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We’ve said it before but its worth repeating again, the life of faith is a hard life. Anyone who says that all their problems went away when they became a Christian is either lying or hasn’t got a clue what it means to live by faith in Jesus Christ.
Some people come to church with their great problems and troubles, but are often disappointed and don’t last long. They thought that Christianity was supposed to make everything better. But once they learn what it means to “take up your cross and follow Me,” they conclude that this is not at all what they thought it was and not something that they’re interested in.
So don’t ever tell someone that their troubles will all go away if they come to church and hear the gospel. No. FAITH comes by hearing the gospel, not SUCCESS or PROSPERITY or EASY STREET.
Just look at those whom the Epistle to the Hebrews holds up as the HEROES OF THE FAITH. “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, there were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Hebrews 11:36-38) I wonder why I’ve never seen this verse in an evangelism brochure before?
And today we can add, “they were taken captive and beheaded, their homes were burned, their women raped, their daughters stolen – of whom this world IS NOT worthy.”
So why do we do it? Why do we, as we said in our confirmation vows, “intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and SUFFER ALL EVEN DEATH, rather than fall away from it?”
Because it’s fun or because it’ll make you feel good about yourself? Give me a break.
It is because THIS IS THE WAY, AND THERE IS NO OTHER WAY than the way of the cross of Jesus Christ. It is because THIS IS THE TRUTH, AND THERE IS NO OTHER TRUTH than the truth that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself…” (2 Cor. 5:19) It is because THIS IS THE LIFE, AND THERE IS NO OTHER LIFE, than “…life in His name.” (John 20:31)
Let us consider Abraham.
“After these things, God tested Abraham.”
This is what I’m talking about. This is what God does to those whom He calls. He tests them.
When God tests a person, it always means the same thing – something must die. It wouldn’t be so bad if God tested our knowledge of the faith. Then we could prepare by reading the right books and memorizing the right verses of Scripture. And if we got enough answers correct we may be able to finally get God off our backs.
But God’s tests are always tests of faith. It’s always about what you do when you don’t have any answers and nothing makes sense and don’t know WHY? The test is, do you trust God? EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T GET IT, even when you don’t see the point, even when every one else is doing it, EVEN WHEN YOU DON’T WANT TO DO IT?
When God tests a person, something must die, either your will or God’s will.
“And Abraham said, ‘Here am I.’ God said, ‘Take 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.”
Ask Abraham about the life of faith. You think he’d say, “It’s great?” “I’ve never been so happy?”
This is actually the 2nd time that God tested Abraham. The first time came in chapter 12. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” (Gen.12:1) That’s hard. God told Abraham to cut all of his ties to his past, ‘country,’ ‘kindred,’ ‘father.’ “Move”!
And then come those three little words that have more faith packed into them than our whole lives do. “So Abraham went…” (Gen.12:4)
Having let go of his past, God now tells Abraham to turn over his future. “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love.”
All that Abraham has left is the present.
You and I could read this text a hundred times and still never fathom what Abraham went through. And that’s because you know something that Abraham doesn’t know. You already know how this test ends. But he doesn’t. He just trusts God.
It’s like that with us too. When God tests us, we never know how it’s going to end. Sometimes it ends in life and sometimes it ends in death. We must simply trust God.
God is not easy on Abraham is He? He could have said, ‘take the boy,’ or ‘the kid.’ But He says, “take YOUR SON, YOUR ONLY SON, ISAAC, WHOM YOU LOVE.” As God pours it on you can almost hear the sound of a man’s heart breaking.
What thoughts must have been going through Abraham’s head? ‘This makes no sense at all. What kind of God is this who would ask a father to offer his only, beloved son? And besides, Isaac is the one through whom God’s promise would come.’ God had told him, “through Isaac shall be your offspring.” And now God said, “kill Isaac.” Abraham wonders if God’s Word can really be trusted. Is God a liar?
It’s right about here that most of us would say, ‘this is all very nice, but to be honest, this is a lot more religion that I’m interested in. I thought it would be nice to come to church, good for the kids. I just wanted to add a little ‘spirituality’ to my life. Honestly though, I don’t want this much God in my life.’
But Abraham said, “Here am I.” No arguments, no excuses. He didn’t tell God that right now was a busy time in his life, maybe later when things slowed down a bit. In the Garden of Eden, God called Adam and Adam hid from God. But Abraham said, “Here am I.”
“So Abraham rose early in the morning.” We would be more surprised if Abraham slept at all that night. Without delay or procrastination. Abraham doesn’t say, ‘let me pray on it Lord,’ or ‘let me see what my heart tells me I should do.’
He saddled the donkey, recruited two servants, gathered the wood for the fire and HIS SON, HIS ONLY SON, ISAAC, WHOM HE LOVES “and went to the place that God had told him.”
The region of Moriah was about 50 miles due west from Beersheeba where Abraham lived. It would take three days to travel that distance. “On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place from afar.”
Talk about a dreaded site. Luther says that at that moment, everything within Abraham died; Sarah, his family, his home, his son. If he had only known that this was only a test, then he wouldn’t have been so troubled.
It’s like that for us too. When we are in the midst of our trials, we cannot see the end and we don’t know how they will turn out. All we can do TRUST IN GOD or TURN AROUND.
From this point on, it would only be father and son. The servants would go no further. They would never understand and might even try to stop him. Abraham’s strict instructions to them were as follows, “stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. (Pointing to where he is headed.) We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
What a strange thing to say, “we will come back to you.” What was Abraham thinking? What else could he be thinking but that if God said, “through Isaac your offspring shall be,” then God would raise Isaac from the ashes if He needed to.
Up to this point, the donkey had carried the wood for the sacrifice. But from this point on, the donkey stays behind. Abraham being well over 100 years old, loads the wood for the sacrifice onto the back of HIS SON, HIS ONLY SON, ISAAC, WHOM HE LOVES.
“And Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac, his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together.”
Isaac offers no resistance. But he doesn’t understand what is happening. He sees everything necessary for a sacrifice, except the lamb. And so he asks, “Father, where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”
Abraham couldn’t bring himself to say it. It was too hard. The best he could do was to say, “God will provide for Himself a lamb.”
‘So they went on, the two of them together.” The Father carrying the knife and the fire. The son carrying the wood on which he will be sacrificed.
“When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.”
Sadly, the conversation between father and son is not included here. We can only imagine. Abraham must have had to explain things to Isaac. And Isaac must have protested. “Have you forgotten that it is through me that God will bless the world?” And Abraham must have answered that God will keep His promise, somehow, even it’s out of his death, as impossible as that sounds.
And Isaac must have consented. There is no sign of a struggle. The son goes to the wood, willingly, in perfect obedience to his father. Sound familiar?
I want to pause here for just a moment to follow a tangent. Can you imagine the influence that this father must have had on his son? When Isaac looks at his father, he sees a man of faith. Long after Abraham was dead, Isaac would remember his father’s devotion to God. How many of us fathers hope that our sons and daughters will see the same in us as Isaac saw in his father?
Finally, the time had fully come. “Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.”
Luther says, “If God had slept for an instant the boy would be dead… Never in all history was there such obedience, save only in Christ. But God WAS watching, and so were the angels. See how God is right at hand in the hour of death.”
“But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven saying, ‘Abraham, Abraham.’ AND ONCE AGAIN, Abraham said, “Here am I.” And he is told to put the knife down. THE TEST IS OVER.
And God said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God.” HOW DOES HE KNOW? “Seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.”
So, if we weren’t disgusted with God yet, here’s the point where we want throw Him off a cliff. Surely He could have looked into Abraham’s heart and seen the faith that Holy Spirit created there – WITHOUT PUTTING HIM THROUGH THIS LIVING HELL.
Isn’t that what we all want, for God to look into our heart and see or faith and count it as righteousness?
But look at what happens. God looks at what at what Abraham DID as the evidence of what Abraham BELIEVED.
FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD. It’s not our works that justify us before God. But let’s not kid ourselves. What we DO is THE EVIDENCE of what we BELIEVE.
“And Abraham lifted up his eyes.”
The first time Abraham “lifted up his eyes,” he saw the mountain and he died. Now, as he “lifted up his eyes,” Abraham is raised from the dead.
“Behold, behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering INSTEAD OF HIS SON.”
Here, dear Christians, is the goal of every test of faith that God puts to us; that we would lift up our eyes, and see the Lamb, whose head is caught in that crown of thorns, whom His Father bound to the wood, and NOT SPARING HIS SON, HIS ONLY SON, JESUS, WHOM HE LOVES, sacrificed Him in our place.
Unlike Abraham, WE DO KNOW how every test of faith will end. “For He who did not spare His own son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also with Him, graciously give us all things.” (Rom. 8:32)
Do not be afraid to trust in God. Do not be afraid to die. For He even knows how to raise the dead.