God’s plan for our redemption didn’t begin with Jesus’ birth. It started with a promise made to his great37-grandfather, a guy by the name of Abraham.
Back when he was still called “Abram,” God promised him that a son coming from his own body would be his heir.
The thing about God’s promises, though, is that they don’t always come to pass right away. About 10 years later—still no baby.
At this point, Abram is about 85, and his barren wife Sarai is 75. She believed God’s promise up to the point of Abram fathering a child, but not as far as her being the mother. So she suggested that Abram get with her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar. Abram and Hagar were the parents of Ishmael, so God’s promise was fulfilled, right?
Wrong, actually. God had promised a miracle. Ishmael was not a miracle, because he was the result of Abram and Sarai taking matters into their own hands.
In other words, Ishmael was possible.
God’s plan all along, though was to establish his covenant with Isaac, the child Abram (now Abraham) had with Sarai (now Sarah) at the appointed time. The Bible says that Ishmael was mocking toward Isaac, so Sarah cursed him, saying, “that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac (Genesis 21:8 NIV),” even though Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn.
So what’s the big deal about this promised inheritance? Well, Isaac was the father of Jacob, later renamed Israel. He was the heir of the covenant promise made to Abraham, which was to inherit the land of Canaan, known today by his own name of Israel.
And Ishmael? He became the father of many Arab tribes, including one who had a descendant named Muhammad. Maybe you’ve heard of him. He started a religion called Islam. A lot of people that practice it think they ought to be living in the land of Canaan. So thousands of years later, there’s still war and stuff over this same strip of land.
And all because Abraham, the father of our faith, didn’t even have enough faith himself to go all in on God’s promise.
So what does this mean to us, the people halfway around the world who only read about the Middle East in our newspapers (or whatever it is that people read today that isn’t a newspaper)?
Well, 37 generations after Isaac, the child of the promise, a boy named Joseph was born. He had a wife named Mary who had a child named Jesus. He made a few promises of His own, not the least of which was, “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16b NIV).”
Now here’s the interesting bit about that. In saying this, Jesus extends the promise made to Abraham to “whoever” believes that he is the son of God. “Whoever” can even include the children of Ishmael, because the inheritance is now for any individual who believes, regardless of their bloodline.
In other words, Jesus is where the promise meets the possible. He didn’t come just to save white, middle-class Americans like me. He came to save the Arabs and the Jews too. As John wrote in his vision of the throne room of heaven:
. . . with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. (Revelation 5: 9b-10 NIV)
Some believe that peace in the Middle East is possible. I wonder how a lasting peace could be possible when “possible” was what created their situation in the first place.
God’s promise seems like a better deal to me—a kingdom and royal priesthood made up of ALL who believe. In heaven, there will be no white, black, Arab, Jew, male or female. All people will have found their ultimate common ground in the person of Jesus Christ.
Until that day, seek the Truth of God’s promise in your life. Don’t settle for what is possible by your own efforts.