Why do we press harder on a remote control when we know the batteries are almost dead?
Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars; but have to check when you say the paint is still wet?
Why doesn’t Tarzan have a beard?
Why do people constantly return to the refrigerator with hopes that something new to eat will have materialized?
Why do people keep running over a string a dozen times with their vacuum cleaner, then reach down, pick it up, examine it, then put it down to give the vacuum one more chance?
Why, if we believe the Bible is the Word of God and is living and active with the answers and power to change our lives, why don’t we read it more?
Masab Yousef, son of West Bank Hamas leader Sheik Hassan Yousef, revealed for the first time in an exclusive interview with Haaretz newspaper that he has left Islam and is now a Christian. Prior to the interview’s publication last Thursday, Yousef’s family did not know of his faith conversion even though he is in regular contact with them.
“What other case do you know where a son of a Hamas leader, who was raised on the tenets of extremist Islam, comes out against it?” Yousef, who is now 30-years-old, was first exposed to Christianity eight years ago while in Jerusalem where out of curiosity he accepted an invitation to hear about Christianity. Afterwards, he became “enthusiastic” about what he heard and would secretly read the Bible every day.
“A verse like ‘Love thine enemy’ had a great influence on me,” Yousef recalled. “At this stage I was still a Muslim and I thought that I would remain one. But every day I saw the terrible things done in the name of religion by those who considered themselves ‘great believers.’ “I studied Islam more thoroughly and found no answers there. I re-examined the Koran and the principals of the faith and found how it is mistaken and misleading.”
But with Christianity, Yousef said he could understand God as revealed through Jesus Christ. He said he could talk about God and Jesus for days, but Muslims are not able to say anything about God. Wow. What a transformation in this man’s life after being introduced to the powerful Word of God.
This is the Year of the Word at TVCOG, where we are “Working On Reading Daily.” Our book for this month is the book of Galatians. Be sure to pick up your study guide on the lobby table by the nursery.
Turn in your Bibles with me to Galatians 4:21-28. Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.
Galatians 4:21-28 21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. 24 These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written: “Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” 28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
And three short verses from Genesis 21:
Genesis 21: 1 Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him. 3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.
Our main text references Abraham and his two sons who had two different mothers. Let me give you a bit of background for our discussion about being “Children of Promise.” Abraham is called by God to go to Canaan; and God promises him many descendants. Both Abraham and his wife, Sarah, wanted children, but Sarah was barren. It seems God was waiting until both of them were old enough for the birth of a son to be impossible in human terms before He would perform the miracle of sending them a son.
Well, the promised son has not yet arrived, and Sarah becomes impatient. She suggests that Abraham marry Hagar, her maid, and try to have a son by her. This act was legal in that society, but it was not in the will of God. Abraham followed her suggestion and married Hagar.
Hagar gets pregnant and Sarah gets jealous! Things are so difficult in the home that Sarah throws Hagar out. But the Lord intervenes, sends Hagar back, and promises to take care of her and her son. When Abraham is 86, that son is born, and he calls him Ishmael:
God speaks to Abraham and promises again that he will have a son by Sarah and says to call his name Isaac. Later, God appears again and reaffirms the promise to Sarah as well. When Sarah is around 91 and Abraham is around 100, that son is born, and they named him Isaac (“laughter”) as commanded by God. But the arrival of Isaac creates a new problem in the home: Ishmael has a rival. For fourteen years, Ishmael has been his father’s only son, very dear to his heart. How will Ishmael respond to the presence of a rival?
It was customary for the Jews to wean their children at about the age of three, and to make a great occasion of it. At the feast, Ishmael starts to mock Isaac and to create trouble in the home. There is only one solution to the problem, and a costly one at that: Hagar and her son have to go. With a broken heart, Abraham sends his son away, because this is what the Lord tells him to do (Gen. 21:9-14).
On the surface, this story appears to be nothing more than a tale of a family problem, but beneath the surface are meanings that carry tremendous spiritual power, and Paul uses this true story to help the Galatians get their feet under them again since some folks called Judaizers have come in and have caused confusion about who they are and what God has for them. The Judaizers wanted the Galatians to mix law and grace which is like trying to mix oil and water. They don’t mix, and attempting to do so leads to frustration and failure when Christ has set us free to experience grace through faith, a wonderful promise instead of punishment and penance.
Scripture says that we are like Isaac. We are children of promise. Look at your neighbor and tell them, “You are a child of promise.” God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a son even though Sarah would be 91ish and Abraham would be 100ish. What does it mean to be a child of promise? When we contrast the two women, Sarah and Hagar, we get some ideas about what it means to be a child of promise versus a child of the slave woman.
Children of Promise are born of God’s plan through God’s power.
In this analogy of the free and slave woman, Sarah represents grace. Hagar represents the law. Hagar was Abraham’s second wife. God did not begin with Hagar; He began with Sarah. He began with grace.
His plan has always been “grace.”
Throughout salvation history, God began with grace. In Eden, God provided for Adam and Eve by grace. Even after they sinned, in His grace He provided them with coats of skins for a covering. He didn’t give them laws to obey as a way of redemption; instead, He gave them a gracious promise to believe: the promise of a victorious Redeemer (Gen. 3:15) says, “15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”
In His relationship with Israel also, God first operated on the basis of grace, not Law. His covenant with Abraham in Gen. 15 was all of grace, because Abraham was in a deep sleep when the covenant was established. When God delivered Israel from Egypt, it was on the basis of grace and not Law, for the Law had not yet been given. Like Hagar, Abraham’s second wife, the Law was “added” (Gal. 3:19). Hagar performed a function temporarily, and then moved off the scene, just as the Law performed a special function and then was taken away which we’ll see in a minute in Galatians 3.
His plan has always been supernatural.
My dad’s dad was 70 years old when my dad was born. Let that sink in for a minute. It’s true. When God called Abraham and started talking about people being blessed through him he was 75. Knowing my own grandfather was 70 when my father was born doesn’t make this kind of discussion sound beyond the realm of possibility. My grandmother, however, wasn’t 70 or even close. She was 43 when my dad was born. Sarah, however was 91 years old when the child of promise, when Isaac was born. God intended to bring about his promise in a supernatural way. It wasn’t through human means or human effort.
There had been so much talk about how all nations through Abraham’s offspring would be blessed that when Sarah didn’t see any hope of that promise becoming reality, when waiting on something to happen between herself and Abraham, she suggested Abraham have a physical relationship with her maid, Hagar, in order for Abraham to have a son.
Ishmael was the product of their hurry and self-reliance. Children of promise are God-reliant. They wait on God to accomplish what he promises. We have gotten into a dangerous habit of thinking that waiting time is wasted time. It’s not. It’s time to be developed as a person. It’s time to learn more about the heart of God. It’s time to become mature in our faith. Children of promise don’t have to help God out because they know their human efforts are no match for the supernatural power of God.
Henry was caught speeding on a Georgia highway by a police officer hidden from view. The trooper approached the car and said, “Son, I’ve been waiting for you all morning.” The young man responded, “Officer, I got here as fast as I could.” I think that gives us an insight into Sarah and Abraham. When the promise didn’t seem to work, they got there themselves as fast as they could, through human effort.
Abraham and Sarah were operating on the wrong assumption, a fleshly assumption if you will. Abraham began to believe that the promised heir would be his responsibility to get, but it was not. The only acceptable response to God’s merciful promise is trust in that promise, not works of the flesh that try to bring down God’s blessing with our efforts. That is what Paul is trying to communicate about the burden of the law. It places all of the demands on the flesh to achieve, to behave, and to impress God; when all we have to do as children of promise is trust in the work of Christ, which is the grace and gift of God to us. He does the work. We do the believing. God does the achieving, and when He does, it’s supernatural.
Think of the way Jesus came. His coming involved grace. John 1:17 says what Paul is reiterating here in Galatians. “17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jesus came, full of grace.
Jesus’ coming was completely supernatural. The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary. She, a virgin, gave birth to a child-Jesus, who was fully God and fully human at the same time. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, performing miracle after miracle after miracle. His holiness and perfection, his right-standing before God, qualified Him to be the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world, giving anyone who would trust in this promised Messiah the opportunity to be right with God forever.
This past week, we had Joshua in the ER for some “belly trouble” that had been kind of ongoing for a couple of weeks. We suspected we knew what the problem was, but just to be on the safe side, we took him in. After some tests, we confirmed what we had suspected. In Thom’s words, Josh was just a little “backed up.” Now let me just say that why we can put a man on the moon but can’t make medicine for children that tastes good, I’ll never know. But we were directed towards the medicine for constipation that tasted as bad as Joshua’s stomach already felt. I felt worse for him having to drink that awful stuff than I did for his tummy ache. And the second morning with puppy dog eyes, in all sincerity, Josh looked at Hannah and said, “Sissy, can’t you drink it for me?” I simply replied, “She’s not the one who is sick, honey. That medicine wouldn’t do Hannah any good.”
In that moment, I thought about Jesus. He wasn’t the one who was sick. He didn’t have a sin problem because He wasn’t born in the natural way, but in a supernatural way. So the sin problem wasn’t passed on to Him when he entered the world. While Hannah couldn’t drink Josh’s poison and benefit him, Jesus could drink the cup of suffering that you and I were to have drunk and it benefitted not only one sick person, but all of humanity. Hallelujah! That is a supernatural solution to a global problem. God was the sole problem solver.
Abraham’s marriage to Hagar was the result of Sarah’s and Abraham’s unbelief and impatience. Hagar was trying to do what only Sarah could do, and it failed. The Law can’t accomplish what grace is supposed to. What Paul was saying to the Galatians is that children of promise don’t create their own destiny. They don’t help God out. They simply trust his supernatural plan which He will carry out in His own time.
When Abraham relied on the promise alone, and stopped trying to do it himself, Isaac, the Child of Promise, was the result.
Children of Promise are born free!
Hagar was an Egyptian slave. Several times in our main text she is called a “slave woman.” Even though she was married to Abraham, she was still a servant. Slave women brought forth their children in the same state that they themselves were in. In other words, the child born to the slave woman was then born into slavery. What Paul is trying to help the Galatians see was that the son of the slave was in a humble and inferior condition from his very birth. There was no special promise connected to him. He was born into a state of inferiority which would stick with him through his whole life.
Isaac, however, was met with promises as soon as he was born. Born of the free woman, he lived under the benefit of those promises as long as he lived.
Paul is trying to help the Galatians see that it is for freedom that Christ has set them free. He says in the beginning of chapter four, “3 So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son.”
Knowing that Christ has died for the freedom these Galatians are contemplating throwing away in exchange for going from grace back to the Law, Paul’s spiritual heartbeat is quickening. He’s shouting, “Wake up and shake off the chains of legalism that the Judaizers are trying to put on you.” You were born free. You are not inferior. You are not in bondage. You are sons and daughters of the Most High God and it happened not because you were good boys and girls, or because you started to recycle your pop cans or because you decided to take better care of your health. It happened not because you played nicely and shared your toys in the playpen of life, but it happened because God planned it to happen and at just the right time, when He said so, He sent His Son to redeem those who were slaves to the law so that they could have the full rights of sons and daughters.
Children of the slave women, in this passage, represent those in bondage to the Law of Moses—a bondage to various rites and ceremonies; under the obligation to keep the whole law, yet, from its incredible expectations and their weakness, they are obliged to live habitually breaking it, and in consequence exposed to the curse which it pronounces.
Listen, children of promise, be free because Christ has taken the curse of the law on Himself so that we don’t have to walk around weighed down by the reality that we’ll never be good enough for God. Jesus has made us good enough through His sacrifice.
Look at Galatians 3:10 and following, “10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”
It’s not that the law is a bad thing. It was a necessary thing, but it wasn’t the solution for our sin problem. It was only put in place to point us to Christ and our need for a Savior. Look at Galatians 3:23-25. 23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.
Once grace through faith was made possible through Jesus, the law was no longer needed and to try to incorporate it is like trying to keep the child of promise and the child of the slave woman happily playing patty cake under the same roof. It doesn’t work. Just as God sent Hagar and Ishmael away after Ishmael was causing problems, the demands of the law needed to be removed once grace through faith was made possible-for grace and law can’t co-exist.
Children of Promise are full heirs of all of God’s promises.
The Judaizers were telling these Gentile Christians that they weren’t really saved unless they converted to Judaism. Unless they were circumcised and followed the Jewish law, they were somehow less Christian than the Jews who had received Christ. But that wasn’t true. They were children of Abraham, not by a physical birth, but by a spiritual birth.
Since Ishmael was not accepted as an heir he was no better than his mother, a slave.
He became the outcast. Hagar was cast out. It was Sarah who gave the order: “Cast out this slave woman and her son” (Gen. 21:9-10), and God subsequently approved it (Gen. 21:12). Ishmael had been in the home for at least seventeen years, but his stay was not to be permanent; eventually he had to be cast out. There was not room in the household for Hagar and Ishmael with Sarah and Isaac; one pair had to go.
It is impossible for Law and grace, the flesh and the Spirit, to compromise and stay together. God did not ask Hagar and Ishmael to make occasional visits to the home; the break was permanent. The Judaizers in Paul’s day and in our own day are trying to reconcile Sarah and Hagar, and Isaac and Ishmael; such reconciliation is contrary to the Word of God. It is impossible to mix Law and grace, faith and works, God’s gift of righteousness and man’s attempts to earn righteousness.
From the human point of view, it might seem cruel that God should command Abraham to send away his own son Ishmael, whom he loved very much. But it was the only solution to the problem, for “the wild man” could never live with the child of promise.
Isaac on the other hand, was the true promised heir, which came about, not as a result of human effort, but because of faith and trust. He was born second, but he was the full heir. He always had access to the Father. He always was under the protection of the Father’s house and had the pleasure of sharing in all of the provisions the Father had to give.
Henrietta (Hetty) Howland Green was a notorious miser. She never turned the heat or used hot water. She wore one old black dress and undergarments that she changed only after they had been worn out. She ate mostly pies that cost fifteen cents. One tale claims that she spent a night looking around her home for a lost stamp worth two cents. Green made much of her business at the offices of a bank in New York, surrounded by trunks and suitcases full of her papers; she did not want to pay rent for an office. Her son broke his leg as a child, but Hetty took him away from the hospital when she was recognized. She tried to treat him at home, but the leg contracted gangrene and had to be amputated. When her children left home, Green moved repeatedly among small apartments in Brooklyn Heights and Hoboken, New Jersey, mainly to avoid establishing a residence permanent enough to attract the attention of tax officials in any state. In her old age she began to suffer from a bad hernia but refused to have an operation because it cost $150. Hetty Green died in New York City on July 3, 1916, at the age of 81. An estimate of her net worth was around $100 – $20 million (or $1.9 – $3.8 billion in 2006 dollars), arguably making her the richest woman in the world at the time, yet she lived as if she were and had nothing.
Paul was pouring his heart out to these new Gentile Christians, these people he had preached the message of grace to because He wanted them to live as Children of the Promise, rather than as slaves. Christians, I think too often we don’t realize who we are and what we have! We are not the children of peasants or slaves. We are the children of a billionaire times infinity; we are children of enormous wealth, status, privilege and power. Paul is trying to tell the Galatians (and us): do you know who you are! By faith, we have become the descendants of Abraham, the heirs of the promise, the children of God.
Paul isn’t trying to tell the Galatians to do something. He is telling them to understand, believe something, to see themselves differently. Someone here needs to see themselves differently this morning. If you have been beaten down by people or circumstances, or if you are beating yourself down because you think you can’t measure up, quit trying to measure up. Simply receive the promise of God in Christ. You don’t have to strive in your own power or strength. You don’t have to do anything to make something happen. You simply have to do what the bumper sticker says, “Let Go and let God.” You are a child of promise. Live free and claim your inheritance.
1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.