Sunday Gathering – Genesis – Coping with death – Roland – Sermon Only
June 30, 2024

Sunday Gathering – Genesis – Coping with death – Roland – Sermon Only

Passage: Genesis 23

Summary of Roland's Sermon: Coping with death (Genesis 23)

This sermon focuses on Genesis 23 and explores the themes of faith,

God's promises, and perseverance even in the face of difficulty.


  • Follows the story of Abraham being tested by God, where he was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22).
  • Chapter 23 bridges a 20-year gap with little explanation of what happened during that time.

Key Points:

  • God's faithfulness: Even though there seems to be a pause in God's plan, He is still working behind the scenes.
  • Abraham's faith: Despite loss and unanswered questions, Abraham continues to trust God's promises.
  • Sarah's legacy: Though not perfect, Sarah plays a vital role in God's plan as the future mother of nations. (Galatians 3:29)
  • The importance of faith: Examples of Abraham and Sarah's faith are given to illustrate the importance of believing in God's promises, even when things seem difficult. (Hebrews 11:11)
Abraham's purchase of the field:
  • Symbolic of claiming the promised land, even though it wouldn't be fully his in his lifetime.
  • Demonstrates his belief that God would keep His promises to him and his descendants.
Death and the Christian Hope:
  • Death is not the end for believers. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
  • Christians have the hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ. (John 3:16)
Core Message:
  • God is faithful and keeps His promises, even when we can't see how.
  • We are called to live by faith, trusting in Him even in the midst of life's challenges.
Bible References:
  • Genesis 18:14
  • Genesis 22
  • Genesis 23
  • Galatians 3:29
  • Hebrews 11:11
  • John 3:16
  • 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

Is that better? I agreed to do this a few months ago and then
I looked at it, I just gulped and I thought, well, it's probably one of the shortest
chapters in Genesis, Genesis chapter 23. And it's basically the death of Sarah, that's
Abraham's wife. Then Abraham buys a field with a cave in it and then he buries his wife.
And that's it. I think there's a little bit more to it than that and we're going
to find out. I do like the scriptural accounts of people in the Bible because it just tells
you everything about them, the good points, the failures, the difficulties. And we have,
I think chapter 23 in my mind is a bit of a transition chapter because it's all about
Abraham and Sarah. And it's all about God's promises to Abraham. And of course his main
promise is that Abraham and Sarah would have a son called Isaac and through Isaac all the
nations of the earth would be blessed. We're going to come to look at that in a moment.
Chapter 22 is from what you heard last week from Andy was about Abraham being tested,
God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. And it's difficult to get your head
around this. The promise of God is that he would give them a son, Isaac, and the covenant,
that agreement that God had made between himself and his people would be that Isaac
would be the means of the blessing of God upon the earth. And yet he asks him to sacrifice
his son and he went through all that yesterday. We come to chapter 23 and in effect there's
a leap forward in time. There's about 20 years gap. There's nothing said what's happened in
that 20 years. It's estimated that Isaac would be in his late teens and then it goes silent.
What is happening? Has God gone off for a nap, a break? Has God gone away? And it just
struck me that whilst there are gaps, life goes on. God is still at work whether you see it or
not, whether you feel it or not, even though it feels like you're not working is working. Yeah,
even when we don't see that you're working is still working. And chapter 23 in effect is a bit
of a transition as I've said. It's from Abraham and Sarah and now with Sarah's death there is
going to be a transition from Abraham to Isaac. We'll read in that in the next chapters. Very
little is said about the nature circumstances of Sarah's death. Sometimes death comes unexpectedly
through accident or some other cause or through a period of prolonged illness and decline. But
we're not told anything about that. The scripture is very, very scant on that. It simply says in
chapter 23, we'll read chapter 23 and then we'll get into this. So it says this, Sarah lived to be
a hundred and twenty-seven years old. She died at Kiriath Abba, that is Hebron, in the land of Canaan
and Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her. Then Abraham rose from beside his dead
wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, I am an alien and a stranger among you. Sell me some
property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead. The Hittites replied to Abraham, sir,
listen to us. You are a mighty prince among us. Bury your dead in the choicest of our tombs. None
of us will refuse you his tomb for burying your dead. It just struck me as I was reading this,
the choicest of our tombs. You know, the choicest of wine, the choicest of fair food.
The choicest of our tombs. Then Abraham rose and bowed down before the people of the land,
the Hittites. He said to them, if you are willing to let me bury my dead, then listen to me
and intercede with Ephron son of Zohar on my behalf. So he will sell me the cave of Machpelon
which belongs to him and is at the end of his field. Ask him to sell it to me for the full price
as a burial site among you. Ephron the Hittite was sitting among his people and he replied to
Abraham in the hearing of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of his city. No, my lord,
he said, listen to me. I give you the field and I give you the cave that is in it. I give it to you
in the presence of my people. Bury your dead. Again Abraham bowed down before the people of
the land and he said to Ephron in their hearing, listen to me if you will. I will pay the price
of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there. It's a bit of a to and fro negotiation
this isn't it? Ephron answered Abraham, listen to me my lord the land is worth 400 shekels of
silver but what is that between me and you? Bury your dead. Abraham agreed to Ephron's terms and
weighed out for him the price he had named in the hearing of the Hittites. 400 shekels of silver
according to the weight current among the merchants. So Ephron's field in Machpelah
near Mamre both the field and the cave in it and all the trees within the borders of the field
were deeded to Abraham as his property. In the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the
gate of the city. Afterwards Abraham buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field of Machpelah
near Mamre which is at Hebron in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave in it
were deeded to Abraham by the Hittites as a burial site.
In Sarah's death in burial in the way that Abraham dealt with this
there is the promise of God there is faith in the promises of God
that God is happened through this bizarre situation as it were.
We're told that Sarah is 127 years old. Abraham is 137 years old and Isaac is about 37 years old.
They were living in Hebron in a place in Hebron near Mamre. Mamre is about 20 miles south
of what would become Jerusalem.
Not there yet but it's the promise it's the promise it's what is what they're seeing.
God plays them strategically to accomplish his plans his purposes over generations and over
hundreds and over thousands of years.
What are we told about Abraham's reaction? Again in verse
it's in verse two isn't it? And Abraham went to mourn for Sarah and to weep over her.
There's quite strong words behind that when it says he went to mourn her and to weep over her.
There was a real sense of loss bereavement something part of him had gone.
It was a major blow a major loss but it was a time to reflect on all that they did
and all they had experienced in God.
I'm not quite sure why I've got this passage but I do really do believe that we need to look at
Sarah and Sarah lived a long life with many ups and downs and difficulties
and errors and things done wrong. Actually it's the same as you and me
and I'm so refreshed that God picks ordinary people not special people because they're good
and they've got it all sorted but because in the messed upness of life God can work.
It's interesting to note that I think I'm writing saying that Sarah her name
was the only female name that God changed. It was from Sarah to Sarah from my princess princess
and in God's plans and purposes there was something about God using Sarah as well as Abraham
to declare his promises and declare his covenant.
That Sarah would become mother of nations mother of nations yet to come.
All the nations of the earth are going to be through Isaac. Well at the moment it's Isaac
and yet she declared and it's declared over her that she would be mother of nations mother
of kings of peoples mother of a royal line of kings from king David from whom Jesus the savior
would come and I've been about just thinking for Christmas one of the Christmas carols once
in royals David's city stood a lowly cattle shed.
God's plans and purposes through his covenant with Abraham and Isaac then Jacob
runs throughout the old testament is all leading to Jesus coming
and Jesus being born in the situation where he was being born with his lineage
both through Joseph and Mary made him made Jesus to be of the line the lineage of David king David.
It's a covenant promise to Abraham and Sarah it's a it's a promise that is repeated to Isaac
through your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.
Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise.
Sarah's faith in God's promises
we've seen that twice Abraham had passed off Sarah as being his sister
which was half a truth because she was half sister twice that happened and in both situations
in the situation with Hagar Sarah's maidservant
she persuaded Abraham to take Hagar and to have a son
and Ishmael was produced but that was not God's plan that was not God's promise
God intervened in that situation when Hagar and Ishmael were banished they were sent away
again God intervened and although the although Ishmael was not God's plan
nevertheless God blessed him and said he would be the the source of a great nation
when the three visitors in chapter 18 declared that Abraham and Sarah would have a son in their
old age God was intervening Sarah be told laughed but it just says this in chapter 18 verse 14
she did she just declared when she laughed she says this is anything too hard for the Lord
and just going back there was a double whammy first of all she would
secondly she was well beyond the age of bearing children yeah and yet
yeah and yet the three visitors declared this time next year you're going to have a son
God can do anything
think about it God can do anything God is not restricted by physical limitations
God is not restricted by the the mess that the the the things that we do that bring about
shall we say disasters in some cases
but we believe he is a miracle working God
that out out of what appears to be disaster out of what appears to be chaos God can come in God can
can intervene as it were and I just want these are examples to us these were people of faith
if we are people of faith we should have that expectation that God can do and wants to use us
and it's not because we're really good people because we're not really are we
but it's because of his covenant towards us
God's heart is that he wants a people a people of his own a people called by his own name
and that's come down that's come down the the the generations and the years and the same applies
God today wants a people for his own a people by his own name
hey that's me and you cheer up could be worse could be worse
one act of believing faith can have long lasting impact and outworking
from Sarah's son Isaac came multitudes and nations and kings
he's the God
he's God who doesn't change he's the same yesterday today forever
what's the scriptural verdict on Sarah having a very much ups and down moments
we see there's a verse in Galatians 3 29 and the apostle Paul is simply talking about the sons of
God if you belong to Christ he's telling the Christians if you belong to Christ then you are
Abraham's seed not a natural lineage link but it's a spiritual link if we are in Christ if we
have accepted Christ spiritually in our hearts then we are of Abraham's seed and heirs according
to the promise to the covenant of God so by virtue of coming into Christ we are part of God's
great plan God's great purpose for the world that we live in
and the obvious one is in Hebrews 11 when it simply says this
by faith Abraham even though he was past age and Sarah herself was barren was unable to become
a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise
it wasn't because they could do it they couldn't do it themselves but God
caused it to happen and so from this one man
and he as good as dead
and nice well how are you feeling good as dead today good as dead good as dead came descendants
as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore
that's the verdict yes she didn't get she didn't get everything right neither did Abraham
but God's promise is God's promise
even in the mess even in the mess up that we make God doesn't write us off
God is with us God helps us through God restores us
and we need to get hold of that because I believe I don't know what Sarah's thoughts were when she
saw eyes growing up and she was thinking back to Hagar and Ishmael I don't know she I expect
there would be a sense of guilt and shame actually in that
yet yet God was at work in her and she saw by faith something something by faith
that was just at that point a boy growing up to be a man
the next bit is about the field of Ephron very quickly the custom was that in these days that
when members of the family died you took them back to the ancestral home
and buried them in their lands
I guess in various conversations I've had with with Jeff and Pauline in India about
what happens if one of us well one of you don't die
and just as and just just just checking it's fun isn't it when you're traveling with people
what kind of things you discuss what what happens lots of people will bring the body home
to bury I think Jeff and Pauline have rather radical ideas
but he is where we drop amen
so if Abraham was going to do that he would have to go back to where did he come from
Ur of the Chaldeans wherever that was
it is it's a long way long way up north Pauline long way up north love he would have returned
to his country of origin however he negotiates a burial place in Canaan instead
his wife Sarah had died without seeing the full measure of God's promise
and he must be thinking well my time will be up soon
Abraham is walking by faith it's not always so happened to be here the beam is being brought
there by God Abraham is walking by faith and not by sight he is trusting that the same Lord who
brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans will also place the promised land into his hands and into
the hands of his offspring therefore he seeks to own just a small parcel of land as a pledge
of greater things to come and that's why this this negotiation we'll give it to you we'll give
it to you we'll give it to you no there's something about this is my land I want it
to be my land this is what is going to come to the people of God the promised land it starts here
it's interesting that they are in Canaan Canaanites from Canaan
the grandchild of Noah Canaan I think yes one of Noah's offspring
but it's also the area that would be known around Jerusalem in Israel
it was important that it didn't just have a piece of land but he had ownership of it
and in a sense he was saying that this plot of land is a deposit
it's a deposit that guarantees the full inheritance
so 146 you know I believe by faith we've got 146 whether it's going to be in my lifetime or not
it will be renovated I really believe that by faith by faith by faith but there's something
in Abraham that he's got hold of he can see beyond the immediate practical situations of life
immediate practical situations of life and everything that's happening he can see beyond
that and he can see that God has made a covenant and God's working out his covenant and who knows
what what part we've got to play in things the little parts that we get to play in but but we
need to have that sense of vision that sense of of knowing that you know it's bigger than us actually
it's bigger than me it's bigger than us together it's God at work God's doing something
and as we kind of get hold of that we begin to see we begin to do things and we begin to see
God work and and that's what I that's what excites me it's not the kind of things that
the programs we're putting on it's the things that God uses those things to reach people
we're in a baptism again and I think what the the great joy is is the last few baptisms is
it's been people who have come through into faith with Jesus and that's just absolutely wonderful
and it's ordinary people
some of them unlikely people who probably don't consider themselves anything special or significant
but they're the people God wants to reach God to to to show to show his love
too so the field of Ephron
Abraham knows that the whole land of Canaan is rightfully is due course and he's prepared to
pay the price 400 shekels of silver was an awful lot of money and elsewhere I think in Jeremiah
and and somewhere else in the old testament there are plots of land in that area sold one of them
was for 17 17 shekels of silver and the other one was for I think 40 silver so Ephron's generous
gift of 400 400 shekels of silver
Abraham said it's worth paying it's worth paying it's it's more than that just that piece of land
I want to say that 146 is more than just one it's what it opens us up to us
what God wants to do through that facility it's bricks and mortar folks
but God can use us and what we do in here out there out in the neighborhood
to make known Jesus to so many
John Calvin writes that Abraham bought the field in order that he might not possess a foot of land
by the gift of any man he did not want to be beholden to obliged to any man he bought it
for God I believe it was an act of faith I think it was faith it was God's promised land and that's
what he wanted and finally he simply says once once the sale had been signed and sealed
he then buried his wife Sarah in the cave in the field
we know as Christians that death was never meant to be part of the creative order it came in
through chapter three Genesis the fall of man
for Christians for those who believe in Jesus death is not a final tragedy
it isn't the end point it isn't the the finish
in in Hollybush when I was at Hollybush a few years ago helping out there they would use a term
this person that person they've been promoted to glory promoted to glory
is it salvation I'm sure they did they picked it up because because they were all getting old
anyway but apart from that it is it is the promise it is the faith they profess it's not
it's not I sometimes I listen to stuff on the radio usually radio 4 and there's all kinds of
twaddle quite honestly but you know there's still you know well we don't like to think that it's
it's that death's it that's it we don't like to think it no well that's that's true but some
people insist that that's it you're born you live you die end of end of end of that's not our God
that's not from God
God does things when he's thinking about thousands of years time
I don't know I don't know where we'll be as a church in 20 years time 30 years
time might be I might be around I don't know
but I'd like to think that we are part of something that we are seeing by faith as Abraham
when we deal with bereavement death
it isn't the final tragedy for us we find it a great opportunity to display our faith in God
when we are face to face with the grave
excuse me
and that Easter refrain
oh grave where is oh grave oh death where is your sting oh grave where is your victory
victory but thanks be to God in Jesus
in Jesus
there is eternal life for God so loved the world that he gave his only son Jesus
that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life
however good it is for you here on earth it's far far better in his presence
and from my little bit of knowledge of C.F. Lewis
I just remember one of one of the the chronicles where they talk about
heaven I suppose they're referring to heaven and it's like it's like the earth
but everything is brighter and sharper than what we see on earth
and yet so often what we see is what we feel is the reality the reality is we have a destination
we have a place we know where we're going to
and it will be far far far better there than it is here this is the glorious hope that we have
and whether whether we're around when Jesus returns come Lord Jesus quickly we pray
but if not then we by faith will rise when Jesus returns we will rise and we will join him in the air
it tells us so that's part of the promise that we have part of the covenant that we have
part of the covenant that we have
that comes through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and then through Jesus
a bit of a bizarre ramble through that chapter but there are lots of things in there
that simply talk about the promises of God and the fact that he is a miracle working God
that he uses ordinary flawed people like myself
for his glory and that's God's mercy and grace that's God's love and commitment
and all I do is say I need you Lord come to me help me

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