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Messed-Up People, Used for Good

The Story Before  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction

If you are joining us for the first time this week you’ll want to know that we are in the middle of a 10-week series on the Old Testament called “The Story Before.” Now, if you look at a Bible you realize that there is no way we can cover all of the Old Testament in 10 weeks, so we’ve carefully selected 10 of the most important stories from the Old Testament.
The first three weeks, Pastor Ryan covered the creation of all things, including humans, he covered how Adam and Eve then rebelled against God by disobeying Him, and then he looked at how God’s heart was grieved by how sin had completely corrupted His once beautiful creation, and so He flooded the world but spared a man named Noah and his family and started over with them.
Unfortunately it doesn’t take long for humans to mess things up again, though. They begin disobeying God and instead of being stewards of God’s creation and starting families that love Him and serve Him, they decide they want to, once again, be like God and make a name for themselves. So they build a city with a tower that is a monument to their greatness, rather than God’s greatness. But this wasn’t God’s plan for them, so Scripture says He “confused their language” meaning they couldn’t talk to one another because they were now speaking different languages. Of course, the work to an abrupt end and the people scattered across the face of the earth.
At this point, we are given a genealogy from which all of the nations of the world had started. By the end of , we are introduced to a guy by the name of Abraham. And God has some very specific plans for Abraham and his descendants, but before we dive in to the His story, let’s pray.
Pray

Illustration

So its still January and just a couple of weeks ago we were at that time of year when we set out to have a New Year’s Resolution. Did any of you make a resolution? I know a few people that were talking about eating more healthy. Some people resolve to be more healthy this time of year, right? I know this is true because I walk into Walmart and all of the exercise equipment is out and on sale, right? And you think to yourself, “Ah - I wonder if that really works? Maybe it would help me reach my goal...”
Well, here’s where it get’s really embarrassing. Did you know that most people, by this point in the year, have already given up on their resolution? Now that’s kind of a downer, but you know that its true because chances are good that you or someone you know has already given up on your resolution. Most people don’t set out to fail, but the problem, I think, is this: they give just a little bit on one of the mini-steps that are a part of a larger goal.
When you set out to do something good and mess it up,
For example, if you your goal was to to be more physically active, you would probably say, “Ok, that means 3-4 days of 30 minute sessions in the gym.” But, what typically happens is this: you miss a day or two. You get busy and you say, “No problem, I’ll just pick up where I left off.” So, you might do well for another week or so, but then you miss another day. And you know the thoughts that set in:

Here are some thoughts that creep in:

“Oh man. This is a lot harder than I thought.”
“Well, I’m so far behind and so messed up now that there is no way I can catch up. I might as well give up.”

“Well, I’m so far behind and so messed up now that there is no way I can catch up. I might as well give up.”

“Maybe I’ve overreached and my goal is simply out of reach for me.”
“Maybe I’m just a person that can’t follow-through.”

“Maybe I’ve overreached and my goal is simply out of reach for me.”

“Maybe I’m just too messed up to accomplish much of anything or do anything good.”

“Maybe I’m just a person that can’t follow-through.”

And I would say that, many times, that is how we view life in general, even in regards to how valuable and useful we are to God. We begin to think like this:

“Maybe I’m just too messed up to accomplish much of anything or do anything good.”

I’M JUST TOO MESSED UP - NOTHING GOOD CAN COME OF ME.

Abraham (

I’ve had those thoughts too. But you know what? All of Scripture has something to say about thought, and I can tell you right now that at its essence, this statement is true. We are messed up and good can come of us. Ok - that’s it. Go home. Just kidding. :-) Ok - so Scripture paints this picture that the thoughts of humans are evil continually and we are completely messed up, so does God give up on us and leave us?
As we look at the Patriarchs - also known as Abraham and his descendents, you are going to see this theme come out:
Even if you’ve messed up, God can use you for good - so trust Him and joyfully serve Him.
Let’s see what happens with a guy named Abraham.

Abraham ()

So here we are with Abraham and probably the best introduction to give you of him is to read the first part of . But one of the biggest questions I typically hear about Abraham is,
“What was so special about Abraham. Why did God choose him? Was he more worthy or did he have it more figured out?”
Let’s take a look and find out.
Invite them to turn to or read along on screen.
Genesis 12:1–3 ESV
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Genesis 12.1
So here we see God’s promise to Abraham.
Here’s the crazy thing about what happens to Abraham after this point. You would think that Abraham would trust God, knowing that God follows through on what He says He will do. Up to this point, we have seen God follow through on the consequences of eating from the tree, punishment for sin in the instance of Cain and Abel, and He most certainly followed-through on wiping everything out because of horrible evil and sin, followed by starting new. All of these things happened after God made it clear what would happen. So, God’s word can be trusted. That’s been established, but we see that Abraham has trouble trusting God.

Summary of Abraham’s difficulties in trusting God:

God promises to make Abraham into a great nation, which is the same as saying, “You are going to have a lot of kids!” This requires that he stays alive and has a wife.
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Abraham then struggles to trust God, which is demonstrated by the fact that, in Egypt, he hides that Sarai is his wife and says instead she is his sister ().
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God reminds Abraham once again that he will have many offspring (). Look what God says:
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Genesis 15:5–6 ESV
And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
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So you would think the matter is settled, but Abraham, though he expresses faith that God will follow-through, comes up with his own plan with his wife Sarai to have children and “help God out a little.”

Hagar & Ishmael ()

Look what happens:
Genesis 16:2 ESV
And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
Gen. 16:2
Isn’t that amazing how God continues to promise, we’ve seen how His word is good, how its true, but we still step out in our own plans rather than doing what He says we should do? That seems to be a key phrase - “Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” It should seem eerily familiar, like when Adam listened to the voice of his wife Eve, and when Eve listened to the voice of the serpent, rather than God.
Rather than listening to the voice of God, we listen to ourselves, or we listen to others who don’t point us to God, just like Abraham when he listened to the voice of Sarai rather than the voice of God, and just like Adam and Eve who listened to the liar in the garden. And just as there were consequences for Adam and Eve, there were also consequences for Abram, Sarai, and Hagar - and yes, even the son that was born named Ishmael. Sin is messy - and it destroys, isolates, and corrupts. Sarai figured out that she didn’t like that Hagar provided Abram with an heir and she became jealous, so she started beating Hagar. Now Abram and Sarai’s relationship is damaged, Sarai and Hagar’s relationship is damaged, and Abram becomes estranged from his son Ishmael. The whole situation is completely messed up.
But you know what? God didn’t give up on Abraham and Sarah. Why? I’ll tell you why:
God didn’t give up because God has a good plan that isn’t dependent on humans, but is dependent on His own goodness and faithfulness.
And if you know the story, you know that eventually Sarah gave birth to Abraham’s promised son, just as God promised and they named him Isaac. And God also promised to establish his covenant with Isaac, too. I think something happened in Abraham sometime between the birth of Ishmael and this next story. He began to realize that God will do was He says He will do.

Sacrifice of Isaac ()

And that is why - when this story happens, Abraham isn’t afraid. In , God tests Abraham’s trust in Him, asking Him to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering to Him. Here in this picture, you see Isaac leading them to the place where he himself was about to be sacrificed and he is carrying the wood on his back, his father behind him. Look at this dialogue between them:
Genesis 22:7–8 ESV
And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.
Gen. 22:7-9
And - you know? I think Abraham really believed that God was going to provide. I think he really trusted that God had made a promise that Isaac would have many offspring, and that God would fulfill His promise. This is after many times of messing up and trying to do things his own way, resulting in harm to others. But here’s the thing that we learn about God and us from the Patriarchs: God’s plans aren’t dependent on our faithfulness to do what is right. God’s plans are dependent on His faithfulness and He is completely good, completely able, and completely faithful.
By the way - just a side note - for those that question whether God changes from Old to New Testament, I think this story is a perfect example of how God’s mercy abounds in both testaments. You can see Christ foreshadowed here in this story. You have Isaac carrying the wood with which he is to be sacrificed, just as Christ carried His own cross. You have Abraham the father willing to give up his precious son, just as God gave up His precious Son. But the amazing turn of the story here is the words which foreshadow the amazing provision of God thousands of years later: “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” Isn’t God amazing and isn’t how history unfolds to show us His character amazing?
Do you think this slide characterized Abraham by this point?
I’M JUST TOO MESSED UP - NOTHING GOOD CAN COME OF ME.
Do you think this idea characterized Abraham by this point? It seems that Abraham came to understand who God is. He understood that it was true - He was messed up, and it was true - nothing good could come from him. But, it was also true that in spite of that God uses really messed up people to accomplish really good things, so Abraham looked to God and trusted Him.
This is why Abraham is able to believe this:
This is after many times of messing up and trying to do things his own way, resulting in harm to others. But here’s the thing that we learn about God and us from the Patriarchs:
Even if you’ve messed up, God can use you for good - so trust Him and joyfully serve Him.
God’s plans aren’t dependent on our faithfulness to do what is right. God’s plans are dependent on His faithfulness and He is completely good, completely able, and completely faithful.
It was based on God’s faithfulness, not on Abraham’s good deeds. Because Abraham knew God was good and able to follow through on his promises, Abraham became a guy that trusted God and joyfully served Him and God used him in many great ways.
And that leads us to to Abraham’s son Isaac and we are going to see that Isaac has similar problems in trusting the promises of God as Abraham.
Now mthe Lord said1 to Abram, “Go from your country2 and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. nAnd I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. oI will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and pin you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”3
m Acts 7:3; Heb. 11:8
1 Or had said
2 Or land
n ch. 17:6; 18:18; [Gal. 3:14]

Isaac ()

Isaac (; )

o ch. 27:29; Num. 24:9
We have quite a bit less on adult Isaac than on Abraham and Jacob, but here’s what we do know about him...

God extends the promise to Issac

God made the same promise to Isaac as He did to Abraham by giving him a wife and descendants. is the longest chapter in Genesis because Moses devotes a lot of time to telling the story of how Isaac found his wife. That tells us that this is particularly important to the story…this is like the author of Genesis saying, “Look - God is faithful to fulfill His promises and it is passing from Abraham to Isaac.”
Look what God says to Isaac in Genesis 26:
Genesis 26:4–5 ESV
I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
p ch. 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; Jer. 4:2; Acts 3:25; Gal. 3:16; Cited Gal. 3:8
Gen. 26:4-5

Isaac also Struggles in Trusting God

But Isaac messes up and doesn’t claim his wife Rebekah. She’s very beautiful and Isaac is worried that the Philistines will kill Him and take his wife, so he takes after dad and claims that Rebekah is his sister. This seems to indicate he cares more about himself than his wife and he is having trusting that God will fulfill His promises.
It might amaze you that Isaac has trouble trusting God after all he had seen so far in his lifetime. But let me ask you this: how often do you struggle in trusting God? How often do we find ourselves trying to make our own plans and listening to the lies that somehow we can come up with a better plan than God? Every time we struggle to obey what God has asked us to do, we are demonstrating that we have trouble trusting that His way is better.
The story ends ok, though, and Isaac becomes very wealthy and has two sons of importance.
But Isaac messes up and doesn’t claim his wife Rebekah. She’s very beautiful and Isaac is worried that the Philistines will kill Isaac and take his wife, so he takes after dad and claims that Rebekah is his sister.
But despite Isaac’s problems, he realized that:
Even if you’ve messed up, God can use you for good - so trust Him and joyfully serve Him.
3 Or by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 12:1–3.Isaac ()

Jacob (; )

Even if you’ve messed up, God can use you for good, if you trust Him and joyfully serve Him.
God promises to give
Gives his wife away to two other men by denying she is his wife

God’s Sovereign Choice

Tells his wife to sleep with
When Rebekah was finally pregnant, she received a word from God that she was going to have twins. In the instance of Jacob and his older brother Esau, some cultural norms are superseded by God. Normally, the older brother - Esau - would be the heir and become the head of the family upon his father’s death. But, before they were even born, God made it clear that Jacob would take this role.
Here’s what God says:
Genesis 25:23 ESV
And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
Genesis 25:23
Now, we aren’t necessarily given a reason for this, but Scripture makes it clear that it had nothing to do with Jacob’s goodness, superiority, or good works. That might seem obvious since he hadn’t even been born yet, but in case it is unclear, here is what Paul says in :
Romans 9:10–12 ESV
And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”

Summary of this Messed-Up Family

And over the coming years, we see the following happen:
Isaac and Rebekah play favorites with the kids - Isaac seems to like Esau more, while Rebekah likes Jacob more.
Jacob manipulates, lies, and steals to get what he wants from his brother Esau
Rebekah manipulates her husband to get what she wants for her son Jacob at the expense of her other son, Esau.
What becomes clear is this: the family has some serious issues…so much so that Esau comes to a point where he wants to kill his brother Jacob, so Jacob takes off to a foreign land to preserve his own life.
Now we don’t have time to cover all of the issues that occur in that foreign land, but suffice it to say that Jacob ends up getting married to not one, but two women - one of which was unintentional…you really should read about it! In his time in that foreign land, he becomes very wealthy because he is very cunning and he continues to build his family and his wealth until God tells him to head back home.
What becomes clear is that Jacob is still afraid that his brother Esau wants to kill him for what he did many years ago, but also what becomes clear is that Jacob’s years in the foreign land and all that he has endured has humbled him. In the end, he ends up reconciling with his brother, Esau.
One last answer to a question we asked earlier - why Abraham? Why the nation of Israel. God Himself answers that question.
Look at what God says of the entire nation of Israel in Deuteronomy:
Deuteronomy 7:6–9 ESV
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,

Conclusion

So we have spent a lot of time walking through Genesis so far and it seems like the conclusion that a person could come to is this:
I’M JUST TOO MESSED UP - NOTHING GOOD CAN COME OF ME.
I just want to reiterate - that’s true. That’s exactly the message that we get when we see this people up to this point. But that’s exactly the point - God’s goodness and God’s faithfulness should stand out in sharp relief to sinfulness and fallenness of humans. When we begin to get this concept, we begin to realize that we absolutely need God. If we are left ourselves, nothing good comes of it. You know this is true because you’ve seen the world and you know the thoughts you have in secret.
Deuteronomy 7:6–7 ESV
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples,
Deut 7.6-9
Deuteronomy 7:6–9 ESV
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,

Gospel

God sent His Son to show the way, to die for you that
But there’s good news - just as God’s ability to carry out His good purposes didn’t depend on the character of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or any of the other people we just talked about - so also God’s ability to use you and work in your life isn’t dependent on you. You don’t have to look any farther than the cross of Jesus Christ to know that God can accomplish great things - even though you were dead in your trespasses and sins - even though you had turned your back on God and wanted to go your own way - Christ still died for you. When you placed your trust in His life, death, and resurrection from the grave, His righteousness became your righteousness. Now, this is where things in your life get interesting because God has saved you for something - you have been brought to a new life to love Him, serve Him, and love others. This happens when we don’t trust in ourselves, but in God to work in us.
Even if you’ve messed up, God can use you for good - so trust Him and joyfully serve Him.
Do you believe this phrase? Its amazing to see how Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob came to trust God and joyfully serve him. Do you understand that Christ has taken your sin, nailed it to the cross, made you a new creation so that God can use you for good. You get a chance to joyfully serve Him.

Application

So - here’s what I want to do. Everyone should have a connect card on their seat or somewhere near their seat. This is a little different than we normally do, but I want you to take one minute to pray:
“God - thank you that you can still used me, even though I’ve messed up. Help me to trust you. I want to joyfully serve you with me life.”
Then, write down one or two ways you think God could use you for His good purposes on your connect card. Maybe there is a way you are joyfully serving Him now, or maybe that hasn’t become clear yet. Just write down one or two things as we pray.
Give 1-2 minutes.
Alright - now if you are comfortable, I want to ask that you turn in your connect card. If you want to put your name on it, you can, or you can stay anonymous. But Pastor Ryan and I would like to pray over these this week. We want to pray that God would use you, that you would know that He has demonstrated His love for you in that, while you were messed up and turned your back on God, Christ still died for you. That’s amazing and now He wants you to serve Him with joy. There aren’t guarantees that it will always be easy, but He does promise that He will be with you and give you His Holy Spirit to strengthen and encourage you.
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