Sermon preached a while ago
Let me know wht you think…
I love films, I love movies and Jacqui and I will go regularly to the cinema. Actually, to be honest, we want to go regularly but we’ve not been in a while. But we watch films at home.
And I particularly love films that have sequels and prequels or come in a whole series. So some of you will know that I really love the Lord of the Rings films.
And I also love Star Wars. I think the idea behind the current Star Wars films is just excellent. Having made three films George Lucas has decided to make some more films that come before the ones that most of us are familiar with. So the original Star Wars film in the late 70’s was actually Episode IV and now we’re getting episodes I, II and III.
And what is amazing about them is that, although they are stories in their own right, they’re also more than that because there’s this shadow of the things that are yet to come.
So, for example, on the poster advertising Episode I, “The Phantom Menace”, there’s a picture of a young boy called Anakin Skywalker. And he’s a cute, good looking blond-haired boy – we could have been brothers.
But behind Anakin there is his shadow and the shadow falls into the shape of Darth Vader. And the point is clear. There is more here than just a little boy, he will grow into Darth Vader, the evil dark lord.
And our text today is very much like that as well. Although there is a narrative that falls into our series on Abraham and we want to read it in it’s own right we also have a sight of something beyond this episode. Something quite tremendous that, personally, I get very excited about.
In fact I’m excited to be preaching this morning. This is one of my favourites passages of scripture and, I hope, it will be yours too by the end of this service.
So, let’s remind ourselves where we are.
Every text has a context and we’ve spent a few months now learning about Abraham.
And it’s been a story with one recurring pattern. God makes promises and Abraham responds to them. Sometimes he does well and sometimes not so well and yet through it all he is growing in his relationship with God.
And it’s important for us to remember what the promises were.
So, in chapter 12 we saw God promise to Abraham that He would make Him into a great nation, that He would bless him, that He would make his name great, and that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him.
And God makes these promises to Abraham while Abraham is still living in Haran, in what is today Northern Iraq.
And so the question is set. Will Abraham trust God? And we know that he gets his things together and makes for the promised land.
And then we see more promises and both trust and lack of trust. So Abraham wanders in and out of the promised land.
And he also wanders over a bigger issue. Because God promises him a son and yet he and Sarah get into a real mess by having a son through Sarah’s slavegirl, Hagar.
And the wonder of it is that God still keeps making promises and explaining them in more detail, almost as if He is wooing Abraham to trust Him.
And eventually, because God doesn’t just promise but He also makes good on His promises, Isaac is born.
And it’s not because of what Abraham does, he’d allowed Sarah to be taken by another pagan, Abimilech. But God works both through and despite Abraham.
And, if we haven’t already thought about it, we must simply stop and recognise that Abraham is no different to us in that respect. We believe but we don’t believe. One day we act in trust and the next day we don’t. We have seasons of closeness with the Lord and seasons where we effectively walk out of God’s promises.
And yet through it all God is faithful. He is always there and woos us back. Perhaps for some of us here today that’s all that we need to know. We need to know that God is always gracious, always calling us to trust Him and to love Him and to be obedient to Him.
But there is more to the story than that. And so we arrive at chapter 22.
And, at first sight, it appears to be a barbaric thing that God calls Abraham to do. Why would God ask him to sacrifice his own Son? What sort of a God is that?
And, of course, many have used this and similar chapters to argue that it’s not the same God that we worship. But I would hope we would challenge such a quick assumption because for 11 chapters we have been reading about God’s mercy and His patience and His grace and love towards Abraham.
So, is God acting out of character or have we got it wrong?
v1, “God tested Abraham”
Now, what does it mean when God tests us? Is God setting Abraham an exam? Is this the A-Level where God is going to discover what Abraham is really like?
Let me put it more strongly, does the God who sees deep into our hearts, who knows things about us that we won’t tell even our spouses or closest friends, who is the perfect judge – does God not know what will happen?
I think you would be pushing the limits of credibility to suggest that is the case.
No, this is not a test in the sense that the answer is unknown. This is an audit.
Let me explain what I mean. I trained as a Chartered Accountant within an auditing firm.
Some people ask me why I took the job that I have now. Often I’m tempted to answer “because anything is better than being an accountant”.
Now most people fear the auditors coming, we just had the auditors here in church. (In case you’re worrying I understand that we got a glowing report).
So what does the auditor do? Does he spend 2 weeks prying looking for things to catch you out with? Looking for innocent mistakes so that he can pounce with glee and demand to know where the Swiss Bank Account is?
No! Of course not! The auditor sets out to verify what has already been declared. Like assaying a metal the audit, the test, establishes what has already been stated.
Our auditor rubber stamped our accounts, said that they were indeed correct, confirmed it to those people who are interested.
So what is being confirmed in Abraham’s life?
Surely it’s what we’ve been exploring all through this series.
Is Abraham a man that really trusts God? And God is going to demonstrate to us that he does.
So we need to understand the enormity of what Abraham is being asked to do. And, for some of us, that seems a bit strange. What could be bigger than asking Abraham to kill his own son? What’s more enormous than that?
But we must not forget that Isaac means even more to Abraham than merely his flesh and blood. And there’s a big clue to what the issue is right in the text.
Just look with me at v2
The God said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…”
Now, does that strike anyone as odd? Isaac is not Abraham’s only Son. He also had a son by the slave Hagar. He also has Ishmael and he loves Ishmael to.
So, is God incorrect in his statement?
Of course not. But Isaac is the only son in one important regard.
In regard to the promises that God has made to and through Abraham. In that regard Isaac is the only son. We can see this clearly back a page in chapter 17 and verse 20
“As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac.”
And yet now God is calling Abraham to kill Isaac, not just his son but the one in whom God’s covenant rests.
And so the issue for Abraham is much bigger than just the death of his son, it is apparently the end of everything that God has promised him. Do you see the dilemma.
The issue of promise and trust has never been as stark as it is here. Does Abraham trust God to make good on the covenant even in this situation.
Now, it’s tempting at this point to speculate on what is going through Abraham’s mind. Is he angry? Is he worried? Is he despairing? Is he resentful?
But we don’t have to guess because God has told us exactly what was going through his mind. We have the answer in the letter to the Hebrews. So please turn with me to page 852 in the church bibles, Hebrews chapter 11 and from verse 17. What is going through Abraham’s mind here?
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.
So what is going on in Abraham’s mind? He thinks that God can raise Isaac from the dead.
Of course, that’s why, in verse 5
“We will worship … and then we will come back to you”
“We will come back to you.” He’s confident of it. He may not know exactly how it will happen but here is a man who trusts God so much that he is prepared to do this massive thing even though it would appear to us that not only his son, but even more importantly, the whole future of the gospel is in jeopardy!!!!
It is a tremendous moment of faith. Abraham has finally arrived.
And so they climb the mountain, Father and Son, going together to offer a sacrifice to God. Going to worship. That’s what Abraham called it, this act of obedience and trust, he called it “worship”.
Because, ultimately, that’s what worship is. It is the surrendering of our whole lives in trust to God. It is gladly obeying him. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans that we should, in view of God’s mercy, offer our bodies, our whole lives, as a living sacrifice.
And Paul’s not telling us a new thing. Abraham is preaching the same thing to us as he walks up this mountain.
And so, maybe a moment for us to pause and think about ourselves.
How far will you trust God? How far do you trust Him? Have we learnt, like Abraham, that God is completely trustworthy? That when he calls us to do something that makes little sense to us that he will deliver?
And this works out in all areas of our lives? So, in our relationships do we trust God’s way of doing things? For example, do I trust God with my marriage or my marriage yet to be or will I not trust him and allow myself to be attached to someone other than my spouse or with someone that doesn’t love the Lord?
Will I risk my job for the Lord? Am I prepared to lose my job for the gospel? Am I prepared to refuse to lie? Will I tell the truth? Will I refuse to be involved in that suspect deal or will I seek to justify it to myself?
In all these situations the issue is clear. If I trust God then surely I won’t be happy? Surely I’ll lose my job? Surely I’ll be single for the rest of my life?
And I wonder if you will let me touch on one more application that I discussed this week with a member of the congregation that has children since we are talking about Abraham giving up his son.
Are we prepared to sacrifice what we think is important for our children for the sake of the gospel? Can I ask a hard question? I know that I do not have children but I would still beg the permission to ask.
If your child comes home and says, “Mum, Dad, I want to be a street cleaner. I just love the job and it gives me the time that I need and it’s good exercise and I get to talk to my colleagues about Jesus and in the afternoon I have time free to prepare for my Bible Study”
How do you react? Is the gospel more important than our deepest desires, even for our children, the ones that we love most? And that makes us ask whether we think that the gospel is the all surmounting truth and goal to which everything else is sacrificed.
It’s a big question, I know, but it lies at the heart of what we are reading this morning.
It will stop us from asking, “Surely God can’t work this out for my best. Surely God doesn’t keep His promises.”
When we are there, Christian, we need to climb the mountain with Abraham, to take encouragement from his faith, from his trust in the God who keeps His promises.
And so Abraham goes on with Isaac. And in the middle of it Isaac asks what’s going on. “Where’s the meat, Dad? Where’s the lamb for the sacrifice?”
And Abraham is still confident to say
“God himself will provide the lamb”
And they build an altar and he binds Isaac and he takes the knife and there is no doubt that he is so confident in God’s faithful love that he is ready to strike.
And then God stops him.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
It is a wonderful moment. Abraham’s trust has been demonstrated. His fear of God has been shown.
And, of course, fear of God is not simply being frightened of God. It is really knowing and understanding who God is, what He is like. Abraham has demonstrated that he really, after 25 years of promises and trust, understands what God is like. God is faithful. And because He is faithful we can trust Him.
And so God repeats His promises. He reminds Abraham of what He is going to do through Isaac. And this has always been the way throughout these chapters. At each moment of decision or reaction of Abraham there is a restatement of the promises, sometimes with elaboration. A development of what God is revealing to Abraham.
And yet, although this is near the end of the Bible’s account of Abraham it is nowhere near the end of God’s work.
What we have seen this morning is, in it’s own right, a momentous occasion, but it is also casting a shadow forward that even Abraham himself is beginning to see.
And this is not the dark ominous shadow of Darth Vader. This is a wonderful shadow. So let’s briefly go through the events again and see what Abraham is also beginning to see. It will mean a couple of cross-references but they’ll be worth it.
Come back with me to verse 2 and let’s have a geography lesson.
Where is Abraham to take his son? To the region of Moriah.
Now, every detail is important to us. Throughout Abraham’s journey the geography has been telling us things. So we need to know where Moriah is. Where is Moriah?
Turn with me to page 309 in the church bibles, to 2 Chronicles 3 and verse 1. The first time I saw this it gave me goose bumps.
The Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah…
Mount Moriah is the site of Jerusalem. Now that should set alarm bells ringing for us. And yet that is not the exact site of Isaac’s sacrifice. Isaac is to be offered in the region of Moriah.
Not on the actual site of what is to be Jerusalem but on a mountain nearby, in the region.
And then we should also note that Isaac was to be a burnt offering. And so we need to know what burnt offering is,
So let’s go for one last cross-reference here to page 71 and Leviticus 1. Let’s go to verse 4 and we can read about the burnt offering and we read here about God’s solution to the answer of sin. The previous book, Exodus, has ended in a dilemma – God is dwelling amongst his people and yet they cannot enter His presence because of their sin, because of the way that they will not have Him as God in their whole lives. And so the first thing that Leviticus sets out is how this sin is to be dealt with. Leviticus 1, verse 4.
He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.
The burnt offering is a sin offering. It was a substitute that took the place of the Israelite, that paid for their sins instead of the Israelite themselves.
So there is a burnt offering, a sin offering.
Now, let’s walk through this again and see the shadow falling forward.
We are given a picture of the Son, the only Son whom the Father loves and he walks in harmony with his Father up a mountain in the region of Jerusalem.
And why is He there? He is to be a sin offering, a substitute for someone else’s sin.
And note!! He even carries the wood of his own execution on his back!!!
And as if that were not enough Abraham stands at the very place of sacrifice and confidently states, of this very place that the Lord will provide.
The Lord will provide, future tense. Abraham, having seen a substitute provided for his own son Isaac confidently tells us that there is yet to be a real provision on this very mountain.
And I wonder if you spotted that the lamb had not yet been provided. Abraham had told Isaac that God would provide a lamb and yet the animal given was a ram.
So the lamb is yet to come.
On the very mountain on which Abraham and Isaac stand God is going to provide a lamb as a sin offering, as a substitute. And the dearly loved Son of the Father will carry the wood of his own execution on his back up this mountain to his death. And He will do it willingly.
And it is that event, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which Abraham stands and confidently predicts. And he may not know the exact circumstances of it, he may not know what brand nails are to be used or what the Centurion’s nickname was but he does point us forward to the sin offering.
So let me ask you another question, can you look through the sacrifices in your life to Christ on the cross with confidence? Is the cross, the death of the lamb, your point of assurance? Are you prepared to give up the most dear things to you because of what happened on the Cross?
And I don’t just ask this of the Christians in the room, of those of us who have committed our lives to Christ.
Let me ask this to those who sit here today and can’t say that the cross is even important to them? Will you follow Abraham’s pointing finger and look at the cross? And you can do it after the event. Abraham was looking forward prophetically, but you can look back at it. Abraham was living in episode 1, but we’ve already seen the sequel. Will you look at it properly again? Will you consider what it means to have someone else pay for your sin? Will you come to Alpha and find out? Will you decide now, this morning to find out what is so important that 2000 years later millions think it is the central point of history and even 2000 years before it had happened the signposts were being set up and the event was been waited for with eager anticipation.
So, as we finish today, 2 applications.
If you know the Lord then will we remind ourselves what He is like? Will we trust Him in the hard things because we know He is faithful? Can we see that He asks us to do nothing compared to what He is prepared to do himself, even to the extent of giving his only Son whom He loves?
And if we don’t know the Lord, will we commit to finding out more? To investigating this immense event on a hill in the region of Moriah, to looking at the fulcrum of history when Christ died as a lamb in your place?