HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
September 17, 2017
Genesis 21: 1-3, 22: 1-4 (CEB)
The Lord was attentive to Sarah just as he had said, and the Lord carried out just what he had promised her. 2She became pregnant and gave birth to a son for Abraham when he was old, at the very time God had told him. 3Abraham named his son—the one Sarah bore him—Isaac.
After these events, God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!”
Abraham answered, “I’m here.”
2God said, “Take your son, your only son whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him up as an entirely burned offering there on one of the mountains that I will show you.” 3 Abraham got up early in the morning, harnessed his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, together with his son Isaac. He split the wood for the entirely burned offering, set out, and went to the place God had described to him.
4On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place at a distance. 5Abraham said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will walk up there, worship, and then come back to you.”
6Abraham took the wood for the entirely burned offering and laid it on his son Isaac. He took the fire and the knife in his hand, and the two of them walked on together. 7Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father?”
Abraham said, “I’m here, my son.”
Isaac said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the entirely burned offering?”
8Abraham said, “The lamb for the entirely burned offering? God will see to it, my son.” The two of them walked on together.
9They arrived at the place God had described to him. Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He tied up his son Isaac and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10Then Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11But the Lord’s messenger called out to Abraham from heaven, “Abraham? Abraham?”
Abraham said, “I’m here.”
12The messenger said, “Don’t stretch out your hand against the young man, and don’t do anything to him. I now know that you revere God and didn’t hold back your son, your only son, from me.” 13 Abraham looked up and saw a single ram caught by its horns in the dense underbrush. Abraham went over, took the ram, and offered it as an entirely burned offering instead of his son. 14 Abraham named that place “the Lord sees.” That is the reason people today say, “On this mountain the Lord is seen.”
We’ve all heard of being stuck “between a rock and a hard place.” But what do you do when you are there? What do you do when you have to make a choice between something that is really, really bad, and something that is even worse? I’m talking about those terrible times of decision; the semi-truck passing you suddenly swerves into your lane and you have to decide whether to swerve into the next lane and hit the car there, or stay where you are and let the semi hit you. What do you do when your wife is pregnant and giving birth means your wife will die, but saving your wife means the baby probably won’t make it? I hope that these aren’t decisions that any of us have ever or will ever have to make, but the truth is, people are faced with such dilemmas more often than we can imagine.
Perhaps Abraham was the first to really find himself faced with such an awful predicament. He has only two choices, and both of them are bad. But before we get to this test of Abraham’s faith, it’s important to remember the beginning of Abraham’s story. God first called Abram way back in Genesis 12. God’s instructions to Abram were that he was to leave his land, his family, and his home behind and go to the land that God would show him. God said to Abram, “I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.” Then, a little later, God made a covenant with Abram, promising Abraham (as his name became) that would be the father of many nations, and God’s covenant would extend to all of Abraham’s descendants. The problem was, at the time God made this covenant, Abraham was 99 years old, and his wife Sarah was 90. Sarah had not yet borne any children, and Abraham was skeptical that she would. But this was the covenant God made with Abraham, that Sarah would give birth to a son named Isaac, through whom God would establish the greatest of nations.
So where we pick up this morning, Sarah has given birth to Isaac. He has grown into a young man, and God has called upon Abraham again. Abraham’s call was pretty radical. God asked him to leave everything behind and to go to the place God would show him; a place, it turns out that was occupied by the Canannites, a people totally foreign to Abraham. But now, God’s instructions are even more radical. Abraham is to take Isaac to the land of Moriah and offer him there as an entirely burned offering.
I just want that to sink in for a minute. God has told Abraham to go and sacrifice his son.
God instructed Abraham to take his son, lay him on an altar, and kill him as a sacrifice to God. So here’s where Abraham is. He has two choices: 1) he disobeys God, with whom he has made a covenant, or 2) he kill his son. Just put yourself in that position for a minute. I don’t know how you might react, but here’s what I would do. I would start talking back to God. I would argue with God. I’d remind God that I’d already left my homeland and family to follow him. Then I’d probably start trying to bargain with God, pleading with him to take me instead of my son. I am quite sure that in total desperation, I would try anything and everything to draw out from God an alternative test. But for some reason, Abraham didn’t do that. Instead, very early the next morning, he got up, and made preparations to go to Moriah to make a sacrifice.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Abraham just got up the next day like it was any day, and gathered everything he needed and set off to Moriah to sacrifice his son to God. I don’t understand why he simply accepted that instruction without question. Some people may say that it was because child sacrifice was a normal practice in the ancient world. There were certain tribes that would occasionally practice child sacrifice, but nowhere in the Old Testament is child sacrifice condoned. In fact, it is explicitly forbidden. So we are still left with this question of why Abraham went along with God’s cockamamie plan. And the truth is, we will probably never have a good answer to that question. But here’s the thing, we learn an awful lot by watching Abraham as he makes his way to God’s appointed mountain in Moriah and prepares to sacrifice his son.
For starters, when God calls upon Abraham, Abraham’s instant response is, “I’m here.” Abraham immediately put himself at God’s mercy, he readily made himself available to serve God. And once Abraham received God’s instructions, he followed them without question. Now, I’m not pointing that out to say that we shouldn’t take our questions, our fears, our concerns to God, because we absolutely should. But in this case, Abraham didn’t do that, and I honestly think it was because in Abraham’s mind, there was no question. Because look at what happens when Abraham, Isaac, and their entourage arrive in Moriah. Abraham tells his companions that he and Isaac are going up the mountain to worship the Lord and then will return. Then, Abraham loads the wood up on Isaac’s back (does this sound familiar?), and he grabs the knife and the flint (or maybe a torch), and they head up the mountain. As they go, Isaac questions Abraham, “My father?” he says. And listen to Abraham’s response; he again says, “I’m here, my son.” Then Isaac goes on to say in essence, we have the fire, and the wood, but where is the lamb we will sacrifice? This is what I want you to hear this morning. Abraham’s response to Isaac’s question. Abraham tells Isaac, “God will see to it.” Hear that again, “God will see to it.”
More than that moment when Abraham stood over his bound son, knife in hand, I think Abraham’s response to Isaac is the true testament of his faith. Abraham’s faith was so strong, it’s almost as if he knew with complete certainty that God was not going to break covenant. Remember, God had already made a covenant with Abraham that through his son, Isaac, he would become the father of many nations. And, of course, that’s not possible if Isaac is dead. The fact that Abraham obeyed God’s instructions shows that Abraham trusted God completely to find a way into that future God had promised. That’s what’s entirely remarkable to me; even as Isaac carried a stack of wood on his back, the same wood upon which Abraham was preparing to offer him as sacrifice to God, Abraham had faith that God would provide. But to take it another step, Isaac exhibited a great faith, too. He trusted his father, or maybe he simply recognized his father’s great trust in the Father, because Isaac doesn’t ask any more questions either.
So the two of them continued on up the mountain. Abraham built the altar there, he arranged the wood. Then, he tied up his son and laid him on the altar. As he raised the knife to slay his son, a messenger cries out, “Abraham? Abraham?” And again, for the third time, Abraham says, “I’m here.” How Abraham could be so seemingly calm in that moment is beyond me, but he was. He was still readily available, so faithfully responsive to God and God’s call. And the messenger goes on, “…don’t do anything to [your son]. I now know that you revere God….” Then, there in the thicket, a ram appears. And as that image fills your mind, I want you to hear again John’s words that we read earlier in the service, “Look! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Here’s the thing, my friends. God put a monumentally hard demand on Abraham, and really on Isaac, too. But it was an expectation that God himself was ready to fulfill. And the truth we now know is that when God’s only Son, the one whom he loved, hung on a cross, there was no ram in the thicket. That, my friends, is the new covenant, the promise that we now have from God. God made a covenant with Abraham, and Abraham trusted completely that God would be faithful to that covenant. Through Christ and the greatest sacrifice ever made, we too can have total faith that God remains faithful to God’s covenant. We can trust that what God wills for his people is life, not death. We can believe without question that God is transforming this world and will one day establish his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
God certainly put Abraham, and Isaac, in a terrible situation. They definitely had no good choices before them, but they did have faith. We can ask why God had to test Abraham. We can wonder why Abraham didn’t argue with God about it. But in the end, two things are clear: 1) God tested Abraham so that God could discover Abraham’s faithfulness as they moved into the future, and 2) Abraham exhibited a total trust that God would provide, which is exactly what God did. God continues to provide; again and again. And all that God asks of us in return, the only thing God wants to see, is faith in him; faith that God’s promises are true.
We can have faith. We can have faith that God’s promises are true because God himself sacrificed his own Son for our sakes. “It is one thing to know that someone who loves you would do anything for you because of that [love]; it is another kind of knowing when that person actually makes a monumental sacrifice for you.”
You may at times feel as if you are stretched to your limit. You may at times wonder if God is testing you. But in every situation, you can know this: God promises and God provides. God loves you. In that, you can have complete faith.