Genesis 20 - A Church Full of Hypocrites

Sun, 08/07/2012 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

I’m sure you’ve often heard it said that the it’s not worth being a Christian. After all, the church is full of hypocrites.

And, of course, the second half of that is certainly true. The church is full of hypocrites. And what a good thing that is – otherwise there wouldn’t be space for someone like me.

This morning we continue reading the story of Abraham.

Why is Abraham someone worth reading about? Because about three and a half thousand years ago, God promised that he would fix this broken world. He would take a world that is often full of sadness and make things right again. And he’d do that by blessing this man Abraham and his family, and then through his descendants God would bless the whole world.

That’s why Abraham’s so important for us to read about. Who has felt the pain of living in a broken world and not longed for something better? With Abraham, we read of God’s plan to rescue us.

What we’ve discovered so far is that God calls us to trust him, just as Abraham did. And then we discovered that in fact God has one very special descendant of Abraham in mind, which is Jesus. God will bless the world by blessing Jesus, Abraham’s descendant. And so God calls us to trust Jesus.

And then last time we heard about just how blessed we can be if we trust Jesus. We can have a two-way relationship with God himself, where he speaks to us and we speak to him. And we can have a certain rescue on the day of judgement.

You see why Abraham’s so crucial. Abraham shows us what it looks like to trust Jesus. And Abraham shows us what good things come to those who do.

We’ve baptised two people this morning. We’ve seen two people say that they want to trust Jesus and to follow him. The story of Abraham shows us what they’ve got to do next. Their baptism symbolises their trust, and Abraham shows us what that trust looks like on the ground. And the story of Abraham also shows us how good it is for these two people to follow Jesus.

But doesn’t the fact that the church is full of hypocrites undo all of that? Not at all.

As we read on into chapter 20, we find the first half of the answer as to why the church is full of hypocrites.

There are two main things to say from this chapter.

Our Faith Falters

The first thing to say is that our faith falters. Our faith falters.

Let’s start with Abraham. In the previous few chapters, Abraham’s trust in God has been through some real high moments. He’s trusted that God would give him and his wife a son – in their nineties. He’s successfully pleaded with God to save his nephew Lot when he destroyed the wicked city he was living in. Against the odds, Abraham’s faith has come out on top.

And then in chapter 20, he crashes. He crashes spectacularly. And if you’ve ever had your faith crash, this is extremely reassuring. Let’s notice how spectacularly he crashes.

The first thing he does is leave the land of Canaan to go and live in Gerar. We’re not told why he did that, but we do know that God had told him that this was the land he had been promised. And yet he wanders away from it.

Not only that, but it’s been his custom to build altars on his travels. They kind of symbolise his trust in God. Wherever he goes, he builds a place of prayer. But on this journey he builds no altars. No prayer. His trust in God is fading.

And then when he gets there he passes Sarah off as his sister. It’s half true. Sarah was his half-sister. And before that makes us wince, Abraham is never criticised for that. God hadn’t yet taught his people about what close relations are unsuitable for marriage. No the problem was not that Sarah was his sister, or that Abraham said she was his sister. The problem was that he lied and tried to pretend she wasn’t his wife.

In the past few chapters of Genesis, we’ve had four stories already in which one of two things happened. Either someone lived as if they were married to someone they weren’t and shouldn’t be. Or someone lived as though they weren’t married to the person they are. And in each case it was a disaster. Then Abraham repeats the mistake one more time.

Not only does he do that, but he puts the whole project at risk. God has said that he will bless the world by giving Abraham and Sarah a son that they are to call Isaac. And here he saves his own skin by allowing Sarah to be taken into a foreign king’s harem. If he doesn’t get her back, he’s just ruined God’s whole plan.

Abraham’s faith implodes totally. It’s dramatic. It’s spectacular. It’s a disaster. And this isn’t the first time that his faith has collapsed just after he managed to trust God so well. Abraham wears his heart on his sleeve here. He shows some of his deep fears of the people who live near him. We see how hard it must be for him to trust God. Which makes those occasions when he did trust God, against the odds, all the more remarkable. But each time, it’s been followed by a disastrous collapse.

We’ll come onto our faith in a moment. But, for now, just by looking at Abraham, we can see that our faith falters.

God’s Faithfulness Never Fails

So how does God treat Abraham? Well that’s the second thing to say from this chapter. God’s faithfulness never fails. God’s faithfulness never fails.

You see God responds to Abraham in two ways.

Firstly, he keeps him safe.

God protects Abimelech, the king, from sinning. He stops him from actually touching Sarah at all. Abimelech was more righteous than Abraham; he would never have touched Sarah if he’d known she was married. God is more in control of Abimelech than Abraham gave him credit for. Abraham needn’t have been afraid at all.

And so as a result, Abraham gets Sarah back. And with her comes great respect. He’s given vast herds and flocks. He’s told he can live wherever he wishes. And Abimelech tries to restore Sarah’s honour by giving Abraham such a vast sum of money I’m told it would have taken a manual labourer over 150 years to earn that amount.

God keeps him safe. He’s not harmed. Sarah is not harmed. Abraham’s faith faltered. But God kept him safe anyway.

And second, God still treasures Abraham. God tells Abimelech to ask Abraham to pray for him because he is a prophet. Abraham remains someone God speaks to. Abraham remains someone whose prayers God will answer. He remains someone who has that special 2-way relationship with God. All in spite of the fact that Abraham has just failed so spectacularly.

And so God’s promise to Abraham is intact. God’s relationship with Abraham is intact.

And we’re seeing that the blessings God has promised Abraham depend entirely on God’s faithfulness, and not at all on Abraham’s ability to trust God.

Our faith falters. God’s faithfulness never fails.


And it’s the same for us. If we are one of God’s people, God’s plan to bless us is not about how tightly we hold onto God, but about how tightly he holds onto us.

I’ve never done a parachute jump, although I’m sure a few of you have. I’d be hopeless. I’m no good at heights. You need to make sure you’re properly in the parachute harness. If you are, it will hold you. I’m sure if I did a jump I’d be nervously holding on to the ropes the whole way down. But there’s no need to. As long as you’re in the harness, they are holding you. It’s not about how tightly you hold on that matters. It’s whether they are holding onto you.

Isn’t it reassuring to discover that Abraham, the great hero of faith, the best example of trust we get in the Bible, crashed regularly. His faith had some momentous highpoints. And then he followed it up by a complete loss of nerve as he took his eyes off God entirely.

Do you not find that immensely reassuring. It means we’re normal. It means that when we have a few months when our faith in God seems so real we could touch it, but then months when God feels miles away, we’re normal.

Do you not find it immensely reassuring that God’s blessings don’t depend on our ability to trust God without wavering, but on his ability to keep his own promises?

It means that when we are like this, God won’t suddenly stop loving us! He won’t fail to keep his promises!

The New Testament says that there’s a reason why God is like this. There’s a reason why it’s God’s faithfulness that matters, not how solid our trust is. And it’s all to do with Jesus.

One of the wonderful truths we read about in the New Testament is the truth that the Christian is united to Christ. Glued to him. All wrapped up in him.

This is one of the things that our baptism symbolises, according to Romans 6. It’s a symbol of how tightly we are identified with Christ.

So sometimes God looks at Jesus and he sees us. In particular, as Jesus hung on the cross, God the Father looked at him and saw me. He saw all my failures. All my sins. All my mistakes. And he punished them there so that he never has to punish me for them.

And other times God looks at us and sees Jesus. So right now, he looks at me, and he sees Jesus. He sees Jesus’ perfect righteousness. He sees Jesus’ utter perfection.

So what matters is not how perfect my trust is. As long as I’m united to Jesus, he is what matters.

Don’t Presume

Before we finish, there is one caution that needs to be added. Please don’t think that all this means that you can become a Christian, you can be baptised, and then live the rest of your life without any reference to Jesus. That you can throw the whole thing in the bin and it doesn’t matter.

All of this brings great comfort to most of us, and it’s real comfort. But the very next chapter contains a warning that it really is possible to throw in the towel. It is possible to decide that Jesus is of no account whatsoever. And chapter 21 will warn us that if you do that, God will then decide that you are of no account to him.

We’ll come to that warning next time. All I’m wanting to flag up today is that it would be mischievous to take the comfort that God offers to us here, and use that to say that it’s OK to presume on God.

But having said that, we come back to the main point For the ordinary Christian, your faith will go up and down massively. That’s normal. Even Abraham’s faith was like that. And God wants to reassure us this morning that it’s not about us. It’s about Jesus. And he does not falter.


So: Isn’t the church full of hypocrites.

Yes it is.

Hypocrites like Abraham. Hypocrites like you and me.

But for all the hypocrites in the church, it is the church of Jesus Christ. And he never breaks one promise. Which means that hypocrites like us can be accepted in him and blessed by God.

So don’t look at your faith. It is full of ups and downs. It’s not a reliable barometer of anything. And don’t look at the inconsistencies of your Christian friends. Look at Jesus Christ. He’s the one to trust, and he’s the one to depend on.

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