************ Sermon on Hebrews 11:17-19 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 12, 2017
"Abraham's Faith (3)"
Have you ever noticed all the different names for God just in Genesis?
-Elohim - the Hebrew word for God (Gen 1:1)
-Yahweh - the covenant name, Jehovah (Gen 2:4)
-El Elyon - The Most High God (Gen 14:18)
-Adoni - Lord, Master (Gen 15:2)
-El Shaddai - God Almighty (Gen 17:1)
-El Olam - The Everlasting God (Gen 21:33)
Each name reveals to us something of the character and nature of God. Each name is revealed to us when or as God performs some great supernatural act. Each name emphasizes the character and nature of God revealed by the supernatural act.
In today's reading from Genesis another name is revealed: Jehovah Jireh - The Lord will Provide (Gen 22:14). This name is revealed as the almighty and omnipotent God puts Abraham to the test.
I The Test
A Genesis 22 tells us "God tested Abraham." God said, "Abraham!" Abraham answered, "Here I am." Or, to put it in other words, "At your service Lord." Abraham is willing and waiting.
Abraham's enthusiasm must have faded quickly and considerably when he heard what God wanted him to do:
(Gen 22:2) "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."Go ahead, imagine yourself getting such a command. Imagine the horror, the grief, the tears, the nausea.
Now, go the next step and imagine Abraham telling Sarah the command of God:
Sarah, honey, Princess, I have something to tell you. Remember how God talked to me in Ur and told me to leave? And we left though we had no idea where we were going. Remember when God showed me the land? Remember when God told me to count the stars? Remember when God told me we will have a son? Remember the three visitors and God told me what was going to happen to Sodom? Remember how God never once let us down?Sarah's response had to be shock, anger, dismay, tears, fears. I suspect she couldn't eat or sleep for the next week.
Well, honey, God just appeared to me again. And, honey, He told me to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering.
B "Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey" (Gen 22:3). Abraham didn't drag his feet. Abraham didn't give Sarah a couple of days alone with their boy. Abraham didn't go into hiding. Abraham didn't run away.
Hebrews 11 simply says "Abraham ... offered Isaac as a sacrifice." The Greek of Hebrews 11 indicates that Abraham's response was immediate. The sense of the Greek is that Abraham obeyed already while God was still calling.
There is one more thing the Greek tells us. The Greek word "offered" stresses completed action. The Greek stresses it was a done deal. In heart and mind, in soul and spirit, Abraham resolved to obey God. No hesitation on his part. No back-pedaling. No thinking it over a second time or a third time.
"Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey." "Abraham ... offered Isaac as a sacrifice." Abraham obeyed. Immediately. Fully. In his mind's eye he saw it happening.
C Are you left with questions? I certainly am. I have questions about Abraham. What kind of father would do such a thing? What kind of faith did Abraham have that he would obey so quickly and so fully? How could Abraham obey God to the letter?
I am also left with questions about God. What kind of God demands this kind of sacrifice? If we humans are in the image of God, if human life is sacred, how can God order such a thing? Does this mean God is no different than the blood-thirsty gods of the heathen?
I am left with questions about me. What would I have done if God asked this of me? Can I sacrifice a child or a grandchild? Would I be faithful and obedient like Abraham? Do I have the faith of Abraham?
D This is not the first test of Abraham's faith, nor was it the last. Abraham passed the test of faith when he was told to leave Ur. Abraham passed the test of faith when he allowed Lot to have the well watered plain. Abraham passed the test of faith when he believed he would father Isaac. Abraham passed the test of faith when he pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham passed the test of faith when he sent Ishmael away. And, Abraham passed the test of faith when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
I want you to notice that the tests got progressively harder. We should expect this to happen as we grow in grace and get closer to heaven. Trials and adversities grow in number and intensity the closer we get to Jesus. Don't ever believe those who say life gets easier when you have Jesus. Absolutely not! The closer you are to Jesus the more the Devil attacks; or, perhaps I should say, the more God allows the Devil to attack.
So Abraham's greatest test happens after decades of walking with God.
II The Purpose of the Test
A "God tested Abraham." What was the purpose of the test? Let me first answer this in the negative and then three positive answers.
First the negative answer. God did NOT test Abraham so He would know what was in Abraham's heart. God did NOT test Abraham to know whether Abraham was a true and faithful servant. God, after all, is omniscient -- that is, He knows all things. Unlike man, God is able to look into heart. There are no mysteries, no unknowns, for God to discover or unravel.
B "God tested Abraham." What was the purpose of the test? The first positive answer: For our sakes. For the sake of those around Abraham. To encourage us. To show us the struggles and trials and faith of those who love Him. Too often in our circles we keep quiet about our struggles and trials. Too many Christians today make their faith intensely personal: it is between me and Jesus. No it isn't. It is between Jesus and His flock -- of which I am one sheep. It is between Jesus and His church -- of which I am one member. It is between the vine and the branches -- of which I am one twig. So I say to you, my brothers and sisters, don't waste your struggles and trials, your weaknesses and vulnerabilities, by keeping them personal. Let us all learn from you. Let us all be encouraged by you. So we all resolve to have your faith, your hope, your love.
"God tested Abraham." For the benefit of Sarah. For the benefit of his servant Eliezer. For the benefit of Melchizedek. For the benefit of Lot and his daughters. For your benefit. For my benefit.
C "God tested Abraham" What was the purpose of the test? The second positive answer: to drive home the point that our ultimate allegiance is to God.
(Gen 22:2) "Abraham ... Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.""I want your boy. The boy you love."
Let me say up front that I appreciate and support the ministry of Dr. Dobson and Focus on the Family. However, even Dr. Dobson is quick to tell us the family is not the most important thing in life -- though some of his supporters seem to believe this. Over the years I have been disturbed and disillusioned by Christians who put family before God and church. I have a friend, for instance, who called for advice and prayer. A lady in his church was put under discipline for a public sin and her entire family -- 7 or 8 households in total -- threatened to leave the church unless the discipline was lifted. The family can become an idol that we worship in place of God.
"God tested Abraham." He wants to come first in our life. Before family. Before wife and son and daughter. Before flocks and herds. Before wealth and money and property. Before work and business. Before school and boyfriend and girlfriend. Before sports and politics. I like how one of our song writers put this:
The dearest idol I have known,As we all know, Abraham passed the test. Abraham put God first.
whate'er that idol be,
help me to tear it from thy throne
and worship only thee.
D "God tested Abraham" What was the purpose of the test? The third positive answer: to show Abraham's faith.
God made Abraham a promise. God promised to give Abraham a son. And, through this son God promised to make Abraham into a great nation. And, through this son God promised all peoples on earth will be blessed. As Hebrews puts it, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned" (Heb 11:18; cf Gen 21:12).
But now the Abraham who received the promises was given a command "to sacrifice his one and only son" (Heb 11:17). Abraham was commanded to sacrifice the child on whom all the promises rested.
I want you to see that from a human point-of-view there is a contradiction between the promise of God and the command of God. When he was in Ur Abraham was called to forsake his past. At Mount Moriah Abraham was called to forsake his future.
What was Abraham to do? He was caught between the promise of God and the command of God. Will his faith allow him to believe the promise AND obey the commandment?
But now what about you and me? When God calls us to make an enormous sacrifice, do we respond in faith? Obedience to God may cost us a friendship, money, admission into college, a place on a team, a promotion, a nicer home. Will we respond in faith the way Abraham did?
III The Faith Shown by the Test
A "By faith." "By faith." "By faith." That's the theme of Hebrews 11. Our text tells us three things about Abraham's faith.
First, by faith Abraham recognized it was God Who tested him. Abraham had to keep reminding himself of this as he traveled for the 3 days to Mt. Moriah. "This comes from God." "This comes from God." "This comes from God."
"God tested Abraham." God is the author of the test. What Abraham faced was not the result of accident, fate, karma, coincidence, or Satan. It was God's design, God's plan, God's purpose.
"God tested Abraham." You need to realize there is a difference between testing and tempting. God tests us; or, allows us to be tested. Satan tempts us. God tests us to bring out the best in us. Satan tempts us to make us fall and fail. By faith Abraham knew -- as James tells us -- that God never tempts anyone to sin. By faith Abraham knew that God's providence meant the test to work out for his ultimate good.
"God tested Abraham." As Abraham, by faith, looks over all the tests in his life he realizes -- as Paul tells us -- that God is faithful. He realizes God will not let him be tempted beyond what he can bear (1 Cor 10:13).
"God tested Abraham." Abraham knew this by faith.
B Second, by faith Abraham knew God was El-Shaddai, the Lord God Almighty, Who can do anything. According to Hebrews, "Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead" (Heb 11:19). Now this is remarkable. Up to this point in time there is not a single resurrection in the biblical record. Yet Abraham believed the resurrection of the body. At the foot of Mt. Moriah we see this faith expressed to Abraham's two servants:
(Gen 22:5) "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you."Note the "we." "We will come back to you." The boy and me. Even if Isaac is sacrificed. Even after Isaac is killed. "We will come back to you." "Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead." By faith.
C Third, by faith Abraham knew that "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (Gen 22:8). Isaac saw the fire, the wood, the knife. "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" I just love this line from Genesis 22: "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."
Never forget that God Himself did what Abraham was prevented from doing. God offered His Son. Keep in mind one of the themes of Hebrews: What we have in this life is the shadow; the reality is found in Christ. Abraham's test was the shadow; Christ's sacrifice was the reality.
When we look by faith at Abraham and Isaac we see Christ prefigured. Jesus, like Isaac, is the only Son. Jesus, like Isaac, is the Son Who is loved. Jesus, like Isaac, carried the wood for the offering. Jesus, like Isaac, climbed Mount Moriah. Jesus, like Isaac, was sacrificed by His father. The only difference: Abraham was stopped by the angel of the Lord.
The story of Abraham and Isaac helps us to better understand the story of Jesus. The story of Abraham and Isaac helps us to better understand the character of God. The story of Abraham and Isaac help us to better understand the Gospel. The story of Abraham and Isaac help us to better understand the following texts:
(Jn 1:29) "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
(Rom 8:32) He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all ...
(Jn 3:16) "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Like Abraham, Jesus faced the test. Like Abraham, Jesus lived by faith. Like Abraham, Jesus knew the test came from God. Like Abraham, Jesus knew God could and would raise the dead.
By faith. By faith is how Abraham faced the test. By faith is how Jesus faced the test.
Do you also live by faith?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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