Sermon: Who Is Your Mother?

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to the book of Galatians. Galatians 4, beginning in verse 19. Galatians 4, beginning in verse 19. If you were with us last week, we are picking up slightly before we left off. For the last few chapters, Paul – led and inspired by the Spirit – has been arguing that there are only two ways of salvation – one true and one false. The false path is one based on works, on obedience, on the law. The true path – the only way to reconciliation with God, forgiveness, and eternal life – is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There is only one gospel and it is the gospel of grace. This gospel that has dominated the whole of Galatians so far is presented again in our passage, but this time through a grand and beautiful allegory from the Old Testament. Galatians 4, beginning in verse 19. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

These are the very words of God from the book that we love:

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth, until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you again and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you.

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai  and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

For it is written:

“Be glad, barren woman,

you who never bore a child,

shout for joy and cry aloud,

you who were never in labor,

because more are the children of the desolate woman

than of her who has a husband.”

Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same today. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, because the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

For four chapters, Paul has been showing us the contrast between two different ways of relating to God. One way is based on works, on obedience, on our doing. In the world of the Galatians and in the language of Paul, we can say that this way is based upon the law – it is by keeping all the commandments that we are right with God. The other way, which Paul tells us is the only true way, is based upon faith in Christ. It is Christ who has kept the law for us. It is Christ who paid the penalty for us breaking the law. It is Christ who has restored us to relationship with God and will one day restore all of creation. And it is through faith in Jesus that we become children of God. It is not about our blood or who our parents were, but about faith in Jesus.

Through faith in Jesus, we are told that we become children of Abraham. We are adopted into the family of Abraham, who received life and blessing from God as a result of God’s promise to him.

To be part of the promise, to be part of the salvation that God is bringing to the world, one must be a child of Abraham. But as we will see, it is not about physical descent from Abraham, but spiritual descent. The question becomes, “Do you trust in the promise of God or not?” And that question determines whether one is a child of Sarah or a child of Hagar – free or a slave.

Paul opens up the story of Abraham in the Old Testament, so that we can see that it speaks powerfully as a picture of what is happening today. He says that it is to be taken figuratively or as an allegory, but all of that is rooted in the actual story of what happened with Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in the book of Genesis. Let’s look at verses 21-23:

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

Long ago, God called Abram out of his home, away from his family, and told him to go where God would send him. God promised to be with him, to bless him, and to give him descendants that would number more than the sand on the seashore, more than the stars in the sky. So Abram went.

But there was a problem. Abraham and his wife were old, well past the normal time for having children. They had no children of their own. We don’t know how long they waited and trusted that God would keep his promise, but eventually they got impatient. Sarah decided that they needed to take action in order for this promised child to happen.

So Sarah gave her servant Hagar to Abraham to sleep with so that Hagar could bear him a child. Hagar got pregnant and gave birth to a son, Ishmael. Initially, Abraham and Sarah wanted Ishmael to be the promised child, but God said no. He would not abandon Ishmael, but God would provide the promised child through Sarah. God said, “by this time next year, you will have a child,” and it happened. They named him Isaac, meaning, “he laughs,” because Sarah laughed at God when he told her she would have a child in her old age.

So one child, Ishmael, was born to one of Abraham’s slaves, Hagar. Ishmael was born when the Abraham and Sarah got impatient. Their trust in God’s promise, God’s plan, God’s faithfulness, devolved into a sort of half-trust. They decided to intervene in order to make the promise come true. So Hagar gives birth to Ishmael, Paul tells us, according to the flesh – through human striving, human effort, human engineering.

By contrast, Isaac was said to be born as the result of a divine promise. This doesn’t mean that he was conceived in any way other than what is normal or that Sarah gave birth in any special way, but it still says something different about how these two children came about. Isaac was born when God promised he would be born – on God’s timing, with God’s faithfulness, as a part of his plan. Ishmael was born on Abraham and Sarah’s timing, with their work, as a part of their plan.

This is the story Paul is opening up for us to see. The Spirit wants us to see that what happened then is a picture of a deeper reality. It is a picture of these two different ways of relating to God. Let’s look at verses 24-26:

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

Hagar, Sarah, Isaac, Ishmael, and Abraham were all real people. The story is true, but in God’s providence, it points to something beyond itself. We are told that in seeing Hagar and Sarah, we have a picture of two different covenants.

Two women – Hagar and Sarah

Two mountains – Sinai in Arabia (where Moses was given the Law) and Zion in Jerusalem

Two cities – the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem

Two covenants – the covenant based on obedience that leads to slavery and the covenant based on grace that leads to freedom.

Ultimately, the story of Hagar and Sarah is an allegory of two different ways of relating to God – trust or mistrust.

Both Isaac and Ishmael were sons of Abraham. But one was born of Hagar – born of a slave, born out of a lack of trust in God. Ishmael was born because Abraham and Sarah didn’t trust God to be faithful, but felt the need to do something themselves to get the job done. Ishmael represents a relationship with God that is not based on trust, but on performance. Ishmael represents the kind of relationship with God where we want to trust what he says, but when the timing isn’t what we want, when it is taking too long or not going how we believe it should, then we take matters into our own hands. Ishmael was the child born according to the flesh, because he was born by Abraham and Sarah doing what was so easy and so natural. They didn’t trust that God would find a way, that he would take care of them, that he would come through on his promise, so they took matters into their own hands. And in doing so, they ultimately put their trust in the work of their hands and not in God.

Paul says that this is the same thing that the Galatians were being tempted to do. Instead of trusting God alone, trusting his timing, his plan, his grace, they wanted to make sure, they wanted to do it right, so they took matters into their own hands, placed their trust in outward signs and rituals, in legalistic observance of the commandments. And in doing so, they removed their trust from God and placed it in themselves.

By contrast, Isaac was born by the power of God – to a couple too old to bear children. He was born not according to nature, but against nature – improbable, unlikely, miraculous. In Isaac, we see the trust that God will keep his promise – not because we are good enough or fitting enough or anything else, but because God himself made a way when there was no way.

In Isaac’s birth, we see the God who keeps his promises. We see a God who by the work of his hands, brings blessing into the world. We see a God who is not bound by our time tables or expectations, but who graciously does exactly what he said he would. In Isaac’s birth, we see faith – trust – in God.

In Ishmael’s birth by Hagar, we have the image of the religion of trusting in ourselves or the religion of half-trust in God. In Isaac’s birth, we have the image of the religion of complete faith in God.

And the question for us is this: Who is your mother?

Sarah or Hagar?

You can be a physical descendant of Sarah and be a spiritual son of Hagar, and you can be a spiritual son of Isaac without a drop of Abraham’s blood in your veins.

We are told that all children of the promise are spiritual children of Isaac. The way to freedom, the way to life, the way to joy in the presence of God is to be a child of Sarah – to trust in God. It is by faith in God’s promise that we live.

Friends, we are tempted to want to say we are children of Isaac and live like children of Ishmael.

We are tempted to begin in trusting God, but then turn back to trusting in ourselves when it gets too hard. Like the Galatians, we start out in grace and trust and then get impatient. We turn to other alternative, other solutions, thinking we are working to solve the problem, to ease the pain, but it turns out that it only gives birth to slavery.

When, like Abraham and Sarah, God calls us to wait and wait and wait – wait for a child, wait for a new job, wait for the pain of loss to subside, wait for the child to come home, wait for this thorn in my flesh to be removed, we can be tempted to stop trusting in God and look for another way out.

When, like the Galatians, we are anxious for our souls – those moments when we are fearful for our salvation and so mindful of our own darkness, we can be tempted to stop trusting that God’s grace is enough, that it is enough to trust in Jesus, and turn to trying to be a good enough Christian, to make sure God will accept us. We are tempted to turn from trust in God.

When all our plans seem to go awry, when life spins out of our control, and we cannot see more than two steps in front of us, we can be tempted to try and seize control ourselves and settle the storm and right the ship. We are tempted to turn from trust in God.

We are tempted, each of us, to live like children of Hagar. It is only natural, normal – Hagar gave birth according to the flesh after all. Fear, Doubt, all of that is natural. But the question for us is this: Who is your mother?

Are you a child of Hagar or Sarah?

Is your relationship with God based on God’s promise or your performance?

Who is your mother?

Remember who you are. Verses 28-29:

Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same today.

Children of promise. Like Isaac, Christians are born not because we take it upon ourselves to make it happen, but by the power of the Spirit. Like Isaac, Christians are born again because God keeps his promises. We who belong to Jesus, are like Isaac, children born by the Spirit, born trusting in the promise of God.

If we are like Isaac, then we should not be surprised if our lives look a lot like Isaac’s. Trusting in God does not make life easy. Paul reminds us that hardship and persecution are to be expected. There will be times where others cannot understand how you can believe in God, let alone trust in him. There will be times where others look down on your trust in the grace of God, thinking surely that can’t be enough. There will be times where life is so difficult, you are not sure you can trust God yourself, but there are others to trust Him with you.

Jesus never promised that it would be easy. Isaac was ridiculed by Ishmael and the same still holds true. Faith in God, trust in Him, is the sweetest and most beautiful thing in the world and the only way to truly life. But it is often the trust of Abraham and Sarah, the trust in what we do not see yet, but believe because of who we know God to be.

Who is your mother? Christians are children of Abraham, children of Sarah, born according to the promise and power of God.

May we live as children by faith in the Son of God. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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