Meet Sarah: The Mother of Believers (Pt 3)

Daily Devotion | Day 319

“Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise . . . So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free [woman]” (Galatians 4:28, 31).

In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote to address a hotly contested issue among Christians of that region. Some Jewish Christians, mostly based in Jerusalem, had convinced Gentile believers that submission to the entire law of Moses was necessary for their salvation. They were not asking the Gentiles to replace faith in Christ with the law. They did insist, however, that submission to Christ and His law was not enough. Gentiles needed to be initiated into the law of Moses as well via circumcision.

Paul heard about this. To his dismay, some of the Gentile Christians had either embraced this false doctrine or were close to doing so. His letter to the community was a sharp rebuke for their gullibility. Additionally, Paul took the opportunity to reiterate the sound teaching regarding these matters. In doing so, he combined the power of rhetoric, familiarity with the Scriptures and his divinely inspired insights into the new covenant. Today’s opening passage falls within this context.

Paul brought Sarah into the picture when he wanted to contrast the old covenant with the new. He did not mention her by name, but the context made it clear that he was speaking of Sarah (Galatians 4:22). Paul wanted to convey the following message: Whoever chooses the law over Christ (or in addition to Christ) chooses slavery over freedom. And to bring this point home, he made use of an allegory which involves two women: Sarah and Hagar.

Let us note that these two women are not fictional characters. They are historical figures in the Bible. And they both represent deeper spiritual realities with far reaching implications for believers. Paul’s goal is to show the ‘prophetic’ relationship between the two women and the two covenants they represent.

Hagar was a slave.  She represents Mount Sinai, earthly Jerusalem, life in the flesh, spiritual slavery and the law (old covenant). Children born of Hagar are born in bondage. As a result, Hagar’s children do not inherit the promises God made to Abraham.

In contrast, Sarah was a free woman. She represents the Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:26-27), life in the Spirit, spiritual freedom and the new covenant. Consequently, children born of Sarah are free; they are children of promise and heirs of God: “the Jerusalem above [represented by Sarah] is free, which is the mother of us all” (4:26).  This being the case, Paul confidently concludes that we, Christians, are children of promise as Isaac was (4:28), and “we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free” (4:31).

To sum up:

Being a child of Sarah is about identity, origin and destiny. If you do not know your origin and spiritual lineage, you will be confused about your identity and your heritage. Confused identity leads to a confused life. If you do not know you are from a royal family, you will live the life of a slave. This is what the Galatians were tempted to do.

But the Father wants you to know where you came from, which family you are part of, who you are and where you are going. Here, the life of Sarah is instructive. Sarah is more than a character in the Bible. She represents royalty, grace and freedom in Christ. And she is the mother of all who believe. Glory to God for giving us Sarah. Amen.

For further studyGalatians 4:1-7, 21-31 and John 8:31-47

Meet Sarah: The Mother of Believers (Pt 2)

Daily Devotion | Day 318

“Look to Abraham your father; and to Sarah who bore you; for I called him alone, and blessed him and increased him” (Isaiah 51:2, NKJV).

Due to Judah’s unfaithfulness, the kingdom experienced a spiritual crisis. Many went astray and followed other gods. As a whole, the nation saw a steady decline in religious fervor and prosperity. Hope for a restored Jerusalem dwindled. This caused the righteous in the land to wonder if the Lord still remembered His people. Not only that, they wondered if there ever would be a revival and restoration in Zion. Isaiah’s ministry to Judah was two-fold. His mission was to call the nation to repentance and trust, and to reassure them of a future filled with hope, prosperity and glory.

 In Isaiah 51, the Lord had a message for the righteous in the land who longed for Zion’s restoration. He urged them to look back at their roots: “Look to Abraham your father; and to Sarah who bore you; for I called him alone, and blessed him and increased him.” God knew that Abraham and Sarah were the father and mother of His chosen people. He called the people’s attention to them for a reason. Notice what He said in the second part of the passage. He called one man, Abraham, who had no child. Yet He blessed him and increased Him. The point God is making here is that He is a God of increase and of infinite possibilities. He is able to create a multitude out of one person. If He could do that with Abraham and Sarah, He could restore and increase Zion also.

Let us consider Sarah since she is the focus of this teaching. God said to His people, “look to Sarah who bore you.” It is as if God had said, “Look to Sarah, your mother. Consider her life of faith and the great things I did for her. If you believe in me, I can do for you what I did for her.” Sarah was barren. Moreover, age had caught up with her. The hope, if any, of bearing a child was gone. Despite these odds, the Lord promised that Sarah would be the mother of nations, and that kings of peoples would come from her.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us how Sarah conceived: “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised” (11:11). Sarah was a believer. She held on to God’s promise, believing that the Lord was who He said He was. She believed that the Lord would deliver according to His solemn word. By faith, therefore, Sarah received strength to defy the laws of biology. Contrary to the dictates of scientific facts, she conceived and gave birth to Isaac when she was ninety years old. And through Isaac, the Lord increased Sarah so that she became the mother of multitudes of people who believe in the Lord.

When the Lord told His people (in Isaiah 51) to look to Sarah, their mother, He wanted them to learn from the faith of Sarah. He wanted them to have faith that if He could make a barren woman the mother of their nation, He could also restore and prosper Zion despite her seemingly hopeless condition. This message applies to Christians today. God wants us to remember that we are a nation of faith and that Sarah is our ‘mother-in-faith.’ 

We can face situations where the odds seem to be against us. In those moments, let us remember that we are from Sarah’s line: a line of people who defy the laws of nature, time and space. When they say there is no hope, we say, “Hope does not disappoint.” When they say there is no cure, we say, “With His stripes, we are healed.” When they say we can’t, we say, “We can do all things through Him who strengthens us.” And when they say it is impossible, we reply, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

To be continued . . .

For further studyGenesis 18:1-15

Meet Sarah: The Mother of Believers (Pt 1)

Daily Devotion | Day 317

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her’” (Genesis 17:15-16, NKJV).

In the Bible you will find many women of exemplary faith, each special in her own right. To name a few: Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Naomi, Esther, Abigail, Hannah, Anna, Mary, and Elizabeth. But of these great women, only one stands as the ‘mother’ of believers (Jews and Gentiles alike). Her name is Sarah. She was the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac.

In this teaching series, we will examine Sarah’s special place within the nation of believers and draw some lessons from her life. We will start by looking at God’s promises concerning Sarah which made her the mother of the believing nation. By “believing nation” I am referring to all of Israel, i.e. the community of all who believe in Christ whether Jew or Gentile.

Before we delve into today’s passage, let us first look at what God told Abraham in the opening verses of Genesis 17. We want to juxtapose that with today’s passage. This will enable us to observe more clearly what God is saying to us about Sarah. God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and said to him, “I have made you a father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5). In the next verse, God continued, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (v. 6).

Now let us see what God (addressing Abraham) said about Sarah. In verse 15, He changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. Then He added, “And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her” (v. 16).

Comparing what God said about Abraham with what He said about Sarah, you will notice that they are almost identical. Abraham would be the father of many nations and Sarah would be the mother of nations. Kings would come from Abraham and kings would come from Sarah as well. This makes sense.

When God chose Abraham, He chose his wife also, so that the two (as a couple) would be the father and mother of nations and kings. These “nations” and “kings” refer to multitudes of peoples from different nations who would have one thing in common: faith in Christ. This is why in heaven Jesus is praised for having redeemed us “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:8-10; see also 7:9-12). Because of their common faith in Christ, these redeemed peoples are the offspring both of Abraham and of Sarah.

God chose Abraham to be the father of believers (Romans 4:16). But for Abraham to be the legitimate father of believers, it was necessary that he become a believer himself. That is, it was imperative for him to have faith in Christ. To this end, God “preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand” (Galatians 3:8). We could, based on this text, say that Abraham was ‘the first Christian.’ He and his wife, Sarah, were the first believers. Therefore, subsequent believers would trace their line to Abraham (as their father in the faith) and to Sarah (as their mother in the faith).

We, believers, are a line of kings and priests. And Sarah is the mother of us all.

God willing, we will continue this message tomorrow. Till then, remain ‘in Sarah’: remain in faith. Amen.

For further study1 Peter 2:9-10 and Romans 4:9-25

Your Life Matters to God

Daily Devotional: Day 158

“And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation . . . And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow” (Genesis 21:17-18, 20, ESV).

 I once met a young woman who shared with me and others the story of how she was born. Let’s call her ‘Jane.’ Her mother had taken steps not to have a baby, resorting to a contraceptive method that was known for its near-perfect success rate. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whose side you take), unbeknownst to her, there was a hitch. Consequently, the woman later found out that she was pregnant. Thankfully, she didn’t abort. And, that’s how baby ‘Jane’ landed on planet Earth.

Today’s Scripture passage tells the story of Ishmael. Unable to conceive, Sarah urged Abraham to give her a child by having relations with her servant, Hagar. Abraham did. However, when Hagar became pregnant, she used that as an occasion to despise Sarah. Consequently, Sarah had the pregnant Hagar kicked out of Abraham’s house. By the intervention of an angel of God, Hagar returned to Sarah. But the tension didn’t end there. Ishmael was born; and later, Isaac. Sarah wouldn’t entertain the presence of Ishmael due to inheritance issues; so, for the second time, Hagar and her son were driven out of Abraham’s house; this time, for good. Abraham grieved over this matter, but he had to let Ishmael go.

Ishmael was conceived under unusual circumstances. He wasn’t the ideal child Sarah wanted. He came into the picture because Sarah thought she had run out of options. In a sense, Ishmael was the ‘PLAN B’ child. Even as a child, Ishmael had the bitter experience of being separated from his father as well as from Isaac, his half-brother. Ishmael became the ‘unwanted’ child born out of necessity and disposed of when his presence was deemed inconvenient. He was the innocent casualty of the drama in Abraham’s household. But thankfully, the God of Abraham is the Father of the unwanted, who welcomes the rejected, who gives hope to the hopeless, and who turns our mourning into dancing (cf. Psalm 30:11). He didn’t forget Ishmael. He blessed the boy and made him into a great nation. Later, Ishmael became an archer, an expert with the bow.

We all have different beginnings and different stories about how we got here. Your existence is not a mistake. Regardless of the circumstances of your birth or childhood, your life is not a mistake. People may have treated you in the past as something disposable or expendable. Don’t worry. You matter to God, and He has wonderful plans for you. How you got here shouldn’t be your problem. What matters is, you’re here; and where you go from here should be your focus. Don’t focus on those who don’t want you around; focus on the loving and faithful Father who wants you and wants to do great things with you. He was there for Ishmael. He will be there for you, too.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you. Amen.

For further study: Luke 1:59-80