Antony Spencer 11am 10th March 2013

St John’s Small Group Study Notes

From Antony’s sermon on 10th March 2013

Promises Fulfilled

Passage: Genesis 21:1-20

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A mother’s joy v1-8
25 years of promise are graciously fulfilled as the Lord visited Sarah and ‘did for her what He had promised’ (v1) All the twists and turns of the journey so far – the seeming impossibility, cynical laughter and the heartaches and reproach of her barrenness – are all forgotten in the sheer joy of this promise fulfilled.

Only God could do this. A 100 year old father and a 90 year old mother – it’s impossible. Yet that’s exactly the point God has done what only God could do and the attention and glory go to Him. Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.” This is the laughter of joy not cynical unbelief … A laughter that everyone will join in with and enjoy.

Of course in those days there was very high infant mortality so a safe delivery was not the end of any concerns. In those days children were breast fed up for 2 or 3 years. The promised son, Isaac had survived those critical early years and would be the inheritor of all the promises … surely something worthy of a great feast as far as Abraham was concerned (v8). However, the weaning celebration or more particularly Isaac’s survival triggers a crisis.

A Crisis v9-13
The crisis starts through some inter familial rivalry when the 17 year old Ishmael starts mocking Isaac. Sarah’s protective instincts are aroused as she looks to protect her son’s inheritance. There is in any event a track record of issues and problems between Sarah and Hagar which we read about back in Genesis 16 and which the Lord intervened in.

Q: What do think – or know from your experience – are some of the potential difficulties of families comprising children from different parents? What was Sarah’s real motive for seeking Ishmael’s departure v10?

Sarah’s solution was to ask Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. But Abraham was very distressed and was concerned for his son. Abraham had listened to Sarah before and had gone along with her plan to have a child through Hagar – Ishmael had been the result. Listening to Sarah had been the wrong thing to do last time because Ishmael was the offspring from a failure of faith. Q: look back at this incident in Genesis 16 and discuss how Abraham might have felt this time.

In his distress Abraham called out to God. God said that Abraham should listen to what Sarah said and should send Hagar and Ishmael away. God affirms that (v12) Isaac will be the line that God will use to bless the nations but God still has plans for Ishmael – his offspring will be made into a nation too (v13). Two things strike me about God’s action here:

1. God does what is necessary to protect his chosen one Isaac. Here he sends Ishmael away so that the rivalry and jealousy will not impede Isaac. Q: Where else in the Scriptures does God take special measures to protect a chosen infant?

2. In sending Ishmael away God seems to affirm that sometimes it can be right to separate and live apart so that each person can prosper. Q: What other occasions have people had to separate as a result of arguments and disagreements? You might think that such a separation is invariably wrong but here God affirms that it the right thing to do. Q: Are you enquiring of the Lord like Abraham did when he was distressed and facing difficult circumstances and choices? How might God direct you?

As a result of this crisis God’s amazing and surprising grace abounds.

Surprising Grace v 14-20 Grace abounds.
In verse 14 and following we read how Hagar is sent away as a single parent – disadvantaged and alone. She has supplies but gets lost in the desert. Q: Discuss how this picture of a single parent on her own speaks into the challenges of single parenthood in our generation.

Ishmael calls out to God – Hagar is crying too. God hears Ishmael’s cry (v17) and answers by providing a rescue. God provided what was necessary to preserve his life. Not only did God provide for him, (v20) makes clear that God was with Ishmael as he grew and that he would make him into great nation. (v18).
That strikes me as important because God’s choice of Isaac did not mean that he abandoned Ishmael who was not chosen. The technical term for being chosen is ‘election’ and the principle is that those elected are elected to serve the others. Being chosen by God for a particular task or purpose does not of itself award a particular status or position. Campbell Morgan writes:
‘There are no less favoured peoples because God has made all nations and there are no peoples that are excluded from the purposes of His goodness. Those elected are elected to serve the others. When at last His city is built, all the nations shall walk in the light thereof. When the seed, called in Isaac, has won the final triumph, Ishmael will share in the glorious results. A remembrance of that fact will purge our hearts from the possibility of all contempt for any ‘less-favoured’ peoples. We shall see in them those whom God sees, for whom God cares, and for whose ultimate recovery and blessedness God is ever working.’

Q: Trace how this principle of being chosen and gifted by God is for the benefit and blessing of others is developed in Romans 11:25-32 (the position of the Jewish nation) and also in 1 Corinthians 12 (gifts of the Spirit). In each of these cases describe who the ultimate beneficiary of the gift or calling is.

Knowing God’s favour is not measured in the extent or the nature of the gifts or calling God has given to an individual or a community. God’s favour is measured in the quality and reality of our life ‘In Christ’ – the outward characteristics of which are shown through obedience and the fruit of God’s life within us … fruits listed in Galatians 5 as ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self–control.’

We have a calling as children of promise – how are we using it?
The revelation of God’s purposes in this story of Isaacs’s birth and Ishmaels’ departure was a very important insight in the Apostle Paul’s understanding and writing. He referred to it several times in his letters. Galatians :42 v8 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. Paul is saying to his first hearers and to us that as Christian believers we are children of God’s promise to Abraham.

As children of promise we carry the election or calling of God to witness to God’s presence and glory for the sake of those around us who don’t know Him. Your calling and gifting is given for the benefit of others.

Discuss: How are you as an individual and we as a community of God’s people (small group and the whole church) fulfilling that purpose?

Pray for one for Gods’ fresh equipping as you fulfil your calling.

12th Mar 2013 Posted in: Sermon Notes by Fran Varley 0

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