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Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?

Date: May. 20, 2018

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 18:1-15

Key Verse: Genesis 18:14

Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.

Nearly seven years ago, in the introduction I did on a passage from John 6, I talked about bread. I talked about various types of bread and said that my favorite type of bread is German rye bread. I said that German bread is dense and hearty. The outside crust is hard and crunchy, while the inside is soft and not mushy. When I talked about it, nearly seven years ago, I didn’t have any for a while. I was waxing nostalgic, wanting it more and more, as I thought about it. Well, just over a year ago, I found someplace that sells German bread and they even had a few varieties. The one variety I settled on was called German crusty and it embodied the bread that I was talking about seven years ago. It was dense, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It was awesome to have that bread, but one time, the bread was a little too hard on the outside. The German crusty’s crust was just too hard. It hadn’t gone stale or anything, but it was very hard to slice the bread, let alone to bite into it. I think it was overbaked. I tried eating it, but it was just too hard. It was so hard and happened enough times that I decided to stop buying the German crusty and get on of the other varieties instead. Have you ever experienced anything like that? Did you ever think that something was just too hard? Was it a burnt steak or rubbery eggs that were hard to get down? Maybe it wasn’t food. Maybe you had a course that was too hard or final. You didn’t even want to get up to go to class because you didn’t want to deal with the content. Sometimes, it is just physically too hard to get out of bed or to complete a project on time. There are things that are just too hard for us, because we have limitations. But what about God? Is there anything that is too hard for the Lord? In today’s passage, that very question is brought up because of an extraordinary circumstance.

Last week, God changed Abram and Sarai’s names to reflect a greater vision. Abram became Abraham and Sarai became Sarah. God told Abraham to circumcise every male in his household eight days old and older. It was to be a sign of being in God’s promise and that promise to Abraham was that Sarah would give birth to a son in around a year from that time. It was an amazing promise because, when the son would be born, Abraham would be one hundred while Sarah would be ninety, both very well along in years. It was too amazing to be true and Abraham fell to the ground and laughed to himself, but God reiterated his promise to Abraham. The boy Isaac would be the child of promise.

Today’s passage picks up not long after the last one because, again, God reiterates that Sarah would give birth in about a year, the same timeframe given in the last passage. Our passage starts out, “The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.” (1) The first thing that is mentioned is that the Lord appeared to Abraham. Now, this is something that the Bible has already mentioned twice before. Once in chapter 12, when Abram arrived in Canaan and also in last week’s chapter, but this time the Lord’s appearance was different. “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” (2) In the previous two times, it is not mentioned how the Lord appeared to Abraham, but this time, the Lord came in the form of a man with two others. Abraham was taking a rest in the shade of the entrance of his tent on a hot day. He was still settled near the trees of Mamre, the same place he settled when Lot left for the land around Sodom many years earlier. This sets the stage for the events of the next chapter.

For Abraham, it was just an ordinary day. It was the hottest part of the day and it was cooler at the entrance of the tent, which would have been covered but open to provide shade and allow a breeze to flow by. The interior of the tent would have been hot like an oven, while the area in the sun would have roasted a person. Abraham was sitting at the entrance at this time, because, since it was so hot, it would have been hard and dangerous for a person to be working at that time. It would be better to wait until things became cooler to get anything done. While Abraham was resting, he looked up and saw three men standing nearby. It seems like they appeared rather suddenly, since they were nearby when Abraham spotted them. If they walked to where Abraham saw them, most likely they would have been seen beforehand. Instead, Abraham looked up and there they were.

When Abraham saw the visitors, he sprang into action. He hurried out to meet them and bowed down low. Abraham honored the visitors. Somehow, he knew who they were, and he rushed out to greet them. In bowing low, Abraham acknowledged their superiority to him. They were important people and Abraham recognized that, so he put himself into a position of servitude to honor his guests. Abraham started out, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by.” (3) Abraham calls one of them, “my lord”. Now, if you look, the word “lord” is not capitalized, so Abraham is not referring to the guest as God, but simply as a person in a superior position. Abraham, then, asks for the guests to stay awhile. He offers them to refresh themselves by washing of their feet and resting under the trees. He also offers them something to eat.

The visitors agree to Abraham’s request and he left to go about preparing everything. “So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. ‘Quick,’ he said, ‘get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.’ Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.” (6-8) If you look closely at some of the words in those verses, you see “hurried”, “quick”, “ran” and “hurried” again. Abraham swiftly and diligently made preparations to serve the three visitors. Abraham wasn’t lazy or slow to work. He made sure that his guests were taken care of in the quickest and best manner. He instructed Sarah to make some bread for them. Abraham tells her to get three seahs of the finest flour. That’s about 36 pounds of flour to turn into bread in the hottest part of the day. It wasn’t a small task to ask for, but Sarah did it. In the hot tent she prepared a large amount of bread. She kneaded it and baked it, despite the hot weather. While that was going on, Abraham went to the herd and picked out the best calf for his visitors and had a servant prepare it. Then, Abraham took curds, milk and the calf to the visitors to eat and refresh themselves. While they ate, Abraham stood nearby waiting to serve, just like a waiter at a fancy restaurant. Abraham had the heart of a servant who wanted to please these three visitors.

He was the perfect host and that shows us the heart of Abraham. He had never seen these men before, but he knew their significance. He could see that they were very important people and Abraham went about making sure that everything was the best as quickly as possible for them. Abraham’s household followed his lead and served well despite it being the hottest part of the day. They were normally resting at that time, but with the visitors’ arrival, the entire household was in a flurry of activity. They could have taken it easy and been slow to prepare things, but they instead prepared everything as quickly as they could. Abraham had the greatest respect for his guests and he treated them with high honor and gave them the best he had to offer. Abraham didn’t try to join them, but he waited on them as they needed. He was respectful of their position and remained their servant.

While they ate, they had a question, “Where is your wife Sarah?” (9) It seems like an odd question. These guests were men, and, in that culture, men would never speak to another man’s wife and probably never even talk about her, let alone refer to her by name. They knew Sarah’s name despite the fact that Abraham had never seen them before. They had a supernatural ability because these guests were not normal people. They were the Lord and two angels. The Bible said that the Lord appeared to Abraham, and in this case, he actually appeared to Abraham with two angels. They knew everything about Abraham and Sarah because one of them was God. Since this is a case of God in the flesh, some people surmise that this is actually the pre-incarnate Jesus walking the earth to visit Abraham. But why did God want to know about Sarah? We find that out next.

Abraham tells his guests that Sarah is in the tent. Instead, one of them says, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.” (10) This is a reiteration of what the Lord told Abraham just prior to his circumcision in the last passage, but this time, Sarah heard it too, “Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him.” (10) Sarah was eavesdropping on her husband’s conversation with the visitors and she was surprised to hear what they had to say. “Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’” (11-12) At this time, Abraham was ninety-nine years old and Sarah was eighty-nine. Sarah was post-menopausal and there no physical way for them to have a baby now. For years they tried to have children to no avail, perhaps for seventy years. They probably prayed for children, but nothing happened. Sarah may have never been able to have children because of some medical condition, but now she was post-menopausal, beyond the age of childbearing. God even promised Abraham to have children twenty-five years prior, but nothing ever happened. These were good people. They were faithful to God, but their deepest wish was not answered for twenty-five years. God kept refreshing the promise, but its fulfillment was not in sight. Did God not love them or was it just too hard for him to keep this promise? It is a very human tactic to delay what is hard and deal with it at a later time, but that is not what God is doing. He was preparing so many things for the arrival of Isaac and now it was finally time for him to come. God did not forget, and it was always within his power do keep his promise. Here we get a definitive date.

While Sarah was listening, she was thinking about her situation and she scoffed. She thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” (12) She was old and worn out. She wasn’t just a grandma, she was the age of a great-grandma and she would have a child now? That seems too far out. She was barren before menopause and now there was absolutely zero chance that she could have a baby. Even if she did have a baby, she would be old. Being the parent of a newborn is a young person’s job. It would be ever so hard for a ninety-year-old to be a new parent. How would they keep up with the kid when he starts crawling and walking? There is possibly even more bitterness in Sarah’s words. The word “pleasure” can also refer to sexual pleasure. Sarah’s words could also mean that Abraham and Sarah have not had relations for a long time. Perhaps they both thought that Ishmael was what God meant about Abraham having a son and they gave up. It could have been years since Abraham and Sarah had been intimate together and you could sense the bitterness in her heart because of it. She was worn out and had nothing left, but now she would have the pleasure? She couldn’t appreciate it. So, with her thought, Sarah scoffed at what the Lord said and laughed with doubt.

Her laugh was quiet, but the Lord still knew what was in her heart. “Then the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?”’” (13) God knows the inner workings of our hearts, and he knows the truth of what we think and feel. We can’t hide anything from him, but God is understanding. He tells Abraham, “Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” (14) God doesn’t explicitly say that nothing is impossible for him, but he puts it up as a rhetorical question, knowing that Abraham knows the answer. Is anything too hard for the Lord? If there is anything that is too hard for the Lord, then that means that God has limitations and there are things that even God cannot do.

We know limitations. We are human, and, in our lives, there are so many things that are outside of our control. We cannot lift a mountain or bring the moon closer. We cannot, with a snap of our fingers, change our very existence. We cannot even who likes us and doesn’t like us. In our lives there are so many things that our outside of our abilities. Parents cannot make their children a certain way. Students cannot guarantee that they will understand the material. We struggle with our shortcomings and sometimes that can lead to despair. We can sit not knowing what to do. “How will we ever get through this? How can there ever be a change? I’ll never change. He’ll never change. She’ll never change. They are always like this. Will we ever find relief?” These thoughts can paralyze us. We can get lost in our thoughts and despair at our lives. We can regret decisions that we have made. Abraham may have regretted marrying Sarah because she was barren. If he had married a different woman, he wouldn’t have to worry about having an heir. When we keep falling into our pattern of sin, we can wonder when it will ever end. When will I be able to put it all behind me? You may be stuck in debt wondering how you will ever be able to get out from underneath it. You might be ready to retire when the debt is finally gone and there is no end in sight. These are our limitations.

But is there anything that is too hard for the Lord? Think about it. Moving mountains? Well, the Lord created the heavens and the earth. A mountain is nothing. God parted a sea so that this people could cross on dry ground and fed his people for forty years with manna that would appear each morning like dew. Is there anything too hard for the Lord? God created our bodies down to the smallest cell. He put the pieces together to make it actually work. God created gravity that holds the universe together. He started the stars and caused them to burn and gave the Earth a magnetic field to protect it from solar radiation. He takes care of grand details and made sure everything is just so. We have a stumbling block at death. It is the ultimate obstacle for us, but even death is not too hard for God. Jesus chose to die, and he chose to come back again. Death could not keep its hold on him. There is literally nothing that is impossible to God. What we think of as impossible is nothing to God. He lives by that slogan “Impossible is nothing”. We can’t do the things God can, but they are ordinary to God. Jesus walked on water. Go to Lake Michigan and try that. It is impossible, but not to God. God can have a young lady give birth while still a virgin. Surely, whatever issues we need to overcome are nothing to God.

Sarah was barren for decades and past the age of childbearing, but even that is not impossible. It is not too hard for the Lord. Whatever you are going through is not too hard for the Lord. Whatever issues you may have, they are nothing compared to the power of God. He loves us and died for us and came back for us. Surely, our own worries and problems are nothing for him to solve. We don’t need to despair; we need to trust in our Lord. We need to trust in his power and in his love. God is in the business of renewing and resurrecting. Sarah was as good as dead, but the Lord was going to revive her to bear a son in a year’s time. That is a miracle. God took the impossible and made it nothing, and he promises the same in our lives. Now, I am not guaranteeing that God is going to change your lives today. He might, but it took twenty-five years for Abraham and Sarah to get a date about a child. The apostle Paul struggled with sin his whole life, but that struggle brought him closer to God. I can’t say how God will work in your lives, but it is not too hard for him. There is no need to doubt his power or his love. He has already done so much for us, even more than what we are currently struggling with. I’m a hard man to deal with and stuck in my ways, but even that is not too hard for the Lord. He promises to make me more Christlike and day by day I am being resurrected. There is nothing that is too hard for the Lord.

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