to happen, only to discover that when it did, things didn’t work out the way you thought? Most of us have had that kind of experience and some of us have been down that road many times.
Perhaps you spent years saving money to buy a house, only to discover that the foundation is cracked. Or you finally got that new job you were dreaming of and 6 months later lost it because the company was downsizing. Or your friend who wanted to go into business with you double-crossed you in the end.
The longer you wait for something, the greater the possibility of disappointment. As you wait, you begin to think about how good things will be when your dream finally comes true. If you wait long enough, your expectations will be so high that you will almost inevitably be disappointed because nothing could ever be that good.
The Lessons of Disappointment
As difficult as disappointment is, we can learn some positive lessons anyway: 1. Disappointment teaches us humility. 2. It turns our focus away from the world and back to God. 3. It teaches us to appreciate what we already have. 4. It liberates us from the bondage of having to have our own way.
Disappointment is a natural and normal part of life. “The Christian life is a land of hills and valleys.” “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.” This is particularly true of family life because the people closest to us bring us both joy and sorrow. Our homes can be happy one day and very sad the next. Things change so quickly.
We have come to an event that should have brought only joy to Abraham and Sarah. But while the birth of Isaac brought joy, it also brought its share of pain and sorrow.
1. What Abraham Learned From the Birth of Isaac v. 1 - 7
A. He Learned That God Keeps His Word.
v.1 - Living Bible: “God did as he had promised…at the time God had said….” That’s why Sarah got pregnant and why Abraham is now changing nappies at the age of 100.
B. He Learned that God’s Timing is Always Perfect.
25 years have passed since God first spoke to Abraham. During that time Abraham had many adventures and many spiritual ups and downs. Sometimes he fervently believed God, but often he doubted. Time and again God appeared to him to remind him of his promise. I’m sure he often wondered why God was taking so long to keep his Word.
Let the story of Isaac’s birth remind you of this truth: God is never early and he is never late. He’s not in a hurry and he doesn’t work according to our timetable. How often do we fret and fume when God delays his answers to our prayers. How much better to say, “Lord, let your will be done in your own time in your own way.”
C. He Learned that God’s Power is Unlimited.
Romans 4: 21- says that Abraham believed God’s promise because he was “fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.” God wanted both Abraham and Sarah to be “as good as dead” physically so that when the child was born, only God could get the credit. When Abraham held little Isaac in his arms, he knew that nothing was too hard for the Lord.
D. He Learned That God Can Turn Sorrow Into Joy.
Remember that both Abraham and Sarah laughed in unbelief when God promised that within a year Sarah would give birth to child. But when the year had passed, Isaac was born. His name means “laughter.” It was both a statement of total joy and a reminder that God’s promises are no laughing matter.
Has God made a promise to you? If so, you may be sure that he will keep it. You may waver, but he will not waver. You may doubt but that will not stop God. This morning your eyes may fill with tears, but remember the word of the Lord: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” Psalm126: 5
2. What Abraham Learned From the Dismissal of Ishmael v. 8, 9
Sarah’s words are harsh and bitter and reflect the resentment she felt toward Hagar. Ishmael is now 15 or 16 years old, and perhaps Sarah felt she had had enough teenage attitude so she asked Abraham to get rid of the boy and his mother.
There is a world of pain and sadness – v. 11. To please Sarah he had to get rid of the son he loved. Every parent can imagine the pain that ripped his heart. How do you say to your own flesh and blood, “Be gone! And never come back.” But that’s what Sarah was asking him to do.
God spoke to Abraham and said, “Do what Sarah has asked you to do. Don’t worry about Ishmael, I’ll take care of him and his mother. In fact, I’m going to make a great nation out of him because he is your son. But he must leave because Isaac is the son of the promise.”
So the next day Abraham gave Hagar and Ishmael food and water and sent them away. They wandered into the desert, ran out of water, and nearly died. Then God miraculously appeared to Hagar and promised to make Ishmael the father of a great nation.
Ishmael grew up in the desert, became a skilled archer, and later married a woman from Egypt. He did indeed become the father of a great nation. To this day many Arabic people trace their roots back to him.
It’s sobering to realize that once Abraham sent Ishmael away, he never saw him again. The deep rupture in the family was never repaired. Sarah and Hagar never became friends. As far as we know, the only time Isaac and Ishmael ever met again was at the cave when they buried Abraham. Of all the things that Abraham learned from this sad event, 2 stand out -
A. He Learned That Choices Have Consequences.
No one made him sleep with Hagar 15 years earlier. Choices have consequences. You can’t turn left and right at the same time. You can’t get married and also stay single. You can’t move away and also stay where you are.
I’m sure that Abraham never dreamed that sleeping with Hagar would lead to so much heartache and confusion. I’m sure he justified it in his own mind as the best way to make his wife happy and also “help” God keep his promise. But it didn’t work out.
When we compromise our standards, lower our convictions, or when we try to take a moral or ethical shortcut, it never works out in the end. Choices have consequences. Abraham learned that the hard way as he watched his son Ishmael walk down the lonely road toward the desert.
B. He Learned That the Good Must Go in Order That the Best May Come.
Why would God literally order to Abraham to cast off Ishmael and Hagar in such a cold way? 2 answers - God knew something Abraham didn’t know. God was going to take special care of Ishmael out in the desert. God never intended to see Hagar and Ishmael die in the hot sun. The other answer is that God wanted to protect Isaac because he was the promised seed of Abraham. As long as Ishmael remained in the house, he would be a threat to God’s plan. He had to go, even though it meant hardship and even though he and Hagar probably never understood why it happened.
The spiritual meaning of all this is clear. In our walk with God, sometimes the good must go in order that the best must come.
Athletes spend thousands of hours and tens of thousands of rand learning to be the best. In the process they give up any semblance of a normal life. They get up earlier than normal people do and all daylong they work at perfecting their skill. They exercise, train, diet, lose weight, gain weight, lift weights, bulk up, slim down, practice, practice, practice and then practice some more. Day after day, month after month, year after year.
Why? So that they can go and compete with the very best athletes from around the world. All in hope that for one brief shining moment they will be the very best at what they do, better than anyone else on this planet.
To accomplish anything in life you’ve got to give up the good in order to achieve the best. That means that some good things have to go in order that better things may come. This touches so many areas of life—how we spend our time, especially our leisure hours. It ought to cause us to examine our habits and the friends we hang around with. Some things may not be wrong, but they just aren’t good for us. Some friendships may not be bad, but they keep pulling us in the wrong direction or they us from going where we want to go.
This principle certainly applies to the “hidden” area of life, the part of your life that no one else ever sees. If you want to grow as a Christian, the good must go in order that the best may come. Sometimes God says, “I want that thing to go, because I have something better in mind for you.” Often times when God says that we won’t understand the reason and God won’t always explain it to us in advance. We simply have to obey without having full understanding. That’s what trusting God is all about.
3. What We May Learn From Both These Stories
A. About God
The birth of Isaac is filled with joy while the dismissal of Ishmael speaks of sorrow, pain and human failure. Yet God is intimately involved in both stories. He is the One who brought forth Isaac after a 25-year wait. He is the One who ordered that Ishmael be cast out and then took care of him in the wilderness.
He’s the same God in both cases. – He’s the God of great promises - He’s the God of great patience – He’s the God of great wisdom –He’s the God of great mercy.
That God is our God today. The God who made and kept the promise is the God we worship this morning. The God who cast out Ishmael and then protected him is the same God who watches over you and me. He is the God who works out His own plan in His own time and in His own way.
B. About Salvation
There are only 2 ways to get to heaven: The way of Hagar and the way of Sarah. Hagar and Ishmael stand for all the lost peopleof the world who think they can work their way back to God. Sarah and Isaac stand for true believerswho are trusting Jesus Christ alone for salvation.
On the basis of this story, I need to ask the question, are you a child of Hagar or a child of Sarah? Are you a modern-day Isaac or a modern-day Ishmael?
When it comes to salvation we’re all in the same boat. We all deserve hell but Jesus Christ died to open the door to heaven. The mind of man struggles against that because we want to believe that we have a part to play in salvation. “How can God save me from my sins if I don’t do my part?” Good question. The answer is, the only “part” you play in salvation is to commit the sin that makes salvation necessary. You’ve already done your “part” and I’ve already done mine.
Jesus did his part 2000 years ago when he died on the cross and rose from the dead.
C. About the Choices We Make
This story teaches us the difference between the good and the best. Jesus set the same challenge before his disciples - Luke 14: 26, 27 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
What can Jesus possibly mean when he says that if we do not “hate” our father and mother, we cannot be his disciple?
It is the language of hyperbole. You must love the Lord Jesus so much that your love for your parents will seem like hatred by comparison. For some of us, that may mean following the Lord’s calling over the objection of mother and father. It may mean that those closest to you will simply not understand why you do what you do. They may, like Hagar and Ishmael, mock you to your face. They may tempt you to keep quiet, to not be so radical, to stop sharing your faith. They may even threaten to disown you if you follow the Lord. What will you do then?
You’ll never regret anything you give up for Jesus. Not in this life or in the life to come. But the saddest people in the all the world are those who cling stubbornly to what they have because they dare not give it up for God.
I do not know exactly how God wants to apply this message to your heart, but if you are open and honest I believe he has something to say to you. Just remember this: God never takes away anything we hold dear without giving us something better in return. He never takes away Ishmael without also giving us Isaac. I challenge you to choose God’s best.