The Way, the Truth, the Life
Text: Genesis 21: 1- 21
Proposition: When the promise of God is established in your life then comes the time when He calls us to be separate from what was as we become Christ-like.
Introduction: A number of years ago when we lived in the Yukon I worked with a family as they ran a small gold mining operation. The gold is usually found near bedrock, sometimes 10 feet, even up to 50 feet below the surface of the ground. When you finally get all that soil and surface rock out of the way there is one last challenge. The tiny flakes and dust of gold are often mixed in with a black sand called galena, they both have the same weight, almost the same specific gravity and as such are difficult to separate one from the other. If you had a five gallon pail full of the black sand galena, mixed in with it might be about a half a coffee cup measure of gold. At today’s prices that would be about $6000 worth of gold. Separating the gold from the black sand, separating the purity from the dross, this isn’t just a challenge for gold miners, it’s what we wrestle with as people who have been set apart from the world through faith in Jesus Christ. God sifts and separates us from sin, a process called sanctification and it’s not a new thing. As we have been working our way through the book of Genesis we have seen how God again and again sifted Abraham out from the world around him. When he was 75 years old God promised him that he would one day have a son. Twelve years later, no child in sight, Abraham and his wife took things into their own hands. They chose to use a surrogate mother, an Egyptian slave named Hagar, to be the mother of Abraham’s son. She gave birth to a boy that she named Ishmael. When Ishmael was about 13, the promise that God had made 25 years earlier now came to be. Sarah conceived and had a son, just as God had promised… Genesis 21.
I. The Way…
Do you remember that time when Jesus was preparing His disciples and he said to them, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”(Jn 14:6) I think God has always had a way planned for each of us, a way that began with faith and ended in Jesus. There was a way that God had prepared for Abraham, it too was a way of faith. He set before Abraham something he couldn’t see, something that he had to wait for, something that was beyond his own ability to make happen. God had set before Abraham a promise that took 25 years to begin, it outlasted his physical body and it called for a trust in God’s ways as much as in God’s character. Faith really is an amazing thing. When people say that faith is too easy a way to be right with God then they have missed the essence of what faith really is. In the story before us Sarah and Abraham are overjoyed at the birth of their new son. All goes well with this new way until about 3 years pass. That would roughly be the time in the near east before a child is weaned, when they no longer need their mother’s milk but are ready for more solid food. So it says in verse 8 that Abraham threw a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned. Culturally this was a celebration that said to the whole community that the successor to Abraham was now ready to be prepared…Isaac was presented as the future. Two things soon took place:
1. Ishmael, now about 16, scoffs at or mocks the three year old Isaac.
2. Sarah sees this and tells Abraham to rid both Hagar and Ishmael from their tribe.
It seems a harsh response yet just 2 verses later God confirms that this is the right way. The way of God is always about faith. Abraham really struggled with this, perhaps because of his love for Ishmael, perhaps because Ishmael was ready to lead and Isaac was but a 3 year old and he himself 100. The way of faith will always have mixed within in it the galena of doubt. The way of faith for Abraham was a turning point, he had to let go of his Ishmael in order to grow with his Isaac.
The way is about faith, it’s about how we are to come to God.
II. The Truth…
Abraham gets up early in the morning, gets a skin canteen full of water and some bread, gives it to Hagar and Ishmael and sends them both away. They leave and head into the wilderness of Beersheba and Abraham watches them go. This can seem so harsh to us, Abraham was a rich man, he could have sent a camel train with them or at least a donkey laden with water and provisions and a guard of men. What was it that caused him to act with such economy? Was it that God had said He would provide for them, was it that Abraham believed God and totally released them to His care? Was it that Abraham saw the difference between flesh and faith?
Over 800 years later the apostle Paul would write in Galatians 4:22 that the separation of Hagar and Ishmael from Abraham is a picture of how God intends that we be holy. He says that Hagar was like the covenant of the Law and her child Ishmael like the flesh, the things we made happen for our gain, the things that we did to be good or righteous. The do’s and don’ts of the Law were not designed to make us good, they were designed to expose the nature of our sin, the fleshly part of our nature. The symbolism is extended to Sarah who he says is like the Jerusalem that God has designed, a place where by faith in Jesus we stand in His goodness or righteousness, a place of freedom from the Law of trying to do good in order to be good. In essence Paul is saying that we cannot serve two masters, the flesh part of our natures needs to be sent away, even put to death is how he terms it. The truth is that Isaac is the only child of promise, the truth is that only through him and his generations will the Messiah come, the truth is that there needs to be a complete and painful separation from the flesh, from Hagar the Law and her son Ishmael, the child of the flesh. The truth is that God has a way, just one, that is His Son Jesus Christ, He’s the only way to righteousness. The law can’t take you there. The truth is that until the flesh is seen and sent packing the ability to live by faith will constantly be mocked by your flesh. The Truth, that’s who Jesus is, He’s come that truth would set you free from sin and the choke hold of your flesh.
III. The Life…
Hagar and Ishmael are soon lost, the water gone, the heat of the desert sun driving them to the ground. This is not the first time for Hagar to find herself in a desert. Years ago she had run away from Sarah (Gen.16:7) and years ago the Angel of the Lord told her she would have a son, that son would live be the father of a great multitude and that son would be a wild man, his hand against every man. Even the name Ishmael was given to Hagar by the Angel of the Lord. But Hagar it seems had forgotten these promises. Here in the desert God hears the cry of the lad, He calls to Hagar to not be afraid and He opens her eyes to see a well of water, a well of life right in front of her yet she could not see it till He opened her eyes. God honored His promise towards Hagar because Ishmael was Abraham’s child, the genetic seed of Abraham runs in Ishmael who has become the father of the Arab peoples. Today, all over the world, God is opening the eyes of Arabic and Moslem people to see what has been right in front of them, the well of life, Jesus Christ. Sometimes He appears to them in dreams, sometimes in a vision, He reveals Himself in the Scripture and He brings them to the well of life, Jesus Christ.
Isaac was the son that God promised Abraham, a promise only received through faith, a promise that God chose to wait 25 years to deliver so that Abraham and Sarah could not even begin to say this was what they had done... this child would be a miracle child, one who would point to the greatest miracle child of all, Jesus Christ.
The life of Jesus became for us the Way, a precious life that was yielded to death to take away the barrier of our sin. The life of Jesus became for us the Truth, about the degree of love that God would go to on our behalf, the truth about what He has said in the past, done in the present and will complete in the future. The life of Jesus has become for us a new place, a new start. Words like adoption, born again, resurrected life, these all describe the Life that God has designed for us in Christ. The words separate, sanctified, holy…these describe what that Life is meant to look like, they describe life when the gold is separated from the galena.
It’s what the story of the separation of Hagar and Ishmael has always pointed to.