Sermon delivered on Trinity 3A, Sunday, July 2, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
The audio podcast of today’s sermon is not immediately available. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Lectionary texts: Genesis 22:1-14; Psalm 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42.
May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you Oh Lord our Rock and our Redeemer, in the name of God the Father, the son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
As we seek to do the Lord’s work of building His kingdom, we will sometimes face difficulties and trials which make us feel discouraged. When this happens, we must go the Scriptures to learn how to face such difficulties and trials. And what we will learn is that we must have faith in God. In fact God often allows us to go through trials deliberately in order to test or refine the faith we have in Him. This morning, we will see how this worked in Abraham.
Abraham was known for the faith he had in God. He believed God’s promise to give him and his barren wife a son, and God miraculously did this when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 years old! Abraham’s faith in God was therefore vindicated and all hopes of having a multitude of descendants were now going to be fulfilled as Isaac would then grow up, get married and have his own children. We can imagine how lovingly Abraham and Sarah must have doted on their precious son, taking the greatest care to nurture him with only the best food they had, and with the most comfortable environment they could provide. How well they must have watched Isaac and protected him from all harm and danger -whether of sickness or injury. This was their son, their precious miraculous son, who was their great hope and their future!
But now the very God who had given Abraham this son was about to tell him to do something quite unthinkable: to sacrifice him as a burnt offering to the Lord. This brings us to our Old Testament lesson. The first two verses say. ‘And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said to him, Abraham: and he said, here I am. And he said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering up on one of the mountains which I will tell you
The command is made up of three simple verbs: ‘Take’ ‘go’, and ‘offer him’. Nothing was stated as to why this was to be done. It seemed so contrary to all that God had spoken before to Abraham. We can imagine the great shock that Abraham might have felt when he heard it.
Perhaps he might even have wondered if he heard God correctly, and said, ‘Lord, are you really telling me to take Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering?’ But surely that would mean that Isaac would have to die! I don’t understand this. I thought that Isaac is the son You promised to give me and that through Him, your promise to grant me a multitude of descendants would be fulfilled.’ The Bible does not record any response from Abraham to this commandment, except one: Complete obedience. My brothers and sisters, how would you have responded, if you had been in Abraham’s place? This was clearly the greatest faith crisis he ever had to face in his life. How would you cope if you were the one facing this crisis?
Some of us may be tempted to react to this by complaining that God’s command is too cruel, inhumane and unreasonable to carry out. How can God tell me to do that? He is not fair. He obviously does not love me nor my son. He is a bloodthirsty God who is absolutely insensitive to the agony and death of his own people.
Have you sometimes felt that way when things did not go very well for you? Have you sometimes questioned God or doubted His goodness in allowing you to experience loss or pain? Well, when this happens your faith is being tested. Faith is confident that God is always good, righteous, fair, just and loving no matter what He does. And this was true in Abraham’s situation as well. God’s Word clearly reveals that God is not unreasonable, cruel or bloodthirsty. He is most gracious and merciful. He hates any kind of human blood sacrifice. In fact when God gave His laws to Israel about 400 years later, one of the prohibitions was against human blood sacrifices. This is found in Deuteronomy 12:31 ‘You must not do the same for the LORD your God, because every abhorrent thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.’. Deuteronomy 18:10 says, ‘ No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire.’
Why then did God command Abraham to sacrifice his son if He is so firmly against human sacrifices? Was He contradicting Himself? No, He was not. Our reading from Genesis makes this clear in the very first verse. It says: ‘After these things God tested Abraham’ The word ‘test’ here reveals that God had no intention of taking Isaac away from Abraham. There is actually no thought or intention of an actual blood sacrifice, although Abraham at this time did not know it yet.
But the command was meant only to test the faith of Abraham. And Abraham passed the test very well, with unquestioning obedience. Look at v.3 ‘So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.’
Lessons from Abraham’s Faith
The Bible does not give us any details of Abraham’s initial reaction to what he heard from God. But I think we can safely assume, that as a loving father, he must have been very troubled in his heart, and must have shed tears in great anguish. Abraham had probably spent the whole night without any sleep. But finally at daybreak, Abraham took his son with him up to Mount Moriah. He built an altar and laid Isaac on it. But at the very last moment, just before the knife was plunged, the Lord sent an angel to stop him. Abraham’s faith had been proven. There was no need now for Isaac to be sacrificed. You can imagine how greatly relieved and glad Abraham must have been to receive his son back.
There are four lessons about faith that we can learn from Abraham: Firstly, we learn that the reason why we need to have faith in God in any crisis or difficulty is our incomplete knowledge of God’s plan. God does not require us to know every single detail before we obey Him. There are many things He has chosen not to reveal to us yet. But He wants us simply to trust Him. According to Isaiah 55:8,9 ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’
And in every crisis we face, we must believe that God has a good purpose for whatever He does, and for whatever He allows to happen in our lives. Romans 8:28 assures us that ‘all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’ We ought to realize that the trials we face have a divine purpose. They are not there merely by chance or accident, but by God’s design. They have all been carefully planned and deliberately woven into the fabric of our lives for His glory. Thus we should humbly submit ourselves to whatever trial or testing that the Lord puts us through, just like Abraham did.
Beloved, are you facing a trial at present in which you are greatly perplexed? Do you wonder why God is allowing this to happen to you? Please be aware that there are things being accomplished that you do not know about, and that this gives you an opportunity to trust Him for the things you do not know. As it is said where knowledge ends, faith begins! The second lesson about faith that we can learn is that faith obediently submits to God’s will. Abraham obviously loved Isaac very much, but to him obedience to God’s will was even more important than loving Isaac. Faith makes us willing to give or offer up anything God requires from us, even the things that may be most precious to us. Faith must make us willing to surrender all, and to abandon all that we have, to God. It acknowledges that our lives and all that we have are not our own anymore, but God’s, to shape and to use in any way He wants to.
In short, our faith must be a faith that makes Him fully Lord of our lives. God must be made Lord of all, or else He will not be lord at all. Church, if the Lord should require you to give up something very precious to you for His sake, would you submit obediently to Him? Or would you withdraw and go away sorrowful like the rich young ruler? There is a way to overcome any unwillingness to submit obediently to the Lord: Focus on His power and provision. God’s requirements are not designed to deprive or destroy you, but to bless you.
Third lesson about faith that we can learn is that faith confidently depends upon God’s power and provision. Although we do not know all that Abraham felt and thought as he was preparing to offer Isaac, we have two important clues in the passage: The first is found in the reply that he gave to Isaac’s question. Isaac innocently asked him ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’
Abraham’s reply was ‘My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering.’ Let us not think that Abraham was telling Isaac a lie here. The truth of the matter was that if God had commanded that Isaac is to be sacrificed, then Isaac must be the lamb that God has provided. But of greater significance here, is the confidence expressed here by Abraham that God will provide. This shows Abraham’s faith in God’s unfailing provision. The other clue to Abraham’s thoughts is found in Hebrews 11:19 which says ‘Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead’ Abraham really had no doubts at all about God’s unlimited power. He can do anything. If He wants to, He can even resurrect the dead body of Isaac back to life. But it turned out that God did not choose to do that, but to provide a ram as a substitute to be sacrificed.
In the same way that Abraham depended on God’s unfailing provision and power, we too need to depend on His unfailing provision and power when we meet with adversities in life. We must believe that God will provide whatever is needful.
If we suffer any loss, we must believe that God will either sufficiently provide and return whatever it is that we have lost (as He did for Job), or that God will provide us with sufficient grace to bear the loss (as He did for Paul). But in whatever way God provides, the fact remains that He will provide! And in any crisis, we must have firm confidence that God can do anything that He wills to do. It is well within His power to raise the dead back to life if He wants to, or to remove all traces of cancer, or to provide timely material and financial help, or to change the heart of an estranged spouse, or a prodigal child.
But while all things are within His power to do, this does not mean that He will always choose to use His power the way that we would like Him to use it. For instance if I have cancer, I am confident that if God wills, He can remove my cancer immediately and miraculously. But I must not presume that He will do that in my case, as I have no right to expect Him to do that. I must simply accept whatever God chooses to do for me, as good. His ways are so much higher than my ways. He may choose to remove my cancer by the use of medical treatment, or He may even choose to let it remain. This last option does not mean that God is less powerful than what He is.
The Lord can provide and He will provide, whether by miracle or by ordinary means, whether by life or by death, whether by deliverance or by suffering, whether by gain or by loss. And when we go through any trial, we should confidently say, ‘I do not know how the Lord will provide, and I do not know what the Lord will provide, But this one thing I know by faith – The Lord will provide!’ Church, perhaps your faith is being severely tested right now. Trust in God’s provision and power, for when you do that you will find benefits and blessings!
The fourth lesson that we can learn from Abraham’s faith is that: Our faith benefits by being manifested, proven and refined through crises. This is seen in the response that God gave to Abraham’s unquestioning obedience, in v.12 ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ This verse reveals the hidden purpose of God for the strange command He had given to Abraham – it was designed to prove Abraham’s love and devotion to God. In the process it also proved Abraham’s faith, since the writer of Hebrews stated plainly that Abraham offered up Isaac by faith. Abraham’s faith was precious to God.
And it was God’s plan that Abraham’s faith should be fully revealed and refined, not for God to see (because God already knows it, being omniscient), but for Abraham and all his descendants to learn from (including us, who are his spiritual descendants) The only way in which this could happen was by putting Abraham through this severe trial.
The same thing is true about our trials. They are placed in our lives by God to reveal our faith and to refine our faith. If you feel that your faith in God is not strong enough, and you pray, ‘O Lord, please strengthen my faith,’ please be prepared to face some trials and crises. God uses them to accomplish His mighty work of changing our lives. By putting us through them, he refines our faith. We become like Christ. We develop virtues. We become less and less dependent upon ourselves and more dependent upon God. Through trials we become better than what we were before, and so we endure them patiently and willingly. We endure them now with mature understanding and with greater trust in God, who lovingly brought these trials into our lives.
As we face this coming week, and days to come, remember these four things about having faith during times of trials: 1) We need faith because of our incomplete knowledge of God’s plan for us; 2) we express faith by submitting ourselves to God’s will; 3) we exercise faith by depending confidently on God’s provision and power in times of adversity; and 4) our faith benefits by being manifested, proven, and refined through times of adversity.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.