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This morning we continue in the 11th chapter of Hebrews, with the faith of Sarah. We’re going to begin in Genesis, in order to gain better understanding of what the Spirit of God is telling us in Hebrews.
Let’s turn to Genesis 11.

Sarah in Genesis

Before we begin, let me say that for the sake of simplicity I’m going to use the names used in Hebrews: Abraham and Sarah. Those are not their names when their stories begin in Genesis. Abram – exalted father – was changed to Abraham – father of a multitude. Sarai – princess – was changed to Sarah, which also means princess. Sarai and Sarah are variations of the same name. Why make the change? I think the most likely reason is that Sarai was more of a proper name, as in “my little princess,” and Sarah emphasized the nobility, as in “royal princess.” A final point of fact is that they were ten years apart in age, according to Genesis 17:17.
We basically see Abraham and Sarah at three distinct periods of their lives, like three acts of a play.

Act 1: Abraham and Sarah at 75 and 65

In the first act we are introduced to both Abraham and Sarah.We are immediately told that she is barren, without children. Genesis 12:4 tells us that Abraham was 75 when God called him; making Sarah 65 years old.
In this first season of time, God called Abraham to leave Ur, and he did, with Sarah, his nephew Lot, and all their possessions. They traveled over 1,000 miles to eventually end up in Canaan, which God identified as the promised land. When they arrived in Canaan, God promised Abraham descendants (Genesis 12:7).
Because of a famine they continued south into Egypt. Abraham feared for his life if the Egyptians thought that Sarah was his wife, since she was beautiful, and so he insisted that she tell them that she was his sister. Pharaoh paid Abraham a very large dowry for her, and took her into his home. God did what Abraham refused to do, and defended Sarah’s purity and dignity, and struck Egypt with great plagues. There’s a little foreshadowing there of the plagues He would bring on Egypt when they enslaved Israel, whom He sometimes pictured as His wife.
Somehow Pharaoh figured out that Sarah was actually Abraham’s wife – perhaps Sarah refused to lie about her relationship with Abraham – and was understandably angry. He evicted Abraham and the rest out of Egypt, sending them on their way with everything they had gained.
They returned to the promised land. Sometime after this the Lord came to Abraham and made the second direct promise of descendants.
They returned to the promised land, and after a period of time the Lord made a second promise of descendants:
“I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered.” (Genesis 13:16)
Life continued on for a number of years, while Abraham and Sarah remained childless.

Act 2: Abraham and Sarah at 85 and 75

When the second act opens in Genesis 15-16, ten years have passed. Abraham is now 85, and Sarah is 75.
The Lord returned and again promised Abraham innumerable descendants (Genesis 15:5).
This time Abraham believed the promise of God:
Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
It’s reasonable to think that Abraham told Sarah about this promise. We read in Genesis 16:1-2,
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. 2 So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. (Genesis 16:1–2)
I can understand Sarah’s thinking. God has promised Abraham descendants; God has prevented her from bearing children; He must mean for them to take another approach. Abraham can take her Egyptian slave, Hagar, as a wife. Abraham does, and in time Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, the father of the Arab peoples, who have always been and remain perpetual enemies of Israel.
There is a lesson to be learned here. It is extraordinarily foolish to try to bring about God’s promises by our own power. He doesn’t need our help. We don’t make anything better by deciding that WE must fulfill HIS promise for Him. The promise of God is not just a prediction about what will happen, but a promise of what He will do. He calls us to believe Him, not help Him. If we try to bring about His purposes in our own strength and wisdom, at the best we will fail, and suffer for it. At the worst, we will lose faith in Him, thinking that HE let us down, when in reality we never gave Him the chance to work. Trust God, and stay out of His way.
For Abraham and Sarah, taking over God’s part created incredible conflict, not only for their descendants, but between them as well. Sarah ended up embittered by the entire experience.

Act 3: Abraham and Sarah at 99 and 89.

Thirteen years later we come to the third act, in Genesis 17-18.
Again the Lord appeared to Abraham and promised him descendants. This time He clarifies that Abraham’s descendants will come through a son to be born to Sarah. (Genesis 17:15-16).
This caught Abraham off guard; He fell on his face and laughed, because they were far too old to have children. He asked the Lord to accept Ishmael, but God refused. God had already chosen Isaac, not only before his birth, but even before his conception. Sarah, not Hagar, would be the mother of Abraham’s true descendants.
Not long after the Lord returned and repeated the promise, this time in Sarah’s hearing.
Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (Genesis 18:12)
This wasn’t the pleasure of having a child, but the pleasure of conceiving the child in the first place. It had been a long time for both of them.
But nothing is impossible with God:
“Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (Genesis 18:14)
And, as God had promised, Sarah conceived – in the normal way – and Isaac was born. Sarah was filled with joy and wonder:
Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” (Genesis 21:6–7)
There are certainly more details to be found in Sarah’s story, many of which are not all that pleasant. These were real people, not fictional characters.
But for now, let’s go to Hebrews 11, and see what is said about Sarah there.

Sarah in Hebrews

11 By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants as the stars of heaven in number, and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. (Hebrews 11:11–12)
First, the obvious: by faith Sarah received the ability to conceive. Isaac was a long time in coming. Twenty-five years passed between God first promising Abraham descendants and the birth of Isaac. The Lord waited so long to fulfill His promise that no one else could possibly receive the credit.
She trusted the Lord. Yes, she laughed at the promise that she would conceive and give birth, because it sounded so strange. But her laughter was not mockery or scoffing, nor did it remain in place.
She and Abraham both believed the promise of God. They didn’t simply make up something for God to do, or decide that what they most wanted was what He most intended to give them. They had no hope until He made His promise, and then they learned to trust Him.
But let’s notice what Hebrews 11:11 actually says about Sarah’s faith. It wasn’t faith in the outcome. Nor was it faith in faith itself. It was faith in the faithfulness of God.
What does faith in God’s faithfulness mean?

Faith in the PERSON of God

Faith in God’s faithfulness means faith in the PERSON of God. Sarah didn’t have faith that she would have a baby; she didn’t have faith that her faith would cause her to have a baby. She had faith in God Himself, in His Person. She trusted Him. She leaned on Him, and committed herself to Him. The text doesn’t say that she considered a baby to be possible, or faith to be powerful, but God to be faithful. Even with this promise in Genesis 18, she had to wait a while, including Abraham telling another strange and disappointing lie about her being his sister, this time to Abimelech. Again, God defended and rescued her. And then, the Scripture says, the Lord did for her what He had promised, and she conceived, and bore a son to Abraham. The heart of Sarah’s faith was God Himself, the Giver, and not the gift.

Faith in the POWER of God

Faith in God’s faithfulness means faith in the POWER of God. Sarah believed that God could do what He promised to do. She believed what He Himself said in Genesis 18, “Is anything too difficult for Yahweh?” The obvious answer is “no, nothing is too difficult for Yahweh.” Sarah believed that. She trusted in that. She knew that she and Abraham were old. Her response in Genesis 18:12 is a little on the adult side:
12 Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have become old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (Genesis 18:12)
She isn’t talking about the pleasure of having a baby, but the pleasure of getting pregnant in the first place, if you get my drift. They were old. All of that was over and done, and probably had been for a good while. But God had promised that the two of them would have a baby. So, she trusted that the power of God would make it possible.

Faith in the CHARACTER of God

Faith in God’s faithfulness means faith in the CHARACTER of God. Sarah believed that God would keep His promise, and that He wasn’t teasing her, or playing a cruel game with her heart. In all likelihood, there was nothing that caused Sarah more pain than being barren. It would be all too easy to think that God was playing a trick on her, and just wanted to watch her suffer. But Sarah knew that the Lord is not like that. She had faith in His character. If He promised that she would conceive and give birth to a son, He meant it.
While it’s safe to say that nothing meant more to Sarah than having a son, that isn’t why Isaac was born. None of this was about God fulfilling her dreams of being of mother, or about filling the emptiness in her life. God is looking at the entire picture of redemption, and ultimately to His Son, who would be born through their descendants 18 centuries in the future.
Yet Sarah experienced deep joy and fulfillment at the birth of Isaac, greater than if she had given birth to him in her twenties. He wasn’t just a child born to her; He was God’s gracious gift to her.
The result of Sarah’s faith is a lengthy line of descendants that come to a peak with Jesus, born to Joseph and Mary. She couldn’t have known it at the time, but her faith, and Abraham’s faith, had eternal implications.

Bringing it Home

If we have the faith that Sarah had, we will be doing well.
Faith in the Person of God. Yesterday I read a Twitter post that called Christians to holiness. The majority of the responses were pornographic, insulting to God, demeaning to true Christians, ugly and foul. Many of those posts were from people who insisted that they were Christians, and their god isn’t going to judge or condemn anyone. Many joked about their sin, and the reality of hell. They don’t believe in the God Who Is, but the god of their own creation, one they have molded and shaped by their own hands.
Do you believe that God exists? I’m not trying to be funny. Do you yourself personally believe that there is a Divine Being who is Three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who created everything from nothing, who rules as the unchanging, holy, sovereign Lord over all creation, who is just as He has revealed Himself in Scripture? Do you believe in the God of the Bible, the God of Adam and Eve, and Abraham and Sarah?
Faith in the Power of God. There are people who deny that God can work as He has promised to work. Where Scripture says that salvation is by grace and through faith, they believe that they must work for their own salvation, putting forth the right kind of effort, doing the right kind of good works. Others think that evangelism is completely up to them, and if they are clumsy or don’t have all the answers, unbelievers will go to hell.
We need to trust in the absolute, sovereign power of God. He saves, all by Himself, according to His will. Our part in evangelism is to clearly and simply present the truth of the Gospel. It’s up to the Spirit of God to convict unbelievers of their sin and the judgment to come.
For instance, Jesus said that He will build His church, but they assume that it’s up to them to make the church successful. Or, where the Scriptures says that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, they insist that salvation requires our efforts and good works. These are nothing more than denials of the power of God.
Do you believe that the Lord can actually do what He’s promised? He has promised to save those who trust Him, but can He save them? Many believe that He can’t without their help. He has promised to keep His children secure for all eternity, but can He actually keep them, or only try His best? Do you believe that nothing is impossible for God, that He can do anything He pleases, with any part of His creation that He pleases? Do you believe that because of His infinite, sovereign power, He can keep you for all eternity?
Faith in the Character of God.
Do you believe that God is perfectly holy, righteous, good, kind, gracious, merciful, compassionate, and long-suffering? Or do you believe that His character is as subject to change as your own? Do you believe that His character is not simply the way He behaves at times, but His actual nature? Do you believe that God, in His holy perfection, remains true to Himself always, and therefore you can always, always, always trust His character?
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