February 17 & 18, 2018 Lent 1
Genesis 22: 1-18
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The drama is so intense it could be a Hollywood blockbuster. I hope they don’t make it into a movie because they would probably blow it like the Noah and Exodus movies. The Lord came to Abram out of the blue and told him to pack up and move until God told him to stop. The Lord told Abram he would bless him and that though his wife wasn’t able to have children, one day he would have more offspring than the stars in the sky. Abram simply believed and obeyed. He packed up and left. Incredible!
By the time he was 86 though, Abram and Sarai became a little impatient. Their age and Sarai being barren were too much. So they doubted God and concocted their own plan. Abram had a son named Ishmael with a servant named Hagar. What a sin of distrust! But God was still gracious. Thirteen years later God reaffirmed his promises to Abram and Sarai and changed their names to Abraham and Sarah reflecting that they would be the parents of many. One of those many descendants would even be the Savior of the world. A year later, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, they had a son and named him Isaac. God had kept his promise and this miracle child would be the one to carry forth God’s promises of salvation. Incredible.
Then the drama really heats up. Somewhere around 8-12 years later, God came to Abraham with a test. The huge move to a different land wasn’t enough. The extraordinary promises of blessings weren’t enough. God had a bigger test for Abraham. And it was a doozy. You heard about it today in our first lesson.
“God said, ‘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.’” God didn’t just say, “You’re going to lose your son.” God piled up the test with layers of emotional challenges. “Take your son, your only son, the son your wife couldn’t have but was a miracle baby, the one whom you love and treasure as much as anything in this world.” Each phrase must have felt like a dagger digging deeper into the heart. And speaking of daggers, God told Abraham to do something completely unusual and abnormal. The sacrifice part was normal. The human part was not. God never demanded human sacrifices. But he told Abraham to do it, and with his own son no less.
What would you have done? How shocking would that be for you? Would you have asked God about why he would ask this of you or how were you supposed to have descendants with your son dead? How long would you have mulled whether you listen to the Lord or listen to your own heart? But look at Abraham. The very next morning he saddled up and left with Isaac.
If you were watching this as a movie, this is when your heart would start racing and the tears would start flowing. Abraham stops at the mountain. He tells his servants, “We’ll be right back.” Not, “I’ll be right back,” but “We’ll be right back.” He packed up the wood and gave it to his son Isaac to carry. He took the fire and the knife. Just like Abraham, we the audience know what’s supposed to happen next. Listen to the gut-wrenching dialog. Young Isaac speaks, “Father?” Oh no. You know what’s coming next, and Abraham probably did, too. “The fire and wood are here, … but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” How could any father look his son in the eyes at this point? Abraham must have been sick to the stomach and choking back tears and trembling with every step. It must have taken every ounce of strength to say, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
Then they reach the place for the sacrifice. Watching a movie we would hear the music suddenly become intense. Abraham must have felt like he was in a surreal nightmare. He ties up his son. How hard would that have been? Did Isaac squirm? Did he fight back? Did he shout out, “Daddy! Daddy! What are you doing? What are you doing?” By the time Abraham placed him on top of the wood on the altar Isaac must have figured out where this was going. He must have been weeping. What was Abraham feeling?
Abraham looked at his beloved son. He clenched the knife in his hand. He raised it in the air, ready to plunge it with a deadly blow into his own dear son . . . when suddenly God stopped him. “‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’” Then God provided a ram to take Isaac’s place and he reaffirmed all his promises to Abraham. What an incredible story! There’s a reason why we call Abraham a hero of faith. But could you have done it? Could you have been the hero of faith like Abraham? Would you have gone as far as Abraham? Or would you have questioned God from the beginning? Would you have been able to tie up your own son and raise the knife?
None of us have faced a test of our faith like that, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t tested in extraordinary ways. Some were raised in broken families. Some lost a parent or a spouse or a sibling way too early. Several in our church have battled cancer. Many have lost jobs or been in search of jobs. Even more have felt the squeeze when money is short. Just mention the phrase test of faith, and each of us will instantly think about something in our lives that has been awfully difficult to go through. All of us have been tested by the Lord multiple times. Have you always been a hero of faith in those tests?
I haven’t. I haven’t always been a hero, I’ve been more of a zero of faith. I’ve faltered. I’ve questioned. I’ve doubted. I’ve taken my focus off of God. I’ve looked to myself to solve problems instead of to him. I’ve done plenty of things that have shown weakness and fear. I’m sure you have too.
Lent is a time of reflection when it is good for us to look once again to Jesus. Today in our Gospel reading we saw him in the desert being tested in the most extreme ways. He was there for 40 days fasting and praying. He would have been tired and hungry and perhaps dehydrated. Any normal human would be at their weakest psychological moment. That’s when Satan came with three terribly challenging temptations. But Jesus never faltered, failed, or gave an inch. He perfectly resisted temptation and perfectly passed the test.
This is what Jesus came to do—defeat Satan. He came to withstand every temptation and resist all sin. Then he came to crush Satan at the cross and do away with the curse of sin. And he came to do that for you. Jesus is like the ram in the story of Abraham today. Isaac was about to die, but God sent the ram to take Isaac’s place and be sacrificed instead. The same is true with Jesus. God sent his Son to take your place and be sacrificed instead of you. His perfect life is now your perfect life. His payment for sin is now your payment for sin. His victory over Satan is now your victory over Satan.
So go back to Abraham again. How could Abraham endure such a difficult test and be a hero of faith? I want to show you two examples of his faith. Look at verse 5 again. When they arrived at the mountain Abraham told 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.” Abraham knew what he was supposed to do, yet believed that both of them would come back down the mountain. Or look also at verse 8 again. When Isaac asked that heartbreaking question Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb.” Abraham was confident that God would provide a solution. How could he do this? How could he have such great faith and trust in the Lord?
We find an answer in Hebrews 11, the great heroes of faith chapter of the Bible. Listen to what it says there: “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.”
There’s our answer. Abraham embraced God’s promises. God had promised that he would have a son despite his old age and Sarah being barren. And he did. God had promised that through this son his family would be as many as the stars in the sky. God had promised that through this son all nations on earth would be blessed because the Savior would come from his line. Abraham knew that God had made those promises and that God could not and would not break a promise. And so in an amazing act of faith, Abraham reasoned that since God couldn’t break a promise he would raise his son Isaac from the dead. Talk about faith and trust!
But it’s not that Abraham was so great a person. He was a sinner like the rest of us. Abraham was a hero of faith because of the one in whom he put his faith. God was the one who had all the power and strength. God was the one who made all the promises. Abraham simply believed them. We may think, “I could never have faith and trust like Abraham.” But it’s not really about you. It’s about God and his promises. That’s the key to being a hero of faith. It’s knowing that you’re not the one who makes yourself a hero. God is.
Plenty of tests will come our way in life. Sickness. Disease. Cancer. Death. Money problems. Life challenges. Pains. Sadness. There are plenty of things that will test our faith. So what will we do? We’ll do the same thing Abraham did. We’ll embrace God’s promises. God has promised that whoever believes in his one and only Son shall not perish but have eternal life. God has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us. God has promised that no one can snatch us out of his hand. God cannot and will not ever break a promise. So come trouble or trial, temptation or test, be like Abraham. Be a Hero of Faith and simply embrace and believe God’s promises and he will never fail you and you will pass the test. Amen.