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Dec 08, 2019

Angel in the Outback

Passage: Genesis 16:1-14

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Advent 2019

Keywords: future, past, promises, angel of the lord, abram, abuse, hagar, sarai, god who sees, theophanies


In this short Advent series on angels, we start by looking at the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament. He's essentially the pre-incarnate Christ appearing in visible form to people before His incarnation. What do we have to learn of Jesus from these theophanies as we seek to know Him better this Advent season? Join us and see.


Angels in the Outback

Advent 2019 Series:  Angels from the Realms of Glory

December 8, 2019

Get Acquainted:  Why we do this—because one of the ways we can connect more fully with God is to connect more closely with different members of His body, the church. 

So today, connect with someone here by trying to come up with your favorite Christmas carol that talks about angels.

Advent Week 2:  The Bethlehem Candle--Peace


Welcome to a new series this morning, our Advent 2019 series.  As you may have guessed from our opening time of greeting, we’re going to be running with somewhat of an ANGEL theme throughout this month.  I say “somewhat” because, while we’ll be learning a lot about angels, this month is really ALL about God in the 2nd member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. You’ll see how that is in just a moment.

      But before we jump directly into that, any guess how many Christmas songs and hymns speak about angels? 

      Advent is all about God.  It’s all about Christ taking on humanity, not only somehow fitting himself into the limitations of a human body but actually adopting a human nature and joining it to his divine nature.  (How do you fit God—far more vast in power and personhood than the entire 93-billion lightyear-wide universe—into the person of a single human being…the single cell of that human being that begins in the womb of a woman? Go ponder that for a while!) 

      Theologians have sought from centuries past to not describe this union of human and divine natures in a way that ends up with some muddy mess of a mutant, some 3rd type of being that diminishes in any way either humanity’s full humanness or God’s full deity. 

      Instead, orthodox Christian doctrine has quite consistently confirmed that Jesus—God in human flesh—was fully God and fully man, without sin or the sin nature all of us were born with and without a melding of either nature in such a way as to change Christ’s deity or create a mutant-version of divine humanity.     

      Since Advent is to focus on the coming of Jesus Christ, the 2nd member of the Trinity, I thought we would begin this journey where Jesus actually first appears in the Scriptures.  Anybody want to venture a guess about which book of the Bible? 

      Sure—Genesis!  In fact, if you take the words of the Apostle John at face value in John 1:3, Jesus, while not mentioned by name, first appears in the first words of the first verse of the first book of the Bible when Moses writes in Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning God created….”  John tells us in John 1:3 that “Through him [Christ, the living Word] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  So it is safe to say that from before creation and certainly at the beginning and during the entire process of creation, Jesus Christ is first presented to us as our Creator God.

      Colossians 1:16 confirms that truth when Paul writes, “For in him [Jesus Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible….” 

      So, in seeking to know more about and connect more deeply with God through our study, we must first grapple with the fact that, while God in Jesus Christ took on human flesh and nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary, that same person Jesus has been the very one creating and sustaining the entire universe of everything that exists—physical and spiritual, visible and invisible, measurable and immeasurable.

      Some people find the notion of the virgin birth laughable.  They chock it up to Christianity’s way of covering up an “unplanned pregnancy.”  But they miss the point and the miracle through their poverty-stricken view of God.  The very God who created everything that was ever created…and did so simply by speaking it into existence…has absolutely no problem taking a single human unfertilized egg in a single godly young woman (Mary) and speaking into it the XY chromosomal content needed to start the natural gestational process while, at the same time, endowing that single-cell of a human child with all the essence of God himself.  Is your brain tired yet?  J

      But back to angels.  The reason we must go back to Genesis if we want to see where Jesus first appeared is because the Bible uses a particular name or description of something in the O.T. that, to the best of our understanding, is the pre-incarnate Jesus, 2nd member of the Tri-unity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The descriptive title we find in the O.T. and first in Genesis is “the angel of the LORD.” 

      So Jehovah Witnesses will say, “See, we told you that Jesus was an angel. We told you he was the created brother of Lucifer, the highest of all angels.”  While they claim that, they are still wrong about it. 

  • The consistent descriptions of “the angel of the Lord” in the O.T. do not fit any mere angel created by God.
  • Nor do they account for how people relating to “the angel of the Lord” respond and reply to this being. Often it is with worship, something forbidden to anyone but God, according to the Bible.
  • The title “angel of the LORD” consistently uses a name for God (Yahweh/ Jehovah) reserved for the one, true God, (“angel of the LORD = malak Yaweh), not Elohim (that was used of both the true God and false gods in the O.T.) Angels in general are called “sons of God” (malak Yaweh).
  • And the visible appearances of this being clearly cease at the coming of Jesus Christ at the incarnation.

It’s what theologians call a THEOPHANY:  a visible appearance of the Son of God prior to his incarnation. 

      So this morning, I want to take us to one of the first biblical instances of “the angel of the Lord” (Jehovah/Yaweh).  It’s in the book of Genesis and it occurs with someone most of us would think is not a prime candidate for a God-visitation.  Her name is Hagar, and she’s a slave.  And the really interesting thing is that this, as other encounters with the pre-incarnate Jesus in the O.T., takes place in the desert.  Surprisingly, that seems to be where Jesus Christ loves to encounter people—in the dry, dusty, hard and lonely deserts of life.  (Thus the title for today’s message, “Angel (sing.) In the Outback,” i.e. desert.). 

      So let’s go to Genesis 16.  The backdrop here is that God had promised Abram and Sarai that they would be the parents of a great nation and have a massive amount of offspring.  God just didn’t say WHEN!   So they are still waiting.  They are now in their eighties.  And as is still the case in many cultures of the world, for a woman not to get pregnant was probably the absolute worst social stigma and failure that a married woman had to endure.  Having children was the greatest blessing most families ever had.  Abram and Sarai’s immense wealth didn’t fill this need.  Sarai’s world-renowned beauty didn’t fill this void.  Even the promise of owning all the real estate they could lay eyes on in their short lives didn’t bring solace to their grief.  In fact, God’s promise of the land was so directly tied to His promise of offspring that neither Abram or Sarai could see how God was going to keep his word the older they got.  We pick it up in vs. 1. 

“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. 

But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

            Well, that sounds like a simple solution!  All’s well that ends well, right?  Right…and this doesn’t end well.  In ancient Middle Eastern culture, this was the equivalent of having a surrogate mother bear your child.  It wasn’t viewed as immoral necessarily just as most people today probably wouldn’t consider surrogacy immoral.  (We’ll leave that debate for another day.) 

            We do a lot of crazy things out of unmet longings, don’t we?  Thankfully, I’ve not had to experience the ache of childlessness so I certainly can’t judge some of the lengths people will go to in order to conceive children. God doesn’t always step in and say, “STOP IT!” to most of the things we dream up in order to get what we’re after in life. He allows us to rationalize our way into just about anything though we know deep down that our course of action probably isn’t God’s best.  (Dating or marrying an unbeliever/ sex outside marriage/ a job promotion that will take more time from our family or move us to a place that has greater temptations for parents and kids, etc.) 

            I think Abram knew this wasn’t the right move.  But he had lived with his and his wife’s barrenness for decades.  Don’t we men just sometimes want to relieve the pain our wife is experiencing, no matter what the cost? 

And Sarai probably knew this was a stupid move before she urged her husband to do it.  After all, what could go wrong with taking someone who you’ve owned and treated as a slave for years and encourage her to have sex with your husband so she can be a surrogate mama for you? J 

APP:  Right desires and dreams allowed to grow unchecked can lead to wrong decisions, actions and results.  We may have the best of motives that lead us to the worst of decisions.  If you’re flirting with that problem right now, don’t expect God to step in and yell, “JUST STOP IT!”  He’s already whispered the truth to you. Instead of trying to solve it your way, keep crying out to Him for the strength to do what you know is right.

            The passage continues:

When she [Hagar] knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress [Sarai]Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

            Wow, we could say a lot about marriage dynamics from this one…but I won’t.  J

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

I won’t ask for a show of hands, but many in this room, I’m sure, have been “mistreated,” right?  Men are too often guilty of this in marriages. But they don’t have a corner on the market.  So are women.  Disappointment, frustration, envy, anger, jealousy—they can all lead to abuse.  In this case it was one female in the house abusing another.  And it was apparently so severe that Hagar, a slave woman used to being traded around, ordered around and passed around, finally had more than she felt she could take. 

So probably in the middle of the night, possibly despairing of life itself, she decided to risk the dangers of the desert alone rather than keep taking the abuse of Sarai in her billionaire-lifestyle household. Domestic abuse is not only damaging to the body; it rots the soul.  Does anybody here today really blame her for running?

And it’s doubly hard experiencing abuse in a home that claims to know God, where the perpetrators of abuse may have genuinely had real encounters with God but they’ve allowed the grind of life to turn them into grindstones that chip and whittle away at the people around them.  Hagar had every right to run away and try to get back through the desert to her native Egypt and hopefully some family member there that would finally be kind to her. 

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

WHO found Hagar?  “The angel of the LORD,” Jesus himself in his pre-incarnate form.

And WHAT’S He doing?  Going after Hagar, this non-Abrahamic, Egyptian surrogate slave woman. 

WHAT does this tell us about the heart of God in Christ?  Is this a different God of the O.T. with a different heart than the Jesus of the N.T?  Hardly. 

            This sounds like a Good Shepherd who has lost one of His sheep.

            This sounds like the God who cares for the no-name Samaritan woman just as much as he cared for the big kahunas in the Sanhedrin. 

            And then there are these questions!

 “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from….”  He calls her by name…and he reminds her of something I’m sure she wished she never had to admit to again—being a slave. 

            What would your knee-jerk response have been to God reminding you of the powerless position you were in and the very women who was abusing you?  I’m sure Hagar must have wondered a million times if the God of her masters cared at all about her as an Egyptian slave.  After all, you probably didn’t get to be an expendable slave of Pharaoh by being a somebody in Egypt. She had been an expendable nobody all of her life! And I’m sure there must have been a few times she had cried out to God, wondering if He existed, if He cared, if her life mattered as much to Him as her masters’ privileged lives.

            “Where have you come from?”  Now there’s a question that haunts some of us.  The angel of the Lord…Jesus… isn’t asking Hagar because He doesn’t know!  By asking He’s wanting her to face the reality that He really does know her past.  He knows all the abuse she has suffered, all the turn of events that have led to this moment.  He knows her own character flaws that led her to gloat over her mistress, Sarai. 

APP:  Just as Jesus showed up in the desert of Hagar’s experience, He likes to show up in our desert moments…or months.  He wants to let us know that He knows our past—all of it. 

He knows the bondage and He knows the abuse. 

He knows the crazy road we’ve walked to get here and he knows the only road to get us out. 

He’s clear about the slavery and bondage we’re enmeshed in, the “masters” we were forced to serve and the people who have used us for their own purposes and then cast us aside when we responded poorly or not at all.  Jesus really does know where we’ve come from.

            And He asks, “…and where are you going?”  Another good question.  Jesus cares deeply about where are lives are going.  So often we may think the best way of escape is back to where we started…the Egypts of our memories or imaginations. But we can never go back, only forward.  If we think we can recapture some fading, lost dream by going back to what we mistakenly remember as a “better” time, when we get there, it will have changed.  And the memories that draw us back somehow conveniently delete the past negatives while holding onto what we want to remember.   

            How many of us fret and fret about where our lives are headed.  How many of us have a dream but no real road to get there?  How many feel like the last thing we want God to do is remind us that we don’t have the way or the resources to get to where we want to go.  And the last thing we certainly want to hear is that we need to go just far enough backwards in order to go forward!

APP:  that’s what our 12 Step groups are about—going back to the painful and hurtful things that are driving our dysfunctional behaviors of the present so that we can really move forward into a better future we will never have without that hard work.  That’s what a good, Christ-centered counselor will lead you to—not to wallowing or whining about the past but facing it, acknowledging our own part in it and taking the steps to truly be free of the past.

            After all, would Hagar have truly escaped Abram & Sarai if she had even somehow made it to Egypt again?  Every day of her life with Ishmael would have confronted her with her running.  And having last left Egypt as a slave-gift to Abraham from Pharaoh, what kind of life would she have returned to as a now- runaway slave?  Possibly worse slavery and even death. 

            So Hagar answer Jesus, “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. 

            Well, she got the “Where have you come from?” part of Jesus’ question partly right.  She was running away from the cause of the immediate pain in her life.  But she was also running away from her son’s father, Abram, through whom God was about to give her one of the most amazing promises in world history.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant
    and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
    for the Lord has heard of your misery.

Why on earth does God send his children…whom He loves… whom He searches after like a shepherd searches for a lost lamb… WHY does He sometimes send us back to “submit” to people who have been abusive?

ILL:  One of the most stunning stories of Christian missions comes to us from the Moravians in the 18th century.  At that time, this communal group of Christians was led by a wealthy Count, Zinzendorf.  They are famous for their 100 years of 24-7 prayer that started out of a revival that swept over them in 1727.

            Just 5 years later, in 1732, this little band of believers sent out some of their first missionaries--Leonard Dober and David Nitschmann.  Through their acquaintance with a West Indies Negro brother in their church, these men had developed a passion to reach the slaves of the West Indies, specifically of the island of St. Thomas.  They determined that, if necessary, they would sell themselves into slavery in order to reach the lost souls of the slaves there.  The beginning of Christianity among Blacks in the West Indies can be traced directly to the work of these two men.  [Found at https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/missionaries-against-terrible-odds on 12.7.2019.]

            Does God really ask His children to sometimes live under and even return to submission to people who might be abusive and hurtful?  Christian history is full of such situations.  The millions of fellow Christians today who serve Christ in countries where they are persecuted when anyone finds out where their real allegiances lie are proof of it.  Jesus himself is proof of it, as the writer of Hebrews states, “Though He was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which He suffered,” (Heb. 5:8—KJV). 

            God knows that submission in general and submission in the midst of suffering is a quality of character that His children need to learn from our Savior just as much as a loving heart or patient spirit. 

            Here in the desert is the pre-incarnate Jesus asking poor Hagar to submit to someone who God knew was unkind and unfair at the best…but also knowing something she did not know:  that the God who was telling her to do this would be the very Messiah who would one day submit Himself far more and with far more sacrifice and suffering than anyone could know at the time. 

            Remember, Hagar came from pagan Egypt.  She didn’t have to serve Jehovah, God of her masters.  She could have chucked the whole thing right there and gone back to her pagan ways.  But she had her own encounter…out there in the desert…as the result of an abusive mistress…that cemented her belief in Yahweh and moved her into a life of costly obedience. 

            How do I know?  Let’s keep reading.  Speaking of Ishmael who she would give birth to in a few months, God told her,
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
    his hand will be against everyone
    and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
    toward all his brothers.”

This singular statement is all the reason you need to explain why the Arabs and the Jews have been enemies of each other for centuries and why there has also been so much hostility, animosity and outright war in the Arab world right up to today.  God foresaw all this when he gave this promise and this child to Hagar. 

            But how did Hagar respond?  Keep reading.

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

            Moses tells us it was “the LORD” (Yahweh/Jehovah) who spoke with Hagar there.  And he tells us that Hagar testified that she had actually seen the Lord.  This is clear evidence that it was most likely the pre-incarnate Christ who spoke these words to her and that he took some visible form that she could see.

APP:  The desert places of life are precisely where we need to know that God has His eye on us.  When you’ve been beat down and belittled by someone else, when those who should have been protecting you didn’t, and even when we are running from the painful injustices of life, the one thing we really need to know is that God sees ME! 

            And just as it was for Hagar—that reality came through to her when she experienced this theophany encounter with God—so it will be for many of us:  God will find us in the desert experiences of our lives and speak to us just when we think all is lost and life is not even worth pressing on through.  When we may be thinking we don’t matter to anyone, God wants us to know that He’s got his eye on us and running hard after us.  When we feel like we’ve been used and abused by people, God wants us to stop long enough to hear Him say, “I love you.  I haven’t lost you.  I’ve got a plan and a future for you that you can’t even imagine right now.  Trust me.  Believe in me.  Obey me, even when I ask you to do some really hard things.” 


  • Is that what Christ is saying to YOU today? So what will you respond?  Will you keep running deeper into the desert? Will you keep dreaming about some fairytale “Egypt” with its counterfeit gods?  Or will you stop and acknowledge that Jesus is calling to you right now, asking you, “Where have you come from…and where are you going?”  It’s not that He doesn’t know and needs you to tell Him.  It’s that He wants you to see what you’re doing and let Him take charge, let Him truly be LORD of your life, let Him into your journey to teach and guide you the rest of the way into eternity.  [Invitation to receive Christ.]
  • For those of you who may have held onto the mistaken notion that the God of the O.T. is different from the God of the N.T., from Jesus Christ, it’s probably time to leave that view behind. Just as Jesus went after lost and hurting people regardless of their race or age or need, so God went after the most unlikely of people in the O.T. The God of the O.T. is the same God of the N.T.
  • Find yourself trying to make sense of some abuse in your life? Find yourself stuck in a desert with very little refreshment in life?  How about letting God have a conversation with you about where you’ve come from AND where you’re going?  How about asking Him to show himself to you enough so that you will know again that the God you “see” is first of all the God who sees you!  Maybe God is asking you to stop trying to figure it all out on your own.  Maybe He’s telling you that you need a Christ-centered 12-Step group…or a solidly Christ-centered counselor or support group?  That is precisely the way that God sometimes wants to meet us when we’re in a desert place. 

If that is you, don’t put it off.  Let your pastors or ministry leaders know here.  If we don’t have the right group or resources here, we’ll find them for you.  But you have to ask for help.  You have to take the steps and do the work where Christ wants to meet you right now.