September 13, 2015

Abraham – A Man of Conviction

Passage: Genesis 22:P 1-47 and ?St. John 3: 10-21

Genesis 22: lf    God tested Abraham


John Calvin said “ ..this passage contains the most memorable narrative. For although Abraham, through the course of His life, gave astonishing proof of faith and obedience, .................  this inflicted a wound far more grievous than death itself: ..........  paternal grief and anguish which being produced by the death of an only son,  ..........  torn away by a violent  death, but by far the most grievous that he himself should be appointed to slay him with his own hand.”

That just about sums it up for us - does it not?

It was and is a shocking, brutal and harsh story which leaves us startled and amazed when we read it.

We are startled that God would demand such a thing'

We are amazed that Abraham would acquiesce, that he would get up early in the morning to do this terrible thing which God had asked.

We look on with incredulity as Isaac was bound and laid on the altar.

Abraham and Sarah had been living in the land of Canaan. In their old age they had accumulated wealth, prestige and power. They even entered treaties with the people. Life was good and tranquil. Isaac was growing tall and strong and Ishmael was already married to an Egyptian woman.

More than that,  Abraham was growing in faith and spiritual stature. Already he recognized God as “the Almighty'' in giving answer to the question "is anything too hard for the Lord?" At Beersheba he recognized God as "the Eternal God." The One we describe as being the same yesterday, today and forever - unchanging and unchangeable'

In this situation of peace and tranquility he receives this shattering command: take your son, your only son Isaac whom you love .... sacrifice him as a burnt offering .."

The Scriptures tell us that this was a test.

A test can do one of two things: it can strengthen or it can destroy.

Calvin points out that Abraham had been tested before but that these tests were for his mortification ie.  for his discipline and strengthening. In the manufacturing process of motor vehicles ..... tested to destruction ....

But Paul tells us that "no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. God is faithful and will not ret you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But, when you are tempted He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Cor. 10: 13)



Genesis 22: lf    God tested Abraham


Now to us this seems to be an extraordinary temptation. Yet when we think that Abraham had been living for a long time in the land of Canaan where the people were accustomed to human sacrifice and where men did sacrifice their first born sons to their gods as sin offerings, this idea was not new to Abraham. Nowhere in the scriptures up to the point do we read of human sacrifice being specifically prohibited, yet in the light of what Abraham had experienced of God

as the Almighty and the Eternal the whole idea must have seemed incredible and repugnant.

Isaac represented:

  1. A beloved son Isaac : laugher - this was where it hurt most - the child of his old age.

2The fulfilment of promise

Now what was Isaac's part in all this?  Noah’s children and their trust in their father ...........

First, we have to come back to Abraham and say that his spirit of faith had passed on to his son He had been to worship with his father before. He had seen the sacrificial animals being herded towards the altar and as they traveled with Isaac carrying the wood he asks innocently "father, here is the wood and the fire but where is the lamb for the burnt offering." And Abraham replied "God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering."

I wonder - how much of this was an answer to pacify Isaac and how much was a response in faith in the promise "through Isaac your offspring will be reckoned." as Abraham wrestled with the ideas of God as Almighty and as Eternal?

Secondly we have to note the submission of Isaac. There is no way in which this old man could have bound this young fellow and lifted him onto the altar without his submission and co- operation.

Thirdly, can you imagine Isaac's last memory of his father as a priest standing with arms raised clutching a knife.

At that very moment God spoke again to Abraham. The test was over. He had passed with flying colours. God said "Now I know that you fear God."

And as Abraham looked round, there was a ram caught in the bushes by its horns.

As Calvin said, it is a memorable passage in the Scriptures.

It is also a passage of Scripture which creates more problems for us the longer we study it.

But putting aside the problems, the narrative tells us two things:

Genesis 22: lf    God tested Abraham


the first is that God will from time to time shake us from our complacency and that He will make demands upon us which we feel are totally unreasonable but our God is a challenging God. He will make us question the way things have always been down, He will make us examine our beliefs as Abraham was forced to examine his ..... , He will make us turn around as did Paul ....

Secondly, out of this story we have the great doctrine of substitution which found its fullest expression on Calvary. Abraham's conviction was that God Himself would provide the sacrifice was fully realized when the ram appeared

On Calvary Jesus is our substitute. He died in our place and to take away our sin. He bore our penalty and paid the price. We are told that God was satisfied and the work of redemption was finished.

The doctrine of substitution is widely practiced today. There are times when substitution is not a bad thing and may even be necessary but mostly it is a poor solution. It is better to have the real thing.

We substitute money for time as we try to buy our children's affection.

We substitute words for action.

We substitute good intentions for good works.

We substitute talking for listening.

We substitute "getting by''for excellence.

We substitute soap operas for real living.

We substitute instant gratification for anticipation.

We substitute popular ideas for proven theories.

We substitute our own importance for the centrality of God, focussing our thoughts inward ......

We substitute popular theology for that which is based and grounded in the Word of God.

We substitute our own ideas and thoughts and feelings for the clear instructions of Jesus.

We substitute material for spiritual.

We substitute tangible for intangible.

We substitute good works for salvation by grace.

We substitute our morality for God’s teaching in the Scriptures.

We substitute our own merits for the merits of the Lord Jesus.

We substitute good wishes for zeal.

Why? The substitution is inadequate and totally worthless.

Genesis 22: lf    God tested Abraham


Abraham did not just have good wishes or good intentions he had zeal for the Lord - a love for God that surpassed even his love for his son and we are told that on that dreadful morning he got up early to go to the place of sacrifice ....  He had zeal.

ln his biography of the young Teddy Roosevelt, David McCullough tells that his mother found out that he was so afraid of Madison square Church that he refused to enter it alone. He was terrified of something called "zeal". It was crouched down in the dark corners of the church ready to spring out at him, he said. When she asked what a zeal might be, he said he was not sure, but thought it was probably a large animal like an alligator or a dragon. He had heard the minister read about it from the Bible.

Using a concordance she read to him all the passage containing the word zeal until suddenly, very excited, he told her to stop. The line was from St John 2: l7 "and His disciples remembered that it was written 'the zeal of thine house has eaten me up ....."'

People are still justifiably afraid of the zeal of the Lord for they are perfectly aware of its disturbing, challenging life changing potential.

Abraham had it, Isaac and Sarah and all his people knew that while the Lord is good He is also challenging and demanding.

God Himself has provided the sacrifice, the way of salvation, the certainty of acceptance with Himself. Why do we not, like Abraham, choose the gift that God has given us, claim the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ and put all our trust in Him for time and eternity. There is, after all, only one name given under heaven whereby we must be save and that is the Name of Jesus. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.