Presentation 29
Presentation 29
BBC’s former science editor, Dr David Whitehouse wrote,
“there is a physicist in Germany who claims to have transmitted a message
faster than the speed of light, which is impossible. Or is it? Into one end of
his equipment he feeds a signal, in this case one of Mozart's symphonies,
and out of the other end comes the symphony but,
and this is the important bit, it comes out sooner
than one would expect…”
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Scientists regard travelling faster than the speed of light to be impossible.
Man puts sets boundaries that are based on his understanding and
experience, not to mention natural laws that have been observed over the
centuries. But God is not bound by the laws of space and time and if the
Creator of the laws of physics is not bound by them then for him nothing is
really impossible. Roughly 4,000 years ago Abraham discovered this
remarkable fact for himself.
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An impossible Situation
24 years had passed since God first made covenant promises to Abram. The
fulfilment of these promises required Abram to have an heir. Abram and
Sarah had tried to help God out by going down the route of surrogacy. After
all Sarah was barren and impotency was just around the corner for Abram.
Ishmael was born to Hagar, Sarah’s slave, and heaven’s
silence for the next 13 years made it clear
to Abram, that his interference did
not meet with God’s approval.
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An impossible Situation
But something else happened during those 13 years. For now, humanly
speaking, neither Abram nor Sarah were capable of having children. It was
humanly impossible! Paul makes this point in Romans 4.19 “he [Abram]
faced the fact that his body was as good as dead- since he was about a
hundred years old- and that Sarah’s womb was also dead”.
All human hope of having children
was gone. Their back was to the
wall. There was no other
possibility on the horizon,
or so they thought!
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An impossible Situation
At this crucial stage God made himself known. Remember Abram had no
Bible. He never went to Sunday School. His knowledge of God grew only as
God made himself known. How does God reveal himself? Cf v1 “I am God
Almighty”. The Hebrew term is ‘El Shaddai’. This is the first use of the word
in scripture. It was a though God was saying to Abram, “It is important for
you to realise that there is no limit to my power. Not only do I not need you
to help me out but once you are at an end of yourself, once you are
prepared to pronounce the situation absolutely hopeless then
stand back and you will see me work. I am the God
of the impossible!”
It took time for this great truth to register
with Abram… for Abram is still asking,
‘can Ishmael not be my heir?’
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An impossible Situation
Again and again God leads us into situations where, humanly speaking, there
is no way out and he asks, can you trust me to do the apparently impossible?
Think of Israel with their backs to the Red Sea and on the horizon the dust
clouds of Pharaoh’s army bearing down on them. When the situation seemed
hopeless, Moses told the people to ‘stand still and see the salvation of God’.
They were about to be bowled over by chariots of iron
surely the last thing to do was to stand still. And as they
placed their trust in God the waters parted and they
crossed safely to the other side while their Egyptian
pursuers were drowned. God leads us into difficult
situations in order to deepen our understanding
of his character and to ask,
‘Can you trust the God of the impossible?’
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Positive Encouragement
God gave both Abram and Sarai permanent reminders that ‘God Almighty’
can make a difference. This is how we are to understand their name
changes in v5 and 15. Inappropriate names are often a source of
embarrassment to people. In a country and western song the male cowboy
singer bemoans the fact that his father gave him a girl’s name, Sue.
One unfortunate boy in Glasgow was named after
every member of the Rangers football team.
Until recently a doctor on the medical register
had the unfortunate name of
Dr. Donald Duck.
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Positive Encouragement
I want to suggest that Abram had been embarrassed by his name which
means ‘exalted father’ or ‘the father of many’. Abram’s camp was on the
main trade route to Egypt and many travellers would have enjoyed his
hospitality. Even today in the middle-east, there are a number of questions
you are always asked, ‘Where to you come from? What is your name? and
very soon, ‘How many children do you have?’ How often had Abraham
braced himself to answer? ‘My name is the father of many and I have no
children’. The stifled sniggers must have crushed his sensitive soul. Ishmael’s
birth may have brought some relief but not a lot.
But now God would change his name. Good
but to what? ‘You will be Abraham, which
means ‘father of a great multitude’. The God
of the impossible gave Abraham a potentially
more embarrassing name if he did not trust
the God of the impossible!
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Positive Encouragement
And the manner in which God would so is again provided within their new
names. The Hebrew letter God adds is the sound of breath... ‘ha’. You
cannot pronounce their new names without breathing out. God adds the
sound of breath to their names. How could that excite hope in the
hopeless? In ancient languages ‘breath’ and ‘spirit’ were associated with
the creative operation of God’s Spirit.
And so in the opening chapters of
Genesis it is God’s creative ‘ruach’
or ‘breath’ that moves upon the
face of the waters.
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Positive Encouragement
In Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, which pictures God’s spiritually
dead church, it is the creative ‘ruach’ or ‘breath of God’ that transforms it
into a mighty living army. And John describes how Jesus commissioned his
disciples for the humanly impossible take of continuing his work. We read in
Jn20.21-22 “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he
breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
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Positive Encouragement
By adding his creative breath to Abraham and Sarah’s names, God indicated
that it was through the empowering of his Spirit that his covenant promises
would be realised. Do you see what is happening? God will often bring us to
an end of ourselves, making us aware of our own impotency. We may find
ourselves saying, ‘I do not see how I can achieve what God wants from my
life. I do not see how I can change. I am too old. I have lost the vigour of
earlier years. I am only fit for the spiritual scrapheap of dry bones’.
God replies, ‘Do you know who I am? God Almighty.
The God of the impossible. My breath
brings life out of death, hope out of
despair, possibilities out of the
impossible. Can you trust me
to do that? Not by your might,
not by your power but by my
Spirit says the Lord.’
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Positive Encouragement
A Christian is someone who has entered into a covenant relationship with
God. Just as God kept saying to Abraham in v6-8, ‘I will, I will, I will…’ we
discover that our ability to live the Christian life comes from God.
The ability to do a whole variety of things is not the product of human
energy, it comes not from ourselves but from God, who breathes his life
into us. This helps us to understand the Apostle Paul’s claim, ‘I can do all
things through Christ who strengthens me’. Phil. 4.13
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Positive Encouragement
Notice too, that along with the covenant God made with Abraham he gave
him a sign v10-11 - circumcision. This sign was to be viewed as a
renunciation of human effort and of trust in the God of the impossible. The
sign was also a mark of his identification with and dependence upon God.
Such signs are necessary reminders within God’s covenants of man’s
powerlessness and God’s power, of man’s failure and God’s grace.
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Positive Encouragement
We should therefore not be surprised to discover that the signs of the New
Covenant are similar in meaning. Baptism, among other things, points to
the grace of God that saves us and makes it possible for us to become
members of the body of Christ. At the same time the Lord’s supper, is a
regular reminder of our union with Christ and of our need to live in
constant dependence upon Christ’s
resurrection life which equips us to
live lives that bring pleasure to God.
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When God enables us to do what we cannot do for or by ourselves, he shows
himself to be the God of the impossible. When the rich young ruler turned his
back upon Jesus and what he believed to be the impossible demands of
discipleship, Jesus’ disciples began to think that their faith journey was
impossible. They asked one another, “Who then can be saved?” Matt.19.25
How did Jesus reply in v26 ? “With man this is impossible, but not with God;
all things are possible with God.” And the disciples went on to discover that.
Abraham discovered that. The people of God down the ages have discovered
that. May it be your discovery too as you sin prayerfully in your heart;
‘Breathe on me breathe of God
Fill me with life anew
That I may love what thou dost love
And do what thou wouldst do’.
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