+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Genesis 22:1-14
Theme: The Ultimate Test
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Father and son climb together. The destination is a geographical highpoint. But it sits on the precipice of a spiritual abyss. They are ancient figures, but their business is always contemporary. They go at the command of God, but the purpose seems to originate with Satan. The father is told to offer his son in sacrifice to God. Abraham, Isaac, God, together on Mount Moriah; the events recorded to fulfill the words of the apostle who said, “They were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”1 If we do not have the Scriptures we cannot have certainty about the things of God.
From a purely human standpoint the whole thing is complete madness. Today Abraham would be accused of insanity, and charged with attempted murder. Understandably so. The nature of the request is really beyond the parameters of our psyche and crosses the bounds of our reason. We don’t have the framework to comprehend it because we are so far removed from the practice of sacrifice. Abraham, however, understood the context and purpose of sacrificial offerings. But that makes the request less logical, not more; more shocking, not less. And that really is the point. God was not requesting of Abraham a token expression of His loyalty. Nor is He trying to drive Abraham crazy. What God is seeking is a sacrifice of the heart.
The God of Abraham universally condemned human sacrifice which was so often used in ancient pagan culture. He is not now suddenly changing His mind. Every animal sacrifice offered before the coming of Christ was also to be a spiritual sacrifice- a sacrifice of the heart. The prophets consistently rebuked the Israelites for offering faithless material sacrifices as a means of appeasing God. The journey to God cannot be completed by human effort. Isaac finally asks his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”2 How thick the tension must have been! Yet, the love between father and son persevered through this agonizing journey up the mountain. Abraham’s reply is the first climax of the event. “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”3
Imagine how incomparably difficult it would have been to utter those syllables! We see how fitting the sobering words of Jesus are from last Sunday, “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me.”4 But, how can a person become worthy of God in such a situation? Trust! With God, all things are possible. The Holy Spirit gives us insight into the struggle of Abraham when He records these words in Hebrews 11, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”5
A resurrection was already foreseen in Abraham’s heart. We see now that this epic event was not just a personal test for Abraham. It is recorded in Holy Scripture for a reason. It’s not only a chronicle of heroism in the faith, either. Isaac was the chosen son of Abraham, the one and only son of the promise. The similarities found in the heavenly Father’s sacrifice of His Own Son are not coincidental. Justice demands that sinners have their own lives forfeited in penalty for their transgressions. But God provided the Lamb for the sacrificial offering. What does the Scripture say, “Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.’”6 The mountain of provision became Calvary. There the final sacrifice was hung upon the altar for the cross.
What more could Abraham and Isaac need for the rest of their lives now that they had this experience of God’s faithfulness? Yet, God blesses them materially. God is not stingy. He doesn’t want to deprive us of the physical, material, and emotional support we need. His care is so intimate He even numbers the hairs of our head. He’d like our faith to be more like Abraham’s. He’d like us to cherish our baptism.
Yet, He knows how we are prone to selfishness, laziness, and greed. He knows our idolatrous heart. God can bring our best laid plans to nothing in an instant. He can shatter the dreams we’ve pursued with energy and investment for decades. If, and when He does so, we should consider that God is seeking to spare us hardship and heartache down the track and ultimately prevent us from becoming estranged from His will. He is keenly aware of the temptation of material prosperity. Satan is too.
Most people don’t make a sudden, bold and defiant denial of God. They are drawn away subtly and gradually. They think they can serve two masters, or even many masters. Dividing our time, energy, and loyalty is certainly necessary to survive in society. We invest a little time and effort here, and a little there. Our passions receive more. But God cannot be loved in half-heartedness. Half-heartedness is not an Abrahamic love. Certainly, our love for God is weak, frail, tainted, and incomplete. It is usually a very poor reflection of Christ’s love for us. But half-hearted love, that is., love that seeks to be just enough of an effort to please God is no love at all. It is either an expression of self-righteousness (because we’re not really seeking God’s blessing at all), or an admittance of unbelief. Faith never produces this kind of bogus love. We’re not called to try harder, but to repent.
It’s in repentance that we recover the proper meaning of sacrifice and its application to our lives. St. Paul says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”7Abraham’s faith was severely tested. But we shouldn’t think Abraham was prideful after this grueling test. Abraham did not glory in his faith. Abraham trusted in God. Dear friends, faith is nothing apart from the object it is focused on. The reliability of the person or thing focused on determines either the foolhardiness or the wisdom of faith. If I put supreme confidence in a small child to drive me across the bridge to Berri, my faith is foolishness. Faith is a risk. In Christ, we are putting all our eggs into one basket. But it can be no other way. Only in Christ do we have truth that overcomes all doubt. Only He has the authority to forgive sin. Only He has power over death.
Every time we receive the body and blood of Christ we are beneficiaries of the fulfillment of the covenant made with Abraham. God promised to provide the sacrificial offering. He did so in Christ. We are freed from the shedding of blood in our worship of God. We come into His holy presence cleansed by the blood of the cross.
Our faith will be tested throughout life. God refines and strengthens us in this way. But we don’t have to worry about passing any test of holiness. Jesus has passed the ultimate test. He is faithful, as the Scripture says, “Moses was faithful in all God’s house to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are His house.”8 Rejoice, you are children of Abraham, sons and daughters of the kingdom. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
2 July 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 1 Corinthians 10:11
2 Genesis 22:7
3 Genesis 22:8
4 Matthew 10:27
5 Hebrews 11:17-19
6 Genesis 22:14
7 Romans 12:1-2
8 Hebrews 3:5-6