Our Surprising God: A True Story

Our Surprising God: The True Story of Isaac

by Elizabeth Turnage | Living Story Podcast

I have the great privilege of being on a team that leads a worship service once a month at the local jail. Last month, I decided you might enjoy hearing the message I delivered on the “true story” of God’s grace, so I turned it into a podcast. This month, I did the sequel, and have again posted it. I hope you enjoy listening to these true stories and that the Word seeps deep into your heart.

Note: I’m still a newbie to the podcasting work, so you can play it from this page, or scroll to the end of the page to download, or search for the Living Story podcast in iTunes.

This time, for you who prefer reading, I’ve included the transcript of the podcast :-)! Please let me know if you enjoy these. I love doing them and wouldn’t mind doing more :-)!

A true story about people who are tired of waiting on God’s surprising plan

Last month we considered the TRUE BIBLE story of two flawed women, one flawed man, and one amazingly gracious and faithful God. We remembered that God had a plan, a plan for a nation, a plan to redeem the world left broken by sinners. This plan would come about through one baby – the baby of Sarah and Abraham.

Abraham and Sarah have shown a lot of faith in leaving their homeland, Ur, and coming all this way[FIND OUT HOW FAR], and they’ve shown a lot of faith in trusting God to care for them and to fulfill his promise. But they’ve also stumbled a lot along the way.

In the true story we looked at last month, in Genesis 16, Sarah and Abraham decided to take things into their own hands and try to get this promised baby through Sarah’s maidservant Hagar. THAT was a disaster. THAT WAS CLEARLY NOT GOD’S PLAN!

Despite the fact that Abraham and Sarah keep making a mess of things, God continues to show them GRACE, FAITH, AND LOVE – the 3 words we talked about last month.

Do you like surprise stories?

Before we get into today’s story, I want to talk about SURPRISE for a moment.

Have you ever been really and truly surprised? Maybe either received a very surprising gift or given a very surprising gift? Or maybe had a surprise party?

I once heard of a woman who planned a great surprise party for her 12-year-old daughter. So she made a plan, and she invited everyone and told them all to keep it a secret. She got decorations and hid them at her neighbor’s house. She went to her neighbor’s house and made a cake. She worked for months planning the surprise. On the day of the party – which was NOT the girl’s birthday, her mom took her to the movies in the afternoon, and all of her friends and her neighbor got everything ready for the party. When the mom and the daughter walked into the house, everyone yelled SURPRISE!

But what happened next was NOT what the mom expected when she planned the party. HER DAUGHTER BURST INTO TEARS! Her mother was freaking out. She was afraid she did something wrong. But then her daughter started laughing and smiling and jumping up and down. She was SO HAPPY and GRATEFUL to her mom and her friends that she had started crying.

That is what SURPRISE can do to us. It can affect our emotions intensely.

God’s surprising plan is no secret…

Today we’re going to talk about how God is a SURPRISING GOD! God hasn’t kept his surprise a secret from Abraham and Sarah – from the beginning, he has told them he would bless them and give them a baby, that they would have as many descendants as the sand in the seashore.

What IS SURPRISING about God is how he keeps his promise even when they don’t keep theirs. What is surprising about God is how gracious and faithful and loving he is to people who aren’t always like loving and obedient to him. In fact, God is loving and gracious to them – and us – even when we don’t believe he will come through with his promise.

Abraham laughs at God’s surprising plan…

God keeps telling Abraham that he is going to give him a baby, and he keeps giving him signs of his love.

In Genesis 17:15, he repeated the promise, this time specifically saying it would be by Sarah,

“I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Genesis 17:15

You know what Abraham did when he heard this?

“He fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself,

“Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” Genesis 17:18

And then Abraham asked God if maybe Ishmael could be the blessed son.

Rather than being “surprised” and delighted by God’s promise, Abraham doubts. He is not laughing because he’s happy. He’s laughing because he thinks it is impossible. And I think that sometimes I, sometimes we, are a LOT like Abraham.

This whole story we’re looking at today makes us ask,

“Are we laughing cynically – like, “THAT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN!!!”

…or are we laughing nervously, even, “Hahahaha…that would be cool if it happened, but it’s probably not going to happen…”

…or are we laughing at the sheer hilarity, the stunning, shocking, SURPRISE that God has been that good to us and done something that impossible?

You know what God’s response was to Abraham laughing so hard he fell down?  You guessed it – SURPRISING. He simply says,

“Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call his name Isaac.”

It’s a joke. It’s not a joke because God is completely serious. But you have to know that the name Isaac in Hebrew means, Isaac means “He laughed.”

The God of surprising redemption…

You know what — God laughs at our cynical, doubting laughter, because he is the God of SURPRISING REDEMPTION.

In the true story we’re looking at today, God does something even more SURPRISING – he shows up in person.


Let’s look at some of the surprises of this story:

  1. Surprise visitors. Abraham clearly isn’t expecting anyone, but it was not too (surprising) in that world for travelers to stop in and stay because there was no Quality Inn. At first, it doesn’t seem that Abraham recognizes that one of the 3 visitors is the Lord, even though we are told it is from the beginning. But even so, Abraham treats the visitors with great honor and hurries (it’s also surprising that this 99-year-old man is running around in the heat getting Sarah to cook bread and his servants to prepare a calf.) So, we could say he is happily surprised by his visitors.
  1. The surprise visitor is God. By verse 9, Abraham has to realize this is the Lord, because they ask, “Where is Sarah, your wife?” And since her name has just been changed from Sarai to Sarah BY THE LORD, that’s something only they would know. And in those days, God didn’t just go around visiting people, so it is a BIG SURPRISE that Abraham is visited by the Lord.
  1. Sarah’s surprise. Sarah is eavesdropping, hiding behind the tent, listening to the conversation. Imagine her surprise when she hears her name called! Imagine her surprise when she hears the promise, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son.”

The storyteller reminds us, in case we’ve forgotten:

“Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children.” Genesis 18:9

Now, Sarah was surprised – but what kind of surprise is it? She laughs. TO HERSELF. Her response is similar to Abraham’s in Chapter 17 – “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure…!” She is afraid to imagine such a surprise. She doubts such a thing could be possible.

Have you ever felt like Sarah?!

If so, then you will love the next SURPRISE:

  1. The Lord talks to Sarah through Abraham, verse 13: “Then the Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, ‘Can an old woman like me have a baby? IS ANYTHING TOO HARD FOR THE LORD?”

Remember – Sarah isn’t in plain view, and Sarah said this to herself. So God is surprising her by knowing what she’s thinking.

  1. The Lord talks to Sarah directly, and he is surprisingly gracious to her.

Because after God says this to Abraham, she gets afraid, and she lies – saying, “I didn’t laugh.”

“But the Lord said, ‘No, you did laugh.’” Genesis 18:15

Sarah LIED to God, but he forgave her, and he fulfilled his promise to her. THAT IS WHAT OUR SURPRISING GOD IS LIKE.

God pulls off his surprising plan…

And now we fast forward to ONE YEAR LATER. In the meantime, Abraham has AGAIN tried to pass his wife off as his sister, so as you can see, what happens next is another example of God’s surprising grace to people who have not done anything to earn it.

Read Genesis 21: 1-7

Let’s notice 3 things about this true story:

  1. How did it happen that Sarah and Abraham conceived a child?

v. 1: “The Lord KEPT HIS WORD and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised.”

  1. When did it happen?

At just the time God had said it would!!! Genesis 21:2

So, in a way, this is really NOT SURPRISING, because God has said all along that he would bring an heir through Sarah and Abraham.

  1. What was the effect, and who caused it?

LAUGHTER – and God brought it, verse 6.

Sarah’s response is similar to the overwhelmed response of the woman’s daughter. Except she doesn’t cry first.

Sarah is SURPRISED – not the cynical, doubting kind of surprise, but the nervous giggly kind of surprise …

The overwhelmed awe, that is amazing, wow, I can’t believe it’s really true kind of surprise that fills your heart and makes you want to laugh and cry and jump up and down and shout and tell the world, “I can’t believe this happened to ME!”

Abraham and Sarah name their baby laughter, because GOD HAD TOLD THEM TO.

Just think, whenever they call Isaac’s name, they will remember that they laughed at God’s promise, doubting, disbelieving, kind of wanting to believe, but not really sure. And he had the last laugh. Because he came through.

It is a SURPRISING GIFT. The gift of God’s grace, faithfulness, and love coming through to people who go in and out of believing his goodness.

God has an even more surprising gift in store…

But it isn’t the last surprising baby born in the Bible. Because this story points us forward to another, even more surprising true story of a baby born in even more impossible circumstances.

That baby is our Lord Jesus Christ, whom God promised would come to defeat all evil in Genesis 3:15.

That baby is a fully human, fully divine baby, come to earth to call sinners to repentance. That baby grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man to live a perfect life and die a sacrificial death.


Of a faithful God to people who aren’t always so faithful.

So as we wrap up this story, let’s just notice a few things about our surprisingly gracious God, our perfectly holy God, the great planner of the best surprises.

  1. We shouldn’t be so surprised when God does impossible things.

God asks a question we should all ask ourselves,

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

When we are in tough circumstances, we need to remember this question.

  • Then we need to remember all of the ways God has been faithful in the past.
  • We need to remember the surprising “laughter” of redemption – in the Bible, and in our own lives.
  • We need to remember that Jesus has not only saved us from our sins, but he is changing our hearts.
  • We need to remember that nothing can separate us from the love of THE SURPRISING GOD who is working all things for his glory and our good.

SO WE SHOULDN’T BE SO SURPRISED at what the Lord can do.

  1. It IS the best surprise EVER that God is such a friend to sinners.

He comes to visit Abraham as a FRIEND.

He is being a good friend to Sarah in also ‘visiting’ her but doing it in a way she can handle. He is gentle with her in correcting her lie, and gracious to fulfill his promise. That is what it means to be a FRIEND to SINNERS.

But even more surprisingly, JESUS WAS A FRIEND TO SINNERS. If you ever doubt that Jesus wants to be a friend to a person like you, to a person who has messed up her life pretty bad, I dare you to read the Bible. I dare you to ask around. Because Jesus came to be a friend to sinners, and to give us a way back to being friends with God.

In Romans 5:10, it says,

“For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.”

Photo credit: Copyright: sutichak / 123RF Stock Photo

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