God tests men.
Many soldiers never know what they’re really made of until they are actually in a battle. US Army Colonel Creighton Abrams said about the Germans in WWII, “They’ve got us surrounded again, poor suckers.” Marine Corps Lt General Lewis B. Chesty Puller said, “All right men. They’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us … They can’t get away this time.” These men were tested on the battlefield and their courage was proven.
Testing. We use that word a lot as Christians but what do we mean? Biblically a test is what God uses to bring out what’s really inside us. A test makes what we’re really made of come out – good or bad.
For example: suppose I told you that I can throw a baseball 100 mph. Now, either I really can or I really can’t. How would you know if I can or can’t? How will you know I have the ability to throw 100mph unless you saw me actually throw 100mph? We would have to go out after church into the lawn and one of you would have to squat down and another hold a radar gun and I would have to wind up and bring the heat. Then you will know if I have the ability. You can only know my ability when you see it in action, while related are not the same. Do you see the difference between someone’s quality and that quality in action? Quality is the potential for action. Saying I can throw 100mph is one thing, but, to demonstrate that – to prove it, to put it on display – is a different thing.
Job was tested. Peter was tested when God gave Satan the green light to “sift” him. Jesus was tested in the wilderness by the devil. Proverbs says God tests a man by the praise he receives (27:21). He told the church of Smyrna “The devil will put some of you in prison to test you” (Rev 2:10). He then told the church of Philadelphia, “I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (Rev 3:10). While in the wilderness the devil told Jesus to jump off the top of the temple because the Scriptures said God had promised to send angels to save him, to which he replied, “It is written, “Do not put the LORD your God to the test.” God tests us. We do not test Him.
What is your faith made of? How “real” is your faith? What are the strengths and weaknesses in your faith? These kinds of questions bring us to the area of “tests.” In the Bible, when God tests us it is to bring out the true quality of what we’re made of. A test is supposed to expose the strength and the weaknesses within, the
Abraham was tested. This is the test of all tests. Abraham was told to take his precious, cherished, one and only son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice – a burnt offering. Which meant to kill him and burn him. This isn’t a fable, this isn’t a myth, this is history. This passage is powerful for all sorts of reasons. It raises questions of God’s goodness and justice first of all. It also gives us a quintessential picture of what absolute obedience to God looks like, what absolute trust in God looks like, and the clear relationship between faith and obedience. This passage among other things also has been doused with the fragrance of Christ as we cannot miss all the obvious parallels with the future life and career of Jesus Christ. The best way to go through this passage is to just go through it. I’ve broken it up into 8 points so lets get moving.
ABRAHAM’s READINESS (1)
God has come numerous times to Abraham: in Ur telling him to get up and go to Canaan, in Haran telling him to get up and finish his journey to Canaan, in Canaan promising him surpassing blessings, and then many more times reiterating promises, adding details to promises, and so on.
Now God comes to Abraham again. And this time it is for the most difficult moment of Abraham’s life. Abraham has had the courage to leave his homeland and family to become a stranger in a new land. He had the courage to leap instantly and go to war against numerous kings who outmatched him. He had the courage to approach God and petition him regarding Sodom. He had the courage to wait on God for 25 years, to be 100 years old, for Isaac to be born. But nothing he has faced was as hard as what he was about to face.
Notice Abraham’s response when God calls: “Here I am!” At the sound of God’s voice Abraham is instantly at attention. He does not respond with, “Just a minute” or “I’ll be right there” or “Can we reschedule I’m in the middle of something.” There is immediate attention, and a posture of readiness. And by “readiness” I mean Abraham was instantly ready to listen and do whatever God told Him. Abraham was ready to obey.
How similar to Isaiah, who told God “Here am I”. Yet, how different than Adam hiding in the Garden when God called. They didn’t want God to find them. Here Abraham wants God to know right where he is, “Here I am!” Abraham not only wanted to be found by his God but Abraham wanted to obey his God. God what can I do for you? You gave me a son like you promised, you made me wealthy and respected in all the land, you spared my nephew Lot when you destroyed Sodom. I owe you everything. What can I do for you – I want to do for you. Please tell me.”
APPLICATION: Do you want to obey God? Are the righteous commands of God the desire of your heart? We need to listen to the words of Psalm 119: “Oh that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees” verse 5 says. Or verse 40, “How I long for your precepts!” Or 47 and 48, “I delight in your commands because I love them. I reach out for your commands because I love them…” and 97, “Oh how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.”
He loves God’s commands. But as you read that Psalm it is so clear that it is because the author loves his God. “You are my portion forever, Lord” (57) “You are good” (68), “I am yours” (94), “You are righteous” (137) “You are near” (151) and “Your compassion O LORD is great” (156).
APPLICATION: If you want to love the commands of God the key is not to love the commands of God. The key is to love God. The key is to reverently adore Him as your God. The key is HIM and loving HIM and trusting in HIM and being grateful to HIM. THEN you will love His commands. Loving the rules of God while not loving God is the very essence of self-righteous legalism. Love God – then you will love His commands.
Abraham loved God and therefore He loved obeying God. His love for God made him instantly ready at any moment to obey God. Let each of us also love God and so be ready every instant to obey Him. If we want to hear from God “Well done good and faithful servant” then everyday we have to say to God “Here I am.”
ABRAHAM’s SON (2)
So we see Abraham’s readiness, now we see Abraham’s son. Read verse 2.
Let me put it bluntly: God tells Abraham to kill his son as a religious sacrifice… to God.
First of all I can’t even imagine the dread Abraham felt in that moment. Isaac’s name means “he laughs,” but there was no laughing in that moment. The Scriptures mention nothing about what he felt, but dad-to-dad….I cannot even imagine. If anyone felt the way Christ felt in the Garden I have to say it was Abraham right here: “Father if it is possible then let this cup pass. Yet not my will, but your will be done.”
Lets talk about several things here. Notice first what God says about Isaac: “Your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac…” That formula is so Christological: “This is my Son, whom I love” declared the Father at Jesus’ baptism. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son…”
You better believe Abraham loved Isaac. He cherished that boy. He’s had 14 years of bonding with him and he can’t imagine life without him. He doesn’t remember the 1st hundred years of his life without Isaac and he looks with great expectation into the future because it is through Isaac that God said he would bring all these blessings to him. Abraham absolutely loves Isaac.
But now Abraham was commanded to love God more. And that was the test: love God more than the thing you love most. Listen close and you can hear Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:37, “Whoever loves son or daughter, mother or father, more than me is not worthy of me.”
Peter told Jesus, “We have given up everything to follow you.” And they had. He and Andrew and James and John left their fishing businesses and families. Matthew left a lucrative career as a tax collector. Every one of them gave up things and paid a price to follow Jesus.
But no one in Scripture would give up what Abraham was about to give up: his son, his one and only son, his son whom he loved. King David said, “I will not offer anything to God that cost me nothing.” In other words, David understood that an offering to God was only worthy of God if it cost him something. If there was a burden felt because of it. What heavier burden could there be then offering the life of a beloved son?
And what about Abrahams confusion? If Isaac was the promised son through whom all the promised blessings would come then how could he die? Why would God end Isaacs life now when none of those promises had yet been fulfilled and Isaac was needed for them? Romans 4:21 describes Abrahams faith like this: he “was fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promises.” But HOW could God do what he promised without Isaac? It doesnt make sense. Hebrews 11:17-19 explains. Turn there with me….
We hear a lot about faith and reason, like having an informed and intelligent faith. Thats knowing why you believe and knowing your faith doesnt mean you have stopped being a thinking kind of person. But here it says Abraham reasoned from his faith. His faith didn’t quit because he couldn’t make sense of his situation and explain Gods “Why” and Gods “How”. His confusion disnt become doubt. Abraham took his situation and knowing God he reasoned “Well, if I have to kill Isaac, and Isaac is the channel for covenant blessings, then God must have plans to raise him back to life. Because God said it is through this boy all the blessings would come.” You see how human reason didn’t kill Abrahams faith? But faith expanded the horizon of reason because it factored in God.
APPLICATION: Don’t let confusion become doubt.