The Wonderful Works of God

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Genesis 18:1-15 | April 25 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
April 25
The Wonderful Works of God | Genesis 18:1-15
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

O Lord, You have dwelt well with us according to Your Word. Teach us good judgment and knowledge, for we believe in Your commandments. You are good and do good. Teach us Your statutes. The law of Your mouth is better to us than thousands of pieces of gold and silver. Speak to us, we pray, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Our text this morning comes from Genesis 18. I encourage you to turn there in your Bibles. The first book in the Bible, our study for the better part of a year, and this morning we come to chapter 18. I’ll be reading verses 1 through 15. Genesis 18, beginning at verse 1.

“And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”

“They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.””

Think about the two things you perhaps learned first about God. Some of us didn’t grow up in the Church, but many of us did, and if you did, think about the two things you may have learned first. God is good, and God is great. Maybe even you’ve heard it said around your dinner table, “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for this fud, food,” to make it rhyme.

We learned that from a very early age, those two things. Now there’s other things to learn, of course: God is holy, God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, He’s creator. Those aren’t the only two things, but these are foundational truths about God. He’s good, He’s great.

“My God is big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.” Sing that with me. “My God is big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do. For you!” Do the last part.

See, then you get God’s greatness, He’s big, and His goodness, for you, He’s for you. Sometimes the essence of Christian maturity is coming to really, really believe the simple truths we learned as children. God is great, God is good. He can do anything, of course consistent with His nature, He cannot sing, He can, or sin, He can sing. He can do anything, and everything He does is right.

These are the two lessons we learn in Genesis 18. There’s two halves and I read the first half and Lord willing we’ll do the second half next week, but there are two questions the underscore these two foundational truths.

Look at verse 25, what I didn’t read, and you see the question from Abraham: “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you!” And here’s the question: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Aren’t you good?

Yes, God only and always does what is just. And then the question in the first half is in verse 14, it comes from the Lord Himself: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” In other words, this week God is great; next week, God is good.

We’re going to focus on verse 14 at the end, but in order to get there, let’s understand the context. This story here can be divided into two scenes. The first scene, the visit, and the second scene, the announcement. You probably see it’s divided by two paragraphs.

So look at the visit, in verses 1 through 8. We read in verse 1 the Lord appeared to Abraham. This is the second of three consecutive chapters that begin with a divine appearance. Look back at chapter 17, verse 1, “When Abram was 99 years old, the Lord appeared to Abram.” And then in chapter 19, verse 1, we’ll come to it, the two angels appear to Lot at Sodom.

So here in the middle, the second of these three consecutive chapters, the Lord appears. He comes to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre. This is his kind of de facto home. Now he doesn’t yet own anything in the Promised Land, that doesn’t come until he buys the cave of Machpelah in chapter 23, but most of the time we’ve seen Abraham and his family here in this region of Hebron near Mamre and this famous oak.

The Lord appears to him. Now that’s more of a heading, because what we find is that He appears to him in the person of these three men. You look at verse 2, he lifted his eyes, he’s sitting by the door of his tent in the heat of the day, he looks up and behold, seemingly out of nowhere, these three men appear. Some commentators say, well, he must have been sleeping and they disturbed him, but I think it would say if he was sleeping. No, I think what we have here from the beginning are hints that these three visitors are not ordinary visitors. He looks and seemingly out of nowhere, here are three men approaching him.

And Abraham, I think, has suspicions from the beginning that this may be a special visitation. Now, yes, it’s true that in this time of the world and in this part of the world, the expectation would have been a lavish hospitality, but Abraham exceeds even those highest expectations and you can see from start to finish, he may have some awareness that the people that he is welcoming to his home are no ordinary guests.

Look at the urgency with which Abraham prepares. Verse 2: “When he saw them, he ran.” Now he’s an old man, but he’s running as well as he can, going out to meet these three men. Verse 6 we have the word “quickly.” And then he comes again to verse 6 to Sarah and tells her “quick, bake these cakes.” No sweet cakes, but some kind of flat bread. Verse 7, again we have the word “ran,” verse 7, “quickly.” In other words, this is a scene with fervent action. Haste, running, quickness, urgency.

He runs to meet the three men, he bows to the ground, and he says, notice, though there’s three of them, he speaks in the singular at first, and he says, “O Lord.” Now there’s a footnote in the ESV and it could be “my lord” with a lower case L, but I think the text is right to put it uppercase, I think is giving a divine name. In Hebrew, it’s Adonai. He recognizes that somehow this is a visitation from the Lord Himself, and if you look down in verse 13, you see with the small capital letters, the LORD, so there at least one of these three men is identified as a visible manifestation of Yahweh Himself.

What we find is that we have three men who appear to them and one is the manifestation of Yahweh and two are His angelic messengers. Look at verse 22: “So the men turned from there and went towards Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD.” Or in chapter 19, verse 1, “The two angels came to Sodom.” So one of these coming in the appearance of a man is the Lord, and the other two are His angels. These are no ordinary guests.

Abraham bows and he says take a little breather. Let, let me wash Your feet. Can I get You some juice boxes? Some Cheez-Its? Some fruit snacks? They’re bad for Your teeth, but here. Would You take a load off? Relax. And then You can go on Your way.

Now it may seem as if Abraham’s not really pulling out all the stops, but this is very in keeping with the sort of cultural dynamic. If Abraham had said to them immediately, “Stay over for dinner, I am going to prepare an amazing feast for you,” it would have been incumbent upon them to say, “No, no, no, no, no. No, no. Don’t do that. We’re on our way.” So what Abraham does, really part of his scheme, he says, just rest, just for a moment, get your feet washed up, let me get a little morsel of food, a little something to drink, and then you can be on their way.

But, as they’re having their little afternoon snack, Abraham runs into his household to get to work. He says, “Sarah, quick. Three seahs of fine flour.” 22 liters of flour. This is a tone of food. Later in the Old Testament we’ll read that when Abigail prepared a meal for David’s fighting men, his army with him, she had five seahs of flour, so this is a ton of food for three people. So let that be some encouragement, husband or wife, when he says why are you making all this food? You’re trying to feed an army. Well, uh, that’s right, I am, just like Abraham and Sarah. Okay? We’re going to have a ton of food left over.

Abraham then goes and he picks out the best animal he can find and he has a young man prepare it and then he throws in some cheese curds, I appreciate that, some milk, he sets it before the men, and notice Abraham and Sarah aren’t even dining with them, verse 8, Abraham stands by the tree while they eat. He is their host and he is their waiter.

Why so much detail about the preparation of this meal? Two reasons, I think. One, because we are being prepared to see the difference between the hospitality for Abraham and Sarah that they provide, and then in chapter 19, the lack of hospitality that the angels will receive in Sodom. We’re meant to see the contrast that is coming. This is how you treat your guests, and even more importantly, this is how you ought to treat God and His messengers, and when they come to Lot and to Sodom, things will be far different.

The other reason I think we have this detail is to show us that Abraham, without realizing it, is offering the sort of meal that will later be institutionalized in the sacrificial system. Notice it says “three seahs of fine flour.” The use of “fine flour” later in the Old Testament is for the grain offering or for the bread of the presence that will go in the Tabernacle, so this is the special flour that later will be for the sacrificial system.

And then he goes out of great cost to himself, he gets the choicest animal, just like God in Leviticus is going to call for the best of the herd or the flock to be sacrificed before Him, so Abraham is showing the way to offer to God what is best, what is costly, as a sacrifice to Him.

That’s scene one, the visit.

Scene two, the announcement. You see verse 9. The men are looking for Sarah. They’ve not come to have a nice meal, though they may be enjoying that, but they’ve come to deliver a message. And the Lord says to Abraham, “This time next year, I’ll be back, and your wife Sarah will have a child.”

Now we’ve seen the promise a number of times already, but now the promise moving from general and far off to very specific and close at hand: “I’m telling you, I’m giving you, I’m giving you a month, I’m giving you a rough estimate, about this time next year, count on it, I’ll be back, and the promise that I gave you decades ago, now it’s going to come. You just wait. Next year.”

Sarah is eavesdropping and when she hears the message, she can’t help but laugh to herself. Abraham laughed last week in chapter 17, and there he’s not rebuked, we don’t know what kind of laugh it was. Here, Sarah is given a reproof for her laughter. We still don’t know, was it a guffaw, a chuckle, a silent shoulder shrug, can’t keep it in. You notice it does say she laughed to herself, or you could translate it, “She laughed inside herself.” She’s trying not to be seen, so this is not a big belly laugh, but there, she, she’s struck by the whole absurdity of what she’s hearing on the other side of the tent. And her laughter is clearly some form of disbelief. It’s some form of [laughter] yeah, right.

So the Lord reiterates the promise: About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.

And then Sarah is confronted by the Lord and her laughter. Verse 15 she denied it. Now maybe she had convinced herself that it, it was just sort of a, it was just a moment of mirth inside myself, maybe she thought that they didn’t hear it, but it’s rather a foolish thing to deny before the Lord [laughter], you laughed. What? Me? No, mm, uh-uh, I didn’t laugh.

And it’s easy to pick on Sarah, but if we’re honest, we do the same thing. We think that God does not see our sins. And we think, well, maybe if I don’t really confess it to Him, maybe if I just keep my head down, He’s really busy, lots of bad stuff going on in the world, He’s probably not looking right now, He didn’t quite catch that, uh, it wasn’t me. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Somebody else here.

The Lord knows, of course. It’s a stilly thing to stand before the Lord and say, “I didn’t laugh.” The Lord says, “Well, of course you did.”

But as so often is the case in our lives, we see with Sarah, you compound one sin with another sin. You think just one more sin will get me out of this jam. But it never works that way. Don’t convince yourself that one more sin is going to get you out of these other sins. Don’t try to cover up this sin with that sin.

Sarah had a moment that she could have simply said, “You’re right. I did laugh. I’m having a hard time believing that this is the case.” But she adds, the sin of unbelief, to that she adds the sin of deception, lying.

One commentator puts it like this; it’s very insightful: Fear moves people to do things that are irrational and uncharacteristic of them. Adam hid because he was afraid of God; Abraham deceived because he was afraid of what the Egyptians might do to him; now Sarah is afraid because she has challenged the authenticity of a divine promise and because she has irked a divine visitor.

Isn’t that true? You do things out of character. It’s not as if Sarah had a week, she’s confronted, you laughed. Before I respond, let me have a week to really get counsel and pray about it. Just right there in the moment she’s afraid, and when you’re afraid you want to cover yourself. That’s what Adam did. That’s what Abraham did; no, no, that’s not my wife. This is what Sarah did; no, I didn’t laugh. When you’re afraid, you do things that are uncharacteristic of yourself, irrational, and you add one sin to another sin.

Now you see at the very end of verse 15. It seems to us sort of an odd way to end the scene, with the Lord saying, “No, you did laugh.” It seems sort of abrupt. But it would have been obvious to the original audience that this was meant to be ironic. It was a play on words. It was a foretaste of the child that would be born next year, because the Hebrew verb that ends verse 15, “sachaq” is going to be the name of her son, Yishaq. Isaac means “to laugh.”

It’s like in English if she had been told that her son, we know her son to be born is going to be called Mark, and the story ends here, she says I didn’t miss the mark, and the Lord says you did miss the mark. All of us listening would go, uh, I get it, I get it, you’re going to name your son.

So it ends by saying, “I didn’t Isaac,” “Yeah, you did Isaac,” and we know she’s going to have a son whose name is Isaac. Sarah, in your very laughter, you were conveying the assurity of the Lord’s promise. Yeah, you laughed, and you’re going to have a child, whether you believe it in this moment or not.

So we come to the question here in verse 14. Is anything too hard for the Lord? Of course, it’s a rhetorical question. We’re meant to say, “No, nothing is too hard for the Lord.” But let’s be honest, we can sympathize with Sarah. We can understand her incredulity. Look at all of the reasons she has to disbelieve. In fact, the text is making it repetitively clear. Do you understand how impossible this situation is?

Verse 11: Abraham and Sarah were old. Just that’s the fact. I know, you can say they’re seasoned, they’re experienced. The Bible just says flat out that’s just what they are. They’re old. And then add insult to injury, and advanced in years. Okay, we get the point. But no we don’t, verse 11, then says, “The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” A euphemism meaning her menstrual cycle had stopped, she’s on the other side of menopause, probably happened years and years ago. And then she laughs to herself in verse 12, she calls herself worn out. It’s an expression often used in the Old Testament to refer to clothes or sandals that are dirty, have holes in them, ready to be replaced. She says, “I’ve been around the block too many times.” Again she says my lord is old.

Incidentally, Peter in the New Testament points back to this passage to say this was Sarah commendably showing respect and deference to her husband that she called him “lord,” called him master. Now we have different terms of respect or submission, so it may not have to be this one, but it’s commendable what Sarah does in calling her husband lord.

And now, men, as you get excited about that, notice also earlier that Abraham is feverishly working to get this meal ready. He has the man help, he has Sarah help, but it’s not as if Abraham’s, “I’m going to be back on my phone. Sarah, can you get a meal for these three men?” He’s rushing to and fro, there’s a little bit of poking perhaps for all of us.

She says, “My lord is old,” and then she says, “Shall I have pleasure?” which may mean one of two things, or maybe it’s both. It could mean, “Will I have the pleasure of being a mother?” or it may mean even more basically than that, “Shall I have the pleasure of sexual intimacy with my husband again?” This may have been something that they had long since ceased in their old age, or had ceased to be any sort of pleasure for Sarah. In other words, she’s saying, and the text is reminding us, she’s old, worn out, she’s been barren her whole life, she may not even be having sex anymore. On top of all of that, she is not producing eggs to be fertilized.

In other words, this is a biological impossibility. It isn’t that the odds are stacked against here, like it’s 10 to 1,1000 to 1. No, there are no earthly odds on the other side of the equation. This, for this old couple, this worn out woman, this barren woman, this biologically impossible to be pregnant woman, it’s not going to happen. And with all of that on the side of impossibility, God says, “So? So what.”

We can understand her incredulity, but the Lord wants us to see there may be 10,000 reasons on the side that Sarah cannot have a baby, but what does that matter if God’s on the other side? Is anything too hard for the Lord? See, it’s not just that the Lord can do this, sort of, “Hey, give me some time here and let me go back and let me talk to the angels, let’s, we’re gonna figure something out.”

No, it’s not even hard for Him. Don’t think of God as well, as He’s a really great superhero, or He’s a real great action hero. This is not like Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible and if you can hold your breath for 3 minutes and you can climb buildings and run like this and devise these crazy schemes and defuse the bomb. Boy, it’s really hard but you can do it.

This is not difficult, for the Lord. You think of the most accomplished, gifted person you know, maybe in person, or maybe from a distance, maybe an athlete, musician, academic, whatever they do, and it may look easy, it’s not easy. If they’re really the best, they have worked extremely hard. It’s hard work to be the best at anything. And even when you’re the best in sports, say, you still don’t make every shot, you still don’t win every time. You may be at the top of your game with success, but it’s still incredibly difficult and success is never guaranteed.

Not so with God. This is not hard, for God. It’s like helping your first grader with a math problem. Well, actually, that can be hard sometimes. But, it’s like playing basketball against a 5-year-old. It’s like playing Jeopardy! against your hamster. This should not be difficult. You just gotta get one right. It’s not hard for God.

I want you to think about two categories. I want you to think about what God can do, but He hasn’t given us a sure promise that He will do it, and then I want us to think about the things He can do and He has promised that He will do and has done.

So, first think about this category. There are no doubt things in your life right now, right now, they seem utterly impossible to you. And they may be impossible for you, but do you believe that they are not at all difficult problems for God? Now, we need to be careful here, lest you run out of here and you say, “The message this morning tells me that my cancer will automatically go away. I will have a child. I will get married. All my dreams will come true.” Well, of course, we don’t have a promise for that.

But sometimes, sometimes we so guard ourselves against that disappointment that we stop praying big prayers. We stop really believing that God does do impossible things. Maybe you have a relational problem in your life and you’re looking at it and you say this is never, ever going to get better. Everything I do makes it worse. There will not be one little teeny bit of thawing in this problem. Impossible. Well, for you. Not for God.

Maybe there’s some aspect of justice that you’re seeking in your life, or in our world, and everything in you just screams out, it’s not fair, and yet you feel like nothing will ever get better, it’s impossible. But not for God. Maybe it is for you having a child, maybe it is for you an illness that God does want to heal.

I bet for everyone in this room, one of the impossibilities that you fear is a loved one who is far from the Lord.

2 Timothy 2: “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”

Do you hear the word “perhaps”? It’s not a guarantee, but perhaps God can do this. And you’re thinking of a child, you’re thinking of a grandchild, a friend, and you go, “They’re so far away. I see what they post on social media. Everything they’re into, everything they believe, they couldn’t be harder to the truth. There’s no way.” Well, but there’s God.

Or what about evangelism? Do you think that God could bring to Christ Covenant dozens, hundreds of new believers in the years to come? People through our witness and God’s spirit who come and say, “I want to know Jesus. I want to profess faith in Christ.” What about missions? Both the sending and the going. Are you praying for breakthroughs of the Gospel in the 10/40 Window? In the Muslim world? In Japan? In western Europe, which is so far post Christian? Do you believe that God can do more than we know how to even ask or imagine?

Or what discourages you in our country right now? Don’t answer that question out loud. It’s probably a long list. Division, wickedness, declension, a turning away from liberty or freedoms, all manner of discouragement. Do you believe that God can do the impossible? Do you believe that God could still bring revival, an awakening, by His Spirit? Bringing people suddenly, swiftly, in great numbers, to repentance? To faith? To bring reconciliation among people who have been estranged, to reconciliation with God? Reformation of our lives, of our doctrine, of our churches.

Now we do not have a promise like Abraham and Sarah had, that just wait for it, next year all these things will come true. We do not want to presume upon the Lord.

But there is a danger sometimes for us as Reformed Christians. We know “not my will, Yours be done,” that’s good, that’s the posture of humility. And yet don’t let that stop you from praying impossible prayers, dreaming, looking out and asking God for things that you have no earthly way, shape, or form to see how they will come true. God loves to do impossible things.

And then think of this category of the impossibilities, so-called, that He can do and He’s promised He will do. The things that we ought to be 1000% confident. Just as Abraham and Sarah should have had no doubting, God says you’ll have a son this time next year, they should have boom, gender reveal, parties, get the confetti, send out the invitations, it’s happening. What seemed to be a long way off was always for God right there, marked on His calendar. No, no, no, I already got the date, it’s there, it’s gonna happen.

What has God promised to you? He’s promised that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Now you know that intellectually; do you really know it from top to bottom in your whole being? That your sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west. Paul did not say, well, there’s only a little bit of condemnation, there’s just a smidgen of it, there’s just a micro-fraction of condemnation. He says none, none whatsoever. You ought to live a life as the happiest people on the planet. You’re accepted in Christ, you’re accepted before the only person whose acceptance ultimately really matters, God and God alone. So you can live free of shame. You can live with a clean conscience. You can go forward knowing that the worst that can happen, death, is the best that can happen, ’cause it puts you into the presence of God.

Do you believe that? Do you believe your sins are really forgiven? Justified, reckoned, counted to be righteous by faith. If we believe it, why are so anxious to prove ourselves? Why are we so proud and arrogant? Why are we so skittish around other people?

Do you believe that about your sins forgiven? About Christ’s righteousness counted to you?

Or what about the promise of heaven? No eye has seen, no ear has heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him.

Well, C.S. Lewis famously said, well, Christians are often accused of being so pie in the sky, and he said, “Well, but the question is is there really pie in the sky or not?”

There is a heaven. Some of you have lost loved ones in this past year. We know sadly that some of us will lose loved ones in this year. And if they died in the Lord, do you know, do you believe that they are experienced such unending joy, such as you and I have yet to ever experience? That we have so great a salvation, so great an inheritance, so great a reward stored up for us, whether that reward comes to you this month, this year, or 50 or 80 years from now, do you believe those promises? Do you bank your life on those promises?

Just as the child seemed to be a distant promise, somewhere long in the future, is that really gonna happen? So is the promise of heaven, but it came. The child came, and one day heaven will come.

You look at verse 14: Is anything too hard for the Lord?

You see a footnote there. In the ESV, you see “or wonderful.” I think that may actually be the better translation. It’s the word used in Job 37:14: Stop and consider the wondrous works of God.

Or in Psalm 119:18: Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law.

It’s the prophecy about the Messiah, in Isaiah 9:6, calling Him wonderful Counselor.

Is anything too wonderful for God?

You imagine your perfect day. You’re eating all the food you want, the best food, and it all has negative calories somehow. It gives you muscles, takes away fat, it’s amazing. You have your kids with you or your family or friends and they all get along, and it’s a beautiful, picture-perfect day wherever you are. You’re at the lake or you’re at the ocean or you’re in the mountains or you’re playing board games around the table. All of your teams win on that day, or you’re at the beach reading a book. Whatever that day is, and you think “that’s it.” It’s not it.

God has days and eons for His people far more wonderful than that. Nothing is too hard for Him. Nothing is too wonderful for Him. You have not begun to dream of how great God is and how many wonders He has in store for those who love Him. God delights in doing the impossible.

And so ultimately with God and with God alone can we say nothing is too good to be true. You say that’s too good to be true, and maybe in this life, but with God? No, no, no. You can never say with God, “That’s too good to be true.” No, that’s so good, that must be true. That must be true with God.

Do you, brothers and sisters, do you have a God who is great? There is nothing in your life today, there’s nothing in our world today, that is too hard for Him. It is not difficult. And He has wonders yet to show you, for those who believe.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we thank You for Your Word, we thank You for Your promises, all of which are yes and amen in Christ. That we are Your people and You are our God, and we have 10,000 reasons to trust You, to bless You. We believe, Lord, help our unbelief. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.