Topic: Genesis Passage: Genesis 20:1–20:18
Parker T. Hall Houghtaling was hospitalized in stable condition after being hit in the head by a train as it pulled into a station in Poughkeepsie, NY. Officials soon discovered that this wasn’t the first time Parker had been hit in the head by a moving vehicle. The news article reported that 3 years earlier Houghtaling was waiting at a subway station in Manhattan when he stuck his head out and was hit by a subway car. He was hospitalized with a shoulder injury, nose fractures and bruises, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
There was no explanation why Parker had the habit of sticking out his head when trains came speeding by, but you would think that if you got hit once, you would be very careful never to let it happen twice.
You’d think that would be the case with Abraham too. If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it happened before in chapter 12. Like Parker Abraham fails to learn from the pain of the first time, the only difference is that it’s not his head he keeps sticking out in front of a train - it’s Sarah’s! Once again Abraham fails to trust God, fears for his life and convinces Sarah that they need to tell people she is his sister to keep him alive. Once again a powerful ruler takes Sarah for his wife. Once again God intervenes and once again Abraham is soundly rebuked by a pagan ruler. For a second time Abraham puts his wife, his marriage, and the promises of God over his life in jeopardy.
From Sarah's perspective
When Matt preached on the passage in chapter 12, he said that when we come to this second time we would look at this from Sarah’s perspective and that’s what I want us to do this morning. I want us to look at this passage (merging in the other time this happened too) and ask the question, what can Sarah teach us about trusting God when someone else’s besetting sin affects our lives? Abraham sins in this way against Sarah not once, but at least twice, and this is serious sin with potentially devastating consequences. How is it that Sarah doesn’t become bitter at Abraham? Angry? What is it that keeps her from despising Abraham’s spiritual leadership when he keeps failing in such a spectacular way?
I believe we find the answer in 1 Peter 3:5-6, so while keeping your finger in chapter 20, please turn there with me. While you’re turning there I need to share that this message is going to be a little different than most messages we preach in that we believe and attempt to preach expository messages here – messages that draw out the meaning of the biblical text and the intent of the author and then anchor the application to our lives in that original meaning and intent. That is the only safe and truly biblical way of preaching and teaching. We always want to be careful that we are not importing our own meaning or opinions into a biblical text because we need to hear God’s word, not the preacher’s words and thoughts.
This message is going to be more topically driven – the question is how are we to respond when someone else’s besetting sin affects us. I trust that we will be faithful to the texts we are looking at, but we will not be delving as deeply into the context or the primary point and application of the text as we would normally want to do. Just wanted to give that caveat before we jump in here.
Peter writes his first epistle to believers that are suffering, and this particular passage is a portion of an encouragement to Christian wives who are married to non-Christian husbands where there might easily be a degree of hardship and oppression in the marriage. These are women who are probably experiencing some besetting sins aimed right at them. And Peter points them to Sarah’s example beginning in verse 5:
For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. 1 Peter 3:5-6
Peter is probably thinking of Sarah’s whole life and example here not just the two times Abraham put everything on the line, but certainly they would be included in this and these incidents are probably some of the most challenging times for Sarah to submit and not give in to fear. And she does it, Peter writes, by putting her hope in God.
I. Hope in God looks beyond a person’s sin to see the sovereignty of God
When someone sins against us, especially if it is serious or frequent, our tendency is to fix our eyes on that person’s sin and the effect of that sin on our lives until that sin fills our horizon and it’s all we see. We begin to think that person is ruining our lives. Ruined our happiness. Ruined our peace. Ruined our future.
In our relationships with our spouses or our children (or parents) or those closest to us, besetting sins committed against us, even if they are relatively small sins like leaving the toilet seat up when you’ve asked him to put it down a thousand times, or the kids bickering with each other when all you want is a peaceful dinner, can get right in our face and we see their sin more than we see God’s grace at work.
Few things can rob our hope in God faster than besetting sin. Married couples can so easily despair because “he will never change. She will never change.” Our own besetting sin and others can challenge our hope in the gospel and undermine our confidence in the power of the gospel to change people, leaving us hopeless and depressed about the future. Being the victim of someone elses besetting sin (reoccurring sin) can be especially painful because we might have walked through a difficult process of forgiving their sin, only to have them sin in the same way against us again. It’s harder the second (or third, or fourth, or fiftieth) time to forgive. It’s harder to believe their repentance. It’s harder to accept their sincerity. It’s harder to see God’s activity in it.
I have gone through painful times when someone’s persistent sin against me really filled my eyes and preoccupied my soul. It can be such a powerful current away from God. I have known people whose lives have been sucked under by bitterness, unforgiveness, and even vengeful desires against someone who they believe sinned against them. Here’s the thing: it becomes a type of functional atheism. God becomes small and irrelevant, and that person becomes a god with a little “g” in that we think they hold (held) our lives in their hands and they have ruined it with their sin. Sarah reminds us to hope in God.
God is sovereign. Nothing happens outside of His plan. He promises that He is working all things together for the good for those who love Him and are called according to His plan. Hope in God means not focusing our eyes on the all things and trying to figure out but fixing our eyes and our hope on God and His promises. Sarah’s submission to Abraham flowed from her submitted trust in God. As Sarah sat in Abimilech’s harem waiting, she wasn’t cursing Abraham, she wasn’t despairing that her life was ruined. She was hoping in God. Hoping in God. Hebrews 11 tells us Sarah considered “Him faithful who had promised.” So she trusted He was faithful and she hoped in that faithfulness.
And God came through! He threatened Abimilech – you try to touch that woman and you’re a dead man. He shut up every womb in the palace. Abimilech not only let Sarah go, he gave her 1000 pieces of silver - the equivalent of 20 brides – to testify of her purity. God will always be faithful to His children and to His promises. All things are working for the good…If we would only believe that we would sail into trials with the same peace we come out of them with. No one’s sin has the last word on your life, only God does. Two things that come out of that are:
1. Hoping in God gives our character strength to be “steady as you go”
Speaking to wives in difficult circumstances, Peter encourages them you will be children of Sarah if you do good and not give in to fear when scary stuff happens. In other words, when difficult times come, don’t react sinfully, keep a steady hand on the rudder. Do good and don’t fear. Steady as you go.
ILL: I have read that the actions that the crew of the Titanic took to avoid the iceberg actually made matters much, much worse. I know in my life it’s not just what happens to me, it’s how I respond that either escalates or diffuses the problem.
Sarah’s hope in God gave her strength to walk through these trials in a way that glorified God. She kept doing the good He called her to do, and she didn’t give in to fear. A lot of times we can think that someone’s sin against us negates our need to obey Christ. What they did was so bad it justifies my sinful response. “She said that? I don’t need to watch what I say now – that changes everything!” And in anger we steer the situation right into a damaging iceberg.
Or fear can take hold of the rudder. And again, we can steer right into a damaging iceberg out of fear. It’s interesting to me that Peter says, if you not “fear anything that is frightening.” It really is frightening. But you don’t need to fear. No, put your hope in God. Fear of something big and bad is displaced by trust in Someone bigger and gooder. And we find that God is more interested in changing our character than He is in changing our circumstance. Hope in God looks beyond circumstance and sees the sovereignty of God and gives us strength to stay the course and glorify God with our responses and actions.
2. Hoping in God tethers us to the God who gives grace to sinners with besetting sins
Hoping in God tethers our soul to God.
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:19-20 (ESV)
The picture is of an anchor that steadys our soul, an anchor that is tethered beyond the eternal veil to Christ. When I lived on a sailboat we would run an anchor out past the bow of the boat. That anchor would keep the boat steady, from drifting. And you could see where the anchor was by the line (or tether). Follow the tether you get to the anchor. Hoping in God anchors our souls and if we follow the line it leads up to the eternal kingdom of Christ to Christ Himself! Christ is the anchor, hope is the tether.
Hope in God tethers our souls to the God who gives grace so freely. This story in Genesis 20 oozes with undeserved grace. God stops Abimilech, and tells him that his only hope is that Abraham – the dude that started all this trouble – pray for him. Then he will live. And God will open up the wombs again. And Abraham, rather than being rebuked by God severely, is blessed by God. Once again he leaves richer than he came – by far! And Sarah is blessed. And as Abraham prays for the women of the house of Abimilech to have children, God is about to do a wonderful thing. The very next words will be The Lord visited Sarah as He had said and the Lord did to Sarah as He had promised. And Sarah conceived. Grace.
Here’s the thing. We all have besetting sins. You do. I do. Abraham did. And Sarah did. I don’t mean this as an excuse to go ahead and sin – Jesus came to save us from our sins, not just in our sins, and He gives us power to change and turn from sin, including those stubborn, strong besetting sins we all struggle with. But we all have sin remaining and some of those sins have a history with us. Jesus came to give mercy and forgiveness to people like us who struggle with besetting sins. So when someone’s besetting sin hurts us, when we are hoping in the God of grace, we remember our besetting sins have hurt others, and no one worse than God Himself.
If you are a Christian, then you know that on the cross Jesus died to pay for all your sins – past, present, and future. And some of those sins will be repeat sins. It’s not like Jesus will say, “sorry, I paid for the first time you committed that, but you committed it again after I forgave you, and I think, yes, look at that: you committed it again, and again and again. Sorry, not covered.”
Sarah’s hope in God gave her a right perspective of Abraham even in the difficult times: he was an imperfect but godly, sometimes fearful, but mostly faith-filled man who needed grace, just as she needed grace. When we clearly see our need for grace, we are able to give grace to others.
Where are your eyes? Are they focused on someone else’s sin? Are you inwardly fuming because of what they did to you? Are your eyes focused on your own besetting sin? Are you despairing because don’t believe you will ever change? Hope in God. Hope in Christ and His promises. Fix your eyes of faith on Christ and receive from Him the inner strength to steer a steady course to glorify Him in your circumstance. Do good and do not fear.
If you’re not a Christian, I want to make it very clear that we don’t think we’re special or great people. We are people who have received amazing grace from a loving God who loved us enough to send His Son to live, die, and be resurrected so that we could have eternal life. Please don’t leave here without giving your life to Jesus Christ and asking Him to be your Savior and your Lord.