Sunday Gathering – Genesis – Big Questions about God – Chris Simpson
May 19, 2024

Sunday Gathering – Genesis – Big Questions about God – Chris Simpson

Passage: Genesis 18

Summary of Sermon: Big Questions About God

This sermon explores the story of Abraham and Sarah from Genesis 18, focusing on the themes of faith, prayer, and God's character.

The passage: Abraham is visited by three strangers who turn out to be angels. They tell him Sarah will have a son despite her old age. Sarah laughs in disbelief, but God hears her and questions her lack of faith.

Key Points:

God's Immensity:
- We can't limit God by our understanding.
- Even when things seem impossible, God can do more than we imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
Truth and Grace:
- God desires truthfulness, but He also offers forgiveness (shown by Sarah's lie and God's continued presence).
Imposter Syndrome and God's Love:
- We may feel like frauds, but God's love is unconditional.
Prayer as Invitation:
- Prayer is a conversation, an opportunity to participate in God's plans.
- Like a parent including a child in a task, God invites us to be involved.
Abraham's Intercession:
- Abraham prays for Sodom and Gomorrah, arguing for justice and the preservation of the righteous.
- This act highlights the power of prayer and our ability to intercede for others.
God's Justice and Mercy:
- The story raises the question: Can God be both Just and Merciful?
- The sermon suggests the answer is found in Jesus, who satisfies both by paying the penalty for our sins.
Does Prayer Change God's Mind?:
- The sermon argues that prayer doesn't change God's ultimate plan, but it can change how He accomplishes it.
- In this case, God rescues Lot from Sodom showing a different, better outcome than Abraham anticipated.

The sermon concludes with a prayer thanking God for His love and mercy,
acknowledging Jesus' sacrifice,
and asking for the continued work of God's word in the listener's life.



I'm going to read the first part now then I'll talk about it and then she'll come back
and read the second part.
And I'm reading from the New Living Translation.
The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the Oak Grove belonging to Marmory.
On Sunday Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the
day and he looked up and he noticed three men standing nearby.
Well when he saw them he ran to meet them and welcomed them bowing low to the ground.
My Lord he said, if it pleases you stop here awhile rest in the shade of this tree while
water is brought to wash your feet and since you've honoured your servant with this visit
let me prepare some food to refresh you before you continue on your journey.
All right he said, do as you have said.
So Abraham ran back to the tent and he said to Sarah,
hurry get three large measures of your best flour, knead it into dough and bake some bread.
Then Abraham ran out to the herd and chose a tender calf and gave it to his servant who
quickly prepared it and when the food was ready Abraham took some yogurt and milk
and the roasted meat and he served it to the men and as they ate Abraham waited on them
in the shade of the trees.
Where is your, Sarah your wife the visitors asked. Oh she's inside the tent Abraham replied
and then one of them said, I will return to you about this time next year
and your wife Sarah will have a son.
Well Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent and Abraham and Sarah were both
very old by this time and Sarah was long past the age of having children
so she laughed silently to herself and said, how could a worn out woman like me
enjoy such pleasure especially when my master my husband is also so old
and then the Lord said to Abraham, why did Sarah laugh?
Why did she say can an old woman like me have a baby?
Is anything too hard for the Lord and I will return about this time next year
and Sarah will have a son and Sarah was afraid so she denied it saying, I didn't laugh
but the Lord said, no you did laugh.
Thank you and let's have the first slide up about it, we can go on to the second slide.
I don't know if somebody said to you that the Lord had appeared to them
what do you think that might look like, what would you expect?
I'm guessing you might expect them to describe the experience and what they felt like
but this passage isn't like that at all, we're not told how anybody felt and in fact a big chunk
of what Anne's just read was full of the case study arrangements and it's very down to earth
and concrete and you might wonder what was going on but you know for me one of the things
that tells me it just it feels so authentic you know if you ask me can I remember anything I was
doing on the 22nd of November last year I would say I'm not close but I could look at my diary
couldn't have I have absolutely no recollection of that day whatsoever even only it was last year
but you know I couldn't remember where I was and what I was doing and what I was going to eat
and who said what on the 22nd of November 1963 even though I was only eight years old
why was that because that was that was when John F Kennedy was assassinated
and I can remember I can remember the where the when the what the how and it seems to be you know
Abraham and Sarah had the experience of God and so all these little details that would otherwise
inconsequential are imprinted on their mind it says in Hebrews that sometimes we
can entertain angels without realizing it but I think I think Abraham did realize something
and by the end he realized a lot more because he will have an experience of God
next slide
yeah so um Abraham and Sarah are old and you let's capture the scene as it was described in the
passage Abraham and Sarah is inside the tent and if you've ever been camping you know about being
inside you can hear pretty much exactly what's going on outside the tent but other people can't see
you so she's in the tent and she's listening and the three visitors are outside the tent talking to
Abraham and actually it says that they had their back to the tent and Sarah laughs but she doesn't
laugh out loud she laughs to herself so how on earth did they know how on earth did they know
and who does that remind us of who else do we read about in scripture who knew what was in
people's heart before they spoke and we think of a story like in John 1 about Jesus and Nathaniel
we think about it described elsewhere and it's from this point on in the passage that the
the main figure of the three described as the Lord because that's the point when they realized
only God himself could have known this and and the story begins with Abraham
but actually it's clear that the focus isn't on Abraham it's actually on Sarah it's on one
hurting woman and that's what the focus is on even when the spokesman when the Lord says to
Abraham what's going to happen doesn't say you know Abraham I'll be back next year and you'll be a
father is Abraham I'll be back next year and Sarah will hold the baby at her arms so he's
Sarah is in focus here and and and Sarah I feel for Sarah you know she's been through
a lot in life and in faith her life has not been easy she has longed to have a child and it has not
happened she has longed for prayer to be answered she's longed for the promise of God to be fulfilled
and it has not happened she has experienced failure you know she was the one with the idea about
the servant girl Hagar and that she experienced failure and disappointment and I've taken this
slide from reading from a translation of the Hebrew by Robert Alter Robert Alter is a professor
of Hebrew he's a Jewish actually a Jewish professor of Hebrew at the University of California in
Berkeley and I use his translation because he sticks very close to the original Hebrew and
it brings out the emphasis on the impossibility of this and also of how Sarah was feeling about
herself Abraham and Sarah were old advanced in years Sarah no longer had a woman's flow
she has post-menopausal she will not conceive and and Sarah laughed I've read in one book
that it's described as Sarah chuckle I don't think this is a chuckle I think this is a bitter
painful laugh you know she'd had all those hopes maybe once and now some some man has
showed up and reopened the whole thing again by promising her that she'll have a child again
and and and she's laughed inwardly and said after being shriveled shall I have pleasure
and my husband is old and Robert Oliver says the word pleasure kind of connotes sexual pleasure so
not only is she post-menopausal but I mean she's not in the sex with her husband successful sex
I'm not going to go into that but you know that's how she feels about this she is she is
hurting and in pain next slide
and the Lord said he's anything too hard for the Lord
that's a good you see Sarah Sarah had been looking at her own situation
and her analysis of her own situation probably wasn't wrong
but God is inviting her not to look at her situation but to look at him
and I think there's something something glorious in that these are words to hang on to
is anything beyond the law and we'll ask probably at least a couple of years
there's a verse in the New Testament I haven't been able to shake off
and it's in Ephesians 3 20 actually James said that in the worship referred to it
it says God is able to do immeasurably more than anything we can ask or imagine
so God is able to do so much more than we can ask or imagine
and I kind of want to hold on to that word and say God do in our midst things we thought impossible
do more than we can imagine and and reach out beyond our own situation to the greatness of God
next slide please
and Sarah lied and she said I didn't laugh and he said yes you did you laughed
you know God only deals in truth there is no white wash no spin no bullshit with God
he only deals in truth and I'm guessing this was painful for Sarah
and when God points out sin in our life that can hurt and I felt that pain
but you know it's wholesome too because it's truth and and hard truth is still better than the soft lie
next slide I love this and we're going to I want you to think about this
and cheer up you're a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine and you're more loved than you ever dare hope
I mean that's a very significant truth I mean take the first bit of it you know if you ever
start to feel one really not such a bad sort after all you are deceived and in a place of danger
so the truth about I don't think we should wallow in our sins I don't think we should think about
our sins more than we need to repent of them but nevertheless the truth that we have sinned grossly
is true about us but God loves us more than we ever thought possible and actually
we can put those two things together because they're not kind of opposites they reinforce
one another really put it this way have you heard of imposter syndrome so that's when
you feel you're a bit of a phony a fraud and you're concerned that you might be found out
maybe you think more that people just knew this or that about me they wouldn't they wouldn't think
so much of me and that might be true but you know the glorious thing about this truth is
that it doesn't wash with God God already knows all the truth about us the God who knows exactly
how bad we are also loves us more than we can ever imagine there are no disappointments there are no
things that can come out of the cupboard that are going to disappoint God
God loves us knowing us exactly for who we are next slide and we need you back
so we're now in Genesis still in 18 but 16 to 33
then the men got up from their meal and looked out towards Sodom and as they left Abraham went
with them to send them on their way should I hide my plan from Abraham the Lord asked
for Abraham will certainly become a great and mighty nation and all the nations of the earth
will be blessed through him I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their
families to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just then I will do for Abraham
all that I have promised so the Lord told Abraham I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah
because their sin is so flagrant I am going down to see if their actions are as wicked as I have
heard and if not I want to know the other men turned and headed towards Sodom but the Lord
remained with Abraham and Abraham approached him and said will you sweep away both the righteous
and the wicked suppose you find 50 righteous people living there in the city will you still
sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes surely you wouldn't do such a thing
destroying the righteous along with the wicked why you would be treating the righteous and the wicked
exactly the same and surely you wouldn't do that should not the judge of all the earth do what is
right and the Lord replied if I find 50 righteous people in Sodom I will spare the entire city
for their sake but then Abraham spoke again well since I have begun let me speak further
to my Lord even though I am but dust on ashes suppose there are only 45 righteous people
rather than 50 will you destroy the whole city for a lack of five and the Lord said
I will not destroy it if I find 45 righteous people there but then Abraham pressed his request
further suppose it was only 40 and the Lord replied I will not destroy it for the sake of the 40
oh please don't be angry my Lord Abraham pleaded let me speak suppose only 30 righteous people
are found and the Lord replied I will not destroy it if I find 30 then Abraham said oh since I have
dared to speak to the Lord let me continue suppose there are only 20 and the Lord replied
then I will not destroy it for the sake of the 20 well finally Abraham said oh Lord
please don't be angry with me if I speak one more time suppose only 10 are found there and the Lord
replied then I will not destroy it for the sake of 10 and when the Lord had finished his conversation
with Abraham he went on his way and Abraham returned to his tent thank you next slide please
how do you think of prayer do you think of prayer as a duty as something you do for God
supposing it's more like an invitation to participate an invitation to share with God
in his plans and purposes I see what I think I think prayers like um imagine a young mother
with a toddler and and she says um would you like to make some biscuits and so the toddler is very
excited about it and joins in the making of the biscuits now the truth is the mother is more than
capable of making the biscuits without any help from the toddler and in fact the task will probably
be easier and tidier without the child's help but she does it because she wants to involve them
because it's good to do things with your child and because it's good for the child to learn things
and develop skills and have fun and I think that's why God calls us to pray because he wants to
involve him he wants to share us in what he's doing next slide well actually no we're not next
slide what we're gonna say so and and there's something very charming about this conversation
that Abraham has with God um you know it's both respectful um Abraham is
you know he approaches God carefully doesn't he he's not he's not demanding he's not blustering
he's respectful and yet there's great intimacy it's almost like a conversation between two friends
and as well see Abraham is also very frank about what's bothering him so Abraham is kind of opening
up to God in this and we'll see that the invitation is not Abraham praying for Abraham
Abraham is standing before the face of God on behalf of others in truth Abraham is probably
particularly thinking about his nephew Lot who lives in Sodom and that's a great privilege you
know that we can stand before the face of God and pray on behalf of somebody who is precious to us
next slide we need to go back one so the Lord told the Abraham I have heard a great
outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah because their sin is so flagrant I am going down to see if their
actions are as wicked as I have heard if not I want to know and before we get on to Abraham's prayer
it seems to me there's another prayer going on there's a great outcry and prayer I think has
been rightly described as prayer is a kind of it's a raging against the things that offend the
heart of God you know it's a bringing to God the pain and suffering we bring it before God we rage
against this messy and broken world and there's an outcry going on here also I think tells us
something about Sodom and Gomorrah that what's happening in Sodom and Gomorrah isn't just people
having fun it's not victimless crime there is great suffering and people are being hurt
but even then notice you know it's a nice little touch God wants to see for himself
he wants to do the right thing he's not taking its second hand he wants to establish the facts
to know the truth next slide and do you recognize that picture been on the news a lot this is
Daniel and John in who is you know hacked to death by a nutter with a sword and you know
I think I'm going to imagine the outcry to God when we see pain and suffering in this world
will be read in Gaza or in Israel or in Ukraine or in other places around the world with this
great suffering we cry out to God on behalf of people who are going through terrible times
next slide
what was in the Sodom and Gomorrah and was it worse than everywhere else
yeah you might think that the answer to the first question is quite easy after all
the word Sodom has given its name to the word Sodomy which describes anal sex so you think
you might think you know the answer and there's a bit more to it than that was it worse than
everywhere else I think Sodom was wicked but if you look at how Sodom and Gomorrah described in
the New Testament there were worse places and it's an example and actually it's an example
of how God could save the righteous and will finally punish the unrighteous next
this is a verse that people don't always know but it's quite important
now this was the sin of Sodom she and her daughters were arrogant overfed and unconcerned
they did not help the poor and needy they were haughty and did detestable things before me
you know I just I suspect this sentence could be written about pretty much any Western nation
Sodom and Gomorrah wicked places but not uniquely so and I think that also explains
more of this outcry you know there's more to Sodom and Gomorrah and arrogant overfed and
unconcerned they did not help the poor and needy next slide
and Abraham says surely you wouldn't do such a thing destroying the righteous
along with the wicked why you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same
surely you wouldn't do that should not the judge of all the earth do what is right
and you see what I mean about frankness see Abraham is troubled by what he thinks God is about to do
but he brings his concern to God I think sometimes you know when we when we are struggling in our
life with what God is doing or not doing I think there's a temptation to kind of back off a bit
and we yeah we back off actually Abraham's is the better example he takes the stuff that's
bothering him about what he sees God doing or not doing and he takes it to God and he addresses God
about it he pours out to God what's on his heart his concern
shall not the judge of all the earth do right I think that's a beautiful phrase and
I think it's a phrase that helps us but what horrid things happen in this world we remember
shall not the judge of all the earth do right I think it also this may be an aside but it also
I think confirms to me the teaching consistently of the Bible that there will be a final judgment
she you've all heard the expression somebody says well life's not fair and the truth is if this life
is all there is then there is deep unfairness is that some good people suffer very badly
and some evil people enjoy trouble free lives so the promise of final judgment is also linked to
God's goodness the judge of the earth will do what is right and I think in situations where we
can't understand what's going on to it's good to hold on to this I think that Abraham's doing he's
basing his prayer on the character of God and I think that's a really good example you know
we pray to God because he is good because he loves us because he's interested in us and because he
wants to hear what we have to say we base our prayers on who God fundamentally is and that
gives us a respectful boldness to take to God whatever's troubling us next slide please
Abraham does not ask for mercy he's not asking for favors he's looking for simple justice
who are false it's true read that passage that's very clear he's he's concerned for
jump justice and Abraham's concern was that God was going to punish good people along with that
they were going to treat them no differently so his concern was that righteous people probably
thinking of his nephew love were going to be treated along with the wicked
but there is a flip side to this that we need to think about a bit and understand the issue it
raises clearly a good judge will not convict innocent people but wouldn't you also expect a good God
to convict the guilty so why is that not a problem for us or is it a problem next slide
now let me recognize this person
Paul indeed I think it's it's at a Natalie elfic so she's the MP for Dover and there's been
allegations in the press recently that she'd kind of tried to lobby I think justice secretary to get
her then husband's trial for sexual misdemeanor delayed and I don't know if she did it or not
you know that's not the point but you can see that actually kind of trying to interfere with
the process of justice on behalf of a close relative is seen as a bad thing
so how is it that I can pray to God on behalf of people who are precious to me how is it that I
can pray to God for mercy from me how does that how is that possible without offending the principle
that God is the judge of all the earth should do what is right
and I'm sorry if I raise the problem for people you hadn't previously had but nevertheless I think
it's I think it is there and I think the the answer to that of course is to be found in Christ
so Jesus is the answer to this but let's unpack that a bit often in the bible sin is described as
debt so in the law prayer we say forgive us our debts so imagine the situation you are dragged
into court and on account of a huge debt which you cannot afford to pay and and you're there in the
dock and and all the lawyers are lined up and everything else and the judge starts the proceedings
and said well how much does the prisoner owe and on the prosecution table there is a kind of
look at computer screens and a fumbling of papers and then one of the barters gets to his feet and
said uh your honor it appears that a third party has cleared the debt and the judge would then say
well I don't even understand why we're here and he turns to you and said you're free to go
justice is not offended in those circumstances that is not an unjust thing a debt may be paid by
somebody else and that's why we need Jesus Jesus paid our debts you know if God could simply say oh
yeah it'd be um Steve's a nice bloke I was going to forgive his sins but based on nothing else
then God would not be just and Christ would not have had to die Christ goes to the cross
in order that our debts would be paid in full and in Christ both the justice of God
and the mercy of God are fully revealed next slide does prayer change God's mind
this is this is actually quite a tricky question um and I read in one of the books I was looking at
he says well you know Abraham argues God down from saving Sodom and Gomorrah if he can find
50 righteous people to saving Sodom and Gomorrah if he can find only 10 and superficially at least
that does seem to be what's happening and it may even be what Abraham thought was happening
but but when we study the text more closely you see there's a bit more to this than meets the eye
first of all the concern that God would destroy the righteous with the unrighteous
and would destroy things even if there were 50 people around that originates from Abraham not
from God God didn't actually say that that was that was what Abraham's worried about but God
doesn't say that you also know that that what happens next is both different from and better than
Abraham had foreseen remember Abraham stops when he gets to 10 and if God had only done what Abraham
asked for Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot and his family would all have perished what God does is
different he rescues the righteous he takes them out of the situation it never seems to have occurred
to Abraham that that was a possibility so God does something different from what Abraham was expecting
and because he rescues even three never mind 10 God does something that is better than Abraham
asked for and nevertheless if I was to try and answer this question in a sentence
and sort of thinking about the kind of relative position of the parties like the mother with
that toddler making biscuits I would say yes prayer does change God's mind and it is essential
but only to the extent that God himself wants this desires it and calls for it
next slide
we'll pray now but I want to leave the first minute of prayer just for a time of quiet well
a minute silence and just just ask God about what you've been hearing and say to God anything that
you feel you need to see so we'll give a minute silence and then I'll finish with a few words
and we'll start that we'll start that now
Father we thank you simply that you are a good God and that you love us more than we can imagine
and all we do want to commit ourselves and those who are precious to your justice and mercy
and we thank you for Jesus Christ who died and wiped away our debts we thank you that the promise
of Christ to wipe away our debts is available to anyone who really wants it all we have to do
is to put our trust in Christ so Father we thank you for that and Lord if you've spoken to us this
morning and and we hope that you have spoken to us we hope that we have heard and discerned your
word may your word continue to work in us may it bless us and do us good in Jesus name amen

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