April 15, 2018
Pastor Jeff Struecker
I. Jesus specializes in the impossible
If you’re in the middle of something right now where it’s just not good at all, no matter which way you go next, keep this in mind: Jesus specializes in those kinds of circumstances. We’re going to start in the Bible in just a moment. If you’ve got a paper Bible, turn to Genesis 14. I’m not going to read the whole chapter for you, but to set it up a little bit, just before Genesis 14:8 there is a world war. If you were living in the land at Abraham’s time, a coalition of 5 kings decide to go to war against a coalition of 4 kings. This is basically “World War 0.5” (before we get to World War I), and Abraham’s trying to keep back and stay out of it, but everyone around Abraham is at war.
One of the coalition of 4 kings is led by a guy by the name of king Chedorlaomer, and he goes to war with a couple of other kings and he defeats a numerically superior force of 5 kings. It was normal back in ancient times that when you went to war and you conquered a land, you got the spoils of war. Spoils of war were almost always things that were of any wealth in the land. You almost always took the land as your own possession, but it was quite regular that you also took the people of that land, and they became your slaves.
Well, Abraham has a nephew named Lot, and Lot is in the land with those 5 kings when they’re defeated on the battlefield. Now, Lot is caught up in the middle of it, and because Lot is caught up in the middle of it, Abraham just got caught up in the middle of this whole messy situation. Genesis 14 starting at verse 8:
Then the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out and lined up for battle in the Siddim Valley 9 against King Chedorlaomer of Elam, King Tidal of Goiim, King Amraphel of Shinar, and King Arioch of Ellasar—four kings against five. 10 Now the Siddim Valley contained many asphalt pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, but the rest fled to the mountains. 11 The four kings took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their food and went on. 12 They also took Abram’s nephew Lot and his possessions, for he was living in Sodom, and they went on.
If you’re doing some math right now, start counting the number of kings that you see in the Bible. You’ll see that there is this coalition of 5 kings who decide they’re going to go to war, and it’s in their own land that they go to war. They assemble together in this land that would today be kind of around the Dead Sea. 4 kings against 5 kings. The Bible is describing for us what looks like “World War 0.5” right now, because everybody is going to war with everybody. These 5 kings just got defeated on the battlefield in their own land. Some of them were killed. Some of them fell into these asphalt pits, and all of the rest of them ran to the hills.
Before God fulfills a promise to this guy who’s called Abram, and right before God fulfills a promise that he’s been making to Abram, He changes his name to Abraham. We’re just going to call him Abraham today, though the Bible is going to use his original name, his first name Abram. -before God fulfills this promise a couple of chapters later, changes his name and for the rest of the Bible he’s called Abraham. We’re just going to call him Abraham today.
Lot’s caught up in the middle of this messy campaign: 4 kings going to war against 5 kings. It’s Lot’s own fault that he’s caught up in the middle. If you don’t know the story, let me set the stage for a moment. Abraham left his father’s land. He went out on his own, and he was following God in faith. Abraham basically left all of his family. Only one family member was willing to go with Abraham. That was his nephew, a guy by the name of Lot.
God blessed Abraham’s faith. Abraham was a farmer, he was a rancher, and because God was blessing him, his crops grew, his herds grew, he became a very rich and a very powerful man. Because Lot was hanging out with his uncle, Lot’s crops grew, and Lot’s herds grew, and Lot became rich. Right before this story, Lot gets greedy, and Lot cares more about finances than he does about family. His herdsmen start to fight against Abraham’s herdsman. There’s a falling out and Lot decides, “You know what? We’re both too rich to be able to occupy the same land, so I’m going to go my own way.”
The Bible says Abraham does something that even in Columbus, Georgia in 2018 would be highly unusual. In Bible times this was unthinkable. Abraham, who’s brokenhearted, says to his unwise nephew Lot, “I don’t want to see you leave, but if you’re going to go, you take the absolute best land and you keep it for yourself. Whatever’s left over, I’ll take the rest of the land.” That’s exactly what Lot does. Lot takes the best land which, back in Abraham’s time, was around the Dead Sea. He decides he can get filthy rich if he keeps his cattle and crops in this part of the land. Abraham goes away. When Lot made that decision, Lot just became a part of this battle whether he wanted to or not.
This isn’t just a difficult circumstance; this isn’t just a challenge that Abraham finds himself in because of Lot. Abraham didn’t even do anything wrong. This isn’t just a family problem; this is now a faith problem because now Abraham is in the middle of a mess, and he has to decide, is God big enough to help out, and does God care enough about me to help out? -which is exactly where everyone who follows Jesus finds themselves when they’re in over their head.
You’re asking the same questions that Abraham would have been asking: “God, are You big enough to help out in this kind of situation, and even if You are big enough, God, do You care enough about me that You would be willing to step in and help out?” Sometimes it’s in the middle of the impossible that God shows up, shows out and shows you just how much He loves you- just how much you mean to Him.
Some of the greatest minds in history understand this. They understand it from very practical ways, guys like an author and motivational speaker who wrote a book in 1936 that is still a best seller today, Dale Carnegie, who said it this way: “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” Or maybe you recognize the name of the Cooperstown Hall of Fame pitcher and Dodgers coach, Tommy Lasorda, who said, “The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a man’s determination.”
A woman who built one of the most powerful corporations in her day and became one of the richest people in the world, Elizabeth Arden, when she was hiring people said, “I only want people around me who can do the impossible.” And a political prisoner who became the leader of his country, Nelson Mandela, said, “Something always seems impossible until somebody pulls it off, until it’s done.” Then, all of a sudden, it doesn’t seem that impossible anymore. All of these quotes are basically telling you the same thing: If you’ll just hang in there, if you’ll just try harder, if you just work a little bit more, maybe it will all turn out on your own.
But that’s not really what the Bible is saying today. That’s not really what this point I’m trying to make for you is, and really, the best way to describe what the Bible is saying to us today is Jesus’s own words in Matthew 17, verse 20. Here’s what Jesus says: “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.” Now, I deliberately didn’t put the whole circumstance from this passage of scripture on the screens for you today, because if you’re sitting there asking yourself, “Hey Jeff, what’s the this situation that Jesus is talking about in this passage of scripture?” It doesn’t matter. If you believe the second half of this verse, it doesn’t matter what the first half of this verse is referring to. If all things are possible with God, then whatever it is that you find yourself in, is no longer impossible.
You see, I am absolutely convinced Jesus specializes in the impossible. In fact, Jesus shows up, and he displays himself and his love and his power in perhaps the greatest ways when you’re in the middle of a mess. I’m thinking right now of a wife in our church whose husband has had an affair and she’s trying to figure out, How am I supposed to keep this thing together? How am I supposed to do this? -Because no matter what I do next, it’s going to be bad.
I’m thinking of a student in our church whose parents don’t know Jesus and don’t go to church, and this student has been radically transformed by Christ, and now this student is in this impossible circumstance of, How do I honor God and do what the 10 Commandments asks me to do (honor mom and dad) at the same time, when these feel like they’re completely opposite from one another?
Maybe you’ve got a boss at work who’s put you in an impossible circumstance. Maybe you’re that college student whose got a big project that’s coming up. You don’t go to work; you don’t have enough money to pay college tuition, but if you don’t give this project coming up the attention that it deserves, you’re going to flunk. No matter what, you’re in an impossible circumstance.
II. Drop to your knees when you’re caught in the crossfire
Church, please keep this in mind: Jesus is big enough and he cares enough that he can meet you in the middle of it if you will look to him, if you’ll trust him. Jesus specializes in the impossible. But here’s the second thing that I want you to know, and Abraham’s life is a great example of this. When you’re caught in the crossfire (and I mean, go to the left, it’s bad; go to the right, it’s even worse), when you’re caught right in the middle of the crossfire, drop to your knees.
I’m not saying duck your head because you’re about to get your head shot off (though that’s not bad advice when you’re caught in the middle of an ambush from both sides), but I’m saying that when you’re in the middle of “World War 0.5” and you didn’t do anything wrong, drop to your knees and pray (and this is where it gets hard, y’all), trust God and wait on God in the middle of this crossfire, caught between a rock and a hard place, impossible circumstance. Listen to what happens to Abraham now that Lot has just been mixed up in this mess (and by the way, Abraham got mixed up into it whether he wanted to or not). Genesis 14, verse 13.
One of the survivors came and told Abram the Hebrew, who lived near the oaks belonging to Mamre the Amorite, the brother of Eshcol and the brother of Aner. They were bound by a treaty with Abram.
Hey, this isn’t just a family thing anymore. Now, this is Abraham has a relationship with the guys who just got defeated on the battlefield. Or, if you were to look at the last sentence and reverse it, those people have a treaty with Abraham, and Abraham has a treaty with them. No matter what Abraham does next, this is not going to be good.
Alright, I just want to put you in the middle of this mess because let me ask you, if you’re Abraham, what do you do? If you don’t go over and try to rescue Lot, you’re going to lose part of your family. But, if you go try to rescue Lot, you may lose the rest of your family. There are no good options here, and by the way, if I take all of my trained men and I go to war and we win, I’ve left my family defenseless when I do this. If I take all of my trained men and I go to war, and we lose, I’m going to lose my family. No matter what I do, it doesn’t feel like there’s a good option here, and I just want to put you on the spot. You’re Abraham. What do you do? -Because this is a family problem, and no matter what I do, I could lose part of my family here.
This is a financial problem, because Abraham is putting it all on the line. He’s risking it all right now, but it’s more than that. The Bible makes it very clear for us in verse 13, there is something even greater at stake here, and it’s Abraham’s integrity. If you’ve got a paper Bible, open it up, and would you do this? Circle 2 words in verse 13. “The Hebrew”. The Bible does something very weird here in Genesis 14:13. It refers to him as Abraham, the Hebrew. Now, why does the Bible do that? In fact, if you’re familiar with the Bible, this is the very first time that phrase is ever used in the Bible. Why did it bother to point out that Abraham was a Hebrew and caught up in this mess? What the Bible is stressing for you today is: This isn’t Abraham’s fault, but now he’s in the middle of it. Whether he wants to or not, he’s in the middle of it, because he’s got a treaty with those 5 foreign kings who just got defeated, and now he’s in the middle of this mess, and his nephew, Lot, just brought him into the middle of this mess with him, whether he wanted to be or not.
There’s no good outcome here. If you’re Abraham, you’re in the middle of a crossfire, If I go to the left and rescue my nephew, Lot, I’m leaving my family vulnerable. If I don’t go rescue my nephew, Lot, I’m putting my integrity and part of my family on the line, and I’m still vulnerable. No matter what I do, there’s no good answer here.
Something fascinating happened just a couple of weeks ago. I wrote a blog. I put it on our church website, and then I put this blog on my social media pages. What was fascinating is the responses that I got to this blog. You can go back and read it if you’d like. The blog is asking, would you empty your life savings to help a friend? Here’s the title of the blog: “Would you Loan a Friend All of your Life Savings?” Would you loan them everything?
In this blog, I didn’t give people an out. In fact, I specifically wrote it in there that I’m writing this in such a way that there is no middle ground here. You either have to clear out everything in your bank account and there’s nothing left or you can’t help your friend. Which of the two do you do? Here’s what I thought was fascinating. (By the way, here’s a little secret. That blog was a test. It was a toe-in-the-water to this sermon series that we’re doing today. It was to just see, how would people respond when placed in this “Uh, there’s no good answer here” situation?)
The overwhelming response that came in (and frankly, I was fascinated by how many and how often they said the same thing), almost all of them said, “Hey, I would do whatever I could for a friend, but I’m not going to clear out the whole bank account, so I’m going to find another way to help them out.” I wanted to type back (I didn’t, but I wanted to ask them), did you even read the whole thing? -Because I said there’s no middle ground here. It’s all or nothing. What do you do? Only 2 people really honestly said, “I really don’t know if I would do it, but I want to think that I’d be willing to clear the whole bank account out to help somebody in need, somebody who’s a close friend.
One of them said it this way: “I’d like to think that I would, but I’m not really sure if I really have it in me to do that.” Everyone else said, “I’m going to find another way to do this without clearing out everything, like “I’ll give a lot, but I’m not giving it all up for that.” And I thought, “This is fascinating because everyone is essentially saying, “You can’t ever put me in a situation where I’m going to go all in. There is nothing that would cause me to be willing to risk it all.”
This sermon series is showing you it doesn’t happen once, it happens regularly in the Bible. Abraham is staking everything on what happens next, but for Abraham, this is not the first time that this has happened to him. In fact, what Abraham does today is go from faith to faith. Abraham has already once been willing to give it all up when he was still living at home and in his father’s house and had an entire future waiting for him. Abraham was willing to give all of that up when God said, “Abraham, I want you to leave it all. -leave your family, leave your future, leave your finances, and I want you to go that way into the desert, and when you walk into the desert that way, I’m not going to tell you where we’re going. When you walk that way, I’ll meet you in the middle of the desert.”
III. The battle isn’t over until God shows up
Abraham was willing to go into the desert and follow the Lord, and now he’s willing to do it again, and this time, he’s going to put it all on the line and he’s going to trust him one more time. Here’s the truth: The battle isn’t over until God shows up. It doesn’t matter what you’re going through right now. It doesn’t matter how bad it is, the battle isn’t over until God has the last word, until God shows up.
Five foreign kings are defeated by four foreign kings. We don’t know anything about this from history, but we do know that those 5 foreign kings probably had more forces and probably were fighting in their own land. It means they had the advantage, and these 4 foreign kings led by king Chedorlaomer, they must have been commanded well, because they were able to defeat a superior force in their own land, and now Abraham is caught up in the middle of it
Sometimes we have this nice tame image of Abraham in our minds and we generally don’t have this picture of a guy with blood on his face and a sword in his hand who has to put it all on the line today for his family, and by putting it all on the line, he may lose the rest of his family. Here’s what that the Bible says happens when Abraham goes to battle to rescue his nephew, Lot. Genesis 14, and we’re going to look starting in verse 14.
When Abram heard that his relative had been taken prisoner, he assembled his 318 trained men, born in his household, and they went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 And he and his servants deployed against them by night, defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah to the north of Damascus. 16 He brought back all the goods and also his relative Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the other people.
Why did the Bible just refer to exactly how many people just went to war? How many people did Abraham take the war with him? Why did the Bible give us an exact number of Abraham and his warriors when we don’t have the exact number of these 5 kings or these 4 kings? Why do we have this exact number? I think what the Bible is stressing for us is that this is a really small force. By the way, they’re members of Abraham’s household, which means these guys may have a sword with them, but really, they’re farmers and they’re herdsmen, and this isn’t what they do for a living. They take care of cattle for a living, and Abraham decides to get everybody, get all of the guys together, “We’re going to go to war, and we’re going to try to get Lot back.”
What the Bible is describing here is, God does something incredible. God does something amazing in this passage, but the next verse says he does something even more incredible. Abraham does something even more unusual. If you’re not familiar with military history, if you’re not even familiar with the Bible, you’re going to run right by this verse, and you’re going to miss something that’s really, really important.
But, if you know the Bible or if you know military history, you’re going to get stuck in this verse, and you’re going to say to yourself, “Wait a second. Did I just read that right? Did the Bible just say that Abraham went to war at night? -because people don’t go to war at night. In fact, if you know anything about history, about military history, people don’t go to war and fight major battles at night, all the way up until World War II. It’s the first war where we really did a lot of military campaigns at night. Even in World War I, they fought the big battles during the daytime where everybody could see each other and everybody could shoot each other. It’s incredibly unusual that somebody goes to war at night. It’s unusual all the way up until the 20th century, let alone 3,500 years ago.
So why does Abraham do this? The answer is because he’s desperate. “This is bad, and I’m going to use everything that I can possibly use as an advantage. I’m going to even have no choice but to go to battle at night if there’s going to be any hope of success. Abraham goes to war, and the Bible just kind of casually says “and he wins”. He defeats these 4 foreign kings, and he pursues them as far north as Damascus.
If you read on next in the Bible, God sends a priest to Abraham. Abraham just made a lot of money and became very wealthy by acting in faith and fighting to rescue his nephew, and then this highly unusual guy by the name of Melchizedek shows up. What the Bible describes next, I think is pretty important to this passage. It says that Abraham gave a very generous offering to this priest, Melchizedek. Abraham gave a tenth of everything that he just made in battle and everything that he owns to this man after this event, and I think what the Bible is saying for us is, Abraham realizes, There’s no way that I pulled this one off by myself. It was God who gave us victory last night in this big battle, and Abraham is demonstrating, “God, it’s because of you and only because of you that I was able to pull this thing off.
I’m going to wrap this up today with this quick true story. Maybe you’ve heard me say this before. Most of you are aware that when the actors who were coming to play the Rangers in the movie, Black Hawk Down, they came to Fort Benning, and they trained for about a week (most of those very famous actors) with Rangers on Fort Benning before they left to go film the movie, Black Hawk Down. One of those actors who portrayed me in the movie, Brian van Holt, he was learning how to conduct the actions of a Ranger in the battlefield, but Brian was also asking questions of the Rangers who we’re training him, some of the guys I was with in Somalia, and Brian kept asking the same question, and he kept getting the same answer over and over again.
So, the last day before they left Columbus to go fly away and to go film this movie, I had a chance to meet with Brian van Holt and to spend about a day with him, and he had a question for me the moment that we met. He said, “Jeff, I’ve heard the same thing over and over again from guys who were with you in Somalia, and I’ve got to know, is this true? They kept saying that when everyone else in Somalia was freaking out because of the battle, you appeared to be totally calm. Is that true?” And I said, “Yeah Brian. I guess it is.” And then he said, “Ok, now I’ve got to know, how is that possible? Why were you calm when everyone else was terrified or was in a panic?” And I gave an answer that I know he wasn’t expecting.
I said, “Brian, it’s because I was convinced that I was going to die, but I settled at thirteen years old what’s going to happen to me after I die? Brian, I settled Heaven and Hell at thirteen years old when I knelt by the side of my bed and I surrendered my soul to Jesus Christ, and for me, that was no longer an issue. And when everyone else in that big battle in Somalia was still terrified and freaking out about dying, I had total peace because I knew where I was going to spend eternity.”
And then I had the opportunity to look him in the eyes, and I said, “What about you, Brian? Where you going to go after you die?” And I had a chance to share the Gospel with him. He didn’t give his life to Christ that day, but what he was simply saying was, “There was something uniquely different about the way that you were able to conduct yourself in the battlefield. I don’t understand it.” And I said, “Brian, it makes perfect sense if you understand that I settled Heaven and Hell and where I’m going to go a long time ago. So, this thing was not as big of a deal for me as it was for others.
Abraham settled faith in God and how big God is and, is God able to help out if I risk it all? He settled that when he left his father’s home a long time ago, and for him, though he was putting it all on the line. Abraham has already tested God. Abraham had already seen God be faithful in the past, and I am convinced Abraham was believing that God would be faithful again in the future.
• I realize it’s impossible to get to Heaven on my own. Today, I prayed for Jesus to change my life for the first time.
– I’m going through the crossfire right now. Please pray for me.
+ I will wait for Jesus to meet me in the middle of my next impossible circumstance.
- What is the most difficult circumstance you’ve ever experienced?
- Did you turn to God during that circumstance? Did God act the way that you expected?
- Sometimes God leads people into impossible circumstances. How can impossible circumstances grow your faith?
- Read Matthew 19:26. If this verse is true, can you really call any circumstance “impossible”?
- Has there ever been a time when a family member put you in a no-win situation? How did you respond?
- Why is it so hard to wait for God to show up when we’re caught in an impossible situation?
- Pray for the Holy Spirit to sustain you no matter how difficult this week becomes.