Summary: Sarah Laughed in unbelief, but God transformed her unbelief, changing her laughter to the expression of joy. God longs to transform the one who is honest before Him.

“[The angels charged with the destruction of Sodom] said to [Abraham], ‘Where is Sarah your wife?’ And he said, ‘She is in the tent.’ The LORD said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’ The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?” Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah denied it, saying, ‘I did not laugh,’ for she was afraid. He said, ‘No, but you did laugh.’” [1], [2]

Watching my wife shower loving care on our great grandchild is fascinating. Watching her, I realise that a mother never ceases to be a mother. In the normal course of life, becoming a mother exposes something that has lain hidden in a woman—I’ll call it the “mother gene.” Being a grandmother only intensifies the exposure of the “mother gene.” I believe that that gene becomes even more pronounced when a great grandchild enters the picture. Oh, I know that our ladies are only too glad to return the grandchild to the much younger mother, or to return the great grandchild to the very much younger mother, but the “mother gene” is definitely there.

Our study today will focus our attention on an accidental mother. This woman was old enough to have been a great-great-grandmother, but God had other plans for her. However the story might have been framed, it is abundantly evident that Sarah didn’t plan to become pregnant—in fact, Sarah had no hope of becoming pregnant! You see, Sarah was an old woman—I mean menopause was far behind and in the rear-view mirror. The text notes that “the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” The NET Bible, updating the language, states, “Sarah had long since passed menopause.” If her age wasn’t enough to disqualify her from being a mother, her husband was even older than she was! Candidly, there was not a chance that Sarah could bear a child. And yet…

Among the most difficult sermons I am called to deliver are those to be delivered on Mother’s Day. Some may consider me emotionally crippled because of glaring deficits from my childhood. Certainly, it was difficult to grow to manhood without the presence of a mother, but I rejoice in the love which my father lavished on me. You whose mothers are still living are no doubt remembering the loving sacrifice and patience you experienced in your childhood years. Those whose mothers have crossed over to that fairer home, no doubt still recall tender scenes of home, and the sweet memories of loving mothers will no doubt cause great rejoicing as they reflect on their heritage. I have no such sweet memories of mother and home, but I do have warm memories of my grandmother who in later years frequently said: “I had to love Mike; no one else would.”

For all that, I am glad that we have a day of recognition for the mothers of our nation. The day has come to hold sweet connotations for me as I focus my attention on the wife God has provided me—the mother of my children. I have frequently made much of Mother’s Day for her sake. Some might suggest that I have made too much fuss about the day, perhaps it was because I had no one else on whom I might focus attention on that day. Therefore, from a day which left me confused and hurt, the holiday has grown into a day of true celebration of the treasure God placed within my home to enrich my life.

I realise that in many homes today, however, there remains an underlying current of grief. Though outwardly those couples smile and provide an illusion of gaiety, inwardly they grieve because there are no children to grace the home. Nor is this absence necessarily by their choice. Often, the couple longs for a child to grace their home. Nevertheless, for some unexplained reason, God has withheld children from that home and the wife is ever so aware of her condition which gives her deep sorrow.

In a former congregation I pastored, within the membership was a dearly loved family who longed for a child. This couple was then approaching the age when it was a biological impossibility to have a child and they were heartbroken. They never said a word in public about their sorrow, but in private, they often spoke of their confusion and their grief. I learned something of the trauma of a childless home from that dear couple.

I pity the man who has never known the joy of holding his own child. Likewise, I pity the individual who has not known the pleasure of watching her child or his child grow in grace and stature. I truly grieve for that woman who has never known the joy of holding her own child, marvelling at the grace of being permitted to participate in the process of creating a life. I grieve even more for such a couple when they are pronounced as incapable of bearing children. It must feel as though God has kept them from children. All the rationalisation, all the knowledge that God yet loves them, despite confidence that He will employ them in some unique manner, an unspoken sorrow that weighs heavily on their hearts; and a deep yearning within their hearts seems always to linger, tainting whatever joy they would otherwise experience.

I am compelled to remind you of the words Solomon penned so long ago.

“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,

the fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior

are the children of one’s youth.

Blessed is the man

who fills his quiver with them!

He shall not be put to shame

when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

[PSALM 127:3-5]

I caution Christians against disparaging the presence of children. Though you may consider children today to be less polite then when you were a child, and though the conduct of children may seem to differ in some manner from memories of your own childhood conduct, children are a precious heritage and a gracious reward from God. It is only our unbelief and sinfulness which leads us into the sin of deprecating the presence of children in the homes of our community and within the precincts of our church.

THE BACKGROUND FOR OUR STUDY — Abram and Sarai, though richly blessed of God in many ways, lacked one great and long-sought blessing—children. The couple remained childless. God, the LORD, had called Abram to leave the familiar setting of his country and his people, and to leave also his family as he would be appointed to trek to a distant land unseen and unknown where God had promised: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” [GENESIS 12:2-3]

For almost twenty-five years, Abram had followed God’s leadership, worshipping the LORD God whenever and wherever he rested. Repeatedly throughout the years of his travels, the ageing patriarch received promise that he would father a child and that through that child would come rich and eternal blessings to all mankind. The promises became ever more precise as the years passed, and even the names of this couple were changed by God Himself. Abram, whose name means “Exalted Father,” received the name Abraham, which means “Father of a Multitude.” Sarai, whose name translates into English as “My Princess,” was renamed by God Sarah, which means “Noble Lady.”

Three visitors came to Abraham’s tent, and one of those visitors was identified as the LORD. Without recognising who these men were, Abraham received them and showed them the hospitality for which the inhabitants of that region are known. After his guests had eaten, the Lord engaged Abraham in conversation. Abraham was about to be forewarned of the judgement that God would shortly pour out on the cities of the plain. Before delivering the caution concerning the judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah, these visitors revealed that within a year’s time Sarah would bear a son. Sarah, listening at the wall of the tent, laughed. The message was not specifically intended for her ears, but she was eavesdropping and overheard what appeared to be an unimaginable promise.

What would you think, how would you view such a promise if, despite the fact that you heard it from the Living God Himself, you were ageing rapidly and approaching the century mark? Would you still hold onto a promise such as this if your wife were nearly ninety years old? Sarah had no hope of ever bearing a child! She no longer was fertile! What was promised was an impossibility. Perhaps today with modern technology we can hope to implant a fertile egg in the uterus of a woman past menopause and she may bear a child; but this is obviously seen as an aberration.

I love my grandchildren, but after they had visited our home, I sometimes commented to Lynda that I raised one set of children and I’m wasn’t eager to have another set of children at this stage of life. That is part of the joy of grandchildren. We can enjoy them, spoil them rotten, and then send them home for their parents to worry over. We can have all the benefits without any of the responsibility. Though a woman of ninety may want a child, I should expect that it would require quite a bit of talking to obtain the agreement of a scientist to assist in impregnating such an elderly individual.

So, don’t be surprised that when Abram received the promise that his wife would bear a child, that Sarah, overhearing the promise, laughed. There are many types of laughter, and not all laughter is jolly or mirthful. Laughter may be arrogant. Laughter may bespeak bitterness. Laughter may betray scorn and derision. The laughter we hear from Sarah at this time was simply the laughter of unbelief, and the One communicating the promise heard this unbelieving laughter though it was silent to the ear.

I find it interesting that the LORD confronted not Sarah, but Abraham, asking, “Why did Sarah laugh?” The text instructs us that Sarah had laughed to herself! She was certain that those seated on the other side of the wall and on whom she was eavesdropping were unaware of her presence. Abraham did not hear Sarah laugh—but God heard. Overhearing this question, the aged woman was suddenly frightened because she realised that God knew of her unbelief; Sarah knew that she had actually laughed at God’s promise. So she burst forth in denial: “I did not laugh.” Now, that is truly funny! Sarah laughed silently, and God asked why Sarah laughed. Without thinking she responded, “I did not laugh!” Talk about giving yourself away!

Why would anyone attempt to lie to God? What can a person gain by such a futile attempt? God knows the heart. When even we have deceived our own heart, God knows. Thus, the LORD firmly responded to Sarah’s denial, “You did laugh.” It was the first time God had directly addressed Sarah, and His address was in the form of a rebuke.

THE LAUGHTER OF UNBELIEF — We may account it a small matter that Sarah would doubt God’s promise; but you must understand that unbelief is sin. We may reason that Sarah did not realise that the LORD Himself was one of the three visitors that day. However, the text is quite clear that it was the LORD who voiced the promise yet once more to Abraham. If Sarah did recognise that the visitor Who spoke was the LORD, her action was all the more reprehensible. Even if she did not realise at this time that it was the LORD who spoke just beyond the wall of the tent, she had nevertheless received the promise that she would bear a child repeatedly throughout the preceding years.

You may recall that the Lord had given Abram the promise that he would father a son. We read the divine promise to Abram, “Your very own son shall be your heir” [GENESIS 15:4], which is followed by the statement, “[Abram] believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness” [GENESIS 15:6]. It is germane to note that is also the great text that Paul employs to encourage faith toward God [see ROMANS 4:3]. Not so incidentally, this is the first appearance in the Bible of the word “amen.” In the Hebrew language, the word which is translated “believed” in verse six is the word “amen.” To say “Amen,” is to agree with what is said. To say “Amen” to God is to affirm that you believe what He has said. Think of that the next time you conclude a prayer and mouth the word, “Amen.” Or consider what you are saying when you voice agreement with what may be said in a sermon or as a fellow follower of Christ prays. Amen?

Learning of God’s promise, Sarai felt she had to “help” God. Trusting God was so hard, and she was an old woman, well past her child-bearing days. If this promise was to be fulfilled, she would have to take charge and do something about it. You may recall that Sarai, knowing that God had promised her husband that he would father a son attempted to apply her own ingenuity to the problem and insisted that he father a child by impregnating her maidservant. Sarai attempted to engineer God’s work for Him.

The truth that must be noted about this effort is the dark reminder that nothing but grief ever arises from our feeble attempts to do the work of God in our own strength or to fulfil the promises of God by our own wisdom. It should be apparent that Ishmael, the son of Hagar who was sired by Abram, has created unmitigated sorrow for the promised children of God, the sons of Israel, ever since that day when Sarai asked Abram to sleep with her maidservant. Underscore the truth in your mind—nothing good ever comes because we substitute our fleshly efforts in an attempt to do the work of God for Him.

The years passed, and when Abram was ninety-nine years old, God gave him the covenant of circumcision. At that time, He changed the names of Abram and Sarai as well. At that same time God again promised Abraham that he would sire a child. The LORD promised, “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac” (which means, incidentally, “He Laughs,” or “Laughter”) [GENESIS 17:19]. No longer could Sarah imagine that she would need to do God’s work for Him if it was to ever come to pass; she now knew that God had promised that she would bear a son. She knew that God had promised that the child would receive the name “Laughter,” or “Isaac.” There was no excuse for her unbelief when the time came for God’s promise to be fulfilled; and certainly there was no reason for her scorn of the promise of God.

To laugh as Sarah laughed is tantamount to calling God a liar. Recall the Apostle John’s words: “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son” [1 JOHN 5:9-10].

Lack of faith is not a matter to be treated casually. As John Stott states in his excellent commentary on John’s Epistles: “Unbelief is not a misfortune to be pitied; it is a sin to be deplored. Its sinfulness lies in the fact that it contradicts the Word of the One true God and thus attributes falsehood to Him.” [3] That is excellent insight!

Like all sin, unbelief inevitably leads to other sins. Confronted by the LORD’s exposure of her unbelief, Sarah reacted in a most human fashion—she lied. She might have made excuses, saying that she was laughing with joy as Abraham had when he heard the promise of a son in GENESIS 17:17, but every such attempt would also have been untrue. Instead, Sarah lied. Imagine that! This great woman chose to lie to Holy God! She knew she was lying, and she knew she was lying to God, but trapped by her sin, she reacted almost mechanically.

How very like us! Who among us today cannot identify with Sarah? We have each been caught in a situation at one time or another, confronted by some action we may have performed, and almost automatically, we responded to being caught in a lie. We know quite well that sin always leads to yet more sin. When we sin, it is like a chain reaction. This is why sin is so serious and why we dare not even attempt to “sin just a little bit.” Unless divinely enabled we seem to stumble toward ever-greater sin when once we have begun such a course. The only safe course is to utterly repudiate sin and turn to Christ who is faithful and just to both forgive and to cleanse [see 1 JOHN 1:9].

We need also to remember that God does not treat unbelief lightly. I have often stated and I restate the matter now: there is no such thing as a little sin. We cannot sin just a little nor are any of the sins we commit so tiny that they escape notice of the Living God. Though we mortals are ever so adept at classifying our sin and grading each transgression as either great or small, because ultimately all sin is against Holy God, each sin takes on an infinite character. Thus any sin is grave because it violates the law of the infinite God, Creator of Heaven and earth. We cannot forget that it was our sin, no matter how we may have attempted to minimise such sin, that caused the death of the Son of God. Our sin caused the Saviour to give His life as a sacrifice.

Perhaps you consider God’s action to be harsh. I note that we who follow the Saviour do sin. I’m not excusing our sinful behaviour; I’m only observing that we do sin! Having sinned, we appear to hope that God will ignore our sin. When God does not immediately punish us, we imagine that we can forget what we have done. However, we are puzzled when the details of our lives go badly and prayer seems a hopeless activity. How slow we are to learn! We choose to live our lives, justifying sinful actions and sinful attitudes, and then profess surprise that we have no closeness to God.

Each of us need to learn the lament recorded in Isaiah’s prophecy, teaching us, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” [ISAIAH 59:1-2]. If today you feel estranged from God and if you consider Him distant and prayer to be a fruitless exercise, I might ask, what is your “secret” sin?

I read of a pastor who was visited by a college student who confessed that her prayer life was a shambles. Though she lifted her voice frequently in prayer, there were no longer any blessings in her life. The pastor simply asked, “When did this begin?” The young woman answered, “About two weeks ago.” To this answer the pastor asked, “What happened about two weeks ago?” The young woman admitted that she had entered into an immoral and illicit relationship at that time. Dear people, there are always consequences to sin, and the first and greatest consequence of our “secret sin” is that we experience the disapproval of our God.

GOD’S GRACIOUS PROMISE — God does not merely deal severely with sin in the life of His child, He also reveals His grace. It is good that this is so, for were He to withhold His grace, how could we hope to ever approach Him. Please remember that God is “slow to anger” [see PSALM 103:8]; and because this is true, Sarah’s unbelief did not turn God from His announced purpose.

VERSE FOURTEEN is a key verse to our understanding of the incident before us. God spoke these words for Sarah’s benefit, though she had laughed in unbelief. “Is anything too hard for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” The Hebrew verb translated “too hard,” is formed from the root of the Hebrew word given as the name of the Messiah—“Wonderful,” “Pele.” Therefore, the thrust of the LORD’s question would be, “Is any miracle too great for the LORD?” Sarah was focused on circumstances rather than on the Lord. By this rhetorical question, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” God was directing Sarah’s faith away from the circumstances so she could again consider that He is the Sovereign Lord and trust Him.

As a young preacher, I was privileged to worship with a gracious black congregation in the South Oak Cliff section of Dallas. At that time, a song was popular among the churches within that community. That song affirmed,

“God can do anything, anything, anything,

God can do anything but fail.

He can save, He can keep,

He can cleanse, and He will.

God can do anything but fail.”

“Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Is your situation too hard for the Lord? Is that loved one who has rejected faith in Christ too hard for God to save? Is that difficulty with your neighbour too difficult for God to resolve? Is the fall of that sister in your assembly so hard that God cannot restore her to the congregation? Is that devastating blow to your financial condition so great that God is unable to do anything? Perhaps it is time that we again learned the truth of James’ challenge to us as followers of the Christ. “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” [JAMES 4:2b-3].

I know that some of you are so focused on circumstances that you have excluded faith. You did not perhaps mean to exclude faith, but you did so nonetheless. To some today, the issue is salvation. You have heard the Gospel and you know that it is an issue of faith in the Risen Son of God. You review your life and you conclude that you cannot be saved. “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Moses was a murderer, but he was saved. David was an adulterer, a liar and a murderer, and God saved Him. Peter denied Christ, and the Lord graciously saved him. Paul killed Stephen and mercilessly persecuted the church, and God saved him.

I vividly recall a man who became quite agitated as I spoke to him about salvation. “See these hands,” he cried. “These hands have killed women and children. Man, you don’t know what I have done! I am a horrible sinner.” I challenged him just as I challenge you, asking, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” God pleads with the sinner, saying: “Come now, let us reason together… Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” [ISAIAH 1:18]. God saves by the merits of Christ and His blood redeems all who come by faith. Have we never heard the divine promise, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” [ROMANS 5:6, 8]. No case is too hard for God.

Perhaps you imagine that you have a problem with faith. You may say, “I would like to believe, but I cannot.” If you speak in this manner, you are deceiving no one but yourself, for we believe other humans like ourselves. This being so, we ought to believe Him [see 1 JOHN 5:9]. “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” God says faith is a gift freely given [see EPHESIANS 2:8]. Since this is so, why not ask Him to give what He promised?

As you wait for Him to give the faith which you seek, use the means which He has given each of us to obtain this great gift. Study His Word in which are written the promises of God. Read it. Study it. Memorise it. The Bible urgently states in an effort to build faith: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” [ROMANS 10:17].

There are people who have troubles in their families. They are Christians themselves, but a husband or a wife or a son or a daughter refuses to come to Christ. Their loved one rejects the Word and with broken heart these dear people come before the Lord saying, “If you can, save my loved one.” Such sorrow as is occasioned by the lost condition of a loved one touches us in a most tender spot where we are most vulnerable and the grief that overshadows our heart becomes acute.

Dear fellow saint, if that describes you today, may I ask you that probing question: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Is it harder for Him to bring your loved one to faith than it was for Him to save you? Is anything too hard for the LORD?

I remind you of Jesus’ gentle rebuke to a father who grieved at the condition of his son and blurted out to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” You will undoubtedly remember that Jesus responded to his pathetic plea, “‘If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief’” [MARK 9:22-24]!

Just as was true for that father on that far distant day, you need but look to Jesus in faith, and confessing your unbelief cry out to the gracious Saviour, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Cease your delay in seeking God’s gracious gift. Confess your unbelief and receive God’s gracious gift. Cry out to Christ today, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Our God is ready to give what we need when we look to Him in faith. Amen.

Again, I may speak to a fellow believer today who struggles against the old nature. You find it impossible to keep the old nature in the place of death. Perhaps you have grown tired of making excuses for your temper, for attitudes which fail to honour Christ, or for a gossiping tongue. Though you struggle against such sin, you find that you are powerless and you may even have come to the conclusion that you are ready to quit trying to halt such attitudes or actions. “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

Before redemption, you may have surrendered your life to wickedness and the consequence of that wickedness remains to this day. Perhaps it is a craving for drugs, an immoderate desire for alcohol, a susceptibility to immorality. There are godly men who struggle manfully knowing that they once gave in to lust and the wickedness of pornography, and that now they are vulnerable. There are saintly women who wonder because of the thoughts which enter the mind unbidden, whether they could really be a child of God and yet be plagued by such evil. Don’t surrender to temptation. Remember: “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

More than thirty years ago, I would have suggested that I would never know limitations or liabilities in my life. I was strong and possessed a vibrant, brilliant mind. In a moment, my life was transformed and it took over four years to even begin to suggest the full dimension of the transformation. My strength was greatly reduced. Mental acumen was severely restricted. Frustrated, I grew increasingly angry and confused. I was utterly unable to tell anyone of my fears and frustrations and when at last I gathered courage to speak of what had happened I was rejected by friends and family.

I recall crying out to God, begging Him for a change in circumstances, all the while praying in unbelief. But, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” Who could have known that God was but preparing me to be as a broken vessel that He might display His glory and His power through me? Circumstances were restrictive; but God was unrestricted. I would not have the widespread ministry I have enjoyed today except I had to experience the brokenness which attended my life.

I wonder if I am speaking to someone who is truly discouraged today and you draw the conclusion that it is best for you to simply give up, to quit trying. Child of God, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” If you will take nothing else home from this message today than this one thought, do remember that God is gracious, and despite our failures and our unbelief the promises of God are sure and He shall not fail to do all that He has promised. Lift your eyes to our gracious God and seek His strength and goodness.

THREE GIFTS TO SARAH — God was so very good to Sarah. She began by laughing in unbelief at the Word of God, but her laughter was turned into the laughter of joy. When God had fulfilled the promise of a child for Abraham and Sarah, just as He had promised, Sarah said, “God had made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me” [GENESIS 21:6]. Unbelief turned to joy as God conferred on Sarah three great blessings. I suggest that the blessings Sarah received are the blessings God desires to give each of us.

Sarah received FAITH. Sarah had begun in unbelief, but at some point, perhaps as God gently rebuked her and instructed her that He is unhindered by circumstances, she received faith. Sarah became a true partner with Abraham as they waited for the promised son. There are some technical difficulties with HEBREWS 11:11 which I will not go into at this time, and despite the fact that our translation seems to make the subject of faith Abraham, there is good reason to accept that it is Sarah’s faith that is in view as even the footnote indicates.

I want to examine HEBREWS 11:11 as rendered by a couple of recent Bibles. Eugene Peterson, in The New Testament in Contemporary English has translated the verse as follows. “By faith, barren Sarah was able to become pregnant, old woman as she was at the time, because she believed the One who made a promise would do what He said.” [4] That certainly gives us a different perspective. We begin to see that it was Sarah’s faith, and not Abraham’s alone, that was working in this situation.

Note, also, Kenneth Taylor, author of The Living Bible, who has treated this same verse in an even more forceful manner in order to clarify who had faith. His translation renders this verse as follows. “Sarah, too, had faith, and because of this she was able to become a mother in spite of her old age, for she realised that God, who gave her His promise, would certainly do what He said.” [5]

Did you catch the significance of what is written? It was Sarah’s faith which enabled her to conceive. She certainly had no such faith when the promise was first issued. Since faith is the gift of God [see EPHESIANS 2:8], we must conclude that God graciously granted Sarah faith to believe His promise.

Sarah also received LAUGHTER, the expression of pure unmitigated joy. Perhaps you are confused since it was laughter which was Sarah’s problem in the first place. As I read the account of the birth of her son in GENESIS 21:6-7, I am struck by the unbridled joy which pours over Sarah. “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me… Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” Sarah is delirious with happiness and wonder at God’s goodness.

I have already told you that the name of this little boy born to Sarah in her old age was named Isaac. As is true of many of the names given to children in the Hebrew tongue, Isaac’s name has a meaning beyond merely being a name. Isaac means “He Laughs,” or perhaps, “Laughter.” Furthermore, it was God Himself who gave the boy his name even before Sarah laughed in unbelief [see GENESIS 17:19]. Therefore, we can conclude that God meant to point to the infectious joy the child would bring into the home. Sarah began in unbelief, but God had the final word. He turned her unbelieving laughter into joyful praise and grateful rejoicing which honours God.

The final gift which Sarah received is PRAISE. I am not referring to the praise God gives in HEBREWS 11:11; I am referring to something which occurred even in the moment of her most rebellious unbelief. I refer to God’s summation in 1 PETER 3:5-6. You may recall that this verse is found in the midst of a passage which urges wives to adopt a submissive attitude toward their husbands, and encourages such submission by the promise that by so living their husbands may be won over by this behaviour. Peter informs us of a significant truth when he writes, “This is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.”

When did Sarah do this? There is no place in the entire account of Abraham and Sarah where Sarah calls Abraham her lord—except in this situation even as she was laughing at God. Carefully examine the text. “Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure’” [GENESIS 18:12]?

Donald Grey Barnhouse, the justly noted pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church located in Philadelphia in the previous century, wrote in his commentary on Genesis, “Human obligations are inferior to divine obligations, but even in the midst of her unbelief toward God, Sarah fulfilled her obligation to her husband and spoke of him as her lord… So in the midst of great unbelief, God picks out the one little thread of faithfulness to divine principle and writes it down forever.” [6]

FAITH! LAUGHTER! PRAISE! These are the three great blessings God had for Sarah—and not for Sarah only, but they are given to each of His obedient children. All three of these blessings are contagious, touching each saint with whom we have contact. Faith leads to faith, which is the way the Gospel is spread [see ROMANS 1:17]. Holy laughter at God’s goodness leads others to join in that infectious joy [see GENESIS 21:6]. Praise grows until it becomes an ever-increasing hymn to God from whom these and all other blessings are derived [see REVELATION 4:9-11].

Perhaps you arrived at the house of the Lord this day with a sense of resignation at some situation, some condition, some great discouragement. Though God has promised to ever be with you and though He has promised to give you victory, you had concluded that though it might be true for others it cannot be true for you. Like Sarah, you laughed a bitter laugh of unbelief. Yet, as you listened to the message you found yourself saying, “If only…” May I encourage you, with a pastor’s heart which seeks only what is best for you, I say that Sarah’s God is still on the throne.

Dear lady, your home life is a shambles and you feel that everything is spinning out of control. Perhaps it is time that God Himself took control. Sir, it may seem as though your work is meaningless toil. You feel that no one appreciates your labour and you are simply worn out with the effort of providing for your family. Perhaps you need to give the tasks to God and let Him care of the challenges which face you.

As I have spoken this day, perhaps someone needs to come pray, seeking the Lord, confessing that sin has intervened to steal joy and to break fellowship with God and with His people. I encourage that one to first acknowledge that broken fellowship is sin; then confessing that sin, ask forgiveness of the Son of God. He will repair the breach. Perhaps you need to openly confess Christ as Lord. I invite you to come, confessing that Christ is your Master.

Perhaps another seated among us this day simply knows that she faces a great battle and desperately needs the prayers of God’s people. She should come today, asking God’s people to pray with her. Come now, as we sing a hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, and angels attend you in the way. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[2] The title and several pertinent points for this message were taken from James Montgomery Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 2, Genesis 12:1-36:43 (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 1985) 152-7

[3] John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI 1964), 182

[4] Eugene Peterson, The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary English (NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO 1993)

[5] The Book: The Living Bible (Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL 1971)

[6] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary, Volume 1 (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 1970), 150-1