Abraham, Pt. 11: Mourning a Loss

Scripture: Genesis 23:1-20, 1 Peter 3:6, Hebrews 11:11-12
Date: 05/22/2004 
The eleventh in a 12 part series on the life of Abraham. In this sermon we look at the death of Sarah who represents the church. She has a miracle baby boy, which symbolizes God's church.
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

Morning, I’d like to wish everybody a happy Sabbath. It’s good to see you and this morning we’re going to be continuing our study on the patriarch Abraham. You might be wondering if this is going to go on forever. Today would be part 11 and then we’ll be moving into part 12 and next Sabbath will be the final installment and I’m sure there’s a lot that’s been left unsaid on the subject of Abraham. Now I was going to do something. Your son is Samuel? Where’d he go? Did he get raptured? Is he back there somewhere? Samuel, are you back there? He may have gone around the outside of the church so he could come in discretely. If he only knew. He’s memorized large passages of scripture, right? I was going to have him demonstrate that. I remembered as I was sitting here and he was doing the scripture reading and I probably, now they’re going to go look for him. Poor guy.

He probably went to the restroom. I didn’t warn him I was going to do this and this is what happens when you do something like this with no warning at all, but I thought you know that would really be a nice to take a moment or two and have him demonstrate what it’s like to memorize scripture and that it can be done. It’s a real blessing. They probably are scouring around back there to see if they could find him. I’ll tell you what when he comes out, when we track him down we’ll bring him out if he won’t be too embarrassed and I’d like to have him demonstrate a little bit about some of the scripture memorization. I met these folks at the, was it the Portland Campmeeting or Gladstone Campmeeting? And I remembered you said you were coming down. I’ve been gone all week and I saw him up there and it just all came back to me at the last moment.

In any event I would like to go ahead and move on with our sermon for this morning. Now you might be wondering. Turn in your Bibles to the book of Genesis chapter 23. In Genesis chapter 23… Last week we talked about the offering of Abraham offering Isaac and this week we’re going to be talking about the death of Sarah and the sermon title is “Mourning a Loss.” Now you might be wondering why this would be an important study. First of all, the subject of death is nothing that anyone wants to schedule to come and to listen to, but the fact remains that it is a very important part of life. Nobody wants to think about it. It’s something that is certain but it’s unfortunate. Good I’ve been stalling. You didn’t know I was going to do this. Samuel, right? Come up here for a second. I need a microphone. I need a microphone or he has to get real close to my face to talk into my microphone. Is this on, Larry? Test. Now you, tell me your name. “Samuel Nodaragen.” And you’ve done some Bible…you didn’t know I was going to do this, did you? “No.” But I met you up at campmeeting and you’ve memorized some passages of scripture, right? “Yeah.” Which ones? “The whole book of Daniel and Revelation, Hebrews 11, I Corinthians 13 and 12, John 14 and 17, Matthew 5, Psalm 119.” Wow! Can you say Amen?

So it would probably be, Daniel chapter 2 is a long one, huh? “Yeah.” No, we’re not going to do that. But tell you what, why don’t you just get started…take Daniel chapter 2, and from memory and do what you can. Start working through it. Could you do that now if I put you on the spot? “The whole thing?” Just start. I might stop you. “Oh.” I know it’s a lot of verses, but just I want to demonstrate something that you’re not just saying that you’ve done that. “Okay. ‘And in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar dreamed dreams, wherewith the spirit was troubled, and his sleep brake from him. Then the king commanded to call the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to show the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king. And the king said unto them, I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream. Then spake the Chaldeans to the king in Syriac, O king, live for ever: tell thy servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation.

The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill. But if you show the dream, and the interpretation thereof, ye shall receive of me gifts and rewards and great honor: therefore show me the dream, and the interpretation thereof.’” Okay. See? Is that amazing? Alright, now you say you’ve memorized some of Revelation? “Yes.” How much of Revelation? “All of it.” You’ve memorized the entire book of Revelation. “By God’s grace.” Praise the Lord. Alright, Revelation chapter 12. “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.” You can stop there. Can you say Amen? That’s wonderful. Thank you so much for demonstrating that.

Are you still working on other books? “I’m taking a break.” You’re taking a break. I bet! That’s wonderful. That was worth waiting for, amen? That inspires us. He’s memorized the whole book of Daniel and Revelation not to mention Hebrews 11 and those other passages, 1st Corinthians 13 the chapter on love and we need to be hiding God’s word in our heart, amen? Especially for the time that’s coming. I’m glad that we did that and that you shared that. I think that was inspiring for our young people, some of the old folks too. Genesis chapter 23, begin with me, verse 1. Our message this morning is Part 11 of Abraham the Ultimate Patriarch and we’re dealing with “Mourning a Loss.” Verse 1, “Sarah lived a hundred and twenty-seven years; and these were the years of the life of Sarah. So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” Now this is a very interesting passage if for no other reason because it is the only time in the Bible… Have you read hundreds of times in the Bible where it talks about how long different people lived and then they died and how long they lived and they die? You know this is the only time in the Bible it tells how long a woman lived?

Out of the hundreds of life-spans that are given in the Bible this is the only time. You know you’re not supposed to talk about the age of women, right? This is scripture that proves that. But there’s a reason for that. One of the reasons is the very age that is listed for Sarah has great significance. Now I’ll tell you that as we discuss the death of Sarah, Sarah represents the church for a number of reasons. First of all, she gave birth in a miraculous way to this promised child and that’s one reason I asked Samuel to read from Revelation chapter 12. The dragon wanted to destroy the seed of the woman and all through the Bible history you read about these barren women that have these miracle baby boys that are types of Christ. They are all types of the church. A woman is a symbol of the church. “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.” John writes to the elect lady. And so “I’ve likened the daughter of Zion to a delicate and comely woman.” A woman symbolizes the church and Abraham, the great patriarch, this king priest is a type of Christ.

Now you read in the Bible that a few things that help illustrate this. 1st Peter chapter 3, verse 6, “As Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.” It says that Sarah called Abraham lord. The church should have that reverence for Christ that Sarah had for Abraham. Something else we notice about Sarah that makes me think she’s a type of the church. Does it ever say that Sarah got old? Yeah. You know Sarah called herself old forty years before she died? Are you aware of that? First time she says, I’m old, was forty years before she died. Who was it, George Burns that said, “If I knew how long I’d live I would have taken better care of myself.” My father used to love to quote that. So just because you start saying you’re going to get old. You know Isaac said, “I’m getting old and I don’t know the day of my departure.” So he called in Jacob and his sons and he blessed them. When he did that he still lived probably another forty years beyond that time when he said, “I could go any day now. I’ve got one foot in the grave, another on a banana peel. I’d better bless my kids.” He lived to, he lived, Isaac lived longer than Abraham, a hundred and eighty years. But he didn’t know.

So those of you who think you’re old now, you don’t know. You might be around for a while so take care of yourself. Something else I think is interesting. She lived how long? You know some things you never forget. When I was in military school they gave all of the students a number so you could mark your laundry and you were that number all that year and for two years I was one twenty-seven. And now you all know my password on my internet and all that, right? That was, no, I know better because I’d never tell you that. But that number was the number I always remembered one-two-seven and for years it was the, that’s when I had an attaché case. That was my combination because it was something I could always easily remember, my laundry number from military school. But the number one twenty-seven is a significant number for this one woman whose age is given. How many were in the upper room? A hundred and twenty represents God’s church. How many were in the upper room when the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost?

It says in Acts chapter 1 and there were about a hundred and twenty. That’s ten times twelve, a number for the church. And a hundred and twenty-seven is a hundred and twenty plus seven. Seven is another number for the church. You’ve got the seven churches there in Revelation chapter 2 and 3 and it represents the ages and the cycle of the church. Sarah was born where? Born in Mesopotamia, Babylon, but she died in the Promised Land. The church is born in sin, pagan Babylon, but we die in Christ, the Promised Land. Now the three patriarchs are interesting. They are like a type of Christ. Abraham took his wife Sarah from Babylon to the Promised Land where she was barren but she had a miracle child then he… and our subject next week is how Isaac gets his wife. Servant comes back, goes to Mesopotamia, gets a wife for Isaac, Rebekah, brings her from Babylon to the Promised Land. Rebekah is barren. Through a miracle she has twins. She gives birth. Jacob is told not to take a woman from Canaan. He goes back to Babylon.

He brings his wife from Babylon to the Promised Land. Rachel is barren. He prays and she has a miracle child. Are you seeing a pattern here? And it happens with the three great patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which are a type of our trinity God the Father, Son and Spirit that all bring the bride from Babylon to the Promised Land. Now you get a little further on in the Bible and you have God’s people are held captive in Babylon. They are brought out of Babylon under the leading of the high priest. Who knows what his name was? Joshua, the High Priest was instrumental in leading the people from Babylon to the Promised Land and everyone knows how you say Joshua in Greek? Jesus brought them from Babylon to the Promised Land. Then when you get to Revelation it says, “Babylon is fallen. Come out of her, my people.”

God is calling his bride out of Babylon into the Promised Land and we want to die in Christ as she did. I think it’s also interesting Sarah speaks very little. One of her complaints is she wants to be fruitful and the Bible says that when she talks Abraham into taking Hagar, later she regrets that. Notice what she says, Genesis 16:5, Sarah says to Abraham, “My wrong be upon you!” Of course many wives have said that to their husbands, but I think that there’s a spiritual application here. If Sarah represents the church and Abraham represents Christ isn’t it accurate that the church says to Christ, “My wrong be upon you.” Haven’t we placed our wrongs upon Christ? And so you begin to look at this and even right on the surface you can see that she is a type of the church here and Abraham is a type of Christ.

Now it says that Abraham goes to mourn for Sarah. It says that she died in Kirjath Arba and that word Kirjath Arba means quite literally “the city of the four,” another symbol that I think that we should explore a little bit. The church is often symbolized under the number of four while God is symbolized under the number of three. The New Jerusalem is all divisible by four. You’ve got four sides. You’ve got 12,000 furlongs which is divisible by four; 12 foundations, divisible by four and twelve gates which is divisible by four. Around the throne of Christ you’ve got four creatures. God will send his angels to gather together his elect, the church, to the four corners. The word, number four means something universal and God’s church is to spread around the world. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the portrayals of the gospel and they give you those four dimensions. And so the church is symbolized by four. Sarah dies in Kirjath Arba, but Abraham is not there when she dies because you notice it says he comes to mourn.

Abraham was a shepherd and I, the Bible doesn’t say this, but I think it’s safe to surmise that Sarah probably did not die from some long, lingering sickness. I think maybe she was taken quickly by a stroke or heart attack or something because Abraham was off probably pasturing the flock somewhere else in Hebron, a servant came and said, “Sarah has died.” And he came back to mourn her. Because you know as a shepherd you need to move. He had created more of a settlement in Hebron. And so he came to mourn her there. It’s about twenty miles away from Beersheba. This is the great mother of the patriarchs. Her name was changed.

You know most of the time in the Bible God gives new names to the men, but with Sarah he gave a new name to her because she is a type of Christ. Of the women who are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus there’s only four of the many men that are mentioned. Those four women are first, Sarah. She’s first of the women who are mentioned. Then you’ve got Tamar, you’ve got Rahab and you have Ruth. And those are the only women that are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. And so she’s honored in that way too. Hebrews 11 tells us that she was a woman of faith. You probably know, Samuel, Hebrews 11:11. “Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” You’re right. That’s it. “Through faith…” Oh, man.

I thought I’d stump him. “By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age…” You notice I’m not doing this from memory. “…because she judged Him faithful who had promised.” And so here she’s listed among the faithful. She is a woman of great honor in the Bible. And then it says that she died. The bible is clear that while God may preserve and protect his own that doesn’t say that they will not experience death. So Abraham goes to Beersheba and she died in Hebron twenty-four miles distant and he comes. And it says in verse 2, “…and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” But then it says, “Abraham stood up from before his dead.” I’d like to say that mourning is something that should be done but it should be temporary. When we lose our friends and our loved ones we should water their memory, the seeds of their memory with tears preparing them for the resurrection and that is appropriate for us to gather together and to mourn, but it should not go on indefinitely.

1st Thessalonians 4:13 “Brethren, I would not have you be ignorant concerning them that are asleep that you do not sorrow as others that have no hope.” We should sorrow, but not like those who do not have hope. When people die without Christ they’ve got a reason to sorrow and that grief can be much deeper. Think about it really when you’re a Christian and when we must gather around the coffin of someone who has died in Christ we’re not really grieving them, are we? Think about it. If they’ve died in Christ you can almost rejoice for them because they are never going to feel pain again. They are only going to feel pleasure. The Bible says, “At his right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Their next conscious thought is the trumpet. They come out of their graves, glorified body, they’re with the Lord forevermore, they’re free from all the burdens of pain and sin and you’re not crying for them. It’s… and I remember one time, sometimes you know we’re at funerals and you hope the person is saved and you might have good reason to hope.

Sometimes you’re at funerals, you have serious doubts and those are difficult ones. But every now and then you go to a funeral of someone who is a saint and they just exuded the aura of Christ, there’s no question. And I remember there’s been a few occasions here, other churches I’ve pastored where I’ve participated in a funeral service for somebody and I must confess I see them in the casket and very rarely are you wanting to trade places with the person in the casket, but I wanted to trade places because I put myself in their shoes and I thought, “Wow! I want to be them. They have died in Christ.” They even sometimes look serene as they lay there. They’ve got that glow, that peace. And I know when our sister Grace Potter, if I went to see her at the hospital so we could comfort her in her final hours and here she’s telling her whole family, “You better be good.

I want to see you in heaven,” and she had that peace and she’s just preaching to everybody. She wasn’t worried about her. She knew she was saved. She was worried about everybody else in her family. And then at her service I was thinking, “I want to trade places with her.” I was jealous. So would you mourn that person or are you mourning that you’re not going to see them for a while? And if you’re lost you’ve got reason to mourn because they’re not going to be with you in the reward. That’s reason to mourn. But for those who are Christians to mourn the way the lost mourn doesn’t make sense. You go into the tombs of the pagans in Rome and most of them were cremated but some of them were buried and they would inscribe things like “Goodbye forevermore” and things like that; sort of pitiful inscriptions on their tombs and their graves.

Then you go into the catacombs of the Christians and they say “Goodnight until the morning,” “We will see you on the glorious day.” And they understood that it was something temporary. Now the reason I say this, “Abraham stood up from before” the “dead.” He loved Sarah. And some of you have had a fiftieth anniversary. Some of you have had a sixtieth anniversary. My grandparents had seventy-one years together and some have had longer. Not too many people go beyond seventy. Abraham and Sarah may have done that, gone, they may have had… I mean if he married her at twenty-seven they could have celebrated their hundredth anniversary. That’s a loss! You feel a vacuum when you’ve been married that long. You know my heart goes out to these widows. I say that because generally the women out-live the men, but not in this story. Matter of fact, a little bit of trivia: with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all of the wives died before the husbands. Isn’t that unusual? Because usually it’s the other way around. Women usually outlive us.

I think they worked them harder back then. That could be part of the reason. Now I forget what I was saying. Oh, my heart goes out to the widows among us because you know sometimes they’re married to somebody fifty years and then their husband is gone, or the wife is gone and you’re so used to… they walk down the halls of the house and they sometimes forget and they call out to their spouse and then they realize they’re gone, and then they kind of relive that grief again. But there must be a time when we stand up from before our dead. In the Bible Jacob, when he thought that Joseph had died…oh, I think I’ve got it right here in my notes. “All his sons,” Genesis 37:35, “all of his sons and his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, ‘For I will go down into the grave to my son in mourning.’”

Well, you know he was separated from his son for probably twenty years, twenty-one years. That’s a long time to mourn. That gets pitiful and he had a lot of other sons and family and for him constantly to be mourning the death of the one makes it seem like you don’t care about the lives of the living. So there must come a time where you stand up from before the dead. The saddest thing was Jacob mourned the death of Joseph twenty-one years, he wasn’t even dead! How pathetic is that? And you know that’s like some of us. We’re mourning the death of a loved-one who died saved and you think, “Why?” I know this one man who’s constantly burning a candle for a loved-one that is lost, and some people go to the cemetery every day. Well, I think it’s appropriate a few times a year, but every day? That gets to be morbid.

Even Abraham, don’t tell me he didn’t love Sarah. He finally stood up from before the dead. Let me read some things in the Bible. “There is a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Isn’t it interesting that it puts the dancing after the mourning? Even after the mourning there can be dancing again. And for those of you who want to misuse this scripture, I’m not talking about the worldly dancing. I’m talking about the Miriam, David dancing, okay? Rejoicing. There must be a time of standing up from before the dead and ceasing to mourn. “Weeping,” Psalm 30:5. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” And of course you remember the longest morning was wasted. Even David when he lost his son Amnon who died lost, did you hear me? David had a son, Amnon, raped his daughter Tamar. Amnon killed by Absalom. David and all of his servants wept. But then it says, “David stopped weeping for Amnon. He was comforted because he realized Amnon was dead.” And what that means is, he’s gone.

I can’t do anything more about it. And even when David’s baby died. You know David lost four boys. Even when David’s baby died, he died innocent, he wept seven days, but after the child died he stood up, he washed himself and the servants said, “We don’t understand. While the child was alive you mourned and you fasted and now he has died, you’re giving up, you’re washing yourself, you’re eating.” He said, “Well, he’s dead. There’s nothing more I can do now. I was praying and mourning that he would be healed, that he’d live, but now God has made his choice and there’s no sense in mourning anymore.” Do you understand that? That’s an important principle because Christians live in a world that is surrounded by death. Which brings me to another point: death is a curse that is prevalent in this world. This world is all plagued with a death penalty, and it’s a nasty business. Genesis 50:26 “Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old; and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” Those are the last words in Genesis. “…in a coffin in Egypt.”

You know how Genesis begins. Everything was good, good, very good. God created paradise. He creates a tree of life and Genesis ends “in a coffin in Egypt.” Our world is under a plague of death. All of you until, some of you may have your glorified bodies now, but I don’t think so. Most of us have bodies that are suffering the curse of death, and as they say, “If you live long enough, you’ll die.” That’s one of those, was it Tommy DeSorta who always says those things, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Is he the one? Yeah. Who is it? Yogi Berra. Yeah. “You live long enough, you’ll die.” That may be one of his statements. I think he also said, “Nobody eats at that restaurant any more. It’s too crowded.” That has nothing to do with the sermon, but it’s one of those pithy statements that he made. Revelation 20:14 “Then Death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire.” Now some versions render that “hell.” The word hell there means the grave. God is going to kill death. I know that sounds strange, but really that’s what it’s saying.

There will be no more death. Death is a curse that’s in this world and the fact that… oh, I’m getting ahead of myself in the story, but I’ll tell you now anyway since I started the thought. The only place that Abraham owned in the Promised Land was a cemetery. Let’s go back to our story here. Turn with me to Genesis chapter 23, “So Abraham stood up from before his dead, and he spoke to the sons of Heth.” These are the parents of the Hittites and keep in mind the Hittites were not all bad. Uriah that loyal man was a Hittite. Some of these pagan people still had some virtue. Abraham stood up before the sons of Heth and he said, “I am a foreigner and a sojourner among you.” Abraham saw himself as a stranger and a pilgrim. “Give me some property for a burial place among you, that I might bury my dead out of my sight.” And that’s another point that we might consider is that there comes a time where you don’t want to eternally memorialize… I know someone they lost their spouse and they cremated them. They put their remains in an urn and they sit it on a pedestal in the middle of the living room.

Why would you want to do that? Do you think that it’s a way of honoring them? Here Abraham is saying, “I want to put her out of my sight. I want to remember her here alive. I don’t want to have the symbol of death before me. “…that I might bury my dead out of my sight.” Then they respond to him. “The sons of Heth answered Abraham,” verse 6, “Hear us, my lord: You are a mighty prince among us.” I want to park there for just a moment. Abraham lived in a pagan land where he did not really own anything. He was a stranger and a pilgrim. The pagan nation said of Abraham, “You are a mighty prince among us.” He was a believer in Jehovah. Most of them were not, with the exception of Melchezadek. What is your reputation among the unbelievers around you? Do they respect you? Did they respect Abraham? He was “a mighty prince among” them. Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Acts 6:3, “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation.”

God’s people should have a good reputation among the community. Acts 10:22, “And they said, ‘Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nations of the Jews...” When picking a bishop Paul said one of the criteria must be how do you appear among others. “Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are on the outside.” Now Christians want to have a good testimony in the church. I mean, that should be basic and most of us at least try to put that on. You want to be respected among your peers. But the Bible says you should also have a good testimony among the others. Every now and then we run into stories of people who come to church and they smile real big and they hug their Bible under their arm and try to look sanctimonious and holy and you’ll meet somebody someday and they’ll say, “Oh, you’re a Seventh-Day Adventist? I know one of the members of your church. That guy is the biggest crook in town.” It happens. How much better if they can say, “Oh, he is a mighty prince among us.

He is someone who can be respected. He’s noble, he’s honest, he’s trustworthy.” They were willing to do anything for Abraham because he was good. In his dealings with them they couldn’t point to anything where he had been dishonest. 1st Thessalonians 4:12 “That you may walk properly toward those who are outside…” Now if the church is inside, who is the outside? Everybody else. Abraham was not only a witness in his family, “he commanded his household after him,” the Bible says, but he was a witness for the pagans who were around him. “Let your light so shine… that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.” They said, “You are a mighty prince among us.” Back to our passage here in Genesis chapter 23. “You are a mighty prince among us; bury your dead in the choicest of our burial places. None of us will withhold from you his burial place, that you might bury your dead.” Now you realize what they’re saying. It was customary for people very early in their lives to make preparation and to build a tomb and here Abraham is dealing with the patriarchs.

He didn’t deal with the servants. Typically the patriarchs of the various clans and the kings would speak at these assemblies and he’s addressing them and they’re saying, “You pick the choicest. You pick the best tomb that we have.” Now these are the tombs of the kings. These are the tombs of the leaders in the Promised Land and they’re saying, “You pick.” Some of them may have had their own personal pyramid. Some of them probably had these elaborate, I’ve been to Petra where they carved these tombs, beautiful tombs in these sandstone hillsides, and they’re saying, “You take the most beautiful tomb that we’ve prepared for ourselves; we’ll give it to you.” Isn’t that a testimony? Can you think of someone else that gave a very expensive tomb to someone who wasn’t ready? Joseph gave his personal tomb to Jesus and here this is what they’re offering really to Abraham. And of course he’s grateful for that generous offer. “Then Abraham stood up and he bowed himself to the people of the land, the sons of Heth.” He’s showing respect. “And he spoke with them…”

Evidently there is some meeting that is taking place at the city gates. He has come from Hebron. He goes to the city gates of the Hittites and he meets with them at the city gates, which was typical, and he makes this appeal to publicly secure his first acquisition of real estate in the Promised Land and it’s a grave because this world is really just a grave right now. And he bows himself. “And he spoke with them, saying,” in verse 8, “If it is your wish that I bury my dead out of my sight, then hear me, meet with Ephron the son of Zohar for me, that he might give me the cave of Machpelah which he has, in the end of his field. Let him give it to me at the full price…” I’m not asking for any kind of a bargain. “…for a burial place among you.” Alright now it may seem like I’m getting off track a little bit but I think it’s important. One reason that Abraham is respected among the people, he doesn’t try to gyp them. He says, “I’m willing to pay full price.” I think that we need to be careful about… Do you ever use the expression, “He tried to Jew me down”? Yeah, some of you are admitting it. Some of you, you’re thinking it, but you’re not admitting it. Not only incorrect politically, it’s biblically not very nice. Think about it. Jesus was a Jew. God so loved the world he gave his Son.

The idea that Jews are stingy… Abraham wasn’t that way. He was extremely generous. And I just cited Joseph of Arimathea and some of the greatest sacrifice… I dare you to sacrifice like the early church. They were Jews. And so while there may be some that are the other way, I think it’s not fair to generalize that way. Abraham and we don’t want to be known as God’s people as being miserly and stingy either. He was willing to pay full price for it. He wanted to be fair. He says, “If it is your wish, speak to Ephron” this man that he knew that probably was near his flocks. He owned a field and he had spied it and he thought to himself that would be a good place for a grave. “‘That he might give me the cave of Machpelah which in the end of his field… for the full price.’ Now Ephron dwelt among the sons of Heth.” He was right there. “…and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the presence of the sons of Heth, all who entered at the gate of the city, saying, ‘No, my lord,’” he calls out. He’s there. “I will give the field and the cave that is in it; I give it to you in the presence…” here.

I’ve got witnesses. It’s a gift. “…of the sons of my people. I give it to you. Bury your dead!” Now he was doing something noble. It was quite a sacrifice to give away that field. And Abraham said, Well, that’s you know a magnanimous thing to do, but I’m not going to take advantage of you. “Abraham bowed himself down before the people of the land,” again thanking them for their generosity. Now keep in mind some thoughts. You should never bow down because it’s worshipping another person. It’s okay to bow before somebody as respect. You know when I went to Korea they don’t shake hands there. When you greet somebody everybody is bowing. You’re constantly almost bumping heads with people and it’s just a term of respect. It’s like you know you shake hands and there’s nothing. It doesn’t mean you’re violating the commandment. And so Abraham bowed down again himself “before the people of the land; and he spoke to Ephron in the hearing of the people…” They’re making a transaction publicly. “…saying, ‘If you will give it’” to me, “‘please hear me. I will give you money for the field; take it from me and I might bury my dead there.’ And Ephron answered Abraham, saying to him, ‘My lord, listen to me; the land is worth four hundred shekels of silver. What is that between you and me?’”

That’s a lot of money. I mean, Joseph was sold for less than that, right? And so he’s saying, “Oh, it’s only, you know, a couple of million dollars. What’s that between you and me?” That was, in the Middle Eastern culture transactions are made this way. They want to sound very generous but then they name what the price is and you’ve got to listen for it and what they’re really saying is, “This is what I want for it.” And so he did give a specific price. “And Abraham listened to Ephron.” You know what that means? He heard what he was saying. “And Abraham weighed out the silver for Ephron which he had named in the hearing of the sons of Heth, four hundred shekels of silver, currency of the merchants.” He weighs it out. “So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave that was in it, and all the trees that were in the field which were within the surrounding borders, were deeded to Abraham…” <> precise specific real estate transaction that was made according to the laws of the land so that he could secure a burial place not only for Sarah, but this would be the burial place for himself, for Isaac, for Rebekah, for Jacob and for Leah. Now it’s interesting, Abraham had other wives. They were not buried there.

Jacob had other wives. Out of four only Leah was buried there. The only ones who were buried in this cave were the ones who were the literal descendants of Jesus. Isn’t that interesting? How could they know which wife it would be? Well, the angels had told Abraham and Isaac that. And so he purchases this cave. Now there are some other points on this that I think it would be worthy for us to consider. Acts chapter 7, verse 5. Stephen is preaching and he said, “God gave him no inheritance in it, no, not even to set his foot on. But even when Abraham had no child, He promised it to him for a possession, and his descendants after him.” You know what the word Ephron is? He buys his field from Ephron. The word Ephron means dust. What does God say in Genesis chapter 3? “Dust you are, and unto dust you’ll return.” All that he owned was dust. All of our earthly possessions in this life are just dust. It sort of rhymes, doesn’t it? Everything you’ve got it just dust. And our possessions in this world, it’s what you take to the grave, our character, that’s what’s really going to last. Now when Abraham buried Sarah did he expect he’d see her again? God had promised him that he and Sarah would be parents of a great multitude. How many children did Sarah get to enjoy before she died? One.

Did Sarah get to see any grandchildren? No, she died before her son was even married. Didn’t even get to be involved in planning his wedding, but will Sarah see grandchildren? Will she see great-grandchildren? Will she see great-great-grandchildren? And I don’t need to go on, do I? The Bible is telling us that the seed of Abraham is something beyond what you have literally in this life. Christians don’t die. They go to sleep. When it says a Christian dies they’re dead, but they’re not really dead. Jesus bore that out of course when he went to the tomb. Matthew 22:31, listen to what Jesus said about Abraham, “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you read what was spoken by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?” Notice, Jesus is speaking. “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” So if in the grave of Machpelah you’ve got Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, are they dead or are they alive? Now I might ask you today, is Abraham alive today or dead? We don’t know. Physically we don’t know.

There were some who were resurrected when Jesus died, right? Matthew 27 says many “graves were opened;” some of the tombs of those who slept in Jerusalem came out of their graves. Wouldn’t it be nice to consider that the patriarchs were among those in the first resurrection? Is it possible? And their wives. It could be, I don’t know. But the dead are not really dead if they’re Christians. John 11:4, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick he said, “This sickness is not unto death,” but he died! How could Jesus say Lazarus’ sickness was “not unto death”? If you’ve got a loved one in Christ and they’re sick you can say the same thing. Their sickness is not unto death as long as they’re not sick with sin. If you’re sick with sin it is a sickness unto death, but if it’s just a physical sickness then it’s not unto death. One reason I know that is in the next verse or verse 11 Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go to wake him.” And then verse fourteen, “Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’” He said he’s not really dead, he’s asleep.

Christians do not really die. God said, “I am not the God of the dead.” I’m the God of the living. When you die in Christ you go to sleep. That’s why Paul says, “Those that sleep in Christ will rise.” Now I have a problem with the popular belief that when you die you go right to heaven or hell because that is so far out of sync from the Bible. Let me tell you what contributes to that. A couple of things: one is, in the Bible Paul talks about being absent from the body and present with the Lord. Well, that’s absolutely true. As soon as you die your next conscious thought if you’re a Christian is the resurrection. So as soon as you’re absent from the body, the next thing you know is the presence of the Lord. But King David who died a thousand years ago, where is he now? David was not in that first resurrection that is in the book of Matthew.

One reason I know that is you get to Acts chapter 2:29 and Peter says, “Let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that is he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day.” You read on in the same chapter, it says, “David has not ascended to heaven.” Now let’s repeat that. David is dead, buried, not in heaven and that’s a thousand years after David. This is fifty days after the resurrection. He’s still dead and not ascended to heaven. So the idea that people die and go right to heaven that’s not biblical. For one thing, would it make sense for a person to go to their reward before the judgment? When is the resurrection? Is it past or is it still future? The general resurrection is still in the future. If the resurrection is in the future who needs a resurrection if they’re already in heaven? That doesn’t make any sense and yet how many times have you been to a funeral where they say, “You know, our so-and-so, our loved-one, they’re now with the Lord. They’re singing on the golden streets.

They’re flying with the angels.” And they paint a beautiful picture that’s supposed to comfort people and yes, it is true that if they died in Christ they will experience those things, and if you want to you can think ahead to that time because we live in a world where we’re confined by time. But they’re not there yet according to the time we live in. Am I confusing you? You realize God doesn’t live in the same dimension of time that we’re in. Can God go back in time? Can God like that take people back, and John he can show him the battle between Michael and the Dragon? Can God go ahead in time and show at the end of the one thousand years? God can take people in vision. He’s not c… “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” You notice it doesn’t say he was God back then. He always is. He says, “I am that I am.”

He exists all the time in every time. I mean you and I just, our brains explode when we begin to think like that. We can’t understand it. So as far as you and I are concerned in this dimension of time we live in the resurrection hasn’t happened yet. They’re not there yet. Why would it say they sleep if they’re really awake? Why would it say they’re going to rise if they’re already risen? Why would it say they’ve got their reward, the judgment hasn’t happened. Now that’s another point. When is the judgment? Jesus says three times in the Gospel of John the end of the world, the last thing, is when the judgment takes place. “The hour is coming in which all that are in the graves will hear his voice.” They’re not there yet. They’re sleeping. The general resurrection happens at the end. Now are there a few exceptions?

Are there some saints in heaven now? Let’s name a few of them. Enoch. The Bible says, “Enoch walked with God. God took him.” Elijah went to heaven in a fiery chariot. Moses, book of Jude tells us there’s only one chapter, that Michael came to raise Moses. Jewish tradition tells us it was three days after he died and I have no reason to disagree with that. I would accept that. But the Lord raised Moses. We know that Moses appeared to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. We know he’s raised. The twenty-four elders you see in Revelation around the throne of God are probably comprised of some of those who were raised in that resurrection in Matthew 27. So there are some but there’s only a fraction of people who have been raised and it was special circumstances. The universal resurrection of the dead is still in the future. But they’re not really dead if they’re a Christian. They’re asleep. Let me read you another verse. Acts 7:60, when Stephen was stoned “he knelt down and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.’ And when he said this, he fell asleep.” Well, he’s being bludgeoned with stones, but it says “he fell asleep.” It doesn’t say he died. So how does the Bible define death?

Something else that I think that we could talk about before we go on here. Of course as Christians when we must mourn a loss I think that we should not only show respect for the dead but we should show respect for the living by weeping with those that weep. There is comfort that you offer. For one thing, if someone passes away and nobody comes to the funeral what does that say? That nobody cared about their life. It’s a time to come together and celebrate their life especially if they’re a Christian. Romans 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Job 2:11, “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place…for they had made an appointment to come together to mourn with him, and to comfort him.” He had lost his family and he was also suffering. Matthew Henry puts it this way, “It is a duty to lament the death of our dear relations both in compliance with the providence of God who thus calls us to weeping and mourning and to honor those with due honor.”

Something else that’s going to come up, I often get this question. It is important to make practical preparations for death. Some people think that if you just put it off that means that it may not happen. Now there is a time when it is not practical. If you’re eighteen years old it may be premature for you to buy your plot. You know what I’m saying? It might be a good idea to tell your family, “If I go to war and something happens, here is where I want to be buried.” Especially if you’re a Christian and you think that the Lord’s coming is eminent, well, why waste the money, right? But if you’re getting up there in years and you think that there is a probability that the Lord may tarry and you might die first, don’t wait to the last minute to leave all those preparations and those burdens on your family. So many people do this; even Abraham, he waits until Sarah dies, then he starts looking for a grave. Might have been a little easier for him if he had bought that field sooner. My brother had a terminal disease, everybody knew, he knew he was terminal.

When I got out there, I was with him when he died and we kind of got up from mourning the dead and said, well, I said to the family, “What are the plans?” Hadn’t made any plans. They hadn’t done anything to prepare. It wasn’t that they didn’t have the means. They just, maybe people think it’s bad luck. Some folks say, “I don’t want to prepare a will because if I do then I’ll die.” That’s not clear thinking for a Christian. I think that you need to realize that this world is cursed with death and if you think there is a chance that Jesus may come back and you’re getting near the statistical time when your number may come, make some plans. Somebody say, “Amen!” Help me with this. I see Frank John out there. He’s a mortician. He should say “amen.” So we need to prepare for these things.

It leaves a burden, the family is grieving and they’re trying to make these practical preparations and divide… I’ll tell you another thing, nothing will divide a family faster than not having a will. You can keep your children together by having that stuff mapped out and be specific otherwise they start squabbling over things and it creates a lot of division. You’ve heard the expression, “Where there’s a will… there’s a lot of relatives.” And so that’s not the way you remember it, right? Then the question comes up, the method of burial. Now nobody usually contests that there’s anything wrong with buying a grave and burying our loved ones. Some wonder; is it a sin to utilize cremation? Well, let me tell you what the Bible says and you decide for yourself. Ninety-nine percent of the time in the Bible the saints were buried.

The Bible talks about the resurrection usually in the terms about those in their graves. It never says those in the urns. But that does not necessarily mean… it’s a pretty weak argument that you’d have to build that there is some sin involved in cremation. There is one case in the Bible where Saul and his three sons including Jonathan who we know is saved were killed by the Philistines and it says the men of Jabesh Gilead “traveled all night” and they rescued “the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth Shan.” They were basically crucified up on the wall. “And they came to Jabesh and they burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and they fasted seven days.” Now I expect to see Jonathan in the resurrection and how many of the martyrs were burnt at the stake?

Some people think that if you die and your bones are there in a coffin and the grave is marked God can find you and resurrect you, but if you’re cremated and they sprinkle the ashes like the Neptune Society, and you know people do all kinds of things to try and be… I heard, who was it? The guy who wrote Star Trek. Ah, see? I knew you’d know, some of you. I knew too, but I wanted you to say it. Gene Roddenberry, they put him in one of the space shuttles and shot him out into space so his ashes could be up there with Spock and the rest of them. I don’t know. People do all these things for the dead to try and be romantic and some might be thinking well, what? Is the Lord going to be able to find those particles and reassemble him if he’s saved, right? First of all, for the redeemed what leads you to think that God is using the old material?

I don’t want any of the old material, do you? No, I want a whole new model. I mean, you know if you get a new Lexus are you going to want parts from the old car to put into the new car? As long as God has the important, pertinent information on the hard drive that he pops in the new computer I don’t want the old computer in any way. It’s the data that makes the difference, right? And so it doesn’t matter if… I say this because I don’t know but I don’t really see in the Bible that there’s any command against cremation. Certainly the Lord will have no problem resurrecting those who were cremated because, think about it, when you’re buried what happens to the body? It turns back into worms and “dust you are and unto dust” it returns to the elements of the earth, unless you’re cryogenically frozen. Do you think you’re helping the Lord reassemble you when he comes back by doing it that way? No, I think, you know, just find out what the discounts are and save your family the burden and be practical about it. I mean, it’s really the memory.

The shell is all that’s left there, amen? I think that when the Lord resurrects people he will come back maybe to the location where the grave is and those graves are marked, but that’s really more symbolic than anything because what do you do in the case of the saints like was it, Mike might know this, Wickliffe or Tynndale? They burned him and they spread his ashes in the river and they’re all over in the ocean. I forget. But some of the martyrs they’ve done that with them. They’ve dropped their bodies in rivers and oceans and the Bible says all the dead that are in the sea will be brought forth. I mean, they might have been gobbled by a whole school of fish that are now all different parts of the ocean. You start thinking about these things. This is not a problem for the Lord. And so when you make these preparations, typically in the Bible they were buried.

That’s the way I’m going to do it. Our son Michael was buried on just a beautiful hillside there in Covelo on a spring day and it was just beautiful and I thought to myself, you know, up to that point I never really knew where I might want to be and I told Karen, I said, “This is where I want to be buried.” And you know so you make those preparations and don’t worry about it too much. It is true that typically the pagans, you go to India and some of these different places, they burn the bodies, but there’s no mandate in the Bible that commands something otherwise so let’s be careful not to build a doctrine out of that. Closing thought is Abraham then was buried in the cave of Machpelah. Matter of fact, you can read where Genesis 49:31, Jacob says, “There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife, there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife, there I buried Leah.” And Jacob instructed them very clearly, “Take my bones back and bury them next to Leah and Abraham and Isaac in that cave.” Now you know we know where that cave is, Machpelah. It’s in Hebron.

It is one of the most sacred places in the Promised Land and up until 1981 very few people had been allowed to go inside. Some of you remember the Jewish general Moishid Gianne. He went in with his twelve year old son. During the six day war somehow they had driven some of the Arab forces away who were guarding that sacred spot. He slipped into the original tomb and it was empty and they were very disappointed. In 1981 Dr. C. D. Jivon he was an archeologist, he received permission to go in and he went into the first tomb, found it empty, but found a hollow stone in the floor, lifted the stone up and it led into two other caves. Matter of fact, the name Machpelah means “double cave” and in that cave they found the remains. In one room they’ve got the women, he claims. Men were buried separate from the women. And Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s remains are still there. There is pottery and shards that date back to the time of Abraham and that would be probably 1867 B.C. is when Abraham purchased this cave and Sarah was the first one buried there.

So I think it’s interesting for us to consider that Abraham never bought any of the old Canaan to live in. He only bought the old Canaan to die in. We are going to live in the New Canaan. And Jesus because of his sacrifice makes it possible for us to be there, amen? I want to die in Christ. This world is under a curse of death but someday there’ll be no more death. That’s good news. Why don’t you turn in our hymnals to our closing hymn, 526, “Because He Lives,” and let’s stand together as we sing.

God sent His Son, they called Him Jesus, He came to love, heal, and forgive; He lived and died to buy my pardon, An empty grave is there to prove my Savior live. Because He lives I can face tomorrow, Because He lives all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living just because He lives.

How sweet to hold a new-born baby, And feel the pride, and joy He gives; But greater still the calm assurance, This child can face uncertain days because He lives. Because He lives I can face tomorrow, Because He lives all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living just because He lives.

Death is an enemy and we’re surrounded by it in this world, both reminders and in fact the actual act of death, but you don’t need to be living in fear because of death. You know the Bible promise in Hebrews is that Jesus destroyed him that had the power of death who is the devil and we don’t need to live in fear of death, amen? Why? Because he’s alive and we can have eternal life. and that doesn’t just begin when Jesus comes back. Eternal life begins now when you accept him. I hope that you have made that choice to accept Jesus and that life.

Father in heaven, thank you for the good news that we can live because of Jesus; that even though there is death and sadness in this world someday death and the grave will be destroyed and there will be no more death, no more pain, but only life. Help us to experience that life now we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. God bless you. You may be seated.

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