Agonizomai: Heb 11 - 11-12 - Christ - Effecting God's Purposes Through People

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Heb 11 - 11-12 - Christ - Effecting God's Purposes Through People

Heb 11 - 11-12 - Christ - Effecting God's Purposes Through People

Heb 11:11-12 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

In the light of some things we are told in Genesis it seems strange for Sarah to be put forward as being a person of faith. First she put Abraham with her maid Hagar, by whom Ishmael was conceived; this hardly seems to lay hold of God’s promise, but we might be too harsh if we chided her for this. After all, God had not said with whom the much wanted son would be conceived - only that Abraham would be the father. And it was common pagan practice for a maid to bear children for an infertile wife. This was surrogacy before fertility clinics and the implantation of embryos.

But then we find Sarah doubting God’s promise again in a more direct way when the theophany came to Abraham as he was sitting under the terebinth tree in the plain of Mamre. When Sarah overheard the angel of the Lord telling Abraham that by this time next year she would bear a child she scoffed and laughed, though she denied it when confronted. {Ge 18:9-15} At first blush this doesn’t look anything like faith laying hold of God’s promise, does it? And it isn’t. Plainly she disbelieved because she was thinking of worldly limitations rather than getting the big picture.

But how many of us have an equally dismal reaction to something God says when we ourselves are in the midst of a difficulty. We would like to think we would just believe God straight up front and get on board regardless of how things look - but that is often not the truth of our experience. Our first reaction may be towards disbelief. “God did this for such and such a person, but he will not (read cannot) do it for me.” There is a place where the rubber meets the road. I think of that Christian martyr (Cranmer, I think) who, under pressure from his inquisitors, signed the instrument of recantation - but who also repented of it the next day, and held his signing hand in the fire first, as he burnt to death, saying, "This unworthy right hand." Did he have faith or not?

So it may have been with Sarah. Faced with the immediacy of the promise her flesh rose up and denied even the possibility of conceiving. She wasn’t having sex any more, let alone being well past the change of life. She was 90, for goodness sake! And her hubby was 100. But we note what the Lord said to her in two places: he countered her objection by reminding her of the nature and power of God. Her god was too small and she was reminded of that. {Ge 18:14} Then the Lord confronted her with the disbelief manifested by her laughing. She had denied it and He flatly contradicted her. {Ge 18:15} And she knew this to be true. Now, we know that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. God had spoken to Sarah and she was convicted.

We know that she was convicted, that she repented and that she believed on two accounts. One, she became pregnant - a condition that was occasioned by a sexual act in which she must have engaged (and, from what we know of Abraham, she did so willingly). Two, this inspired scripture in Hebrews states categorically that by faith she received power to conceive. The Lord’s rebuke and the Lord’s reminder had their effect.

Sometimes it seems that God is so easily satisfied with the smallest scrap of belief in us. He endures and waits and expends immense patience and compassion while we struggle with our fleshly unbelieving hearts. But He knows where the seed has been planted and He will not break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering flax. It seems to me that Sarah was much like we all are.

Had Abraham (and Sarah) not been "as good as dead" - and had Sarah not been barren all her life until she ceased ovulating altogether, then the necessity of faith on their part would not have been so clearly delineated. But they were predestined to such conditions and circumstances precisely so that it would be crystal clear to all future generations that it was the God in Whom their faith was placed that did all things. Faith in God and in His trustworthiness - and all that such a thing implies - was always foundational to walking in Him.

And, lest we miss it among all the theology here, the promise of God was fulfilled with regard to the great nation and the seed/heirs. Despite all outward appearances and the deductions of human wisdom - even contrary to the light of human experience - God brought to pass what He had promised and He did so through His gift of faith to His selected instruments.


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