There’s a lot of negative things to say about topical preaching, but I know two things: 1) Father’s Day will be one of the most searched terms today on the Internet, and 2) No matter what “topic” I begin with, before the sermon is over I will preach the Gospel.
“Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham.” So goes the old children’s song. While we recognize Abraham as the primogenitor of the Jewish nation, like any member our fallen race he was far from perfect. One danger of celebrating historic lives is that we elevate a person too high by never mentioning certain shortcomings or character flaws. Historians have to be careful in their presentation of certain figures, particularly the ones they like.
In Genesis 15 Abraham becomes the first person of faith in the Bible. God counts Abraham’s faith as righteousness, and the standard is set for the rest of scripture. Abraham was a person of faith, but he did not always make the right decisions. Even the faithful do not live a life without sin. (Try convincing the world of that one sometime.) Early in Genesis 12, God made His covenant with Abram that He would make of him a great nation. People that blessed him would be blessed. Then some time passed. Years had gone by between Genesis chapter 12 and chapter 15, but when Abram suggests a hired hand will inherit his possessions, God reassures him that this will not be his heir but his own son. Then it all gets a little Jerry Springer.
Sarai sees that she and her husband are aging, and suggests that Abram give her children by way of her Egyptian handmaiden Hagar. There would have been nothing unusual about this given the culture of the time. It was, however, exactly what God said not to do. In Genesis 15 God told Abram his own son would be his heir, and in the very next chapter Abram, without protest, goes along with his wife’s hair-brained scheme. Incidentally, after Ishmael is born, and Sarai sees that Abram loves him, she has a fit of jealous hatred and blames Abram for coming up with such a wicked plan.
Abram (not yet Abraham) the man of faith, has acted unfaithfully. We then see God’s mercy act in two ways. First, he reminds Abram that Ishmael is not the son of promise and that he and Sarai will indeed have a son of their very own. Secondly, since Hagar’s son Ishmael is also a son of Abram, a great nation will be made of him as well. God is faithful to his word, despite the problems that will create for the nation of Israel down the road.
Abraham was faithful enough in believing God’s promises to sacrifice his son Isaac, and yet on two separate occasion lied about Sarah being his sister. He believed Isaac would be raised from the dead if that was God’s will, but did not seem to think God would protect him from those who might murder him in order to marry his wife. Nobody’s perfect. Which is where this sermon was going all along.
Abraham believed in God’s promise, yet he did follow God’s will perfectly. And that is the lesson. God used Abraham despite his inherent flaws. We are a fallen people living under the curse. Perfection is out of our grasp. Only our Heavenly Father is always just, patient, loving, and forgives to 70 times 7. The best that fathers (and mothers, grandparents, sons and daughters) can hope to do is emulate the good examples we have before us, and trust in God’s grace for the rest.