Picture this: The house is a mess [img]. There is laundry on the couch [img], someone’s dirty underwear is on the stairs [img], left where they had fallen on the way to the washing machine. The bathroom is dirty [img], smudges on the glass, toothpaste in the bottom of the sink, trash overflowing to the floor [img]. The coffee table is buried [img] under magazines, books and newspapers. And that doesn’t even get to the shoes spilling out of the closet [img], the coats hung over chairs or thrown into the bottom of the closet [img] and the fact that no one can remember the last time the carpet was vacuumed or floor was mopped.
That may not sound to different from the way some live in their day to day life, but if I threw in these few words, “Mommy, the pastor just drove up,” or [img] “There here, an hour early.” What crosses through your mind? It’s the great surprise, that moment of panic as you try to figure out what is happening, where they came from, what you are going to do to get it together in the 20 steps it takes your guest to get from the car to the front door.
Now I am not suggesting that Abraham and Sarah were bad housekeepers, but do think the 18th chapter of Genesis presents a certain amount of surprise for the patriarch. We are told that Abraham…was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day (Gen 18:1). To really understand this you need to picture Tucson, AZ heat in the middle of August, 120°F from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. To live in such a climate, people make changes in their normal schedule of living; they get up early and work in the cool of the day and then come in at lunchtime to eat and take a siesta in the shade until the evening hours when they can go back out and work some more.
It is during one of these siesta times that Abraham is visited. Suddenly three men are standing nearby? Who are they, Where did they come from? What are their intentions? Was I asleep and missed them? Are they real or an illusion? I am certain I wasn’t asleep, are they supernatural visitors from heaven? All of these questions and probably others would have flooded through Abraham’s mind as he hurried from his repose to meet the men standing nearby.
And like the family surprised by the pastor, or the early guests, the impossible begins. Hospitality dictates that the visitor can’t be left on the porch, but must be invited in, and the same hospitality tells us that some form of food must be served. Isn’t that true? I know it is, because whenever I visit the members of the body, each and every one of them is trying to “put some meat on these bones,” even though I am quite content with my present weight. Well, the same is true of Abraham, except that in his day, if a visitor arrived in the desert, one didn’t just pull out the sugary sweets and some coffee or tea, they were served a meal and invited to rest until one could continue on his or her way in the cooler time of the day.
So Abraham finds himself zipping from one place to the other, Quick…bake some bread…cook a calf…get curds and milk (Gen 18:6-8). To this point in the story, Abraham still doesn’t know much about these visitors. Those questions in his mind from earlier haven’t been answered, though we as readers have been told that the Lord is among these men and that gives us all sorts of insight into what is going on.
Though Abraham isn’t aware of who the men are, we know that the meal he has prepared is reminiscent of the sacrifices. Why would I say this? Well, in Leviticus we learn about the bread that is to be baked for the altar: Take fine flour and bake twelve loaves of bread, using two-tenths of an ephah for each loaf (Lev 24:5). Twelve loaves at 2/10 or an ephah is 2.4 ephahs of fine flour; and that is important because fine flower is always used in the sacrifices, but the second thing to notice is the amount of flour Abraham instructs his wife to use. An ephah was about 22 liters and 3 Seah’s, the amount Abraham wants made into bread, is equal to an ephah, so Abraham is asking his wife to make 22 liters of flour into bread. This is an awful lot of bread, much like the amount of flour used in the daily offerings to God in the Tabernacle. We are talking about anywhere from 23-30 pounds of flour Sarah is to bake into bread. Then there is the calf, described as “choice, tender” again another reference that has overtones to the spotless and perfect sacrifices required of a yearling bull (Lev 9:3) as a burnt offering. This is especially intriguing especially since three men would only need a small goat, not a calf to eat, but the extravagance of the meal, and the fact that we know who the guests are serve to point towards the proper kind of sacrificial meal needed when one is going to eat with the God of the Universe.
How long would all this take to prepare? It would take a bit of time. After the initial surprise wears off and the impossible meal, a sacrifice, if you will, has been served, the conversation begins between the visitors and Abraham. And the conversation serves to begin to answer those questions that lingered in Abraham and Sarah’s minds – Who are these men and what do they want with us? But like so many things of God the initial dialogue only serves to pique more questions. Where is your wife? Is a simple enough question that won’t stir up much introspection in a man, but Where is your wife Sarah? (Gen 18:9) is totally different. My wife hasn’t been seen, nor introduced and yet he knows her name? Who is this man? Must have been running through Abraham’s mind and yet before he can even ask how this visitor knows Sarah’s name, the next item is tossed out: A prediction about my future and hers is declared as fact: Sarah your wife will have a son (Gen 18:10).
Can’t this man see how old I am? If he could only see how old my wife is, he would know that such a statement is impossible. She is 90, I am 99 and the natural laws of human bodies have taken over, there is no such possibility for Sarah to even get pregnant. She is well past menopause. Who is this man, who knows my wife’s name and declares the promise of a child? Who is this who speaks so matter of factly about the impossible? We know, this is the Lord but Abraham and Sarah don’t quite know yet. Though I surmise that Abraham may be starting to get a little wise, for if you recall in Chapter 17 God had promised him a child and now a man is sitting before him telling him the date this child is to be born.
But there is one more interaction that will serve to solidify who it is that is dining at the Hebrew’s table. And it is the question that God asks, Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ (Gen 18:13). As Sarah stood behind the curtain, and these words were spoken by the visitor, I am sure she would have been thinking, How did this man know my name? How can he know my future? And how can he know what I was thinking?
These are universal questions many of us ponder. Can anyone really know me? Can anyone really know what I am thinking? What I desire? What I feel? Does anyone know what my future will be and can it be certain? Or is it all a crapshoot subject to the [img] roll of the dice and the unpredictable forces of nature? If nothing else sticks with you from today’s message, the story of the 3 visitors should comfort you that though people may struggle to know the personal things about others and how the future will play out, there is one who knows and who asks the question – Is anything too hard for the Lord? (Gen 18:14)
And though he is named simply the Lord in this story, this mysterious divine visitor goes by the name of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This is a theophany – the fancy theological word for an appearing of God before the incarnation. And what is so great is that Jesus functions in much the same way as he did in this story. To the old woman Sarah he said “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” To one of his first disciples Jesus declared that he had seen him before he had even met him. I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you. Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God the King of Israel. (John 1:48b-49) Truly Jesus not only knew Nathanael’s name, as he knew Sarah’s but he knew all about him, for nothing is too hard for the Lord.
To a Samaritan woman, he reveals himself as the one who knows her past when he declares that she has had 7 husbands and currently lives with a man who isn’t her husband (John 4:17). She then goes on to declare concerning him, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did.” (John 4:29a). Is anything too hard for the Lord? (Gen 18:14)
To the countless sick, lepers, blind and lame that he healed, Jesus’ life was an answer to the question: Is anything too hard for the Lord? (Gen 18:14)
To the sisters of Lazarus questioning the possibility of his being raised from the dead, he declared, if you believe, you will see the glory of God…Lazarus come out (John 11:40, 43). To Jairus, whose daughter died, he declared the impossible, that a dead girl was simply sleeping and would rise again, and he fulfilled his word of raising her from the dead (Matt 9:25). Is anything too hard for the Lord? (Gen 18:14)
To the young Mary questioning the angel about the possibility of a virgin birth, we hear this: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:35-37) Is not the angel’s response a protracted way of saying “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14)
In fact, it is this promise of a child from the time of Adam and Eve with the promise of one who will crush the head of the Serpent (Gen 3:15) to the promise of a son born to Abraham and Sarah to the promised child of Mary that the greatest question of all Scripture is asked and answered: Is it too hard for God to redeem humanity from the curse of sin and its wages of death? Absolutely not. In the promise of a child amidst unnatural obstacles, God repeatedly declares through the Scriptures that nothing is too hard for him: Not a 90 year old woman birthing a son, not a virgin pledged to be married carrying a child, not even the redemption of mankind.
For just as God knew Abraham and chose him before the foundation of all time to be the father of many nations and to be a man who would direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (Gen 18:19), so in Christ all the promises of God are fulfilled and we are grafted into the one who does what is right and just, becoming recipients of the promises of God.
Is it too hard for God to take a sinner, stained with murder on his hands, covered with child abuse on her heart, wrapped in rape or thievery, filled with malice, anger or rage, stained by a broken marriage, abused as a child, considered worthless, and unredeemable by society or anything else, is it too hard for God to take such a person and make them his child? Is it too hard for God to fill them with grace and mercy, to transform their nature from one of unrighteousness into righteousness? Is it too hard for God to take such a person and take them from being an enemy of the Lord to being a friend and a loyal subject of love and grace? Is it too hard?
The story Abraham and Sarah and their three visitors should give us all a resound answer that says No, it isn’t too hard. God is in the business of performing the miraculous for nothing is too hard for the Lord.
- Surprised by visitors? (Gen 18:1, Lev 24:5, 9:3, Gen 18:14)
- How did he Know?
- My name/wife’s name (Gen 18:9)
- How can he know my future? (Gen 18:10)
- My thoughts/wife’s thoughts (Gen 18:10, 13)
- Is anything to hard for the Lord? (Gen 18:14)
- Comparing the story of Sarah/Isaac with the story of Mary/Jesus
- i. Old/Young (Luke 1:35-37)
- ii. First Disiciples (John 1:43-49)
- iii. Samaritan Woman (John 4:17-29)
- iv. Raising the Dead (John 11:40-43, Mt 9:25)
- v. Promised child
- Find out in 18:19 reason for promise. Jesus fulfills this
- Redemption for righteous from the Sodom of this world
- vi. If we believe Sarah story, then we must believe in Mary story and vice versa for nothing is too hard for the Lord