The times have certainly changed; today a stranger is a danger.
Children are warned not even to talk to strangers. Dangerous it surely is for them to ride with those whom they do not know. And the day when we could “Do a good turn” by giving a hitchhiker a lift is long past. Many have lost their lives that way. Others have suffered severe injury and loss in payment for their deed of kindness to a stranger. In fact, way back in the days of Solomon life was such that that wisest of all men could write as he does in Proverbs 11:15, “He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it.”
And yet the author of the epistle to the Hebrews exhorts us in Hebrews 13:1, 2, “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
The author of this epistle no doubt had Abraham in mind, although there certainly were others who entertained angels unawares. There is Lot who took them into his home in Sodom. And there is that classic example of the two travelers to Emmaus who unawares were host to the Risen Lord Himself. What privileged entertainers they were when they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us; for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent, and He went into their home. Yet Abraham is the first one recorded upon the pages of Holy Writ who entertained angels who at first were to him total strangers. And the author of the epistle to the Hebrews would quite naturally think of him as one who let brotherly love continue.
The incident recorded in Genesis 18 took place shortly after God had appeared to Abraham and told him that Sarah would bear him a child, and that their names now would therefore be changed from Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah. For Isaac was not yet born, in fact he was not yet conceived, when these angels came to Abraham’s tent in the days after God had given that promise of Isaac’s birth and instituted the sacrament of circumcision. Sarah knew of this promise of God. There can be no doubt about the fact that Abraham told her all the words which God spoke to him. Do we not read in the last verses of chapter 17 that Abraham did circumcise his house from himself downward through Ishmael and every servant bought with his money and born in his house?
Surely Sarah had to be told what all this circumcision was about and where Abraham ever got the idea of it. It is simply inconceivable that Abraham would tell her all about this sacrament and be silent about the promise in connection with which this sacrament was given. Was not this news too good to keep to oneself? And really what does that whole sacrament mean apart from that promise of the birth of Isaac? For we read in Genesis 17:21, “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac.” His birth is an essential in the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise; and circumcision is a sign and a seal of that covenant. The birth of Isaac is in its significance the birth of Christ, The Seed to Whom the covenant promises were given. And even the miraculous birth of Isaac points to the greater wonder of the virgin birth of Christ. How could Abraham tell Sarah about this sign and seal of the covenant and be silent about the promised son with whom that covenant is established?
Although Sarah already had heard about this wonder which would take place, she is privileged to have a personal visit with a personal report and message of God by His angels after she had entertained these angels, unaware of that fact and with the impression that they were merely human strangers come to their tent. As a faithful wife, who called her husband lord, she also entertained these strangers. And let it not be forgotten that to love one’s neighbor, to do good to those whom God brings across our path and next to us, goes hand in hand with believing in Him and loving Him.
Abraham received this visit of the angels after he had walked in the obedience of circumcising his whole family. Let us note in Genesis 17:14 that God states, “And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of, his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.” Had Abraham broken the covenant by a refusal to circumcise his family, he might have had a visit of angels, but they would not have come with such glad tidings. They would have been sent as messengers of wrath and judgment. But, no, believing in God, walking before Him in covenant faithfulness, Abraham also shows his love to God in entertaining these strangers, and was thereby entertaining angels unawares. Love is the fulfillment of the law, and therefore love always manifests itself in obedience.
In that obedience Abraham circumcises his whole family; and in obedience before. God he entertains these strangers. He lets brotherly love continue, reside, and be practiced in his home. In that same obedience of faith Sarah prepares the meal that Abraham planned and promised to these “strangers” that had come to him. And walking in that obedience, letting brotherly love continue in their home, Sarah receives a personal assurance and message of the wonder-child that will be given to her.
There was need for this personal touch to Sarah. Abraham had to be told so that he, as one who was “as good as dead,” would go in unto Sarah and in faith seek that child that had been promised. Faith always produces deeds. Belief, as James points out, always produces works. When the heart believes, the hand works. And no less is this true with Sarah. By faith, Hebrews 11:11 tells us, Sarah received strength to conceive seed. Her faith had to be strengthened. Her faith had to have a truth to receive into her soul before she had strength to conceive seed in her womb. She had to believe before she would submit to this “foolishness” with her aged husband after all these years of barrenness. This must, you know, be an act of faith and not a seeking of carnal pleasure among those who no longer had pleasure and could not have pleasure because Abraham was as good as dead, wholly impotent, including the lack of interest—in that sense too being as good as dead. This must be borne in mind when we read in Genesis 18:12, “Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying,. After I am waxen old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” And we say “foolishness” because, apart from faith, it was folly for such an aged couple in which both are sexually dead—not simply weak—to act as though they might yet receive a son, to plan on and plan for a conception and a birth. It is unbelief when parents resort to an abortion of the child they did not plan for and plan on bringing into this world. And it certainly was faith for such an aged couple who are sexually dead to entertain ideas of embracing a son in their home. That she may have this faith and strength of faith Sarah receives a direct word from God through His angel. It was spoken to Abraham, the head of the house, but deliberately in Sarah’s hearing so that she too would have the word of God through His angel.
Now it ought to be brought to our attention that, although we will not entertain angels unawares the way Abraham did, the words of James are addressed to us; and the example of Abraham is recorded for us to emulate. In fact there is a statement of Jesus that combines both the deed of Abraham and the exhortation of James in a way that elevates this truth to a heavenly degree of blessedness. In Matthew 25:40 He states, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” No, unawares we do not entertain angels, but as the travelers to Emmaus, we entertain Christ Himself. Let that be borne in mind in this day and age when there are definite dangers in befriending strangers. What we do unto Christ’s brethren we do unto Him. And what we fail and refuse to do unto His brethren, we fail and refuse to do unto Him.
Let it also be borne in mind that in a new and different age there is a new and different application to be made. To take a total stranger into your home may be exceedingly dangerous, or for that matter into your car—and it is so bad today that you dare not give first aid to a person injured in an automobile accident, lest you be sued later on for infection that set in, or for other complications for which you might be blamed. Yet there are other ways to entertain strangers. Very remote are the possibilities in our land for one who needs lodging or food to come and knock on our doors or walk past our homes with the need evident. Some years ago in the Chicago area when there was a crippling snowstorm we did have people opening their homes to those who were stranded. They entertained strangers; and some of them suffered damage to their homes by the ingrates. But these are rare occasions today, and there are so many welfare agencies and tourist services to help the out-of-towners who are in some kind of need.
We do, however, have ways to emulate Abraham today and to entertain strangers. There are those who, though they are not spiritual strangers—and James is speaking of brotherly love—who are not known to us by face and come to our church to worship with us on a Sabbath day. And there are times when we will not so much as speak a word of greeting to them. And so what we have not done to them, we have not done to Christ; and what we did to them we did to Christ. We went to His Church with them; and they did with us. Yet we did not want to greet Him, for we did not want to greet one of the least of these His brethren. Surely we must consider all who come to worship with us His brethren. And in our church we ought to let brotherly love continue. We ought at least to entertain these strangers, these whom we do not know by face, by greeting them in the name of Christ. Such ought not to be treated as spiritual strangers. Did you entertain such visitors and unawares entertain Christ, inasmuch as you did it to one of His brethren? Is your home open for these? Is your heart open for Christ Himself, Whose brethren these are? We can be quite particular what doctrine is harbored in our homes, but does it entertain, is there room in it for God’s people? Intellectually we insist on pure, sound doctrine. But are we ready to practice that doctrine and do unto His brethren what we know in our minds is what ought to be done to Christ Himself?
And again, how awful when, in the sphere of the church, a little stranger you have not yet seen, and who depends so completely on you for the first nine months of its existence is aborted, its life snuffed out instead of prayerfully protected and expected and in covenant faithfulness entertained as a child of God after its birth, and after it is no stranger to you anymore but is your own flesh and blood, a bouncing, happy boy or girl! In this cruel world wherein a stranger is a danger, some would dare to entertain a stranger in the home and yet expel their own seed out of their bowels to die a stranger! Let brotherly love continue in the church, and let her seed be entertained before birth, welcomed at birth, and after birth given the best covenant training possible so that it does not grow up a spiritual stranger. Send that child to a school where it will not be entertained by the world with its godless philosophies. And let not the world with its evil TV programs entertain that child. The unbelievers stand ready to entertain them, are eager to do so. Let god-fearing teachers entertain them; and unawares as far as the fleshly eye is concerned, but very much aware through the eye of faith, you will be doing this to Christ Himself. This is more than entertaining angels, and your children will not grow up to be spiritual strangers in your home and church.