Genesis 18:1-15 And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on- since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
9 They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
If you could have anyone over to your home for a meal—living or dead—who would it be? Your favorite author, musician, or athlete? Perhaps a relative you’ve lost or one you never met? Maybe you’d go a bit more historical. A famous world leader, philosopher, or inventor? What would the meal consist of? What would you eat? What would you like to talk about? What questions would you ask or what would you like to share? It’s an interesting thought experiment.
Well, in our passage for this morning Abraham had God over for dinner. And in this meal we find an awesome example of godly hospitality in Abraham and through it an awesome expression of God’s favor and friendship with Abraham. We also move closer and closer to covenant fulfillment as God puts His power on display yet again. The main points of this sermon, then, are that God was pleased with Abraham, even as Abraham was pleased with God, and that nothing could stop God from expressing His covenant pleasure in and through Abraham. Thus, while Sarah still had more to learn of the power of God, Abraham seems to truly have grown in faith. Let’s pray that we too, by the power of God, might experience the pleasure of God, through our pleasure in God, and that all of that would work out in our inviting others into all of that.
COVENANT HOSPITALITY AND FELLOWSHIP (1-8)
Given the fact that there was a 13 year gap between chapters 16 and 17, it’s probably a good idea for us to wonder about the timeline between 17 and 18. Because 18:1 doesn’t mention Abraham by name (“the LORD appeared to him” and “He sat by the door of his tent”), it’s understood that this next section of Genesis, this next scene in the Abraham story, is a continuation of the last. This is confirmed by the same timeline of Isaac’s birth (“this time next year”) within the two chapters. That’s not to say that there is no gap between 17:26 and 18:1, only that it is insignificant.
Our passage, 18:1-15, has two parts to it. First, in 1-8, the LORD and His angels appeared to Abraham and shared a meal of covenant fellowship with him. And second, in 9-15, largely in connection with Sarah’s disbelief, God reiterated the timing of the fulfillment of the covenant and His unstoppable, wonderful ability to deliver on it. For God’s glory and our good, let’s take a closer look at the first part: covenant hospitality and fellowship.
The LORD Appeared
Look again at v.1.
1 And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre…
It is almost impossible to overstate the grace that is in this passage. That God would appear to Abraham at all, let alone repeatedly, let alone (as we’re about to see) to have a meal with Abraham is staggering. We have to be careful to remind ourselves that Genesis 3, which describes mankind’s rebellion against God and the resulting sentence of death, Genesis 6, where every inclination of mankind’s heart is described as only evil continually and the resulting Flood, and Genesis 11, where Noah’s descendents sought to be gods which resulted in confusion and dispersion, were all only a few chapters before this one. By nature and choice, all mankind deserves God’s wrath, not His kindness. And yet His kindness to Abraham is what these few verses describe, even as God’s kindness to the whole world through the covenant is what this entire passage describes. In other words, where justice would require God to appear to Abraham for judgment, God’s grace has Him appearing for blessing.
Abraham’s Zealous Hospitality
With that as our backdrop, what happened next is interesting and important and awesome on a number of levels.
1 And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.
During the hottest part of the day Abraham was about to take his afternoon nap when the LORD appeared to him once again (along with two angels). Much like with Hagar, though, in this appearance God and His companions did not take on a form that made it obvious they were heavenly beings. Moses tells us that it was God along with two angels who visited Abraham, but it seems that Abraham didn’t realize that’s what was happening until sometime later. From Abraham’s perspective, initially, it was three men of some nobility who had come to visit.
Perhaps he’d dozed off and awoke to find these men or perhaps their sudden appearance was a hint as to their true nature. Either way Abraham was caught off guard by his guests. He had not seen them coming from afar. Once he did, however, he snapped into action.
2 When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on- since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
In short and on the surface, Abraham felt compelled to show remarkable hospitality to his visitors. I’ll come back to this in a minute, but for now I simply want us to notice the kindness Abraham displayed here in bowing before them, begging them to stay, washing their feet, providing an excellent meal, and waiting on them throughout. It’s not even a little difficult to imagine the blessing this would have been to weary travelers or the sacrifice it would have been for Abraham to serve them in this way. Don’t miss that.
And yet, as is often the case in Genesis, there’s more here than meets the eye. In fact, as we get a bit below the surface we’ll see that there are two main takeaways in this passage: 1) God saw fit to share a meal with Abraham, and 2) Sharing a meal has great biblical significance.
God saw fit to share a meal with Abraham. Again, what Abraham seems to have been unaware of at first, Moses, the author of this story, makes clear: It was God with whom Abraham was dining. And here’s the key, only those at peace with God may eat and drink with God. Only those who are right with God may have this kind of experience with God. Only those who possess the righteousness of God may share a table with God. That God ate with Abraham meant that Abraham was a friend of God. It meant that God’s covenant with Abraham was right and good.
And here is the key, Grace: Eating and drinking with God is the real goal of the covenant. In one sense, as I hope to make even clearer in the next point, this is aim of all of heaven: the kind of fellowship with God that eats at peace with God. This is an amazing scene. And that leads to the second main takeaway of this part.
Sharing a meal has great biblical significance. In Exodus 24, as the next major covenant (the Mosaic covenant) was being implemented, God’s people ate and drank in God’s presence. We see the same thing in Leviticus (3 and 7). As a sign of God’s favor and presence God’s people would eat and drink with God. Ultimately, we (symbolically) eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood until He returns whenever we take communion together (Matthew 26). And finally, as I mentioned earlier, the great past time of the people of God in the new heavens and earth will be eating and drinking with God (Revelation 3 and 19). In this short scene we are given a glimpse into something truly significant. Indeed, we see something that continues to build in significance throughout the bible and throughout all eternity. To eat at peace together with God is a truly awesome thing and that is exactly what we see Abraham do in this passage.
Before we move on to the next section I want to say a word about Abraham’s hospitality. Hospitality isn’t the main point of the passage so I don’t want to overstate it here, but something must be said about it. Indeed, the author of Hebrews picked up on this passage to make the exact point I’m trying to make here.
Heb 13:2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
The manner in which Abraham treated his guests is right at the heart of the Christian faith. It resulted directly from Abraham’s hope in God. With that, consider six lessons in hospitality.
- Hospitality is a gospel matter. It is at the heart of the covenant blessing. The very highest blessing of God, as we just saw, is an expression of hospitality to sinners. God not only tolerates us, He not only forgives us, He welcomes us and lavishes us with honor and blessing in Jesus. The whole point of this section, once again, is that God was pleased with Abraham, He was friends with Abraham, He was at peace with Abraham, and sharing a meal with Abraham was the great expression of all of that. We must be a hospitable people if we claim to be a gospel people. We must be eager to show the same kindness to others that God shows us.
- Hospitality is an urgent matter. It is not something we’re allowed to be indifferent about. Expressing care for people is at the very heart of Christian love. Abraham jumped to attention once he realized he had guests (probably before realizing their heavenly origin) and ran around to secure their comfort. We must never be content when there are those who are lonely or lost or unclaimed in our presence. It truly is an urgent matter when we find someone in that condition.
- Hospitality involves humility. Abraham bowed himself to the earth and washed the feet of his guests. Hospitality sees others as more valuable than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). In that vein, it isn’t only for the clean and neat, and it isn’t about what’s most convenient for us. You’ll never be eager to bow before others, wash the feet of others, or stand by attending to their needs as a servant if you lack humility. You can’t be truly hospitable (and you won’t want to be) if you’re haughty.
- Hospitality is a blessing. Abraham pleaded with the visitors not to pass by. That is, he begged them for the privilege of hosting them and tending to their needs. If you mainly look at welcoming and serving others as a chore or a duty or a burden, you’re missing out on the blessing of hospitality, even as you mar the image of the gospel it’s meant to convey.
- Hospitality gives of our best. Abraham served food made of “fine flower” and meat that was “tender and good”. That is, Abraham did not hold back his best or share his leftovers. Thus, we ought to give of our best to the lonely, lost, or unclaimed, even as God didn’t (and doesn’t) hold back His best—His Son—from us when we were lonely, lost, and unclaimed in our sin.
- Hospitality is best done in community. Just as Abraham’s entire household took part in providing hospitality to these men, the greatest gift we have to offer others is not our home or our food, but our community. As Grace church, by God’s grace, continues to grow in godliness and health, it will continue to become a place of greater and greater warmth and love for the high and low alike; the kind of place where we can provide not only for the physical and spiritual needs of others, but the relational ones as well. I’m thankful for the ways we already do that well and I’m eager for us to grow in the rest.
With all of that having been said, once again, the main point of this first section is that God was pleased with Abraham, that He was friends with Abraham, and that He was at peace with Abraham. The main point is that God’s highest blessing for Abraham was not a son or a city or a nation, it was His covenant fellowship. There is little that better depicts that than a willingness to share a meal with Abraham.
With that, let’s look at the second and final section: covenant wonder.
COVENANT WONDER (9-15)
After the meal the three “men” began to reveal their true natures and their true purpose.
9 They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.”
Where is Sarah?
The question of the men in v.9 (“Where is Sarah…”) did at least two things. First, it began to establish the fact that these were no mere men. The text subtly implies that these men had a kind of knowledge of Abraham and Sarah and their situation that they had not simply picked up through local reporting or gossip. It implies that they knew things about this couple in supernatural ways. It was perhaps at this point, then, that Abraham truly began to understand who he was dealing with.
Second, this post-meal question provided a clue as to the point of the visit, and that it involved Sarah. This will become apparent in the next section.
The Repromised Son
Again, in v.9 the nature of the visitors begins to take shape. And in v.10, so too does the nature of the visit.
10 The LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.”
God came again to Abraham, ate with him, and summoned his wife, in order to repromise the son and the timing and to make sure that Sarah was an eager, believing covenant participant.
When Abraham first heard this news he worshiped. When he heard it again many years later he laughed. While it’s reasonable to assume Abraham had shared all of this with his wife, her response makes us wonder whether or not she believed it.
And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”
Sarah overheard God repromise a child, Isaac, through her own womb within a year. Again, as we saw last week, this was not physically possible. Biologically she was not able to have children. Sarah, of course, knew all of this. She thought of herself as worn out and Abraham as too old. She had, perhaps, hoped for this for many years, but as was the case with Abraham, she felt as if her hope had finally hit its expiration date. “So Sarah laughed to herself.” Again, it’s not difficult to imagine why this would be the case. Certainly there was a bit of nervousness and fear, a bit of frustration, and perhaps a bit of frustratingly lingering hope.
Combined, though, these things were ultimately an expression of mistrust in the promise of God. Therefore, God first rebuked Sarah through Abraham and then He did so directly. God questioned Abraham concerning Sarah’s laughter and doubt. And then, in the face of Sarah’s lame denial, God corrected Sarah and stated the promise yet again.
Nothing Is Too Wonderful for the LORD
In the middle of all of that are some of the greatest words in the entire bible. In the middle of Sarah’s doubt and laughter and lying, God revealed something about Himself that is at the heart of all Christian hope. Do you see it already? It might be easy to miss. The words themselves aren’t very impressive. In fact, they come together as a question. Look again at the beginning of v.14. In response to Sarah’s doubt (and probably to remind Abraham of his), God asked a rhetorical question, the answer of which is the foundation of our hope in eternal life,
“Is anything too hard for the LORD?” This is a question, put forward by God. It is a question that Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, the Israelites, and every human being on earth must answer. Everything we do in our lives is shaped by our answer to that question. Is anything too hard for the LORD? Other translations say, “Is anything to marvelous for the LORD” or “Is anything too wonderful for the LORD”.
Together these are asking whether or not God can make a promise that He cannot keep. And the staggering answer, for God alone, is NO! Nothing is too hard or marvelous or wonderful for God. His power and knowledge and resolve and glory are so great that He cannot fail to deliver on a promise. For God alone His promise is the exact same as His execution. To make a promise and to fulfill a promise are not two things for God, but one.
If God can speak the universe into existence, if He can call down a flood from heaven, if He can confuse the languages of a people, then He can bring a baby out of a barren old woman and, more importantly, out of a young virgin. If God can split the a sea and make water come out of rocks and food to come from the ground and cause the sun to stand still in a sky and turn water to turn into wine, He can cause a son to be born for a nation and a Son to be born for salvation. It is the same hope God was calling on Abraham and Sarah to have in Him regarding their son that He calls on us today to have in His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. The same power of God that brought forth Isaac to form a people brought forth Jesus to redeem a people.
Grace, nothing is too hard or marvelous or wonderful for God. The great question of your life, once again, is whether or not you believe that. The great question before you this morning, right now, is whether or not you believe that. And the ultimate response of all who do is to trust wholly in Jesus Christ as the One, according to the promise of God, who saves and sanctifies and sustains and satisfies forever and ever and ever and ever!
Look to Him and trust in Him today for nothing is too wonderful for the LORD. To fail to do so is to remain in your sin and death. But to do so is to be invited to the everlasting banquet table of God, with God, as His forgiven and freed sons and daughters.