SERMON FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
SERMON FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Pastor Michael Jarick
Title : THE TEST
Text: Genesis 22:1-14
Wouldn’t it be nice to go through life without any hassles! No speeding fines, no mortgage payments, no need to balance the budget. No stubbed toes, no falls off ladders, no car accidents. No arthritis, no failing eyesight, no coronavirus, no cancer. No Child Protection Departments, no Sudden Infant Death, no need for aged care services, no palliative care, no funeral directors, no cemeteries.
We might from time to time entertain such wishful thinking. But within our hearts we know that such ideas are a fantasy. We know that hassles are part and parcel of life. And as much as we try to spare our children the harsh realities of life, soon or later these lessons must be learned. Life is ultimately not as we would plan.
When you face life’s inevitable hassles, how do you respond? The normal reaction is “Why me?” and maybe “What have I done to deserve this?” Others will conclude “I’m only getting what I deserve.” Sometimes people will demand justice from God: “But I’ve been a good person. I’ve tried to do the right thing. Why are you letting this happen to me, God?”
Our God is not indifferent to the pain and suffering in the world. God cares when even as insignificant an animal as a sparrow falls to the ground, so how much more does he care for us his children? God loves us and cares for us absolutely.
When we face the trials and tribulations of life, we want to know why. Although it can be helpful to express our pain, our confusion, and our anger, there is a more helpful and important question to ask. Our pride demands to know why. God’s grace guides us to ask, “Lord, what do you want me to learn from this?…. What do you want me to learn from this?” Let’s consider now the story in Genesis 22 of Abraham and Isaac.
1. God tests our faith.
There will be times in your life when God allows you to go through trying experiences. Most of us have lived long enough to look back and identify some of these times. James 1:2-3 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” God uses tests and trials to grow us.
I don’t think you can overestimate the trial that Abraham and Sarah faced. They were desperate for an heir. Then God promised them not only an heir, but that their descendants would become a great nation. Years pass, and still no child. Abraham chides God, saying that a distant relative is going to inherit his name. Another promise from God, then more years go by. Sarah eventually gives up and uses her servant Hagar as a surrogate mother. Ishmael is born. Thirteen years later and still no child for Abraham and Sarah. Yet another promise. And then another, finally with the promise of when: the three angels at the oaks of Mamre promise to return at springtime, and Sarah will become pregnant.
Isaac is born, 25 years after God had promised an heir. And now he is to die! Could it get any worse? Bad question to ask! Abraham is to kill with his own hands the son promised by God. God gives, and now God is going to take away. Will Abraham have to wait until he was 125 for another son? Could Abraham have received a more cruel command from God?
But there is more to God’s apparently bizarre command than meets the eye. It’s actually a test by God to strengthen Abraham’s faith. Will Abraham trust in God’s promise? Or will he let someone or something come between him and his God? Will his relationship with God remain his top priority in his life?
Perhaps Jesus was thinking of this priority when he said, much later, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). As a Jewish rabbi, Jesus sometimes taught using exaggeration for effect. Does he literally want us to hate our closest family members? Of course not. But he exaggerates to make the point that nothing and no one should come between us and him. You can only serve one master. Following Jesus is our highest priority in life.
And that’s what Abraham must come to terms with. Will he obey the God who gave him this son of promise? Of course, Isaac too must come to terms with his own obedience. Most scholars think Isaac is between 17 and 20 years old, so he could easily overpower his elderly dad. I used to poke and wrestle with my nephews when they were boys. Now that most of them are about 10 centimetres taller than me I have stopped doing that.
Isaac could have resisted, but he doesn’t. Rabbis call this story, “The Binding,” and portray Isaac as a great hero who allows himself to be bound as a sacrifice to God. Isaac chooses to obey his father, trusting that his father has heard correctly from God.
And Abraham? Hebrews 11:19 tells us, “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” Our story illustrates this when Abraham tells his servants in verse 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.” Abraham is very clear that both he and the boy will go and both he and the boy will return. He believes if God chooses for the boy to die, then God will bring him back to life. That is faith. That is costly obedience.
God will test our faith at times. God calls us to costly obedience. And out of that, we will learn something new about God.
2. God tests our faith in order to make our faith stronger.
When we endure times of testing, our faith has an opportunity to grow. Our understanding of God matures.
In our story today, Abraham is obedient to God to the point of taking the life of his one and only son, the son of promise. As he lifts the knife into the air, at the last possible moment, the voice of the Lord intervenes and stop him. Immediately, Abraham notices a ram caught by his horns and sacrifices the ram in place of Isaac. Abraham names that place, “The Lord will provide,” or Yahweh Yireh, because God provided a sacrifice in place of Isaac.
The ram wasn’t a coincidence. God wasn’t looking down from heaven and saying, “Well, look at that! Where did that ram come from?” No, God knows all along how this test will play out. The test is not to teach God something; it’s to teach Abraham something about himself and his God. Abraham now knows a whole new dimension of God as provider, because he obeyed God.
You only learn more about God as you allow yourself to trust him, to believe in his promises. Henry Bosch writes in “Our Daily Bread” about a widow from Chicago named Ms. Hokanson. Her life motto was, “The Lord will provide.” She was the sole support for her mentally challenged son. Eventually, chronic arthritis confined her to bed. When a church youth group went over to her house to cheer her up, they were amazed to discover she wasn’t depressed. They asked her, “Now what will you and Arthur do?” And she replied, with quiet confidence, “The Lord will provide.”
When Mrs. Hokanson died, people wondered what would happen to her son. But when friends and neighbours went home with Arthur after the funeral, he proudly showed them his stamp collection. Instead of tearing the stamps off the envelopes, he had intercepted and held onto scores of letters intended for his mother, all left unopened. Inside the envelopes was a lot of money, enough to care for the boy for the rest of his life.
God tests our faith and makes our faith stronger. And lastly,
3. God has already gone before us.
Verse 2 of today’s story has an interesting word order. The New International Version captures it well from the original Hebrew: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac.” The phrase, “only son,” appears three times in the story (in verses 2, 12, and 16). In the Greek translation of the Old Testament—the Bible that Jesus would have used—this phrase is word for word identical to one in a verse I’m sure you’ve heard: “For God so loved the world that he gave ... his only son” (John 3:16).
What God called Abraham to do he had already done himself. He gave his only son. In Abraham’s case God intervened. Abraham had passed the test. Abraham obeyed God despite the cost. Then God reaffirmed his great promise to Abraham, “By your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice”(v. 18).
When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “If possible, let this cup pass from me,” God didn’t intervene. Jesus drained the dregs from his cup of suffering. The ancient church father Augustine wrote, “Isaac carried the wood on which he was to be offered up to the place of sacrifice, just as the Lord himself carried his own cross ... The ram was caught by the horns in a thicket; who then did he represent but Jesus, who, before He was offered up had been crowned with thorns?”
In fact, the ram in today’s story represents the first clear example in the Bible of what theologians call “substitutionary atonement,” the idea that an innocent has to die in place of another. That ram gave his life for Isaac. And Jesus gave his life for us.
There is another parallel worth considering. This story took place on a mountain God had revealed to Abraham in the land of Moriah (V.2). Later this hilly area becomes the Canaanite city Jebus. Still later David captures the city and it is renamed Jerusalem. On the very same hill where Abraham saw the ram, we see Jesus.
At the Passover, families in Jerusalem were preparing their Passover meal. A lamb was sacrificed. John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29). Jesus became our Passover lamb. God poured out his righteous judgment of sin on the one human being who had never sinned, God’s one and only son. And through that one sacrifice, we receive forgiveness for all our sins, as we throw ourselves at the mercy of our gracious Heavenly Father.
Do you entrust your future to the one who saw Abraham through the worst trial of his life? Do you trust above all else the God who loves you so much that he sent his one and only son to die for you?
Let us pray: “Lord, when we face trials in life, help us to trust your loving care for us. When we want to complain, give us the grace to ask what you want to teach us. May we never doubt your love for us, the love that sent Jesus to the cross for us. Amen.
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