The (sort of) End of a Great Life

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3.28.10 – In Genesis 23 we come to the death of Sarah, at the age of 127. If you have any doubt about Sarah’s importance in Biblical history, take note of the fact that she’s the only woman in the Bible about whom we get such information. The other women in the Bible just die or disappear from the narrative.

Upon her death, Abraham goes to bargain for a plot of ground in which to bury her. He has his eyes on a cave (or, possibly, caves) in Machpelah. Abraham has to do this because he doesn’t own any land himself. If you read the whole passage, you’ll find that Abraham—a wanderer and sojourner—is treated by the landed gentry like someone really special. In fact, they even call him a “prince of God among us” (v. 6).

Near Jerusalem, there is a mosque. The mosque was built over a cave (or double cave, which is one of the possible translations of “Machpelah”) and, in the cave, there are some sepulchers. A few non-Muslims have been let into the caves on rare occasions to see what purports to be the grave of Abraham. There are engraved ossuaries there for Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. There used to be another tomb there where the bones of Joseph were said to be interred, but that one was blown up, for some reason.

Still, to think that the bones of Abraham are still buried there, in a place you and I could (theoretically) go visit, is pretty impressive. What is the real monument to the life of Abraham, though?

Romans 4:13-17
It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: "I have made you a father of many nations." He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. (NIV)

I have visited on occasion with Dicie Snitker, Melissa’s grandmother. If you haven’t, you’re missing a treat. I don’t know that anyone has built a statue of Mrs. Snitker. There’s not a plaque marking her place of birth. But I asked her about Holly—her great-great-grandaughter—and her eyes lit up and she had a lot to say. As many of you know from your own experience: Holly is her real legacy. Holly and all her other children and grandchildren.
Abraham’s real legacy is not the marked tomb beneath the mosque. It’s not the various statues that may be erected of him around the world.

It’s us: his children in the faith.

Think back about what we’ve read over the last eight weeks about this man who was earlier named “Abram” (father) and became “Abraham” (father of nations). He was more than 60 years old when he and his wife were called out of Ur of the Chaldees. Was that an accident? Did God just close his eyes and stick out his finger, saying, “I’ll choose … him!”

God knew the man who would be best suited to be the progenitor of the family line through which God would give his very own son to mankind. Notice that I said “would be”. It takes more than thirty years for God to mold Abraham into the man he needed to be.

What patience! How often do we create time-tables that aren’t God’s time-tables? And what is it we’re timing? I want my house paid off in 15 years. I want to own my own business in 5. I want my church to double in size in 2 years. None of these desires may be wrong in and of themselves, but what if they aren’t God’s desire? Maybe he wants whatever to happen in half that time, or twice that time. Are we willing to wait? Are we willing to trust him totally?

Hebrews 11:8-19
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 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. These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. (NIV)
On the one hand, we can look at the life of Abraham and say, “Well, God’s not calling me to do that much. The Messiah’s already been born. God doesn’t need another Abraham.”

You may not have that purpose, but you do have a God-given purpose. We’re called to be salt and light in the world. Parents, we’re called to raise our children up in God. Children, we’re called to honor our parents. We’re called to take care of the poor.

Let me recall something from the beginning of our study on Abraham:

5 purposes for the Hebrew people:
1. to preserve the knowledge of the living and true God
2. to preserve the knowledge of the moral law (Galatians 3:19)
3. to prepare the world for the advent and ministry of the Messiah
4. to build up a system of metaphor, type, allegory and prophecy to identify the Messiah when he came in the flesh
5. give the Messiah to the world.

How different is that from our role in the world?
1. we preserve the knowledge of the living and true God
2. we preserve the knowledge of God’s law
3. we proclaim the advent—that the Messiah has come
4. while it seems like the metaphors, types, etc. have already been established, we live in a world that no longer recognizes them. We have to keep reestablishing this language through our own speech and our very lives
5. we still give the Messiah to the world!

What do I DO with this?

In my title for this sermon, you’ll notice that I put the phrase “sort of” in there. That’s because Abraham’s life didn’t really end. His physical body stopped functioning and was buried. Whether it is still in that tomb we don’t know. Doesn’t matter.

Abraham is now in heaven. (Matthew 22:32; Luke 13:28; Luke 16:23-31; John 8:56) Heaven is not our goal, but it is one of the benefits of reaching our goal (knowing and trusting God).

A couple weeks ago we read about God choosing to share what he was doing with Abraham. What an incredible honor! You and I, if we trust in God as our Lord and Savior, will hear something just as grand: Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness.