Laughing at Angels
November 16th, 1988 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-16-88 7:30 p.m.
Once again, we welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the midweek message, and after the service is concluded with a benediction, we shall have the high, holy privilege this night of ordaining, of setting aside, two young men to the gospel ministry. The title of the message is Laughing at Angels, and it is based upon the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis.
If you would like to turn to it, we shall read it – chapter 18 in the Book of Genesis:
And the Lord appeared unto Abraham in the plains of Mamre, and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,
And he said, "My Lord, if now I have found favor in Thy sight, pass not away, I pray Thee, from thy servant.
Let a little water, I pray You, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.
And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts. After that ye shall pass on, for therefore are ye come to your servant." And they said, "So do as thou hast said."
And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes upon the hearth."
And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man, and he hasted to dress it.
And he took butter and milk and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree and they did eat.
And they said unto him, "Where is Sarah thy wife?" And he said, "Behold, in the tent."
And [the Angel] 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
– she was toward ninety and he was toward a hundred –
and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.
Therefore Sarah laughed within her, saying, "After I am waxed old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?"
And the Lord said unto Abraham, "Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I of a surety bear a child, I who 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!"
Laughing at Angels. So the subject is not as far out as you might have thought when it was announced on Sunday. Those three angels – you could find in commentaries many, many diverse opinions about them. One of them could have been the pre-incarnate Christ and two of His angelic servants. But you have a good instance here – whoever they were, they were heavenly messengers – whoever they were, you have a beautiful instance of Abraham’s hospitality.
In Hebrews 13:2, the incident is referred to saying to us to "be kind unto strangers, for therein some have entertained angels unawares." I preach sometime on entertaining angels unawares: being kind to people whom you do not know.
So in this chapter, the promise is made to Sarah that she would have a son, and she laughed. Can you imagine how anyone could but stagger at the promise that you, a woman ninety years of age, and he, a husband of one hundred years of age, you’re going to have a baby? And, of course, the Angel asks, "Is anything too hard for God?" [Genesis 18:14] Nothing.
Now, to begin our message, we’re going to speak first of the old nature stumbling and hesitating before the promises of God. The faithfulness of God has been demonstrated in two unusual incidents in the life of Sarah, and we’re going to dedicate, consecrate this message tonight about her: Sarah. The faithfulness of God is experiential in the life of Sarah and Abraham.
This woman Sarah was an uncommonly good-looking woman. Men thought so. She was simply ravishing. For example, in Genesis 12:10-20, you have an example of the faithfulness of God when Abraham and Sarah went down into Egypt. And Abraham said to Sarah, his wife, "Now when you go down there, as beautiful as you are, all those men in the court are going to look at you, and they will kill me in order to take you; and I’m going to tell them that you’re my sister and not my wife" [Genesis 12:11-13].
So down there in Egypt, Pharaoh saw that beautiful woman and took her [Genesis 12:14-15] when Abraham said, "She’s my sister." And when Pharaoh took her into his court, the Lord afflicted with a plague on Pharaoh [Genesis 12:17]. God didn’t have to do that. Why didn’t He afflict Abraham? Abraham was the one that was lying. Why didn’t God afflict Abraham? He never laid a hand on Abraham. He afflicted Pharaoh.
You have an instance again, that same kind of an instance of the faithfulness of God to that couple, when the same thing happened in Genesis 20, verses 1 to 18. They’re in the presence of Abimelech who’s king down there in southern Canaan; and Abimelech sees beautiful Sarah and wants her, and so he takes her [Genesis 20:2] when Abraham says, "She’s my sister," lest Abimelech slay Abraham in order to take his wife – "she’s my sister" [Genesis 20:2]. And here again, God afflicts; and He not only afflicts Abimelech, He afflicts every man in the nation – every one of them [Genesis 20:3-8, 17-18].
Why doesn’t God afflict Abraham? I say, he’s the one lying. God doesn’t afflict Abraham; He afflicts Abimelech and so restores beautiful Sarah to the arms and love and household of Abraham [Genesis 20:14-16]. It’s an unusual thing.
Well, you have here a misguided zeal in the promises of God instead of depending upon God to do the miraculous and the unbelievable and the unhistorical. There’s no precedent for it. Do you ever see a woman ninety years old – Doctor, did you ever see a woman ninety years old have a baby? Did you ever see one? Libby, did you ever see a woman ninety years old have a baby? Bob, did you ever see a man a hundred years old sire a baby? Well, I never did either, and nobody else did.
Well, when the years passed and no baby was born and no heir was added to the household, why, hope died out in Sarah’s heart; and I can understand that. So she turned from God’s promised intervention to human means and the old nature. We’ve all got it. And, of course, the tragedy that followed is known today, felt today, seen today. O, God. That’s where the Arab nations came from – the story of Ishmael [Genesis 16:1-6, 21:9-21, 25:12-18]. But we have in this beautiful, beautiful story of Sarah, we have the story of a new nature and a new intervention from God. So we’re going to talk about it.
First, we’re going to talk about the change in their lives. In Genesis 17:5, God changes "Abram" to "Abraham." Abram is the name given to him in Mesopotamia, given to him by Terah [Genesis 11:26-27], who was an idolater, given to him in Ur of Chaldees [Genesis 11:31]. In that same chapter [Genesis 17], verse 15, "Sarai" is changed to "Sarah." So they’re a new people in the sight of God. He is now Abraham, the father of the nations, and Sarah, the mother of a great people. Abraham is now the patriarch under God [Matthew 1:1-2; 22:32; Luke 1:55; John 8:31-59; Acts 3:13, 25, 7:2, 30-33; Romans 4:1, 16; Romans 9:7-8, 11:1; 2 Corinthians 11:22; Galatians 3:7-9, 14, 18, 29; Hebrews 2:16; James 2:21], and Sarah is the mother of the children of God’s election [Romans 9:7-9; Galatians 4:21-31]. Then, in their new nature and in their new names, Isaac is born in chapter 21.
I want to turn aside here just for a moment and speak of that wonderful, glorious possibility of change. Jacob means – Jacob, the word "Jacob" means "heel-holder" or "tripper-upper" or "supplanter" [Genesis 25:26, 27:36]. It means "cheater." But God changed his name to "Israel," [Genesis 32:28] "the prince of the Lord, the prince of God." That same thing is seen in the life of Simon. God changed his name. The Lord changed his name to Petros – "the rock" [Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; John 1:40-42]. Same thing in the life of the Apostle Saul – the old name "Saul," the new name "Paul" – preaching the faith that he once destroyed [Acts 13:9. Galatians 1:22-24]. The possibility of change is simply miraculous.
I want to read one. John Newton was born in 1725, died in 1807. He was the son of a sea captain. His mother died when he was a small boy. He was rejected and outcast by his father; and his life was one of debauchery, and failure, and indescribable compromise. He was in constant trouble. He was jailed. He was degraded. He served on slave ships and incurred the hatred of his employer’s Negro wife.
I went to Olney – O-L-N-E-Y – I went to Olney in England because of those two wonderful men – the home of William Cowper, the great English poet, the author of classical literature, the author of some of the finest hymns in the world such as "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood." And that Olney church there was built in the fourteenth century – in the 1300s.
Now, this wretch, John Newton, who was indescribably debauched – I never read a life as low, as unthinkable, as the life of John Newton – he was marvelously converted, wonderfully changed; and at the age of 39, he gave his life to being a minister, and he was pastor of that church at Olney for fifteen years. And he and William Cowper published a hymnal used by the churches [Olney Hymns, William Cowper and John Newton, 1779], and one of the hymns is written by John Newton.
Do you know the hymn? You know what I’m talking about:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me!
Once was lost, but now I’m found;
was blind, but now I see.
["Amazing Grace," by John Newton, 1779]
We sing that song. That’s the greatest hymn in the world. John Newton wrote that – this wretch. Well, he’s buried there in the Olney churchyard; and as I stood there before the tomb, I read the inscription. Here it is. "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."
That’s God. There is always that marvelous possibility of change, of conversion. I don’t care who he is, who she is, what they have done, how they have lived; there is always the glorious possibility of a new creation – a new man, a new woman [2 Corinthians 5:17]. Well, that is the way it was in the life of Sarah and Abraham. God even changed their names. They became new people.
And I have to close. The Bible pays a marvelous tribute to Sarah. You don’t realize it when you just, you know, reading the Bible going along, but it is a precious and beautiful thing that is described about Sarah.
In Genesis 23 [verse] 1 and verses 3-20, her death is told in detail. It is mentioned for the first time in the Bible – a grave [Genesis 23:3-4]; and she’s the only woman in the Bible whose age is given. She died at 127 years of age [Genesis 23:1]; and for the first time in the Word of God, tears and weeping are named, are mentioned in Scripture, at the death of Sarah [Genesis 23:2].
You do not read that Abraham wept when he left Ur of Chaldees for Haran [Genesis 11:31]; and you don’t read that he wept when he left Haran and crossed the Euphrates River for Canaan [Genesis 12:1-5]; and you don’t read that he wept when Lot and all of his family were captured and Sodom was destroyed [Genesis 14:1-16, 18:16-19:29]; and you don’t read that Abraham cried when he, with heavy heart, climbed the slopes of Mount Moriah and there raised that dagger to plunge into the heart of his only son [Genesis 22:1-14]. But when you read that Sarah died, the fountain of grief was broken up in Abraham’s heart, and he wept, and he cried [Genesis 23:1-2].
May I speak of the inevitable suffering that comes in death when all is over and we are left silent before the dead, when the flowers are arranged and the final laying away is prepared? You know, I began preaching when I was so very young. I was seventeen when I was pastor of my first church, and all the things that happened in those beginning little churches made such an impression upon my young pastor heart.
Here’s one. I had a deacon named Ode Davidson, and he had a beautiful wife, and they had a darling little girl – a pretty little thing with golden flaxen hair – just a darling little girl. And the child died.
Well, we’re out in the country. I guess today such a thing to describe would be unthinkable in our society today; but Ode Davidson and his wife dressed that little girl, and combed her flaxen hair, and put her in the little coffin, then sat down by the side and wept uncontrollably. O God! Then, and for the sixty-two years since, that has been for me a picture of the whole vast world sitting down and crying before our dead.
It is inevitable. It comes to every heart and to every life. Religion does not come to us inhumane and removed. Jesus cried. Jesus wept [John 11:35]. Peter went out and wept bitterly [Matthew 26:75]; and in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, those Ephesian elders wept when Paul told them, "You will see my face no more" [Acts 20:36-38].
It is a comfort to know that God sorrows. He is moved by the feeling of our infirmities. He understands all about us.
I was making a little speech today at a dinner table. God came down and became human [Matthew 1:23; John 1:1-3, 14-18; Philippians 2:5-8]. He became one of us; and there are no sorrows, and there are no hurts, and there are no tragedies in human experience that He has not Himself known and felt and endured [Hebrews 2:17-18]. Isn’t that a wonderful thing for us to come to a Lord who knows and sympathizes all about us?
For we have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tried as we are.
Come boldly therefore to the throne of grace, that ye might find help in time of trouble and grace for the way that inevitably lies before us.
Praise God for the gift of Jesus our Lord!
We’re going to sing us a song; and while we sing it, a family to come into the fellowship of our dear church, a couple, a one somebody you to give himself to Jesus – as the Lord shall press the appeal to your heart, if God speaks, answer with your life; and welcome while we stand and while we sing.
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