#2 The “IF Series”



TEXT:         Gen. 17:15-18:15


INTRO:       How many times in life do we find ourselves saying, “If only…?”  We do this as a defense, and as a way to posture ourselves to others in a more positive light.  But it can be an unfortunate delay in dealing with reality, and sometimes causes us to make light of serious situations. 


The Pharisees did this their ancestors who killed the prophets, they arrogantly said that IF ONLY they had lived in those days they would not have killed the prophets, yet they were killing John the Baptist and Jesus, the greatest of God’s servants!  This was their way of avoiding their own sinfulness.


How many times do we use such excuses with God?  Have you ever found yourself saying things like:


a.   “If only God would have allowed this other person in my life I would have been happy.”

b.     “If only I had been in charge things would have been different.”

c.   “If only the church had a decent leadership team or pastor, I would be happy to go.”

d.   “If only my salary was good enough I would tithe.”

e.   “If only they would acknowledge their wrongdoing I would forgive.”

f.    etc.


The lists could go on and on ad-infinitum. 


ILLUS:      When my daughter-in-law noticed that her two-year-old daughter was ignoring her food, she said, "Keri, why aren't you eating?" Keri replied, "I can't eat; God told me not to." Her mother chided: "God wouldn't tell you not to eat your supper." Keri looked up at the ceiling, then conceded, "Well, maybe it was Moses." -- Esther F. Schmidt, Coldwater, OH.  Christian Reader, "Lite Fare."


We often do this with God in our prayers and with others in the church and society.  The bottom line however is that we are all responsible before God for our own actions, and responses. 


PROP. SENT:     The Bible teaches us that God asks of us to trust Him when He directs our paths, and avoid making the excuses for following Him that are so easy to make.


I.   INCREDIBLE PROMISE   Gen. 17:15-16


A.   Godly Declaration!  Gen. 17:15

1.   The opening scene of this passage has a powerful statement of God’s desire to redeem fallen man.

a.   Sarai is Abraham’s wife, but here God tells Abraham that just as his name was changed from Abram to AbrAHam (see Gen. 17:5) so Sarai’s name will now be SarAH. 

(1.   I’ve capitalized the AH in both of their names for a reason.  In Hebrew God’s name in the Old Testament included AH as part of God’s name, by inserting the AH into their names it changed their identity showing they belonged now to God. 

(2.   Abram in 17:5 had had his name changed already, now God is telling him to change Sarai’s name to include the compound AH into hers, thus SarAH.  Many others in the Old Testament were identified with the same added AH – ic. JonAH, MicAH, NoAH, ObadiAH, NehamiAH, JeremiAH, IsaiAH, etc.

b.   This Godly declaration pulls Sarah now into a special relationship with God; she belongs to Him and His plans for her life.

c.   Her acceptance (and Abraham’s) indicated their willingness to be used and directed by the Lord Himself.

2.   This demonstrates for us the great promise that when we accept Christ as our savior we too become CHRISTians, “Christ like” – now our identity is with Christ, no longer with this world.

3.   What a great honor and privilege to be called the children of God!  God had great plans for Abraham and Sarah.

4.   A name meant a personal relationship, as they do today.  God knows you by name!


ILLUS:      Your name is wonderful, isn't it? It's the name that you love hearing called out when you return from a trip and you get home and they call you by name. It sends you on a pilgrimage to a granite memorial in Washington, D.C.--at the Vietnam Memorial--and you run your fingers across a certain name. Jesus knows your name. He knows what it takes to unlock who you are and release it. -- Allen Walworth, "Running through the Cemetery," Preaching Today, Tape No. 151.


B.   God’s Deliverance!   Gen. 17:16

1.   Here was God’s plan:  To bless Sarah and give her a son, making her the mother of many nations, kings would come from her!

a.   Wow!  What great promises – only one problem, she was at the time 89 years old!

b.   What do you do when God promises great things that seem too incredible or ask for something unbelievable?  You laugh and doubt!  Or you make excuses that go like this:

(1.   “If only God you would have brought this up 70 years ago, sure!”

(2.   “Really God?  If only I had a younger wife!”

(3.   “If only you had a workable plan that others wouldn’t see as crazy!”

(4.   “If only you could find a younger couple to make this happen!”

(5.   “If only you had called us both much earlier in life!”

(6.   “If only it was possible!”

c.   And the “If only” could continue on and on.

2.   Tragically, we are not that different today.

a.   God promises to be with us and that nothing that happens will be outside His knowledge or allowed will.  But, how many times when things happen do we say to Him, “If only God ….”

b.   Too many Christians live with frustration and anger because they assume God didn’t come through in time for them on things that happen, so they assume that “if only” things would have been the way they wanted instead of the way God allowed their lives would be better.

c.   We allow things to clog up God’s flow in our lives through excuses!


ILLUS:      An estimated 500,000 tons of water rush over Niagara Falls every minute. On March 29, 1948, the falls suddenly stopped. People living within the sound of the falls were awakened by the overwhelming silence. They believed it was a sign that the world was coming to an end. It was thirty hours before the rush of water resumed. 

     What happened? Heavy winds had set the ice fields of Lake Erie in motion. Tons of ice jammed the Niagara River entrance near Buffalo and stopped the flow of the river until the ice shifted again.

    The flow of God's grace in our lives can be blocked by cold indifference. -- Merle Mees in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.


3.   God’s plan included this amazing “lateness” – it only made Isaac’s birth later even more supernatural, and made God’s hand on his life even more obvious!

4.   God was at work to bring deliverance to mankind!


II.  IF ONLY PROPOSED!  Gen. 17:17-18


A.   Great Doubt!   Gen. 17:17

1.   God had already attempted to help God fulfill an early promise of giving him a covenant with him and his descendants, so he slept with Sarah’s Egyptian slave Hagar to produce an heir; the result was Ismael who at this time now is around 13 years old.

a.   So much time had gone from the original promise and with Sarah being too old even 13 years earlier Abraham must have rationalized that he needed to accomplish God’s promise in a practical way – thus sleep with the younger handmaiden Hagar.

b.   God’s doesn’t need our solutions to His plans, He needs our obedience and trust!


ILLUS:    People seem to believe that they have an inalienable right to be happy --"I want what I want and I want it now." No one wants to wait for anything and, for the most part, no one has to anymore. Waiting is interpreted as pain ... People walk into my office and say they are Christians, but I see no difference except that they want to be happy and now expect God to make it so.

   The problem is that, in this country, you can have what you want when you want it most of the time ... People like the fact that they can buy a 50-foot tree and instantly plant it in their yard. Why on earth would anyone want to wait on relationships or wait on God? -- Psychologist Kim Hall, interviewed in The Door (Sept.-Oct. 1992).  Christianity Today, Vol. 37, no. 9.


2.   Now here we are with God again confirming that His plan INCLUDED Sarah as the mom of the promised son from his Abraham’s body.

a.   So what is Abraham’s reaction to this new information?  HE LAUGHS!

b.   We often chide Sarah later for laughing, but Abraham does it first!

c.   He is laughing but this seems crazy to him, and he states the obvious as proof:  “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?  Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” (Gen. 17:17)

d.   This just didn’t make sense!

3.   Even the godliest people can at times have doubts!

4.   God’s ways aren’t always our ways, or logical and reasonable!

5.   Do we react today similar to God’s promises and plans?


B.   Grudging Detour?   Gen. 17:18

1.   Abraham’s response is almost predictable:  IF ONLY Ishmael might live under your blessing!”  (Gen. 17:18)

a.   Yes, Abraham proposes an “IF ONLY” scenario with God.   Basically say, “God, I’ve already taken a practical step to help out your promise to me, and brought a son into the family through the only practical way it could happen, a younger woman named Hagar, so IF ONLY you could use him!”

b.   This wasn’t God’s plan, it was Abraham’s idea!

c.   Basically he was saying to God, “Why can’t you make this work, it is a reasonable solution?”

2.   “IF ONLY” usually involves detours away from God’s ideal for us.  Or at best become excuses for us to not follow His plan His way!

a.   God’s plans are always the best, trust Him.

b.   Excuses can muddy the waters.

c.   We have to join our feet to our faith!


ILLUS:    One day I asked my two-year-old daughter, Catherine, where her slippers were. "Downstairs in the kitchen," she told me. "What are they doing there?" I asked. "Nothing," she replied. "They can't walk because they don't have feet in them right now." -- Jennifer Young Jarrett, Massachusetts.  Today's Christian Woman, "Small Talk."


III. IRONCLAD PLAN!  Gen. 17:19-18:15


A.   Glorious Declaration!  Gen. 17:19-18:9

1.   God repeats His plan as opposed to Abraham’s detour to use Ishmael.

a.   Yet, God is not unsympathetic to Ishmael’s innocence in all this – and God promises to indeed bless Ishmael as well as be with him.  (Gen. 17:20)

b.   God is not angry with Abraham, and so blesses Ishmael as well (“And as for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers…” Gen. 17:20) – but puts Abraham back on track with His plans: Sarah will give birth next year at age 90!

c.   God’s plan for a covenant however would rest with Isaac who was yet to be born, not Ishmael.

2.   God is willing to help Abraham in spite of his laughing and “if only” attempt.

a.   Herein is the good news, God is so gracious and kind He still helps us through our weaknesses and excuses.


ILLUS:   God uses broken things. Broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever. -- Vance Havner, Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 1.


b.   And in this case, God is also kind to Ishmael who is the innocent party, as well as Ishmael’s mother Hagar.  He will take care of them and bless them as well.

c.   But – God puts things back on track with His promises, His way!

3.   God begins to identify more specifics with His plan, and comes with angels to talk to Abraham concerning them.

a.   Abraham’s faith is returning, and he is not laughing now or making excuses or offering alternative “If only” to God.

b.   God outlines the plan, next year they will have the promised son Isaac!


B.   Glib Denial!  Gen. 18:10-15

1.   It is Sarah’s turn to laugh now!  As she is listening by the tent door to God and Abraham’s conversation about “next year” and the son that will be born to them she laughs – just like Abraham did earlier!

a.   After all, she is now 89 years old, Abraham is 99 – she will be 90 and he will be 100 when this promised son is born to them!

b.   She also realizes that at her age this is impossible, it isn’t even remotely possible!  Her statement makes this quite clear: “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” (Gen. 18:12)

2.   God is always aware of our denials and doubts – and God responds to her laughing by asking Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’” (Gen. 18:13)

a.   God’s response includes this statement too “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”  (Gen. 18:14a)

b.   God restates what He is going to do:  “I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”  (Gen. 18:14b)

c.   Walking with God requires our trust in Him even when we think there are more reasonable approaches to doing what He wants us to.  God asks for obedience, not excuses.

3.   Sarah’s reaction to the Lord stating she was laughing sounds like many of us:  “Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, ‘I did not laugh.’”  (Gen. 18:15a)

a.   When God catches us in those “If only” moments, and we laugh at what God really wants from us it is normal to react with fear, and wonder if God is angry with us.

b.   But, instead of anger – God is longsuffering and patient, and kind.  It is interesting however that he doesn’t let Sarah off the hook with her lie, notice his response when she lied: “Yes, you did laugh.” (Gen. 18:15b)

c.   God knew she would come around, and rediscover faith – well, after all, she will be pregnant and carrying a child at age 90, pretty hard to lose faith then!

d.   God is not in a hurry, and neither should we be!


ILLUS:    God's Word often refers to the Christian experience as a walk, seldom as a run, and never as a mad dash. -- Steven J. Cole, Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 4.


4.   The good news is this; God will help us in our weaknesses and lapses of faith if we are willing to grow.  The Pharisees were not, they bragged that they would have done things different “IF ONLY” they had been alive back in the Old Testament era – while the truth was that they were guilty of the same sins their forefathers were guilty of. 

5.   There are two kinds of “IF ONLY”

a.   One is “IF ONLY God would do it my way” – this kind leads nowhere good.

b.   The others is a fearful “IF ONLY” because we are scared – this kind can be overcome by God’s help.

6.   What kind of “IF ONLY” are you using with God?


CONCLUSION:   It is not an easy thing to follow God and His ways!  Sometimes the temptation is to avoid doing what God wants by using excuses that begin with “IF ONLY…”  When done out of fear, God can help us overcome them, when done out of pride they will end in disaster.