July 5, 2014
June 29, 2014 Text: Genesis 22:1-14 Abraham Did What?!?!?! May you have grace, mercy, and peace in the name of our Triune God, Amen. Many of you might remember, B.C., before cable, when TV stations would have a “Test of the emergency broadcast system”. Radio stations still do them on occasion. Where I live in […]
June 29, 2014
Text: Genesis 22:1-14
Abraham Did What?!?!?!
May you have grace, mercy, and peace in the name of our Triune God, Amen. Many of you might remember, B.C., before cable, when TV stations would have a “Test of the emergency broadcast system”. Radio stations still do them on occasion. Where I live in northern Harford County, within a ten-mile radius of Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant, on the first Wednesday of the month at exactly 1:00 p.m. the plant tests the emergency siren, which is located just down the road from my house. On the occasions when I happen to be home on the first Wednesday of the month at 1:00 p.m. and I first hear the siren my heart seems to leap inside my chest, thinking, wondering what may be wrong. Then I remember, oh, it’s 1:00 pm on the first Wednesday of the month, it’s only a test.
The first verse of our scripture today tells us a similar thing happened to Abraham; it was only a test. I don’t think that makes it any easier to understand, however. What kind of God has a father murder his own son? What kind of God puts a son through the kind of trauma that today would be called child abuse? Obedience was, of course, Abraham’s dominant quality. He was apparently ready to sacrifice, along with Isaac, the covenant God had made with him, a covenant that required a son.
Critics, though, often call this “divine child abuse.” We like to think; maybe Abraham misunderstood God’s intentions. He saw his “heathen” neighbors practicing human sacrifice, and God told him to do this, so it must be okay. We must remember the culture at the time this was happening. To truly understand the Bible we must, always, understand the context within which the biblical account was written.
Yet I can’t help but wonder did Abraham discuss this with Sarah before taking their son up the mountain? And if Isaac had not come back, how did he plan to explain it to Sarah? I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be in Abraham’s sandals trying to talk my way out of that one! Can’t you hear Sarah now? YOU DID WHAT? BECAUSE WHO TOLD YOU? AND I SUPPOSE IF HE TOLD YOU TO JUMP OFF A CLIFF YOU’D DO THAT, TOO? ABRAHAM, YOU ARE AN IDIOT! You can just imagine what Sarah would be saying, and I didn’t even use any curse words, which she may have used.
This account in Genesis is one of the most powerful expressions of faith and obedience you’ll find in the Bible. God tests Abraham by laying claim to his son Isaac. Isaac is the key element in how the covenant is supposed to be fulfilled. God tells Abraham that through his lineage the messiah/savior of God’s people will come. How the heck is that going to happen if God demands Abraham kills his only heir? Abraham is willing to obey God, although he has to be wondering how God will fulfill the promise. Hebrews 11:17 states “by faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac.”
What a great act of faith! You might be saying to yourself right now, “I could never have that much faith!” Oh, but you can. Abraham was called to set forth on a journey. In Genesis 12:1we read “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.” But it took years for Abram, which was Abraham’s name before God changed it, to separate from his father; and it was because of death rather than of deliberate obedience. Then Abram was reluctant to separate from Lot. Now in chapter 22 Abraham has come to his ultimate test. Abraham was about 111 at this time and Sarah was soon to die. God has brought Abraham to the point where he must give priority to either his faith or his family. The greatest test of his faith now confronts him.
Abraham didn’t get to this level of faith overnight. It took years of growth. We are all at different levels of faith and our obedience falls in line with our faith. Obedience becomes easier with more faith because, as you grow in faith, as you come to rely more on God, believe in God’s way, and do God’s will, then, when faced with a more difficult situation, you will find it easier to obey God.
NOTE: I’m not saying it will be EASY to obey God, but it will be EASIER. As you grow in faith and God has supported you and helped you through tough times, you understand that you can rely on God to direct your life’s journey.
I did not have enough faith when I was a younger man to begin this journey toward ordination as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church. I heard the call from God but I made countless excuses as to why I wasn’t good enough, or smart enough, or like school enough to enter seminary at the age that over 60% of my classmates are now, you know the traditional age to be in seminary, your mid twenties. However God has used my life’s experiences to mold me into the Teaching Elder that God wants me to be at the time of God’s choosing, not mine. Throughout these intervening years my faith has grown stronger in God’s ultimate plan for God’s people and my role in that plan. In addition, God has used countless folks who have affirmed God’s call to me over these years, and even when my faith has faltered, their faith in me and in God’s call has not. We live in community as God’s people, when one of us is being tested or is struggling, those around us are there to support and encourage us to trust God’s plan. You see the God that has, or is, challenging and is testing you and me is the same God that tested Abraham.
It’s a give and take deal. God received Abraham’s trust and Abraham received God’s mercy. There is giving and receiving both for Abraham and for God. And it works that way for us, as well.
Abraham had GREAT faith, but I’m sure he still had questions. They could have gone like this: Why? Haven’t I been told not to murder? Haven’t I been given a son miraculously in my (and my wife’s) old age? If my heir is killed, how will God’s promise that my descendants will be as “numerous as the stars of the heavens” be carried out? How will the messiah come? Psychologically, Abraham had to be overwhelmed by the command of God to kill Isaac. How is a person to sacrifice his son? How could he kill the person he loves?
In verse 6 it says, “Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering & laid it on his son Isaac, & he himself carried the fire & the knife.” That must have been one of the most difficult moments in Abraham’s life – to see his son carrying the wood that was going to be used to consume his son’s body, and to hear Isaac ask, “Father?”
His son’s words crush Abraham’s heart. He thinks to himself, “Don’t call me your father. Can a father be so cruel as to kill his own son?”
But he holds his tongue and waits for his son’s question. The boy asks, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham says, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” And they both go on together.
When they reach the place God had showed him, Abraham built an altar and laid the wood on it, bound Isaac, laid him on the wood, and reached for his knife. And just like in the movies when the music reaches the climactic peak, the angel of the Lord calls out, “Abraham, Abraham!” and says, “Do not lay your hand on the boy 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.” You see God didn’t really want Abraham to kill Isaac. It was all a test and Abraham had passed with flying colors. Abraham was being asked, “Do you love Isaac more than you love me?” It is important for us to realize and understand that God never asks us to love our children less. However, He always expects us to love Him more.
We say we have faith, but our faith is not really tested until God asks us to bear what seems unbearable, do what seems unreasonable, and expect what seems impossible. In a very real sense, we must do that with all of the precious children God has given us. When we have baptisms in this church, we need to remember that it is something God does, not something we do. Only God can baptize and what God is doing is this: God is laying claim on the person being baptized. So when we have baptisms, we are giving our children back to God, and openly declaring that:
· This child is a gift from God.
· This child does not really belong to us. This child belongs to God.
· We have the privilege to love and train this child.
· This child is not ours but God’s!
This had to be on Abraham’s mind when he laid Isaac on the altar. He was thinking, “Lord, this young man was a gift from you, do with him what you will. He’s yours!”
Now, we’ve been focusing on Abraham’s torment and pain, but did you notice in verse 5 the beautiful expression of hope and faith:
“Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship and then we will come back to you.” Did you hear it? We will worship and then WE will come back to you. Such a little word, 2 letters, but great in magnitude of meaning.
It means Abraham had great faith and trusted God. This wasn’t a slip of the tongue by Abraham. Abraham trusted God. The God who had told him to sacrifice Isaac had also promised to produce a nation through him. At the time Abraham didn’t, but I’m sure that now Abraham understands, especially seeing what happened hundreds of years later.
You see, in the story of Abraham and Isaac we find a beautiful picture of God the Father and God the Son.
• As Abraham had only one son, so God has only one Son.
• As Abraham loved Isaac deeply, so God loved Jesus immensely.
• As Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, so God was willing to sacrifice Jesus.
• As Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain in Moriah (the future site of Jerusalem), so God would later sacrifice Jesus on a mountain just outside Jerusalem—a mountain called Calvary.
As Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, so God placed the cross upon the shoulders of Jesus.
As Abraham thought his son was going to die for the three days it took to reach the mountain, so God’s Son was dead for three days.
There is one obvious difference between the two stories. The difference is in the endings. Isaac was saved from death, but Jesus wasn’t. God actually did sacrifice His only Son:
“For God so loved the world, that God gave God’s only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life.” And because of that act of love the world was changed forever. Amen.