Is Anything Too Hard for God?

Is anything too hard for God? The answer – without any hesitation – is…no. There is nothing too hard for God. But ask this question when facing terminal cancer; the death of a spouse; the death of a child. Ask this question when marriage is crumbling; when a child loves sin more than the Savior; when the church is struggling; when a disheartening, discouraging, disappointing season of life will seemingly not end. Is anything too hard for God? The answer is… Now there might be a hint of hesitation. I know the answer is no; I know I need to say the answer is no, but…

We are asking this question because this question is asked in Genesis 18:1-15. And it is asked right toward the end of the text. But we are asking this very question at the beginning for just one reason: it is the big question.

And the Lord Appeared to Abraham

Genesis 18 is rather similar to Genesis 17. Listen to Genesis 17:1 “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram.” Now listen to Genesis 18:1. “And the Lord appeared to him [Abraham].” In Genesis 17 we learn that the Lord appeared to Abraham when he was ninety-nine. And as you read Genesis 18 you learn that when the Lord appeared to Abraham again, he was still ninety-nine (cf. 18:10). This gives the impression that not much time (how much time is unknown) has passed since Genesis 17.

However, what was significant about the Lord’s appearance to Abraham in Genesis 17? This was when Abraham learned at ninety-nine years old that God is the God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might – I am God Almighty. Since both chapters begin in an identical manner and there was something significant about the appearance in Genesis 17, might there be something significant about this appearance too? Then comes an unexpected question. For whom would this appearance be significant?

Notice when the Lord appeared to Abraham. It was as Abraham “sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.” Abraham was sitting, perhaps resting, and it was in the heat of the day, noontime, or when it was light outside. Why does the time matter? Genesis 18 is similar to Genesis 17, but is also rather important to Genesis 19. Look at how Genesis 19 begins. “The two angels came to Sodom in the evening.” Notice that in Genesis 19 it was dark outside. In Genesis 18 and Genesis 19 there is an interesting contrast of light and darkness.

An Out of the Ordinary Day

This will turn out to be an out of the ordinary kind of day. As Abraham was resting, to his amazement he saw three out of the ordinary men making their way toward his home. Watch what Abraham does. This ninety-nine-year-old man ran to meet them. And when he meets these three out of the ordinary men, he greets them. How do we know that these three men were out of the ordinary? Abraham bowed himself before them. Genesis 18:2 emphasized twice that Abraham saw these three men. Something about these men prompted Abraham to not just meet them, but to run to meet and greet them. It would not be unusual in this culture that when strangers approached your home, that you meet and greet them, but it could be kind of unusual to run. Abraham would then insist that these strangers rest and refresh themselves in his home. Again, this was not unusual in this culture. But that Abraham bowed himself before them, that was unusual. So far, there is nothing in the text to indicate that Abraham knows the identity of these three men. However, there was something about their appearance that told Abraham that this was unusual. And so, he humbled himself before them.

The Extraordinary Manner of Abraham

An out of ordinary day was marked by three out of the ordinary men. And Genesis 18:4-8 is about the extraordinary manner of Abraham. I love verse four. Abraham offers these three men “a little water” and “a morsel of bread.” This was all with the intention that these three men rest and get refreshed with a little water and a morsel of bread. Just watch Abraham carefully in verse six. “And Abraham went quickly.” He finds Sarah and says, “Quick!” And listen to the instructions he gives Sarah his wife. “Three seahs of flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” One seah of flour is about seven liters and Sarah was told to get three seahs of flour, or twenty-one liters. This was about fifty pounds of flour. This would be enough to feed one hundred people. Sarah was eighty-nine-years old and was to knead and make cakes (pita bread) out of fifty pounds of flour without the aid of a Kitchen Aide mixer. And Abraham told her to be quick!

Now notice verse seven. “And Abraham ran to the herd.” Abraham runs to the herd, finds a “tender and good” calf, and gives it to a servant “who prepared it quickly” (18:7). The haste in which things were being done and prepared and the amount of food – a whole calf for three people – all emphasize the extraordinary manner in which Abraham was treating his guests. He sensed that there was something unusual about these three men and so he lavished a feast upon them – yogurt and milk and a calf and cakes (18:8). Notice the end of verse eight. “And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.” Abraham was there as their servant.

The Significance of this Appearance

Listen to Genesis 18:9. “They said to him, ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’” Why the sudden interest in Sarah? This is what Genesis 18:1-15 is all about. It is all about Sarah. And it answers the question, for whom would this appearance be significant? Hebrews 11:11 reinforces that these fifteen verses are for Sarah. “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.” How did this eighty-nine-year old woman consider God faithful who had promised?

But, how do they know Abraham’s wife’s name? They do not call her Sarai, but Sarah. Sarah got a new name in the previous chapter and when she did only two people knew it: Abraham and God Almighty, the God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might. How do these men know this name? This has to be going through Abraham’s mind, clarifying at least a little bit who these three men could be.

Abraham answers that Sarah is in the tent. But then there is verse ten. In the Hebrew construction verse nine reads, “They said,” but verse ten reads, “he said.” There is a sudden shift in who is speaking. Who is it? Listen to what he says. “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” In Genesis 17:15-22, Abraham was told by God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might that Sarah his wife will have a son. And God concluded that conversation with these words: Sarah shall bear to you [a son] this time next year.” Who is speaking in verse ten? God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might. And now Abraham knows it. But there is Sarah.

Sarah Listened and Laughed

Remember, this passage is about Sarah. She will consider God faithful who promised. As this conversation is happening, Sarah was listening and when she heard this stranger say that at this time next year, when she is ninety, she will have a son, she laughed to herself. Why did she laugh? When she met Abraham, she was barren. When she married Abraham, she was barren. When God gave Abraham the promise of offspring twenty-four years ago, she was barren. And twenty-four years later, she was not only barren, but way past child-bearing age. It would be humanly impossible to bear a son at ninety-years old (cf. 18:11-12).

Then comes verse thirteen. In case we are still unsure who spoke in verse ten, Moses explicitly states, “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’” (We are specifically told that the other two men are angels in Genesis 19:1). Remember, Sarah was listening. What must she now be thinking?! In verse fifteen Sarah denied having laughed, out of fear. But this whole scene ends with God having the last laugh. “No, but you did laugh.”

This is a critical moment. It makes you wonder about Sarah. Could it be that for twenty-four years Sarah just continued and persisted in unbelief until the day she laughed? I will remind you of Hebrews 11:11. It was when Sarah was way past child-bearing age that she by faith considered God faithful who promised. Whereas Hagar in Genesis 16 learned that God sees her, Sarah in Genesis 18 learned that God sees within her.[1] (See Ps. 139:1-6).

Is Anything Too Hard for God?

Sarah’s laughter drew forth a most crucial question. It is a question that God who makes things happen by his majestic power and might asked. He asked not so much for the benefit of Abraham, but for the benefit of the woman who was listening in the other room. Is anything too hard for God? It is a crucial question. It is a question to ask when facing terminal cancer; the death of a spouse; the death of a child. Ask this question when marriage is crumbling; when a child loves sin more than the Savior; when the church is struggling; when a disheartening, discouraging, disappointing season of life will seemingly not end. Ask this question because those that really believe the answer will really live life differently.

What is the answer? The answer is no. But. But the answer will not keep cancer away. It will not keep death away. It will not keep disheartening, discouraging and disappointing seasons away. The reason is that this is not just any ordinary question. It is a question about God’s ability. It is a question about God’s ability to do what he has promised. It is a question about God’s ability to do what he has promised in the face of impossible human odds. Contextually, this was a question about God’s promise of a son. It was the promise of a son through whom God would create for himself a covenanted people through whom God would bless the world and through whom would come the Savior, Jesus the Christ.

Is anything too hard for God? This question could be translated, is any word too hard for God? What does this question do for us? I read a pastor write that this question is for the mission. And that mission involves disciples being made and disciples being discipled and ultimately, God being glorified by disciples enjoying him forever. So, when the marriage crumbles and the terminal cancer comes and disheartening, discouraging, disappointing seasons last longer than usual; this question forces us, no matter the odds, to look to God’s promises and ask, “Is any word too hard for God?”

Is any word too hard for God? Romans 8 seems to be echoing this very question. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Listen to the answer. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us form the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:35, 37-39).

Is anything too hard for God? The answer causes me to pray differently by holding to his promises. The answer causes me to pastor differently by holding to his promises. The answer causes me to live differently by holding to his promises.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 256.

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