Sarah:Laughing At Angels
August 7th, 1983 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-07-83 7:30 p.m.
And welcome, the uncounted multitudes of you who share the hour with us on radio. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the first message of the pastor on a series entitled The Bible’s Amazing Women. Next Sunday night, it will be on Rebekah: What Can Happen from a Blind Date, and tonight it is entitled Sarah: Laughing at Angels. Turn with me in the Book of Genesis – Genesis, chapter 18. It starts off:
And the Lord appeared unto Abraham in the plains of Mamre, as he sat in the door of the tent in the heat of the day.
And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood before him.
And he entreated them [Genesis 18:2-5]; and that’s why in Hebrews 13, verse 2, it says, "Be kind to strangers, for some have therein entertained angels unawares." Then we begin reading aloud at verse 9 through verse 15. Do you have it? Genesis, chapter 18, beginning at verse 9, reading through verse 15, together:
And they said unto him, "Where is Sarah, thy wife?" And he said, "Behold, in the tent."
And He said, "I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life, and lo, Sarah thy [wife] shall have a son." (And Sarah heard it in the tent door which was behind him.)
Now Sarah and Abraham were old, and well-stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.
Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, "After I am waxed old, shall I have pleasure, and my lord being old also?"
And the Lord said unto Abraham, "Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?’
Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son."
Then Sarah denied, saying, "I laughed not," for she was afraid. And He said, "Nay, but thou didst laugh!"
Then, I’m going to read in chapter 21, beginning at verse 1. Genesis chapter 21:
And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as He had spoken.
For Sarah conceived and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto to him – whom Sarah bare to him – Isaac . . .
And Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born unto him.
– and Sarah was ninety years old –
And Sarah said, "God hath made me to laugh so that all that hear me will laugh with me."
And she said, "Who would have said unto Abraham that Sarah should have given children suck? For I have born him a son in his old age."
And the child grew . . .
[Genesis 21:1-3, 5-8]
And they named him Isaac, "laughter" – "Isaac" which means "laughter" because Sarah laughed when the angel said, "You shall surely have a son" [Genesis 18:10-12]. Born to her when she was ninety years old and when Abraham was a hundred: "Is anything," says the Angel, "too hard for the Lord?" [Genesis 18:14]
Now, I’m going, in this brief message, to divide the life of Abraham and Sarah into two parts: the first act, the first part – their old nature and their old names; and the second part – their new life, their new nature, and their new names.
First, their old nature, their old life, their old names: "Abram" and "Sarai" – those are the names that they had in Mesopotamia, in Haran, before they came into the land of Canaan [Genesis 11:26-32]. Now, they stumbled and hesitated at the promises of God. The Lord said to Abram and his wife Sarai, "I will bless you . . . and make you a blessing" [Genesis 15:1-6, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4], but they hesitated and stumbled, I say, at the promises of God.
Sarai was an uncommonly beautiful woman [Genesis 12:11, 15], and that’s always an attractive providence to men period – everywhere, exclamation point! I listened one time to an Irish woman who was unusually beautiful, and she was extolling her nation and country of Ireland and said, "I think God has made me for an Irish woman;" and one of the men present broke in and said, "I think God made you for an Irish man!" That’s true.
Sarai was an uncommonly beautiful woman, and in that chapter in which Abram is called, in the twelfth chapter of Genesis, because of a famine they’re down in Egypt [Genesis 12:10], and Abram says to Sarai, "I’m going to tell the people that you are my sister" – they had the same father, Terah, but a different mother [Genesis 20:12]; in that day it was common to marry in the family – "Lest Pharaoh see you and kill me that he may have you because of your unusual beauty" [Genesis 12:11-13].
So in the land of Egypt, Abraham deceived Pharaoh, saying, "She’s my sister," for Pharaoh’s people went to him and said, "The most beautiful woman in the land is now visiting us in Egypt" and Pharaoh sent for her to make her a queen in his court [Genesis 12:14-16]. Then, of course, follows the story of degradation when Abram is sent out of Egypt in disgrace and shame because of his lie, failing to trust God [Genesis 12:17-20].
Well a few years later, he did the same thing again [Genesis 20:1-2]. They are this time in Southern Philistia [Genesis 20:1], and the king of Gerar is Abimelech [Genesis 20:2]. And somebody comes to Abimelech and says, "The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life is here," and Abimelech sends for her to make her a queen in his court [Genesis 20:2]. And isn’t it strange how God does in His grace? In Egypt, He didn’t afflict Abram or Sarai. He afflicted Pharaoh [Genesis 12:17], and that’s how come Pharaoh to know that she was Abram’s wife [Genesis 12:18]. God did the same thing in Philistia. He never afflicted Abram or Sarai. He afflicted Abimelech and said, "Don’t you touch her. She is Abram’s wife" [Genesis 20:3] – all because of their lack of faith and trust in God that He would take care of them. And isn’t that true with us so many times? We hesitate and stumble at the promises of God and sometimes do all kinds of things in order, by man’s device, to see our way through when, all the time, if we would just rest in the care and goodness and graciousness of God, He would provide for us in every step of the way.
All right, a second one: stumbling at the promises of God. In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis is one of the saddest stories that any woman could ever read. Sarai is now about toward seventy-seven years of age, and her husband, Abram, is about eighty-seven – toward eighty-seven years of age – and the promised child has not been born. And Sarai does something that is an amazing thing for any woman to do:
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bare him no children. And she had a handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.
And Sarai said unto Abram, "Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing. I pray thee, go in unto my maid . . ." And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.
And Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt in the land of Canaan for ten years, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.
And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.
Can you believe that? Can you believe that a woman would give her husband into the arms of another woman? Can you believe that a woman would sacrifice herself on the cruelest altar on which any woman laid down herself? Sarai did that. She became desperate. She lost hope in God and finally turned to man’s device to bring to pass the promise of the Lord; and, of course, from that polygamous union came all of the distress that we’ve known in the world ever since for Hagar gave birth to Ishmael [Genesis 16:4-16, 21:9-21, 25:12-18] who is the father of the Arab people. And to this day, there is no resolution, as there wasn’t in the Bible, between the seed of Ishmael and the seed of the child of promise – Sarai for her lack of faith and Abram listening to the voice of his wife.
I read where a fellow, musing on the Bible, said, "The greatest mistake God made was when He made Adam first. He should have made Eve first so she could have presided over the construction and the making of Adam." Maybe we’d a had a different world if Eve could have had something to do with how we men are made, but this happened because of a lack of faith and trust in the promises of the Lord. Now, that’s the first section of the life: stumbling before the promises of God.
Now the second part of their lives: Let’s turn to the next chapter, Genesis 17. Genesis 17, second verse: "I will make My covenant between Me and thee."
"Neither," verse 5, "shall thy name anymore be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham." Verse 6:
I will make thee exceeding fruitful; and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee and their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.
Now, verse 15:
And God said unto Abraham, "As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah – princess – shall her name be.
And I will bless her and give thee a son of her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her."
This is the new name and the new life in the days of Abram who became Abraham and Sarai who became Sarah – their old name, and their old life, and their old nature given to them in Haran and Ur in Mesopotamia [Genesis 11:26-31] and now a new name, and a new nature, and a new life in the land of promise. "What’s in a name?" Shakespeare one time asked [Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, 1595], and we can reply, "Much every way."
There are so many instances in the Bible of a marvelous change, a conversion, a turning in the life and a new name given in token of that change, that conversion, that new nature. The story of Jacob is that way. When Jacob was born, he was second of the twins Esau and Jacob [Genesis 25:21-26]; and when he was born, he was born holding the heel of Esau [Genesis 25:26], and they named him Yaaqob – "Jacob" – "heel holder, tripper-upper, supplanter, cheater" [Genesis 25:26]. That was his old name; and a cheater, and a schemer, and a supplanter he was [Genesis 27:1-46]. Then at Peniel, he met God face-to-face and God gave him a new heart, and a new nature, and a new life, and changed his name – Israel: "the prince of God" [Genesis 32:24-32].
You have another instance of that in Simon:
"Simon, Simon," said the Lord, "Satan hath desired to have you,
that he may sift you as wheat . . . but when you are converted,
turn and strengthen your brethren."
And the Lord Jesus gave to Simon a new name – Petros – Peter, "a rock" [Matthew 16:13-19].
Saul of Tarsus was a blasphemer and persecuted the people of God unto death [Acts 7:54-8:1, 9:1-2, 22:1-5, 26:9; 1 Timothy 1:13]. He met the Lord in a marvelous way on the road to Damascus and became Paul the apostle [Acts 9:3-17, 13:9, 22:6-21, 26:1-29; 1 Timothy 1:12]. The possibility of a new nature, a new life, a new name is always a possibility.
When we were in England a few weeks ago, I wanted to go to Olney. There is the home of William Cowper who wrote many of the great classic poems of England and many of our marvelous hymns. "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood" written by him, and he lived in Olney; and in that little town and village of Olney, John Newton lived. He was the minister of the parish church.
There was never a more profligate life than that lived by John Newton. He was the son of a sea captain. His mother died when he was a little child, and his father rejected him and disowned him; and he went from one debauchery after another until finally he became a servant on slave ships. And because of the degrading life that he lived, he was cast into chains and beaten. There never was, I repeat, a life more profligate or debauched than the life than that of John Newton. Well, I wanted to go to Olney where he pastored the church and where he wrote that glorious hymn:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
["Amazing Grace," by John Newton, 1779]
And in the churchyard at Olney he is buried, and this is the inscription on his tomb:
John Newton, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa,
was by the rich mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.
And at the age of 39 years, he gave his life to be a preacher and was called and assigned as pastor, vicar, of that parish church in Olney. Don’t ever give up on anybody – never! You don’t know what the grace of God is able to do.
When I was a youth in Amarillo, there, known to me personally, was one of the vilest young men I ever knew in my life; and upon a day when I returned to Amarillo where I was graduated from high school, when I returned to Amarillo and preached in the church there, the leading deacon in the church was that profligate boy that I knew when I was a senior in high school. Don’t ever give up on anybody. John Newton, a profligate, now called to preach the faith that he once destroyed.
Were you here at church a few Sundays ago when I had three of those inner-city flotsam and jetsam of humanity stand up here? They’re now in our Bible school. They’re in our Center of Biblical Studies. They came out of the gutter, dirty and filthy, lost – the scum, the dirt of humanity. They’ve been saved in our inner city chapel, and there I had them stand before us. They were clean and washed on the outside and on the inside, and now they’re studying to be ministers of the gospel of the Son of God. Don’t ever give up on anybody. God’s power is able to change; and that’s what He did to Abram who became Abraham "the friend of God" [James 2:23] and the father of the faithful [Galatians 3:7], and that’s what happened to Sarai who became Sarah [Genesis 17:15] "the princess of the Lord."
Now, I close. I turn to the death of Sarah. Chapter 23. Genesis chapter 23. Sarah was 127 years old [Genesis 23:1]. She’s the only woman whose age is told in the Bible – the only one. Well, if I were a woman and were 127 years old, I don’t think I’d mind people knowing how old I was. Would you?
"And Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (the same is Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her" [Genesis 23:2]. This is the only place in the Bible where – this is the first place in the Bible where somebody cries. It mentions tears and weeping. This is the first place that a grave is mentioned in the Bible – right here [Genesis 23:4]. "And Abraham wept for Sarah" [Genesis 23:2]. And you know, it’s unusual when you look at that – that he wept; he cried; tears fell from his face. You don’t read that Abram cried when he left Ur [Genesis 11:31]. You don’t read that he cried when he left all of his kindred at Haran up there at the top of Mesopotamia [Genesis 12:1-5]. You don’t read that Abraham cried when Lot was taken [Genesis 14:1-16] and Sodom was destroyed [Genesis 18:16-33, 19:1-29]. You don’t read that Abraham cried when he made that long walk up Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son, Isaac, before the Lord [Genesis 22:1-10], but you read that he wept here when Sarah died. He cried [Genesis 23:2].
You know, religion comes to us not inhuman and unnatural, but it comes to us in the world, in the area in which we live in which our life and lot are cast: in our sorrows, in our tears. And here the last farewell is made, the last flowers are arranged, the last rites are said, and the last good-bye is pronounced [Genesis 23:1-20]; and he cried. He wept [Genesis 23:2].
I see that in the life of God’s people. They cry. You know, the doing of religion is a glorious thing. You know, you march, and you battle, and you stand up, and you stride, and you defend. That’s great, but there are times in the faith when all you can do is just cry. There’s suffering in the faith as well as doing, and if you live long enough you’ll know both of them [Romans 8:17-18; 1 Corinthians 12:26; 2 Corinthians 1:5-7; Philippians 1:29, 3:10, 4:12; Colossians 1:24; 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 3:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:8-12; 2 Timothy 2:3, 9, 11; James 5:10, 13; 1 Peter 2:19-20, 3:14, 17, 4:19, 5:9; Revelation 2:10].
To do in obedience to the call of God, as sweet Claire Griffin said, and also to suffer and to cry – to be left alone – you’ll know both of them; and I am grateful when I read that Jesus wept [John 11:35]. The sweetest, shortest little verse in the Bible: "Jesus cried" [John 11:35]. And when He came to the brow of the hill and looked at Jerusalem lost, He burst into tears; He cried [Luke 19:41-44]; and in Gethsemane before the Lord, He wept – the tears of Jesus [Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46].
I read that in the life of Simon Peter: "and he went out and wept bitterly" [Matthew 26:75; Luke 22:62]; and I read that in the closing verses of the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts when the Ephesian elders put their arms around Paul and wept sore [Acts 20:36-38]. It’s both in the faith: it’s doing and it’s suffering. It’s rejoicing, and it is crying [Romans 12:15; 1 Corinthians 12:26]. It’s both of them.
You know things that happened to me when I was a beginning preacher, a teenage pastor – oh, those things, they left indelible impressions upon me. I had a wonderful deacon named Ode Davidson and his beautiful, precious wife; and they had a darling little girl with golden hair, and the little child died. And that precious mother asked for the privilege to dress the child and to comb the beautiful, golden curls of the child, and placed her in the casket, and then sat down by the side of the casket and wept her heart out. That is religion. It comes to us not only marching with the blast and the call of the trumpet, but it also comes to us with tears, and with a broken heart, and with a final farewell. That’s this: Abraham weeping before the bier, the tomb of Sarah [Genesis 23:2].
Now, there are two things that I have to say about it. One is this: Why didn’t he take her back to Haran to bury her? Why didn’t he take her back to Haran? Because God had promised him that land [Genesis 13:14-15] and in that land Sarah was buried at Machpelah in Hebron [Genesis 23:19], and Abraham was buried in Machpelah in Hebron [Genesis 25:9], and Isaac was buried there [Genesis :31], and Rebekah was buried there [Genesis :31], and Leah was buried there [Genesis :31], and Jacob, who died in Egypt [Genesis :33] was brought back and buried there [Genesis :28-32, 50:1-13]; and when Joseph died, he asked that his bones be taken back when they came out of the exodus into the Promised Land [Genesis 50:22-26; Exodus 13:19]. And when Daniel listened to the voice the last time, God said to him, "Daniel, in that day, thou shalt stand in thy lot" [Daniel 12:13] – that is, his place in the Promised Land.
My dear people, they hold it in fief, in simple fief, against the day when Christ shall come and each one of the children of the family of Abraham has his allotment in the Promised Land. It belongs to them forever [Genesis 13:14-15], and that’s why Sarah was buried in Machpelah in Hebron, in Canaan, in the Promised Land, holding it in simple fief until the great consummation of the age.
I have one other question: How is it that Abraham lived one hundred years in Canaan and never bought a burying ground? He came before the sons of Heth here in order to find a place to bury his dead [Genesis 23:3]. Why did he live one hundred years in that land and never possessed even a burying ground? The Scriptures have a mighty answer to that question: "And Abraham stood before the sons of Heth saying, "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you" [Genesis 23:4], and in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, he obeyed "and went out, not knowing whither he went," [Hebrews 11:8] and came into the land of promise. And he dwelt in that land as a stranger living in tents "for he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" [Hebrews 11:9-10], and he confessed that he was a stranger and a pilgrim in the earth [Hebrews 11:13].
And truly if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to return.
But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly. Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them that city.
All of their lives, they confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth looking for the heavenly city of God, and that’s why there was not even a burying ground that Abraham owned though he lived in the land for one hundred years – a stranger and a pilgrim in the earth – and that ought to be the faith of us. We don’t have eternal and everlasting ties and bindings to this earth. We’re strangers and pilgrims here. These things that we have are but for the moment. Our eternal and everlasting and heavenly home is in heaven. You’re too young, most of you, to have listened to the old-timers as they used to sing:
I am a stranger here,
Heaven is my home;
Earth is a desert drear,
Heaven is my home.
Sorrows and danger stand
Round me on every hand;
Heaven is my fatherland,
Heaven is my home.
["Fatherland," by T.R. Taylor, 1836]
They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth for they looked for a city whose builder and maker is God [Hebrews 11:10]. Lord, Lord, what a faith: what a commitment, what a confession, what a blessing! We face the inevitable future with the promise of God having prepared some better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40].
May we stand together?
Our precious and wonderful Lord, how beautiful it is to read the lives of God’s saints, His chosen who love Thee, who believed in Thee, who confess their faith, and who, in this life, lifted up their faces to the heavenly promises of God confessing that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth looking for the beautiful, heavenly city of God [Hebrews 11:13]. Wherefore God, not disappointing them, hath prepared for them that city [Hebrews 11:40].
Oh that beautiful and wonderful city John saw coming down from heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband [Revelation 21:2]: this is our eternal home. O God, may we live in the eternities of the Lord – not in the temporalities but in the eternities. May Christ our great God and Savior be our constant companion guiding us through that ultimate and final victory when we are assembled in the family, redeemed of our Lord, and are with Thee and one another for ever and ever.
In this moment that our people pray and wait: a family you, a couple, a one somebody you, "Pastor, God has spoken to my heart, and we’re coming." Welcome. Down that stairway, down this aisle, "Here we come, Lord, and, Pastor, we’ve made that decision tonight." God bless you as you come. Angels attend you in the way.
LAUGHING AT ANGELS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Old nature: stumbling hesitation before the promise of God
1. Faithfulness of God demonstrated in two unusual incidents
a. Pharaoh’s affliction
b. Abimelech and all men of the nation
2. Hope died out in Sarah due to her age
3. Hagar and Ishmael were tragic results of her human solution
II. New nature
1. Changed people – Sarai changed to Sarah
2. Blessing of promise – Isaac born
III. Tribute to Sarah Genesis 23:1-20
1. Her death told in detail
2. First grave in the Bible is mentioned
3. Only woman whose age is given – 127 years
4. First time tears and weeping is mentioned in the Bible
5. Invisible suffering that comes with separation and death
6. Sarah is not buried back in Haran but in Canaan, the land of promise
7. The hope of God’s promise