Grace Greater Than All My Sin
Scripture: Genesis 25:19–34
Grace Greater Than All My SinGenesis 25:19-34
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Pastor Randy Smith
There is a story in the Bible told about an unlikely candidate for salvation. As a matter of fact, he hated Jesus Christ and the people who loved Him. He despised them so much that he sought to imprison them and even give approval for their executions.
Yet one day as he was breathing out his threats, a bright light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard the voice of the Lord: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Ac. 9:4). From this glorious encounter, this man, soon to be known as the apostle Paul, became perhaps the greatest Christian the church has ever known.
How do you account for this dramatic change? From persecutor to proclaimer. From sinner to saint (so to speak). From a hater of Jesus Christ to a committed disciple of Jesus Christ to the point that he was willing to suffer the loss of all things in a deep desire to serve his new Master. Is this conversion experience true only for an apostle or is this the same scenario for all of us who embrace Jesus?
Christian, before you received Jesus, were you really that better off spiritually than most of your friends who were rejecting Christ? Was there anything special in you that attracted the favor of God? What is it that takes sinners and opens their spiritual eyes and enables them to desire Jesus and truly embrace Him to be forgiven of all their sins? The only answer is God's sovereign grace.
Listen to what the apostle Paul himself wrote in Scripture: Titus 3, "But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Tit. 3:4-7). In Ephesians 2 we read, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:4-9).
We've learned about the grace given to Noah and Abraham of whom it is said found favor in the eyes of the Lord. We have also been learning about the promised child for Abraham and Sarah named Isaac who arrived on the scene. He was given a beautiful wife named Rebekah. Then his parents both passed away, but the same pattern of sinful choices continued in the lives of he and his wife and their children. And these were the patriarchs of the Jewish faith - called by God as sinners, retained by God as sinners and while there was spiritual growth, they were still sinners! They didn't deserve God's favor. Was there anything in them that earned God's favor? Absolutely not! Once again a sign of God's grace in their lives.
I immediately think of 1 Corinthians 1: "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor. 1:26-30a).
Moses starts a new section in Genesis. Verse 19 of chapter 25 says, "Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham became the father of Isaac." This morning we will examine the grace of God that calls and forgives and empowers in the lives of Isaac's family.
It is hard not to compare Isaac with his father Abraham. They went through many of the same trials. Each showed a degree of victory over the other on different occasions, but it's easy to see how much the father's life, for good or bad, had influence over the son.
We read in verse 20 that Isaac was forty when he married Rebekah. By verse 21 we learn that his wife is barren, unable to conceive a child. By the end of verse 21, Rebekah is pregnant. What we fail to see is that according to verse 26, twenty years elapsed between both of these events. Just like mom and dad (Sarah and Abraham), there is barrenness, there is nobody to carry on the family line to receive all the promises by God to Abraham. We know Abraham panicked. He sought to bring forth the child with a woman named Hagar who wasn't his wife instead of trusting and waiting on the Lord. Isaac succeeded in this area - perhaps he learned from his father's mistakes! He patiently waited twenty years on the Lord. Verse 21, "Isaac prayed to the Lord…and the Lord answered him."
The great preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones once defined faith as the refusal to panic. It's the grace of God that enables people to trust God without rejecting God through anger or despair when trials come. Grace enables people to keep their focus on the Lord when going through a trial without falling for Satan's shortcuts which almost always seem more attractive. Abraham panicked. Isaac refused to panic. He waited on the Lord for twenty long years for God to deliver on His promise. And by waiting on the Lord, his faith was strengthened in the process.
I have told you before how common it is to counsel with people loaded with baggage primarily as a result of their unbiblical choices. They meet with me and expect to be provided a quick remedy that will whip their lives back into shape, turn back the clock and remove all of their suffering. Then when I share their need for Jesus and the components of the Gospel, which is the greatest hope, you can see the rolling of the eyes or the faces turn away or the heads drop in disappointment as if they were expecting a better solution.
God's grace does not insulate us from problems, but God's grace gives us the ability to make wise decisions and then deal with our problems in a way unlike the rest of the world. Sure we suffer, but we suffer with hope. We know God permitted this trial. We know that there is a purpose in the pain. We know nothing will separate us from the love of Christ. We have joy and peace that transcends our circumstances. Remember, God is good and God is loving and God is wise and God is in control, and therefore all is continually well with my soul. Without God's grace we don't stand a chance.
After waiting twenty years, Rebekah is overjoyed to be pregnant, but severely troubled with the physical pain she is experiencing in her womb. Verses 22-23, "But the children struggled together within her; and she said, 'If it is so, why then am I this way?' So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her [perhaps through a prophet], 'Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples will be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger.'"
Rebekah finds out that she has conceived twins. This first-time mother also finds out that her severe discomfort is due to the fact that her womb has become a battlefield between two brothers already at war with each other - significant foreshadowing of what is about to come. So the kick Rebekah felt in her womb was probably the two boys kicking each other! Evidence of David's comment in Psalm 51 that we are sinners from the time of conception (Psm. 51:5).
I only grew up with a sister so I can't personally comment as to what it is like to have a brother. I also only have one son who interacts with three older sisters. Yet many of the situations I have witnessed as a child when there were friends of mine with brothers was constant hostility. These guys were nearly always fighting. "Where did you get that black eye?" "Oh, my brother smacked me the other day for taking the last Pop Tart."
Today and in the weeks ahead we are going to see an interesting and sad dynamic played out between the two brothers. Neither were models of virtue, but God's sovereign grace reached down in a tangible way to one of these sinners. Though the customary way was that the oldest child had the birthright, the privilege of family name, and a double portion of the inheritance, in verse 23 we read God reversing things. "And one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger."
In the New Testament the apostle Paul picks up on this statement in Romans 9 when seeking to explain sovereign grace himself to his readers in Rome: "And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls [grace!], it was said to her, 'The older will serve the younger.' Just as it is written [now quoting from Malachi], 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated'" (Rom. 9:10-13).
It's not that God hated Esau as we often take the word. After all, according to verse 23 He would bring forth a great nation from him (the Edomites). The hate is just a relative word (cf. Lk. 14:26) used in comparison to the grace God chose to bestow on Jacob to bring forth salvation, a greater nation (the Israelites). And notice this grace was bestowed according to Romans 9, before either child was born and before their works could be evaluated. Again, God does it this way to show that salvation is all of His grace and therefore all to His glory.
Let's move on. Verse 24, "When her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb." The children are born and now a description is provided. First Esau, verse 25, "Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau." Verse 27 also informs us that "when the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field."
So when we think of Esau we think of a "mans-man." Hairy guy with a couple tattoos driving a pick-up truck with a rifle mounted on the rear window. Country-rock music playing, perhaps some "Freebird" from Skynyrd and some NASCAR numbers plastered on the bumper. In chapter 27 it says he even smelled like the field (Gen. 27:27). He's a sportsman watching "Duck Dynasty." As for his character, we'll also learn in a moment that Esau is free-spirited and impulsive. He acts according to the need of the moment with little personal reflection. This isn't good!
What about his brother, Jacob? According to verse 26, "Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau's heel, so his name was called Jacob (literally, "heel grabber"). Tremendous symbolism here. From the start fighting with his brother. Already (forgive the pun) hard on Esau's heels. Already trying to subdue his brother and trip him up. We'll see that Jacob is a schemer. He's a plotter who uses people in calculated ways, regardless of the means, to get what he wants. He's sneaky and crafty. We also see in verse 27 that contrary to his brother, "Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents." So Esau is the rugged outdoorsman and Jacob is the sophisticated city boy. He is wearing the cardigan sweater, drinking herbal tea, playing chess and listening to Barry Manilow. He's the spoiled brat always looking for an opportunity like a sly fox to quietly stab someone for his own betterment through cunning and deceptive behavior knowing mommy who favored him always had his back.
And that is what we see in this dysfunctional family. It gets worse. Consider the parents. Verse 28, "Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob." I don't want to turn this into a parenting sermon, but I think it is safe to say that this example of parental favoritism, loving one sibling more than another often based on the performance (as we see here) of the child, is not the right recipe for a healthy family! No doubt this attitude from the parents was not helping to quench the strife between these two boys! Also interesting is the fact that their parental favoritism backfired. In chapter 27 we will see that Isaac would be deceived because of his taste for game to Esau's disadvantage, and after that how Rebekah would see her stay-at-home son driven far away from her home.
I call you back to the main point. Do we see how only unmerited grace can call these people to salvation and how grace is desperately needed if this family would ever have a chance of representing God?
I can picture the family photo Christmas cards - "Seasons Greetings from the Patriarchs in the Holy Lands." There is the first generation with Abraham and his wife Sarah and their son Isaac, along with Abraham's mistress, Hagar, and their child, Ishmael. Then the card a few decades later from Isaac's family: Isaac with his hand on his boy, Esau, along with Rebekah with her hand on her boy, Jacob, and then Esau and Jacob with their hands on each other's necks!
You know this is a time bomb just waiting to explode. Verses 29 and 30, "When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, 'Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.' Therefore his name was called Edom." Verse 32, "I am about to die." Most will say the average human can go thirty to forty days without food. So the guy skips breakfast and has a rough day in the field and enters the house as a typical teenage boy. "I'm starving to death." What's our response, parents? "You are not starving to death!"
I remember a time when I was a bit impulsive with food. It was the week after Hurricane Sandy. The family went to Michigan and I was here alone. The power had yet to return in the house and with the temperatures dropping, I spent a few nights sleeping at the church. Very late one evening I had a craving for chocolate. Where could I get chocolate at this hour? Then it hit me - the Hallelujah Party that was just cancelled and all the candy that was donated just waiting for me in the foyer! I grabbed one of those variety bags filled with like a hundred chocolate bars. After consuming one of each kind (three times around) I lamented at overindulging as I stared at a mountain of empty candy wrappers on my desk! My stomach was feeling about the same as Rebekah's womb! What did I just do? Esau is going to have one of those moments!
Maybe the scenario has been played out before, and Jacob foresees a tremendous opportunity. Here is a great chance to exploit his brother's weaknesses for his own gain through a well-set trap. Remember the Jacob, the schemer? This is one of the character flaws warned against in Proverbs. Proverbs 24:8, "One who plans to do evil, men will call a schemer." Micah 2:1, "Woe to those who scheme iniquity." Remember Haman from Esther? He was a schemer (Est. 9:24). The most notorious schemer is the devil himself as we are repeatedly told to "stand firm against the schemes of the devil" (Eph. 6:11; cf. 2 Cor. 2:11). So instead of acting brotherly, "Hey Esau, pull up a chair and I will get you some food," he acts diabolically and deceptively like Satan himself, verse 31, "First sell me your birthright," says Jacob. Instead of waiting to get the birthright God's way in God's timing, Jacob sinfully takes matters into his own hands. Next week we'll even see him deceive his father.
Verse 32, "Esau said, 'Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?'" The danger of impulsive and rash decisions. The danger of making decisions driven by the flesh. The danger of not mastering our bodies. Verse 33, "And Jacob said, 'First swear to me;' so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob - "more of Jacob's ruthless and wicked heart. Not only does he refuse to take his brother's word on it, but in asking for Esau to make an oath he is also dragging the name of the Lord into this shoddy deal.
Verse 34, "Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright."
As I said earlier, Esau had character flaws as well. One author had this to say about Esau: "He is the kind of man of whom we are in the habit of charitably saying that he is nobody's enemy but his own. But, in truth, he is God's enemy, because he wastes the splendid manhood which God has given him. Passionate, impatient, impulsive, incapable of looking before him, refusing to estimate the worth of anything which does not immediately appeal to his senses, preferring the animal over the spiritual, he is rightly called a "profane person'" (Thomas Carlyle).
Jacob was a schemer. In the book of Proverbs Esau's character flaws would label him as a fool. Judgment is cast upon Esau in Genesis 25:34 by the narrator for making such a foolish exchange for desiring the temporary blessing more than the eternal God. In the New Testament book of Hebrews we read, "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears" (Heb. 12:15-17).
We've witnessed in our study in Genesis the tension within families between God's seed and the seed of the serpent. We had Cain and Abel and Ishmael and Isaac. The battle rages throughout the Bible, and it is seen most dramatically when the Messiah (in the line of Jacob), the ultimate chosen one comes on the scene. There will be many attempts on the life of Jesus. One notable foe was King Herod, an Edomite, from the lineage of Esau. But as it was prophesied in Genesis 3:15, the long-awaited seed of the woman was bruised on the heel when he went to the cross to die for our sins, but in return He crushed the head of the serpent.
Maybe you are a sinner like Esau. You are impulsive and have brought great damage to your life, career, church, family, health or reputation, by rejecting God's best for a moment of earthly satisfaction. Maybe you are a sinner like Jacob. You are a schemer who plots to use people for your own selfish advantage and then hide under the cover of enablers and excuses. If these two molds don't fit, I can guarantee you, like myself, have character flaws that can only be forgiven and fixed by God's grace. If you are not a Christian, do you recognize that you need to be reconciled to God through the work of Jesus Christ? Have you given Him your life by faith? Is He is calling you right now to Himself by grace to forgive all your sins and begin transforming you into His glorious character so your life can move from dysfunctional to functional for His glory and your joy?