Text: Hebrews 11:11-12 — By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
Sarah shared Abraham’s faith.
Hebrews 11:11 – By faith, Sarah received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.
Sarah shared Abraham’s failures.
Sarah shared Abraham’s (faith/failures) future
Hebrews 11:12 — Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.
Application: When choosing a life partner…
- Pick a man or woman who shares your faith.
- Provide some room for your spouse to fail.
- Pursue the same vision for your future.
Opening: How important do you think it is that a married couple would share the same faith … that they might have agreement in the majority of their beliefs about God and His relationship with the created order, including us as human beings? Do you think it’s pretty important or not so much? If you don’t think it’s that big of deal, it turns out that the majority of Americans would probably agree with you. At least that’s what a study by the Pew Research Center uncovered. When they asked married people what ingredients were essential to a satisfying relationship with their spouses, shared religious beliefs came in a distant fifth place, with less than one out of two (44%) agreeing that it was vital to a successful marriage. So what was considered to be more important than shared religious beliefs? They were, in order from 1 to 4: shared interests, a satisfying love life, sharing household chores and adequate income. Now I’m not going to argue that these things don’t matter. If you have been married for any length of time, you know they do. But this morning, in our 4th message in our series, Unstoppable Faith, I would like to suggest that couples who share a world-view that sees marriage as having been designed by God with a purpose and who put sincere effort into living out their beliefs and convictions together, have a far better chance of enjoying a satisfying relationship than those who don’t. Last Monday my daughter-in-law who you met this morning read this text to me: My cousin has two tickets for the 2018 Super Bowl, both box seats. Last February, he paid $5.000 for them, but didn’t realize when he bought the tickets that the game was going to be on the same day as his wedding. The text continued … If you are interested, he is looking for someone to take his place. It’s at the Temple of God church in Torrance at 3pm. Her name is Karen Johnson. She is 5′ 1″ and weighs 125 lbs. She’s pretty and a good cook. She’ll be the one in the white dress. I thought it was really funny! But inside a little part of me also cringed when I heard it because it reveals a declining view of marriage (I would rather go to the Super Bowl than my wedding) that has been taking place here in our country for the last forty years. People just don’t seem to value it as much anymore. If you dispute what I’m saying, listen to this: In 1976, there were 76 marriages for every 1,000 unmarried women aged fifteen and older. In 2010 that number dropped to 34 (See State of Our Unions, 2011). Instead of getting married, more and more couples are now choosing to remain single or live together, testing the waters to see if they’re compatible before tying the knot. This trend makes me wonder if behind the lack of valuing the institution of marriage stands an increasing disregard for the importance of the shared religious belief that marriage is God’s idea … and that He uses it as a means to teach a husband and wife how to love one another unconditionally … and pursue a shared vision that He provides for their lives.
Now as we continue our study of Hebrews 11, we arrive at a couple of verses that briefly mention the wife of Abraham, the man who fathered the Jewish nation and is the spiritual father of all true believers in Christ. Her given name was Sarai which means “my princess.” It was her adoring father, Terah, who also happened to be Abraham’s father, who gave it to her. Now you may be wondering how Sarai came to be Abraham’s wife when the two were brother and sister. Sounds kind of sick, doesn’t it? Well, it turns out that Sarai was Abraham’s half-sister, sharing the same father, but a different mother. In ancient times this kind of relationship was not considered incestuous. That’s why Abraham’s brother Nahor felt free to marry his niece and Abraham’s son, Isaac and grandson Jacob, married their cousins. Such marriages to close relatives were not in the least bit unusual or immoral. And so, it came to be that Abraham and Sarai were married. The truth is that we know little about them until Abraham is 75 years-old and his wife is 65. That’s when we read of their journey of faith found in Genesis 12, following the voice of God to a new land and a promise of blessing. If you skip forward twenty-five more years another significant event takes place in the life of Sarai who is now 90 years old. That’s when God changes her name to Sarah meaning “princess” because He intends that she will be the mother of many nations just as her husband, Abraham, will be the father of many nations (Genesis 17:16). Keep on reading and you discover that eventually all of God’s promises came true for Sarah so that she died at the ripe old age of 127 having watched her son Isaac, the heir of the promise to Abraham, grow into manhood.
What I want to do this morning is look at the in-between time … from when she first set out with her husband to go to the Promised Land until she finally passed into eternity some six decades later … and see what we can learn from Sarah’s relationship with Abraham. So, here are three observations drawn from her life that may help us understand how she became of woman of such notable faith that Sarah would be mentioned in Hebrews 11, known as the Hall of Faith.
Sarah shared Abraham’s faith. Note what it says in Hebrews 11:11 about her. “By faith, Sarah received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.” This verse is important because it tells us that Sarah did not ride the coattails of Abraham’s faith, as if it was enough to carry both of them through life. No, she too, had to come to the place of putting her personal trust in God. Now some might wonder where she (and Abraham for that matter) learned about the Lord and came to trust Him with their lives, especially when we remember that they grew up in Ur of the Chaldees where the people worshipped the moon god — Sin. The Bible doesn’t say, but I think there’s a logical answer for us. Since the dawn of man, there have always been believers in God. Remember Adam and Eve carried on conversations with Him in the Garden of Eden. After the great flood, Noah and his immediate family were the only ones left. The Bible tells us that Noah was a man who trusted in the Lord. If you trace his family tree, you quickly discover that Abraham was only ten generations removed. It’s not that hard to imagine that Noah’s descendants (just as grandparents and parents have been doing ever since) passed down their faith from generation to generation until it came to Abraham and Sarah. And somewhere along the line both of them believed. And, according to our text, it was Sarah’s faith in the Lord that allowed her to receive power to conceive even though at the time she was ninety nine years old. Think about that for a moment. Because she was well beyond child bearing years, Sarah knew it was physically impossible for her to give birth. In fact, she had been unable to have children her entire life, including when she was young enough to conceive. This sad fact is one of the first things we learn about her in Genesis11:30 — She had no ability to bear children. It seems clear that this physical condition haunted her as she often spoke of it. Still, when God declared within her hearing that she would finally have a son who would be the heir of the promise made decades before to Abraham, she believed that God could and would accomplish it because He was not one to break His word. Another passage in the New Testament also confirms that she had faith. 1 Peter 3:6 refers to Sarah as an example of a holy woman who put her hope (confidence) in God. And her faith was essential for God’s plan to go forward as both Abraham and Sarah had to believe the promise since both would be active participants in God’s fulfillment of it. Application: Now what does this have to do with us? Here’s a takeaway to think about. Just like Sarah couldn’t live off Abraham’s faith, so no man or woman can live off the faith of his or her spouse. For that matter no child can live off the faith of his or her parents either. God doesn’t have any grandchildren! Anyone who thinks, “Well, I’m married to a believer,” needs to know that will count for nothing. Faith must be owned. It must be personal. It cannot be borrowed. Eternal life is the promise for those who believe (John 3:16 — “whoever believes in Him shall not perish“), not for those who know someone who has faith in God. That’s what Sarah had going for her. She shared Abraham’s faith in God by personally trusting Him with her life.
Sarah shared Abraham’s failures. The Bible is so honest about people’s lives. It shares the good and the bad. That’s why some people dispute that this passage is talking about Sarah because the Bible hardly seems to hold her up as an example of faith. Some scholars propose that Abraham is the actual subject of the sentence in verse eleven even though his name is not mentioned in it. This is the approach the NIV takes: “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age — Sarah herself was barren — was enabled to become a father because he considered Him faithful who had promised.” Rather than try to see in the verse something that isn’t there, I prefer, to stick with the traditional understanding that God is commending Sarah for her faith. This is not to argue that she was always strong and that she didn’t struggle as a believer. After all, she was one who suggested that Abraham have sexual relations with her maid-servant, a woman named Hagar, and raise up from her an heir for Abraham … since God didn’t seem to be doing anything about it. Sadly, they followed her plan and it created a whole other set of problems for both parents. And Sarah was also the one who laughed in her heart when she overheard the Lord announce to Abraham in his old age that in a year’s time she would give birth to a son. This wasn’t the kind of laughter that comes from being filled with so much joy that you can’t contain it, but the mocking laughter of unbelief and the Lord rebuked her for it. Still for every failure of Sarah’s it seems that Abraham equally messed up. (1) Like the two times he lied about Sarah being his wife and watched as she was taken first by Pharaoh of Egypt and then again by the King of Gerar to become a part of their harems because she was so beautiful. The Lord had to intervene in both cases to put an end to it and give her back to her husband. (2) And what about Abraham’s willingness to sleep with Hagar who was not his wife, even if it was his wife who suggested it? Look, someone told me a long time ago: There’s never a right way to do a wrong thing. Abraham should have known better. It just wasn’t the kind of that a man who believed in God should have done. So, it seems to me that both stumbled badly more than once in their faith journeys. And maybe, just maybe, that’s the point that the writer of Hebrews is making here. Putting our faith and trust in God doesn’t guarantee that we will always make the right choice and do the right thing. We are, after all, fallen human beings who are prone to foolishness and stupidity. That’s why God tests us … to reveal what our faith is made of. Sometimes we pass with flying colors, our faith being fully in the Lord. And other times, you would hardly know that we believe in Him at all. Abraham and Sarah were people of faith who trusted God, but not all the time. And of course, we’re no different. Like them, we trust, we fail, and we bounce back.
Sarah shared Abraham’s (faith/failures) future (Hebrews 11:12 — Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore) Clearly this verse is talking about the fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 15:5. Lest you think, however, that it didn’t matter to Sarah, remember that she spent most of her adult life trying to figure out how to give an heir to her husband so that God’s promise would come to pass. Finally, when both Abraham and Sarah had exhausted all their human resources, God did it miraculously with minimal assistance from either one of them. And guess what? That’s when Abraham became the father of Israel, and Sarah … their mother. That’s what is meant in Isaiah 51:2 — Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you. Sarah is the one who gave birth to Isaac who fathered Jacob whom God renamed Israel and who He grew into a mighty nation. And all because she finally surrendered to the will of the Lord. That’s when God aligned her future with Abraham’s so that together they could accomplish the great purpose for their lives. Illustration: Think for a moment back to Adam and Eve before they sinned and all of creation was affected. They must have had fun working together in the garden. No commutes, no child care, no financial worries. Just the opportunity to be with each other all day and feel the satisfaction of doing together what God wanted them to do and that neither could do alone. We human beings hunger for a similar sense of purpose today especially in marriage. It’s more than a desire to share our lives with another person, or even to create new life. It’s the hunger to do something significant together … to share real meaning with each other. Listen … according to God’s Word, we were married for a mission. Marriage expert Dennis Rainey says, ‘One of the missing ingredients of couples today is they do not have a mission; they do not have a sense of God having called them together to do something as a couple.’ Many husbands and wives sense this missing element, but can’t identify it. So they think, “What’s wrong with our marriage? Our companionship may not be perfect, but we love each other.” Others may add, “And we have our children, so what are we missing?” Well, it’s possible that we may be missing the other third of what God created marriage for … that is serving Him together. Abraham and Sarah finally figured that out and as you now know … the rest is history.
Application: When choosing a life partner…
- Pick a man or woman who shares your faith. If you call yourself a Christian, then don’t try to marry someone who isn’t. Think about it, if you truly love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength, which Jesus said is the greatest commandment, how could you possibly become one flesh with someone else who doesn’t? I’m not saying you have to be in agreement on every point of doctrine, but when it comes to the essentials, you want a life partner who shares your faith.
- Provide some room for your spouse to fail. There are no perfect people. Failure and foolishness are part of the human condition. We are all doomed to do stupid things every once in a while. The bigger issue for us is this: Do we expect our spouses to show us grace when it comes to our faults, but have no intention of returning the favor when it comes to theirs?
- Pursue the same vision for your future. Get together on the mission that God has for the two of you. If you’re not married yet, then please listen to me. YOU DO NOT CHOOSE YOUR MISSION IN LIGHT OF YOUR MATE, BUT YOU CHOOSE YOUR MATE IN LIGHT OF YOUR MISSION! In other words, find a husband or wife, who shares the same sense of purpose and then pursue it together.
Conclusion: When was the last time you heard someone quote statistics regarding the 50% divorce rate? Did they also quote that the divorce rate is the same both inside and outside the church? Researcher Shaunti Feldhan would often listen with dismay to the same statistics until she decided to start doing some digging of her own. And that’s when she discovered that half of all marriages are not ending in divorce. As a matter of fact, according to the Census Bureau, 72 percent of all married couples are still married to their first spouse! Feldhan writes, “No-one knows what the average first-marriage divorce rate actually is, but based on the rate of widowhood and other factors, we can estimate that it is probably closer to 20-25 percent. For all marriages (including second marriages, and so on), it is in the 31-35 percent range, depending on the study.” Feldhan’s research also led her to debunk another myth: “the rate of divorce is the same in the church.” Here’s what she found: “If the person was in church last week (recently), their divorce rate dropped by 27 percent … overall. Furthermore regular church attendance lowered the divorce rate anywhere from 25-50 percent from the national average, depending on the study you look at.” Feldhan agrees that while the divorce rate is still too high, but for pastors to know that they can stand on a stage like this one and tell their congregations with confidence that going to church matters for their marriages … that shared faith in the Lord can sustain a couple through the most difficult moments in life and even strengthen their relationships as a result is very reassuring. So let me conclude with this: Here at River Ridge Church, we hope to counter our cultural indifference about faith and marriage with the solid truth that the best chance of success … the best chance of satisfaction … comes to the husband and wife who, like Abraham and Sarah, recognize the priority of walking together in a close-knit relationship with the living God, giving a little grace to each other and fulfilling His purpose for the their lives.