This was the manuscript for my sermon this PAST Sunday. It was one of the most difficult sermons I’ve preached in a while because of the subject matter, Isaac being sacrificed by his dad, Abraham. I imagine if I were still single, it would not have had the effect that it did. But being the father of two… well, you can imagine just thinking about the requirement of having to sacrifice your own son.
If you would like to listen to the sermon, instead of read it… go HERE. Right click on the “download here” and load it on to your Ipod, mp3 player, or just listen from your computer. Maybe we should set it up so that it’s a weekly podcast. That’s something I will have to get the techies in my church to look into for me.
Here is the Sermon:
I think there comes a point in every believer’s life that we will be tested by God. I believe there are a lot of these tests, but at certain times, I believe He tests us in ways that are defining moments in our walks with Him.
For me, one of those points came in December of 1990. It was shortly after I had believed in Christ for my salvation. I don’t think I had told anyone. Yet God Himself, tested me. It was very simple. Was I going to continue the life I led before I trusted Him, or would I truly turn away from it, and follow Him?
It’s something we all face from time to time, probably more than we realize. But for me, it was a turning point and a defining moment. I was in the newsroom working at my desk when Brett Jones came up to see if I would be responsible for buying the keg for our next party. Realize, that I’m not opposed to having a beer or a glass of wine. But a keg is not a moral neutral quantity of beer. When one buys a keg, it is for the purpose of getting drunk, which clearly is a sin. I didn’t feel that I had the freedom to participate in their party.
The next few moments were really difficult moments for me, because I had to say “no.” I was hoping…, just hoping, that Brett would leave it at that.
Of course, he didn’t. He asked me why. The next few words were some of the hardest of my Christian life…
“I won’t because I’ve become a Christian.”
It may not sound like much. But for me, at the time, those were really difficult words to say. I was a brand-new believer, and I believe God was testing me at that point. Would I walk with Him, or the world.
When we come to this story of Abraham this morning, I believe we have one of those moments of testing for Abraham. Yes, the test is far, far more difficult than the one I shared with you, but in essence, it was the same: would Abraham truly forsake all, to remain obedient to YHWH?
Abraham is Tested
1 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham.
Test: not temptation… but a test… “to see what condition someone is in before God, whether the person will obey him or not.” This really helps us see where our faith is when we are being tested. Don’t think that God didn’t already know where Abraham’s faith was. This test is more for Abraham’s benefit than for God’s, because God already knows the outcome. He is testing Abraham because Abraham needs to the test, just as we need testing.
Will you follow or not? Will you go where God leads you? Will you truly give up all that you love in order to be obedient to Him and to love Him? Will you forsake your own desires for His?
All of these realities were hitting Abraham in the face. God was challenging Abraham in the deepest way, He challenges Abraham with something that Abraham holds dear to his hear: Isaac.
Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
2 Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
O how those words must have brought anxiety to Abraham’s heart.
Abraham is challenged with the very son he loves… he waited for 25 years to have this son, after God told him that he would have a son. Is God taking his only son?
Your only son Isaac – yes… the only son of promise, or another way to understand and translate this passage, Your unique son… the son that the promise will be carried out through.
This is how we know that Isaac will be that seed. Now, he is told by God, to take the boy to Moriah, and offer him up as a burnt offering. One of the most troubling passages… to be required to sacrifice his own son… take a knife, kill him, and then burn his body on the altar. The smoke would lift up Isaac and offer a pleasing sacrifice. Or would it?
To sacrifice a child was common in other religions, but no human sacrifice had been required of God up to this point. He seemed to be working in a different way with His people. Instead of requiring their death, He is providing life. Instead of working through strength, He is working through weakness.
Abraham was being challenged on that which he loved dearly.
But God also challenges Abraham on his knowledge. Didn’t God promise Abraham that Isaac would be that seed? So Abraham has to truly ponder this situation. For three days, as he makes his way to Moriah, he is challenged with his view of God.
What he was being asked to do seems to invalidate all that God had promised to do through Isaac. Wasn’t he the one in which the seed of promise would be given, and now, he was being told to sacrifice that one?
This really caused him a dilemma, at least from his point of view. It meant that either God was a liar and not going to do what he said he would do. Or, it meant that God was going to do something else.
Often times when God is testing us, it seems like He is not doing what He promised He would do. From our viewpoint, with our fallen minds, God seems to be ignoring us, or not hearing us.
A lot of times, when we are in situations that we know God is in control of, we are left with the decision to trust Him or doubt Him. I imagine that we are going to face a situation like this in the coming months or years. It seems like God is doing something, although we do not know what that will be.
How will we handle it if the value of our retirement stocks decrease? How will we handle it when the moral decline of the nation increases? Will we be willing to trust God in those situations?
There are plenty of opportunities to be obedient to Christ, the question is: are we willing?
Abraham was, and that leads us to his obedience.
Abraham acts as a man of faith. He doesn’t run, or rebel, but responds in obedience.
So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off.
Notice also, he doesn’t say anything to anyone else. He doesn’t consult Sarah. He had done that before, and it ended in disaster. He doesn’t turn others in the community, there were not any. He simply listens to God, and loads up the donkey.
For three days, he has been left with his thoughts and no explanation from God. For three days, he has had to ponder what it is that he was going to do with his son. Would he truly… take the knife… kill his son, and burn his body on the altar? Would he do that for the LORD. Would he let his relationship with the LORD prevail over his relationship with his son, whom he loves dearly?
I can only begin to imagine a father’s love for his son. The anguish that Abraham must have endured is too much to think about. It’s hard for me to think about now, and God has not asked me to do the same thing. Yet, God desires that we love Him, more than we do our own children.
He has every right to test us at any point. He has every right to demand upon us complete and total obedience. He is God, and there is no room in our hearts for anyone or anything to be god in His place. If we are truly His, He has a right to demand complete obedience from us, and a right to take away anything that may hinder our worship and obedience to Him.
Far too many in our culture are absolutely opposed to this idea of God being God. They don’t want to give up anything in their own approach to God, because they don’t want God to hinder their lives. Yet God has that right. He takes preeminence in our lives and our relationships.
Jesus confirmed this reality during His earthly ministry: Luke 14:26-27 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
O, but Jesus doesn’t really mean it. He just using hyperbole to make His point. Really, what’s His point? That you love God more than all others, to the point that we must be willing to sacrifice our relationships with others for Him.
But I can’t do it… I cannot sacrifice my sons for Him… If we are honest with ourselves, we would find this to be true.
Either God is a God who requires human sacrifice, or He has something else in mind for Abraham and Isaac. Abraham knew, that no matter what happened, God could be trusted. As he prepared to march up the mountain, he told those with him: “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”
No matter what Abraham thought on his journey to Moriah, he trusted God enough to work it out.
The writer of Hebrews helps us on this point: By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense. Hebrews 11:17-19
This truly demonstrates his faith. Even though the obedience that he exhibits will require him to sacrifice his son, he trusts in YHWH enough to know that Isaac could be raised again from the dead.
This, however, would not alleviate any of the agony that Abraham suffered as he marched to the pinnacle of the mountain.
So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together.
It is at this point, that we see the story begin to shift to Isaac as well. He has the wood laid on his back. He has to carry that which he will die on, to the place of his death.
If you think that this is pointing to Christ, and His journey up to Golgotha, you are correct. This entire story is pointing us to Christ and His death. But more on that in a moment. For now, we begin to see Isaac and hear some of his thoughts.
But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”
And he said, “Here I am, my son.”
Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.
Here we see that Isaac is beginning to suspect something, so he asks his father, “where is the lamb?” He knows enough to know that when it comes to sacrifices, there needs to be a lamb. That was instituted with Abel, just out of the garden. He sees the wood, and the fire, but misses that all important lamb.
“My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
Abraham is true in his response, although Abraham doesn’t realize it just yet. What is interesting to note, is that in the Hebrew, the term God will provide, shows us that God is completely and totally in control of the situation.
Faced with our challenges in life, we must always come back to God’s providence. Our Father is not one that is out of control in our lives. He is in complete control all things are unfolding according to His desires and wishes. This should comfort us, for behind this truth, we know that God has His glory at heart, and His purposes are far more gratifying than our purposes and desires.
The point is that we must be willing to trust Christ and our loving Father at every challenge, knowing that as we face them, they are there to test our faith, and strengthen our resolve to follow Him.
Yet, this statement that Abraham makes, is actually prophetic. “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
God will provide the offering necessary to deliver Isaac, and to deliver us as well. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
God’s provision for sacrifice are far better than what Isaac could have brought. Yes, the test is not complete, but we must be reminded of our Father’s rich love in the midst of this story. Whereas, we will see that Abraham would not spare his own son, the Father will not require Isaac’s life.
He will provide the sacrifice, and the Lamb, and He will be the One to lay down willingly for Abraham and us. Isaac would NOT be a sufficient sacrifice because he is not holy and without sin. If a sinner could make atonement for God’s children, then Isaac would have been fine. But He isn’t because of his sinful nature, he is a tainted sacrifice.
Tainted sacrifices will not do. It takes a perfect sacrifice. Remember Hebrews 10:12-14 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
Christ’s sacrifice was perfect. We know this because He was able to sit down at the right hand of God, showing God’s pleasure and acceptable nature of the sacrifice given.
Isaac is unable to be that sacrifice.
Abraham must still put him on the altar because he needs to learn this as well.
Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
His faith in the Father brought him to Moriah, and his obedience to the Father brought the knife up to slay his only son. Just as the knife was poised… in the air… waiting to come down and take Isaac’s life, the Father speaks through the angel of the LORD.
But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”
So he said, “Here I am.”
We can only imagine the relief that Abraham felt when he heard his named being called out. It gave him enough reason to pause, to stop, to put off for just a moment, the sacrifice of his son.
Even sweeter words followed…
And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
The anxiety, the tension, the drama all pass. God says that He knows that Abraham fears God, but even more importantly, Abraham knows that God is a God of grace and not like the other gods of the surrounding areas, always demanding sacrifices, but never showing love.
Yes, God had every right to demand Isaac’s death, for he too was a sinner. He has a right to demand our deaths as well. But He chooses not to. He chooses to show Abraham, and all those who believe, grace, love and kindness instead.
Abraham needed to learn this lesson just as we do. Abraham was willing to give up his son out of obedience, and God will willingly give us His Son out of His love.
A Name of the LORD
It’s at this point that we are given another name of the LORD. The angel of the LORD tells Abraham of the ram caught in the thicket, and Abraham gives Him another name.
And Abraham called the name of the place, The-LORD-Will-Provide;[a] as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
He is the One who will provide the “it” of what shall be provided. In other words, not only does He provide the ram for Abraham, but the Lamb of God for us. At Mt. Moriah, some 4,000 years later, God’s Son, His only begotten Son, His unique Son, will lay a wooden cross on His back, and head off to die in our place.
God lovingly sends His Son to die on our behalf, and the Son lovingly takes on that roll before us.
Remember, I spoke of the reality of us loving our Father in heaven more than we love our family and other things? We are told by Christ, that our love for God must be so strong that our love for others seems like hatred?
Most of us, if we confess truly, fall dreadfully short in our love for the Father. We do. Our sinful hearts cannot do it. But there was One who did. There was One who loved the Father so much, He laid down His life out of obedience and brings forgiveness to our idolatrous hearts.
That is God’s grace to us. If we must love God with all are strength, soul, mind and body for acceptance. Then we are doomed to hell, because our fallen hearts cannot do so. Fortunately, thankfully, and gratefully, Jesus did that for us. He became the Lamb of God and took away our sins.
I don’t think that there was a greater test in the Old Testament than the one that Abraham endured. The gravity of it is way too much to ponder. Hopefully, none of us will have to endure such testing by the LORD’s hand. Yes, we will undergo testing. That is how He strengthens our faith.
The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we are willing to be tested by Him, and will we respond in obedience?
If we answer yes, then perhaps we were too hasty. We must be willing to admit, that the only way to pass the tests He gives to us, is by His hand.