Laughing at God (Genesis 18:9-15)
In mythology, Calchas, the Homeric soothsayer, died of laughter. The tale is that a fellow in rags told him he would never drink of the grapes growing in his vineyard, and added, if his words did not come true, he would be the soothsayer’s slave. When the wine was made, Calchas sent for the fellow, and he laughed so incessantly at the non-fulfillment of the prophecy that he died.
Calchas laughed to his great detriment, and there are times it is just not appropriate to get tickled. In my home congregation we had this old baptistery under the pulpit. One Sunday morning, some were lifting the lid and one of the pillars of that church went headfirst into the baptistery – suit, dress shoes and all. Not appropriate to get tickled. On another occasion, a gentleman at church said that he had an announcement. His wife’s sister was severely ill, and no one was expecting her to life through the weekend. Herschel said, “We expect her to call any minute saying that she’s dead.” Not a good time to get tickled.
Each of us could tell numerous occasions–either in church or elsewhere–that something happened, we wanted to bust out laughing, but it just wasn’t the right place or the right time.
You know when it’s never right to laugh? When God speaks. Sarah laughed when God told her what He had planned for her and her husband. In this passage, we learn a great deal about God.
God Has a Plan, vv 9-10
In chapter 18, three men came and visited with Abraham. We know that these men are visible representations of God. “Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.” Are there three men representing God because God is a Trinity? Possible, but I have no way of knowing for certain. Abraham entertains these three visitors, and then the conversation turns to Sarah–one of the visitors asked where Sarah was, and Abraham said she was in the tent.
The Lord then said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” The Lord’s plan was for Abraham to have a child. The Lord had promised Abraham a child (Gen 15:4-5). Here, we see the Lord’s carrying out His promise. Abraham “believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Gen 15:6). Abraham had every reason to believe the Lord’s promise—the Lord is good and He will keep His every promise.
God had a goal when He spoke the words we find in Genesis 18 to Abraham–He was going to give Abraham and Sarah a son. God has a goal today–He desires to bring all things under Christ’s lordship. God has “made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him” (Eph 1:9-10). “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10-11). “It pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col 1:19-20).
What do these passages say about the goal of God? The goal has not yet been fulfilled, but the goal will be fulfilled at the end when Christ returns to this earth. This goal is inseparably linked with Christ. Ephesians 1:9-10 makes the point that this goal has been “purposed” in Christ. Philippians 2:10-11 makes the point that all shall acknowledge Christ as Lord, and Colossians 1:19-20 makes the point that universal reconciliation will take place through the cross of Christ. If it were not for Christ and the work He did at Calvary, God’s goal could not be accomplished, but because of Christ that goal not only can be accomplished but will be accomplished.
What is the goal of God in Christ?
- The goal is that all mankind will come under the authority of Christ. In this life, I have a choice as to whether or not I will submit to Christ’s authority. Yet, when Christ comes back, I will have no choice–my tongue is going to confess Christ’s lordship and my knee is going to bow in adoration.
- The goal is that all things be reconciled to God through the cross of Christ. Notice that Colossians 1 says that all things–heavenly things and earthly things–will be reconciled to God. How are all things going to be reconciled to God? This world is cursed because of sin: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life” (Gen 3:17). The curse is going to be removed when Jesus comes back–this world is going to be destroyed.
God has a current plan just as He did when He spoke to Abraham.
God Has a Plan in Spite of Man, vv 11-15
Notice that God was able to carry out His plan in spite of Sarah:
- Sarah was old. “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.” The text first mentions Abraham’s age, but Abraham’s age wasn’t really an impediment–Abraham remarried after Sarah’s death and had other children (Gen 25:1-6). The text makes the point really that Sarah’s age was the impediment: “Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.” Even though people tended to live longer in the day of Abraham, women apparently were not able to bear children any longer than they do today.
- Not only was Sarah old, but she laughed: “Sarah laughed within herself, saying, ‘After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’” Abraham believed God, and we remember Abraham for his confidence in God’s promise. Not so Sarah–she laughed, apparently because she believed God couldn’t do what He had promised.
- Not only was Sarah old and laughing, but she lied: When God told Abraham that Sarah had laughed, we read, “Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ for she was afraid.” Imagine being in Sarah’s shoes–no way she can have a baby, although she desperately wants one, God says she’s going to have a child when she’s way too old to be changing diapers, and she just can’t believe that this is really going to happen. When God caught her, Sarah did the thing which seemed to cause the least problems–she lied.
Aren’t we sometimes just like Sarah? Do we sometimes focus on the physical rather than the spiritual? When we read that Sarah was old, the focus is on the physical. Physically there is no way that Sarah could have a child. The answer lies in the rhetorical question: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Gen 18:14).
Don’t we often have a tendency to look at things physically rather than spiritually? “Lord, I can’t give generously. I just don’t make enough money.” “Lord, this church can’t really grow. We just don’t have enough people.” “Lord, we don’t have enough teachers. Our children will never learn anything.” When we say things such as this, we focus on what we can do instead of on what God can do.
Do we sometimes doubt that God can really do what He’s claimed to do? That’s undoubtedly why Sarah laughed–she just didn’t believe that God could do what He said He would do. Do we really believe that God will do what He has said He will do? Do we really believe that God can take a broken life and make it whole again? Do we really believe that God will bless us when we give generously? Do we really believe that God will hear us when we pray and answer us according to His will?
Do we sometimes stretch the truth a little bit when we get caught? Sarah was caught red-handed–there was no way she could deny before the Lord that she had indeed laughed. But, she did deny that she had laughed–she didn’t want to face the truth. Do we sometimes lie to cover up what we have done? If our parents ask us about something, do we sometimes fabricate to make things look better than they really are? If we’ve gone to lunch, eaten in a hurry, shopped for an hour, and make it back to the office late, are we going to tell our supervisor, “The restaurant was so slow today”?
God was able to carry out His plan to give Abraham a son and make from that son a great nation in spite of Sarah’s shortcomings. God was able to do what He had purposed to do even though Sarah made things a little difficult.
God is going to be able to carry out His final goal, whether we cooperate or not. God is going to reconcile the world to Himself whether or not I go to my neighbor and seek his reconciliation or not. God is going to have every tongue confess the deity of Jesus, whether I wish to do so or not. God is going to destroy this world with fire whether I like it or not. God is sovereign, and He will carry out His plan in spite of man.
God is going to reconcile all things at the end of the age. Do you need to come tonight and be reconciled to God?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.