“The LORD Appears to Abraham”
(Genesis 18:1-15 – Pentecost 9 – August 11, 2019)
Genesis 18:1-15 – Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.” They said, “Do as you have said.” So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate. Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” So he said, “Here, in the tent.” And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And the LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. And He said, “No, but you did laugh!”
Dear Redeemed in Christ Jesus by God’s grace:
God wants to share our company as a friend. He is not like the false god imagined by Deists and some theistic evolutionists, who set the universe in motion and stood back to let the laws of nature take their course through eons to bring us to our current state of being. Nor is He a divine energy or force imagined by pantheists, filling all things in the universe including us, so that our final destiny is to be absorbed into the impersonal oneness of the divine reality.
God is not distant, nor is He impersonal. He wants to live in a close relationship with us. When He created Adam and Eve in His own image, they dwelt with Him in the perfect knowledge of a face to face relationship, and the perfect holiness of a sinless relationship. They walked with God in Paradise, until that life and fellowship was lost by sin and death. Yet even then, the Lord desired the close relationship to continue. He gave the first promise of a Savior to come, the Seed of the woman who would crush Satan’s head (Genesis 3:15). In the holy Son to be born, fallen sinners would be restored to the image of God and fellowship with Him forever.
Through history, God continued to come among mankind and reveal His plan of salvation. Through His prophets, He revealed more and more details about that coming Seed of the woman. At times, He personally visited His chosen people in salvation history, reassuring them of His plan for them. This brings us to our text, as “The LORD Appears to Abraham.” Here we see that 1) He visits in an unexpected way, and 2) He comes with a gracious promise.
1) He visits in an unexpected way
What an unexpected way He appears to Abraham in this account: “Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him.”
“The LORD” (Yahweh or Jehovah) in the Hebrew means “I AM”. It is the name which God connected to His covenant promises. The account in our text was not the first time the LORD had spoken to Abraham. Years before, He had called Abraham to leave his home for a distant country He would show him. At age 75, the Lord brought him to Canaan. He promised that He would make Abraham into a great nation, and through Abraham’s offspring He would bless all the families of the earth. This was another promise of that special Seed of the woman, the Savior of the world. Through the years, the Lord repeated His promise that Abraham and Sarah would have a son. Yet this hinged on one important aspect the Lord still had to fulfill. Sarah had always been barren (Genesis 11:30); and now they were past childbearing years. At the time of our text, Abraham is 99 and Sarah is 90. In chapter 17, the Lord recently visited Abraham, promising that in a year they would have a son. Now in chapter 18, the Lord again visits to repeat His promise to Abraham in Sarah’s hearing, to strengthen Abraham and to call Sarah to trust in His promise.
The LORD descended from heavenly realms, accompanied by two angels (19:1). Yet it was in such a down to earth manner that they appeared as three ordinary men, whom Abraham took to be weary travelers needing rest and refreshment. According to Oriental custom, the visitors stood at a little distance until invited. Then Abraham responded with hospitality, inviting them to come rest and eat. He described the food he would prepare as a humble snack, “a morsel of bread.” Yet, it was a lavish meal. The “three measures” of flour used for bread would fill a 5 gallon bucket! Meat was a specialty item; but Abraham chose the best of his herd, a tender young calf.
The LORD and His angels did not need to eat, but they did so out of condescending love. They gave Abraham the opportunity to serve them. Abraham’s humble and loving hospitality, more than custom, was a fruit growing out of God-given faith. He who was richly blessed in life was willing to share God’s gifts in generous service to others. He through whom the LORD had promised to send the Savior for all nations, had the LORD’s own love to share with others.
Here we are reminded of the words of Hebrews 13:2: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” Sometimes people give accounts of times they wondered or felt sure that they were visited by an angel. The fact is, every believer in Christ is attended by His angels, whether seen or unseen. Hebrews 1:14 says: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?” Have we unwittingly entertained angels? Like Abraham, have we had the opportunity to show loving hospitality to these heavenly beings in the form of men? We may not know this side of heaven.
Even more importantly, the LORD of the angels Himself promises to be with us always. After His death and resurrection, Jesus said: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The ever-present LORD visits us in unexpected ways every day – in ways we may not see, and in ways that we may not even realize how we have served Him.
Jesus takes personally the way we treat people He puts near us. In Matthew 25:34-40 He describes how, on the Last Day, the King of heaven will tell believers: “I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in.” When believers ask in astonishment when they ever did this, He will answer: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Like Abraham, do we show our faith and love for the Lord by the way we serve others? Do we regard people, not as things to be used, but as souls loved by the Lord, whom we have the privilege to love and serve to His glory? It is a sobering thought indeed, when we realize how selfish and self-serving our sinful nature is.
This is why we can be thankful that He visited us in such an unexpected way the first time He came into the world. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The LORD of heaven, “being found in appearance as a man… humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). In the sacrifice of His Son, God removed all our sins. By the new covenant of His blood, God in our flesh removed all that separated sinners from fellowship with Him. In the resurrection of His Son, God declares us justified, restored to perfect fellowship with Him.
Like Abraham, we are saved through faith in the promised Seed, who is Christ (Galatians 3:16). We are not saved by our works of love and hospitality; but such fruits grow out of God-given faith, so that we truly serve to His glory alone and for the good of those He puts near us.
2) He comes with a gracious promise
Here we see how the Lord not only visits in an unexpected way, but He comes with a gracious promise. Before, the LORD had appeared to Abraham, promising that his barren wife would bear a son. Here, the promise is repeated in the presence of Sarah to strengthen her faith.
As Abraham served the visitors food, they asked: “Where is Sarah your wife?” So he said: “Here, in the tent.” In that culture, a casual visitor would not ask about one’s wife, who remained in her tent unseen. Abraham began to realize that these visitors came with authority. These strangers even knew the name of Abraham’s wife. The LORD said: “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.”
It was a gracious promise indeed. With Abraham being 99 and Sarah 90, who would expect her who had always been barren to bear a son within a year? From within the tent, Sarah listened. Within herself, she laughed: “‘After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?’ And the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh… Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Now Sarah spoke up in fear and denial: “I did not laugh.” The LORD, who knows all things, said: “No, but you did laugh!” He rebuked Sarah for her doubting, then for her lying.
Are there promises the Lord gives us in His Word that are difficult to believe at the present? Are there situations that require simple trust in His power and grace working in our lives? In what ways have we doubted and thus laughed at the Lord’s promises? This sinful attitude of the heart leads us to try to take matters into our own hands. In the case of Abraham and Sarah, they had already tried to solve the problem of barrenness by having a child by Abraham’s concubine, Hagar. That only led to troubles in their marriage and home. Do we become impatient and try to solve life’s problems our own way instead of waiting for God’s way? Have we sought fulfillment by sinful pleasures? Have we brought problems into our relationships through selfish pursuits? Have we have failed to trust God’s way, and then tried to cover our guilt by denial and lies?
Like Abraham and Sarah we can be thankful that the LORD visits us with unexpected grace. He does not come to condemn us, but to strengthen our faith by His promises. This was the reason for His visit here. Hebrews 11:11 says: “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised.” The Lord miraculously restored fertility to Abraham and Sarah. In a year they celebrated the birth of Isaac, whose name means “He laughs.” In Genesis 21:6 we hear the 91 year old mother exclaim: “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.”
And through Abraham’s seed, the LORD would send that promised Seed on whom all the families of the earth depended for His blessing. All the fallen children of Adam, by nature dying in their sins, depended on the miraculous birth of the Seed of the woman. One day, as God promised, the Virgin would be with child and bear a Son whose name is Immanuel, “God with us.” As the visiting angel announced: “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Matthew 1:23). And in this Son of Abraham, God has restored to us holy laughter as we rejoice in His salvation.
Dear children of Abraham by faith in Christ, whatever trial we face in life let us trust the promise of Him who loves us and gave Himself for us. He has won our salvation and eternal life. So in every matter of life, let us take to heart His promise in Psalm 37:4-7: “Delight yourself also in the LORD, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass… Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him.”
God is not distant and impersonal; He wants to share our company as a friend. Today, the LORD of heaven comes to visit us with unexpected grace. He comes to serve us in His Word and Sacraments. He calls us aside from our travels in this world, weary and burdened in our souls, and He gives us His rest and refreshment. In Baptism He provides water, not merely to wash our feet, but to wash us entirely body and soul, and present us holy in His sight. He invites us to a meal, not merely a morsel of bread and a sip of wine, but the most lavish meal of His body and blood. And as we hear His promise of grace and forgiveness, He strengthens our faith.
So the LORD our Savior, fellowships with us and we are blessed. Through faith in Christ we dwell with God, restored in His image, knowing Him as holy children. And He promises that we can look forward to fellowship with Him forever. For in Paradise restored, we will eat and drink at the feast of the Lamb; and He will give us to eat of the tree of life and drink of living fountains.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.