Living and Dying in the Land of Promise
Topic: Genesis Passage: Genesis 23:1–23:20
Well, this morning we’re wrapping up our series in Genesis for a while and starting next week we will be looking at what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in a series called Following Jesus. The emphasis of this new series isn’t primarily going to be information but action – doing what Jesus commands us to do and I’m really excited about the Lord using this series to remind us of the radical claim that being a disciple of Christ has on our lives. If you have grown bored, sleepy, apathetic, stagnant, self-centered, or discouraged in your Christian walk, I believe this series is gonna help wake you up to all that Jesus has for you! Please be praying that God will really use this series to impact us in an eternal way.
We are ending this portion of Genesis with a very appropriate passage, and I want us to begin by just reading the first two verses.
Sarah is dead at the age of 127 years. With understatement the Bible lets us in on a little of the grief Abraham feels as we see him going in to mourn and weep over his wife. For over 100 years they have shared life together. Together they received the promise of God to give them a son and the land. Together they have won glorious victories in faith, together they have tasted the bitterness of failure and doubt. Together they have obeyed God and together they have sinned against God. They have both laughed at God’s promises but more importantly they have both deeply trusted the promises of God. Their lives have been inseparably intertwined with each other, until now. Now their lives are separated by death and Abraham says goodbye to his princess.
At some point, every one of us will have to say goodbye to those we love. We don’t like to talk about it, we try to ignore it, we act like we and all our loved ones are gonna live forever. But no matter what we do, there will come a day when we will have to say goodbye to those we love. For some it will be because they leave us, and for some it will be because we leave them.
There’s a saying, there are no atheists in foxholes. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do believe that nothing slams into our belief system like facing death does. The last words of well-known atheists seem to indicate that believing that God doesn’t exist was easier to do when life stretched out before them than when they were staring death in the face:
Thomas Paine (atheist author lived in Revolutionary War days, most famous book was called The Age of Reason) "I would give worlds if I had them, that The Age of Reason had never been published. O Lord, help me! Christ, help me! . . No, don't leave; stay with me! Send even a child to stay with me; for I am on the edge of Hell here alone. If ever the Devil had an agent, I have been that one."
Sir Thomas Scott (railroad tycoon): "Until this moment, I thought there was neither God nor hell; now I know and feel that there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty!"
Sir Francis Newport (head of an English infidel club): "You need not tell me there is no God for I know there is one, and that I am in His presence! You need not tell me there is no hell. I feel myself already slipping. Wretches, cease your idle talk about there being hope for me! I know I am lost forever! Oh, that fire! Oh, the insufferable pangs of hell!"
Thomas Hobbs (English philosopher): --- "I say again, if I had the whole world at my disposal, I would give it to live one day. I am about to take a leap into the dark."
I appreciate Hobb’s honesty as he grappled with death. Honestly I can’t think of anything more terrifying than facing death without Christ. But the Christian also finds their faith being tested in the face of death like at no other time in life. Death can slam into our confidence in the promises of God with incredible force. Many times I have read at the funerals of believers the passage where Jesus said, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. And yet…they died. Is Jesus wrong? Is it an empty promise? When God’s promises collide with death – who wins?
Here’s where we find a strong assurance in a surprising way in Genesis 23. We might wonder why Moses took so much time to detail the funeral arrangements, but in these funeral arrangements is a strong and clear statement of Abraham's faith in God's promises. Let’s read vv. 3-20 and unpack what these verses tell us about Abraham’s still-strong faith in God.
Remember that God had promised Abraham that He would give him a land to possess. He called Abraham out of his native land into a foreign land with the promise that that land would one day belong to him.
Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." Genesis 12:7
15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever... 17Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you." Genesis 13:15-17 (ESV)
On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, Genesis 15:18 (ESV)
And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of
Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God." Genesis 17:8 (ESV)
Over and over again God promised to give the land to Abraham and Abraham and Sarah believed that promise. But Sarah is now dead and Abraham doesn’t possess enough land to even bury his wife! The natural thing would have been to take Sarah back to their native land and bury her among their people and in their land. But Abraham negotiates to buy a field and cave to bury his wife in, and he makes sure that he pays the fair market price in a public and acceptable way so that the Hittites cannot dispute Abraham's ownership of this land later on down the road. And this land would be the only land that Abraham would possess in Canaan when he died, but it would be on this land that he would be buried and other patriarchs would be buried, as a testimony to their faith and confidence that one day God would give their descendents the land to possess.
In other words Sarah (and Abraham) died without seeing the promise fulfilled. Hebrews 11 says:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:13-16 (ESV)
As Abraham bought this land he was putting a stake in the ground of God’s promises. Even death wasn’t going to shake his confidence that God would fulfill His promises to Abraham – so there was no going back to their homeland. This place where they were strangers and sojourners would be their homeland. God promised and death couldn’t change that.
As Christians we are also strangers and exiles on earth. We have the great and precious promises of God and the glorious promises fulfilled in Christ to hold onto and they bring strength and comfort to us, but in a very real sense we die without fully receiving the promise. I’ve been to my share of Christian funerals, and I’ve conducted several funerals where the deceased was a strong Christian and I can tell you that knowing that they died in Christ is a comfort beyond words. But there is still a kick in the gut, an empty, hollow sense of sadness that makes talking about hope and joy and eternal life like swimming against the current. We say “death, where is your sting, where is your victory?” but there is a sting, and while we speak of victory in Christ, it feels a lot like defeat if we're honest.
Here’s where Abraham once again teaches us an important lesson about faith. It doesn’t die when we do. God’s promises don’t fail when our bodies fail. God’s best promises aren’t for this life, this earth, this land. They reach far beyond the grave and shine brightest in the darkest moments of our lives. We also desire a better country – a heavenly one. And God is preparing just that for us. Jesus doesn’t promise us a good life in this life, He promises us eternal life – a life that is completely different and totally better than this life could ever be. Unless Jesus returns first, we will all die. But God promises that for the Christian it isn’t a leap into the dark, it is a step into brilliant light. The light of Christ’s eternal kingdom.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12 (ESV)
… whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:14 (ESV)
These fleshly bodies will fail and rot in a grave. Maybe centuries will go by, but one day those who have died in Christ will hear the same voice that Lazarus heard, saying “come forth” and we will burst out of our graves, or out of the sea, or wherever our bodies rotted, in glorified resurrection bodies!
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should
have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." John 6:40 (ESV)
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 55"O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?" 1 Cor. 15:54-56 (ESV)
See, when we speak of the victory of Christ over death at a loved ones funeral who died in Christ, we are speaking of future things. When the perishable puts on the imperishable...then shall come to pass...That's when the sting and the victory of death will be utterly and completely overwhelmed with the life and promises of God! For the believer, their spirit is with the Lord, but there is a temporary sting and a temporary victory for death. But then! – God’s promises aren’t killed by death.
We are sojourners and strangers on this earth – it’s not our home and we aren’t citizens here. Your citizenship is in heaven. That’s your homeland – with Christ in His kingdom. And we wait for Him – either as He comes to us or we go to Him.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
How do we apply this?
After encouraging the Phiollipian believers with this great hope, Paul goes on to write:
4:1Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. Philip. 3:20-4:1 (ESV)
Paul applies the great hope of our eternal life in Christ as an anchor to inspire and strengthen us to stand firm in our faith. Because that is true, stand firm! That’s what I want to urge you to do brothers and sisters! Stand firm!
1. Expect your faith to be tested by adversity. And one day to be slammed into by the great trial of death itself. Hold onto God’s promises.
Matt Chandler shared how he began preparing his congregation for adversity early on. Matt and I want to do the same. Adversity will come – hardship, disappointment, sorrow, and saying goodbye to loved ones. Even, one day, to life itself. If your faith isn’t strong enough to face that it isn’t strong enough.
If you came to Christ under the pretense that things go better with Christ – He will make everything easy, fun, light-hearted, and all troubles and trials will disappear when you pray them away, you need to listen to Jesus Himself who promises that in this world we will have tribulation (Jn 16:33). And who describes a type of believer who has no root, they pop up quickly and with great joy, but when tribulation comes, they wither away because their faith has no depth, no root.
Last week Matt talked about the weight-lifter adding weights to their regimen. The trial you are going through right now – whether it’s a big one or a small one – is an opportunity to strengthen your faith. It’s another plate. Lift it in faith – don’t give up, don’t lose heart or faith. It will help prepare you for the heavy lifting of saying goodbye. Facing death.
2. If death can’t kill God’s promises, neither can the trial you are going through today (or will be going through tomorrow) – stand firm in God’s promises right now!
There are times when all of us find ourselves growing weary in our faith. Doubts can creep in: will God’s promises be fulfilled? Are they true? Don’t get your eyes on your situation, keep them on God. Keep them on His promises. Keep walking by faith. Keep praying with faith. Keep reading God’s word with faith. Keep obeying what God has told you to do. Keep declaring your confidence in God’s promises. Stand firm in the Lord, stand firm in your faith. God will be faithful to keep all His promises and not even death can destroy even one word of God’s good promises. He will be faithful to you. To you. Right where you are.
What does God have you lifting right now? Financial weight? Health issue? Some hope or longing that seems to be dying? A loved one who is going down the wrong road? If you are struggling to lift some weight – invite you to come forward to pray and cast that weight on the Lord. While we are singing of the faithfulness of God, please come forward as an expression of surrender and faith in the Lord.