Before we get into Genesis 18 I need to take a few minutes to discuss something very relevant to our ministry… One of the difficult things about our approach to the book of Genesis is that it doesn’t fit in any of the conventional approaches taken by Bible teachers.
Traditionally, churches that prioritize teaching expositionally (verse-by-verse through the Bible) would approach a book like Genesis in an additional non-Sunday morning service. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of the “Through the Bible” studies you’ll come across take place on either Sunday or Wednesday night and last between 50 minutes and an hour.
Even the churches you’ll find who decide to teach through Genesis on Sunday morning will typically do so in generally a topical format. Instead of teaching every part of the text, these pastors will instead take the next section of the book to craft a more topically themed message that can be easily digested and ultimately summarized into one basic thesis statement.
Note: This approach is recommend by Church-Growth gurus because of the belief that the majority of Christians only have an attention span of 30 minutes and are only dense enough to process one significant thought a week. You think I’m kidding, but that’s actually the logic.
During all my years at Calvary Chapel, while most of the pastors I know employ these two traditional formats in two different services, I would hear them advise their people that if they had to pick only one service to attend they would recommend the Though the Bible study over Sunday morning. Growing up in such a church, I couldn’t agree with this position more!
I know in today’s church culture I might be in the norm, but I do believe with all my heart that teaching through the Bible in order to allow the Bible to speak for itself is not only raw and radical, but revolutionarily authentic. In such a format you can’t avoid controversial topics or intentionally skip aspects of following Jesus that aren’t touchy and feel good.
But that’s not to be feared. It’s to be embraced! You see going through the Bible, not only provided me my theology, but it’s how I ultimately came to know, love, and give my life to Jesus. I’m convinced teaching the whole Bible will not only yield a transformation within people, but from a practical standpoint makes C316 different from every other church.
This is why, from our inception, our main Sunday service focuses on teaching a bonafide through the Bible study. Sure, there are times I’ll take a break and address a specific topic if the Lord leads. Even in Genesis, when a text presents an idea that merits our entire time together, I have no problems a lotting the time necessary to unpack what it is God’s saying.
That said… I need you to know, this approach on a Sunday morning (and specifically as it pertains to such a large book like Genesis) will not always lend itself to an easy three-point message, nice bullets, or even thematic consistency. Like this morning, we’re going to work our way through the text and end up covering all kinds of different and interesting topics.
And while I’m ok with this teaching approach and believe the vast majority of you are with me, I want you to know that if you only want one thought to chew on or a uber-polished presentation of only one singular concept, Calvary316 is probably not the church for you.
However, if you’re here this morning because you want to know the Bible, believing “the Word of God is alive and powerful” and very able to change your life because it deepens your knowledge of and relationship with God… Then you find yourself in the right place!
Genesis 18:1-2a, “Then the Lord appeared to Abraham by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him…”
Let’s first address the timeframe… As we’ll soon see from our text, it’s likely this event took place sometime during the next few months that followed the events of chapter 17.
Additionally, the location of the scene is also worthy of note: “Abraham” is chilling out “by the terebinth trees of Mamre” which was an area in southern Israel, west of what’s today the Dead Sea, out in the desert. We’re told he’s “sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day” when he looked up and saw “three men” quickly approaching - seemingly out of nowhere.
The Hebrew grammar indicates their approach was both abrupt and unexpected. Though Abraham would have been able to see someone from quite a distance because of the desert terrain, the idea is that these “three men” just appeared, making this very unique.
To this point, later in the text we’re going to learn these “three men” were actually “two angels” and the “Lord.” Now keep in mind this was not a vision nor was it an interaction with God in some spiritual dimension. These men will audibly speak with Abraham to the point Sarah can overhear their conversation, their feet will be washed, and they’ll eat food.
Note: While the Bible presents angels as being spiritual in nature, we know they do possess the ability to take on the physical appearance of men… In Hebrews 13:2, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”
Aside from the two angels… What’s most amazing about this passage is that we also, once again, have another physical manifestation of God appearing and interacting with Abraham. It’s safe to say Jesus (as the second member of the Trinity) was actively involved in the affairs of men long before He came as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.
With this in mind, in John 8:56-59, a bizarre statement made by Jesus ends up making way more sense. He said to the Jewish leaders, “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”
Genesis 18:2b-5, “And when Abraham saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, ‘My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.’ They said, ‘Do as you have said.’”
It’s clear from Abraham’s reaction to the appearing of these “three men” that he recognized they were not normal sojourners. The very fact a Middle Eastern man of Abraham’s age and stature “ran from the tent door to meet them” only to then “bow himself to the ground” informs the reader that, at least from his perspective, these men were incredibly important!
I love the fact, in recognizing this reality, Abraham goes out of his way to not only show hospitality, but to invite them to stay for supper. Here Abraham is presented with a chance to fellowship with God and he does everything he can to capitalize on the moment.
Additionally, how amazing it is that Jesus actually allows Abraham the opportunity to serve and bless Him. While Jesus is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, He had no problems gracing Abraham’s tent and table with His presence! It never cease to amaze me that we not only have the opportunity to worship and serve God, but that He allows it!
Genesis 18:6-8, “So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, ‘Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.’ And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.”
I have to take a moment and give Sarah her due… Her husband Abraham brings home three unexpected dinner guests unannounced (this was not on the joint calendar), and now wants her to fix up a meal with the trimmings! And you know what… Sarah simply rolls with it!
Ladies, I know that when one of your husbands buddies just drops by without warning or your husband, on a whim, decides to invite a friend over to watch the game without letting you know, it can be incredibly annoying - if not down right frustrating. And on an aside, I’m not saying this pattern of behavior should be the accepted norm.
That said, it’s important to keep in mind that you never know when what you perceive to be unexpected company, ends up being a divine appointment! Ultimately, this is what you have to decided… If you want your home to be a lighthouse, you should never find yourself surprised when a weary traveler inevitably washes upon your shore.
And you know what… A hospitable home can really only exist when both the husband and wife work together as partners. Sure Abraham asked Sarah to “make cakes” for the meal, but he was more than willing to help prepare the rest of the meal. Here they were as a single unit working as one in order to prepare a feast to bless the Lord!
The other detail about this passage that leaps off the page is the meal Abraham presents to his guests. We’re told he served them “butter and milk and the calf.” According to the Mosaic law this meal would be classified as non-kosher as it was forbidden to combine meat and milk together. And yet, this is the very meal Abraham served his distinguished guests.
Though it’s clear the work around for this obvious problem is that this particular event predated the dietary restrictions laid out in the Law, the Jewish Talmud complicates matters by making the audacious claim that Abraham was righteous because he kept all of the Torah, including the kosher laws, even though he wasn’t commanded to do so.
Before I continue along this line of thought, you need to keep in mind the Jewish people had placed their right-standing and unique status with God on two things: Circumcision and the dietary laws! Being circumcised and remaining kosher insured God’s favor and blessing.
And yet, what they failed to understand (and this was discussed by Jesus and later Paul) is that Abraham was not only declared righteous by God before he was circumcised, but was still a righteous man though this passage is clear he also violated the dietary restrictions.
Well… The legalist will point out, “If you notice, Abraham didn’t actually eat the meal he gave to his guests. Didn’t you see he prepared and set it before them, but stood under the tree as they ate?” Ok. Duly noted, but this perspective dismisses two key realities.
First, in nomadic culture it was customary that the host allow the guests to eat first so that they could have their fill. In all likelihood, Abraham would have eaten after they finished.
Secondly, even if Abraham didn’t eat the meal, how then do explain the fact the “Lord” ends up eating this non-kosher meal and it doesn't seem to have defile Him in the slightest?
Understand, the reason this is important is that, like the Jews, Christian legalists also love to emphasize the role of a person’s activities (what they eat, drink, or do) in relation to their personal righteousness. In addition to the work of Jesus on the cross, the legalist stresses obedience to the law of God as being the mechanism of achieving greater holiness.
The easiest example of this legalistic mindset has been the church’s prohibition of alcohol. The logic follows that the person who abstains from drinking is logically more righteous in the eyes of God than the person who does drink. But the problem with this perspective is that it completely ignores the fact that what a person eats or drinks has no bearing on their holiness.
This is why, when arguing with the leaders of His day about their warping of the Law, Jesus made the all-important point in Mark 7:16 that “nothing that enters a man from outside can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.” He’s making it clear that who you are is significantly more relevant than what you do!
Along this same line of thinking, in discussing the nature of Christian liberty, Paul would write in 1 Corinthians 10:29-31, “‘Conscience,’ I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is why at Calvary316 our position concerning drinking is very simple… Make sure both what you drink and how you drink brings glory to God!
While I’m on this topic, I want to also point out that aside from drinking Himself, Jesus actually used drinking and eating as tools for reaching the lost. You see the table ended up being a place where Jesus connected with the sinner and in the process broke down religious walls. The table was always a place He was able to connect with His fellow man.
In Mark 2:16 we read that “when the scribes and Pharisees saw Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, ‘How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?’” Though these legalists couldn’t understand why Jesus would do such a thing, they failed to see that His approach was reaching a multitude they weren’t.
Additionally, you should note Jesus’ strategy also came with accusations… In Matthew 11:19 we’re told again that “the Son of Man came eating and drinking,” and that His detractors accused Him of being “a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”
Genesis 18:9-11, “Then they said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ So he said, ‘Here, in the tent.’ And He said, ‘I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.’ (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.”
After dinner it would appear the purpose of their visit begins to come into view when the subject matter turns to Sarah. The Lord specifically affirms, once again, to Abraham that “according to the time of life (likely a reference to nine months) Sarah would have a son!”
It’s clear this event would be completely miraculous seeing as the text affirms that both “Abraham and Sarah were old (elderly), well advanced in age (stricken by age from conceiving), and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing (no cycle, post-menopausal).”
Genesis 18:12-15, “Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’ And the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ for she was afraid. And He said, ‘No, but you did laugh!’”
Sarah “laughed within herself” which begs the question… Was this a laugh of unbelief (that what the Lord had just said was so outlandish she found it to be comical) or was this laugh similar to what we saw last chapter when Abraham was so completely overcome with wonderment that he couldn’t help but laugh? Personally, I believe it was the latter.
Consider this is the first time Sarah has heard this particular promise directly from the lips of God. Up until this point it seems God had only spoken to Abraham, meaning it had been his responsibility to relay this promise to his wife. I can imagine hearing God's promise for herself was overwhelming. Everything Abraham had been saying was being confirmed!
As Sarah is pondering the incredible nature of this promise, we read that “the Lord asked Abraham why she laughed” pointing out that this promise should not be perceived as being all that incredible when placed into the context that nothing “is too hard for the Lord!”
Honestly, while we can all understand what made this situation with Abraham and Sarah unique, the truth is that every conception, the nine month development of a child, culminating with the birth that follows is nothing shy of a supernatural miracle of God! It’s amazing!
But there is another reason I don’t think this was a laugh of unbelief… In Hebrews 11:11-13 we’re told “by faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.” At what point in her life had Sarah “judged Him faithful who had promised?” I think the only logical place this would have occurred would have been in this very passage.
Furthermore, this statement that “Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ for she was afraid. And He said, ‘No, but you did laugh’” ends up being misconstrued because we automatically assume Sarah’s laughter was a bad thing. I don’t think it was. You see from my estimation if Sarah made any mistake at all it was denying that she’d laughed in the first place.
If this is the correct interpretation of what’s taking place in this exchange, God’s reply to Sarah’s denial takes on a much deeper level of meaning… “No, but you did laugh” was not a rebuke or God calling her out; rather it was His way of letting Sarah know amazement was a normal reaction to His promises. It was ok to laugh! She could be giddy with excitement!
While it’s not a good thing to laugh in a spirit of unbelief as it pertains to the promises of God because it denies the fact nothing “is too hard for the Lord,” I do believe it’s natural to laugh in amazement at the work God is accomplishing in and through your life.
As I think of the journey of Calvary316, it’s so unexpected it’s actually funny! I mean just look around. It’s comical that God would bring together this collection of people to be His church!
Genesis 18:16-19, “Then the men rose from there and looked toward Sodom, and Abraham went with them to send them on the way. And the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.’”
As these three men prepare to leave Jesus decides to bring Abraham into the loop as it pertained to His plans. Look at the reason He makes this decision… “Abraham will command his children… in the way of the Lord!” Because Jesus knew Abraham was going to tell his children all about the Lord, He wanted to make sure Abraham had a complete picture - especially with what was going to happen to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Men… Please know that the surest way to deepen your relationship and experience with God is to make it your priority to communicate these truths to your children. You see if you made it your job to teach your kids what it truly means to “keep the way of the Lord” and to live a life of “righteousness,” Jesus will personally equip you for such a divine and noble task!
Genesis 18:20-21, “And the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.’”
It’s interesting, but there appears to be two reasons the Lord was going to visit and would later destroy “Sodom and Gomorrah”: First, we read “their sin was very grave.” This Hebrew word “grave” means “to be heavy to the point of being unresponsive.” Keep in mind, Sodom wasn’t in blind-rebellion against God. It wasn’t as though they were ignorant of the truth.
Just a few chapters back these folks had been saved by Abraham and the God he served. You see Sodom’s actions were egregious because they were rebelling against the Light. They’d been given a warning; and yet, because they return to their wickedness the very God who’d previously delivered them from judgment was now about to judge them Himself.
But this was not the only reason… We’re also told “the outcry against them was great!” This word “outcry” implies a “cry of distress.” What this means is that the cry of those who’d been abused by their perversions… Those who’d been taken advantage of by their corrupt system… Those who’d been victimized by this sinful, wicked culture… It was their cries and anguish that had reached the throne of God and necessitated He act sooner than later.
So often when people talk about the judgment of God the focus is on how it effects the wicked. And yet, the problem with this is that we don’t balance this perspective with the reality that God’s judgment is also administered on behalf of the innocent victim as well. Justice for the wronged is an equal part of the equation concerning His judgment.
For the sake of time this is where we’ll stop this morning, but before we close I want to very quickly recap the themes that do emerge in this passage. First, do you realize Jesus is here this morning to meet with you? Like Abraham, are you ready to meet with Him? Are you willing to forsake your pride, lay aside all formality, and run to fall at His feet?
Secondly, is your home a place of hospitality? Are you and your spouse on the same page working together as a cohesive unit? Is your home a lighthouse for the lost and a hospital for the sick? You never know when what you perceive to be unexpected company, ends up being a divine appointment!
Thirdly, how awesome it is that what you eat, drink, nor what you do has any bearing on the righteous position you’ve been given with God through Jesus’ work on the cross! Oh that we may be like Jesus… Not only accused by the legalist as being the “friend of sinners,” but that our real-world approach might demonstrate the life-changing power of the Gospel to the lost!
Fourthly, as it pertains to the incredible promises of God may we never forget He’s the only one that can accomplish this work! God yields though us what we could never yield in our natural self. That said… Take heart! There is no work to hard for our Lord! No work to big. No mountain to high. His plans for your life is infinitely greater than anything you could ever imagine. Friend, it’s ok to sit in amazement - even laugh about it!
Fifthly, fellas… If you dedicate yourself to teaching your kids about the Lord, Jesus will honor that decision by equipping you for the task in ways you could never imagine. Because Abraham made this a priority, God took it upon Himself to reveal His plans in a radical way.
And finally, if you’re a victim this morning… If this world has ripped you off, chewed you up and is spitting you out… I hope you know that God has not only heard your cry, but at some point, whether in this life or the one to come, through His justice will right every wrong!
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