Do you remember the Presidential Physical Fitness test? It was a test for Middle schoolers to see how physically fit they were. You'd be tested on how many pushups you could do, how many situps you could do, and how fast you could run the mile.
I thought I was going to get the highest level of fitness for sure. I was tall and good at basketball. No problem testing to the top, right?
Then...the V-Sit and Reach.
Basically you had to sit with your legs in a v shape (no more than a foot apart) and reach 6 inches past your toes.
I couldn't even get to my knees.
That's what tests do though. They measure where you are at. They tell you if you really are where you think you are. They let you know if you need to improve.
Over the Lenten season there is alot of spiritual exercising going on. In confession we turn to the LORD for forgiveness and ask for strength to fight against sin.
It's the perfect time for a test! A faith test.
Over the next weeks we will look at Old Testament believers whose faith was put to the test. As you hear about them, please consider your own life. How is your faith? Strong as it needs to be? Does it need to be stronger? How does God say that our faith is strengthened?
I. The Test for Abraham: “Give Up…
Take a look at the test God had for Abraham. This is from Genesis 22. God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Sacrifices and burnt offerings might seem strange to 21st century America, but these were very common in that Ancient farming culture. Think of it like God asking you for money today. It’s why we call it an offering – it’s not easy to part with. Back then it wasn’t easy to part with an animal or the fresh crop of corn, but it wasn’t unheard of either. Burning some of your food was a way of saying – “I am thankful God has provided this for me and I know He will provide more for me.”
God’s request of Abraham was not ordinary. God’s Words to Abraham emphasize just how difficult this would be:
· Your Son. It wasn’t his grain offering. It wasn’t some vegetables. It wasn’t a goat. It wasn’t a lamb. It wasn’t even the fattened calf. It was a person. His own son. His own flesh and blood. Abraham would be sacrificing his own DNA: his blue eyes, his jutted chin, his round nose! This was the one he was supposed to be protecting.
· Your Only. Abraham and his wife Sarah had been waiting for children for years. Genesis 12 first records Abraham’s longing at 75 years old. That was when God first promised him and his wife a Son. It wasn’t until he was 100 years old when Isaac was finally born to Him. Can you imagine the joy Abraham felt? Can you imagine what he felt when God asked him to give it all up?
· Whom You Love. As you might expect, Abraham didn’t tolerate Isaac. He didn’t like him. He wasn’t simply ok with him. Abraham loved him.
· Your Son --Isaac. When God said his name, it became very personal. God wasn’t asking for some nameless goat. He wasn’t asking for an inanimate bag of wheat. He was asking for Isaac – his personality, his voice, his being. God was asking him to give up his farming protege, his friend to play a game of catch with, and a pupil to lead through life.
Over this past week there was a lot of Snow Days here in NC. That sounds like a lot of fun time with your kids. Time as a family. Time together.
Did you feel the same way when it was done? Waking up to the sounds of arguing over the iPad? The constant clanging of Superman action figures? The marathon of the Frozen soundtrack in the background?
As trying as your kids can be on your patience, what would it be like if you lost them?
If you get that, then you get how hard this test was for Abraham.
II. Abraham’s Response
How do you think Abraham might react to God’s difficult request?
For starters, he could waste some time. He could put it at the end of his to do list and get to it when and if he ever has time. He could keep Isaac around until after the next harvest – get some final work out of him. He could even wait one more day just to spend some quality time with his son.
Would you fault him? Probably not. We have a hard time doing what God asks – and he hasn’t even asked us to do anything that difficult.
· “OK. I hear you God. You want me to join a church and get involved on a weekly basis. But I’m busy with my career now. I’ll have to t to it later on.”
· “God, can you take a rain check on getting that sin out of my life? I’m just not feeling ready to live without it just yet.”
· “God, I’ll get to working on my addiction. I promise! Just let me have one more puff, one more drink, one more scouring of the internet for pictures. When that’s done, then I’ll get rid of it.”
We might expect Abraham to waste time, delay, and put off God’s request. It’s what we do on a daily basis with sin – things we should get rid of for our own good!
Abraham did none of that. 3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.
Did you catch that? There were no delays. There was no distraction. There was no putting it off. Abraham got up, got ready, and got going on what God wanted him to do.
That’s trust. Trust with No Hesitations.
Even if Abraham was following God without hesitation, we still might expect him to complain about – to mutters they journeyed to the mountain, to have a mind racing with Hebrew expletives against God for making him do this, to tell his servants – “Don’t think bad of me, this is all God’s fault.”
Again – would you be upset with him if he did? This is another common human practice when God asks us to do something hard.
· “The only reason I’m not joining you guys for way too many drinks is because of my religion. Jesus can be kind of a bummer sometimes.”
· “I stopped watching that TV-MA show because church keeps making me feel guilty about it. That’s what church does. Makes you feel guilty.”
· “Fine. I’ll go to church. I know that I’ll get my faith strengthened, I’ll be encouraged, and get to eat some donuts, but I won’t be happy about it. Even though it’s three hours later than when I have to wake up during the week – God I’m not happy about it. I could be sleeping!”
· “Another email from Pastor about inviting people to church! He even quoted a Bible passage telling us to do it. Ugh! Put it in the SPAM folder.”
Abraham could have done that. That would be understandable. We complain about things God tells us are good for us: going to church and leaving sin.
But Abraham didn’t complain. Check out how he describes his task to the servants with him: He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”
Amazing, right? Abraham doesn’t define this task as a joke, annoying, or worthless. He doesn’t even consider it a terrible task from a terrible God. He calls it worship.
That’s trust. Trust with No Complaints!
Then, as Abraham is getting closer to the mountaintop, Isaac speaks: “Father?...The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Wow. That’s hard. Isaac’s voice is calling to him. What are you doing? What’s going on here?
Whether Isaac meant to or not –and who could blame him if he did mean to – Abraham’s actions are questioned.
Are you doing what’s right?
Are you sure you want to go on without Isaac?
Is this the God you really want to serve?
If there was ever a time for Abraham to turn, back now would be it!
That too is something that is common amongst humans. We make plans to follow God. We are excited to listen to him. Then, just when it’s about to happen – someone gets in our head. Another person. Our own desires. The devil himself. These voices get in our head and cause us to turn back:
· “I was planning on moving out from my live in boyfriend and wait until marriage to have sex, but…he told me he really loves me. I trust him more than you God.”
· “I was in the middle of installing the Internet filter on my computer, but then…I thought of all the fun that porn gives me. I don’t want to give that up.”
· “I was planning on reading my Bible during Lent, but then I’d have to give up the marathon I set up on Netflix! I just can’t do it.”
Woe to us human. We love to turn back from our plans to TRUST and follow God.
But Abraham? Listen to his answer. “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
Simply amazing. We struggle to say no to the sinful voices that sinfully tempt us to sin – which is bad. Abraham hears the innocent voice of his son – who maybe – just doesn’t want to die and Abraham trust God. There is NO TURNING BACK!
III. God Provided
Then, we reach the climax. It’s time to see if Abraham will go through with it. Time to see if he really trusts God. 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. Abraham was going to go through with it.
But God wasn’t.
The angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham!...Do not lay a hand on the boy, do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
It doesn’t say it, but I bet Abraham sighed and then gave Isaac a big hug. He had passed the test.
But perhaps you are wondering about the how? How did Abraham pass the sacrifice his son test?
Hebrews 11:17-19: By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”
Do you see how Abraham did it? He held to the promise that God provided. God had promised that Abraham would have grandkids through Isaac. Isaac hadn’t had any kids yet. Therefore, Abraham figured God couldn’t be done with him. He had promised otherwise. So…if Isaac died, then God would just bring him back to life.
That’s pretty amazing faith. But it only happened because God has provided the promise.
But God wasn’t done. Read verse 13. "13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.”
Can you imagine the rejoicing? Abraham because his son was alive. Isaac because he was alive. Both of them because God was good.
Do you want a faith like Abraham’s?
“I don’t see how I could do that pastor. That faith is just too incredible.”
But remember Abraham’s faith was only strong because of what God provided. God has provided for you too the exact same things he provided Abraham.
First of all, God provided a substitute for you in a very similar way to the way he provided a substitute to take Isaac’s place.
True, it wasn’t on Mt. Moriah, but on Mt. Calvary.
True, it wasn’t tangled up in thorns, only his head was covered in thorns.
True, your substitute wasn’t a ram; it was a close, domesticated cousin – a lamb – the Lamb of God.
Just as the ram in the bush was Isaac’s substitute so he wouldn’t die, so Jesus was your substitute so you wouldn’t die eternally for your sins.
For all the times you hesitated to trust God, you should have died – Jesus died in your place.
For all the times you complained while obeying his will—Jesus died in your place.
For all the times you have turned back from doing what God wants you to – Jesus died your place.
Jesus was your substitute.
Secondly, God also provided promises to you. The reason Abraham had such a strong faith was that he had such strong promises from God.
You have similar promises. And…better than Abraham…you don’t have to just remember them from way back when God spoke it. Someone wrote them down for you! In a book. A book that we have plenty of copies of. A book that we study every Sunday at church!
Think about some of these promises. They will help you do the tough things:
· When your friends threaten to unfriend you won’t join them in their sinful activities, REMEMBER: God has promised he will never leave you.
· When you are tempted to choose sin, REMEMBER: God has promised that His way is better.
· When you are overwhelmed and feel like there is no time for God, REMEMBER: God has promised to bless all who spend time with him.
· When you are tempted to stay away from church, because you did something bad and God couldn’t possibly love you REMEMBER God has promised that his love for you is eternal…a love he proved on the cross.
· When something is hard or difficult REMEMBER: God is stronger. God is with you. God’s strength will not leave you.
Before Abraham and Isaac left that mountain, Abraham gave it a new name. Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. Whenever he started to have doubts, he could remember that mountain. Remember that the Lord would provide…and do anything God asked.
May the same be true for you. When your faith is being attacked, when your trust is being tempted, when you have doubts –anytime you have doubts— head to the Mountain. Head to your mountain. See God provide a substitute. See God provde you promises. TRUST: The LORD will provide. Amen.