Sermon by Duurt Sikkens
This morning I want to consider the story of Hagar with you. I think you all know the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac.
The story, that is, that we find in the Bible in Genesis chapter sixteen and Genesis chapter 21.
Hagar was an Egyptian slave and became Abraham’s second wife. And do you know why? Because Sarah didn’t become pregnant and have the child that God had promised. So she said to Abraham, “a child has been promised to us by God, but it hasn’t come yet, and I have waited long enough, so go to one of your slaves and try for a child with her”. The son that was promised by God took too long to come. So they took matters into their own hands and did things their way, the natural way, to make sure the child came.
What message does this convey? I’ll tell you. That you havenatural believers and spiritual believers. The spiritual, born again christians are concerned with completely different matters to thenatural christians. There are Isaacs and there are Ishmaels, so to speak.
Naturalbelievers are always thinking about how you should do things in the natural world. Always concerned with moral behaviour, in all sorts of areas of life, and they call this their Christian walk of life.
In Romans 8 verse 4 we read about a walk in the spirit. Your walk of life is in the unseen world, the heavenly realms, and you are concerned with spiritual things. And if you live like that, then you automatically become a good person. Jesus pointed that out many times. “The kingdom of God first, then the rest will follow”, He said. You are much too concerned with earthly things, material matters, and your prayers are focussed on these things too, AND your testimonies. You pray for all sorts of things, that you really don’t have to. Dear people, concern yourself with the heavenly things.
Do you know what else is important to the natural believers? Serving. Doing things for other people. Luther wrote a lot about it, and his ideas were revolutionary at that time. But……….. always being ready to help others, means neglecting yourself. And if you neglect yourself, then that means that you don’t matter. Apparently others do, but you don’t.
I was the victim of this life-style for years, until, about ten years ago, I realised it was actually a form of slavery, and I refused to bear this yoke of slavery on my shoulders any longer.
I was always at the beck and call of people. I thought God expected it of me. But if you live like this, then you become a slave. And you keep smiling during all the difficult circumstances because you have to show that you are a happy and contented believer. That’s an awful way to live. And what makes it worse, is that youthink that you are doing it for God, and earning your reward in heaven. But any reward would be based on achievements not grace. And the Bible also says “My reward is with me”.
Do you know this expression from Revelation chapter twenty two, ‘My reward is with me’? The reward that is mentioned here, is the fruit of the works of Jesus, and this fruit is his people. People who have been redeemed from sin and death. It is the fruit of His work.
Slaves, whether men or women, always have to do things. You can escape from Egypt, if you understand what I mean, but if Egypt is still in your heart, then you still will never reach the promised land. People like this, and I was like this too, keep asking God, “What do you want me to do Lord? What do you want me to do today?” Just imagine my wife would ask me that every morning. That would surely be a sign that we don’t have a good relationship.
Jesusis the spiritual husband, and the church, the believers, are his spiritual wife. The second Adam and the second Eve form a spiritual marriage.
What I like about my wife is that if I ask her “What can I do for you” then she always gives me the same simple answer: “Love me”. Isn’t that wonderful?
We read in the Bible about a man who asks Jesus: “What do I have to do to receive eternal life?” What do I have to DO? So you tell me. What do you have to do to receive an inheritance? Nothing. Nothing at all. That is the big difference between grace and reward. I once read in an obituary: “Her life was her work”. Poor woman. All her life she had never experienced love. Mind you, in that case, she had obviously never met the Lord. Or our Father. Because they want to love her.
You burden yourself with all these religious activities, and by imposing all sorts of tasks upon yourself. You make yourselves slaves. For example, by vowing: “In future I shall take time to meditate, read my Bible more often, pray every day etc. etc.”
Whydo you burden yourself with these tasks? Did Jesus ask you to do that? And then you call this discipleship, and you have to follow courses as well in order to become a good disciple. If you live like this, then you don’t really understand anything about love and relationships. And eventually you become addicted. Do you know what to? To praise and recognition. You become addicted to praise.
You are always doing YOUR thing instead of the things of the Father. When Jesus was twelve he already knew this. “I am busy with the things of my Father” He said.
I’ll read some verses from Luke chapter 17. Jesus says here in verse seven: “Will any one of you, who has a servant ploughing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘come at once and sit down at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink‘? Does he thank the servant for doing what was commanded? And then, when the servant has done all that is commanded, does he also say, “We are but humble servants; we have only done what was our duty’”.
What sort of life is that? That doesn’t portray a good marriage relationship. If you live like that then you obviously don’t understand anything about loving relationships. And that is why Jesus says this so pointedly. He can’t make it any plainer. This way of life has nothing to do with faith and grace.
Look at it from another angle. In John chapter 8 verse 35. There Jesus says to the people who had all believed in Him, (that’s what the original text says: HAD believed. Because the people believed in Him for a while. Especially when He performed miracles andhealed people. But later on, when He starts preaching, they walk off and leave Him).
He says to these people: “I will set you free”. “Why?” the people say, “are we slaves then?” That’s the logical conclusion. And Jesus also says, “A slave doesn’t stay in the house for ever; a son does.” Another translation of this verse reads: “A slave does not have a permanent home”. That’s the difference. And a slave, man or woman, does not inherit either. At the most he receives some gifts.
Abraham did that. He gave presents to people who were no longer slaves, or to slaves who left his service. You can receive gifts spiritually too. Healing, maybe or whatever. But people who inherit, don’t inherit because of the service they have given to the master, they inherit because someone has died. And Jesus died. He really was dead, you know. And he leaves an inheritance, and that is …………… well, what IS the inheritance Jesus leaves? ………………..His spirit. That’s right.
Where the Spirit is, there is life, and that is the Kingdom of God. We have inherited it. So there is not another inheritance to come. You have already received the best inheritance there is. It doesn’t get any better. So there are natural Christians, and there are spiritual Christians. You could also say: there are Hagars and there are Sarahs.
Paul wrote to the church in Galatia about this. At first it was a wonderful church. They preached about sonship and about reaching perfection. But they had become perfectionists in earthly activities. The church was run perfectly. There were glorious worship services, good sermons, it was all wonderful, and everything was under control.
And then Paul says: “O foolish Galatians, have you gone mad? Who has put this spell on you? I want to know just one thing: Did you receive the spirit by keeping the law, or by believing (through works or through faith)? That’s all I have to say to you. He says it again: You started out in the spirit, but you have reached perfection through your own strength. In your activities. That’s all wrong! (I’ve mixed several different Bible translations here).
Later He says: “You are under a curse, you are not free, you don’t know God OR the Son”. The burden of being a slave is a curse. And so then you pray for strength to keep going. A life of slavery! Imagine my wife prayed day after day for strength to endure her life with me, then surely that too is a sign that something is very wrong in our relationship.
And then Genesis chapter 16 verse 8: Will you turn to Genesis. Genesis chapter 16 verse 8.
A boy has been born, Ishmael. And Hagar had been unkind to Sara and saying things like: I’M expecting a baby, and YOU are not. And that hurt Sara and I can understand that. So Abraham says, “What do you want me to say to her?” “Send her away”, Sara says’, “she is too hurtful”. So Hagar is sent away and off she goes, and in chapter 16 verse 7 we read: “The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, ‘Hagar, maid of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”
So what do you think of these questions? They are the age old questions: Where do you come from, where are your roots, and where are you going to? Dear people, where do you come from and where are you going?
And then it says in verse 9: ‘Return to your mistress, and submit to her’. That means, apologise, but really there is a spiritual meaning hidden here, and that is ‘submit your natural Christianity, your life as a slave, to the spiritual, to the life that was promised. You have to cleanse yourself. Give it up. Stop praying for all the natural, material things, your family, your job, and whatever other natural things you are praying for. You don’t need to do that. Concern yourself with the things of the Father, and the rest will follow.
I know several people here who do just that. “Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all the rest will be yours as well”.
It is said of Ishmael in verse 13 that he shall ‘dwell over against all his kinsmen’. The natural christian dwells opposite the spiritual christian. Do you understand what I mean? They are on the other side. The christians of the flesh will persecute the christians of the spirit. So where does your greatest opposition come from? From within your own group. It happened to all the prophets. It happened to Jesus. It happened to the disciples. The greatest opposition comes from the people who SAY they believe in God.
Then we read something very moving. Then Hagar calls the name of the Lord who had spoken to her. In another translation it says she names the characteristics of God, because she says. ‘You are the God of seeing’. You saw me, and touched me, and I was moved by this. She was sent away, and then God sees her. Then she comes to the well, which she named Beer-lahai-roi which literally means: “Source of the living who sees me”.
Sara had a right to want Hagar to leave, but still God is concerned with what happens to Hagar. And where does Hagar discover this? By a well, a source of water. A source of life.
I have a question for you. Do you look at people through God’s eyes? There are so many christians who think naturally, who focus on the outward things. They judge you on your behaviour. They don’t look any further, they focus on the things they see. They gossip a lot, know a lot about all sorts of natural situations, about people’s lives, their marriages and divorces. They know exactly what you should and shouldn’t do, and can talk for hours about morals and values. All earthly matters. I call it a Christian soap series.
So, what about you. Do you judge people by their outward appearance? OR, do you look into each others’ soul, as it should be in a good relationship. Do you look at what’s on the inside. That’s how it should be. God sees the heart, we often say, but do I see that way too. Because that’s what the Bible means when it speaks of the ‘eyes of your understanding being enlightened’. They are enlightened by the love of God, and then your eyes become lights. You can shine the love of God onto other people.
I can’t tell you enough, how much it helps and heals, if someone really listens to you. There are many christians, you know, who have the “me too” button. That’s what it’s called in social psychology. Have you heard of that? A button with ‘me too’ on it. Do you know what that means? I’ll give you an example.
You confide in someone, and start telling them about something very personal that happened in your life, and the other person says: “I had something like that happen to me too, and they start to tell their story. They don’t listen to you any more. It’s all about them. There are people in this world, who are better at listening, and kinder than Christians. And Jesus has seen these people and named them. Blessed are the merciful, he says. There you have them, for they shall obtain mercy. You have shown mercy, come into my kingdom. That is the mercy of God.
Who are you? Do you want your real identity to become known, or are you still playing a role? It’s all about your soul. You can’t escape your own identity. You should take time to think about it. Who am I? You can run away and hide in all sorts of activities. The key question always stays the same: who are you, where do you come from and where are you going.
I love my wife, not because of all the things she does, but because of who she is. If you run away, then you run the risk of losing yourself, but, even then, God goes looking for you. He doesn’t lose sight of you. You are still in his heart. Just like Hagar. God will always take care of you. That’s just how He is. And so my next question is: Are we like that too? Do you always care about people and have mercy on them, or do you sometimes say: enough is enough.
Turn to Genesis chapter 21. This is the second time we read about Hagar and Ishmael. Ishmael is thentwelve years old. Isaac has been born. He is three years old. They are having a party in the tent and Ishmael is making fun of Isaac. It doesn’t say exactly what he says, but he makes fun of him. He must have said something nasty about the child of the promise.
Look at verse ten. Sarah says: “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” She is angry. But Abraham didn’t like the way things were going. “It was very displeasing to Abraham” we read. He loved Ishmael and he loved Hagar too.
“But God said to Abraham “do not be displeased. Do what she says.” In other words: “I will look after Hagar, because that’s how I am. But the promise does not lie with her son. I shall give him a gift. He will become a great nation. But the promise of My peace lies with your son Isaac. That’s why Isaac is an image of Jesus. Isaac is an image of Jesus, you know. Just as Abraham is a father image, like God the Father, so is Isaac an image of the Son.
Verse 14: Early the next morning Abraham took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. That’s a very sad picture, don’t you think? He sent her away. Fortunately a different translation says, He gave her her freedom. I think Abraham is a wonderful person. Hagar, he says, you don’t need to be a slave any more, I give you your freedom. Go. And I am sure he stood watching the two walk away until they were out of sight. They never met again.
And there they go, the two of them, Hagar and Ishmael, with their own personal wilderness before them. Rejected, estranged, sent into exile. And then you have to try, in this situation of exile and rejection, to recover your self esteem. Have you ever spoken with people who have been rejected by society, or rejected in a friendship or marriage. They feel they have been cast aside, and it is so difficult for them to rediscover their own self esteem.
And if you live in a wilderness, then that means that you will have to become dependent on the Spirit. Moses lived in the wilderness for forty years, and then he led a nation through the wilderness for another 40 years. For 80 years all he saw, day in day out, was sand and stones. The wilderness is an image of the natural life, void of eternal life. Not real life. AndJesus was in the wilderness for forty days, and not to forget 40 nights too, solely dependent on the Spirit. Sometimes that is very difficult, but it saves your soul.
Verse 15: “When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bow-shot; for she said : ‘Let me not look upon the death of the child’. And as she sat over against him the child lifted up his voice and wept.”
Can you picture this? A boy of fourteen to look after, and the water is all gone. A mother often gives the last drop of water to her child, just as Hagar did, and then Hagar says: I can’t bear to watch my child die. So she picks him up and puts him under a bush and goes and sits at a safe distance because she can’t bear to see him suffer. Have you ever felt like that? Like giving up. Because this too is an image. You think to yourself, ‘I have done the best I can. I can’t do any more. I give up. Yes, I am still a child of God, with the spirit of God, but what difference has it made? After all these years? And Hagar casts this child, her faith, her spiritual life, under a bush and gives up.
And then in verse 16 she cries out. And God always takes notice of people who cry out. What does he hear? A voice…. What does it say in verse seventeen? He heard the voice of the lad, the lad. Hagar shouted out in despair, but He heard the voice of the boy. He groaned too of course. He was tired, and hungry and thirsty. But why do you think Hagar cried out in despair? How would you like it?
How wouldyou react? Sent away by the father of your child, away from your home and your friends. How would you like it? Hagar cried out because of her grief, but also because of the frustration and the wrong that had been done to her. When you are wronged unjustly, that can cause such pain. And what about jealousy then? I’m sure Hagar suffered from jealousy too. She must have hated Sarah. Why doesn’t Abraham help me, she must have thought. Despair.
What happens when these sort of situations arise in your life? Do you know what happens to your eyes? They become blurred and you don’t see clearly any more. You become blinded by your circumstances, and then you don’t see a way out any more, an escape from these circumstances. Then you are spiritually blind and deaf. You don’t see or hear the water of life that is so near by.
And what happens in verse 18? What does God say? Because Hagar’s spiritual life was now almost dead, she could not summon the faith to believe that her child could survive, and then God says: “Arise, lift up the child”. What about that! What you think he means by that? Arise. Well, that means, get up and step out in faith, out of your sorrows, out of the wrong that has been done to you, out of your frustrations, and yes, out of all those compulsory christian activities. And pick that child up! Because that’s what’s important. Being a child of God. Believing that you are child of God.
Leave that life of slavery, let it go and then it will let go of you. And let God heal you, and then pick up that most treasured possession. That child that you have cast aside, your spiritual life, your faith. And nourish that faith. Give the child some water. Drink from the water of life.
Oh Hagar, you are as so blind, ………………understandable…………….., but still blind. Because where WAS Hagar. Without knowing it, she was sitting right next to a well. Right next to a source of water, but she couldn’t see it. And then God opened her eyes, and she saw this well.
You can’t see it if you are depressed and frustrated. That’s a pity. Pick that child up, and what does it say so beautifully in verse 18: “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand”. What do you think of this expression? Lifting up your faith is compared to helping the child to walk again. Take him by the hand. That is so tender, so real. Hold on to your faith, as you would hold a child by the hand, and then God will open your eyes to the well in the wilderness.
You can be right next to the well, right next to the source of life, and not see it. That happened to Jesus too. He saw people all around Him who were spiritually blind, because they all thought that the way they saw things was right.
But they couldn’t see him, the source of life, standing right next to them. He was the source of life, and they couldn’t even see it.
Do you know what Peter calls that? Short-sighted, he says. But God opens your eyes, if you will let him. You will see the well, you can fetch some water and quench your spiritual thirst. And then your faith will revive, and you can start living again as a child of God. Live from His spirit, then you will live in His spirit.
I am going to close with a few questions. What are you spending all your time on? Where do you come from? And where are you going? Are you of the flesh or of the spirit?
Another question: Do you want to be found? And do you want to learn to see properly? Do you want to be healed? Do you? Then the promise is: You will become full of grace. Isn’t that wonderful?
Shall we pray?
Father, we are your children. We believe in you. Help us to cherish our faith, as it is so precious. Help us to stay in your love. To unburden ourselves of anything that resembles a life of slavery and live freely as your children.