Picture the scene. You’ve taken the bus into Sevenoaks, and you’re waiting at the bus station for a bus to bring you back to Kemsing. The timetable says that the last bus of the day is due to leave in two minutes. There’s no sign. So you wait until the appointed time. And there’s still no sign. At which point, you start to wonder whether the bus timetable was a cruel joke. Perhaps the bus will never come.
Sometimes life can feel a bit like that. God has made some promises to look after us, to mend the world, to meet our needs. So we wait. And we read the Bible to check – like looking at the timetable again – and then we wait. And then we start to wonder. Perhaps the Bible was a cruel joke. Perhaps those promises will never come true.
What we need is a magic telescope that lets us look into the future. That can show us what will happen. That can show us what it will be like to be there when it happens. That way, we can know how to live now if that is the future we want.
You’ll be pleased to know that God put Genesis 21 into the Bible to be a kind of magic telescope for his people. He knows that we need to see into the future sometimes, and he’s given us this chapter to help us with that.
I want to draw 4 things out of this chapter for us. Two glimpses through the telescope, then two implications for today.
God will keep every promise
Start with the first look through the telescope. We see that God will keep every promise. God will keep every promise.
Notice how the writer draws attention to God’s faithfulness at the start of this chapter: Verse 1: The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.
He’s really rubbing our noses in the fact that God is doing exactly as he said. Not more. Not less.
We’ve had a massive wait. It’s been 25 years since God first spoke to Abraham. Even since God last appeared to Abraham and said “by this time next year”, we’ve had 3 chapters with a lot of drama. We the readers have been made to feel how Abraham felt – with a promise and then a long delay before it happens. But finally, it has.
God has kept his promise to bring Isaac into the world. This shows us God’s immense power. Nothing less than a miracle could give a couple in their nineties a new baby. And this shows God’s immense faithfulness to his promises.
This wasn’t the last promise God would make that would leave his people waiting for him to fulfil it. Indeed, as we said at the start, we are still waiting for lots of things God has promised us. So with this promise, God kindly ran the story right up to the moment when he kept it, so that we might not be in any doubt that he also keeps his promises.
God will keep every promise.
There will be great joy when he does
That’s the first thing we see through our telescope. The second thing we can see is that there will be great joy when he does. There will be great joy when he does.
We get Sarah’s reaction, don’t we. Verse 6: God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me. Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.
Sarah’s laughed before. But that was the laughter of disbelief. This time, it’s sheer joy. There’s still an element of disbelief in there – but it’s the disbelief that cannot believe how good it is. She’s pinching herself, because things are so good it has to be a dream. She’s beside herself with joy and laughter.
We need God to show us this, don’t we? Yes, it’s helpful for him to show us that he will keep every promise. But that will only keep us waiting if what we’re waiting for is good enough. And so we see just how wonderful it is when God keeps every promise – it’s so good, it’s beyond your wildest dreams!
Once a year I try to go on a conference that will feed me, encourage me, challenge me and stretch me. It’s always a big undertaking to get everything organised this end to be away for a few days. In the week before I go I wonder whether it’s worth going away. But within an hour or two of arriving, I’m glad I did. But before I go, it’s hard to picture how good it feels to be there. Or perhaps you find it like that with going on holiday. Tying up the loose ends at work, organising things at home – is it worth it? Then you get your destination, and you remember why you’ve come away.
God is kind to us here. He not only shows us that he will keep every promise. He shows us the joy and laughter that flows when he does. It keeps us waiting.
That’s what we see through our telescope. God will keep every promise. There will be great joy when he does.
So what does this mean for now? 2 things
Trust God’s Promises in Jesus
The first thing it means is that we need to trust God’s promises in Jesus. Trust God’s promises in Jesus.
I’ve already shown us how God does everything exactly as he said he would. The writer of Genesis is also at pains to show us that Abraham did everything exactly as he was told to. He calls him Isaac. He circumcises him on the 8th day. He followed the instructions to the letter.
So that’s what we need to do. If God is going to keep his instructions to the letter, then we need to do everything he says to take hold of those promises. Jesus is the one in whom all of God’s promises are “yes”. And Jesus said that we need to trust him and follow him. Let him lead us through life. Let him hold onto us in life.
Abraham does everything God asked. That doesn’t mean that we try and get into God’s good books by keeping all his rules. Jesus told us that the one thing God requires is that we trust him. If we do that, God will accept us. It’s a free gift. But we do have to do the one thing he requires. We do have to trust and follow Jesus. There’s no other way to have all that he came to bring.
So there’s the first thing for now that comes from our view through the telescope. Trust God’s promises in Jesus.
Don’t scorn Jesus
The second implications for now is the other half of the coin. The negative to avoid Genesis 21 warns us: Don’t scorn Jesus. Don’t scorn Jesus.
Ishmael is the foil in this story. Remember he was the son that Abraham had with Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian maidservant. When Isaac was about 2, there was a massive party for him.
Where’s Ishmael? Not in the party enjoying the celebrations. But off to one side. Sneering. He’s laughing too, but it’s mocking laughter. It might remind you of a story Jesus told about a man who had two sons. The older one wasn’t too impressed at the party for the younger one.
Sarah sees him laughing, and she wants him out. You can understand Abraham being a bit distressed by this – this is his boy after all. But God reassures him that even though Abraham can’t take care of Ishmael, God will. And God does. We mustn’t get the wrong idea here. God still cares for Ishmael. But if he’s going to scorn the promised child, then he has to leave.
We also mustn’t think that the problem was Ishmael’s race. He was half-Abraham, half-Egyptian. But in the very next scene we come back to Abimelech. A complete outsider. A Philistine – literally. And he finds blessing in Abraham by recognising that God has blessed him.
No – the problem was not Ishmael’s race, but the fact that he resented Isaac. He didn’t like the fact that Isaac was getting all the attention, and he wasn’t. He was like a child at a sibling’s birthday party. Why is my brother or sister getting all the presents today? Why can’t I have lots of presents too? Sulk!
Jesus was descended from Abraham. You’ll remember that the same thing happened to him. The religious leaders of the time resented him. They didn’t like the fact that all the attention was going to Jesus, and they were now in the background. They didn’t like the fact that crowds were flocking to Jesus, and getting excited about him, and nobody was noticing them. They were jealous. They wanted to be in the centre.
Ishmael scorned Isaac. The religious leaders scorned Jesus. And it’s a warning for us too. We could miss out, couldn’t we? People today scorn Jesus too. They want to be the one that everyone notices. They don’t think he deserves the amount of attention he gets. They’re happy to follow some kind of God, but don’t think it’s all that important to make much of Jesus.
So think of someone I know. He started to going to church regularly when he was at university. Decided he wanted to be a follower of Jesus. Went to a Bible study every week. Never missed a prayer meeting. But then working life kicked in. Church became harder to sustain. For a while he still prayed and read the Bible on his own, but that gets tough without other Christians to encourage you. A few of his old friends would remind him that Jesus was central. But he just replied that Jesus isn’t that crucial, life’s certainly too busy for meeting with his people – he’s discovered that he can have his own relationship with God in private.
So that’s how we could miss out. Not want Jesus to be so important. Play him down. We’re being warned: Don’t scorn Jesus.
What God has done for us here is show us the end. He’s given us a glimpse through the telescope. He’s shown us how good things will be.
At one level, God has kept every promise when he sent Jesus. At another level, we have to wait until he comes back before every detail of every promise comes through. If we’re going to keep trusting Jesus until that day, we need to think often about how good it will be when that day comes.
Let me read to us from Revelation 21.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
That’s the ending. God will keep every promise. There most certainly will be great joy when he does. Let’s let that glimpse through the telescope keep us trusting him until that day.